Friday, July 31, 2009

Everything will be better in the new building

All right, my friends (and I think we both know who you are): the air in this joint's been getting stale, and all the people who selected this Blogger layout in 2005 are now much more famous than I am. Therefore, The Medium Run is closed until further notice; for the forseeable future, I'll be blogging about entrepreneurial local journalism under my own domain (but with -- never fear! -- equal sporadicity) at, which will offer all the same services, including its very own RSS feed, which will ding every time I post, and its very own email subscription.

I hope you'll join me there, where our new broadcast is already in progress...

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Two kinds of products that rely on people's flaws

Here's a distinction worth understanding:

a) Products that rely on the idea that people will simply be too dumb to figure out an alternative. These products rely only on informational barriers: once you know the better way to do things, it's no trouble to do things the better way.

Like a car mechanic who preys on ignorance in order to sell more air filters, these products breed resentment.


b) Products that rely on the idea that people don't have the time or effort to pursue an alternative. These products rely on procedural barriers: even if you spent the time to figure out an alternative, you'd need to alter your behavior to take advantage of it.

Like a car mechanic who pokes around in earnest for possible mechanical problems you haven't yet noticed, these products breed loyalty.

Continue reading...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Summer job to save the environment

Exciting news: I've been asked (okay, I basically groveled, but they are actually paying me) to cover local-news startups this summer for one of my favorite blogs, Josh Benton's ridiculously results-oriented Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard's Nieman Foundation.

A few other part-time interns and I should each be posting once a week.

I expect this gig to consume most of my creative energy through September, but I'll be cross-posting here each week to add a few reflections on my reported pieces.

If you have any suggestions of startups, startup plans or startup trends that need covering, I'll be scrambling for good ideas, so please shoot an email to mike (dot) andersen (at) Gmail or leave a comment below.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Disprove this

Here's a brief proposition I'd be curious to see contradicted:

The common factor among all profitable journalism startups in the last seven years is not Web distribution, user interaction, worse content, better content, more content, less content, paid content or free content. The common factor is a narrow audience.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

In which hog fuel demonstrates that paid content has potential

Here's the best case against paid news content. It's two sentences long:

"We tried that. It didn't work."

But there's a powerful rebuttal to that case, one that grizzled online-news veterans (like my man Steve Yelvington, linked above) miss: The economics have changed since last time.

No, consumer desires haven't changed since 1996. Sorry, Al, they wouldn't pay for traditional newspaper content online then, and they won't now. But local media incentives have changed since 1996.

The real question: whether those incentives have changed enough to force newspapers to make the crucial shift that could keep them alive -- a shift to niche products.

If you want to understand how newspaper incentives have changed, you need to understand the following short story from the great Northwest.

It's a story about hog fuel.

Hog fuel is a byproduct of papermaking. It's basically a bunch of tree scraps that get left on the mill floor because they aren't even good for turning into pulp. Paper plants, like this one in my old hometown, produce hog fuel by the metric ton; they can't avoid it.

What do you do with a nearly worthless byproduct? Maybe you could find some odd use for it. But that'd take a lot of work: gathering it, measuring it, marketing it, lining up buyers and shipping it to them. And for what? Obviously your workers' precious time would be better spent on the operation that makes the real money: paper.

No, it's much easier to find some use for hog fuel that costs nothing. And that's exactly what paper mills do: they burn it. Hog-fuel furnaces offset a huge share of many paper plants' substantial electricity bills. It's a cheap and effective way to dispose of something you've got too much of.

But what if paper suddenly ceased to be so profitable?

What would happen to your hog fuel then?

You'd still have a mill that's very good at chopping up trees. But suddenly, you'd start looking closer at your hog fuel. You might start looking for those obscure hog-fuel markets. You might start chopping your logs a bit differently to maximize the value of that hog fuel. You might even start researching how to turn hog fuel into something really valuable, like ethanol -- research that would have never been worthwhile before.

You've got incentives you never had before to make hog fuel valuable.

Hog fuel is Web content. Paper is -- well, paper.

In 1996, when the print product was gushing cash, the rational thing to do with newspaper content online was to throw it up for free. Unlike with paid online content, which requires a helpdesk, a sales effort, and maybe even some changes to the production process, the marginal costs of free content were minimal.

The newsroom was already churning out a metric ton of content, after all. So what if it wasn't optimized for online readership? Hire a kid to hit CTRL-C/CTRL-V for an hour or two each morning, and you'll get some cheap exposure, a hunk of cheap online ad sales and a cheap feeling of progress.

But now, the paper market has dried up.

It's time to figure out what to do with all this crap we've been leaving on the floor, kids. We can squeeze money out of it. We just have to change the process a bit.

Continue reading...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

It's a manifesto

It's been the formula embraced by every half-crazy, screw-the-system dreamer in history, from Henry Thoreau to Jerry Maguire:

Do less, better.

And for journalists, it's the way of the future. It's exactly what consumers are demanding.

How cool is that?

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Online news should be replayable

Follow-up thought on yesterday's iTunes for news defense: When analysts say things like:

Newspaper content is ephemeral by nature ... It isn't the same as downloading a song and keeping it and replaying it. It loses its value almost instantaneously.

...the speaker is not describing a problem with iTunes. She's describing a problem with the way news is traditionally presented.

It's a problem that can be solved.

Continue reading...


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