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What do you think about our new video ad?

Posted by on February 5th, 2009 at 10:07 am

Yesterday we unveiled our first video advertisement.

The idea with this new program is to approach select local businesses that have an interesting product/service/idea to share and then create a short film about it (the film is created under our direction and we will never use canned, promotional footage). We then run the video on the Front Page. The business then pays us for this exposure.

If everything works as planned;

  • you get interesting/relevant content,
  • the business gains valuable exposure,
  • we (BikePortland) gain revenue that helps us continue to “inform and inspire”.

Story continues below

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So far, we have appreciated the many comments (and private feedback) on yesterday’s video-ad post. It seems the majority of you liked the video and feel this is a positive new step for BikePortland.

However, as was expected, some of you have expressed concerns that this new ad program represents a “slippery slope” for the site.

Your concerns are valid. Before posting the ad yesterday, I discussed it at length with several close advisors and long-time readers. Even after the video was completed and payment was confirmed, I held off on posting it. I wanted to make sure I was 100% comfortable with taking that step. After a lot of thought I decided it was something worth doing.

However, as with everything I publish, I still have an open mind about it and I’m posting this to capture more of your feedback (when I wrote in a comment yesterday that I wanted to hear your feedback in private it was because I wanted to keep the conversation on topic).

Personally, I remain enthusiastic about this new ad program. We are growing and doing a lot of exciting new things. To make that growth work, I am seeking creative and sustainable ways to build our revenue in tandem with that growth.

Let us know what you really think. I have worked hard to maintain the integrity of this site and there is no amount of money I would give that up for.

Does this new video-ad program rub you the wrong way? Are you happy to see that we’ve found a way to increase revenue and provide good, relevant content?

Thank you.

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Comments
  • Bob February 5, 2009 at 10:20 am

    I’m cool with it. I think it is a good way to keeping us informed about local businesses while also helping to make this site stay alive. It might be annoying if these ads were in every post, but I’m not worried about that being the case.

    Keep up the good work.

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  • Jeremy February 5, 2009 at 10:21 am

    I think it is great. I highly doubt that Bikeportland receives the revenue stream that it is well deserving of, and this is a great way to increase that while exposing it’s viewers to great businesses in Portland. As long as there is high discrepancy when choosing who can use the “video ads” I think it will work well.I can tell you that Brooker will have at least one new customer in the next month because of it.

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  • Dylan February 5, 2009 at 10:26 am

    I would rather read a Portland based bike periodical that has direction, emotion, and bias rather then just news.
    It seems that every post I read makes sure not to step on peoples toes and is exclusively about telling just the story.
    I suppose that might be what the intended purpose is. But then why is there a comments section? That is when bias and opinion is mixed in.
    And I don’t think that news has to be all reporting, no energy, bias, opinion, or motive. I’d rather read a news story once a week that has these interesting qualities rather then read four posts a day about the CRC, Sam Adams, and other things I can read in other newspapers.
    Instead of reporting on the new cycle tracks, I’d like to hear your opinions on cycle tracks and where you’d like to see them.
    I think that these new video ads, is in a wrong step from what I want, but they’re probably exactly what you’re looking for. Anyways, because these are just my thoughts on the matter.

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  • A-dub February 5, 2009 at 10:29 am

    As long as the video is informative (as this one was and as the Oregonian’s Hard Drive video on chain lubricating at the Bike Gallery was) I’m all for it.

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  • Sonia Connolly February 5, 2009 at 10:34 am

    I appreciate your posting this article as a forum for comments on the new video ad.

    While I have some objections to ads in general, I do understand your need to generate income with this site.

    My main objection here is the blurring of boundaries between content and advertising. I see that someone else brought that up on the original comment thread, and that you added a tag to the video.

    If you continue with video ads, I would like to see them more clearly differentiated from content, perhaps in a side-bar labeled “Video Ads.” Yes, fewer people would view them, which is kind of the point – I don’t like being tricked into viewing ads.

    I wish you the best with your site.
    Sonia

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  • Adam Bee February 5, 2009 at 10:35 am

    What if the business doesn’t pay up?

