Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dear Dean Singleton: Make money online fast!


My JewishJournal.com colleague Steve Greenberg cartooned (above) and blogged about Dean Singleton's media merger plans. This was especially interesting to me because I almost was a Singleton employee.

In the waning weeks of 2009, I applied for an open position at DailyNews.com, the online operation of the Los Angeles Daily News, formerly the Valley News. I was interested in the Online Editor position, a job I loved when I was at JewishJournal.com

The same day I applied, the Daily News editor called me back and asked if I would still be interested in the job if it only paid $70K annually. I told her I was indeed interested and we set up an interview for a few days later.

The interview went pretty well, I thought, and she asked me to prepare an email summing up what I would do as Online Editor, specifically how I would deal with Singleton’s plan to put some online content behind a pay wall.

Like Steve Greenberg, I’m not all that sure about Singleton, but you have to respect a guy who is so optimistic about the future both on and offline he bet big bucks on it. OK, leverage, other people’s money, BK, etc., but still he’s out there, trying.

I didn’t get the job (someone was promoted internally) but I thought you might like to see the little plan that ALMOST defined the next version of DailyNews.com

Here's what I proposed:
DailyNews.com: Opportunities ahead!

The shrinking print news hole is not a problem for DailyNews.com -- it is an opportunity.

Paid online news thrives to the extent it adds value to wire copy and delivers vital local content available nowhere else.

Our team of talented reporters, photographers and editors is uniquely positioned to generate that content, and DailyNews.com -- as I envision it -- is prepared to deliver it to web browsers and smartphones round the globe.

I believe we can offer content so useful it can command a price -- content you can only get at DailyNews.com -- content so indispensable you don't want to leave the house without it.

Think about it: A local story limited to a 300-word news brief in the paper because of space can run *two or three pages* online, with videos, photos, sidebars, graphs, bullet points, pull-quotes, links to past stories about this subject, etc -- information you'll only find at DailyNews.com

For example, if the brief is about another water main that blew down the hill, DailyNews.com's version features links to the DWP page, your councilman's page, audio of the call to 911, the mayor's complaint page, a Google map showing the road closures in your neighborhood, and a place for your comments.

I bet our photo staff could come up with giant-sized photos and users will happily upload their own snapshots and videos, too.

Deep local multimedia content. Interactive. Curated links and context (we're editors and that's what we do!) User-generated content. Community involvement.

However, if we build it, they will *not come* automatically.

The opportunity for the incoming Online Editor at DailyNews.com also includes growing the audience, not only in quantity but also in the depth and quality of site visitors' engagement.

We don't want just lots of visitors; we want them exploring our online resources; we want them interacting with the site by clicking on audio and video links; we want them rating or commenting on blog posts, sending in news tips and letters to the editor and uploading pictures or videos. In essence, we want them to be a partner in creating what makes DailyNews.com an exciting, must-read part of their day.

The target audience, and the source of The Daily News' credibility, is our loyal readership from the paper's near-century-long history in the San Fernando Valley; although the editorial scope of the paper has widened, The Daily News is still the Valley's hometown newspaper.

There are other sources for national and international focus. There is no other longstanding resource for local Valley news.

Maintaining and growing this home-town affiliation is a key element of my online editorial strategy.

Any local visitor to the site (or purchaser of the newspaper) is likely to share several broad sets of concerns with other Valley residents: the quality of our air and water, deteriorating roads, declining schools, rising prices, problems in the local economy, etc.

But local issues are only part of the content mix. Our wire-sourced and chain-sourced stories must feel local too. The more we cover these non-local issues (world, national, state) with a local angle, the more our content will involve readers. This means adding local interest to national and world stories.

Wire story: Web videos reveal Iran election protest violence. Sidebar: Iranian-Americans in Chatsworth smuggled 10,000 pen-shaped digital 'spy cams' to dissidents.

The more web news searchers see a unique angle on a routine story, the more they are likely to click to see the content. The 'localness' and uniqueness of these stories must be emphasized with keywords in the headlines and body copy -- a key to growth is editorial cooperation with sound SEO strategy.

Just a note: I'd like to see stories datelined with the appropriate neighborhood: Canoga Park, Arleta, North Hollywood, etc.

