Journalism: Where Are We Going and Who Will Pay for It?

What a time to be a chronicler of news. In 2015, being a newspaper journalist just overtook lumberjacking as the worst job in America — posting a 13 percent decline in employment prospects. (Broadcast news wasn’t far behind, at third worst.)

news-1172463_640Is journalism — the chronicling of the day’s news and analysis about that news – under threat? Of course it is.

Last month, I visited my alma mater for the 50th Anniversary of the University of Connecticut and its journalism department. There were panels of alumni reporters, editors and news entrepreneurs — some with Pulitzers in big-city papers, some with broadcast backgrounds and some stringers for local news in hometowns, U.S.A.

A dominant discussion was the future of journalism — and who will pay for it? There were hopeful statements, for certain — just being a reporter these days demands resiliency among other mind and skill sets — but there was also plenty of worry.

What a time to be a chronicler of news. In 2015, being a newspaper journalist just overtook lumberjacking as the worst job in America — posting a 13 percent decline in employment prospects. (Broadcast news wasn’t far behind, at third worst.) Certainly digital news sites abound, but print historically demanded a subscription — and consumers just don’t pony up to online news sites and their paywalls like they used to do offline.

The original sin of the Internet was not the first display ad, it was giving it all away for “free.” Some argue the “big give away” democratizes information. Others see it as an alarmist trend toward socialism. The rise of the citizen journalist (I’m one here) doesn’t necessarily translate to the most learned of fact gatherers, fact checkers, superb editing and the advancement of human knowledge. Too often, it’s the lowest common denominator — rumor and innuendo, celebrity and entertainment, prurient subjects — that gather the most clicks and distracts the electorate (and quite a few candidates) from more considered concerns.

Just think about it — music, news, sports, weather, apps and so many other conveniences — how many of us, as users, pay online for what some more seasoned of us used to pay offline. Even where we do pay, is it at the level we once shelled out in print, or dollars to dimes?

And yet, our nation’s fourth estate — the vibrancy of our democracy — is at stake. Who is served when diversity of news and opinions are concentrated only in deep pockets, amid a hurry to post online and worry about fairness and accuracy tomorrow? When a columnist at a Las Vegas newspaper can’t even write about community business leaders who are owners of casinos — is this what journalism is coming to?

Let me conclude with some upbeat answers. When paid subscriptions wither, we all know who is there to fill the bill: advertisers. The division of church and state — keeping the newsroom independent of the publishing side of the business — is a time-honored and necessary check and balance inside most media organizations. Where it’s blurred, the integrity of information is sacrificed. That’s always worried me about native content trends. However, there are many journalists (alumni friends) who are very happy that advertising, advertisers and ad tech exist. They well know that without us, diversity of content, news and opinion, professionally gathered and edited, would go the wayside along with their livelihoods. It might be dimes instead of dollars, but it’s some compensation. Our hometowns, our nation, our world and now the Internet cannot afford anything less, and it’s certainly worth a lot more.

Why Millennials Don’t Consume Mass Media … And Why That’s OK

Every semester, I ask the students in my undergraduate classes: “Does anyone read the newspaper?” No hands raised.

Every semester, I ask the students in my undergraduate classes: “Does anyone read the newspaper?” No hands raised.

“Does anyone watch the network news on TV?” No hands raised.

“Does anyone listen to the radio?” Some who commute by car raised their hands.

As someone who has two newspapers delivered to the house every day and faithfully watches the network news on TV, I was disturbed by this, smacking my forehead with a “these kids today!” exclamation. I feared that the world view brought to them by social media was very narrow and limited to the viewpoints of people who were just like them. A few of my Facebook friends have very different political views from mine (their posts sometimes annoy me), but most of those in my social network are aligned with my views. I believed that young people would have an even less diverse pool of opinions from which to draw.

So I did some research to confirm my point of view, ignoring David Ogilvy’s warning that many agencies and clients “use research like a drunkard uses a lamp post – not for illumination but for support.” What I found was illuminating.

The social networks of Millennials are not as homogenous as those of older people: “31 percent of Baby Boomers on Facebook who pay attention to political posts say the posts they see are mostly or always in line with their own views, higher than both Generation Xers (21 percent) and Millennials (18 percent),” according to Pew Research Center Journalism & Media.

A study by The American Press Institute (opens as a PDF) finds that most Millennials report that the people in their social networks have diverse views. “Contrary to the idea that social media creates a polarizing ‘filter bubble,’ exposing people to only a narrow range of opinions, 70 percent of Millennials say that their social media feeds are comprised of diverse viewpoints, evenly mixed between those similar to and different from their own. An additional 16 percent say their feeds contain mostly viewpoints different from their own. And nearly three-quarters of those exposed to different views (73 percent) report they investigate others’ opinions at least some of the time — with a quarter saying they do it always or often.”