    How can you be sure you won’t be more attracted to projects that are making money and for which business owners are willing to pay?

    On the other hand, if your intention is simply to provide ad space and production for businesses, why not let them make the ad?

    Of course I trust your hearts are in the right spot, but over time that can be eroded, so it’s great that you are thinking about these things ahead of time!

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) February 5, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Sonia wrote:

    “My main objection here is the blurring of boundaries between content and advertising.”

    I understand a concern about blurring content and ads. That’s why, throughout the production of the Brooker video I made it absolutely, 100%, crystal-clear with filmmaker Dan Kaufman that the only way this would work is if the video could stand on its own as relevant, interesting content.

    When I say the final cut, I was really pleased with how it came out.

    thanks Sonia. I have also added (Video Ad) in the headline of the post.

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  • Kasandra February 5, 2009 at 10:52 am

    I didn’t actually watch the video, but I read the article with interest, and I will follow THIS story with even more interest.

    * I think that the service that you provide the bicycling community is amazing, and that you deserve to make a good living doing it. I am also excited to see the ‘staff’ expanding, which means you need more money.

    * I encourage anyone who has complaints about your efforts to generate revenue to start by sending you $100.

    * I strongly believe that one valuable component of your site is publicizing the bike-related businesses in town, whether it’s as reporting or as advertising.

    My concern about the slippery slope, though, is this: When will businesses get ‘free advertising,’ and when will they have to pay for it? I liked reading about SoupCycle and about the new cargo bikes at Clever Cycles. Will those stories change? Will we suspect your motives when we read them?

    I think that the video format is actually a good distinction. If you clearly label the videos as ads, we can choose whether or not to watch them, and all is well.

    Thanks for asking.

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  • A-dub February 5, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Kasandra, I think one main difference is how the information is produced and disseminated. If you are doing videos for free and for pay it starts to get blurry, but I think you raise a good point. Which businesses get the free write up and which have to pay?

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  • Kronda February 5, 2009 at 10:56 am

    @Sonia I think J has entirely clear and upfront about what this video is and why it’s there. I don’t see why anyone would feel tricked.

    J, you’ve profiled many a frame-builder, shop owner etc on this site and the video didn’t really feel any different from that. I think it’s a great solution to the revenue problem. I don’t need a paint job, but it was interesting to learn about the process so on the level of interesting and informative content, it totally worked. That’s more than I can say for most ‘commercials’ I see on TV.

    Good job.

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  • Patrick February 5, 2009 at 10:57 am

    I remember in OPB they once had ads where the sponsor was simply noted as bringing you the content. Next they read or showed the company contact information, next came the slogan, now they have professionally produced ads. There is a saying that if you let the camel’s nose in the tent the entire camel will come in. I believe that blurring the distinction between informative content (the Brooker Enterprises ad was informative and entertaining) and an ad will lead to further compromises in journalistic impartiality. Perhaps, Jonathan, you should talk to some people in NPR, OPB and KBOO to get their opinions on what they call “enhanced underwriting.” From my perspective as a consumer of news from these sources I am unhappy to see advertisers pitch their products beyond a simple acknowledgement.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) February 5, 2009 at 11:12 am

    two people have asked this:

    “When will businesses get ‘free advertising,’ and when will they have to pay for it? I liked reading about SoupCycle and about the new cargo bikes at Clever Cycles. Will those stories change? Will we suspect your motives when we read them?”

    Kronda and A-dub,

    that is a great question.

    Again, I say just trust me. I am not going to throw away what I have worked so hard to earn (which is your loyalty, respect and trust.)

    also,

    – You will always know that if something is an ad it will be clearly marked as such.

    – If you ask anyone close to me or the site you will realize that my #1 priority and focus is the editorial integrity of BikePortland.

    – One key reason I have brought on Elly and Dan and others in the past few months is so I can focus more on reporting and analysis of key issues… and less on the business side of things. ***I do not actively seek or do sales for this program and all communication with current and potential advertisers is handled by Elly.

    Folks, I realize this growth and our increased effort to figure out how to pay the bills might feel strange to some of you. However, please rest assured that I/we are forging a new path with BikePortland. We are focused on becoming a strong and stable news outlet that can reach farther into the issues and into the community.

    if we lose our way, I know/hope many of you will not hesitate to let us know.

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  • Sonia Connolly February 5, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Thanks, Jonathan, modifying the subject line helps.

    @Kronda – Initially there was no indication before clicking through that it was an advertising post. Jonathan has made it much more clear since.

    Sonia

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  • Kronda February 5, 2009 at 11:19 am

    Just to clarify, it was A-Dub and *Kassandra* who asked the question J addresses above. My comment was just that, and meant to express that even though it was an advertisement, I still got value from it on an information/entertainment level. I’m not at all concerned that Jonathan is going to let BP become some kind of bike infomercial.

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  • Quincy February 5, 2009 at 11:20 am

    How about a pledge-drive? A solid week of articles about how bicycleportland needs your help. tote bags, coffee mugs,… the works.

    seriously though, as long as its handled carefully I don’t have a problem with it. I can’t afford to donate so I don’t mind a commercial once in a while.

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  • A-dub February 5, 2009 at 11:29 am

    For the record I like the video ad. In the end, we the readers can vote with our clicks to this website as to whether we think the journalistic integrity is slipping.

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  • Elly Blue February 5, 2009 at 11:42 am

    Hey all,
    We are actually planning to launch a pledge drive of sorts. It won’t replace any regular content — we’re thinking it will be one story a month that would update you on new ideas and projects for the business and ask for a donation to help us keep the site rolling and growing.

    In response to requests for a monthly payment option, we’ll implement that as well.

    I’d definitely be interested in hearing any feedback on that in advance or after it’s launched (soon!) or both. Feel free to leave a comment or get in touch via email (elly at bikeportland dot org).

    Part of our reasoning behind asking for individual donations is that we want our readers to feel like you have more ownership in the site, and more say on an individual level, not just if you’re affiliated with an ad partner. We always listen — we read every comment and respond to many of them. Giving a donation or not won’t change the way we respond to you or value your readership, but it is an extra chance to participate and help keep us going. Every time someone donates it reminds us that we’re responsible to the community.

    Part of my role is to advocate to Jonathan for you so feel free to bring on the questions, concerns, ideas, etc.

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  • Matthew Denton February 5, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    You got to do what you got to do to make money, (unless you want to overthrow capitalism. Ohh, wait, we are doing that one already. Have you thought about asking for a bailout?) The ads are labeled as ads, the people that don’t want to watch them can skip them, but I think they should stay on the front page because you’ll make more money if they are there. That, and the ad was interesting. If the ad was boring, or repetitive, or you ran the same one every week that would be different, but I doubt you will do that, so…

    As for soupcycle, or a new cargo bike or whatever vs ads angle: Those are generally news. Something new happened or changed or whatever. Powder coating has been around for a while, and there are plenty of places that do it, (although they may not all have big enough ovens nor have the experience doing bicycles,) so you probably wouldn’t normally cover this place in particular. Certainly you could do a piece on powder coating in general, (much like the messenger piece last week,) but to cover a specific business that has been around for a while (for instance, when a new bicycle shop opens, you generally do a piece on them, much like how the paper does a restaurant review on a new restaurant,) when many people do the same thing is really what distinguishes the ads from the stories.

    Also, a lot of people, (myself included, hey look, it between the hours of 9-5 on a weekday,) read this site from work. And so a minute or two here or there for reading/typing a few sentences is one thing, but watching a 5 minute video is another, and I feel like I should actually get some work done instead. (Also I don’t have speakers.) So if the thread looks interesting, (and I remember,) I’ll watch the video from home, but if it is halfway down the front page when I get home, I might forget and never watch it. So maybe if you posted the ads as the last post of the day or something, more people would watch them.

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  • Matt Haughey February 5, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    From the lead up on the post, I was fully expecting to have to watch a boring advertisement, but it came out great. It was informative and gave me an option for future frame repaintings. Plus you disclosed it all upfront, which is good.

    I know it introduces a slippery slope, but if you come up with some ground rules like that it has to be informative and interesting outside of the advertisement (in this case someone that lived in Michigan reading your blog could still learn how powdercoating works).

    I would say focus on keeping them informative and you won’t run into any ethical problems. So say you were going to shoot an ad about the CETMAracks guy’s new cargo bike — if it was about 2-3 minutes long, I would be cool with it if the first minute covered what a cargo bike is and showed shots of several varieties, maybe even explaining how they are used in Europe as commercial transportation of large items, then segue into showing off the Eugene-based new cargo bike and what it offers.

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  • Chris February 5, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    I really enjoyed it. If it wasn’t for the fact that my 1979 Schwinn frame still has an almost perfect paint-job (except the chain stay that needs touching up), I would powder coat my bike. My powder coated Marin is much less prone to scratching. The video? I like having more media to choose from. I’ve always liked watching the videos from Cyclova or the green box video. Featuring local businesses is an excellent use of the media form. Keep’em coming!

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  • Michael M. February 5, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    I rarely watch video content when I’m browsing through posts in my feedreader. It feels like an interruption to me, like “here I am reading all this stuff I’m interested in, and I have to stop a watch a video? No thanks.” If it sounds like something compelling I might save it and come back to it another time. So I have little feedback positive or negative and I doubt I’ll watch most of them. But it certainly doesn’t rub me the wrong way — there will be those of us who don’t bother with them, there will be others who will enjoy them. Something for everybody, that’s great.

    My only concern is that you don’t rely on video as a replacement for text. I’ve abandoned some blogs in the past that went all “multimedia” on me, where there really wasn’t much interesting content anymore if you didn’t want to watch video or listen to podcasts or wear 3D glasses or some such, whatever over-hyped technology the blog’s authors got seduced by. I sincerely doubt that would happen around these parts, but I can’t help but feel a twinge of worry when I see the words “We’re going to be featuring more video…”.

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  • Coyote February 5, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    I guess I don’t see how a video ad is any different than a static banner ad. It was clearly labeled as an ad, and there is no endorsement implied by bike Portland. Initially I did not read the story because I don’t really like powder coat. Now that I have watched it for other reasons, I still don’t really like powder coating.

    If video ads keep the door open and it does not interfere with the content of of Bike Portland I am ok with it. I have always thought you were under valuing your services.

    If more funding brings in more writers, or stories from farther a field that would be great. I am glad that you do not just recycle content like most sites. Most sites are just op-ed articles by people pontificating on what they want. You report on news and facilitate a (generally) awesome public discussion that I value. You/we have been able to discuss some pretty toxic issues in a more or less civil environment.

    I do have two suggestions. I would like to see a stricter separation between news and commentary. Perhaps a separate page (like Page Two) or even a separate section within the article. And Jonathon needs to spend a few weeks in Europe to see what works and what would not translate well to the NW.

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  • R-diddly February 5, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    I was psyched about this particular ad, since it was educational and topical, not idiotic, and not a hard-sell.

    Nonetheless, I would take the distinction between content & ads, and kick it up one more notch: I think ads should carry the words “Paid Ad” or “Advertisement” right at the beginning of the headline, e.g. “Advertisement: Brooker Enterprises Yadda Yadda” instead of “Brooker Enterprises Yadda Yadda (Video Ad)”.

    I’m torn between favoring ads vs. individual contributions. Jonathan says: “I would love if I could keep things moving forward solely with individual contributions, but that is not as easy as you might think.” But see, at no time have I been asked to contribute money to BikePortland.org. So yeah, no wonder you’re having difficulty. Try asking and see what happens. Maybe all it takes is to remind people about the little PayPal button. Better yet, put it at the top of the page, or on the side, instead of at the bottom where I rarely go. That would help because every time I found myself thinking “huh, this site is pretty good,” there it would be, a nice big PayPal button.

    An organization that’s beholden to a broad base of its membership is most likely better than one that depends on a few businesses.

