The Media Oxpecker: The Belt-Tightening Continues

august 26, 2011  02:12 pm
Every Friday we round up media & tech industry news you may have missed.
In the wake of this week's layoffs at Slate, is it time to reconsider its general interest model? Are Groupon's flaws the result of poor management, or are they more systemic? And can you tell the difference between the social media guidelines of the U.S. Army and ESPN? A pop quiz awaits!

  • A "significant pullback" in ad spending by local retailers during the first half of 2011 is causing some newspapers to revise their outlook and warn of future "job cuts and other belt-tightening moves."

    Some of the culprits include: The economy, stupid. The shift of ad dollars from print to online. And of course, the daily deal sites.

    Said Fishbowl NY's Chris O'Shea, "See that Groupon lovers? Because you can’t pay full price for a month of Subway foot longs, the newspaper industry is dying. Shame on you."

  • Simon Dumenco says that Groupon has systemic — and existential — problems beyond its well-publicized cash flow issues:
    Basically, in a lot of ways, Groupon is old media masquerading as new media. It's spending boatloads of money to deploy one of the creakiest conduits of the internet era — noncustomized email — to reach tiny clusters of consumers inefficiently.

    Meanwhile, Groupon CEO Andrew Mason says in a staff email that, "The degree to which we’re getting the shit kicked out of us in the press [has] finally crossed the threshold from 'annoying' to 'hilarious.'"

    Addressing their now-infamous "adjusted CSOI" accounting gimmick, Mason wrote, "The reason we didn’t realize everyone in the world would hate ACSOI (no, it’s not the same reason we didn’t realize everyone in the world would hate our Superbowl ad), is that we think it actually does a pretty good job at describing our marketing expenses in a steady state — we just didn’t realize there would be so many skeptics.”

    It was also reported this week that Groupon's co-founders are in talks to purchase Chicago's iconic Wrigley Building.

  • Amazon is expanding its new local deals site AmazonLocal to New York, Charlotte, Austin, Orlando, Northern Virginia, and other locations. The service launched in Boise three months ago.

  • In the wake of Slate laying off four respected writers — including media critic and former Washington City Paper editor Jack Shafer — is it time to ask whether Slate's general interest model still makes sense?:
    General interest is a pretty good concept for a physical product that gets delivered to your doorstep, where getting all those disparate sections bundled together makes sense. It’s not such a great concept on the web. The web hates artificial bundles. If you’re going to do a general-interest news product online, you have to be prepared to do it on the cheap, as Matt Drudge and Arianna Huffington do (or at least used to do, in the latter case). Conversely, if you want to put out an expensively produced, professionally-edited product, it’s better to stick to a niche, preferably one with a demographic that advertisers want to reach, like technology or business.

    Going in the niche direction is Bloomberg, which plans to buy the Bureau of National Affairs — a specialty publisher of legal, tax, business and government news services — for $990 million.

  • The U.S. Army and ESPN both released revised social media guidelines this week. Can you match the passages below with the corresponding organization?

    1. Use short, raw, catchy video.
    2. Think before your tweet. Understand that at all times you are representing ___.
    3. Update top 5 photos often (show a variety of activities, angles, personnel, etc.).
    4. Sourced or proprietary news must be vetted.
    5. Become the go-to resource for timely news and information.

    The answers (which may surprise you!) are posted below.

  • Here's what you need to know about StumbleUpon. It's all about the long tail:
    This is not a real-time news network like Twitter. Pages in StumbleUpon gain likes and momentum over time. So think of explainers, guides or revealing features as good candidates from a news site. A site homepage itself often gets traction for the general purpose of discovering the site, whereas you don’t see many Facebook likes or tweets of home pages.

  • How valuable are heavy social media users? Not very, apparently:
    Our research consistently shows that Heavy Social Media Users are less involved in the offline world than their friends who spend less time on Facebook or other social sites . . . So it could be assumed that scoring a LIKE on Facebook may not translate to anything other than exactly that, a click on a button. Campaign managers need to understand these voters at another level to influence their behavior.

  • In a cost-saving measure, MediaNews Group is combining a dozen newspapers in the San Francisco Bay area and folding them into two brands, the East Bay Tribune and The Times. Approximately 120 staff positions will be eliminated, most of them "within the newsrooms and operations that print the newspapers."

  • Here's Jeff Jarvis on the disintegrating economics of newspaper circulation.

  • "The most successful media companies today are training their salespeople to be solution sellers. Selling solutions, rather than 'ads' or 'space' or 'time' is the most advanced form of salesmanship." (h/t John Heaston, The Omaha Reader)

  • Here's how The New York Times created a 404 page that turned frustration into satisfaction.

  • Does NPR’s Andy Carvin tweet too much? Please check back with us after Andy Carvin's tweets finish loading.

  • Facebook is adding new sharing tools aimed at giving users more control over content they share.

  • Here are the much-anticipated answers from our social media guidelines pop quiz:

    1. Army
    2. ESPN
    3. Army
    4. ESPN
    5. Army

    ESPN's guidelines also include the line, "Do not break news on Twitter," a policy Mandy Jenkins calls "a shockingly backward stance for a company that always seems ahead of the curve on sports news in the social space."

  • We'll close out the week with words from Jack Shafer, interviewed while enjoying some cheap Argentinian Malbec just hours after news broke that he had lost his job:
    I’m simultaneously never worried and always concerned, as everybody in our business should be. You are moments from being fired—or from being hired by The New York Times to replace David Carr. That is just the state of our business.

    I’m a great fan of journalistic history. It doesn’t matter where you drop the plumb line in the time line, you find these upheavals in journalism all the time. I don’t think that these times are completely unique. So . . . this is the wine talking. I’ve lost my train of thought.