The news is not a destination for Millennials, but rather something that’s woven into their daily social media activity. “Millennials consume news and information in strikingly different ways than previous generations, and their paths to discovery are more nuanced and varied than some may have imagined … just 47 percent who use Facebook say that getting news is a main motivation for visiting, but it has become one of the significant activities they engage in once they are there. Fully 88 percent of Millennials get news from Facebook regularly, for instance, and more than half of them do so daily.”

Of course, it’s not just Facebook … YouTube and Instagram serve the same purposes for Millennials. As marketers, we need to stay tuned-in (sorry) to how the most populous generation consumes news, social and lifestyle information simultaneously on social media platforms, and how we can best make our messages relevant there.

Direct Mail Still Haunted by the J-Word

Summertime and the living is easy. So I stopped by the local spirits shop for a bottle of pink Sancerre and I was greeted with a window display for Double Cross Vodka that included a tongue-in-cheek campaign called “Project Double Cross.” Of course, the campaign’s creator had to get his digs on direct mail

Summertime and the living is easy.

So I stopped by the local spirits shop for a bottle of pink Sancerre and I was greeted with a window display for Double Cross Vodka that included a tongue-in-cheek campaign called “Project Double Cross.” (See the image in the media player at right.)

Of course, the campaign’s creator had to get his digs on direct mail (somehow I assume “hardcore adult magazines” fascination is a male trait, though I could be wrong here) …

Well, I’m not a vodka drinker, but I’m happy to give a Slovakian import a little extra publicity here to make a point: Consumer activism against “junk mail” is a little self-defeating, even if this new brand is seeking to have a little fun. We all know direct mail provides consumers with choices, and is often used as a brand’s secret weapon for targeted marketing. Heck, the entire porn industry, ironically, was built on mail order. Even in 2012, you can be sure some folks in our advertising business still love to ridicule the medium.

The same day I was reading Advertising Age, the recognized voice of agencies and Madison Avenue, and I came across this coverage of a recent Negotiated Service Agreement (NSA) between Valassis Communications and the United States Postal Service, which gives Valassis preferred postal pricing in return for volume increase guarantees: “Postal Ruling Makes Junk Mail Cheaper.”

The newspaper business was taking its shot at criticizing the agreement, and the reporter—who accurately described Valassis as a direct mailer of coupons and circulars—matter-of-factly covered the story. (It’s very quaint in this digital age to see newspapers still set on duking it out with direct mail.)

Still it seems to me funny that the headline editor of a leading trade magazine for integrated marketing falls for the “junk mail” moniker so readily to describe direct mail. Plainly, in this case, direct mail’s power (and value) in circular advertising is its local targeting ability—precisely why newspaper publishers feel so threatened by the Valassis NSA. That doesn’t sound like junk to me, Advertising Age.

You’d think that after the rise of customer relationship management in the 1990s (and how CRM and direct-response agencies emerged as cash cows for their holding companies), and after today’s recognition of direct marketing’s now-very-much-in-vogue accountability and measurability, that both branding evangelists and well-informed journalists would move beyond the tired j-word terminology.

When I worked at the Direct Marketing Association years ago, we were ever-vigilant to monitor brands and newspapers and local governments and other influencers that spewed their attacks on “junk mail” in various rants and ravings, even if the reference was more casual than caustic. The point was then, and it’s still true today, that “junk” is not a label that can be assigned by anyone but the recipient—and no channel is immune from having its content being labeled as junk.

In my opinion, “digital junk” and “screen junk” is everywhere, for example, and there’s much less of it in my mailbox. But I understand that it all pays the way for free Internet, television, email, etc. And as a consumer, I welcome nearly the whole of it. The key for all brands is to use data to create less junk and more relevance—hardly worth a consumer “double cross.”

Now back to my glass of Sancerre.

13 Things You Must Do This Year To Boost Your Biz! Part Two

In Part One, I mentioned some great, low-to-no cost tactics to help boost your business this year, including affiliate marketing, content syndication, search engine optimization, online lead generation polls, viral marketing and cost-effective media buying.

[Editor’s note: This is Part Two of a two-part series.]

In Part One, I mentioned some great, low-to-no cost tactics to help boost your business this year, including affiliate marketing, content syndication, search engine optimization, online lead generation polls, viral marketing and cost-effective media buying.

Today, I’m wrapping up the list with even more tips and tricks to get the most out of your marketing efforts (and marketing budget!) this year.

