Fun with headlines = a confusing future

Hey, it’s Friday, and a holiday weekend is ahead, so let’s have a little fun with links and headlines. Ready? Here we go:

TV Networks See Key Audience Erode

More Shoppers Trust the Internet Than TV

Web Ads Taking Off Again: Q1 Revenues A Record $7.3 Billion

Study: Online Video Ads Beat TV Ads In Viewer Recall

Internet Users View Ads As Distraction

The Economy Is Wavering. Does Washington Notice?

Let’s review. TV is losing its audience to the Internet, where shoppers seem to have more trust. As a result, web advertising is booming (again), and there’s evidence that video ads online “work” better than on TV. Great, huh? However, users view ads as distractions (so they ignore them), and the economy’s “recovery” is moderating.

Hmm. Sounds like we’re racing at full speed towards a cliff (that we apparently can’t see).

And so it goes…

What about what WE think?

Here’s the latest from Madison Avenue via Online Media Daily:

Viewers pay more attention to online video ads than to traditional TV commercials and also recall them better, according to new research that utilized Affectiva’s facial tracking algorithms and second-by-second biometric modeling of cognition, excitement and stress levels.

The research, which “measured the reactions of 48 viewers watching one hour of programming in Interpublic Group’s West Coast IPG Media Lab,” found that “online video ads received 18.3% more viewer attention in the study than TV commercials.” It concludes that “Compared to TV, online video is measurably better at delivering ads that are impossible to skip technologically and impractical to skip behaviorally.”

This is in sync with other recent articles about how much more is going to be spent on online video ads in the months ahead, heralding a burgeoning marketplace. I can’t wait.

One problem. The ad industry likes to measure “effectiveness,” when it needs to be measuring tolerance. Why? Because they’re not in charge online; we are! Many years ago, I quoted Microsoft from a MediaPost story that the optimum time for a pre-roll ad was 7–12 seconds. After I published my piece agreeing with that, MediaPost edited the story, because someone from Microsoft didn’t want that published. Why? They were selling a lot of 15–30 second ads.

So I view these kinds of studies as meaningless. Who cares if an irritant is “effective?” It’s still a bloody irritant, and the Web has a funny way of routing around such. If the video is genuinely something I want to see (which is extremely rare — like this), I’ll tolerate the pre-roll. When I do, however, I turn the sound off. You might be surprised at the number of videos I refuse to watch, because of pre-roll ads. It’s just not the right way to enable commerce online. It’s lazy, mass market thinking in a direct marketing universe, and it’s going to require courage for some people to stand up and say no. They are the ones who will be rewarded.

The conversation goes on, with or without us

Sarah HillI got a tweet from Sarah Hill, anchor for KOMU-TV in Columbia, Missouri yesterday that says much about the current state of journalism and how social “media” is impacting the institution. We’d been exchanging direct messages about their coverage of the horrible disaster in Joplin, when she wrote:

The telethon has raised $175K thus far and it doesn’t start til Thursday.

The people of mid-Missouri are coming together to raise money for the relief effort, and Twitter, texting and Facebook have made it easy for people to connect with the cause. This is an excellent use of social media by a TV station in trying to make a difference, but it says even more about their recognition of the reality that is journalism today, that it’s no longer about us. We wish them well on the telethon.

Here’s the thing: fundraising efforts are also taking place beyond what a traditional media company is and can do, as everyday people pick up the cause and pass it along. This is the “Great Horizontal” of which Jay Rosen speaks, that remarkable new empowering of the people with which, sooner or later, those who practice professional journalism must come to grips. The question for the pros is this: do the people really need us anymore, or perhaps it’s better to ask “How can we as pros best fit into this conversation?” There are those who say that the pros should “lead” the conversation, but City University of New York professor and author Jeff Jarvis isn’t one of them.

I think the conversation is happening all around us, with or without the journalists. I teach now that it’s the role of the journalist to add value to that conversation: verification, debunking, facts, reporting, context, platforms, teaching…. The late James Carey defines the role differently. As Jay Rosen explains in the Carey Reader: “The press does not ‘inform’ the public. It is ‘the public’ that ought to inform the press. The true subject matter of journalism is the conversation the public is having with itself.”

But I’m seeing that news organizations think it is their role to lead the conversation (they set the agenda), allow the conversation (you may now comment on our story, now that it’s done), and judge the conversation (see Bill Keller’s sniffing at vox polloi).

