Tag Archives: journalism

Trade Media Dying – Now What Are You Going to Do?

19 Apr

There’s been another massacre of traditional media — this time Reed Business Information announcing that it will kill off 23 publications, including Graphic Arts Monthly, Converting, Control Engineering and a number of others that could once be found on every desk and in every lobby of every company in these industries. 

Some, like Matt Kucharski at PSB’s The Lead blog are lamenting the loss, and I don’t blame them.  I’m not one of the “traditional media is dead” guys that Matt decries.  Good journalists, storytellers and industry advocates are out of work, and their publications have been powerful engines of lead generation, awareness and credibility for companies in their industries.  

At the same time, I think Matt misses the point when he argues that:

“…instead of relying on the trade publication to be both the content developer AND deliverer, we need to take on the distribution role ourselves. Let the publication write the article — and then YOU take responsibility for putting that article into the hands of your key audiences — through your sales force, through social media, through email, through Web postings.”

The point about separating means of distribution — the media — from the content — is right on.  But I don’t think that B2B marketers ever had a problem touting the coverage these publications delivered.

The problem is that B2B marketers stopped supporting them through advertising — presumably because they no longer delivered the kind of ROI in terms of leads and awareness that justified the kind of ad rates to support their staff, printing and distirbution costs. This leaves the media outlet two choices if they want to stay in business: 

1. Re-organize operations so that they require less advertising; or, 

2. Become so entirely valuable to the people that they serve that those businesses are willing to pay for their content. 

(Actually, Reed took a third option — shut ’em down).  

I have to think that a site like Whattheythink in the printing and graphic communications industry has the kind of model that can work.  I believe they started up in 2000 and were always 100% online. There’s a mix of paid and unpaid content — and the best stuff requires a paid membership; and there’s advertising, too.  Content includes company news as well as highly columnists, interviews with top industry executives, and in-depth event coverage.  

Starting out as a glorified newsletter , they’ve managed to become “indispensible”, adding more focused offerings, advertising opportunities, blogs, newsletters and community features.

The site also has added offerings over the years, including webinars and consulting.  Their full-time staff is, as I understand it, extremely small, but they bring a regular stable of respected editors and consultants to their readers. 

The point is not that “traditional media is dead and good riddance”.  It’s that trade media — if they want to be in the journalist business — need to evolve from “printed/online publications that create advertising opportunities for marketers” to “enterprises that deliver indispensable coverage of their industries.” 

Advertisements

Journalism, Dresses and Augmented Reality

22 Sep

Each work day for me starts with a skim of what’s been sucked into my Google Reader.  Here’s where I stopped skimming and started reading this morning. Enjoy!

Kevin Hillstrom’s “Glieber’s Dresses” Series. Iconoclastic direct marketing guru Kevin Hillstrom has sucked me in with his ongoing story of the tribulations of the executive team of a fictional old-line cataloger trying to make their way in a marketing and merchandising world that threatens to pass them by — if it hasn’t already. What I love about Hillstrom’s series is the way he’s able to gently (or not so gently) poke fun at executive foibles and the blinders we often wear based on our roles and experiences, and the line you have to walk as a consultant. But more that that, Hillstrom uses the dialog as a way to highlight just how challenging it is to change…and a path toward how to focus in on what’s most important.

This week: Gliebers Dresses’ other consultant makes fun of them at a big conference.

Saving Journalism from the Bottom Up, from The Same Rowdy Crowd. As the StarTribune newspaper of the Twin Cities emerges from bankruptcy, former journalist and current communications savant Bruce Benidt issues a call for ideas on saving the newspaper industry.  His point: Let’s get a bunch of smart, original thinkers together, create highly local communities of information and commerce around the civic life of our community, and re-build a model that will support the professional journalism we need from there.  Is there a community organizer out there who can help Bruce make this happen?

Augmented Reality — Early, But Worth Watching, by Jeremiah Owyang. I’m fascinated by the bright shiny toy of “augmented reality” — using video to add data to your real-world experience — walking down the street, reading a book or doing a video conference. Owyang, newly minted consultant with the Altimeter Group, offers three videos that illustrate some of the ways innovators are trying out the technology.  Too early to say on whether it will catch on, but worth watching…and pretty cool.