    That said, when I hear the words “pledge drive,” that just turns my stomach! Because I think of OPB and KBOO… and I think of how it’s basically less annoying to turn to commercial TV and watch SUV ads, than to see some whiny D-bag begging on OPB. hehehe. Or how I literally will not listen to KBOO at all during their fall & spring pledge drives, even though, or probably because, I’m already a member (i.e. I gave already). So if it’s a choice between something like that (and MONTHLY?!?!? GOOD GOD!) or a fairly interesting ad about powder-coating then maybe the ad wins. But. I dunno, think about that PayPal button.

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  • P Finn February 5, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    I like! Is good!

    I’d been wondering about the ins and outs of these guys for some time. It seems like a fairly neutral message and means of delivery that works well for all parties.

    I am so not off-put!

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  • hmgf February 5, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    As long as the advertising is clearly marked as such I have no problem with it what so ever. There is already a fair amount of obvious advertising on Bike Portland. As long as this new form of advertising is equally easy to identify then I think it is a perfectly reasonable way for you to make money off of your hard work.

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  • alex February 5, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    I like it alot….I also thought it was informational….Great Job..

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  • Snowflake Seven February 5, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    I appreciate the service BikePortland provides immensely. The information it delivers is difficult to find elsewhere. And unlike other news sources, the writing feels sincere and hard-won rather than regurgitated from a wire service.

    But there are times when things feel odd. I frequently find myself wondering just what am I reading. Neutral journalism? Editorial opinion? Personal opinion? Advertisement? Endorsement? Advocacy?

    I love reading about local bike business, but often times I am unsure whether it is news or advertisement. And then there are the articles that feel less like journalism than activism. The video ads are just the latest case of the line on BikePortland feeling hazy.

    Your right that this is about trust, and I do trust you mean well. But the perception of corruption can be as damaging to a trust-relationship as actual corruption. I trust my politicians less because they accept campaign contributions from those they regulate. I trust my doctor less because she accepts freebies and gifts from pharmaceutical companies. And I trust my news sources less when their advertisers voice becomes hard to distinguish from their own.

    The new “how stuff works” style video ad continues this oddness. It doesn’t feel like an advertisement. It feels like a segment on Sesame Street (a good thing) about how bikes are painted. But it makes me uncomfortable that it was paid for. And it makes me even more uncomfortable that the editorial staff is responsible for its content and not the advertiser.

    If this blog that strives to do original reporting is going to truly deliver journalism, then it needs to better put a hard line between editorial and advertising.

    If content is journalism, it should clearly be marked news. If content is opinion/advocacy it needs to be clearly marked as such, like the opinion section of a newspaper (esp. if it is written by the Editor-in-Chief). And if content is an advertisement–if it is paid content–then it needs to be unapologetically marked as such and most certainly not be authored by the editorial staff.

    Instead of the “video ad” idea being blended in the main flow of content, I would rather see one of two things:

    (1) Advertiser created commercial (video) labeled clearly as advertisement and produced by the advertiser (not editorial staff);

    (2) An editorial video series, perhaps themed “How Stuff Works” (with other themed series to follow) treated as news or magazine type content. And if a business featured in editorial content chooses to by ad-space it will clearly not have influenced the editorial content.

    In general I am concerned to see ad content in the main flow of the blog, but if you insist on this placement, I have found the ad style of DaringFireball fairly unobtrusive. John Gruber sells the weekly sponsorship of his RSS Feed. Here is an example: (http://daringfireball.net/linked/2009/01/16/hfj). And sponsorship details are here: (http://daringfireball.net/feeds/sponsors/).

    The DF sponsorship (ad) appears in the regular flow of content but is its own separate item. It is just text and always begins with a statement like, “My thanks to Company X for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed.” which unambiguously sets the stage for the non-editorial content that follows. He also generally avoids statements of endorsement in these posts as they blur the advertisement line.

    Another, though less polished version of this ad style, is TalkingPointsMemo.com who recently began running “Presented By” ads in their main blog flow. Each ad post is titled, “Presented By: Company X” and the body of the post includes either a banner ad or a single paragraph written by the advertiser accompanied by a logo and link to the company website.

    In both these cases the ads are short and text-only but come across much less annoying than brightly colored or animated banner ads or video/flash ads that appear across the web.