…that is the reflex of the journalist: to control the conversation.

In a conversation with Michael Arrington this week (see below), Jarvis clarified the concept:

The conversation goes on without us. We in journalism thought the conversation needed us. That’s not the case anymore. It’s end to end, like the Internet. We can add value to that in all kinds of ways. We can vet and find good people and find nodes and networks, and give perspective to journalism.

This is why the word “curation” must be a part of our everyday language and practice. Here’s a series of images that I use to convey the concept. It begins with the output of a traditional news organization on a 24-hour, horizontal scale. “Real time” is what’s being outputted horizontally. That line moves across the horizontal line as the clock ticks. This is continuous news.

news in real time

This would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that millions of others are outputting what’s important to them at the same time. So news in real time doesn’t just refer to our horizontal line; it includes everybody’s.

other streams are added to ours, but the vertical slice remains

The opportunity, therefore, for “new” journalism is the ability to slice through all of those horizontal lines and makes sense of it all for others. This is what Jeff is talking about, and any attempt to exclude those other streams is not journalism in the 21st Century. Technology will help with the task, but it involves human judgment at some point.

news in real time

We’ve come a long way since the days of criticizing “citizen journalists” in understanding what’s evolving before our eyes with news in the network. People aren’t stupid and no special group has a license on the practice of journalism. We all want to know what’s going on, and as the events in Missouri confirm, participate in what we can do to fix things that are broken. This may whack the fatted calf of professional journalism, but that’s a small price to pay for a more involved citizenry (and electorate). The more, the merrier, and while it does present challenges (certainly), we’re all better off for it in the long run.

The window for mass media to carve out a profitable role within this new hegemony is still open, but it will be closing slowly as more and more smart people get into the curation act. Traditional media companies still have the local muscle to block such efforts, but we must be smart, and that begins by acknowledging that the news conversation IS going on, with or without us.

Journalism’s Michael Arrington

arguing over objectivityThe tech press, based primarily in Silicon Valley, is leading the way in re-writing the rules for news from a position outside the “Big-J Journalism” box. This is typical of innovations in almost any field, for those who grew up in, were trained by, and have gained sustenance from a certain way of doing things are highly unlikely — if not actually unable — to set that aside and begin anew. This is the essence of Clayton Christensen’s “Innovator’s Dilemma,” and its application is certain.

The tech press is an upstart bunch and the first to use the tools about which they write. The truth is that the tools of the personal media revolution were created by geeks for geeks as a way to communicate everything from ideas to facts. Those tools have always been interactive, because the framework of innovation works best with collaboration, so the software needed to accommodate such. Blogs and blog software, for example, were created by these people to work within a collaborative environment. They would never have been birthed by the traditional, hierarchical press.

This is not to say that the tech press operates entirely outside the realm of traditional media, for there still are the necessary matters of fairness and accuracy. But the group has clearly adopted other values that trouble the traditional press, especially concepts like speed, transparency and authenticity.

I should add that the term “tech press” suggests to me more than just those businesses covering the beat of technology. It also includes any blogger who writes of technology and its impact on institutions and culture, which means its definition is very broad. These people advocate, accept and often abide by a different set of guidelines than do those who cling to their claim of practicing so-called “real” journalism.

With that in mind, let’s examine the recent case of Michael Arrington and why I think it’s important for all of us to understand.

Arrington is the founder and co-editor of TechCrunch, now owned by AOL, and one of the top tech blogs/media companies in the industry. Arrington is a brash attorney who has only been in the business of media for a few years. He certainly practices journalism, although many people don’t like his style and some would debate the assertion (Arrington included) that he’s actually a practicing journalist. He’s a good writer, although he can be abrasive. I find his prose refreshing, and he’s on my daily “must read” agenda, because he expresses what many people in the tech press believe but can’t or won’t.

Arrington recently resumed his practice of investing in tech companies, something he had done regularly before he started TechCrunch and up until 2009. As such, he’s run into criticism, not only from the traditional press screaming “conflict of interest,” but also from colleagues in the tech press. He argues this is hypocrisy, for everyone who writes and publishes is conflicted.