Jeff Jarvis at The Buzz Machine. I read Prof. Jeff Jarvis and I get pissed off.  His writing style echoes his title — it hums and stings and screeches like an industrial lathe. But I respect the heck out of what he’s doing — if poking smart people in news media prods them to create something new and sustainable, I’m all for it.  Today’s post discusses the difference between paying for information and paying for “content”…and says that news media publishers “flatter themselves” if they think they’re in the information business.  They have always been, he says, in the business of selling format over content. So what will the next winning format be?

“When you see something that’s taking advantage of new technology to give people something they want that they couldn’t have before, you’re probably looking at a winner. And when you see something that’s merely reacting to new technology in an attempt to preserve some existing source of revenue, you’re probably looking at a loser.”

The Vision Thing and the Crowd Thing

20 Jul

I was reading Jeff Jarvis’ post reacting to the news that BusinessWeek is up for sale, and it got me thinking.  It seems to me that The News Media have two editorial/journalistic paths to address what the Web hath wrought:

1) The Vision Thing — Have an editorial vision and express it.  Deliver great journalistic product. Build community around “fans” of that vision. See The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic and many, many independent news blogs.

2) The Crowd Thing — Have a brand that attracts an audience.  Have a brand that attracts and engages those readers — and encourages them to contribute. Deliver content that drives community reaction and builds audience.

The Vision focused media will need to see getting people to pay for their content as their primary source of revenue.

The Crowd focused  media will need to view delivering an audience to advertisers as their primary source of revenue, whether that is through links and clicks, affiliate relationships or advertising.

The Vision folks will reduce costs by not being over concerned with perfect  alignment with their readers, as Stephen Baker recounts the typical editorial process at BusinessWeek.   They will create ways to listen to readers, and for readers to interact with each other and the editorial staff, so that editorial is inherently in touch with readers, readers feel “a part of something.  And the product may challenge and annoy the readers as well.

The Crowd folks will play the vital role of filtering the news to meet the perceived interests of their audience. They will give up a measure of control to the audience itself — putting journalistic effort behind what interests the crowd and and bringing editorial standards to crowd-sourced reporting.

Newspapers cling to a Vision while dipping their toes into the chilly waters of the Crowd.  Media with a Vision risk trying to hard to activate a Crowd that would prefer to be engaged.

And since these days, every organization is a media organization — what path will your company take — will you drive your Vision, or run with the Crowd?

Re-Thinking the News – Part 2

16 Dec

The StarTribune in Minneapolis is one of those newspapers in deep trouble.  Actually, it’s a business in deep trouble. Reading David Brauer’s reports on MinnPost about StarTribune layoffs … well, as a guy likes to think the best of people I hope that there’s a lot we don’t know about how things are being managed at our premier local news organization.

Because from the outside, I get this familiar twinge I used to feel when a client, or my own agency, would respond to business challenges by cutting staff, restricting options and depressing employee spirits, rather than investing in the change and innovation needed to turn things around.  Now, while our local news organization is investing in shiny new mobile technology, it otherwise may well  be out of financial options.  Even so, cost cutting your way to growth has never seemed like a winning strategy.  

Meanwhile, my wife and I were talking about the news business the other day (an admirable thing for her to do with me, since I think about this stuff all the time and am thus I suspect am pretty insufferable when talking to those who don’t).  Her take was that while it’s great to be able to get the news you want on the topics you choose, you lose the opportunity to be surprised by what’s in the paper.  

Now one can argue the point … and many do (although the fellow at this link admits to being deliberately provocative). For myself, I’d point out that if the web had only given me Google and  Boing Boing,  my access to interesting and informative stuff would have been expanded dramatically and happily.  As it is, the social web is far more than that.  

But there’s a difference between selecting headlines on a screen — a tiny screen, at times — and scanning full stories in print, chosen by professional journalists and editors, and in that difference, she says, there is something lost that isn’t entirely made up for by random tweets, blog links, emails and the wisdom of crowds.

