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A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Ever since Ghost – the lightweight publishing platform – looked like it would actually happen, co-founder John O’Nolan has been talking about it facilitating journalism. And he’s been putting Ghost’s resources where his mouth is – several students of mine have had free Ghost(pro) accounts for the length of their studies, and one group ran a site on it for the (now defunct) online journalism module at City.

Ghost is taking that commitment a whole step further, as they announced today, with Ghost for Journalism:

Journalism by Ghost

We’ve created the very first Ghost Journalism Development program to find and work with three great new publications.

Our goal is to find three fantastic new publishers to work with and help them grow their audiences throughout 2017, as we build out these features (and others) explicitly around their needs. In addition, we’ll be offering up $45,000 in Ghost(Pro) credit, along with access to our internal tools, data, and technology partners.

This is basically an offer to become your hosting and technology team for a year, for free. That’s your second biggest cost – after people – out of the equation for the first year of a journalism startup. That’s huge.

Scaring up some revenue for journalism

What’s the other major problem with a journalism startup? Revenue, of course. That’s why Medium is taking a step back to explore it – and Ghost wants to work with its partners in this scheme to help figure out some useful models. And they’re willing to put development time behind it. The major next step in the platform’s development is around making money from your content.

Ghost has three priorities:

  1. Memberships: Logged-in experiences for visitors & better data for publishers
  2. Subscriptions: Content delivered directly to readers, wherever they are
  3. Payments: Integrations to allow publishers to build new revenue models

All three of these are direct revenue models that could potentially help support niche sites – and the future is niche sites, unless you have truly massive scale. I’ve been planning a switch to Ghost for a while, and this is even more of an incentive for me to just get on with it. I’ve been keen to launch a membership model for this site, providing deeper analysis for busy people in journalism, in a model not unlike that of Ben Thompson’s Stratechery – which i subscribe to and read avidly – and this has the potential to turn Ghost into a one stop shop for those sorts of business models.

Why is Ghost getting itself enmeshing in one of the biggest challenges for journalism in such a public way? I asked John, and this is what he said:

So many reasons. But really it all boils down to one core truth: No amount of features or good design for a platform matter if journalists aren’t getting paid.

Can’t argue with that.

By no means am I suggesting that we have the all in one solution to fixing that problem, but providing a platform which independent journalists can build on top of to easily take payments directly – is solid a prerequisite to anything else.

Being able to build something like TheInformation or Stratechery is something which should be widely available, easy to set up, and free from the impending fear of a VC-backed overlord shutting it down. That’s the goal 🙂

Indeed, the aim of building something new – with new revenue models – pretty much demands that you adopt a really tight approach to costs. And if what you’re selling is content – and the intelligence that underlies it – technology’s main job is to facilitate that, not to be a competitive advantage that you spend huge sums on developing. That’s a mistake we need to stop making.

The sort of journalism Ghost is looking for

If you’re interested, here’s the sorts of startups they’re looking for:

  • Local, political, social, cultural and investigative reporting
  • Scientific, economic and philosophical analysis
  • Journalism about journalism (ooo meta)
  • Memberships, subscriptions & audience engagement
  • New revenue models for journalism
  • Use of emerging tech like chatbots, data, VR & APIs

Don’t hang around though – you’ve got around a month – but it looks like people have been pretty interested in the announcement:

Once you’ve got an idea and team, applications close on February 15th.

Seth Godin:

The bestselling novel of 1961 was Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent. Millions of people read this 690-page political novel. In 2016, the big sellers were coloring books.

Fifteen years ago, cable channels like TLC (the “L” stood for Learning), Bravo and the History Channel (the “History” stood for History) promised to add texture and information to the blighted TV landscape. Now these networks run shows about marrying people based on how well they kiss.

And of course, newspapers won Pulitzer prizes for telling us things we didn’t want to hear. We’ve responded by not buying newspapers any more.

There’s nothing more “get off my lawn, damn kids” than decrying dumbing down – but this a cogent and persuasive version. Thought-provoking.

