Al-Jazeera axes the “Comments” section on its English-language website.

What took them so long?

This past week, al-Jazeera.com, the English-language website run by the Qatar-based international media company, announced that it is disabling the comments section on its site.

In a written statement, the company complained that what was originally designed to “serve as a forum for thoughtful and intelligent debate that would allow our global audience to engage with one another” had devolved into a free-for-all, with the comments sections “hijacked by users hiding behind pseudonyms spewing vitriol, bigotry, racism and sectarianism.”

“The possibility of having any form of debate was virtually nonexistent,” the al-Jazeera statement added – as if any further explanation for their action was needed.

I have a comment of my own in response to al-Jazeera: “Welcome to reality.”

Al-Jazeera is hardly an innocuous website in cyberspace. It reports on some of the most explosive developments affecting the most volatile regions of the world.  Considering the sparring parties in these never-ending conflicts, complaining about “sectarianism” is almost laughable.

Is there a more “sectarian” group of people on the face of the earth than those who are exorcised about the inhabitants of the Middle East – or of Muslims, Christians and Jews in general? I don’t know of any.

As for the comments section being a repository of derision and hate, how is anyone surprised? What other result could one expect – especially since there was little or no attempt by al-Jazeera personnel to moderate the comments section?

The fact is, unmoderated comments sections that also allow for poster anonymity are a blanket invitation for “the inmates running the asylum.” Comments that are left in these “anything’s allowed” forums chase the well-intentioned participants away – and fast.

On the other hand, I’ve found plenty of well-moderated forums and comments sections that are as valuable as the underlying articles themselves.

That doesn’t happen all by itself, of course. Good moderation takes effective policies – requiring commentators to identify themselves for a start.  It also requires an ever-watchful eye.

Evidently, al-Jazeera and others like them found the not-insignificant effort required to perform this degree of moderation to be unworthy of their time or financial resources. And as a result, their forums became worthless.

And now they’re history.

The fundamental problem with newspapers’ online endeavors.

olnIt’s no secret that the newspaper industry has been struggling with finding a lucrative business model to augment or replace the traditional print medium supported by subscriptions and advertising.

The problem is, their efforts are thwarted by market realities at every intersection, setting up the potential for head-on crashes everywhere.

In October, the results of an analysis conducted by several University of Texas researchers were published that illustrate the big challenges involved.

The researchers pinpointed 2007 as the year in which most large newspapers’ online versions had been available for about a decade, meaning that they had become “mature” products. The evaluation looked at the total local online readership of the Top 50 American newspapers, and found that nearly all of them have been stagnant in terms of growth over the past decade.

Even worse, since 2011 more than half of the papers have actually lost online readership.

The issue isn’t that people aren’t going online to consume news; the precipitous drop in print newspaper subscriptions proves otherwise. The problem is that many consumers are going to news aggregator sites – places like Yahoo News, CNN.com and other non-newspaper websites – rather than to sites operated by the newspapers.

That leaves online newspapers attracting disappointing advertising revenues that can’t begin to make up for the loss of those dollars on the print side. To wit, the University of Texas study reported that total newspaper industry digital ad revenues increased only about 15% between 2010 and 2014, going from ~$3 billion to ~$3.5 billion.  That’s pretty paltry.

The problem goes beyond ad revenue concerns too. In a market survey conducted in 2012, two-thirds of newspaper subscribers stated that preferred the print version of their daily newspaper over the web version.

I find that finding totally believable. I am a print subscriber to The Wall Street Journal whereas I read other newspaper fare online.  My daily time spent with the print WSJ ranges from 30 minutes to an hour, and I peruse every section of the paper “linearly.”  It’s an immersive experience.

With online newspaper sites, I hunt for one or two topics, check out the headlines and maybe a story or two, and that’s it. It’s more a “hit and run” operation, and I’m out of there in five minutes or less.

The notion of carefully picking my way through all of the menu items on an online newspaper’s navbar? Forget it.

And with such a tentative relationship with online newspapers, do I want to pay for that online access? Nope.

Magnify that to the entire market, and the web traffic stats show the same thing, which is why online advertising revenues are so underwhelming.

Once again, the optimistic goals of newspaper marketers are running up against cold, hard reality. The fact is, people don’t “read” online in the traditional sense, and they’re quick to jump from place to place, in keeping with the “ADD” most all of us have developed in our online behaviors.

There just isn’t a good way that newspapers can take their product and migrate it to the web without losing readers, losing ad revenue – and indeed, losing the differentiation they’ve built for quality long-form journalism.  And so the conundrum continues …

What about your print vs. online newspaper reading habits?  Are your experiences different from mine?  Please leave a comment for the benefit of other readers.

For many people, what’s “breaking news” isn’t breaking on traditional news media outlets.

First it was Jon Stewart. Now it’s social media. 

(AP)
(AP)

If you suspect that Americans are increasingly getting their news from someplace other than the standard TV/cable, print and online news outlets, you’re right on the money.

In fact, research conducted by the Pew Center in association with the Knight Foundation during 2015 reveals that the share of people for whom Facebook and Twitter serve as a source of news is continuing to rise.