On the face of it, I agree. Newspapers are built around the idea of setting community agenda, of being “The News.”  Journalism is a profession, and for some, a calling.  It’s at least as much public service than a business.  

And the great news organizations supported for so long by the newspaper business will never thrive again until they get around the problem of this premise. 

Next…Some ideas…

Five Things About Social Media I’d Be Thankful to See Change

28 Nov

Mike Keliher wrote last week on things to be thankful for about social media, and tagged me on a related topic:  things I’d be thankful to see change in social media.  Appropriately, it’s the day after Thanksgiving, so let’s have at it.

For me, the issues with social media are less with the media themselves, and more with how it insinuates itself into our lives an conversations.  To whit:   

1.  Overstating Social Media’s Reach.  I work in public relations and marketing; I live in a world with mothers and fathers, housewives, sales people, real estate agents, corporate marketing communications professionals, stock brokers, designers, financial executives, housekeepers, retirees, restaurateurs, lawyers, shopkeepers … it goes on an on.  Just because you and your friends are Twittering and Uttering and blogging, snickering about the demise of newspapers and reviewing carefully compiled RSS feeds each day, doesn’t mean everyone is. Moreover, it doesn’t mean that most people are.  

Most people are checking their email every day and have a few favorite websites they follow. They barely manage to keep up with the news, but they scan the paper.  They have no time to read blogs.  They are amazed that anyone would use Twitter. 

I’d be thankful if communicators and social media evangelists would remember this. And, more importantly, respect it. 

2.  Understating Social Media’s Impact.  Flip the coin over and you find that most people have little idea how deeply social media impacts their lives.  Someone in their world is emailing them links to the hottest YouTube videos. TV takes them from the web, and then back into it again.  Every Google search delivers more data to marketers, every product review read and followed amplifies the power of one person’s opinion.  A friend of a friend of a friend shares a link or a bit of news on Twitter that makes it to your inbox in hours, if not minutes.  And have you noticed how many of your friends, family, high school and college buddies have signed up for Facebook?  How many colleagues are on LinkedIn?    

I’d be thankful if those who shake their heads and say they have no time for this would pay attention to how much more entertaining, fulfilling and downright useful social media has already become in their lives. 

3. Personally, I wish it were all easier. No matter how good you are with social media, it’s a pain.  There are too many networks, too many websites and technologies and services to follow.  Too many contacts to keep track of.  When my kids grow up, I expect that communications and the Web and gaming will all be handled by The Chip.  They’ll just stick this do-everything chip into their heads and they can call people and surf the net and play games just by thinking about it.

Okay, so I’m mostly joking, but I do know some folks who’d be first in line when The Chip hits the stores. Me, I’d be thankful if what want to know, who I want to follow and how I want to share would all just flow.  

4.  Could newspapers just figure it out already? Not directly “social media,” I know, but it’s my blog…  Here’s the deal:  We need journalism. We need professional journalists.  We need people covering news beats in our daily lives, we need people to make sense of it all.  And we need editors and fact checkers committed to the idea that they’re going to get the story right so their readers can trust what they report. We need business people and news leaders who run professional news organizations to stop fretting over classified ads that aren’t coming back and figure out a new millennium organizational and business model that will support this noble endeavor. I’d be thankful for that.

5.   It’s OK to put it down for awhile. I’ve been visiting family for the past week.  I haven’t Twittered (much) or blogged (until now), or kept up with much news (except Mumbai and the Minnesota Senate recount).  My family asked me if the Blackberry makes me feel compelled to answer emails instantly.  I said no.  There’s a comfort to knowing you’re always connected.  That if anyone needs you, they can find you.  But there’s even more comfort in sinking into the couch, Thanksgiving dinner over and the kids in bed, goofing around with your family, no cell phone, computer or Chip in sight. 

So there you go.  I’ll tag Adam Singer to try the same topic, in part because I’m almost sure he’s written on it already.

Big Bad Russia: Back in the News

13 Aug

Are we witnessing the return of the “big bad Russians”?