Remember when I was amused by Twitter deciding that I’m not a journalist or in the media? Well, now I’m profoundly glad. Why? Well, this little Tweet from a WikiLeaks-affiliated group went out on Friday:

WikiLeaks Doxxing

Of course, many, many screenshots had been saved before it got pulled down:

WikiLeaks itself tried to distance itself from the tweet – rather unconvincingly:

And even the original account tried to walk it back:

That’s a rather disingenuous reply, because the original tweet specified “family/job/financial/housing relationships” (emphasis mine). To track housing relationships, you need to track addresses. And for an organisation as committed to releasing information as WikiLeaks and its supporters have become – that inevitable raises the spectre of doxing – the politically-motivated release of personal information about people.

Inevitably many of my journalist friends on Facebook – the verified ones working on mainstream national publications that is – were nervous about this, mainly because of the mention of family. Most mainstream journalist accept that there is an element of risk in their work – but bringing families into it is frankly sinister.

Here’s a thought: has the little “verified” tick, originally intended to increase trust in Twitter, by making it harder for people to be fooled by fake and imposter accounts, actually proving counter-productive? It makes a really handy target marker for those perceived as “important” – and in these populist times, that makes them targets…

Things I didn’t know:

News UK moved thesun.co.uk to WordPress.com VIP last summer, becoming the fastest growing newspaper site in the UK, with well over 20 million monthly unique visitors, and tens of millions of page views every week. They recently added Scottish and Irish editions within a WordPress multisite configuration, all managed using the same innovative extension to the WordPress Customiser. WordPress is fast becoming an important part of News Corp’s worldwide publishing infrastructure, powering more and more sites in the US, India and Australia, as well as in the UK.

It’s a smart move – I’ve been a huge advocate of using off-the-shelf blogging platforms for mainstream news sites for over a decade, and it’s nice to see it becoming increasingly established as a mainstream approach.

It’s really cost-effective compared to many other approaches – and The Sun could do with some cost-savings right now

It looks like Medium rather botched the effective end of its publisher program, which included a beta of its ad-driven revenue service. Elizabeth Spiers is one of the people behind There is Only R, an online mag about all things VR/AR/MR – and it was part of the publisher program, which is effectively killed by yesterday’s announcement. And nobody from Medium bothered to tell her.

Spiers:

It would have been nice if someone from the company would have reached out about this though. I still haven’t haven’t heard from them, and only found out this was happening because I read about it on the Internet. Move fast, break things, etc.–but be professional, too.

She’s not the only one, according to Politico:

Five members of the revenue beta program told POLITICO that they did not receive any advance notice of Medium’s change in strategy before Williams’ public announcement. One publishing partner only learned about the pivot after reading an article about it on the tech news site Recode.

While one could argue that relying on a “beta” for revenue is daft – the clue is in the name, after all – this does show a fundamental disrespect for those Medium was notionally partnering.

Are you now, or have you ever been, a Viner? In which case, you need to act sharpish, to rescue access to your content. Vine as we know it dies on January 17th, and you only have until then to download your content:

And last but not least, you can now download your Vines through the app or the website. All of your Vines will continue to live on the vine.co website so you can browse all of the amazing videos you created over the years.

Nothing’s being deleted, but if you want access to the original video files, the clock is ticking

Vine - download your files

The Vine app itself is becoming a looping video camera for Twitter:

Here’s what’s coming: in January, we’re transitioning the Vine app to a pared-down Vine Camera. With this camera app you’ll still be able to make six-second looping videos, and either post them directly to Twitter or save them to your phone.

Oh, and Giphy has a handy tool for converting your Vines into Gifs

Yesterday, the news broke that Medium has shifted direction, and is laying off some people, and bashed out a quick post. With a night’s sleep (but not a good one, thanks to my youngest…) behind me, I have a slightly more nuanced take, partly informed by some Twitter conversations this morning. Anyone in the journalism industry should probably regard this as very good news.

Why? well, on the surface, this is only good news. On one hand, Medium is walking away from the traditional, tired and possibly dried up model of content platforms past:

  • Build a platform
  • Attract creators
  • Creators attract audiences
  • Monetise the audience via ads

That’s been the model of Blogger and Twitter, Ev Williams’s previous two businesses – and pretty much every other free-to-use content platform out there, including Facebook and YouTube. Medium is explicitly rejecting that approach. It’s led us too far down the route of clickbait, to desperately woo the vast traffic numbers needed to make non-niche advertising plays work. And given that Facebook and Google are eating the vast majority of the advertising revenue out there, it really doesn’t leave much for the rest of us.

