Why Medium’s Ev Williams will fail at his quest to fix the internet

Ev Williams. Photo (cc) 2014 Christopher Michel.

Earlier this month The New York Times published a profile of Evan Williams, an internet entrepreneur who has done as much as anyone to promote the notion that each of us can and should have a digital voice. He founded Blogger, the first widespread blogging platform. He co-founded Twitter. And, in 2012, he launched Medium, a platform for writing that he hoped would become an alternative to the sociopathy that defines too much of the online world.

It hasn’t worked — not because the quality of Medium isn’t good; much of it is. Rather, he hasn’t been able to find a workable business model that attracts readers, rewards writers, and generates profits for his investors. In other words, Williams is dealing with the same problems as publishers everywhere, and his bona fides have proven to be of little help.

“I thought once everybody could speak freely and exchange information and ideas, the world is automatically going to be a better place,” Williams told the Times’ David Streitfeld. “I was wrong about that.”

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It’s all about ratings, so Scott Pelley’s departure was probably inevitable

Scott Pelley. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

I don’t often watch the network evening newscasts. But when I do, I watch the “CBS Evening News” with Scott Pelley, which strikes me as a little more intelligent than the competition — not to mention more willing to call out President Trump’s falsehoods, as Margaret Sullivan recently observed in The Washington Post.

So I was disappointed to learn that Pelley has been booted from the anchor chair and will return full-time to “60 Minutes.” The early breathless reporting by the New York Post turned out to be overblown. As Dylan Byers reports at CNN.com, Pelley’s office was cleared out at his request, and he’ll continue to anchor until a replacement is found, which suggests that he’s being treated with some level of respect.

But ratings are ratings. And with CBS in third place and sliding, Pelley’s departure was perhaps inevitable — although unless CBS has an animatronic Walter Cronkite waiting in the wings, it’s hard to imagine the network will come up with someone better.

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Globe CEO to staff: Full speed ahead with the move

For your weekend memo-reading pleasure, I’ve obtained an email that Boston Globe CEO Doug Franklin sent to the staff on Thursday. Note that the move out of the Globe’s Dorchester plant at 135 Morrissey Blvd. is proceeding even though a deal to sell it recently fell through.

Keep an eye on Franklin’s statement that “Our production transition is our biggest risk right now.” The translation is that if the printing operation in Taunton isn’t fully ready to handle the Globe and its customers (USA Today, The New York Times, the Boston Herald, etc.) when Morrissey shuts down, then they’re going to find themselves in a world of hurt.

The full text of Franklin’s message follows.

Colleagues,

Over the next few weeks, the Globe will see two major transitions. We’ll soon begin printing all our newspapers out of the new plant in Taunton, and we’ll move our offices to Exchange Place in downtown Boston. These moves will help us leverage our five strategic goals: digital subscriber growth, digital advertising growth, greater efficiency producing print papers, becoming the community convener, and being an employer of choice.

Our new workspaces are a big change physically, but really they’re just buildings, desks and equipment. The Globe won’t change because of the move, it will change because you change your work for our audiences and advertisers.

Every department is working aggressively on accomplishing our goals. Pressmen are running new presses, salespeople prospecting for digital/print campaigns, editors and reporters finding new ways to engage audiences for digital subscriptions, and technology teams developing new roadmaps for better user experiences. There is so much opportunity and work ahead for all of us.

Along with all this change will be the inevitable “bumps in the road.” We need to be supportive of each other, flexible, and focused on our work. Our business will continue to change dramatically and the new facilities are part of our journey.

Our strategic goals will drive the Globe’s financial sustainability and long-term success. Your efforts every day are the building blocks of our performance. There are many things happening in our company, much of it good. Among them:

  • Digital subscriptions have passed 83,000 on the way to 100,000. We are confident we have the right tactics to achieve our goal. We are the leader nationally in regional newspaper digital subscriptions.
  • Globe.com audience performance was at all time highs the first quarter of this year.
  • Consumer/subscriber revenue is performing very well, our bright spot financially.
  • Print subscriptions, while down over last year, is ahead of our plan.
  • Advertising is ahead of plan slightly through the first four months of this year but digital advertising needs to be stronger.
  • Commercial print revenues are slightly off due to our printing transitions.
  • Costs are declining but still heavy until we exit Morrissey completely and fully ramp up Taunton efficiencies. Our production transition is our biggest risk right now.
  • We announced our newsroom reinvention, continuing the transformation to a more audience and digital centric content approach to our journalism.
  • We’re rebuilding a cohesive product and technology roadmap focused on digital subscription and advertising to improve user experiences.
  • STAT audience growth continues to set new records, hitting 2 million unique visitors in March.

