Saturday, January 31, 2009

What's the right head count for a newsroom.

Three for every beat. How many beats can you cover? Multiply by three.

It came up in an good conversation at the NiemanJournalismLab at Harvard. The opening post was titled Endowing every U.S. newspaper: $114 billion. Innovation: Priceless. Productive discussion. About 20 comments last time I looked.

Someplace in the middle of it, I said (this version is slightly edited)

“With those assumptions, how many people would we need?”

3 per beat. An outside person, an inside person and a great writer (rewrite).

The outside person walks the street, has meetings, interacts in the real world. She writes her notes on a blackberry, which goes onto a wiki.

The inside person is online as close to 24/7 as possible. Can be offsite. Could be done by an excessed journalist, or perhaps two part time Baby Boomers working from home to keep a 24/7 watch.

The rewrite person could also be anywhere. Works in the cloud.

The inside person twitters, blogs, stays immersed in the conversations in the cloud. The info is organized in a wiki. The inside person keeps the wiki neat and straight.

Then when an event occurs, all the background information is at hand. Any member of the 3 person team can spark the story.

The rewrite person - an expert writer - gets a fact sheet from the other two. Then starts writing. Posts the story on the wiki.

When the publishing event is about to happen, central production goes to wiki, gets the story and copies into a layout program or the web.

it’s done.

The paper is grown organically beat by beat. Usually the best beat to start with is education. Every parent in any area is focused on education.

Depending on the region, beats are added as interest and advertising are developed. First on the web, if it garners enough hits to earn it’s place in the paper, the beat gets into Print.

You build the audience and the advertising on the web, when it’s mature, only then does it earn a place in the valuable real estate of the Printed page.

How to get from here to there.
1. Identify your best best reporter. The quality of the work is more important than the beat.
2. Given her beat, find two other great people to team with her.
3. Use the job definitions as above.
4. Measure the clicks on the website to that reporters stories. Count the number of comments and the reporters responses on their beat blog.
5. Once you get to a reasonable number, give that beat a page in Print.
6. Measure the clicks and comments after each issue.

By this time the reporter you will know whether this reporter has a following. I would call them fans. Invent things to sell to the fans. Books are easiest. If the beat is high school education, do a compilation of the stories and an edited compilation of the comments. Offer it for sale on the web site.

Once you've got this right for one beat, then do it with another beat.

If you want to be really cool, comp the reporter for the stuff you sell to her fans. As long as you're giving good health and there is a long tail upside you should be able to get great people at a reasonable cost.

While all this is going on, focus on the people who want to reach the identified fan base. My bet is that they will be happy to advertise both on the web and in Print.

Friday, January 30, 2009

People Talk about USPS and EHG @

There is still one more interesting conversation at Based on the last couple of weeks, I recommend that folks with a passion for the Print industry should add PrintCeo to your RSS feed.

The conversation moved through a number of areas, the part about EHG - Education, Health and Government - is at the bottom. As of 9:30 PM on Saturday night there are 25 comments.

Following are snippets that attracted my attention.
Adam Dewitz started it on January 28th, 2009, with a post titled
: The Impact of the Economic Crisis on the U.S. Postal Service
.. . .the Postal Service is looking at another loss this year after losing nearly 3 billion in 2008.
The first post was Dr Joe Webb:
. . . I hope they spin them off and make them a real separate business that can stand on its own two feet rather than stay in this nebulous quasi-governmental structure of fixed non-market prices and costs. It would be traumatic at first, but it would be a far better and more responsive organization in the end.
Someone added
. . . the USPS should be looking at going to a weekly delivery schedule. Then:
. . . it needs a new business focus, and an injection of new thinking and innovation.
. . . Many of the service bureaus I talk with tell me their customers (banks, utilities, credit card companies, telcos, etc.) are looking very seriously at all but eliminating paper statements and going to electronic presentment.
. . . The USPS has to reinvent itself with a new and pragmatic strategy for doing business.
. . . Maybe the USPS should follow in the steps of Walmart (profits based on volume instead of price).
. . . ninety percent of the postal revune is generated through what most consider “junk” mail.
. . . Three days a week would be fine, Monday, Wednesday and Friday
. . . Offering a multi-year transition for converting to a 21st century economic model would be much more productive. While I respect Dr. Joe, it’s not purely a ‘play on paper’. The competing services have taken much of the profitable work, and as you recall FedEx began with limited access – they cherry-picked the fat off the business carcass and left the heavy-lifting to USPS, which had no choice and could not effectively compete. USPS has experimented and worked to be customer-focused.

