In the news this week, Microsoft gets back into publishing with its massive buyout of business social network LinkedIn. Pew’s annual State of the News Media report shows mobile advertising booming, but Google and Facebook getting the lion’s share of that growth. And Gawker files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, while putting itself on the auction block. Mark rants and raves about the mental state of the media — is it going off the rails, or is there still hope? Our Metric of the Week is impact metrics, and we speak with USA Today’s Jodi Gersh.
Don’t have a lot of time to spare, but still want to get a roundup of the week’s top news? Then check out our Digital Media Brief below!
Digital Media Brief
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Mark Glaser is executive editor and publisher of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He is an award-winning writer and accidental entrepreneur, who has taken MediaShift from a one-person blog to a growing media company with events such as Collab/Space workshops and weekend hackathons; the weekly MediaShift podcast; and digital training, DigitalEd, in partnership with top journalism schools. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.
Top News of the Week
Microsoft Is Back to Publishing After Buying LinkedIn
We rarely talk about Microsoft when it comes to digital media. Years ago, Microsoft made multiple splashes with its MSNBC co-branded cable channel, its effort to build out MSN News and even Microsoft Sidewalk for hyper-local news. But all those efforts failed or were bought out, as in the case of MSNBC. But now, with its ginormous buyout of business social network LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in cash, Microsoft gets into social networking and yes, publishing. Of course, most of the talk about the deal was how Microsoft would integrate LinkedIn’s data into its own cloud and software offerings. Yawn. What’s more interesting for media folks is what will become of LinkedIn’s publishing platform with thousands of people posting each day. And what about its news app Pulse that serves up stories tailored to your work interests?
While LinkedIn Influencers can reach a pretty good-sized audience on the network, many others post in relative anonymity. When news of the Microsoft purchase came, LinkedIn writers were hopeful that a revamp of the site would give more prominence to their writing. One of those, Olivia Barrow, a reporter at the Milwaukee Business Journal, told the International Business Times that “it’s not easy for someone to go on LinkedIn and look at articles,” saying she hopes they promote the publishing platform a little more. As for the overall purchase, not everyone was singing Microsoft’s praises. Ars Technica’s Peter Bright wondered why Microsoft had to pay such a huge premium, when it could have bought access to LinkedIn’s data for much less money. Ah, but that takes away the splashy nature of such a big buyout, and the attendant excitement that Microsoft needs to stay relevant in the tech world by adding a social network — even a stodgy business social network.
The State of the News Media Shows Mobile and Digital Growing
Each year, the Pew Research Center releases its “State of the News Media” report, explaining how each sector is faring. This year’s report came out this week, and much of the news was not surprising. Newspapers experienced a horrible year, with circulation down 7%, advertising down 8%, and employment down 10%. And while digital ad revenues grew a robust 20%, the vast majority — 65% — went to tech platforms Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Twitter. What was a bit less expected was that local TV news held steady with its audience, and cable news had an 8% jump in viewership with the election and Trump getting attention. And even the much-maligned broadcast evening news shows had a modest 1% increase in combined audience.
But the real acceleration is in mobile. When it comes to mobile news consumption, 99 out of the 110 news outlets studied by Pew had more people visiting their content on mobile than desktop. However, people are spending more time with desktop content than mobile content, according to Pew’s study of digital-native publishers. Those publishers are moving more heavily into email newsletters and podcasts. Podcasting is also growing, with 21% of Americans saying they’ve listened to a podcast recently, and 36% saying they’ve listened to a podcast at least once (count yourself among this group, dear listeners). But while the number of podcasts and downloads has been increasing, a stubborn number of Americans — 51% — still don’t know what a podcast means. For shame. Overall, the report offered great insight into the numbers behind what we experience each day we find a news story on Facebook or open up news apps to find out what’s happening.
Gawker Files For Bankruptcy, and Puts Itself on the Auction Block
The drama continues at Gawker Media. The company filed for bankruptcy protection late last week after they were denied a stay on paying $140 million in damages to Hulk Hogan over the posting of a sex tape. Though Gawker is appealing the decision, the company put itself up for sale with an opening bid of $90 million from Ziff Davis, the publisher behind PC Magazine and IGN. Bloomberg reports that Univision, Vox, and Penske Media have all expressed interest in the auction which will take place on July 29. Gawker is currently fighting off at least 10 lawsuits, with more potentially on the way, many of which are being fought by the same lawyer, Charles Harder, who won the Hulk Hogan case, which was bankrolled by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel.
Most recently, Gawker also received a strange cease-and-desist order from Harder asking Gawker to take down its in-depth story on Donald Trump’s $60,000 hair weave. Gawker’s J.K. Trotter wondered how any of these plaintiffs would collect money from Gawker, a company that owes $140 million to Hulk Hogan, and is currently valued around $100 million. Meanwhile, various Gawker editors reassured readers that, in the short term, operations would continue as normal. On Wednesday, CEO Nick Denton released a statement addressing concerns about the future of the business. “To those who have written in with concern for our people, our business, and our mission: it’s fine.” Denton went into great detail about the big scoops that Gawker had over the years and the stable of writers that it nurtured, but with very little apology for its take-no-prisoners gossip and invasions of privacy. Gawker has always inserted itself and its voice into stories, but now its founder and CEO is in a major public-facing role.
Rant & Rave by Mark Glaser
As I mentioned earlier in the podcast, we just received our metrics manna from heaven, the State of the News Media report from Pew Research Center. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, with so much data on the digital news audience, digital news revenues, deeper looks at newspapers, news magazines, local TV, broadcast, radio, and even a special page on podcasts.
But let’s face it, most of that “news” wasn’t really news to those of us who are media junkies. We know quite well that print newspapers are struggling, that digital advertising is growing and that Google and Facebook are dominating in mobile advertising. This has been the lay of the land for the past few years.
But what about the mental state of the media? How does it feel right now? We’re preparing to go on our annual podcasting summer hiatus, and will return to your earbuds on August 19. So the time is right for a look back at our chaotic crazy year in digital media so far. I’m typically a half-glass-full kinda guy, but it’s tough right now.
The media feels like it’s under attack more than ever in the U.S. We’ve seen Donald Trump’s campaign manager roughing up a reporter from Breitbart, and Trump himself denying press credentials to the Washington Post, Politico, BuzzFeed, and more. Calling out the so-called “mainstream media” has never been more potent for political candidates on the right and left.
And we have the case of Gawker Media front and center. What started out as a lawsuit by Hulk Hogan over publishing a sex tape, has become a struggle between a Silicon Valley billionaire, Peter Thiel, and the right for online media to scrutinize what goes on in the Valley. Gawker obviously has crossed the line of decency and privacy, but seems to be changing its ways. But now comes word that it has filed for bankruptcy protection and put itself on the auction block.
Gawker honcho Nick Denton wrote a long and winding post, with the conclusion that they’ll be fine. But having Gawker owned by Ziff Davis is like having Trump as the standard bearer for the Republican Party — oh wait. Things aren’t fine, they don’t feel fine, and the growing power of billionaires in media, whether they’re stomping out media outlets or sweeping in as the white knight savior (like Jeff Bezos at the Washington Post), their influence in the Fourth Estate is growing each year.
And then there’s the incredibly sticky issue of figuring out all the social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, YouTube, Kik, WhatsApp and on and on. What’s a news org to do? It’s great to try to play the field like BuzzFeed and NowThis News, but not everyone has the luxury of venture funding to let them experiment for years. And while it feels like the platforms have all the power in the relationship, publishers can and will push back. They’ve received concessions in Facebook Instant Articles, and more help promoting content in Snapchat, and Google has worked closely with publishers in building its Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP.
And that’s where my more positive side can take solace. I had the honor of producing a recent Private Roundtable of top platforms and publishers of all sizes in New York last month, with support from a couple media foundations. After all the sound and fury of publishers railing against platforms, we were able to keep things pretty civil, focus on the challenges, and talk about collaborating to solve them. We didn’t bring world peace, but at least we sowed the seeds of what might come next: more transparency, more communication, and more education to help small publishers succeed on social platforms.
Let’s face it, the history of media is filled with disruptive technology, from newspapers to magazines to radio to TV to cable TV and on to the most disruptive force: the Internet and social media. There’s always been chaos, there’s always been powerful people trying to silence the critics. And yet, we carry on, we stay strong, and we come up with solutions. There’s no silver bullet, like native advertising, or paywalls or micro-payments, or even virtual reality. But we have some hope that as long as the people demand the truth, demand answers to the urgent issues of the day, the media will deliver it on whatever platform works.
Music on this Episode
Jefferson Yen is the producer for the Mediatwits Podcast. His work has been on KPCC Southern California Public Radio and KRTS Marfa Public Radio. You can follow him @jeffersontyen.