Category Archives: Business models

Happy Mario Day to the Cattabianis, Father and Son: Calendar Tips for Editors

Mario Cattabiani tracked the money flow in Pennsylvania state government like a master accountant. Rated as the most influential reporter in Harrisburg, Mario regularly lit up the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer when I was the deputy managing editor for news.

Every March 10, I would send Mario a note: Happy Mario Day! I knew he and his son, also named Mario, had a ritual of  celebrating March 10, or Mar.10, as their day.

In four days, math lovers will celebrate Pi Day. Following a similar formulation, April 16, or 4/16, is, of course, Foursquare Day.

Feb. 28 was Pancake Day. March 20 will be the first day of spring, which means free Italian Ice Day. A few days later brings us International Waffle Day, which drew syrupy coverage last year from Philadelphia to Palm Beach to Los Angeles.  (Don’t confuse this with National Waffle Day, the August occasion that honors the day the government issued a patent for the waffle iron.)

Holidays are big business (A point illustrated in a book edited by my sister Maud Lavin: The Business of Holidays.) Silly or serious, holidays are also a chance for news organizations to capture and amplify community conversation. Search trends from Google prove that readers are interested.

Anniversaries? Yes. Here are some 2011 samples from a group of community news sites I edited:

D-Day was June 6, and many town reporters produced local coverage: StamfordHarrisonLarchmontNew RochelleWhite Plains,  Chappaqua,  CrotonPleasantville,  and North Salem.

A more playful note was our Foursquare coverage: Meet the “Mayor” of Yorktown or see how Westport Honors Foursquare Day.

We devote plenty of energy to discussing journalism’s big challenges and even larger opportunities. It’s worth also taking a few minutes to set up your own calendar so you remember to post a prompt on Facebook, to ask a question on Twitter, or to put up a short piece on your own website.  It will take even less time to freshen a post on the same day next year and in the years after that. Readers will respond.

Mario, I hope you and your son have a great day today.


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Happy Diwali, Local Twitter Followers, Free Flu Shots: Tips for Editors

Suggestions for editors who want more engaged readers. Short url’s included to make sharing easier.

Diwali The Hindi festival of lights starts this year on Wednesday, Oct. 26. From The Times of India:

Diwali, an auspicious religious festival celebrated by the Hindus, Sikhs and Jains with great enthusiasm and excitement that symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. Spectacular lights, firecrackers, irresistible traditional sweets and sending gifts to dear ones mark the celebration of Diwali.

The Roanoke Times found Indian students celebrating this week at a local university: Fighting darkness with light

In 2008, had this coverage: Greater Clevelanders Welcome Diwali

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Living Legends, Lessons From a Postal Stamp Prompt

Who in your area should be on a stamp?

What's the point of of questioning the audience? In your newsroom, when you ask a question across your site and social media platforms, do you have a metric for success? Is it 20 responses? 200? Somewhere in between? 

Do you know what brings more responses — time of day, wording of question, amplification by repeating across platforms? Is someone in charge of keeping track of what works and what doesn't and issuing guidance?

If you typically ask one question a day and generate 100 comments or responses a week, what can you do to increase that by a factor of 10? Who in the newsroom has suggestions for steps to take that might make that much of a difference?

Asking a question is not a resource issue — it takes two minutes to go to Facebook and ask "what should we cover today?" or "how are we doing?" 

It does take a few more minutes to monitor your activity and make adjustments so that week by week you engage more readers.

The Objective A highly engaged audience that is regularly creating content, a newsroom that initiates discussion, readers who react to news by spending time with your brand. 

Measures of Success Comments, likes, clicks, page views, new questions, discussion threads — and journalists who repurpose those discussions into articles or posts for a website or a print product.

Who's doing it well? Here's some evidence from a postal prompt about what works and what doesn't. If you have not asked a "who should be on a stamp" question, today is a good day. (Short url's included to ease sharing.)

The Indianapolis Star in one day had 17 Facebook likes and about 80 comments on a survey: who from Indiana should be on a stamp? Who will it be? Time for Indiana living legend on postage stamp | Note the large photo of a favorite son.