They made early attempts to electronically fax mail and deliver faxes to mailboxes, but were too early. Now internet-based services scan mail and allow people access to images of their mail, with options to print, discard, or file that PRINTED MAIL. How whacked is that?Many sellers on eBay use the USPS effectively. How would they be affected? And why not ask the subsidized classes of mail to pay fair rates, instead of entertaining the postal commissioners and begging for relief? In for a penny, in for a pound… of mail??
Following is the part about new opportunities in Education, Health and Government. EHG.

. . . In our small market (Finland) postal volume has not increased over the last 10 years, even though the volume of communication generally has increased 10-fold

. . . .The post service has moved into other businesses(transpromotional contract printing, electronic invoicing, data-mining, etc.), and doesn’t really want the costly business of actually physically delivering mail anymore.

Then I said, (slightly edited for posting here)

Maybe it’s a previously unidentified new market for InfoPrint, Oce, Screen, or Xerox (or the top of the line Printers who use their equipment) + a couple of great data mining outfits + a great designer/marketer? Sounds perfect for a solution provider who might be able to help provide a solution for USPS.

I've been on the same soapbox since November 2005. Advertising is a shrinking market. Take what’s left on the table, and find greener pastures. The greenest pastures are in the EHG space. Education, health government. I’m sure there are many government, health and education enterprises that have big problems that are just waiting for us to solve.

The pitch:

Dear Senator,Congressman, State Representative, Mayor or fill in the blank.

You have a conference committee meeting on the economic stimulus package. If you could get an appropriation for x million, we can do a pilot project that will both create new high tech jobs in the Print Industry in x city and demonstrate a sustainable business model for the USPS. It is ready to start as soon as we get the money. Once we demonstrate it’s success, we are ready to scale for the entire USPS, Dept of Education, Health Dept. (fill in the blank)

RR.Donnely, Consolidated or the Xerox Corporation or four really really smart people with great connections and the ability to respond on a dime. They could be a creative team any where in the world.

Or some combination of the above.

Note: I did not post any names except for mine and Dr. Joe Webb as I don't know the other participants and did not want to wait to get the permission to use their names here. To view the full conversation, click here.

For Print Production Geeks Only

I "taught" production to designers at Parsons for 6 years. I say "taught" because I have since learned that you can't "teach." The best you can do is to create an environment in which learning occurs.

At any rate, it was really hard to get stuff for the three or four students every year that were true Print geeks. Since I'm a Print Geek wannabe, it was really frustrating.

Two years after leaving the teaching biz, I found Quality in Print. It's an awesome resource. Following is the first of 5 posts on Printing at DMaxx. If you don't know what that means, don't bother. But if you have to teach students, staff, or colleagues how Print really works, at the scale of ink touches blanket touches paper this is for you.

Quality In Print: Printing at DMaxx - part 1:
"The published standard solid ink density (SID) targets and their associated CIEL*a*b* values are designed to be be achievable by the majority of printshops with equipment in reasonable working order. They are great for standardizing presswork across the industry. However, they do not represent the best that can be achieved on press nor do they allow for competitive differentiation."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

How to Fix Education by spending less money

Listen to this episode of the Brian Leherer show on WNYC. I did have the audio embedded, but it took forever to load. Scroll down to the "Life without Lawyers" link.

Or buy this

Or on the web, read this

If that doesn't work, google "Life without Lawyers."

If you are interested in why I think this is so cool, stop back tommorow.
Hint: It's about de constructing "formal organizations," the role of power in the communication ecology and finding new productive jobs for the "best legal minds of our generation."

Why most of the "News" Sucks, most of the time.

Because newspapers are just emerging from chasing after eyeballs. And people always do what is easiest for them to do. So most of the news hole is filled with rewrites from PR releases and the various wire services. It worked when newspapers were the cheapest , fastest eyeball catchers on the planet. Now there are cheaper, faster eyeball catchers on the Internets.