We can argue all day about whether or not my policy is a good one. You’ll have your arguments, I’ll have mine. But the really important thing to remember, as a reader, is that there is no objectivity in journalism. The guys that say they’re objective are just pretending. Everyone is conflicted in different ways…

Look, I’m still new to this journalism thing. I treat our readers the same way I’d like to be treated. With full and complete disclosure. I’m really sorry if that upsets the old guard. But the reality is this. The people complaining the most are the people who are the most deeply conflicted. They’re the people who are, at best, vague about their own conflicts of interest. Right and wrong don’t seem to be concepts they worry about too much. Nor do they seem to be overly concerned with hypocrisy or even the basic underlying lack of logic in their rants.

Michael Arrington and Jeff Jarvis

Arrington is joining with Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post to launch a website where the issue can be discussed. This week, he invited Jeff Jarvis to the stage at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference to expand the conversation. If you have even a passing interest in the news business, I strongly recommend you take 15 minutes to watch the interview. You will either be enlightened, infuriated, shaking your head, nodding in agreement or all of the above. Here’s a portion of the transcript:

ARRINGTON: So I have disclosed that I am making investments and competitors have freaked out about that and tried to make a big deal out of it, and that’s fine. I can defend myself. But there’s this issue of transparency in journalism that bothers me as a consumer of journalism. How big of a problem do actual journalists see that?

JARVIS: Well, let me ask you a question first. Are you a journalist?

ARRINGTON: No. Absolutely not.

JARVIS: Why do you eschew the title?

ARRINGTON: I see journalists as priests. They’re the only ones that are allowed to tell us what the news is.

JARVIS: But you reject it rather than taking it over. Why not take it over? Why not say that you are a new kind of journalist?

ARRINGTON: Why do I need to do that?

JARVIS: So, the title means nothing to you.

ARRINGTON: It doesn’t mean a whole lot to me, no.

JARVIS: What does it mean to you? What does it convey?

ARRINGTON: When I think of journalism I truly think of people who are very, very biased hiding their bias behind theoretically objective text. But I see that the adjectives that they use, what they choose to cover and not cover, shows who they really are. And I remember at a dinner once in New York, I met a guy who had been at CNN forever, before that the Washington Post. And he was telling me how he had covered politics for a long time. And I said, “So are you a Republican or a Democrat?” He said “oh I can’t tell you”. And I said “why?” And he goes. “Well that would be, you know, if that got out, what I was, it would effect how people view my content.” I have a right to know what your actual views are so that I can read your supposedly objective content in light of that.”

JARVIS: We absolutely agree about that, that I said it one way and then David Weinberger said it better, that transparency is the new objectivity. That objectivity was bullshit, there’s no such thing.

Arrington’s argument is fascinating. He believes in transparency — to name those companies with which he has a financial interest — but he blocks transparency when it comes to his sources, and I find that perfectly acceptable. Arrington, however, acknowledges that such a practice is, in fact, a conflict of interest, and it’s acknowledgements like this that make his whole argument so compelling.

While this belief may shock some, it’s been debated for several decades with journalistic purists insisting that the sacred canons of ethics must be followed, while others argue that those canons exist primarily to create a sterile environment in which to sell advertising. I find the current discussion healthy, because I agree with David Weinberger that “transparency is the new objectivity.”

This is much more easily adapted, however, by the tech press than it is the traditional press, because they don’t have a contrary history. For a local media company to suddenly start professing a position, it would seem out of place, and that’s the trap in which we find ourselves. As I’ve stated previously, however, I did a research project in the Northwest in 2004 where we asked people if they’d object to a biased reporter, as long as that reporter was up front about the bias. The overwhelming majority said that would be fine.

As I look downstream, I see the manifestation of this change on the horizon. Already, the people formerly known as the advertisers are entering the world of news production, and they’re the ones with the money. For the traditional press, this whole idea is anathema, for what it means is the total destruction of our protected universe. Manipulation is very difficult when honesty is demanded up front, and that would be refreshing.

Media 2.0 101: It’s about money, not content

BBC Home Duty Editor and blogger Neil Henderson posted an apologetic over the weekend about why new media will never replace the old. It’s a fairly common theme from traditional media types and contains the assumption that Media 2.0 is somehow out to “replace” Media 1.0. Jay Rosen referred to Henderson as a replacenik: “A replacenik, @hendopolis, says the salient fact about new media is that it won’t replace the old, neglecting to specify who said it would.”

In fairness, Henderson’s argument is entirely about Twitter.

