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News Investment

News Investment

By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

How much did media companies invest in online newsrooms in 2007?

As in years past, the data remain spotty. News organizations continue to vary in how they account for staffing and budgeting for online newsgathering. The total number of journalists working on news Web sites is still difficult to pin down. In 2007, the Los Angeles Times followed Gannett’s earlier lead in merging their online and news operations, with little or no clear-cut financial break-downs.

But the evidence in general suggests that 2007 brought a refocusing of resources to the Web and away from the legacy product, at least in some cases. While hard numbers are elusive, survey research and anecdotal evidence suggest more media companies are showing a deepening commitment to the Web.

Heading into 2008, four trends stand out:

Joint Ventures

One trend that began in 2006, joint ventures between news organizations and online companies, including former competitors, grew in 2007.

In the summer of 2006, Monster.com, a job recruitment Web site, announced it would power the job search for the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Web site. By early 2007, it had struck deals with 60 newspapers, including the St. Petersburg Times and the Akron Beacon Journal.1

Then, in February 2007, the New York Times, which had remained one of the few hold-outs to partnering with an online-only media company, announced it, too, had agreed to partner with Monster.com.2

“As big as it is, the New York Times doesn’t have the same kind of marketing power a Monster does,” said Ken Doctor, a newspaper industry analyst with Outsell, a research firm.3

As of early January 2008, Monster.com has formed partnerships with over 160 newspapers, according to its corporate Web site.

In November 2006, shortly after Monster.com’s initial announcement, Google retaliated with its own new offering: the Print Ad program. Here, Google would serve as the middleman, allowing advertisers to purchase ads in any partnered print newspapers. Initially, 50 newspapers signed on; that number grew to more than 600 by late November 2007, according to a list published on Google’s Web site.

Yahoo also got into the mix with yet a different kind of partnership. It announced, in November 2006 that it had joined with 176 newspapers to link their classified ads with Yahoo’s search technology.4 According to Rick Edmonds, an analyst with the Poynter Institute and co-author of this report’s newspaper chapter, the newspaper industry has a “miserable record facilitating print buys for national advertisers across a large group of papers.” Yahoo suggested it had the potential to resolve this. As of late November 2007, 415 daily newspapers had partnered with Yahoo.5

According to those involved, these partnerships offer potential advantages to all players. Advertisers can streamline their buys, placing many more ads in one transaction. Newspapers get a new avenue for ad dollars and can seem more appealing as a group than in individual sales. Aggregators naturally become a more essential player particularly in the growing local ad market.

Of course, aggregators also drive traffic to newspaper Web sites. A study by the audience measurement firm Hitwise found that newspaper Web sites, not necessarily participants in the Print Ad program, generated 30% more traffic from Google in March 2007 compared to the same month a year earlier.6

And early evidence suggests the Yahoo partnership has already yielded positive results for newspapers. In November 2007, Leon Levitt, vice president for digital media at Cox Enterprises, said there have been significant increases in traffic to the company’s 17 Web sites since it joined Yahoo’s consortium in November 2006.7 And, while details of the revenue split between Yahoo and partnered newspapers has not been disclosed, early figures suggest the partnership has given newspapers a boost. For the Lee newspapers, one of the 10 largest newspaper groups by daily circulation, online revenue grew 49% in the eight months before its deal with Yahoo, but then averaged 62% growth in the first five months after the deal.8

According to a Lee spokesman, Dan Hayes, Yahoo is having a “beneficial impact” on the chain, which owns 50 daily newspapers, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We pick up eyeballs,” Hayes said. “We gain traffic.”9

One analyst projects even larger gains for newspapers in these partnerships looking ahead. According to Paul Ginocchio, an analyst with Deutsche Bank, online ad revenue for newspapers in the Yahoo consortium will grow by 20% or more in 2008 and 2009. He estimates that overall growth for newspapers, both print and online, “could turn positive” for some participating newspapers by 2009, a year earlier than most analysts currently anticipate.10 (See Advertising Chapter.)

The Primacy of the Web

Up until a few years ago, the Web was frequently characterized as a tool to supplement or improve news on traditional platforms, particularly newspapers. In 2006 and 2007, however, media executives and editors started to speak of the Web as a front porch rather than back door for their older, legacy properties.