Recently I've been focused on three things: The Google-Mart Economy here. Xerox here. But my home base is Print. Right here. I spent 37 years either making or selling Print. I've always been a Print Evangelist. Back in the day, my favorite professional partners and clients, then teaching colleagues, undergraduate students were designers and printers. So, this blog is a nice place to call home. Plus I actually have a lot of experience in this world.

Over at the Xerox blog, I recently posted a bit about how lame the media is on understanding what Xerox does. The more I followed the more I understood why most "news" sucks, most of the time.

Here's a slightly re-edited excerpt of what I said over there.
There are two kinds of news.

One is seeing what is happening in the real world. Then crafting a story about it.

The other is translating documents to craft the story we want to tell our viewers.
As long as a newspaper can keep straight which one they are doing, this works out ok. The problem is when people describe rewrites of PR releases or grabbing the story du jour from the day's blablabla as "news". So much bullshit is generated that we'll never figure out what to do next.

Meanwhile, when newspapers were the best eyeball catchers in the non broadcast world, it didn't really matter. But nowadays, every kid over the age of about 15, can separate out the authentic from the bullshit.

So, the real story is that most of the "news" most of the time always sucked. The real difference is that selling eyeballs is a really stupid business and the audience is too smart to not notice. So..they vote with their dollars.

Who is going to spend scarce attention time on bullshit, unless you want a good laugh or at least a smile? Fear has been the most reliable way to catch eyeballs in the past. But I think NoDrama Obama may change that for good. And if not him, then we'll just watch the marketplace do what it does so well.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

How to Fix Graphic Design and Career Education

Read about it here and here and here. Or if that doesn't work for you, read this.

It would be way cool if you could get a Print version so you wouldn't have to waste all the time clicking. But keep in mind, the Internet = Search + Telephone + TV + A big filing cabinet + the best way to buy stuff in the history of the world. It's a better, faster, cheaper way to do those things.

Not so good for compare and contrast. In any case, here's how I see it.

In the Printing Industry the players are, top of mind, Xerox, Kodak, Oce, Canon, Fuji Xerox. For commercial printers, it's everyone who needs a reliable source of talent to figure out what to do next. I like to call that installation a Publishing Center. For newspapers, it's all the serious players. top of mind, NY Times, Washington Post, McClatchey, Reuters, maybe even the AP if they can stop thinking the sky is falling. For design studios and ad agencies, it's pretty much what Seth said at the fourth link in the first line.

Education is the most sustainable profitable business in America. 50% of the kids in K-12 fail. The drop out rate in Community Colleges is huge. There are no serious measures of accountability. It's a protected market given that the certification process is controlled by legacy players. Every parent in the country will put themselves in deep debt to pay for it.

You can try it out for yourself with a little search an replace. Xerox University. Kodak University. Fuji Xerox University. Or NYTimes (fill in the blank) graduate program in journalism. Or the XYZ Printing Company Publishing Center and CTE Program.

Tuition? free for employees. $5,000 a year for high school kids (paid by the government), $10,000 a year for a BA.

Infrastructure? That was hard awhile ago. Traditional Universities still have heaps of money going into staff. Mostly what they do is figure out work arounds to work with proprietary systems. The focus is usually security as opposed to learning. So, use the Cloud or Google Ap or PbWiki or ning get the picture.

Staff? Given the number of young great teachers and retiring baby boomers and the pittance they get paid at most Universities, it should be easy to pull together the staff. Use an "freelance with security model. Supply good health care and don't make them go to stupid meetings.

Sound like a low hanging fruit?

Google? Economic stimulus package? Gates Foundation? Knight Foundation? maybe even one of the better schools could incubate this. Harvard? Brown? Yale? Columbia? Stanford?
or maybe an industry association. PIA? AAAA? . . . or maybe even the AP, as soon as they figure out that contrary to the conventional wisdom, the sky is NOT falling.

If anyone wants to know how to do it in their situation, just leave a comment. Anon is fine and I'll give you the step by step. It would help to identify whether you are a big business, a commercial printer, a newspaper or a government or a politician or running for office . . . or the AP. Dear AP, you can call it a news service or something like that if you're embarrassed.

