Context, not content, is the important thing.

The Washington Post had a story over the holiday weekend that
reinforced the philosophy of New Tech Press and this blog and opened up quite a
conversation with a daily newspaper publisher I was advising.



The story was about Joshua Bell, a world-renowned violinist
who participated in a
Washington Post experiment on the nature of beauty.
  The question posed was: What would
happen if you put a well-known musician in a Washington DC metro station and
had him play for quarters.
  The
hypothesis assumed that the music would be so compelling that the commuters
would stop dead in their tracks and toss handfuls of money into the violin
case.
  Didn't happen.  Only one person stopped for a few
seconds and there wasn't enough money in the case at the end of the day to pay
for Bell's cab fare.
  The finding
of the experiment was that when you place an outstanding message of beauty and
truth in the context of a busy commuter station, the context overtakes the
message.



The publisher one of the last privately owned daily
newspaper in the US and, until recently has been thriving in the midst of the
implosion of the media industry.
 The
cost of gasoline and the sub-prime meltdown, however, has hit the paper hard
and dried up a lot of real estate and auto advertising that was the foundation
of the publication's revenue.



This weekend we talked at length about the launch of New Tech
Press two weeks ago and its outstanding success in promoting news and messages
of the first sponsor, Microemissive Displays.
  Our discussion was around how to apply this model to a daily
newspaper and the discussion was around the very issue of connecting the
context of news with the message of the advertiser and it wasn't until he
showed me the Post article that some things started becoming clearer for both
of us.



The basic problem of advertising in the media is that it has
no place in the context of the news.
 
For example, the online article on Bell was accompanied by an ad for an
investment company.
  I had to
consciously decide to look at the ad while reading the article.
  Considering the message of the ad in
reading the content was not a natural act.
 



In the same way, we talked about an example that could occur
in jis publiction.
  An auto
insurance agency could be a local advertiser in an issue that includes a story about
a serious local auto accident.
  The
article could appear on page one, but the advertisement could show up on an
inside page that has no connection to the article.
  The readers would not connect the two.



But what if that same article concluded with a simple
phrase: "Sponsored by AAA Auto Insurance," accompanied by a web
address?
  A very brief mention of
an insurance agency placed in context of an article about an auto accident
would have more value than a display ad without of that context, not only to
the sponsor, but to the reader who might be considering changing insurance
coverage.



It took a while for the idea to sink in for the publisher,
but eventually he started to see the light.
  His next step is to convince his traditional newsroom
staff.
  I hope he's
successful and not just for his business's sake.  If we don't change the paradigm, we're going to lose the free press.