The most prominent voice representing this changing attitude came from Gannett, the country’s largest newspaper chain. In November 2006, Gannett’s CEO, Craig Dubow described his organization’s vision for the “newsroom of the future.”11

As part of its strategic plan, Gannett’s newsroom would become “platform agnostic,” meaning news would be delivered from any medium. New techniques for producing and gathering information formed the backbone of the plan, including using multimedia – podcasting, video, photos and graphics — and “crowd sourcing,” or soliciting advice from online readers on a particular story.

In May 2007, Gannett made such crowd sourcing, along with online video and databases, critical to the company’s experiment with hyperlocal journalism, a “24/7, multiplatform operation [that] invites readers to be among its eyes and ears.”12

Advocates of these new approaches, such as Jeff Jarvis, author of the Buzz Machine blog, applauded Gannett’s decision to foster a news climate in which “newspapers do less and the Web sites do much more.”13 Although Dubow’s memo also included a discussion on how these changes could impact all of Gannett’s media properties, including newspapers, it was the Internet that was seen as the catalyst for change, because, as he put it, “Breaking news on the Web and updating for the newspaper draws more people to both those media.”

Other news organizations also publicized their commitment to the Web at about the same time.

In a November 2006 memo, the Washington Post’s executive editor, Leonard Downie, announced to his staff both a “re-direction of newsroom resources for expanded political coverage in the printed newspaper and significant initiatives on washingtonpost.com.”

Evolution in the Post’s digital operations resulted in changes on the print side. Although Downie emphasized he was still committed to maximizing the paper’s print readership, the memo stressed plans to “shrink” the newspaper staff.14

A few months later, at the Los Angeles Times, James O’Shea, who was then the editor, urged a “total integration of the print and online reporting teams” to compete not only with other newspaper sites but also online news aggregators. “We can’t hide from the fact that that smart competitors such as Google and Craigslist are stealing readers and advertisers from us,” O’Shea told his staff in January 2007.

More attention on the Web meant a new role for the Los Angeles Times newspaper. With the Web site now absorbing breaking news responsibility, the print version would focus more on “analysis, interpretation, and expertise,” O’Shea said.15

Online Newsroom Staffing

Data — both quantitative and qualitative — on the precise number of people employed in online newsrooms are in short supply.

As media organizations devote more staff to their online products, the need has grown for specific staff counts. But since many employees serve both the legacy and online products, they are often difficult to pin down. The American Society of Newspaper Editors, for example, added an online element to its 2006 census of the newspaper industry. It proved valuable on a paper-by-paper basis but differences in newspaper structures made it hard to combine those figures across outlets in a meaningful way. The editors society has continued to refine its survey and will have new figures to release in the spring of 2008.

Directories like the News Media Yellow Book, published by the Leadership Directories, now include online staff listings, but there are often considerable variances from the numbers reported in news articles. For example, one widely circulated report on the future of LATimes.com, often referred to as the Spring Street memo, reported that the WashingtonPost.com Web site employed 200 employees.16 Yet only six are listed in the 2008 Winter Edition of the Yellow Book.

Anecdotal evidence and discussions with specific news organization suggest sizable increases in online staff. At Time.com, the Web site’s general manager, John Cantarella, told MediaPost Publications in early 2007 that the number of employees on both the business and editorial sides had doubled to around 30.17

Retraining and Training for the Web

One issue in the transition to the Web is working with journalists schooled and practiced in print and other more traditional forms of journalism. How well do their skills translate online and how is management preparing them for their new tasks?

In a survey of 245 online journalists, Shahira Fahmy, an assistant professor of journalism at Southern Illinois University, asked them to rank the most critical skills needed in 2007, and then predict the same for 2012. These responses indicated a clear sense of the need for sharper online skills.18

Although these journalists saw traditional journalism skills as the most vital, both now and in the future, they ranked digital journalism skills as increasingly important over the next five years.

According to the respondents, online production skills such as shooting photos and video, capturing audio, and editing and producing other multimedia will be more relevant to the online newsroom in 2012. Less important, the survey found, were Web-coding skills, such as a knowledge of Javascript or HTML.

In the future category, the study also found teamwork ranked third for 2012, perhaps underscoring the critical need for more collaboration between online journalists and those with older media background.

Attitudes Toward Current and Future Journalism Skills

Current Importance Future (5 Years) Importance
Traditional Journalism Skills
Ability to learn
#1
#1
Editing
#2
#6
Reporting
#3
#4
Spelling
#4
#13
Research
#5
#2
Writing
#6
#11
Teamwork
#7
#3
Interviewing
#8
#7
Photography
#10
#4
AP Style
#12
#25
Digital Journalism Skills
Shooting photos
#9
#8
Imaging production
#13
#16
Graphics
#15
#19
Multimedia delivery
#16
#12
Multimedia editing/production
#21
#15
Capturing audio
#21
#14
Shooting video
#23
#10
Animation & Flash
#24
#17
Podcasting
#25
#20
Web-Coding Skills
Accessibility
#11
#9
HTML/XML/XHTML
#14
#21
Database
#17
#18
Web-editing software
#18
#24
Javascript
#19
#22
PDF-editing
#20
#23

Source: Shahira Fahmy, “Retooling the News Approach: Online News Professionals’ Attitudes Toward Current & Future Journalism Skills,” Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, 2007
Note: Rankings for perceived importance of current and future traditional journalism skills, digital journalism skills and web-coding skills (N=245)

There is also evidence of a shift toward investing more in multimedia already in use in 2007, particularly in training former print journalists to shoot video. In a January 2008 article published in the American Journalism Review, Charles Layton, a senior contributing writer for the journal, noted that as of fall 2007, the Washington Post had trained more than 140 reporters to capture video.

The Tampa ( Fla.) Tribune had given 60 of its 275 total news staff online video training. According to the paper’s executive editor, Janet Coats, “pretty much everybody in the newsroom” ultimately will know how to use a video camera.19

In October 2007, ABC News announced it was opening seven new foreign bureaus, each staffed by one person who would operate as both a reporter and producer. Before moving overseas, each of the reporters received training in digital photography, Reuters reported. Each bureau is staffed by one ABC News employee, who serves as both reporter and producer. Before being shipped overseas, each staffer received training in digital photography, Reuters reported.20

Training for the Web is now beginning even before future journalists hit the workforce.

According to the 2006 Annual Survey of Journalism & Mass Communication Graduates, supervised by Professor Lee Becker at the University of Georgia, a growing number of journalism and communication students are being trained for the online work world.21

For instance, 42% of 2006 graduates indicated that their undergraduate curriculum included writing and editing for the Web, up from 30% in 2005, and 23% from 2004.

Over all, 14% say they received training in designing and building Web pages, up from 8% the year before and 7% in 2004.

Growth of Web-Related Jobs in Journalism
Surveys of journalism and mass communication graduates, 2004-2006
Design Your Own Chart
Source: The Cox Center at the University of Georgia, Annual Survey of Journalism & Mass Communication Graduates, http://www.grady.uga.edu/ANNUALSURVEYS/

Seven in ten (71%) graduates surveyed also said they were more likely than their predecessors to be online news consumers.

For now, though, these new working journalists still spend most of their time in traditional journalism roles. Fewer than two in ten (18%) reported holding a position that asked them to produce photos and graphics for the Web.

Less than one in ten (9%) said they designed and created computer graphics and just 2% were responsible for producing content for mobile devices. In comparison, a much larger percentage (38%) said they wrote, reported or edited for print publications.

That adds up to relatively small percentages of journalists taking on responsibilities that would ultimately help news Web sites reach their full potential, particularly in the area of multimedia.

Technical Work Performed on Job
An Overview of Jobs for 2006 Bachelor’s Degree Recipients
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Annual Survey of Journalism and Mass Communication Graduates

Handing the Reins Over to the User

Just as journalists are being trained to produce content more amenable to the Web, the Web sites themselves are taking more advantage of the new technology.

For the 2007 report, the Project evaluated a range of news Web sites from both traditional media (newspapers, radio and cable) and online-only outlets, including blogs. (See last year’s report.) One finding from the report was “that the participatory nature of the Web is more theoretical than a virtue in full bloom.22 New data in 2007 suggest many new steps have been taken, especially in the area of allowing users, rather than editors, to be in control.

The Bivings Group, a communications firm that creates Internet programs, studied the Web sites of the top 100 highest circulation newspapers based on the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ March 31, 2007, report. The authors found that most of the sites had added features that can be personalized by users.23

Among the findings:

  1. Virtually all (97%) of the sites offered RSS (Really Simple Syndication), a technology that allows users to subscribe to regularly updated Web feeds, up from 76% in 2006.
  2. Eighty-eight percent now allowed readers an opportunity to post comments on blogs hosted on the newspaper sites, up from 67% in 2006.
  3. More than half (51%) included a “most popular” articles listing determined by reader usage, a number that increased from 33% the year before.
  4. Forty-four percent offered readers the ability to bookmark news articles, compared to just 7 percent in 2006.