My bet is that it will start in India. Then maybe Australia. Or in the UK or Sweden. Or out in the heartland of the USA. Everyone in NYC is too busy in a meeting or twittering.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

iPhones: Good News for Newspapers + Printers + Designers and Local Economic Development

SMBs (Small Medium Business) have become the growth engines of the economy. As the global corporations get lean to stay competitive, jobs are being created much closer to the ground.

Every small business wants more business. They all want marketing they can afford. If the marketing works, they buy more marketing. If the price is based on a flat fee + a price per new prospect, it's a nice sustainable business based on aligned incentives. If someone can figure out how to measure price for marketing based on new sales, the game is over.

Meanwhile, a minimum of bullshit is required. It's much easier to sell results than "what's gonna happen" or "ROI in the sky when you . . ."

When a commercial print sales force networks/partners with a newspaper ad sales force and has some smart designers/marketers in the mix, it becomes possible to deliver to SMB's want they want - marketing campaigns that are better, faster and cheaper.

The contact person could be the Print sales person, or the Newspaper Ad sales person, or the Designer/Marketer. Face the fact that nobody needs a "brochure" or an "ad" or a "design". But, everybody needs more business.

So, with one human contact, the SMB can do an integrated buy. Newspaper Print ad, newspaper web ad, follow up Print collateral, follow up SMB website and in another year or so content that will flow to iPhones.

The cost of sales is amortized over three or more product lines. When experts do what they are good at the overall cost is much lower. Meanwhile, the customer gets to buy what they want, when they want and how they want it.

The hard part is getting the collaboration, newspapers + commercial printers + trained professional designers. Doesn't cost money. But it does require a culture shift and some focus.
"People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?"
- Rodney King, May 1, 1992, Los Angeles
But somebody has to ask somebody to dance. Maybe it will turn out to be the Yellow Pages sales force? Or maybe a school or a foundation will host a meeting of newspaper sales people, Print salespeople and the designers/marketers. No big deal. Just get them all in the same room so they can meet. They will probably all show up as they are all looking for new business.

Or maybe someone with the right access can get this in the upcoming economic stimulus plan. Now that's "pork barrel" that could produce change I can believe in. Plus it would probably work. It could be implemented in a couple of days, instead of in a year.
The Local Mobile Opportunity … “Yes We Should.” @SearchEngineLand
. . . With estimates as high as 10 million iPhones sold in 2008 and “smartphones” being the fastest growing segment in the market, Internet-enabled mobile devices are a very attractive opportunity. Why? Because mobile search, at its core, is local search. And the opportunity for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), as well as national advertisers to connect to consumers via mobile applications and phones, is more real than ever before.

. . .
I was recently playing with an example, an iPhone application called, “iWant.” Say I’m walking down the street, remember a friend’s birthday and need a gift. I pull up the app on my iPhone or Internet enabled phone. As it has GPS, it knows where I am, completes the look-up providing three relevant results within walking distance. I select one and with a tap on the screen, I give them a call to see if they carry the item I’m interested in. They do and with another tap, I can get directions.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Why does all the cool stuff happen in India?

Building a Social Entrepreneurial Garage Startup in India | PBS:
" . . .And all this hosted on off-the-shelf hardware components, at a cost less than $1000 per community radio station.

The second step will be to connect radio stations situated in remote geographical areas to the Internet. We will do this using long distance WiFi links because broadband of other infrastructure based forms of Internet access are not available in rural areas. This will allow us to provide the following additional features:

Click the click above the text to get the full story.
Now all they have to do is link up with a local printer, preferably digital, and they have all the pieces in place.

Or if a printer in the states needs a "new business model:, maybe they can connect with a bunch of Generation Google and do it here.

In any case, here's what I said:
Awesome! Good luck.
Just one suggestion:
Consider doing a Print edition with the content from the station. Here's a description of how that works in the States in Central Pennsylvania.

Newspaper folks: Readers are a niche market

Face the fact that most people don't read unless they have to. So talk about "your readers" doesn't really help. Much more accurate is that masses of people search, view and sometimes scan headlines and ledes. Every once in a while, they stop to read.