More specifically, nearly two thirds of the 2,000+ Americans age 18 and older surveyed by Pew (~63%) reported that they’re getting news reporting from Facebook.

A similar percentage reported receiving news from Twitter as well.

That compares with ~52% reporting that they received news from Twitter back in 2013 … and ~47% from Facebook.

Although both of these social networks now have the same portion of people getting news from these two sources, the Pew research discovered some nuanced differences as to their strengths.

smnA far bigger portion of people follow “breaking news” on Twitter compared to Facebook (~59% versus ~31%), which underscores Twitter’s strength in providing immediate “as-it-happens” coverage and commentary on live events.

Seeing such behaviors, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that both social networks have been implementing more initiatives that strengthen their positions as news sources even more:

  • Facebook has launched Instant Articles, a functionality that allows media companies to publish stories directly to the Facebook platform instead of linking to outside websites.
  • Facebook has also introduced a new Trending sidebar that allows users to filter news by major topic categories such as sports, entertainment, politics, technology and science.
  • Twitter has introduced live events to its roster, thanks to its purchase of the live video-streaming app Periscope.
  • A related Twitter initiative, dubbed Moments (aka: Project Lightning), allows anyone – even a person without a Twitter account – to view ongoing feeds of tweets, images and videos pertaining to live events.

According to Pew, news exposure is on social media roughly equal among all demographic factors including gender, ethnicity and income. The one exception, of course, is age.

All of these developments underscore the fact that the “traditional” TV, print and online outlets are no longer dominant when it comes to news consumption. And it’s highly unlikely that the trend will ever be reversed, either.

Harris Poll: What Americans say they want in news coverage.

When it comes to the news, Americans say they’re tired of so much attention on celebrity gossip and scandal stories … but are they really?

news mediaExperience has shown that healthy foods on the menu at fast food establishments test well in consumer attitudinal surveys — only to bomb big time when actually introduced.

It seems as though many people answer the way they think they’re “supposed” to respond, even though they’ll never actually opt for the apple slices in lieu of the order of fries.

I wonder if the same dynamics are at work in a recent Harris Poll, which queried ~2,500 Americans age 18 or over about their preferences for news topics.  The online survey was conducted in August 2014, with the results released this past week.

For starters, three-fourths of the respondents felt that celebrity gossip and scandal stories receive too much coverage.

Indeed, many believe that entertainment news in general receives too much attention in the news:

  • Celebrity gossip and scandal stories: ~76% claim too much attention is paid in the news
  • Entertainment news in general: ~49%
  • Professional spectator sports: ~44%
  • Politics and elections: ~33%

And which topics do people feel aren’t covered sufficiently in the news? It’s everything that’s “good for you”:

  • Education topics: ~47% believe too little attention is paid in the news
  • Local/national humanitarian issues: ~47%
  • Science topics: ~45%
  • Government corruption and scandals: ~44%
  • Corporate corruption and white collar crime: ~42%
  • Global humanitarian issues: ~33%
  • Health topics: ~30%

I suspect that the “actual reality” is different from how the survey participants responded. If news organizations weren’t seeing keen interest generated by their celebrity, entertainment and sports stories, they would stop producing them.  Simple as that.

Harris Poll logoYou can view more findings from the Harris survey, including data tabulations, here. Among the interesting findings is the degree of trust people have for various different news media:  network TV news, local TV news, local newspapers, national newspapers, online news sources.

Hint: trust levels are nearly where they should be …

What are your thoughts about news topics? Which ones are getting proper coverage versus too much?  Please share your observations with other readers here.

The Millennial generation: Are they redefining the concept of “news consumption”?

News consumption habits (millennials)Recently, I read an interesting column written by Emily Anatole that addresses how the Millennial generation is reshaping the concept of “news” and how it is consumed.

Anatole notes that Millennials are criticized for not being news consumers, but she argues against this point. 

In her view, the younger generation is simply getting their news in a different way.  She writes:  “Milleninials’ approach to consumer news reflects how they differ … they perceive the ‘power of the pack’ – or Facebook updates, tweets and trending topics as we know them – as more valuable than the fact-checked, overly polished POV of one reporter.”

Anatole’s company, research firm Youth Pulse, Inc. (YPulse), conducted a survey in October 2012 of ~1,800 people aged 14-34, which found that television remains the top way in which this age group gets the news, with more than 70% reporting that they turn to TV to stay informed.

However, two-thirds of the respondents also reported that they get their news from Facebook, while approximately one-third get news from Twitter.

If these stats seem a bit unusual for those of us in the over-40 or -50 set, consider this:  Today’s 17-year-old was barely twelve when the iPhone first came out. 

So an environment in which comments, updates and opinions aren’t part of the “standard media mix” isn’t just a quaint memory; for Millennials, it never existed!

For the younger generation, becoming part-and parcel of “journalism” in its broadest sense is an integral part of the equation.  Uploading or sharing videos, tweeting a comment, updating a social status … it’s all part of a “co-created experience” where the lines are blurred between the media industry and consumers of the news.