All of you contribute greatly to our success, here are a few that represent the important work each of you do every day:

  • Our Globe newsroom was a two-time Pulitzer finalist this year, in Local Reporting and in Criticism, reflecting our best in class journalism. Congrats to The Spotlight Team, for its riveting look at the failures of the state’s mental health care system. This was the second time in three years that Spotlight has been a Pulitzer finalist. Congratulations as well to Ty Burr, the Globe’s star movie critic and culture columnist, who was a finalist for a collection of his best work.
  • Katie O’Brien, Director of Classified Advertising, led a redesign of our obituary pages driving a 20% increase in revenues.
  • As part of our facility moves, Kelly Mallenbranche and Chris Mayotte’s teams in IT burned lots of late night hours successfully moving our digital systems to our new offsite server location.
  • Tom Brown and Mollie Toomey’s analysis and management of our digital and print subscribers is driving us towards our 100,000 digital subs and an incremental $6 million in revenue this year.

We have a great story to tell our audiences, clients and community as we transform. Communication and marketing will get more attention in the coming months.

All of this means we are improving financially but not out of the woods yet. Overall, I feel we have made better progress to date than where I thought we would be at this point. Thank you for your work and commitment to the Globe!

Doug

The Boston Globe’s storytelling event reinforces community ties

The other day I was talking with a colleague about how our news-consumption habits had changed during the early months of the Trump presidency. The endless torrent of shocking developments from Washington had tied both of us to The Washington Post and The New York Times from the moment we got up and through much of the day. Local news, by comparison, had faded into the background.

Yet it’s local news that is essential to the civic glue that binds us together. Ultimately none of us as individuals can do much about what’s taking place nationally. We live in communities, and it’s at that level where each of us can have an effect, for better or for worse.

Last Friday evening The Boston Globe provided a vibrant reminder of that, packaging its local journalism not in print or on the web but, rather, through two and a half hours of live storytelling. Dubbed Globe Live, the event — held before nearly 600 people at the Emerson Paramount Center — featured nonfiction monologues, video, photography, music, and even some comedy.

Read the rest at WGBHNews.org. And talk about this post on Facebook.

An echo from the Boston bombings: Stay strong, Manchester

Photo (cc) 2013 by mgstanton.

As someone who has not been personally affected by a terrorist attack, I would not presume to give advice to the people of Manchester on this terrible day after.

But as a resident of the Boston area — and one among the thousands who rallied to the side of our city in the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings — I have some thoughts about how a community can come together after a tragedy like this.

Read the rest at CNN.com. And talk about this post on Facebook.

Breitbart’s gushy Trump book presents ‘alternative facts’ on the first 100 days

WGBH News photo illustration by Emily Judem

If you are a stereotypical Massachusetts liberal (I plead guilty, your honor), the story of President Trump’s first few months in office is one of incompetence, corruption, and cruelty, all playing out beneath the penumbra of the burgeoning Russia scandal.

But that’s not how it looks to Breitbart News, the right-wing nationalist website that has served as Trump’s most outspoken — and outrageous — media cheerleader. In a new e-book titled “The First 100 Days of Trump,” Breitbart’s Joel Pollak describes the president in glowing terms.

Read the rest at WGBHNews.org. And talk about this post on Facebook.

The Comey firing

James Comey. Photo (cc) 2016 by tua ulamac.

President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey appears to be highly suspicious for all the reasons others have already stated. In a democracy, you just can’t get rid of the person who is investigating your administration for possible wrongdoing.

Yet I have to point out that there is nothing in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s report that is wrong. Comey was a terrible FBI director in many respects, and he mishandled the public aspects of the Hillary Clinton email investigation in every way imaginable.

As late as Tuesday, several hours before the firing, we learned that he had grossly overstated (under oath) the extent to which former Clinton aide Huma Abedin forwarded emails to her estranged husband, former congressman Anthony Weiner. It was the Abedin-Weiner connection that formed the pretext for Comey’s announcement just before Election Day that he had reopened his investigation, a move that likely cost Clinton the presidency.

Of course, Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions had no problem with Comey’s sabotage of Clinton’s campaign at the time, and their claims that they are deeply, deeply troubled by it now are absurd. The outrage with which the Comey firing has been greeted is entirely justified.

But if President Obama had fired Comey the day after the election, or Trump shortly after his inauguration, it’s not likely that many people would have objected.

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