    In conclusion, your proposed video ad format is an interesting idea and with some finessing over time and a few strict rules about separation of editorial and advertising objectives it should be a great addition to BikePortland.

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  • Elly Blue February 5, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Wow, thanks for these comments — this is really interesting.

    We spend a lot of time here in the office talking about what exactly BikePortland is and isn’t.

    We aren’t an old-school newspaper. We aren’t “just a blog.” There are other folks out there doing similar work, but not many — we are definitely inventing this genre as we go, in a lot of ways.

    The line between editorial and non-editorial does get blurry — but in my opinion, it’s always blurry and it’s better to be up front about that. We do try hard to be as objective as possible while still being true to what amounts to a built-in bias (this site isn’t called TransportationPortland, after all).

    That said, I like the idea of having a separate editorial section — that would clarify things and would also be a sponsorship opportunity. :) We’ll discuss it.

    Pledge drive is the wrong term — we would never replace regular content with advertising or requests for support. Because of our format, we don’t have to — unlike the radio, where you can only have one story running at a time.

    The fact that this strikes folks as odd definitely tells us that the line we’re walking here is a fine one. Your feedback and expertise are awesome to hear. We know we won’t be able to please everyone all the time, but the site really is already reader-driven in a lot of ways and we definitely owe a lot to the dialogue here. Thanks again, and keep it coming.

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  • Fredlf February 5, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    Hmm. I guess I don’t have a major objection to this, but it just feels a little bit like those fake news stories from corporations that Fox and the rest of the MSM were running as if they were real journalism. I suppose as long as they’re clearly labeled and segregated from the real news content (understanding that “real” news is not a fixed, objective entity) it’ll be okay. And I do have a frame that needs powder-coating…

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  • Paul February 5, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Kudos to you JM for asking, but frankly, it’s your place, and you’re paying the bills, you gotta do what you gotta do.

    There’s no other site providing as much Portland-centric bicycle information. Thanks for inviting us all in, and providing the place to hang. We may bring a potluck dish in a comment or photo here and there, but you’re the one paying for the home, the utilities, the parking, the taxes, and preparing the feast of information every day.

    Let me just say thanks once more. And, the video was both informative, and fine. I don’t care if it’s billed as advertising, or informational…and frankly I don’t necessarily need to know if the guy pays for it or not.

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  • Paul Tay February 5, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    Thumbs…..UP. Oh, fo’ shure!

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  • PoPo February 5, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    I think snowflakeseven (#27) had some extremely thoughtful insights.

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  • destin February 5, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    I thought it was informational and helpful.
    ( I referred someone today who was looking for powder-coating oddly enough, but not for his bike )

    Feels less like an ad and more like “hey check out this cool service in our neighborhood”

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  • Kevin Wagoner February 5, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    Loved the vid.

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  • Lance P. February 5, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    I think this can be a good idea. As long as “Paid Advertisement” is in the title. I get upset when on other sites(or the newspaper) when I start to something that I think is news but slowly realize I am being sold something.

    Keep up the good work.

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  • Donna February 5, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    You’re not outsourcing to China. You’re not applying for a TARP bailout or a congressional stimulus payment. You don’t trick people for the sake of making an obscene profit. You favor local businesses whenever possible. You’ve got to pay the bills and your ideas are way less toxic than the average business. You’re also well aware of what would happen if you burn the community and they don’t trust you anymore.

    I’d say you’re doing pretty darn well. In fact, you’re one of about 5 or so businesses I can say I trust.

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  • 3-speeder February 6, 2009 at 1:04 am

    I actually appreciate the blurring that occasionally exists between factual stories and more editorial pieces. “Just the facts ma’am/sir” reporting is often objective only on the surface, but can be misleading by giving equal weighting to points of view with unequal credibility. A small dose of opinion can actually help clarify. And it can also mislead.

    And if such an article was noninteractive, this latter possibility would be troubling. But this is a blog, and all the reader comments are valuable. They allow one to decide how to evaluate any bias expressed in the article.

    I feel BikePortland is a journalistic trailblazer, and the rules are still mushy for what’s OK and what isn’t. I, for one, am willing to trust so that Jonathan and the BikePortland staff can make their great product even greater. Sure, they might make an occasional mistake – I’m OK with that. As long as they continue to remain informational and inspirational, I’ll continue to be a faithful reader.

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  • Patrick McMahon February 6, 2009 at 2:24 am

    As with everyone, I’m excited that BikePortland is being so open about this evolution and asking for feedback.

    It will be challenging sometimes to distinguish between the “news” of covering businesses serving the bicycling community and when it’s appropriate to approach a business and ask for them to pay for content you’ll be putting up.

    On the other hand, while I think that Snowflake Seven (#27) had some interesting comments about journalism in general, I’ve always appreciated the way that BikePortland can both report and editorialize in the same piece.

    I think that’s appropriate for this forum to combine those and it has usually been clear when articles state what happened and what the author thinks about it.

    While it’s a fine line that you’re walking, it’s important to make sure that BikePortland has the funds to continue to be a source of information for the Portland and national bicycling community.

    Thanks and sometimes it would be good to more explicitly ask us to give money to support what we’re reading.

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  • Jeff Ong February 6, 2009 at 10:04 am

    I have a lot of respect for the kind of ethical soul-searching you’re doing; these are really important decisions for anyone running a media business! I think the most important thing is for you to keep the high-level of transparency you’ve had so far. If you remain honest and open (“these people paid to have their content placed on the front page!”), don’t be too worried about making mistakes — we as readers understand that some of this is new to you, and will ultimately forgive you even if you experiment with interstitial Trek Madone ads!

    That said, I don’t understand why you feel “blurring the lines between content and advertising” is a better, more transparent option — that seems like a higher level of contamination between editorial and advertising than just running an ad!

    Back in the 50′s and 60′s, agencies used to have to beg the New Yorker to run their ads — they would submit the ads for review to an editorial board, and get back a list of changes they were required to make. If you’re not trying to make a mint off this venture, maybe you can afford to be that picky! Part of the New Yorker’s ethical high ground came from the fact that >50% of their revenue came from subscriptions at that time — something else to factor in.

    Keep up the good work, and the agonizing about business vs. editorial goals — I do think that’s key to not compromising your vision!

    Best,

    Jeff

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  • Peter February 6, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Here’s my vote for how most/all news organizations should be run — apply it if you like to bikeportland, streetsblog, etc. It’s predictable, but might as well be said:

    * org should be run as a non-profit

    * ideally run as a worker-owned and managed cooperative

    * ideally, no ad sales at all. if the org has to do ad sales, then provide as strict a line as possible between editors and ad sales (perfection is neither possible nor necessary). yes, i like to see ads, too, so not all advertising is bad, but it’s inherently problematic for a news organization that wishes to maintain its independence, so all advertising should be approached warily.

    * operation/funding should be achieved mainly through membership/donations, $25/year, $1/mo-sustaining memberships, etc. DemNow is a good example. product/branded sales are possible, too — like a ‘member t-shirt’ for supporters who chip in $50/yr, etc. people will be proud to openly support a quality publication — there are only a handful. syndication of stories and other content is a potentially-significant revenue stream. streetfilms-type videos could win ad revenue from the youtubes, etc.

    * fundraising special events are brutal – i’d go for the membership model, first. point out to people why intentions are irrelevant when ad revenue is at stake — Chomsky and Herman taught us this. The best news sources in the world are the best for specific reasons — they are much more independent of private power than their competitors.

    * news operations should not generally be in the business of selling advertising (or selling audiences). they should be even less involved in selling ‘high end’ advertising, like videos. leave the ads to the people who traffic in irrationality, not reality. if a news org wants to provide video coverage, awesome. text, images, videos, tweets, whatever. if local merchants want to run ads and video ads on the site, that’s not ideal, but probably tolerable. advertisers may want to buy ads to promote or counter coverage from the news org.

