ONA09 debrief and the swagger

Well, it’s been a pretty awesome week.

I spent most of last Thursday through Sunday at the 2009 Online News Association conference in San Francisco, and if you follow me on Twitter or spotted a short post on my blog over the weekend, you know that Publish2, my current employer, was honored with a rather pleasant award on Saturday night at the Online Journalism Awards.

And earlier that day, I helped lead an unconference session on “Context and the Coming Link Economy,” which turned out to be one of my favorite conversations of the weekend, with help from Matt Thompson, Elaine Helm, Jay Rosen, and other journalists who turned out to talk through the ideas we had in mind.

Meanwhile, I caught a few excellent panels each day, including one about the Journalist as Entrepreneur moderated by Mark Briggs of Serra Media and Journalism 2.0.

Mark was one of many people I was excited about meeting for the first time in person at ONA, and we had a good time and a managed a solid conversation or two, but I think we both saw something had changed in the attitudes we saw from the journalists in the room, or at the very least, that there was something different about this conference.

He was using the word “swagger” to describe it. In this post, he outlines exactly what he means:

“Instead of simply feeling positive about the future, many people I talked to had confidence that their organization was on the right track. Even people who were looking for jobs didn’t seem to be scared.”

That’s a shift. A big shift.

The time of handwringing has past. Anyone still tearing their shirt over what comes next for the news business should take note: The news business is moving on. It’s time to get on the boat. Train’s leaving the station. Put up or shut up. Demos not memos. Your metaphor of choice, but the message is clear:

It’s time to get busy building a new ecosystem for news.

Some of us have a head start.

Hence, swagger.

If you can’t beat ’em, or buy ’em, use the API

Newspapers should produce amazing local databases with great maps, ratings and reviews.

A newspaper company should buy Yelp.

Yelp now has an open API. Newspapers should stop trying to develop something better, and use the API to provide users with Yelp’s functionality on their own sites, applied to their local businesses.

Apply that logic everywhere it makes sense. No need to re-invent the wheel if you can tap into a massive database for free using an API, a la Google Maps mashups.

Do it this week.

The innovation gap: Your advertising department could use a hand

So here we all are.

In the newsroom, in j-school, in our little corner of the blogosphere, producing great journalism, training great journalism students, and pointing out fantastic examples of both to each other and our peers, doing our best to make the transition to online news.

One problem.

We forgot to bring the advertising department to the party.

Yeah, sure, as journalists, it’s not really our job to figure out how to monetize this stuff.

That’s what we tell ourselves as we post our multimedia projects without templates that include ad positions. That’s what we tell ourselves while print revenue declines — and online doesn’t grow anywhere near fast enough to make up for it.

Alright, so without going too far into whether journalists are supposed to be thinking about this or not, here are five ways to improve online advertising revenue at your newspapaper.com. (How’s that for burying the lede?)

  1. Embrace contextual advertising: Make AdSense your friend. Spread a little around your article pages: It’s like free money falling from the sky and not nearly as annoying to your users as giant Flash banners. And it loads faster.
  2. Go big, cut down on ad positions, and charge more for display ads: Let advertisers feel like they are buying a full page print ad opposite your content. Use giant 300xwhatever skyscrapers that are practically like a sponsorship for the page, and let that be the only display ad on the page. Charge far more for that exclusive spot, and sell it to your big full-page type clients.
  3. Target affiliate programs to relevant pages: Do I want to sign up for Netflix while I’m reading a crime story? Maybe not, but sell me on iTunes and Netflix from your music and movie review pages, and maybe I’ll bite. That goes double for travel site ads on your travel pages. The near future of affiliate ads is widget-based ads where your users will be able to sign up for a service or buy a product without leaving your page. Keep it relevant and your conversion rate should only go up.
  4. Sell more than eyeballs: The page view is dead, but the CPM model of online ad sells lives. That can’t be right, right? Find something to sell to your clients: Relevance, demographics, most popular stories and sections, a chunk of syndicated/wire content that is a huge hit in your town. Dig into the numbers and make something work.
  5. Party together: If your ad sales staff doesn’t know what ad positions are available online, or doesn’t pay enough attention to the news site to know what lots of people are looking at without seeing local advertising, you need to get together, form a committee, have some meetings, and just generally talk to each other. Even if your desk is in the newsroom. Seriously, this isn’t going to work unless the smartest people in the building sit down together and make it happen. If you really think your journalism is going to be affected by letting the ad department know there’s room for a 5-second preroll ad position on all that video you’re shooting, you might be in the wrong business.

So now it’s your turn, of course. What’s the smartest bit of online advertising you’ve seen at a newspaper.com lately — or better yet — what’s the smartest thing going on in online ads anywhere right now that you think we should let our sales staffs know about?

Further reading: Scott Karp’s been all over this territory recently. Start here, and work your way into it.