The other day on Twitter, a public radio journalist I follow wrote, “It’s like the ’80s again. Russia’s soldiers are invading countries and its judges are jobbing us at the Olympics.”

Back at the end of the 1980s, I was sliding seamlessly from graduation to graduate school.  As I cast about for a master’s thesis topic suitable for journalism school, I kept coming back to one issue:  how is it that everything we knew as ‘eternal’ about the Soviet Union could be wrong.  I wanted to see how this played out in the media.  I analyzed Associated Press stories from 1983-84 — when movies like “The Day After” and “Red Dawn” seemed plausible — to 1988 — across the years of glasnost and perestroika when our whole worldview was turned upside down.  What I studied was how the state of relationship and conflict between countries has an impact on the use of stereotypes in the media about Russia and its people.  The hypothesis: that when our countries were opposed, there would be an emphasis on differences in culture and values between us and them; in times when our interests were more aligned, the emphasis would be on similarities.

The thesis was, perhaps, a bit obvious.  But the AP was supposed to deliver the news; it wasn’t supposed to be portraying Russians as evil, violent, bearlike, ruthless, drunken and foolish with an evil government that every last Russian would flee if they could. But they were, subtly.  And as our conflict with the Soviets thawed, so did the use of these kinds of stereotypes.

And now, as Russia continues to rise as a US competitor and as a potential threat to US interests in Georgia … and perhaps Ukraine, the Middle East and South Asia?  Well, if you believe a callow graduate student from the early 1990s, watch for more stories in the media that make you see the Russians not just acting against our interests, but as different. And in international relations and journalism, different is not good.

Thank You Note to a Journalist-Blogger: Eric Black

7 Aug

If you can be a fan of a daily newspaper reporter, I’ve been a fan of Eric Black’s for almost 20 years.  At some point, the StarTribune here in the Twin Cities was publishing long feature stories that actually offered in-depth historical context for national and world events:  The first Iraq War, the Israeli-Arab conflict, the Balkans, Bosnia, the fall of the Soviet Union, not to mention various and sundry politicians — you name it.

And it seemed whenever I’d sink my teeth into one of these big juicy history stories — stories that cut through the daily rhetoric to hone in on the something closer to a complicated truth — the byline read “Eric Black”.  So I’d look for the byline, at times swearing at stories where background was scant and context lacking and grumble, “Where the hell’s the Eric Black story on this?”

It’s pretty clear these days that this sort of journalism isn’t making it into my daily paper any more … and neither is Eric Black.  Over the past few years, he’s plied his trade in local blogs.  Most recently, that’s MinnPost, a non-profit venture promoting the idea that professional journalists have a great deal to offer when given the freedom to explore the news and offer an opinion or two.

I write this after spending a half-hour or so learning as much (or more) than you ever wanted to know about the stance of two Minnesota senate candidates on the Iraq war.  It’s a story you’ll never read in a newspaper, built from in-depth research, nearly hour-long interviews with the candidates themselves and fact checking that is both independent and allowed the candidate’s PR staff to offer assist (incidentally peeling back the veil of how reporters work with a PR staff to facilitate a story). Further, if you’re worried that Black has misinterpreted your favorite candidate, he offers audio downloads of the interviews themselves.

In other words, anyone who wants to spend the time with this story gets:

  • a comprehensive view of the candidates’ positions — both now and how they have evolved (or not) over time.
  • the chance to hear the candidates’ responses to sharp, informed questions in their own voices.
  • a deeper understanding of how reporters do their jobs, warts and all — and how a good one takes nothing for granted on what his interviewee claims he said or didn’t say.
  • a deeper understanding of how campaign staffs work and how PR facilitates a reporter’s work.

As I said, you don’t see this kind of depth often out of daily newspapers — no doubt, there’s no time, no staff and no appetite for it.  And maybe this much depth isn’t necessary.  But in a time when it feels like everyone is spinning, nothing is genuine, no one knows the truth, Black the journalist-blogger is offering transparency, rigor, insight … and the whole complicated, messy truth.

So…thank you.

%d bloggers like this: