Category Archives: journalism

The Daily’s clever price decoy

Quick, which of the “subscribe now” offers above is a good deal?

Neither. It’s all a game of price decoys from The Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s flashy news magazine designed specifically for the iPad. Decoys are a form of price framing, in which consumers are given a somewhat bad-feeling deal that is meant to steer them to the second-best thing.

Decoys work because most of us want to feel smart, and yet all of us are inherently bad at judging value. Is a leather jacket worth $400? You don’t know … until someone tells you it’s marked down from $650, then it feels great! And if you haggle the price down more to $350, you walk out of the store a self-proclaimed hero. But you just shelled out $350 for a piece of stitched animal skin … perhaps truly worth only $70. When consumers are offered a “better deal than X,” or “20% off Y,” they can more easily satisfy the childish Id’s need to negotiate at every possible turn whether or not that process achieves true value.

Let’s watch how The Daily does it. If you download The Daily’s iPad app, you’ll get to read the magazine for about a week, and then a window pops up warning you, oops, you’re going to have to subscribe in seven days. Two green boxes give two choices:

Option 1: Only 99 cents per week to subscribe! That sounds low, so people bad at math might leap at that. (Bonus revenue for The Daily, cleverly raising rates on the portion of their audience self-selected for low IQs.) Like an ugly house a Realtor shows you before taking you to the house she really wants to sell you, this subscription offer is the price decoy.

Option 2: Only $39.99 a year! This is actually $12 less a year than Option 1, so people good at math will take this as the better offer. A-ha, you think, I’ve outsmarted The Daily, and I will go for Option 2, a better deal!

Of course, the pricing for either option is absolutely arbitrary. The Daily has already gotten you to download the app, and it has no incremental cost to distribute one more copy daily to your iPad, since you are paying for the Wi-Fi or 3G signal that delivers it. But by giving you a choice, The Daily has slowed you down enough to check out each offer, and to try to determine which is the better value. Since one price must be better than the other, you’ll feel good no matter which you pick. Right?

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Your Facebook daily newspaper

Zach Allia gives newspaper editors another reason to cry.

You see, last week Facebook expanded its “Like” button — a little icon you click inside your Facebook news feed to say you dig something, which in turn pushes that item higher in your friends’ Facebook stream — to partner sites around the web. Like wildfire, now The New York Times, CNN, Huffington Post, Vimeo, and thousands of other sites have spread the Facebook “Like” on their articles and videos so you can push their stuff back to friends.

So this week Zach cleverly launched a app to collect everything your friends are liking. You can even sort all the recommendations by categories: News, entertainment, travel, movies, reviews. If you trust the judgment of your friends, you no longer need a publisher portal. Which gives newspaper editors their new reason to cry.

The truth about sexual obsession

About six years ago we got on a plane bound from Washington, D.C., to New York and settled in to a blue US Airways seat next to a consulting buddy. Our friend, Ed, tapped us on the elbow. “Look at that,” he said. We moved our eyes up slowly, a bit embarrassed that Ed was checking out a blonde, and then we realized the blonde he was checking was U.S. talk show host Katie Couric.

Katie looked pretty good. At least the back of her head did, which is all we caught as she slid into a front-row airline seat. Her hair had some sort of multifaceted, shimmering gleam, as if a dozen hair stylists had worked different layers of gold through it all at once.

Katie’s hair looked expensive.

She moved on to the evening news, where great ratings didn’t happen, and as the years passed we realized (a) we would never date Katie, because we were already married, and (b) a huge latent sexism exists in society if Katie couldn’t pull good ratings because the American public judges her on hair color and not smart journalism skills. In the end, guys on planes admired young hair, and people eating dinner wanted TV news from old men.

If the fact that we’re calling her “Katie” bothers you, congrats, you’re feeling the deep-rooted emotion of sexual response on some level — an innate characteristic that humans all spend time trying to repress, or trying to stimulate, all while denying we are animals at heart. This thought occurs after a week in which national advertisers like J.C. Penney and Heinz caught flack for running/repudiating ads that showed teenagers stripping for sex and men kissing over kitchen counters. The sex-in-advertising thing that causes so much reaction is rooted in our hormonal foundation. To fight sexual prejudice — the pre-judging of people based on their biological features — is to battle a million years of evolution. Humans didn’t survive without mating, so looking for mates is in our blood.

Today a friend we made on Twitter wrote,

“My sis just said that the hiring person for a job she applied to was concerned that the size of her breasts would be a ‘distraction.’ Srsly.”

Whoa. We re-read it, and thought the appropriate response is to feel concerned for her sister. But of course, we also wondered about her sister’s appearance.

And finally, we thought –- how clever. That writer on Twitter just boosted her own ratings by stimulating a response.

Photo: Fatman. (Hey, it’s just a peach.)

In news coverage, Texas really doesn’t exist

You know that guest at the party who just won’t shut up?

New York and Washington, D.C., are a bit like that in how these areas of the U.S. take an unfair share of news coverage. An analysis of the datelines in 72,000 news wire reports generated the map above, where you can see certain urban portions of this country grab an unwarranted share of reporting. Some of this is due to population; a lot else to hot air. Texas has more than 20 million people and barely gets mentioned.

Worth remembering as you plan your advertising media: It’s one thing to chase your target demos, but don’t let your innate bias to the metro centers of buzz lead you to ignore the people who live in less noisy states.

Prison rodeo smackdown

One way that social media has turned traditional communications upside down is that individual people, not media properties, have become the “brands” for news dissemination. Vincent Maling gives us a Hemingway-esque report on human rights abuses at prison rodeos:

“The bull effortlessly throws most of them over its shoulders, goring the unlucky ones in the process. In the end, it’s a more direct approach that wins the day: one inmate manages to snatch the chit after leaping onto the bull’s head. He’s jettisoned into the air, but that’s a small price to pay for the “glory” that is his victory.

The whole thing feels like an inbred, country-fried version of Spartacus. The winner of the final game even tosses his hard-earned chit up to the prison warden, who sits in a special box overlooking the whole violent spectacle alongside his wife and daughter.”

When you find a good blog, such as Michelle Mart’s Media Artist where Vincent guest-wrote the rodeo post, you return again and again to see what you will find. Rodeo abuse is a topic we never would have dreamed of, and perhaps never found given the “objectivity” of traditional media, without the opinions and personal news accounts of blogging.

3 reasons why you are now a national news reporter

1. Katie Couric’s ratings are down and she may depart CBS after the elections.
2. CBS is reportedly in talks to outsource news operations to CNN.
3. CNN, in return, said it will cover the upcoming visit of Pope Benedict to the United States by enlisting regular people to post videos and stories at

Which poses the question: If you will soon be covering God, who is watching you?

Barry Obama: Welcome back, biased journalism

One of the most exciting media trends of the past few years has been the return of the hack. You know, biased journalists: Fox News slamming liberals; Newsweek misleading readers that Barack’s real name is Barry; Harper’s magazine calling John McCain a hypocrite on its cover (just out in print, web link not available). You can almost feel the testosterone heat surging among editors who, emboldened by blog blather and retreating readers, say, hey, we have opinions too!

This is big change because not so long ago journalists were pure of heart. Saints. For a brief period of time, say 1935-2000, Western reporters took oaths in an altruistic calling — a Switzerland amid a commercial world at war, casting news from the mountaintops about truth and justice, and keeping their hands clean. Heaven forbid opinion crept in, or worse, someone tried to buy it. Money? Gifts? Lunch? Please, we don’t touch that. Talk to the clerks in ad sales.

The height of such altruism was Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose feverish reporting of Watergate in the 1970s ticked off Nixon loyalists but was more about truth than liberalism. Read All the President’s Men and you get the vibe of two guys simply trying to solve a puzzle, because the truth was out there. If the break-in had been orchestrated by Martin Luther King Jr. or the Pope, you sense Woodward and Bernstein would have dug all the harder to get that scoop.

Ah, but that’s all over. One million blogs filled with internet flames have caught the attention of the reading public, and newspapers and cable networks are tripping over themselves to share a little venom, too. Which is simply a return to reporting’s roots.

Journalism began as a sordid business, back in Renaissance Europe with handwritten newsletters slamming political foes or reporting ghastly deeds. The legend of Count Dracula started with hacks documenting the grisly acts of Vlad Tsepes Drakul, perhaps with embellishments to protect German interests. Jonathan Swift of Gulliver’s Travels fame wrote a little piece skewering the prejudices of the English, coyly suggesting all those pesky Irish troubles could be solved if the Brits just ate Irish babies.

Passion makes for good copy. So the hell with church and state. If we all wanted pure news, we’d still be reading newspapers — and odds are, we don’t. We want sex, violence, and a point of view that amplifies our own. Admit it and embrace it: The gloves are off journalism, baby, so may the best slander win.