An open letter to television managers

Dear Television Manager,

This letter is offered in good faith and asks some fundamental strategic questions that have probably already been on your mind. If not, this might be eye‐opening. Either way, it’s my hope you will act on what’s stated here.

When I first began consulting nearly ten years ago, I was known for little sayings about news that people dubbed “Heatonisms.” Here’s the very first: “Revenue isn’t the problem; audience is the problem. Fix the problem.” What television did back then is the same thing we’re doing today, we’re trying to fix a secondary revenue problem while the real problem just keeps getting worse.

Television news just isn’t what it used to be, and it never will be again. We look at research proving we’re still the best advertising bang for the buck and completely miss the point that it won’t matter soon, because the trend lines are unmistakable. Viewing has been dropping for many years, and nothing is going to change that, absent some totally different way of presenting some local product.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism’s annual “State of the News Media” report earlier this year was straightforward about this:

The most basic problem facing local television news is that its traditional audience is shrinking. In 2010, audiences continued to decline in all three key time slots: morning, early evening and late night.

…A pattern noticed a year ago continued in 2010. Our analysis found that ratings dropped more sharply than share (emphasis mine) for all key time slots in most sweeps periods. Ratings measure the percentage of households with TVs that are tuned to a particular program. Share measures the percentage of people who actually have their TVs on at a particular time and who are tuned to a specific program. A ratings decline, while share holds steady, means a program has fewer total viewers but the same percentage of the available audience. To put it another way, one reason local TV news in the traditional time slots is losing viewers is because people are turning off their sets when the news is on (emphasis mine).

Why are they turning TV sets off during news time? Because “the news” is already known by the people formerly known as the audience. So we fiddle with managing revenue in an environment that needs — but doesn’t get — attention. Well, Terry, it is what it is. What would you have us do?

We are promoting a decaying strategy, so the first thing we need to do is to stop that, and nowhere is this worse than on the Web. We have websites. We use Twitter. We use Facebook. But our essential purpose in so doing is to be a better TV station online. Make no mistake about it, this is a dreadful error, for AR&D’s own research shows that up to 90% of a TV station website’s traffic is comprised of the station’s own viewers. We’re talking to a closed and shrinking universe. We brag when we beat our competition online with absolutely no sense of who that competition really is. We’re still competing with the other TV stations online, and how foolish is that? This is the same strategic flaw that produces convergence sales. The brand of a TV station is today both a blessing and a curse.

So, Mr. and Ms. Managers, lead the local TV cheers for your sales departments, because they won’t be inspired to sell otherwise, but let’s work on fixing what’s really broken: the loss of audience. Let’s begin with four simple acknowledgements.

  1. Television news as it’s currently presented is a dying beast. We can do lots of things to be top dog in our markets, but even the top dog is the equivalent of the last buggy whip maker. At AR&D, we’re working on some prototype program concepts, because we know that nobody’s going to come back for that from which they fled. Those people turning their sets off will never reverse themselves for the same old good‐looking people with boxes over their shoulders. Online is the future (I consider mobile to be “online”), so let’s look there.
  2. Our online competition is not the other TV stations; it’s all the pureplay revenue grabs that aren’t bound by the rules of being a TV station online. The most important current and future use of our TV stations is to use them to promote our online offerings, and that’s smart strategy. That and feet‐on‐the‐street are the only competitive advantages we have over those pureplays. Doing news online is a smart thing, but it needs to be in real‐time across‐the‐board and not just Twitter and Facebook. News also needs to be aggregated and curated, and that means acknowledging the other news producers in the market. That’s what the pureplays do. They’re not encumbered by a local brand.
  3. We need to embrace the reality that content isn’t our “business;” advertising is our business, and we need to be immersed in the latest from the revolution in advertising. The biggest, most fruitful shift in advertising today is the sharing of risk. Google pioneered it (pay only for clicks); Groupon raised it to an art level (split revenue; no customers, no deal). However, I think the greatest innovations in this area are still ahead. Advertisers are the new media companies, and the idea of money for simple placement alone is slowly dying, unless you’re the Superbowl. Results are what the new advertising world wants, provable results, and unless we’re in there with those who are offering such, we’re simply going to be left behind. But this is an advertising problem, not a content problem, so content solutions won’t do much. If you believe that advertisements adjacent to content is the best business model for the Web, I feel sorry for you.
  4. Our content will be aggregated, and this is where we will compete with traditional and other forms of local media. We resist this at our own peril, and so the smart thing to do is develop strategies that make it profitable to completely unbundle our content from our owned infrastructure. We want our content aggregated. We want ours to shine among the rest. We want users to take our content with them and to interact with that at their convenience. We want to find new advertising opportunities within an aggregated environment.