I think I’m some sort of dinosaur, because I feel that although it’s clear Twitter has many qualities there is no way it’s a replacement for longer forms of financed reporting, in which there’s a proper investment into training, the development of veracity and the cultivation of trust.

…But Twitter is nothing more advanced than a high tech rumour mill. It doesn’t replace sending trained and resourced correspondents to places…It can’t replace the kind of journalism that requires even a modicum of fact checking and investigation.

It’s hard to argue with any of that, but the problem is that nobody is! Henderson is trapped in the belief that new media’s intent is to “replace” the old, and nothing could be further from the truth. New media disrupts old media as it evolves; it doesn’t necessarily take its place; even though it may just shove it aside. Old media’s problem is that it has approached this on the defensive instead of fully embracing the disruption.

I was first shown a portion of the following sequence of images many years ago by Gordon Borrell. I’ve used them for so long and so many times that some people think I made them up. Gordon told me once of a guy in his audience who, when he showed his original (with Harvard Business School’s help) slides, said “that’s a Terry Heaton slide, right?” The sequence perfectly depicts the disruption of Media 2.0 (the green circle) as it encroaches on the Media 1.0 space (the blue circle). Throughout the sequence, the green circle grows, while the blue circle is overcome and surrounded.

Take a look, and then we’ll talk about the gray.

the disruptor approaches

The disruption approaches as it grows, but hasn’t yet impacted Media 1.0.

the disruptor is nigh

As the disruption encroaches on the business of legacy media, it responds by embracing whatever it can to sustain its business model. This is the beginning of the gray response.

the disruptor approaches

The disruption grows, yet we still only respond with what matches our business model.

the disruptor approaches

A very few legacy companies realize that they must enter the disruption’s core with a separate organization not encumbered by an old business model, and they are rewarded with the top revenues in the local space.

the disruptor approaches

Finally, the disruption overtakes everything and those who continue to practice only in the gray are destined to reduced — but not necessarily unprofitable — roles in the Media 2.0 hegemony.

In each slide, the gray area represents those elements of the disruption that “work” to extend the brand and the business model of Media 1.0. An old colleague of mine describes that as “bolting the new onto the old.” Unable to see ourselves as anything other than the mass media that we are, we simply continue to exist as an old business model in a sea of new media and miss what the disruption brings to the table. We miss also that we are now competing (for advertising dollars) against an entirely new group of players, because we’re still too busy competing with our old foes. This has tragic consequences for traditional media.

It’s tragic, because the disruption isn’t now nor has it ever been about content; it’s all about revenue. Borrell’s 2010 Benchmarking Study in March of this year illuminated what’s really taking place.

News and information sites do indeed generate revenue, but the Top 5 local online companies derive all their content from their own advertisers. In fact, half of the top 20 are all-advertising sites.

…Looking at the local online landscape from (the) angle (of) who’s making the most money…we get a clear perspective on the type of content is most valuable in the lean-forward medium of the Internet. Leading the pack are companies whose sole purpose is to deliver advertising content.

In 44 of more than 200 markets we track, Groupon or Autotrader.com generates more revenue than the largest local newspaper, TV or radio station online operation in that market. This is a startling revelation considering the fact that Groupon did not have a dime of revenue two years ago. This year, about two dozen of its local operations will generate over $10 million each. Craigslist, meanwhile, generated about $20 million from its site in New York and about $1.6 million each in Phoenix and Houston, and Autotrader.com is bringing in more than $10 million per site in more than two dozen cities.

As legacy media, we continue to believe in the assumption (yes, assumption) that advertising that interrupts or is adjacent to news content is the only kind of advertising that matters, and that’s where we make our mistake. Meanwhile, Madison Avenue itself is being disrupted by those who not only share the risk with advertisers but also bring them real, countable customers. We will see more and more of this.

The smart money these days is on companies who ACT on separating the creation of content with the growing of revenue. I should add that this window is beginning to close, because it’s been letting the pureplay flies in for too long already. We need to be in the advertiser content creation business, and use our weapons to make a difference on behalf of those who pay us. At least we would be in sync with how they’re increasingly spending their money.

Meanwhile, can we please get off this false argument that new media wants to replace the old?

