Local Interactive Strategies

CNN/Money using Facebook Connect for comments

Just stumbled onto the first instance I’ve seen of a mainstream news site using Facebook Connect as a way to ID users in comments.

Back in February, I suggested the new system could be a breakthrough for news site managers tired of all the anonymous trolls. Until now, I hadn’t come across anyone taking that leap. CNN/Money is requiring commenters to use  Facebook Connect, and it looks fairly new, but I can’t tell for sure.

Check it out on this story about stocks. It’s a ripe topic for trolls, but you’ll notice most of the folks are pretty calm. Also note their Facebook pictures next to their posts.

Best part is, their post will appear on their Facebook news feed. Who wants to look like a troll to their friends and family?

If other sites are doing this, please add them in the comments. I’m very interested in following this.


September 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The problem with Fast Flip

Lots of news industry buzz recently about Google’s new  Fast Flip news reader. Gee, the buzz  sounds a lot like the buzz over the Kindle.

The logic goes like this: Newspapers are at a disadvantage in the digital age because  they’re inconvenient to read. If only we could make the journalism more accessible to more people,  then there’s a business model to be had. And if there’s a way to make them pay for it (a la the Kindle), well, problem solved!

Trouble is, the  business model of printed newspapers involves a slew of different revenue streams, all connected through the experience of a multi-page paper physical product that can picked up off a park bench.

Picture the Sports section of a newspaper in the late 1990s, during the “good times” but before everything imploded in 2001-02. Even in these good times, the Sports section has maybe three ads in it: two for tires, and one for a strip club. Yet there are maybe a dozen bylines of sports writers and columnists, photographers, plus copy editors and layout people.

Where does their payroll come from? Flip  to the next section: classifieds.

In those boom years, some newspapers were getting half their ad revenue from classifieds, and the majority of that from help-wanted. Only about 10 percent of total revenue would come from circulation, (also known as “readers paying for content”).

The sports columnist didn’t know it, but a good chunk of his paycheck was coming from the classifieds section.  Very little came directly from people who cared what he wrote. But  people  bought the paper to read his column, and they also read the  classifieds. Everyone was happy (except of course for the tire store owner, who couldn’t believe a help-wanted ad cost 5 times as much as  his ad for tires in the Sports section).

Fast-forward to now. How does the Kindle or the Fast Flip experience translate to that business model? It doesn’t.  There’s no way their advertising or subscriptions will support that sports columnist.  That would be like assuming the sportswriter in the 1990s would get paid from the advertising in the Sports section. There would have been one sportswriter, maybe.

Neither the Kindle nor Fast Flip addresses the real problem facing newspapers: their traditional business model relies on a number of  revenue streams related only by their bundling in a physical product. Kindle and Fast Flip unbundle the product, and leave it with  one or  two small revenue streams.

The urgency for local newspapers — the same urgency that they have faced since the mid-1990s — is to create  new diversified revenue streams that support community journalism. Some of these business lines may look like the Sports section of 1997: no real revenue to speak of, but strong reader interest or public service. Some may look like the classifieds section: no journalism, but lots of different streams of money.

It will be a shame if developments like Kindle and Fast Flip simply encourage complacency, when the need for true innovation in revenue is greater than ever.

September 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Make newsletters inviting

I subscribe to a number of email newsletters (and yes, yes, I also do the RSS thing) and I’m astounded by the number of newsletters that still have no information in the subject line, as if this is 1999 and I should be delighted just to get it.

The subject lines  say something like “Today’s headlines” or “Newsletter for Sept. 8, 2009.”  In a cluttered in-box,  and in a busy day, who’s going to take the time to see what’s in there?

Perfect example of bad and good, before and after: Fast Company switched from generic to dynamic subject lines about 10 days ago. A screen snap shows how they look in my Gmail in-box. See the difference?


Case in point: When I initially sorted my mail to make that screenshot, most of the “generic” subject lines were unread; most of the “dynamic” ones had been read.

For local publishers, a well-subscribed, well-read newsletter is  the most cost-effective way to increase traffic and loyalty to your website. Unfortunately, I see those generic subject lines a lot on local sites.

Yes, you’ll quickly find out why your newsletters have generic subject lines: “the system spits them out that way.”  Or “that’s an extra step and we don’t have the staff.”


The point of doing newsletters is to get people to open them. Change the technology, or change the workflow.

September 8, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment