Journalists Have a Future!

In another life, I’d be a journalist – the life of a journalist is fascinating to me, and I love reading stories of the embedded reporters, whether on the campaign trail or in Iraq. Reading the work of my former debate teammate, James Hohmann, on Politico is pretty cool.

So this article by James Fallows of the Atlantic piqued my interest (you should also check out this Powerpoint by a Google economist). Ostensibly, it’s about Google and how they’re helping – not hurting – newspapers. But really, it’s a discussion of how the future of news organizations might look. The whole article is worth a read, but I thought there were two points that warranted writing about.

First, the ads. Online advertisements sell for a fraction of what print ads sell for. As Fallows explains, part of the problem is time:

…people who read printed newspapers report spending an average of about 30 minutes a day with them, whereas online users flit in and out of news sites in an average of 70 seconds.

This won’t last – within a reasonable time period, most people will get the majority of their news online, or on their smartphone. Look at it another way: for advertisers to be effective in print, they have to 1) catch the eye of a prospective buyer; 2) convince the buyer that their product is worth purchasing; and 3) either head to a store to purchase the product or get to a computer and go to their website.

Online advertisements are a whole different story. They can target a specific audience; interact with the audience in ways no print advertisement ever could; and offer a direct link to the product. When you think about it, it’s crazy that these ads are so cheap. Add in all of the potential new ways to advertise on the iPad and other high-tech gadgets, and it seems to me that advertising rates will pick up. All of this leads me to agree with Fallows that eventually (soon?) the  advertising model will be viable for journalism. There’s a future in journalism!

Another business model for journalism is to institute a paywall (i.e., in order to access an article from a certain site you need to be a subscriber). Now, for any one newspaper to put in place a paywall is basically suicide – watch what happens with the New York Times’ planned paywall. If I would have to pay to read an article on the Times, I’ll just head to any other website. Personally, I think the model that will be most successful – making the most revenue for the newspaper while minimizing customer pain – will include micro-payments (i.e., each article you read on the Times’ website will cost you a nickel), though there are real issues with that as well.

In any event, the future of journalism seems to be brighter than many believe, and I’m glad. The transition will be tough for many of these companies (Newsweek’s future is looking bleak) Having a free, independent press is necessary for democracy, and the more voices available, the better.

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Linkage – May 13th

Graduation’s on Saturday, which is absurd. I’ll have more thoughts on this later, I think. What I’m reading:

Is graduating in three years crazy? Article is a little overblown – for some people, graduating in three years (whether due to financial reasons or just because they can) makes sense; for others, it’s too fast. In any event, an interesting article.

-You know how that one friend of yours who used to call you a Neanderthal? He was right.

-What makes a great teacher?

-Will a ‘Pandora for Education’ work? Too early to tell, but it’s encouraging that the New York Public School System is giving them a shot.

-Will entitlements be the death of us all? No – but this is still a thought-provoking article. Changes in Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid are/will be necessary (or else America will go bankrupt, pure and simple).

-Acoustic version of Colday’s Shiver. Great song.

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Linkage

What I’m reading:

Family values in liberal states? If you read it, you’ll see why this isn’t all that surprising.

Gladwell article on spies. The cyclical back-and-forth he writes about is exactly the same with poker tells.

Obey quits Congress. The takeaway: “Frankly, I do not know what I will do next.  All I do know is that there has to be more to life than explaining the ridiculous, accountability destroying rules of the Senate to confused, angry, and frustrated constituents.”

The Trader Mentality. People hate on I-Bankers all the time, but I’m not always sympathetic to their arguments. This article shows why it’s more the machinations of the system, not the individuals.

The Risk of Greek Contagion. To me, the EuroCrisis ’10 looks eerily similar to what happened in 2008 with Lehmann – investors lose confidence and pull out money, which leads to a company being unable to act, which leads to more money being pulled out, etc. Then it dominoes. Let’s hope that Portugal/Spain/Italy aren’t next.

