April 18, 2024

Advertising: For Journalists, a Call to Rethink Their Online Models

That does not mean yielding editorial control to sponsors, but it might mean coming up with alternatives to impression-based pricing, creating higher-value content for the Web by tapping into page view data, and helping to ensure that Web ads have value on their own.

In a 139-page report to be released on Tuesday, the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University will outline those recommendations and others, all of which are intended to help newspapers, magazines and television stations better compete in the online marketplace.

“We’re not suggesting that journalists get marching orders from advertisers,” said Bill Grueskin, the academic dean for the journalism school and a co-author of the report. “We are suggesting that journalists get a much better understanding of why so many advertising dollars have left the traditional news media business.”

And, he added, a better understanding of what the news media can do to bring the dollars back. To have a journalism school, especially one as esteemed as Columbia’s, studying ad rate cards and the online coupon craze might seem unconventional. But it is an outgrowth of academia’s growing interest in the economic foundations of journalism at a time when those foundations appear unstable. Columbia and some other journalism schools, for instance, now offer courses on the economics of journalism.

The report’s section for conclusions opens with a quote from Randall Rothenberg, the head of the Interactive Advertising Bureau and a former reporter for The New York Times. Mr. Rothenberg told the report’s authors, “Here’s the problem: Journalists just don’t understand their business.”

That possibility comes up repeatedly in the report. “Many sectors of the traditional news industry have been slow to embrace changes brought on by digital technology,” it states, before recommending a “faster and more consistent pace of innovation and investment.”

It also recommends that journalists “gain a fuller appreciation for how advertisers now reach their customers via social media, new-media ads and search engine optimization,” and that larger news organizations should consider creating or re-creating separate digital staffs, “particularly on the business side.”

The report is a product of several months of visits to news organizations. Mr. Grueskin, a veteran of The Wall Street Journal, co-wrote the report with Ava Seave, an adjunct professor and a consultant, and Lucas Graves, a doctoral candidate at Columbia. The journalism school will hold a public discussion about the report on Tuesday evening.

The report’s authors diagnose problems for digital media. Perhaps chief among them is that advertising on the Web tends to have less value for the consumer than advertising in other formats.

“If you ever watch somebody reading a copy of Vanity Fair, they spend as much time looking at the ads as they spend looking at the content,” Mr. Grueskin said, “because the ads are actually useful for readers.” (Ads having value on their own, he added, is “something that we as journalists have a hard time getting our heads around.”)

One of Columbia’s case studies of advertising adding value is KSL.com, the Web site of KSL, the NBC affiliate in Salt Lake City. Thanks in large part to a robust classified ads service, the site now registers about 250 million page views each month — a staggeringly high figure for a local market of that size. Steep declines in classified advertising have affected countless newspapers and other news properties. But KSL.com has bucked the trend. Its classifieds section benefits from its ownership by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and from the fact that it started up before Craigslist in Salt Lake City.

But it also benefits, Mr. Grueskin said, by reflecting its community’s moral values and by forbidding anonymity. “If I were a publisher, I would spend some time looking at what KSL’s Web site does with classifieds versus what Craigslist does,” he said.

Mr. Grueskin said he was struck by a comment that Chris Hendricks, a vice president at McClatchy, made in an interview for the report:

“It’s almost like we are a sales and distribution company that decided we’re going to fund journalism.” Mr. Hendricks’s local sales force sells space on sites like Yahoo as well as on McClatchy’s own sites.

The report’s authors assert that there are limits to the cost-per-thousand model of advertising pricing and say that news outlets and marketers together should “forge new models that integrate digital ads and social-media outreach.”

As an example, it cites the Web site of The Dallas Morning News, which has a section for high school sports. A package deal for advertising on the section during a recent football season included print ads, a player-of-the-week contest and a banquet for players at the end of the season. “That gets you out of the pure ‘five dollars for every thousand page views’ model,” Mr. Grueskin said.

The report’s authors take a dim view of online subscriptions to news, cautioning that news sites “now should have very limited expectations for its success — at least on the Web.”

They are more bullish on the prospects of subscriptions for mobile access. They write, “If publishers really hope to expunge the ‘original sin’ of giving away content free online, they may be best positioned to do so not on the computers where they first gave away their wares, but on mobile devices that offer a more welcoming environment.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=6346bcde11c2127012e0aca8598d781a

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