Media acquisition, the French way

Tons of cash for publishers, little in  return. That’s the Sarkozy prescription to “save” the press. For €600m ($767m) to be spent over three years, the French president is buying if not influence, the French media barons’ ear and goodwill. This is not a stimulus package. This is a band-aid to an ailing industry that has a shown a tremendous resistance to change, at every level.

The tragic economics of ultra-small news sites

Two days before heading the Elysée gathering, I had a conversation with the founder of a tiny French news sites called Bakchich. info. The guy’s name is Nicolas Beau. He has a hell of a track record in investigative reporting. He spent quite a while at le Canard Enchained, a satirical newspaper-like weekly known for its ability to scoop. (Le “Canard” is the most read and most feared publication in the French politics.) Problem is you read it with a nose-clip: it is 80% fed by denunciations (pissed-off government officials, and journalists from traditional media who tip it, for a fee) and 20% classical investigative journalism. In my view, Nicolas Beau was doing most of the latter, applying the best methods of the trade, digging in and up stories, lifting the veil on many shenanigans. A year ago, he left the paper to start Bakchich.info, taking a large pay cut in the process. As we were discussing, he pulled a small index card: “Here is the latest salary chart of the company, he said with a thin smile. It supposed to address our critical situation…” Among the ten or so staffers, salaries range from €1200 to €2200 a month. And Bakchich.info was unable to issue paychecks for December. “I don’t know if you realize: I’m reducing salaries to people I was unable to pay last month. None of them blinked. They continue to work 12 hours a day”. He knows they can’t continue for much longer though. More

What to invest in now?

So, awright, we have a real new president. Some in the kommentariat found his Inaugural Address “average”.  Others, such as the NYT’s editors, gave it carefully weighted yet eloquent praise.  I enjoyed the sobriety, the quality of the language, not too everyday, not too clerical or esoteric.  Above all, I like the call to collective responsibility and Obama’s view we don’t need to choose between our security and our principles.  In other words, no torture.  The Statue of Liberty can uncover her eyes, wipe her tears of shame.  And maybe join the crowd and cry for joy a little.

Back to work.

The alchemy of users stickiness

“You’ll see. Time spent on sites will settle the issue of audience measurement. That is where everyone will ultimately come to an agreement”. Thus spake the head of Mediametrie /NetRatings in France. Last week, we were having another passionate discussion about the way we measure websites audiences. My view: the always changing methodology, the discrepancies between site centric measurement (software at the server’s root that tracks clicks) and the user centric measure (a polling system such as Nielsen’s), all contribute to the confusion — and to the resulting deflation of advertising prices. His point: there is no perfect system, we’re in the throes of a continuing evolution, and we are working relentlessly to improve our measurement methods. Well. More

Seven statues for Steve Jobs

For this week’s Monday Note, the plans was to calmly traverse the field of investment opportunities as redefined, upended is a better word, or narrowed, by what is shaping up as depression.  I used to write recession or recession/depression but, now, even the Washington sages are now losing their calm.  Today, they’re conceding: the bailout plans aren’t working, the banking universe is stuck: the hundreds of billions aren’t rebooting the system, banks aren’t lending enough to businesses and individuals.  Next step: more taxpayer money into a government bank tasked with buying toxic assets.  Sigh… More

The Upcoming Catharsis of 2009

How about a contrarian view of 2009? After a while (say, five years) we might come to view this year as highly beneficial to the information industry. Why? Three reasons:
-    It will force news organizations to stop procrastinating and implement life-saving  decisions.
-    It will accelerate radical change.  What was supposed to take several years will happen in one.
-    For the surviving players, 2009 might yield a bigger piece of the pie.

This is all very speculative and, unfortunately, will entail casualties, drama, human misery and a dramatically thinner journalistic herd.

Let’s have a closer look. More


Last week’s dismissal of Healthcare as one of the subjects to watch in 2009 was met with strong retorts. Difficult, confusing, fraught with ideology, demagoguery, logomachies, it doesn’t matter, readers write back.  This is the most important topic of all, without health, nothing else counts, look at how much of the GDP gets into healthcare. More

Blogging, a new journalistic genre ?

Over this new year, one of the most interesting developments on the Internet will be the continued evolution of blogging. Starting as little more than populist rants, blogging has already transcended its origins and grown into a fresh new journalistic genre, one that is likely to become the main engine of modern news sites. Two recent anecdotal observations lead me to this conclusion. More

Things to watch in 2009

No predictions, no forecast, that’s above my pay grade, just sifting through this coming year’s most interesting trends.  The Chinese curse, May you live in interesting times, being upon us, we might as well try and make the best of this New Year. More

Numbers to keep in mind

This article is part of an occasional serie featuring interesting raw data. Use the tag “numbers” to see the previous entries.
No predictions for this last 2008 issue. We all know what’s ahead: a difficult year, with double-digit drop in revenue for newspapers. A year that will see many news outlets simply wiped out. There will be opportunities, though. But for different types of organizations: smaller, leaner, and more agile. Flexibility will be a key factor. It will favor small companies or business units able to focus their reduced investment on what matters and cut the rest. Big organizations will stay absorbed in navel-gazing restructuring ruminations; their old-fashioned managements will keep forgetting that, even more in hard times than in good ones, speed is essential. We’ll come back with facts and figures next year. Today, I just want to offer interesting numbers, worth keeping in mind for the rough times ahead. More