It’s nice to see a platform backing away from these quality-eroding approaches. As Marketing Land is reporting, Medium has killed its Promoted Stories feature:

Medium introduced Promoted Stories in April as a way for the platform and publishers, like The Awl, The Bold Italic and Pacific Standard, that call Medium home to make money. Advertisers would pay to have their own Medium posts placed at the bottom of those publishers’ Medium posts. Brands like Bose, SoFi and Intel were among the first to buy Medium’s ad product, but it’s unclear how Promoted Stories performed and whether the ad format could lay the foundation for a sustainable revenue stream. Based on Williams’ blog post, it seems to have laid the wrong foundation.

In essence, it has done away with the Taboola and Outbrain-style links at the ends of posts that are steadily turning even the most upmarket site on the web into a funnel to crap content. So far, so good.

A content monetization lab?

On the other hand, Medium is leaning into a new concept for content monetisations. As Nic Newman put it:

The problem, which I focused on in the previous post, is that they don’t seem to know how to do this.

I tend towards the skeptical – if only because Ev William’s two previous ventures have ended up following the ads model for monetization, be it Google ads on Blogger blogs or promoted Tweets infecting your stream. Indeed, he struggled to turn both products into viable businesses. He has a much stronger record in product innovation than business model innovation – and that latter’s what’s needed here.

However, Williams has palatable got better over the years at surrounding himself with bright people who can solve problems. The Ev Williams of 2016 is much more likely to pull this off than his decade-younger self was for Twitter. Newman again:

That’s the nub of this announcement – by shedding sales and support staff that were aligned towards a traditional business model approach, Medium is essentially doing two things:

  1. Opening up the organisation’s mind to new approaches to making money
  2. Extending its funding runway, but dropping its biggest single cost – salaries – by ⅓.

The latter of those two essentially facilitates the former. It’s going to be much harder to get investment for a platform whose entire strategy is based around a brand new monetization approach. Making the most of the money they already have will be critical in taking the time they need to figure out this new model – if they can.

Exploring platform and business innovation

This is just what we need right now – a business run by tech savvy people who are essentially experimenting with both publishing platforms – and Medium is a great one, especially compared to the abominations that pose as CMSes in many publishers – and in business models. Since Medium moved away from its role as a “platisher” – combined publisher and platform – by shedding its content assets and doubling down on being a platform, it’s not longer directly a threat, either.

We should – and I include myself in that – want this to succeed. We need more viable content business models, and a content-neutral, platform-derived one might be very useful indeed.

As I said yesterday, interesting times. But times most certainly worth watching very carefully.

Ev Williams:

I’ll start with the hard part: As of today, we are reducing our team by about one third — eliminating 50 jobs, mostly in sales, support, and other business functions. We are also changing our business model to more directly drive the mission we set out on originally.

That’s a big, big cull. Medium’s whole approach to becoming a business is clearly shifting.

The problem?

Upon further reflection, it’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the internet. It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to. The vast majority of articles, videos, and other “content” we all consume on a daily basis is paid for — directly or indirectly — by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals. And it is measured, amplified, and rewarded based on its ability to do that. Period. As a result, we get…well, what we get. And it’s getting worse.

Seeking a business solution

Does he have a solution? No. But he clearly doesn’t want Medium to be part of that problem, so he’s chopped sales staff to reduce burn rate while the site seeks a new business model:

So, we are shifting our resources and attention to defining a new model for writers and creators to be rewarded, based on the value they’re creating for people. And toward building a transformational product for curious humans who want to get smarter about the world every day.

The buried implication here seems to be some form of method for committed readers rewarding inspiring creators – but that’s an assumption. All we can say for sure is that Medium is changing direction, seeks a new way of monetising publishing – and will be doing it with one third fewer staff – and an existing workforce who’ve just lost a bunch of colleagues, and who are keenly aware that their (admittedly well-funded) employer doesn’t have a workable business model yet.

Interesting times at Medium.