The AP asked on Facebook and received 96 comments in the first day: They amplified the request with a Twitter prompt that did two important things: directed people to Facebook and seeded the question with some possible answers from top names trending on Google search: Twitter / @AP: Interesting ideas of who belongs on a stamp — Wangari Maathai? Chuck Norris? — are on our Facebook page AP tweet to 500,000 followers had two dozen retweets:

The Tennessean asked on its site and across social media feeds for local living legends worth featuring on a stamp. From the managing editor's Twitter feed @megdowney: I vote John Seigenthaler. @Tennessean. Which living TN legend would you want to see on a stamp?

Seeding the conversation with a few names seems to work. The Des Moines Register drew 50 comments on Facebook on the first day with this prompt:What living Iowan should be on a stamp? The U.S. Postal Service has changed the rules to allow living people to be honored on postage stamps. So — who would be your Iowa choice? (Around the newsroom, suggestions included Hayden Fry, Slipknot, Fred Hoiberg, Shawn Johnson and Captain James T. Kirk.)

A post on the Register's site had a bold call out asking readers to go to the Facebook page to answer: Who do you think should be first living Iowan on a stamp? |

Lauren Wilbert List, a community producer for the Times-Picayune website,, received more than 20 comments when she asked the question: Which living person would you like to see on a stamp?

The LA Times fashion writer set up a survey: Poll: Which living face of fashion belongs on a U.S. stamp? –

There were 89 comments in a day and a half on this Florida news site, and note that the writer included an email address for readers who wanted to add a suggestion without leaving a comment. Does that mean there will be a followup? What living American would you like to see on a stamp? Let us know – St. Petersburg Times

How many news organizations will do more than just collect a few comments? The Postal Service is inviting official submissions. Here are the official stamp criteria from the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee

This is an opportunity to keep the conversation going, to solicit a list of names, to put out a poll, to narrow the list to the top five, to formally submit the names on behalf of your audience, and to report back the status of the request. The requests can be segmented by geography or topic area: who would be your metro area choice? your state choice? who would be your choice from among local sports stars? fashion stars? business stars? civic leaders? entertainers?

Each one of those points is an opportunity for deeper audience engagement. 

What is working for you? 

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Filed under Business models, Crowd sourcing, Social networking, User-generated content

Shining A Light On Government

Anthony Dixon grew up in Montclair, N.J., the town where my wife and I raised our children. Anthony later joined the military and was in a transport vehicle in Iraq when a roadside bomb exploded. Shrapnel pierced the floorboards, killing the 20-year-old soldier. When I was deputy managing editor for news at the Philadelphia Inquirer, we published an investigation showing that too little armor protected military vehicles in those years. Our reporters tracked down proof that steel companies in Pennsylvania and vehicle assembly lines in Ohio operated as directed by the military on a normal schedule, with weekends off, even while Pentagon officials were saying they were doing everything they could to safeguard the troops.

One order from Washington, one more shift at the assembly plant, one more armored vehicle in Baghdad, and Anthony would be alive today. Lawmakers, families and military officials read our articles and changed policies. Today, troops in the field are better protected.

Nothing can bring about positive change more quickly than quality journalism. Journalism is also the sector of our economy undergoing the most profound disruption. While others may lament the uncertainty and the erosion of incumbent business models, the same technologies that have been so disruptive also provide new opportunities —  opportunities for more people than ever before to use more powerful tools to create and distribute quality journalism.

A friend and neighbor, Steve Engelberg, spoke recently about his work as managing editor of Pro Publica, the non-profit newsroom based in New York that produces powerful investigations that serve the public. Steve talked about the intense data crunching that produced Dollars for Docs, a single database that lists doctors who received a total of $258 million from drug companies promoting pharmaceutical sales. Is your doctor on the list? Now you can find out with one click

Steve noted a stark example of what happens when news organizations are not providing scrutiny. He discussed the case of city employees in Bell, Calif., who were each paid many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in salaries. Eventually, two reporters at the Los Angeles Times, Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives, uncovered the sky-high payments and a web of corruption in the town. No community newspaper revealed the story for the simple reason that there was no community newspaper in Bell.