7. Pay Per Click (PPC). Many people try pay per click only to spend thousands of dollars with little results. Creating a successful PPC campaign is an art—one that I’ve had success with. If PPC is new for you, then don’t start out with the big guys like Google or Yahoo, run your “test” campaign on smaller search engines such as Bing, as well as second-tier networks, such as Adbrite, Miva and Kanoodle. In addition, you must make sure you have a strong text ad and landing page and that the ad is keyword dense. You must also have a compelling offer and make sure you do your keyword research. Picking the correct keywords that coincide with your actual ad and landing page is crucial. You don’t want to pick keywords that are too vague, too competitive or unpopular. You also need to be active with your campaign management which includes bid amounts and daily budget. All these things—bid, budget, keywords, popularity and placement—will determine the success of the campaign. And most campaigns are trial and error and take anywhere from three to six weeks to optimize.

8. Free Teleseminars or Webinars. These are a great way to collect names for list building, then cross-sell to those names once they’re in your sales funnel. You can use services like FreeConferenceCall.com, where it’s a toll (not toll free) call. But in my experience, if the value proposition of the subject matter is strong, people will pay that nominal fee. Promote a free teleseminar or webinar to prospects (that is not your internal list). Remember, this is for lead generation. So your goal is to give away valuable information in exchange for an email address. You can have a ‘soft sell’ at the end of the call and follow up with an email blast within 24 hours. But the most important thing is getting that name, THEN bonding with them through your editorial.

9. Free Online classified ads. Using CraigsList or similar high traffic classified sites is a great way to sell a products or get leads. The trick is ad copy that is powerful and persuasive, as well as geo-targeting—picking the right location and category to run your ad in. Hint: think of your ideal audience. Ads are free, so why not test it out.

10. Reciprocal Ad Swaps. One of the best kept secrets in the industry: Some of your best resources will be your fellow publishers. This channel often gets overlooked by marketers who don’t give it the respect it deserves. In the work I do for my clients, I spend a good portion of my time researching publishers and websites in related, synergistic industries. I look for relevant connections between their publications (print and online) and list (subscribers). Let’s say I come across a natural health e-letter that has a list of readers similar in size to one of my clients, who is a supplement manufacturer. Since many of their audience share similar interests, cross-marketing each other products (or even lead gen efforts) can be mutually rewarding. Swapping ads will save you money on lead-generation initiatives. Since you won’t be paying for access to the other publisher’s list of subscribers, you can get new customers for free. The only “cost” is an opportunity cost—allowing the other publisher to access your own list. It’s a win-win situation. This technique also opens the door to potential joint-venture opportunities for revenue sharing (sales).

11. Guest Editorials and Editorial Contributions. Another popular favorite used in the publishing industry is editorial contributions. This is where you provide quality editorial (article, interview, Q&A) to a synergistic publication and in return get a byline and/or editorial note in your article. In addition to an editorial opportunity, this is a marketing opportunity. You see, within the byline or ed. note you can include author attribution plus a back-link to your site. Some ed. notes can even be advertorial in nature, linking to a promotional landing page. Relationship networking and cultivation come into play when coordinating these, as it’s usually someone in the editorial or marketing department that spearheads such arrangements. These are great for increasing exposure to other lists, which can be beneficial for increasing market share, bonding, sales and lead generation efforts.

12. Snail Mail. Direct mail is still a consumer favorite—and another good way to get your sales message out. It can be especially effective used in conjunction with another effort, such as an email campaign. Studies indicate that 70 percent of respondents prefer receiving correspondence via mail vs. email. As with any marketing medium, though, you can end up paying a lot between production costs, list rental costs, and mail shop/postage costs. The most costly direct mail packages are magalogs and tabloids (four-color mailers that look like magazines). However, 6 x 9 postcards, tri-fold self-mailers and simple sales letters are three low-cost ways of taking advantage of this channel. Note that copywriting, list selection and geo-targeting can be crucial for direct mail success, no matter which cost-effective mail format you pick. Although 100 percent ROI (return on investment) is what you should aim for, many direct mailers these days are content with 80 percent returns. This lower figure takes into consideration the lifetime value of the names that come in from this channel, because they are typically reliable buyers in the future and snail mail address are more solid—they don’t change as often as email addresses.

13. Print Ads. This is another channel that gets a raw deal. One reason is because it can be costly. To place an ad in a high-circulation magazine or newspaper, you could shell out serious money. But you don’t need a big budget to take advantage of print ads. If you don’t have deep pockets, consider targeted newspapers and periodicals. Let’s say you’re selling an investment report. Try using the Internet to research the wealthiest cities in America. Once you get that list, look online for local newspapers in those communities. These smaller newspapers hit your target audience and offer a much cheaper ad rate than some of the larger, broad-circulation publications. You end up getting quality rather than quantity. I once paid for an ad in a local newspaper in Aspen, CO, that had a flat rate of less than $500 for a half page ad. My ROI on this effort turned out to be more than 1,000 percent. Most important rule: Know your audience. That will determine placement and price.