Newsonomics 2011: The Ken Doctor Webinar, Part 2


Editors Note: This story is a follow-up to last week’s posting which delved into other points made during the recent SNA Foundation-sponsored webinar featuring noted author*, veteran editor and industry consultant Ken Doctor. Part 1 examined who’s doing what in the news business and the direction that paying for content is moving (and there’s definite movement underway). Click here to read it.

Ken Doctor’s appearance at the recent SNA-Foundation sponsored webinar, sandwiched between appearances at other domestic industry events and a trip to Singapore to, among other things, meet with the local press, was a real coup for the Foundation and for the close to 200 registrants who knew that Doctor was a man worth hearing. His intellect, fluid style, contemporary thinking on the economics of news, and industry experience combined to make him a top notch presenter in the series presented by the Foundation.

The audience was not disappointed and heaped high praise on the value of Doctor’s presentation. One attendee commented in the post-webinar survey that Doctor was “very insightful and helpful when figuring out how to plan for the future. I wish I had him on the Bat phone.”

In this second article in follow up to the webinar, we’ll examine Doctor’s views on Social Marketing Optimization and Editors as Content Brokers.

Playing The News/Social Links
“We are no longer the gatekeepers,” says Doctor in referring to how news is developed, edited and shared. Acknowledging the discomfort level among professional journalists with this notion, Doctor reminds the group that the impact of the Internet has changed all of that, and now it’s changing again with the explosive growth of social media and its effect of news, particularly in referrals.

Social media website user figures are quickly growing, as are usage and time spent on these sites. A report from The Nielsen Company showed that there has been a huge increase of 82% in time spent on social networking sites. Across the globe, over the past year, average time spent on social networking sites grew from 3 hours per month to 5.5 hours. I daresay that among the 20-30 something’s in my family, that usage is probably their average per week.

News referrals on these sites are also growing rapidly. Doctor points to and tinyurl, and says that these little links are now generating 2 billion referrals per month to someplace on the web, and his best guess is that about 20% of them are news referrals. Practically overnight Twitter and Facebook have become important sources of referring traffic to newspaper websites. Doctor says that his discussions with publishers who have social media strategies bears this out, with most reporting that somewhere between 10 and 20% of all referrals are coming this way.

Using social media, editors can use more lures to outbound local content, to build Facebook colonies, to engage audience; and all of these tools should be in the newspaper’s audience development arsenal. He says that publishers need to engage the analytics to figure out how much of their traffic is coming from Facebook and Twitter, and how that traffic may be different than Google traffic.

Overall, he calls Social Media Optimization strategies the next generation of Search Engine Optimization, reminding every editor to delve deeply and quickly into this arena. (Look for an upcoming case study, from the SNA Foundation, on Metroland Media’s strategy for developing relationships with local social media ‘extenders’; also on the same topic, the December issue of Suburban Publisher will feature a Q&A with Metroland’s Jillian Remulla about their SMO strategy.)

Editors as Content Brokers
Doctor says that editors have long joked about ‘sausage-making’ in the newsroom but that in fact the modern age has proven out that information is indeed manufacturing and aggregation is the recipe, adding that editors now choose to add as much, or as little, quality as they want.

“Further, we’re into the era of cheap content,” says Doctor and acknowledges that “it’s hard for us with strong editorial backgrounds to get our heads around this but it’s clearly the case.” He points to Demand Media as the best example to underscore the cheap content reality. Their analytics-driven content creation business model is simple: ad demand drives suitable content demand, not journalists; the underlying idea is that what you can sell is what you want to write, and then you go to an inventory of hundreds of thousands of low cost writers to create it.

Ken Doctor commented that AOL’s Chairman Tim Armstrong recently said that there are profits to be made in content on the web if it’s done differently and at lower costs. Armstong recently said in a video interview with that his company intends to become “the world’s largest digital content company.”

USA Today is using content from Demand Media in its travel section, and by doing so is acknowledging that Demand Media can produce content that’s good enough and better than USA Today can create for itself at that price point. “You’re going to see a lot more of this,” says Doctor.

Others are also getting into the content creation business; AOL, an increasingly big content company, now has Seed which is doing the same thing as Demand Media. And Yahoo, which bought Associated Content, is trying to figure out how to become a content company as well. Doctor also says there is no reason why local publishers can’t sell their locally produced content up the scale, depending on the appeal of that content to a wider market.

So, who are all these ‘pro-ams’, the professional/amateurs who are creating this cheap content? “Every kind of person you can imagine,” says Doctor, who points to experts, community activists, academics, the laid off and the aspiring as examples. “And there are many more of them than there are of us and this is a huge learning for us in the professional craft of journalism.”

He says the blogosphere is like a ‘pro-am pyramid,’ and that the key is for editors to work the top of the pyramid to glean interesting local community content while avoiding the blather at the bottom. He likened this content selection process to walking down the street and overhearing numerous conversations but having x-ray listening that lets you hear that one jewel of interesting conversation.

Get Into Cheap Content Now
Doctor advises that editors get into the era of cheap content now and ask themselves, ‘how do I master this’ instead of letting it happen to you in your market by an outsider like Patch. He suggests starting by seeking cooperation with local bloggers to post and promote their content on your site.

He says that typically local bloggers want recognition as opposed to money so it’s important to begin with developing a relationship. “Don’t invite them to your newspaper conference room for your initial meeting,” counsels Doctor who suggests meeting them at a neutral spot and maybe buying them lunch or a beer. He adds that editors need to share their goal of offering the blogger a platform with a wide audience to promote their words as opposed to taking their content away from them. “Respect & relationship is where it starts out. Be of help to them,” says Doctor.

Doctor also mentions and fwix, local aggregator companies that are partnering with many newspapers. These companies are basically using the notion that by utilizing a little technology, newspapers can essentially bring in other people’s content locally, with the newspaper acting as a new kind of hub.

Listen To Ken Doctor
Doctor shares many other lessons and insights, and his entire one-hour webinar was recorded. You can access the archived recording along with his Power Point presentation free of charge.