Terry Francke, an open government consultant, described the long decline in his article, Why the Bell Scandal Happened and What Can Be Done:

These multi-community publications attempted to be the same watchdogs over local councils and school boards that their individual predecessors had been but were spread far more thin.

The former Industrial Post (last known as the Community News) went through several chain companies' hands until disappearing as even an independent name. And whatever close coverage of local news it had into the 1990s has been gone for the past decade.

Some newsrooms are taking an important step and developing ambitious goals for local coverage, with rollouts planned nationally by Patch and MainStreetConnect, state efforts from Oregon to Texas, and more focused efforts dotted across the nation, from Philadelphia to San Diego

Then there are the tools, new software that citizens can use to pinpoint problems in their own communities. Companies that offer such tools include CitySourced and SeeClickFix. Outside the United States, I Paid A Bribe is just one website that puts similar tools in the hands of people who want better government. President Obama praised that site during his trip to India this month. 

Even the most ordinary acts of government have an extraordinary impact on the lives of ordinary people. With the right vision and tools, journalists can continue to shine a light on these actions. One way to pay tribute to Anthony Dixon is to make sure that light shines brightly.



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My Star-Ledger Is Free; So Is

We were in Chicago over the weekend, and I saw a fascinating hedline in The Chicago Tribune. It wasn't on a news story — it was on an ad distributed with the paper. Subscribe to The Trib for $1 a week.

That seemed like a good deal for readers, but I guess there will be plenty of people in the Tribune circulation area who still won't take the deal. It's not because they don't want to pay for content — it's that they don't value the experience of sitting down and leafing through a printed newspaper. Listen to nonreaders: rather than cite a newspaper as a convenience, they'll complain about papers stacking up, about the inconvenience of having to put paper out on recycling day.

Back in North Jersey, The Star-Ledger landed on our front lawn this morning, just as it has many weekdays and every Sunday for about two months. One problem: we don't subscribe to the paper. We didn't ask for the paper, we don't get billed by the Star-Ledger and we don't pay for delivery. The printed Star-Ledger costs me exactly what it costs me to read the same content on — nothing.

I used to work as an editor in Philadelphia, where I had plenty of meetings with marketing, circulation and sales people. I also participated in focus groups and reviewed studies about readership. 

Do readers pay for content? Ask your circ people and your marketing people how they get new subscribers. They can cite stats on kiosk sales, direct mail, phone banks. It costs money to sign up a subscriber — even for just 13 weeks. Most big city metros have high levels of churn. In Philadelphia, a huge response to news or commentary was dwarfed by other factors. When a political endorsement angered readres and resulted in something like 600 cancelations, we learned that more people had canceled in that same period because they had died. Do readers pay for content? Turn the question around: what do papers pay for a new sub? I recall seeing figures from $30 to $50 a sub. Anyone have more current figures?

The marketing people study this all the time. Read the direct mail pieces they send out — pieces  scripted to maximize results. There is very little there about news coverage, but plenty about utility and convenience.

We had some conversations, too, about the number of people who ever said they canceled because the news was available free online. If you are talking to your circ people, ask for that figure. They usually do exit interviwes with at least a sample of readers who cancel. If the number who cite free content online was a notable number, the circ people would be pounding on the editor's door. Silence on that count told me all I needed to know when I met with them.

I asked another question: how many new subscriptions came over the transom, with readers who unsolicitied went to the paper's website and ordered the paper. I forget the exact number now, but it was in the thousands, and the circ department valued those readers — they always provided credit card information so they never had to be billed.

Steve Buttry of Gazette Communications has stirred the pay wall conversation with an insightful post on his blog. Other bright minds, including Tim O'Brien of The NYTimes and the media critic Bill Wyman have also kept the converstaion moving along. I have a question for Tim, who lives near me in North Jersey — do you receive a free Star-Ledger, too?

Buttry is trying to move the conversation past the pay-no-pay point to a discussion about other ways a multi-platform and multi-media newsroom can help partner with businesses that need to reach customers. That will be the way to build revenue for news organzations. That's the important conversation Buttry keeps prodding smart editors and publishers into joining.

