Wick Communications

Posts Tagged ‘Business’

The end of verticals?

In Online media on July 6, 2017 at 3:37 pm

I have always been impressed when I see general interest publications like our newspapers spin off niche products. These are sometimes known as “verticals” in business parlance, because they cater to a specific customer base with a well-targeted product.

Until recently, the Wall Street Journal had a bunch of verticals. The Law Blog, China Real Time, Off Duty Daily — these were blogs, essentially, that catered to specific components of the WSJ readership.

Well, no more. The Journal recently joined the New York Times in scaling back on blogs like these. The stated reason is that webmasters want to put what they’ve learned from those verticals into the main app and core publications. It’s also a cost-saving move and probably a nod to the fact that some of these niches never bore much monetary fruit, even if they had a loyal readership.

Perhaps the learned folks who run the Journal have simply learned lessons I don’t know. But I’m still a proponent of these kinds of things. (Ahem, the Kicker is a vertical itself… one that hasn’t earned a penny for the company so far.) I think they serve customers who benefit from the experts newspapers provide. And I think it’s a potentially lucrative thing. You can’t tell me that advertisers wouldn’t want to reach the well-paid attorneys who regularly read The Law Blog. What do you suppose the household income is for the average reader of The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog? You couldn’t find a sponsor for that?

Two years ago, I spoke with Wick editors and publishers about verticals that could, potentially, be profitable and interesting in our specific communities. For example, the folks at the Eastern Arizona Courier envisioned a wine publication or tab on their website that would service those interested in the burgeoning wine industry in that part of Arizona. It could, perhaps include blogs for each winery, maps, videos, etc. I know it’s a difficult undertaking, but I can envision it working. … Read the rest of this entry »

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On being customer ‘obsessed’

In Business on March 16, 2017 at 3:18 pm

This week I was struck by something Jed Williams said in the February edition of Editor and Publisher magazine.

Williams is the chief innovation officer at the Local Media Association, which counts Wick Communications newspapers among its members. For the magazine’s Wise Advice column, he was asked a single question: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?”

Williams’ answer:

“Be customer obsessed, not competitor obsessed.”

He goes on to say that “obsessed” is not “focused.” It’s … obsessed. It is the reason you come in to work in the morning. He says you have to actually solve problems for customers, be they readers who need timely information or advertisers who need to move the needle on their businesses.

Williams says the key is empathy, which is something I’ve said again and again even as I understand it’s easier said than achieved. Believe me: I’ve failed repeatedly in various quests to empathize with our customers. I’ve failed to follow through with some design-thinking ideas. I’ve failed the obsessions test in dealing with Half Moon Bay Review customers who walk through the door with a problem. If you’ve ever walked past someone at the front counter who wanted to buy a newspaper or talk to an ad rep or ask how to get an event covered, you too have failed to be obsessed enough with our customers. Welcome to the club.

Ultimately, our success or failure will be found in relation to our ability to solve customer problems and that requires empathizing with their individual problems. … Read the rest of this entry »

Change your story

In Workplace on March 17, 2016 at 2:37 pm

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The headline here comes from a two-year-old story in Forbes magazine, written by Jenna Goudreau, that relies heavily on quotes and information from a business psychologist named Sharon Melnick. Melnick had then just written a book called, “Success Under Stress.”

This is probably as good a time as any to talk about workplace stress. Specifically, what you can control within a situation that might feel out of your control. In fact, it is that feeling of lack of control that researchers, including Melnick, say is a prime factor in the feeling of stress that we all have at one time or another in our workplace.

Goudreau runs through a series of tips and all of them are good. Most you have heard before. (Take a deep breath, eat right, sleep well, etc.) I wanted to focus on one of those tips because it seems particularly apropos for those of us who tell stories for a living. Melnick suggests you change your own story.

