Tag Archives: minnpost

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…

The Push and Pull of Privacy

12 May

So this morning, I read Max Ross’ article on MinnPost.  The article is a a nice, simple explanation of what’s happening today in online advertising — notable for its lack of both hype and fear mongering.  It concludes:

“”f we want to use the Internet at all, we must reconcile the fact that someone or other is going to be tracking our activity, and using our apparent interests to fashion advertisements just for us.

“Maybe the biggest illusion of the Internet isn’t that advertisers work slyly behind the scenes, trying to hide the fact that they’re there. Rather it seems the biggest misconception of the online world is that there’s any privacy at all.”  

He’s right.  For the most part, online marketing is right out in the open.  Cookies are a boon to most of us — they make it so we don’t have to log in every time they visit a site important to them.  And Ross cites a 2006 study by the Ponemon Institute and Revenue Science that “found that 63 percent of consumers prefer advertising based on their interests; 55 percent of those surveyed said that relevant advertising “improves” or “greatly improves” their overall online experience.”

Some might look at this as the consumers being lazy — or just giving up in the face of speed and convenience.  In my own work and home life, I’m OK with the ads that rest on the margins of the content I want, and I’ll accept it as the price I have to pay to get web services for free.

My take from years in corporate America has always been that online personalization is fine because it’s largely simulation of personal service run by software — the likelihood is low that anyone would be interested in me as an individual among untold millions is nearly nil. 

But this morning, I also had the chance to skip a May 5 BusinessWeek piece on Tanya Anderson of Portland, Ore. who found herself at the end of the RIAA’s anti-file sharing barrel and has managed to turn the tables because, lo and behold, she didn’t do it.  The RIAA’s people work with internet service providers to connect IP addresses with file sharers.  But, the article notes,

“…One IP address may be assigned to a device such as a Wi-Fi router that can be used by several people at the same time to access the Net wirelessly. So if a visitor or a neighbor decides to steal music over the Wi-Fi network, the homeowner would still be fingered. In addition, some people have IP addresses that change every time they log onto the Net, so the IP address you use in the morning could be assigned to your neighbor that afternoon. Verizon and other Web service providers try to track who has which IP address at what time, but their records can be faulty.

“More troublesome, sophisticated computer users can “spoof” IP addresses, or use one assigned to somebody else. They use a simple piece of software to forge the IP address on packets of information sent from their computer, much like someone who puts an address on the back of an envelope that isn’t theirs. The people most likely to spoof are the very tech-savvy youngsters also mostly likely to be stealing music.” 

Anderson’s lawyers found the likely culprit in this mistaken identity.  But it isn’t so easy. And however unlikely the odds are that some lawyer or regulator turns their gaze on you personally, they’re 100% when it happens.

So what are we to do… as citizens and as marketers? For me, being online is part of my business and part of how I manage my life.  I won’t retreat, from this, but you have to keep an eye out.  From a marketing standpoint, I believe the answer is to give consumers as many choices as you can about how they allow you to interact with them — what you can know and not know — and abide by those terms.  In the abscence of regulation, transparency is the only protection against the inevitable backlash … and it’s the right thing to do.

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