The really good news for newspapers is that Print on Paper is the best way to search for information in the physical world. Since everyone lives in the physical world, with only brief excursions into hyper space, that means we can bring real value to networking with Google.

Try this: Think of your "newspaper" as a search platform in the physical world supported by advertising. Sound familiar? As in "Google is a search platform in the Cloud supported by advertising."

Face the fact that most newspapers are ad machines. They aggregate eyeballs and sell them to people who think they need eyeballs. That's how they made money. Journalists bemoan the fact. But it was the excess revenue by being the best ad machine for a long time that supported their reporting. It puts into a clearer perspective all the hand wringing about the "end of journalism and the threat to democratic government" and blablabla.

Meanwhile, it was alot easier to be an ad machine when there was no reliable way to accurately measure the number of eyeballs. Measured clicks, instead of eyeballs, easily flow into spreadsheets. Business people love spreadsheets. Turns out, however, that filling spreadsheets is not the same as selling stuff. Business people don't want to advertise. They want to sell stuff.

Some still believe newspapers can attract more eyeballs by "breaking news" or "great reporting". But in a Google Mart economy, while the value of information high, the correct price point is either free, or very close to free.

Consider the New Yorker magazine.

They are in the enviable position of having an audience of readers. When you Google "New Yorker", this comes up on the search page:
Online version of the weekly magazine, with current articles, cartoons, blogs, audio, video, slide shows, an archive of articles and abstracts back to 1925.
The customer gets all that for free. There are are very few outside ads on the website. All the ads are in the right hand sidebar. Away from the stories. Easily ignored. In the Print version there are full page ads. But most of the ads are also in the sidebars. (remind you of Google Ad Sense?)

So the way to make money is by selling stuff to fans. If you can identify the reading fans, it's pretty easy. Here's a cut and paste of ads from one page at the New Yorker's website.

The New Yorker
The New Yorker 47 issues for $39.95
*plus applicable sales tax
Address 1
Address 2

Or take a look at the Guardian Book Shop in the UK.

Lots of stuff for sale.

But "my readers don't read. How can I copy this successful model?

My bet is that about 5% of the population reads, either for enjoyment or as the best way to learn something about the world. Except for the short lived Tina Brown era (error?), The New Yorker stays focused on readers. They have earned a national, and probably now an international, audience of English speaking readers.

In every locality, probably around 5% of viewers are readers. If you are part of a chain that's not an insignificant niche market. In any case, where ever you find them, it's a growth market. Given the new emphasis on Smart by President Obama, et al. it may turn into an explosive market.

Many of you have under used Print capacity. If not, it's easy and inexpensive enough to network with a commercial printer in your area. Plus you have the long tail of content production. Plus you have at least a couple of really great editors and journalists/writers.

So make stuff readers will willingly buy. Start with books. Who knows? Every once in a while you may produce a book that goes mainstream and brings in tons of money. Don't forget that President Obama hit a homerun with a book. It accounts for most of his personal wealth. It could happen to you.

Don't split the revenue with a "publisher" who has a "distribution channel." You have a web site that identifies potential customers more efficiently than almost any "publisher." You can take orders, then print the book and deliver it to customers in the time it takes for the "publishers" with "channels" to push books out, many of which will be returned in 3 months later. No returns. Minimal distribution costs. Maybe make a deal with some independent bookstores. They have the closest contact with reading fans. Not a bad business.

While you're getting that to go mainstream, keep the ad machine running with local ads. Sell web and print ads as one package. Call it "multi media marketing services" for small local business". (The Chamber of Commerce will love it.). If you network with a local Printer, you can also sell them brochures and signs and pencils with their names on them.

Meanwhile take the chump change you get from clicks on the web. But harvest the information you're getting from the web to identify new tribes of fans. Then keep inventing new stuff to sell to your fans. If they don't read, sell them t-shirts or flowers or concert tickets.

Hint: You might want to get in touch with the best design talent you can get to. They specialize in inventing new stuff.

If the folks who sell stuff don't need newspapers, why not get into the selling stuff business. It's a much easier way to earn a living.