Sunday, August 18, 2013

Should the Post Be More Like Politico?

Here in Washington, many are jumping on the sale of the Washington Post as an opportunity to highlight the success of Politico as a missed opportunity. When I worked at the Post's web site in the early 2000s, the politics section was already one of the larger verticals within the site.

Part of the problem with sustaining a politics based site is the advertising cycles are very cyclical around elections. There were dozens of 'dot-bomb' era efforts that hoped to capture just a portion of the online advertising, then would have to lay people off  after the election was over. The fact that Politico has become a moderate success is the exception rather than the rule in my mind. While Politico may have done well in the 2012 election season, they need to survive a dry spell at least to get to 2014 in my mind. In theory, you could say that the Post missed the chance to launch PTI by letting Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon go work at ESPN.

At the same time, since Politico has launched, the Post has built a Wonkblog site around Ezra Klein and a small team of bloggers, and more recently a tech policy blog. So it is not as if it has ignored the success of Politico. There was also a previous iteration of the tech policy concept called WashTech, which was eventually shut down. The Post even hired writers such as Joshua Topolsky of Engadget and The Verge to write a column in print. But the Wonkblog model seems to be more viable, as ESPN has sort of done the same thing with Nate Silver, and to some extent, the New York Times' elevation of Andrew Ross Sorkin.

If anything this seems to be the model of the moment. The Atlantic has done something of the same thing, partnering with Richard Florida to launch its Cities site. But the Post hiring some one like Topolsky or Barry Ritzholtz to write something for the 'dead tree' edition on weekends doesn't do much for me.

Here in the Post's own back yard, the Marginal Revolution site has a fairly passionate following. At least online, I'd like to see them elevating some like Tyler Cowen to the level that the Times has with people like Paul Krugman. I also would like to see Jamie Mottram doing something on the sports side, as he is a native Washingtonian. Tim Stevens also comes to mind as the person who most recently left Engadget.

Lastly, the Post is late to the game in erecting a paywall. Part of me thinks this is a mistake, as sites like the San Francisco Chronicle are actually abandoning their paywall scheme, which I'm guessing wasn't even breaking even. Building the e-commerce backend around a paywall isn't cheap, and you are certainly going to see your ad impressions go down, so it doesn't seem like a great idea for a mid-tier newspaper to spend all that money hoping that paid subscriptions stop the bleeding. Even Andrew Sullivan's paywall adventures have been far from a grand slam, and he has a relatively large following.

If I want to pay $100 a year for news content, I will subscribe to the Economist. But if you offered me a $4.99 per month plan that gave me full access to the New York Times, even with a little advertising on it, I'd probably do that. If that doesn't pay for itself, then I probably would say don't bother with the paywall. Would I rather pay $80 a year for Amazon Prime or a subscription to the Washington Post? Pretty sure I'd rather have Prime.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Top Articles for Urban Land: July

July was a strong month for Urban Land, thanks to a few really strong pieces with nice images. Our social media manager has said that photos are what drive shares and likes on Facebook.

1. New Suburbanism: Reinventing Inner-Ring Suburbs: The authors of this piece were very excited to promote it to their own social networks, which lead to almost a thousand Facebook referrals. It also got solid traffic from Planetizen and Reddit.

2.  All Aboard: Rail-Centric Construction Gets Back on Track: Jeff Spivak is one of our very talented writers, and this piece on the redevelopment of train stations, particularly Union Station here in Washington, D.C. seemed to strike a chord. This was another winner on Planetizen, Reddit, and also was linked to by the APA blog and Chicago's Curbed site.

3 + 4. Mixed Use in an Overretailed Landscape"Urbanizing" a Suburban Colorado Mall: The second article here was a sidebar of the main magazine article, but both articles did really well for us.

5. Reinventing Hilton Head: This was another piece with great visuals, as we even had some black and white photography of the original developers of Hilton Head.

Season 2 of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

If you own a Roku or some other streaming device, you may want to add Crackle just for Jerry Seinfeld's series "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee." The second season has been decent so far, with some slightly younger faces, including Sarah Silverman, Seth Meyers and Chris Rock, in addition to the old guard guys like Don Rickles.

I did try to watch Da Vinci Code on Crackle using my old Roku 1, and either our connection was bad or there were just way too many ad breaks, but Seinfeld series gets it right, with just one ad at the beginning and then another towards the end.

I also like how the Acura sponsorship works in a way that isn't super annoying. I used to work with the AOL Autos team, and it was always a challenge to present content that encouraged new car buying in a way that wasn't too over the top. Given the high ad impression goals for the channel, this became increasingly hard to do, especially when some of the advertisers were not exactly the top tier brands.

I used to be a fan of Acura's in general, but I think they've become more of a yet another SUV dependent car market, as the MDX is really the only model I would think too seriously about. I don't think there's anything great about the TSX, TL or RL at their pricepoints, but then I'm slightly in the bag for Audi at this point.

Highest-Paid Employees by State: Lot of Football and Basketball Coaches

Thought this map of the highest-paid state employees, which is primarily football coaches, basketball coaches and medical school administrators, was worth noting. In my home state of Connecticut, the compensation of the men's and women's basketball coaches at UCONN have come under fire, even as their non-salary compensation from sponsorships, book deals, speaking gigs and camps are likely even larger.

According to Marginal Revolution, the three highest paid employees at the Department of Defense are the football coaches at Army, Navy and Air Force. That puts some of the sequester talk around the DoD in context.

Long Layoff From Blogging

Last October, I got a new job, then eventually moved for the first time in 10 years. Much of my energy this summer has gone into deciding whether to sell or rent my old place which I own.

So it has been a fairly busy few months for me, and thus personally blogging has suffered accordingly.

My girlfriend is currently out of town for a few months for work, so I'm hoping to do something productive with some of my increased free time.

My most popular blog post to date by far is: ESPN Films on Netflix Streaming. In some ways, this is the perfect intersection of some of my non-work interest: saving money, sports, media, and technology.

While I love ESPN Films and the 30 for 30 series, I have joined the ranks of the cord cutters, and have not had cable for almost a year now, so streaming their content is likely the only way I will access it.