A third (33%) allowed readers to make comments on news articles, up from 19% in 2006.

The advent of the consumer-as-editor is not limited to news Web sites. In the fall of 2007, CBS.com announced it had launched Eyelab, allowing users to edit its programming, including news shows.

“Online video is not just about TV shows as we know them, and EyeLab content is not for TV,” explained George Schweitzer, president of the CBS Marketing Group.24

According to a July 2007 survey conducted by Avenue A|Razorfish., personalization of online media is now a mainstream activity.25

Six in ten consumers (60%) reported their home pages had been customized with specific content feeds or scheduled updates.

More than half (56%) said they use RSS feeds. Most of them, however, do not appear to be regular RSS users. Just two in ten said they used RSS either “all the time” (7%) or “most of the time” (11%). Most (37%) indicated they used RSS just “once in a while.”

The survey also found that a majority (55%) shared bookmarks with others through user-generated sites like del.icio.us. Nearly two in ten (18%) indicated they had done this either “all the time” (6%) or “most of the time” (11%).

The same consumers also said they were making purchases based on personal recommendations from online retail sites like Amazon.com. More than six in ten (62%) indicated they had bought an item as a result of a customized suggestion from a Web site based on their previous purchases.

Footnotes

1. Mark Walsh, “Times Co. Taps Monster for Job Ads,” Online Media Daily, February 15, 2007.

2. Michael J. de la Merced, “Times Company Forms Alliance With Job-Listing Web Site,” New York Times, February 15, 2007.

3. Ibid.

4. Miguel Helft and Steve Lohr, “176 Newspapers to Form a Partnership With Yahoo,” New York Times, Nov ember 20, 2006.

5. Seth Sutel, “Yahoo adds 17 more newspapers,” Associated Press, November 19, 2007.

6. LeeAnn Prescott, “Hitwise US News & Media Report,” Hitwise, April 2007

7. Seth Sutel, “ New York Times regional papers join Yahoo newspaper group,” Associated Press, November 18, 2007.

8. “Yahoo! deal impact could be greater than expected,” Deutsche Bank Securities Inc., September 21, 2007.

9. Robert MacMillan, “Future may be murky for Yahoo and newspaper alliance,” Reuters, October 11, 2007.

10. “Yahoo! deal impact could be greater than expected,” Deutsche Bank Securities Inc., September 21, 2007.

11. “Gannett introduces ‘the newsroom of the future,’ ” memo from Gannett CEO Craig Durbow, Poynter Online, November 2, 2006.

12. Donna Shaw, “Really Local,” American Journalism Review, April/May 2007.

13. Jeff Jarvis, “Gannett explodes the newsroom,” Buzzmachine.com blog November 5, 2006.

14. “Washington Post to reduce paper staff, increase web focus,” Cyberjournalist.net, November 16, 2006.

15. Erik Sass, “LA Times Unveils New Web Strategy,” MediaPost Publications, January 25, 2007.

16. The Spring Street memo can be accessed at: http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlLA/on/lats_scathing_internal_memo_read_it_here_51895.asp

17. Mark Walsh, “Time.com Adds Blogs, News Feed,” MediaPost Publications, January 8, 2007.

18. Shahira Fahmy, “Retooling The News Approach: Online News Professionals’ Attitudes Towards Current & Future Journalism Skills,” AEJMC, 2007.

19. Charles Layton, “The Video Explosion,” American Journalism Review, December/January 2008.

20. Paul J. Gough, “ABC News opening one-man foreign bureaus,” Reuters, October 3, 2007.

21. Lee B. Becker, et al., “2006 Annual Survey of Journalism & Mass Communication Graduates,” Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication, August 10, 2007.

22. “State of the News Media 2007,” Project for Excellence in Journalism, March 12, 2007.

23. “American Newspapers and the Internet: Threat or Opportunity,” The Bivings Group, July 19, 2007.

24. Gavin O’Malley, “CBS ‘EyeLab’ Will Give Consumers Bite-Sized Clips,” MediaPost, October 1, 2007.

25. “Digital Consumer Behavior Study,” Avenue A| Razorfish. study conducted in July 2007.