    * start a capital campaign to provide long-term financing — like an endowment of some type. plan for operating for at least the next 1,000 years, so if it takes 250 years to raise enough funds, fine.

    it’s a bad economy, but good news coverage is worth paying for. if you have a job, you should pony up. and when you get a job, you should pony up. some news organization is going to brave enough to put out a quality product and then tell people that the people who work there deserve to eat, too. give BikePortland the independence and sustainability it deserves and requires — become a sustaining member for $25/year.

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  • steve February 6, 2009 at 11:45 am

    More ads!

    More money for Elly’s trips back East!

    Yay!

    Did anyone else notice that Bikeportland switched from ‘I’ to ‘We’ virtually overnight? You are sliding down several slippery slopes all at once there Jonathan. If you were making wiser hiring decisions it might be easier to solicit donations. Hire more skilled employees with journalism backgrounds, perhaps?

    Better yet, take the reigns back from the barnacles on your hull before it is too late.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) February 6, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Thanks everyone for your thoughts and feedback on this. Very appreciative.

    steve (#41),

    it sounds like you’re really concerned about the direction you feel we’re headed.

    I have started saying “we” gradually over time as more folks have started to be a part of BikePortland. Elly, Libby, Dan, Marion, Brad, and many others are helping me in a number of ways.

    As for my hiring decisions. I have “hired” two people: Elly (to do a lot of different things) and Libby (to tackle big issues for our new “In-Depth” section.).

    It’s really unfair and impolite of you to characterize anyone on our team as been “barnacles”.

    I would love to hire more staffers so we can develop better content and so that we don’t miss important stories. Would you like to donate to help make that happen?

    I think this ship is heading in a very exciting direction — however I am also aware that there might be icebergs ahead…which is precisely why I am moving forward with caution and asking for your opinion.

    thanks.

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  • Pete February 6, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    I like that you labeled it as having video and as being an ad. When I was quickly perusing I blew by it, but when I had time I watched it, and agree that you should improve your revenue stream for all the hard work you’ve put into this.

    Also nothing annoys me more than hitting a site that plays audio while working at a client’s and forgetting that speakers are on. Doh!

    And despite what some people might think about my buying habits, I’m prone to buy from your advertisers because they support your local work that I benefit from. ;)

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  • Scott February 6, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    I thought it was fine. Informative and it actually made me think “Hey, maybe I should get this old frame powder-coated.” As long as it’s crystal clear it’s one of your paid segments and it’s not just a crappy infomercial I’m all for it. Keep on keepin’ on.
    -Scott

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  • beth h February 8, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Patrick (#11) wrote:
    >>I believe that blurring the distinction between informative content (the Brooker Enterprises ad was informative and entertaining) and an ad will lead to further compromises in journalistic impartiality.<<

    Patrick — any time a media outlet (electronic or print) must rely on commercial advertisers for income, the “impartiality” is automatically “compromised”.

    There is no such thing as “pure” journalism in a free market. Ad revenues are how electronic and print media survive. Even the “free” accounts at various blog Web sites (including mine), and the programming on KBOO and OPB, are underwritten to some extent by commercial advertisers.

    A free market economy is by its very nature founded on a series of “compromises” and agreements on which the whole enterprise runs. While folks may not like the reality of video ads on BikePortland, I applaud Jonathan for providing an open forum for discussion on the subject.

    “Pure” journalism is a utopian ideal that exists only in a vacuum. Real-world journalism is a PRODUCT, to be CONSUMED by people. There are no consumers of journalism in a vacuum, and producing and distributing the product costs money. I think it’s probably best to let go of utopian visions of purity. In a truly interactive world, you cannot avoid getting your hands dirty, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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  • Rhiannon February 9, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    I think the video ads idea is rad, though this one is a little too long for my taste (under 2 minutes, please).

    The obvious plus side about having them is that they let people in the community know about folks offering services they might be interested in without having to resort to crappy “local business does something cool” or “local business faces hard times” or “local business thinks you need to know something” types of advertorial ‘reporting’ that tend to make their way into papers ANYHOW.

    (I’m not saying that all ‘local business’ stories are crap… but a lot of them are written (for newspapers usually) for crap reasons… i.e. to fill a pre-sold special supplement about that industry or neighborhood…)

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