Hierarchy versus anarchy — in the blogosphere

There’s a fascinating discussion underway in a Listserv of the Media Bloggers Association (of which I’m a member) regarding a code of ethics. It’s been going on for two days, and I wish I could share it with everybody. Jeff Jarvis said he didn’t like the idea of a set “code” of anything, and he made his case. Dana Blankenhorn of Corante’s “Moore’s Lore” wrote a blog entry with his opinion, taking Jarvis to task for his. He then posted this on the Listserv (or it could’ve been the other way around).

Not being one to resist, Jeff blogged his response.

Both sides are worth reading, and here’s what I posted as a comment on buzzmachine:

Having met with local bloggers from two entirely different communities, I’m happy to report that we all have much more in common than not. These are living, breathing communities of people, each with a passion that’s found only in those with something to say. There are many, many things that make the blogosphere different than mainstream media, but this one strikes me as the most significant. For people with something to say are inherently different than people who are paid to say something.

This is why I always back away from discussions that smack — in any way, shape or form — of joining, supplanting, or otherwise replacing the mass media. The media is one of the most common topics of discussion in the blogosphere, because a.) we know a lot about it, b.) we’re bombarded by it every minute of our lives, and c.) we’re not happy with it. The “Media” Bloggers Association is an organization of people who do just that.

And yet, amongst media bloggers, there is a perceptible force that sees blogging as the “new” media, one that will work alongside and, perhaps one day, BECOME the media. When we talk “A-list, B-list,” want recognition as “journalists,” and desire our organizations to reflect certain standards, etc., I come away with this conclusion.

We cannot rail against the man and want to be the man at the same time. That’s been tried before, and nothing new ever comes out of it. The personal media revolution (Lasica’s term) IS something new, and I think those of us in it would do well to act as though we really believe that. Then we wouldn’t have arguments about rules, for we’d realize that it is the rules that are the problem in the first place.

I hate to use Biblical quotes, but they’re apropos. We are in the world but not of it, and you can’t pour new wine into old wineskins.

We can do better than a code of ethics. Thanks for being you, Jeff.

I’ve been advocating that we (the MBA) consider the model of Alcoholics Anonymous. A.A. is the prototype postmodern institution. The organization appears anarchical, but it is held together by common interest. There are no rules, no codes, no “objective standards” for membership (only a desire to stop drinking), no hierarchy, no governing body and nobody in charge. It’s based on suggestions and traditions, and only a member can decide if he or she belongs.

I don’t know where we’re headed with this, but the ride is fun. And I have confidence that, in the end, we’ll somehow get it right. I certainly hope so.

It’s all about the money

The headline in today’s Media Daily News makes a powerful statement: Local Broadcast Ad Markets Decline. The article points out that the decline began last year, when General Motors pulled “a lot” of its advertising from local broadcasting.

Retailers and movie companies have moved money out of local broadcast, said Gallant (Mike Gallant, securities analyst for CIBC World Markets). Those advertisers made similar moves in buying national television. National upfront ad dollars look to be somewhat flat across broadcast, cable, and syndication, collectively. Those numbers, say analysts, are an indicator of what is to come in the ad marketplace.
Harry Hayes sent me a link yesterday to a new service by Northwest Airlines — fare promotions and other items delivered via RSS. This is significant, because RSS makes it easy for retailers to talk directly to customers without spam issues. In the future, it’s very possible that big, big advertisers won’t be doing much advertising, because people interested in their wares will be able to subscribe to their RSS feeds — by-passing the media companies altogether. One day you’ll see local retail aggregator companies that deliver nothing but ads for clients — sort of the “sale paper” of tomorrow.

This is a fundamental change in the way business is done, and it’s why the argument about the Web versus broadcast (for example) shouldn’t be deemed one of content or eyeballs. It’s all about the money, folks. It always is.

Advertising in RSS feeds

I had an epiphany about this subject at 39,000 feet on my way from Seattle back to Nashville on Sunday. Bear with me here, because this is likely to produce a knee-jerk, negative reaction. After that, I encourage you to think about it.

