Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What Gawker's Nick Denton can teach local news organizations

The founder of Gawker, Nick Denton, posted a story giving seven concrete reasons why Gawker is moving beyond a straight blog format. Below are selected quotes from his seven reasons followed by a list of my twelve take-aways for delivering hyper-local news to urban neighborhoods, suburban villages and ex-urban towns. 
  1. "The Power of the scoop:
    1. One law of media competition applies as strongly to web properties as it did to their predecessors: scoops drive audience growth.
    2. Often advertisers don't want to be associated with scandal, once the dust has settled -- advertisers flock to buzz and growth.
    3.  Using a single splash story in the center with a list of other headlines along the side, we can finally create front pages that match the visual impact of a tabloid wood or magazine cover; and we can leave them up as long as they're generating interest and not get rotated out by other later stories
  2. Aggregate or die:
    1. Our strength as an aggregator remains editorial curation
    2. Pursuing one objective (effective aggregation) undermines another (the promotion of big stories and features.)
    3. The solution? First, the creation or recognition of two different classes within the editorial teams: the curator or editor; and the producer or scoopmonger. Second, it means we have to abandon the single blog flow -- and separate out the strongest stories in a zone much more substantial than the existing skyline.
    4. Create a gigantic breakout every few months; a few more modest hits every week; but the daily news diet can be satisfied quite happily with short posts, blockquotes (linked to the original, of course) and republished material.
  3. Demonstrate a rounded personality:
    1. The front page is our branding opportunity. It's a rebranding opportunity, too, a way to demonstrate intelligence, taste and -- yes, snicker away! -- even beauty.
    2. I've sent around that gorgeous Iceland video so often that it's become a running joke. Why do items like that matter so much? Because they act as a palate cleanser, an antidote to the gossip and snark that might otherwise overwhelm our public image. And that appeals not just to readers but to advertisers, who love our audience but shrink sometimes at the methods we employ to garner attention.
  4. The web is a visual medium:
    1. Half of the top 100 stories (ranked by new visitors) are already built around video, slideshows or other imagery.
    2. In the new layout is that every single substantial item will be built around imagery: a video, a gallery, a striking image or, if the words are strong enough, a text graphic.
    3. This visual slot will be 640x360 pixels in size -- that's 64% larger than in the current design -- and be in the most prominent location on every page, above even the headline itself. Viewers will be able to toggle to a high-definition 960x540 version -- a full 3.7 times larger than the current video standard.
  5. The growth of video advertising:
    1. Already, some 30-50% of agency RFPs indicate that the client has video assets, typically a 15-second spot. These are often edited versions of commercials made for TV
    2. The new layout increases the central imagery on each page by 64%, dominating the browser. One corollary: we can't run more than one such piece of imagery without making the page too heavy and sluggish.
    3. The new video ads can only realize their full impact if they run at a size equivalent to editorial video and if they’re a seamless part of the experience. But the only way we can run both in conjunction is to insert ads between posts -- and not simply in the margins of the content. They become the commercial break.
    4. We can run a 15-second video commercial in the 640x360 slot between two autonomous editorial items almost as if it was a spot leading up to the next segment -- deeply integrated into the content flow.
  6. Appointment programming:
    1.  Publish the best personal finance feature of the week to the front page at a set time, as the lead story. Other personal finance stories will be clustered around that time. This is appointment web programming. And, just as in TV, the hour will be available for sponsorship.
    2. Few people want travel news, day in, day out. They want travel reference, when they're about to travel; and they might be willing to read Gawker's regular weekend getaway tips on a Thursday evening, if we were to introduce such regular programming.
  7. Gawker is a branding vehicle:
    1. The savvier media buyers know clickthroughs are an indicator of the blindness, senility or idiocy of readers rather than the effectiveness of the ads.
    2. For premium media properties such as ours, this is a contest that should be avoided at all costs. It's a race to the bottom -- for the lowest quality ads and the least valuable visitors.
    3. We booted commodity ad networks out from our titles five years ago; they were cheapening the sites and devaluing the brand benefits to our directly sold campaigns.
    4. Today, a large proportion of our sales depend on those "roadblocks" which offer a marketer an exclusive presence on a front page for the day. These are branding opportunities which the ad networks cannot easily match. These exclusive front-page sponsorships are not limitless.
    5. By bringing in sponsors for scheduled programming, as described above, we can create several exclusive advertising opportunities in addition to our core offering of the front door buyout. They can also be confident that their campaign will run against appropriate content: a cable show trailer with the weekly entertainment guide, for instance; or Visa's new credit card next to personal finance content.
    6. There is no future in low-end web advertising, at least not for a media company with any aspirations. We will offer a larger canvas for both our editors and advertisers; and pair their offerings in the way that the web has so far failed and TV has done so well."
My take-aways for hyper-local sites:
  1. Use scoops to drive audience growth. They produce spikes followed by higher plateaus.
  2. Designate a curator and a scoopmonger.
  3. Aggregate relevant stories from state-wide or other local publications.
  4. Signal the level of importance of stories by size of headline and imagery.
  5. Feature a block-buster monthly story, a significant weekly story, an important daily story.
  6. Regularly post scoops of different types. (Tragedy & Celebration, Ugly & Beautiful, Work & Play)
  7. Feature large imagery.
  8. Liberally use large format video.
  9. Think commercial break: Run a large imagery story, followed by a large imagery ad, followed by a large imagery story
  10. Schedule certain story categories (finance, business, outdoors, culture, arts, entertainment, sports) at regular times and sell ads around them.
  11. Don’t cheapen your site with commodity garbage inventory ads.
  12. Create limited supply, limited run and targeted ad spaces and sell them as exclusives at a high price.  
Let me know if you incorporate any of these and what results from doing so.