The heated discussion illuminates many points, but nothing makes the point quite as clear as the pound and a half of newsprint dropped on my lawn this morning — free of charge.

— Carl Lavin

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Where Can The AP Find Content Theft? In The Mirror.

Yes, I enjoy working with many AP staffers and I am fortunate to have a number of friends among the nearly 4,000 people at The Associated Press. The AP's best work, on Guantanamo inmates and on recipients of federal bank-bailout money, is terrific. But the AP vow that it will be diligent about protecting the intellectual property of newspapers makes my Spidey sense tingle.

One of the worst offenders is the AP itself. The bread and butter of an Associated Press report is not global or national enterprise reporting, it's quick rip and rewrite work that rebrands and distributes newspaper content. Sometimes, the name of the paper that did the work is part of the AP package. Often it is left out. Nothing Google does will destroy brand value as fast as repackaging original content and omitting all credit.

In a few minutes of searching just now, I stumbled on a typical situation. An Iowa paper, the Des Moines Register, ran an article about hospital budget cuts.  A short while later, there was an AP story about hospital budget cuts from Iowa. In this case, the AP piece on the Chicago Tribune website actually credits the Des Moines paper. Often, too often, there is no such credit.

The AP is a collective and any AP member has a right to the locally generated news report of other members. Very occasionally, a story from one paper will run on a state wire as is — with full credit to the paper where the story started. As every newspaper editor knows, the more common situation is content laundering — the AP does a very light rewrite, strips away any credit, and allows any other paper to use the story.

Typically, this is a big portion of a state or regional wire report. When I worked in Pennsylvania, for example, where there is a talented and hard-working AP crew, it was common for the AP state wire to serve up stories to members that were essentially uncredited rewrites from local newspapers.

What if the AP simply distributed the original stories — allowing content to be shared among members as it was published, without an AP reporter making a call to confirm information or rewriting the article. That would be a real content-sharing cooperative, similar to cooperatives springing up in Florida, Ohio, New York and New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Maine.

Is Google the enemy? Or is it a long-standing practice of rebranding and re-distributing content under the AP flag that is really hurting newspaper companies? If the AP wants to expand its search for content theft, a good place to start would be a long look in the mirror.

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The 2009 Newspaper War: Where Are The Generals?

Edison Plant
The newspaper war in 2009 is not among  competing newsrooms and it's not a squabble over scoops. It's a war against declining revenue.

Total ad sales reached almost $50 billion a year as recently as 2006. Last year the figure dropped to $38 billion. This year, with another 17 percent drop expected, at least one estimate forecasts total 2009 sales at $31 billion.

Total newspaper employment is down, but the drop is not keeping pace. New numbers, which should be available in April, are likely to show 5,000 fewer jobs for reporters, editors and other journalists — for a new total of around 47,000 remaining news jobs at newspaper companies.

But with circulation declines and rising newsprint prices, the falling ad revenue means executives of newspaper companies will have to make more cost-cutting moves, and make them soon.

For several years, these top executives have made modest course corrections. For example, The New York Times, after spending $1 billion for a new printing plant in Edison, N.J., closed the plant last year. The photo above, though, shows the Times company has not had much luck getting a tenant. (Photo by Lauren Shay Lavin.)

In Philadelphia, the owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News haven't sold the headquarters building in Center City. If they had done a sale-leaseback, the bankruptcy filing for the holding company might have been delayed.

Profits are so low, that a US Senator, Benjamin Cardin, has proposed legislation allowing publishers to reorganize as nonprofits.  Any income they can earn would be free from taxes. 

All the noise about the end of newspapers ignores one fact, though. With $30 billion in ad sales, it is possible to make a profit. It's not possible to make a profit while paying for big empty printing plants or offices, while continuing to employ 50,000 journalists, or while moving slowly to take other needed steps.

Some companies will move fast enough to find a cost structure that works at the new revenue levels. Some companies will move fast enough to innovate new product lines, on and off line. A very few companies will do both. Those will be the companies that will start to collect larger and larger shares of that $30 billion.


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