We had a good discussion about this at Gnomedex on Saturday during a panel with Feedster’s Scott Rafer, PubSub’s Bob Wyman, and Bloglines’ Mark Fletcher. I tried to make the point that I’d much rather see the solution for advertising in RSS come from the tech (user) community than Madison Avenue. That’s because advertisers have no problem intruding on experience in order to “serve” their needs. This is offensive to me, and I’ve been preaching against it for a long time. Pop-up ads, e-mail marketing, the flashing and blinking of banners, and now fancy forms of interruption via Flash all work together to destroy the online experience. This is why we so strongly object to the idea of ads in our RSS feeds. We consider RSS our last bastion of sanity from the marketers of the land, and we resent the idea that this — even this — will be turned over to marketers. With me so far?

Here’s my epiphany: The Web is new, and we’ve been trying to use old methods to make money. It’s like the Biblical mandate not to pour new wine into old wineskins. What we need is a new way of viewing everything, and I think the secret lies in the content that we are delivering, not in the frame around the content (the print ad model) or commercial interruptions (the broadcast model). We must be open to selling some of that content space, if we want to make money, and RSS is the perfect vehicle in which to do this.

To illustrate, consider the blog of, say, Lost Remote. This popular inside-TV blog produces many daily entries that are received throughout the day in my RSS reader. These are listed in a descending column, based on the time of the day they’re received. What if one of those entries itself was from a sponsor? Remember, I have the power to read it or not. It can be clearly marked as an ad, so someone coming to the Website would see it as such, but it would be delivered to all subscribers as a part of the feed.

To me, this is the ultimate RSS ad solution, because it:

  1. gives the user control over whether to read/participate,
  2. is not intrusive,
  3. is easily measurable for the client,
  4. opens the door to a whole new realm of creative for advertisers,
  5. makes for better site design — away from clutter,
  6. uses the nature of the medium instead of borrowing from others.
I’m going to be experimenting with this in the near future, because I believe it is a viable business model. I like especially the idea of advertisers speaking in a conversational language and offering something relevant and that fact that it’s non-intrusive. If you don’t want to read it, you simply mark it as read or move on.

Good ideas aren’t birthed in a vacuum, not even at 39,000 feet, so I suspect others have already had similar thoughts. Of course, the same is true for bad ideas, but I think we shouldn’t be afraid of experimenting in this realm. If we don’t do it, who will?

Bridging advertising between on and offline

Online Media Daily:

TWO-THIRDS OF CONSUMER MAGAZINE WEB sites run ads from marketers that don’t also advertise in the print editions, according to a recent study by magazine publishing group International Federation of the Periodical Press.
The article shows how the magazine industry is evolving to a multi-faceted advertising stategy, something all mass media must do as the Web increasingly becomes the place to be for consumers.

TV viewing is up (or not)

I love it when self-serving research is foisted upon the public as revelatory fact. Witness the case of Jack Wakshlag’s latest use of “new research” to hammer home the reality that cable TV is beating broadcast TV. As written in Tuesday’s MediaLife, the study shows the average person watched 30.7 hours of television a week in the second quarter ending June 19th — up a whopping ten percent!

“People are watching more television than ever before,” says Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer at Turner. He notes that while his analysis focuses on a comparison of viewing this year to 2001, the average amount of time people spend watching TV has steadily been increasing.

What’s happening is that the total amount of television viewing keeps going up, despite what other media types say or what people believe or what people tell you when you ask them in a survey.”

Wait a minute, Jack. You’ve analyzed data from this year against 2001. Why that year? How does that prove anything, except give you another pulpit from which to tell the world how well cable is performing? Are you taking into consideration the increase in the number of TV sets in the home? Jack, your JOB is to sell cable, specifically Turner properties. Your “research” is tainted out-of-the-box.

I’m sorry, folks, but this is a bit much. It’s one of those “everybody else is wrong,” self-deceptive acts of an emperor with no clothes. And the worst part is that anything in this day and age that encourages television to stay in their rut is highly destructive.

Let’s all remember Bob Papper’s great line: “Television didn’t kill magazines by taking their readers; it killed magazines by taking their advertising.”

SCOTUS BrandX ruling a blow to freedom

Susan Crawford has the dark details. This really pisses me off, and I hope it does likewise to many others who’ve heretofore kept silent about the power of the FCC to limit freedom. If we really are a government of the people, we need to do something about this.

FOLLOW: I just sent a letter to my legislative representatives, and I encourage you to do the same. Dan Gillmor is saying the same thing.