Kanellos the Greek protest dog.

The Evolution of Privacy on Facebook. It seems reasonable to want Facebook settings to stay at some level, and if Facebook wants you to change them, it should have to ask. Facebook has an incentive, though, to get you to share as much as possible, and knows that inertia is a powerful force (i.e., people are lazy and won’t change from the default).


Calorie Posting Works…but is it Worth it?

According to a recently-released study that looked at if/how calorie posting at Starbucks affected total calorie consumption:

We find that mandatory calorie posting causes average calories per transaction to fall by
6% at Starbucks. The effect is long lasting. The effect is almost entirely related to changes in
consumers’ food choices—there is almost no change in purchases of beverage calories (Starbucks’
core business) [Food calories decreased by 14%, the study indicates elsewhere – Miesen]

The Discussion and Conclusion sections are really worth a read. The most shocking part of the whole study: a Venti White Chocolate Mocha has 580 calories – more than a KFC Double Down (which Nate Silver analyzes – statistically – here). I would not have guessed that.

The study also notes:

If we further assume that calorie consumption were reduced by 6% at all chain restaurants, and
that this reduction is not offset by increases at other meals, then it would imply a decrease in
total calorie consumption on the order of 1.5%. If average daily intake is around 2,000 calories,
the implied calorie reduction is 30 calories per day.

So, posting calorie counts seem to have an effect – but a negligible one, in the long run. Which begs the question: is it worth it? You can tell two different stories:

Yes, it’s worth it. A 14% reduction in food calories (on average) is a good start (and a “26% reduction for individuals that tended to make high-calorie purchases at Starbucks” is a better start). Consumers become more sensitive of what they’re putting in their bodies, which could lead to healthier eating decisions – which could lead to making healthier eating decisions outside of the restaurant (an effect this study can’t measure). If consumers are more aware, they may demand lower-calorie foods, which would lead restaurants/businesses to either a) offer more low-calorie foods; or b) reduce the calories in the foods they already do offer. It seems to me that the caloric content of many dishes at restaurants could be cut by 10% (either through smaller portion sizes or by using less butter/oil/cheese/etc.) with little discernible taste difference for the consumer. These are all good things.

No, it’s not worth it. As the study notes, “Three quarters of the reduction in food calories was due to consumers being less likely to purchase a food item, and one quarter of the effect was due to consumers
substituting towards lower calorie food items.” So 3/4 of the effect wouldn’t occur whenever someone goes to McDonald’s or Chipotle; they might choose a healthier option at that restaurant, but they’re still getting food. Also, anyone who really cares about counting calories probably already knows this sort of information; constantly seeing this information could actually make some people less happy. And, as the study noted, the effect is negligible on long-term weight-loss.

Ultimately, I’m inclined to believe that more information is better information, at least when it comes to caloric intake; if seeing the caloric content leads to smarter choices at the margin, then overall it’s a good thing. There won’t be one silver bullet for the obesity problem in America – many small decisions over a long period will be necessary. If I’m a little less happy knowing how many calories are in a White Chocolate Mocha, so be it.

P.S. For a must-read on obesity, read “Beating Obesity” by Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic – it might make you look at obesity differently.


My Virtual Education

Inspired by this article (h/t Ezra Klein), I’ve been thinking a lot about my learning vs. my education. My fancy book-learning education will be up in two weeks; in return for $30,000 in student loans I’ll get a piece of paper (fancy paper) that says I learned finance and how to be an entrepreneur from a stellar public university.*

But I can’t help but think that the vast majority of what I’ve actually learned has been a result of my involvement in different student organizations, reading books and blogs, arguing with friends, etc. Even the skills that I think will give me the best shot at being successful in life – communicating, leading, problem-solving – have been a factor more of my involvement in outside-of-class learning.

In any event, here are a few of the things that I’m currently utilizing to continue my education virtually:

Open Yale Courses: Yale puts many of its popular courses online for download (audio and video, depending on your preference). Many, many schools do this – go to iTunes U and search around for your favorite topics. I’m currently listening to Game Theory, Financial Markets (taught by Robert Shiller), and The Politics of Food. Perfect for putting on an iPod and listening to while working out/running.

TED Talks: Great 20-minute talks by some of the smartest people around. Someone compiled 10 TED Talks for Entrepreneurs that I’m working my way through. You can find these on iTunes as well – just subscribe to the podcast and listen to ones you’re interested in. Again, perfect to watch/listen to while working out/running.

-Blogs. Blogroll is to the right of this post – I’ll probably post about some of my favorites later. As I’ve mentioned before, Google Reader is indispensable – I can skim hundreds of posts a day to find things worth reading.

UW-Madison Libraries. Really. Those of us who are students at UW-Madison have access to thousands of journals, papers, and more, all electronic and accessible from your home laptop. Some of my favorites: Journal of American Medicine; Health Affairs; and Modern Healthcare. Really – these are worth taking advantage of: whatever your interest, there’s a way to get high-quality (read: expensive) stuff for free.

Bloggingheads. Great resource to watch some of the nation’s premier journalists talk about politics, current events, newly-released books, etc.

-Meet the Press/Fareed Zakaria/etc.: I’ll say it again – iTunes is great. There are podcasts for tons of shows – download the interesting ones and throw them on your iPod, then listen to them on the way to class, at the gym, while running, etc.

What am I missing? What do you use to learn virtually that I’d be interested in – any great blogs, websites, etc.?

-Mike

*That grossly oversimplifies reality. If you know me, you know this is a habit of mine – along with a heavy dose of sarcasm. You’ve been warned.


Linker

In the course of a day I come across a lot of articles, blog posts, videos, etc. that I find interesting, funny, thought-provoking, or really, really stupid. For the ones I don’t write a post about I’ll probably periodically post links to – maybe daily, maybe not. I might categorize them, I might not.

(I realize Linker is a stupid name, but for the time being it’s the best I’ve got).

-Greece is messed up. (Quick thought: Bailing out Greece was necessary, but I wonder what the fall-out will be).

-Interesting long-form piece about young Obama staffers.

-Charter schools are a work-in-progress.

-Conan was on 60 Minutes. Classy and as candid as it seems he can be.

– President Obama killed it at “nerd prom”. Whatever your political preferences, you have to admit: the man is funny. Jay Leno, on the other hand, was not.


I guess it was time to start a blog

The first time I thought about starting a blog was some time during Senior year of high school, but I resisted – not sure why exactly, but that was that. Every few months it dawned on me that maybe I should start one, but again I resisted.

In any event, with graduation in two weeks (Jesus) I thought now was as good of a time as any, as a way to keep in touch with friends, highlight the articles/posts I find worth reading – probably adding in my two cents – and whatever else comes to mind.

If you’re reading this, you most likely know me, but if not:

Who Am I? Mike. I’m 22, and a soon-to-be graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My diploma will say that I graduated with a BBA (a business degree – though I still have no idea why it’s not just a BS or BA…) in Finance; Entrepreneurship; and a Certificate in Health Care Management. I’d say, though, that most of what I learned in college I learned from extra-curriculars, Google Reader, or books (I’d guess there’s a post coming up about this…).

Why Start a Blog? Honestly, I’m not sure. I already have Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I’m also years late on the whole blogging thing. Nevertheless, there might be something you can learn from me – a link to a great article or recipe; a short book review/recommendation, maybe; who knows.

Don’t I Have Better Things to Do Than Writing a Blog? Probably. And I might quit after a week. But sometimes it’s good to get thoughts out, to take time to reflect (whether publicly or privately), etc. Plus I’m narcissistic enough to believe that people might actually care what I think.

So that’s me. I don’t know what you should expect from this, but if you use Google Reader (and really, you should use Reader – it’s the absolute best way to quickly get your Internets fix), you might as well subscribe.

Mike