Impatience has always been a trait of the young — as far back as the Children’s Crusade or even before.  So it shouldn’t come as much surprise that Millennials would tend to go for “immediacy” over “credibility.” 

Given the choice of learning something “first” — even if the details or veracity of the story are sketchy — versus waiting around for a well-curated 5:00 pm news broadcast … well, it’s not even a fair fight anymore.

And here’s another important point to consider:  Whereas we older generation-types were trained to seek out news by buying the daily paper or tuning in to a radio or TV broadcast, today’s younger generation can afford to be less perspicacious.  The news comes to them without barely lifting a finger because of friends and others in their social sphere sharing stories, leaving comments, and tweeting.

Some believe it’s yet another “e-volution” that’s turning out to be more “re-volutionary” than we could have imagined. 

What’s your take?

Are “News Hound” Behaviors Changing?

News Hound Behaviors are ChangingMost of the people I know who are eager consumers of news tend to spend far more time on the Internet than they do offline with their nose in the newspaper.

So I was surprised to read the results of a new study published by Gather, Inc., a Boston-based online media company, which found that self-described “news junkies” are more likely to rely on traditional media sources like television, newspapers and radio than online ones.

In fact, the survey, which was fielded in March 2010 and queried the news consumption habits of some 1,450 respondents representing a cross-section of age and income demographics, found that more than half of the “news hounds” cited newspapers as their primary source of news.

By comparison, younger respondents (below age 25) are far more likely to utilize the Internet for reading news (~70% do so).

Another interesting finding in the Gather study – though not terribly surprising – is that younger respondents describe themselves as “interest-based,” meaning that apart from breaking news, they focus only on stories of interest to them. This pick-and-choose “cafeteria-style” approach to news consumption may partially explain the great gaps in knowledge that the “over 40” population segment perceives in the younger generations (those observations being reported with accompanying grunts of displeasure, no doubt).

As for sharing news online, there are distinct differences in the behavior of older versus younger respondents. Two findings are telling:

 More than two-thirds of respondents age 45 and older share news items with other primarily through e-mail communiqués.

 ~55% of respondents under age 45 share news primarily through social networking.

Also, more than 80% of the respondents in Gather’s study revealed that they have personally posted online comments about news stories. This suggests that people have now become more “active” in the news by weighing in with their own opinions, rather than just passively reading the stories. This is an interesting development that may be rendering the 90-9-1 principle moot.

[For those who are unfamiliar with the 90-9-1 rule, it contends that for every 100 people interacting with online content, one creates the content … nine edit, modify or comment on that content … and the remaining 90 passively read/review the content without undertaking any further action. It’s long been a tenet in discussions about online behavior.]

What types of news stories are most likely to generate reader comments? Well, politics and world events are right up there, but local news stories are also a pretty important source for comments:

 Political stories: 28%
 National/international news stories: 27%
 Local news stories: 22%
 Celebrity news: 13%
 Sports stories: 5%
 Business and financial news: 5%

And what about the propensity for news seekers to use search engines to find multiple perspectives on a news story? More than one-third of respondents report that they “click on multiple [search engine] results to get a variety of perspectives,” while less than half of that number click on just the first one or two search result entries.

And why wouldn’t people hunt around more? In today’s world, it’s possible to find all sorts of perspectives and “slants” on a news story, whereas just a few years ago, you’d have to be content with the same AP or UPI wire story that you’d find republished in dozens of papers — often word-for-word.

Newspapers crash … Online news soars.

The latest annual News Users report by Outsell, Inc. predicts additional declines in print newspaper circulation as consumers continue to gravitate to online news. It is the third annual report issued by this marketing and communications research firm, which is developed from findings gathered in consumer surveys.

Outsell projects that Sunday newspaper readers will drop to ~43 million by 2012. That would represent a decline of some 20 million readers from Sunday papers’ circulation heights in the 1990s.

But what’s even more noteworthy is the continuing evolution in online activities. Today, nearly 60% of consumers report that they go online for “news right now.” That’s up from 33% just a few years ago.

And where are people going for their online news? By a large margin, it’s to aggregator sites like Google News, Yahoo and Drudge Report rather than to newspaper sites. As an example, 44% of the people who go to Google News scan the headlines there, without clicking through or accessing the newspapers’ individual sites.

Other key findings from the Outsell survey:

One in five consumers now go to online news aggregators for their “first in the day” news, up from 10% three years ago. TV/cable still leads with 30%, but that margin has been shrinking dramatically.

Paid online content is not a picking up the slack for newspapers, with participation rates of no more than 10% of consumers.

Newspapers retain strengths in reporting local topics (e.g., local news, sports and entertainment), even as national topics have gone pretty much all-digital.

That being stated, if a valued local online news site were to put up a pay wall – or require a paid subscription to the print paper in order to gain free online access – three out of four respondents claimed they would go somewhere else to find the news free of charge. (That’s despite the fact that good alternative news sources at the local level are usually not so numerous.)

The Outsell study found that consumers continue to believe printed news is worth paying for … but they expect the news they get online to be free of charge.

The big problem: It looks like it’s too late for publishers to “transition” reader willingness to pay for print news over to now paying for that same content online.

Nope, that train’s already left the station.