Friday, November 11, 2011

Romenesko didn't do anything wrong

Twelve years ago, the Poynter Institute hired Jim Romenesko to aggregate interesting and important stories about the world of journalism. Yesterday, he was pressured into premature retirement for leaving out a few quotation marks while doing it.

What the hell was Poynter thinking? The priggish and self-righteous individuals who hustled Romenesko out the door for this flimsy technical infraction owe him a major apology.

Romenesko pioneered a legitimate new journalistic format – and became a daily reading requirement in the process – by aggregating links to articles across the web that would, and should, be of interest to journalists and those of us who care about how our news is produced.

After arising every morning at an ungodly hour at his home in suburban Chicago, Romenesko culled key articles from the web and then published them in a terse, reader-friendly format that included a headline, prominent links to the original story and a few lines describing the article and why it was important.

Evidently weary of all those early wake-ups, Romenesko planned to retire by year’s end from the blog he created and sold to Poynter a dozen years ago. Instead, he resigned under pressure late yesterday for the goofiest reason you could imagine.

The kerfuffle that led to Romenesko’s abrupt departure from his eponymous blog was triggered by an inquiry from the Columbia Journalism Review that accused Romenesko of failing to put quotation marks around some passages from articles that he abstracted on his blog.

While it indeed would be an ethical and a journalistic breech for a writer to lift sentences and paragraphs from another article and pass them off as his own, Romenesko did no such thing. The whole point of his blog was to aggregate articles from other sources. The format of his blog left no question that he was abstracting the work of others and prominent links to the source of every item left no doubt as to their origin.

Even in the absence of quotation marks, no reasonable person – repeat, no reasonable person – could possibly conclude that he was doing anything other than what he did.

And he did it very well. At a time when the economic foundations and practice of journalism are being rocked by new technologies and disruptive publishing models, Jim Romenesko has been the cop on the beat, reporting the news and trying to keep us all honest.

He did an outstanding job. And he deserved a far better send-off than this.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Publishers need to focus on Facebook

Facebook is perhaps the most disruptive of the many powerful forces to rock the traditional media since the Internet burst into the common consciousness in the mid-1990s.

So, stop thinking about Facebook as one of the many projects on your endlessly expanding digital to-do list and start focusing single-mindedly on ways you can turn this captivating new medium to your advantage.

The addictive appeal of the leading social network is shifting ever-greater amounts of audience away from the traditional media channels. Facebook now claims 750 million “active” users around the globe and attracts nearly 1 billion page views per month. In mid-2010, Facebook surpassed Google as the most-visited site on the web, according to the Quantcast analytics service.

Being the rational business people that they are, marketers – the folks formerly known as your advertisers – are following the crowd to Facebook by establishing their own direct relationships with customers. Coca-Cola, to pick just one brand, has more than 34.4 million Facebook fans. A recent survey by Duke University found that corporate marketing officers expect to allocate no less than 18% of their budgets to social media within five years. That’s triple the amount they spend today.

Although Facebook is privately held and does not report its financial performance, the company is widely believed to be on track to double its advertising sales this year from $2 billion in 2010. Shares of the company have been valued in excess of $70 billion in the private equity market and many analysts believe Facebook could be worth more than $100 billion if it goes ahead with an expected initial public offering next year. Google at press time had a market cap of $170 billion.

Facebook’s power is not that it is about big ideas, world affairs, shocking crimes, important government actions or even the lives of the rich and famous. Facebook’s appeal is that it is all about You and the Things You Care About: Your friends, your love life, your family, your faith, your school, your job, your hobbies, your shopping, your games, your music and your movies.

The objective proof of Facebook’s emotional pull is that it is, by far, the stickiest site on the web. Visits to Facebook average 26 minutes per session, as opposed to 6.7 minutes for Twitter and 3.6 minutes for Yelp, according to Alexa.Com, the web analytics service.

By contrast, the average visit at newspaper websites is about 3.5 minutes per session, according to the Newspaper Association of America. If you add together all the visits to all the newspaper websites in the United States in a given month, the total is barely 10% of Facebook’s traffic.

Although the bad news is that Facebook has the capability to divert readers and advertisers away from newspapers and other traditional media, the good news is that this new format is still young enough and malleable enough to allow traditional media companies to elbow into the action to leverage the medium to their own advantage.

Unfortunately, the main thing publishers have done to date about Facebook is to contribute to its exponential growth by:

:: Providing abundant free ink to not only Facebook but also the popular movie about it – “The Social Network” – that came out last year. While the company, the social-networking phenomenon and the movie are all legitimate news fodder, the coverage unquestionably contributed to a major surge of interest in signing up for Facebook.

:: Plastering Facebook “share” logos on nearly every page of their web and mobile applications. While this practice may or may not draw a material number of additional eyeballs to publishers, it most certainly generates a ton of traffic for Facebook.

:: Increasingly adopting the Facebook system to authenticate individuals who want to leave comments on newspaper websites. While some publishers believe people behave more civilly in forums when their Facebook identities are known, a byproduct of this new service is that it also produces a rich new stream of viral content and page views for Facebook.

:: Devoting scare newsroom resources to building, tending and promoting newspaper-branded pages on Facebook. While a Facebook presence can be an important way for publishers to extend the visibility of their brands, a well-run newspaper page on Facebook has the added advantage of producing more traffic, more page views and more ad inventory for you know who.

There’s nothing wrong with newspapers participating in the Facebook ecosystem, if those activities are part of a thoughtful and strategic plan to benefit the publication. Because such plans to date generally have been in short supply among editors and publishers, newspapers at the moment are doing more for Facebook than they are doing for themselves. And that’s not good for newspapers.

In this space next month, I will discuss ways you can go from working for Facebook to have it work for you. Meantime, please pay close attention to Facebook, so You can see how it potentially will affect Your Business.

© 2011, Editor & Publisher