TMZ.com goes full-feed RSS

TMZ logoSomething extraordinary happened in the world of online media this week, and nobody seems to have noticed. TMZ.com, that entertainment news and gossip juggernaut, became the biggest site on the planet to offer full-feed RSS. As of this writing, TMZ has not gotten back to me for comments, so the best I can do is speculate. As a person who has followed TMZ since its humble beginnings — and reported extensively (here) on their model, which we call “Continuous News” — I can assure you that full-feed RSS from them is significant.

What is full-feed RSS and why is it so important?

Traditional media companies all have RSS feeds, but the distributed XML portion of new items is capped at a headline and one or two sentences. This is driven by strategy: the media companies want people to read their content on their own websites, because that’s where the money is (they think). This type of feed requires people click on a link to be taken to the company’s own website. It makes sense if mass media is your model, but it makes no sense in the world of distributed (unbundled) media. Traditional media companies have, therefore, used RSS only as a marketing toy, a notification system, of sorts.

But it wasn’t created for that, and every blogger knows it. And apparently, TMZ.com now knows it, too. Here’s the way their feed looked in my RSS reader this week. Before this week, the only thing I’d see in the viewing panel was a headline and a sentence. Now, the entire story is available for viewing WITHOUT me bringing up their website in the browser associated with my reader.

TMZ's RSS feed

Let’s say your TV station carries the syndicated TMZ program. You can now create an RSS widget that brings all of their news into your window. If you’re creating an aggregator of entertainment news using RSS, TMZ’s content will stand out, because it will all “be there.” This is the beauty of place-based distribution, because it doesn’t care where it’s posted; it simply wants to be seen.

This flies in the face of traditional mass media thinking. Who would be so crazy, the thinking goes, as to “give” their exclusive content away like that? The proverbial “crazy like a fox,” that’s who.

Let me state clearly why this is so important.

  • Distributed or unbundled content IS the future of news content. It “fits” the handshake, the touchpoint, the missing puzzle piece of the Web. Downstream, every piece of exclusive content will be unbundled, because if it’s not, it won’t be a part of the coming aggregation plays, those business that SERVE users by filtering or curating the content of the many for the consumption of the one. This is inevitable, no matter how much traditional media kicks and screams against it.
  • Advertising “as items” in an RSS feed are where the real future money is, although it’s only there in a trickle today. These ads are visible. There’s no “banner blindness.” And they provide real SEO value (see below). Look at the image of my reader again. Above the viewing panel is, like any email software, the headlines of the feed. If I see a headline I like, I can read its content below. Now imagine if, say, every 10th headline began with: “ADVERTISEMENT” or “SPONSOR.” I could look at it or not. Ads done this way are of very high value. As I noted a few weeks ago, John Gruber of the geek blog “Daring Fireball” sells a weekly sponsorship for his blog for $5,500 (that’s $22k a month). He’s currently sold out through mid-July. Here’s the way that looks in my reader:Daring Fireball's RSS feed
  • An advertisement as a part of content on a media website is worth another $250 a month, simply due to search engine optimization (SEO) value. It’s a permanent piece of content with a link or multiple links back to the sponsor, and it has significant value back to the advertiser. I know one advertiser who buys the cheapest ad deals possible simply to get his ads (with links) “on” the pages of big websites. Why? He doesn’t care if people actually “see” the ads; for him, it’s all about SEO.
  • There are ad networks that will populate your RSS feed with banners, including all the standard IAB sizes. The problem with these in a viewing panel of a headline-and-sentence feed is that the banner dominates everything, and frankly, that’s an insult. For example, here’s what TMZ competitor Enews Daily’s feed looks like:Enews Daily RSS feedYou can see how ridiculous (and transparent) that looks compared to a whole story with an ad.

RSS advertising hasn’t taken off for the same reason RSS hasn’t fully taken off: the media industry doesn’t see the value (or like it), but I expect that to be changing sooner than later. When that happens, we’ll discover even more about how to monetize that distributed content. There’s been a lot of talk lately about RSS “dying” due to social media, but RSS is the mechanism by which unbundled media moves around the Web, and contrary to dying, I think it’s just moved from the bottle to solid food.

TMZ.com pioneered the Continuous News model by proving that they could produce compelling news content in blog format, item by item and bit by bit. They saw the demand and had the courage to go with the “latest item on top” concept of Web display, something traditional media companies have a hard time grasping. It has served them well

What about you and your company? Are you going to wait until somebody else writes the rules about unbundled advertising, or do you have the courage and conviction to do that yourself?