“Your perspective of stressful office events is typically a subjective interpretation of the facts, often seen through the filter of your own self-doubt,” Goudreau writes. Read that again. She is suggesting that your perception of stress is greatly affected by the story you tell yourself about what is going on. No one is saying that the events surrounding you at work aren’t inherently stressful. In fact, many of us are secretly drawn to this business because we thrive on the stress that comes with hurriedly reporting things that are newsworthy. Add to that good stress the kind that comes with a challenged industry and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Melnick suggests you think about what you can control… that story you tell yourself. … Read the rest of this entry »

Your meetings are your culture

In Management on October 22, 2015 at 3:38 pm

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Mizell Stewart, managing director of content at Journal Media Group, surveyed a room that included several dozen of the nation’s top news editors and summoned the temerity to tell them they have been doing it all wrong.

“We can do print in our sleep,” Stewart said during an early session of last weekend’s joint ASNE, APME and APPM meeting held at Stanford University. “You don’t need a meeting to do the print part.

“Make morning news meetings about what are you doing in digital – today,” he said.

Confession time: That isn’t how I’ve been doing it the last umpteen years. Worse: That isn’t really how I’ve counseled you to do it, either. There. I said it. It’s time that we reinvented those news meetings and at the very least given digital an equal footing with the print product.

Why?

Stewart says – and I believe him – that we have to consider our “newsroom rituals” if we are going to change our focus before the 21st century has its way with us. “Your meetings are your culture,” he said.

Do we need to change that culture? What do you think? … Read the rest of this entry »

Pay me to write good stuff

In Writing on September 17, 2015 at 12:41 pm

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Here’s an object lesson that I know none of you need. Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to show the line from time to time so that no one ever thinks to cross it.

The Watertown Daily Times has a story this week about a nearby publisher of tourism magazines who reportedly attempted to trade positive coverage of the area for lodging and meals, and when that failed, slammed the locals in his publications. Further, he is alleged to have plagiarized much of that work. They say he sent threatening emails. He apparently “creeped out” one of his freelance writers and put her name on stuff she didn’t write.

First of all, don’t do that. Any of it. Obviously. I suppose that is one strategy if, like some fictional gypsy, you intend to roam the world leaving havoc in your wake. But we live here. That won’t work. Even on a much smaller scale. People talk. You will be exposed.

OK, now that the obvious stuff is out of the way, what about this story in the Daily Times?

For my money, it’s just too much. I don’t know how it played in the print edition, but it’s more than 1,800 words where about 400 would do. There seems to be a certain glee in showing a charlatan to be what he is. And it’s a bit of inside baseball.

Readers deserve to know that this rogue publisher is out there. The lede of the story is good. I think a couple quotes from the chamber of commerce and the paragraph outlining his failed business strategy would suffice. I don’t think we need the waitress calling him a “weirdo,” or the business owner who says he “smelled like an ashtray.” … Read the rest of this entry »

The power of serendipity

In Reporting on June 4, 2015 at 2:02 pm

“Free pizza saved my life.” So begins Michal Wiczkowski’s LOWKeynote address at the Stanford Graduate School of Business earlier this year. He is an MBA candidate and a bright guy. He’s also quite a storyteller.

Appropriately enough, I found his quick address on YouTube by thumbing through Twitter. He would be pleased. His address was all about such serendipitous moments.

I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again: Newspapers are all about serendipity. You may buy the paper in the rack because of the story above the fold, but what you find on Page 2 is a surprise. We learn about the world through the whims of curiosity and our curiosity as journalists are guided by a sort of educated serendipity. We think something interesting will happen at the city council meeting, and it may be something we hadn’t expected to write about at all. We attend the baseball game not knowing that we will witness the first triple play the team has ever turned.

Wiczkowski says there are four ways to increase the serendipity in your life and let me tell you we could all use more of that. … Read the rest of this entry »

Send me that photo?

In Photography on March 5, 2015 at 4:48 pm
The fire chief asked our photographer for this shot, which included a presentation from a state legislator.

The fire chief asked our photographer for this shot, which included a presentation from a state legislator.

This has probably happened to you. You are at some community event – a ribbon cutting, a groundbreaking, a Eagle Scout ceremony – and a representative of the hosting organization saunters up and says: “Can you send me that picture?”

What do you say?