As we emphasize the broad horizontal coverage, we need to take a complementary approach to vertically-affiliated groups that might come for news about, say, the Armenian Catholic Church picnic or honor students at CSUN; we want them to stay to read up on water main breaks in Panorama City and how that might affect their drive to work or whether there will be construction going on in their neighborhood.

The site should lure our users to click from story to story, section to section, so that they are exposed to both our content and our advertisers as long as possible.

I'll reach out to ethnic and cultural groups, the PTAs, neighborhood councils, merchants, houses of worship and fraternal organizations. We'll empower them with their own blog, where they can announce the next club social and the open-mic night with the zoning board.

People like to see their names and pictures in the paper; we'll be reinventing the society page -- as online user-generated content. There would be no direct costs to us (except training of bloggers), much goodwill, and a way for our audience to generate their own stake in our online content.

We might also reach out to provide blogs to city council people, local congressional representatives and state legislators.

As we bring in these newcomers with vertical and horizontally-tailored content, we need to entice them to stay on the site. The means the new CMS should auto-generate links to related stories, other stories by this reporter and other stories in the section (i.e, Local, Breaking, World, etc.)

A redesigned home page would have a cleaner design, better navigation and fewer but more impactful items. It would also feature the best reader comments, the best/most popular blog posts, along with the most emailed and most viewed. I'd also feature interactive items higher on the page. It's important to get site visitors to click to play a video, click to vote, etc. I would also feature larger photos and make more use of photo slideshows.

When we met, I recommended more audio and video and the day-parting of some features. We already have the morning crowd; let's think about lunch-time chats for folks eating at their desks, and more traffic news from 4 to 7 p.m.

I'd also like to pick up the late night crowd (the people that aren't visiting us during office hours) with an all-night section -- available online say from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. ONLY.

Using the reverse psychology of the trendy disco club -- people want to get into the club they can't get into -- the exclusivity angle would make us an instant destination.

What's our Los Angeles Late Shift content?

Only on DailyNews.com: YouTube videos about the Valley, reader videos, people working the late shift, bloggers, students, re-Tweeted police blotter reports, re-Tweeted fire radio, re-Tweeted earthquake reports, off-beat news from AP and message boards. Late night talk radio for the WWW. Signup required. Email verification. EULA re 18 or over. Nothing X rated. This has the potential to generate traffic and revenue from otherwise idle fixed investments -- a concept popularized by fast food franchises serving breakfast and late night customers, not just lunch and dinner.

Finally, our efforts on the social net must be more human, more consistent and more useful. The automated Twitter feed needs to have a more informal voice, for example.

Summing up:


  • Build and grow identity as the Valley's local news source
  • Add value to world, national and state stories with local angle
  • Reach out to vertical markets (ethnic, neighborhood, church, school, etc.)
  • Increase visitors time on site with links to similar stories, other stories 'you may like'
  • Increase opportunities for actual physical interaction with more clickable items -- videos, audio, polls, comments, ratings. etc.
  • Deliver special day-parted content to day-time users (bigger traffic news plus maps from 4-8 p.m.?) and special all-night content
  • Encourage social networking (Web 2.0) with rating, commenting, sharing, etc. and Facebook, Twitter, etc.


I hope this is what you are looking for, Carolina, and look forward to discussing this mini-manifesto with you in more detail soon.

I think the day-parting of content with the no-accesss allowed proviso is especially promising.

Any of you media moguls out there want to take me up on the vision?

3 comments:

factoid said...

Good stuff here - I fear we'll see much of it appear shortly at dailynews.com

AdamC said...

Well thought out and explored concept and I think, a solid strategy. They should have bought you.

George Alfano said...

It's one thing for the New York Times to try to put their content behind a pay wall. Even with their cutbacks, they still have reporters on important beats and foreign correspondents. They also can get capable freelancers, including one two who were veterans with the LA News Group.

It is entirely another thing for Singleton's LA News Group to try this. Their personnel has been cut to the marrow. These may be good ideas, but who is at LANG to execute these ideas.

Singleton sent out a memo a couple of years back which stated that they expected half of their revenue to come from online with in five years of the memo (either 2011 or 2012). If they can't pay a market salary for an executive, what sort of money do they have for this project?