Sunday, September 19, 2010

Worth reading: Why NewsTilt failed

Paul Biggar's lengthy dissection of why his NewsTilt failed is worth reading for journalists to become familiar with some of the issues of online news-tech startups. (If you need some background, here is the original Tech Cruunch story on NT's launch.)

Certainly, NewsTilt had its own problems unique to its idea, but Biggar points out larger issues too:
  • Tech must be rolled out and updated quickly
  • You have to know your audience, both externally and internally (The fact that we didn’t know anything about our readers’ demographics underscores another problem: I don’t understand news readers. I certainly wasn’t one, and I didn’t know many people who really were. My customer development had largely consisted of talking to journalists and figuring out what they wanted. I never really–despite good intentions on lots of occasions–talked to people who loved news about why they loved it. So I was unable to say what was going wrong and why people weren’t sticking around.)
  • Spend lots of time thinking about your staff and contributors. (He says NT hired journalists that were too good and not motivated enough to continue supplying content: All the problems the journalists faced, not writing enough, their distrust of Facebook, their unwillingness to socially promote their work, were really problems of motivation. If they had been the sort of people who gave up everything to succeed at their dreams, these could have been blown past. But as established successes in their field, expecting them to make large changes like that is unreasonable.)
  • Be brutally honest about the challenges (We never made it clear how hard it was going to be to create an online presence, and so when articles went nowhere, there was little motivation to continue. Building a brand online is akin to doing a startup – it’ll take five years.)
  •  Design is important - one of the things I've been trying to get across to an MSM partner on one of the original J-lab funded sites we run that still limps along after a crash wiped out the original design. (Journalists felt that they were writing for us, instead of writing for themselves, for their own brands. How could they feel anything else, since that’s the impression we gave them by the design of,
Come to think of it, those are the same problems many startups and experiments in the mainstream media have suffered from over the years. As I said, well worth reading and thinking about.

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