We at the Half Moon Bay Review seem to be fielding that request more and more these days. I submit the answer is tricky. On the one hand, your professional photos belong to the news organization. They are news photos that we might run again from our file, not simply marketing materials for some business. If the host wants photos, she should pony up for a photographer to take them, right? On the other hand, sometimes it seems like the goodwill outweighs any harm.

Let me suggest some middle ground. And let me say that this isn’t the definitive word. It’s just meant to foster the conversation at your newspaper. … Read the rest of this entry »

Transforming the model

In Management on November 30, 2012 at 10:34 am

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I have a pretty high tolerance for business buzz-speak when it comes to the news industry. I don’t think I’m a traditionalist or particularly afraid of new technology or new ways of conducting our business. But even I had to hold my nose to get all the way through this.

I’m glad I did.

On the one hand, it’s just a come-on for a workshop in Washington D.C. The American Press Institute and the Poynter Institute are producing a series they call “Transformation Tour.” The link outlines one of several “transformational” opportunities, this time the chance to think again about the concept of community.

You have to strip away the meaningless jargon to get the important part. The workshop promises “facilitators” to “contextualize” a “sustainable role” in our “realigned organization.” (Roll eyes here.)

At the heart of all this transformation may be the most important task of all, rethinking the word “community,” and that is the subject of the Dec. 7 workshop. I am sure we would get a lot out of the workshop, but we can begin to think of these things without leaving the office.

For example, I tend to think of the Half Moon Bay, Calif., community as geographical. It is bordered by Pescadero to the south, Montara to the north, the mighty Pacific Ocean on the west and the Santa Cruz mountains to the east. Traditionally, we cover stuff that happens within those boundaries. But it’s really not that simple.

Within Half Moon Bay there are myriad communities, most with tentacles that extend far beyond the geography. Some are fairly well defined and others rather amorphous. There is a community of knitters. Another caters to outdoor oil painters. There are surfers and roller hockey players and business people and parents and on and on. Each community within a community has its own interests and needs. … Read the rest of this entry »

Giving them the business

In Business on October 25, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Today, I took a moment to read a Q&A with Scott Nelson, who is the business editor at the Portland Oregonian. I had the pleasure of meeting him at an American Press Institute gathering in 2011 and am always impressed with what he has to say about newspapers generally, and specifically, how to bring home business coverage to a sophisticated readership. If you’ve never seen it, the Oregonian is unquestionably one of the great newspapers in the country.

I was taken with the newspaper’s commitment to consumer news. Scott takes a moment to mention the good work of Laura Gunderson, so I thought I would have a look see at what she is doing right.

She’s on Twitter, of course. (She does one thing in her profile that I thought was a great idea. @LGunderson writes, “I retweet out of interest, not endorsement.” Perhaps we should all add such a line.)

She also contributes to The Window Shop blog on the newspaper’s website. The blog appears to be updated every day with mostly breezy things. But sometimes, it tackles fairly complex stories, like the mix of department stores and what is working in that marketplace. … Read the rest of this entry »

SEC: More than an athletic conference

In journalism on November 11, 2010 at 5:41 pm

For my entire career, business journalism – real business journalism and not merely the regurgitation of press releases and rote stories about new store openings – has been a complete mystery. It scared me, quite frankly. All I know about large companies is that they have a phalanx of executives who make twice what I make solely to keep me from finding out the truth about them.

OK, that’s a bit dramatic, but suffice to say I never knew how to find out anything important about big businesses.

That’s changed just a smidge after I sat in on a lecture given by University of California, Berkeley, journalism lecturer Marilyn Chase.

Chase is a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal. She is an expert in deciphering the code of government regulation on business, including understanding the ways and means of the Security and Exchange Commission. It helps to know she was a literature major as an undergrad. Apparently it doesn’t take an MBA to understand the SEC.

OK. I hear you. You have a half-dozen schools to report on, a county government – maybe even the high school golf team to write about. Who has time to puzzle through SEC filings? Well, you do – it turns out to be pretty simple… Read the rest of this entry »