The paradox of working in media today is that it’s both brutal and exciting at the same time, kind of like being at sea during a storm. The advice there is to keep your focus on the horizon dead ahead, for attention to the waves is will make you sick. Here, that focus must be on the truths made apparent by acceptance of certain big trends. Follow those and hang on for the bumpy ride.

There is a future, and it is bright.

Thanks for reading,

Terry

The Web is the top guy’s job

In TV newsrooms, that’s the news director.

The most common mistake I see in media company (mostly television) newsrooms as they address this thing we call “Media 2.0” is to treat it as just another production system that must be defined and managed. As Emily Bell would say, “it’s ‘yet another thing’ for a working journalist to understand. The answer to who writes for the Web is different in almost every shop, and in many places it’s generally considered a pain‐in‐the‐butt. The idea that anybody can write for the Web is universal, and it’s often treated as an entry‐level task. A good grasp of grammar is a bonus, but for the most part, the answer to “who” is “anybody.”

Reporters write “their” stories. Producers add elements when they’re not writing for their shows. Production Assistants and Associate Producers (where those positions still exist) are called upon to add fresh material when they can. Anchors are forced asked to create content for the Web in between reading and editing copy written by others. There are no bylines; it’s a team effort. It’s XXXX-TV’s Web effort, and expediency and efficiency are its goals. As the old saying goes, “It’s better than good, it’s done.”

In shops that function this way — that is to say most shops — the Web is an extension of the main product, an online replication of what you’d expect to find in the 6 o’clock news. Even in newsrooms where the Web is a genuine priority, the matter of who does the work is generally the same. At a time when stations are economically challenged, the idea that there should be resources dedicated exclusively to the Web is generally unrealistic, so what’s a well‐intentioned news director to do?

In two highly successful shops that we’re involved with, the news director him or herself runs the online content show. They try to turn administrative tasks over to others and run the Continuous News content themselves, both on the Web and via social media. The news director, you say? Yes, the news director, and it really makes a difference in their online products and services. Why? Because the news director is often the most experienced news person in the shop. They understand the nuances of the news and especially how it all fits with the marketing goals of the station. This can’t be overstated.

Bruce Carter, News Director, WLEX-TVBruce Carter of WLEX‐TV in Lexington, Kentucky is one such news director. He told me via email that the days of putting together a newscast and waiting until 6pm or 11pm to put news on‐air are a distant memory. Instead of questions like how do you find the time to run the online ship, his response is how can you not be involved in this age of instant news? We agree.

Everything we do has an immediate real‐time effort. When storms enter the viewing area we not only crawl information on‐air and have live cut‐ins but we also engage our online and Facebook loyal to help us gather information. We handle breaking news the same way. The content management center is the hub for our news managers, including the News Director. When news comes to us via scanner, phone, email, news source, Facebook, etc. it is instantly communicated to every news manager and immediately decided upon on what to do with this information. The decisions are swift and immediate. It is imperative the News Director be part of the process.

The ease of today’s web content management systems allow anyone to post stories and information to the web or through social media. The key to making it work for a station is having strong managers that direct the flow of content and oversee focus and branding. There has to be a method to the madness and a purpose to what you do online just as there is to your on‐air product. Have a plan, have a strategy and stick to it. When it comes to online content, be tenacious. Post frequently, post immediately, update constantly and don’t be afraid to try new things in the continuous news stream. We do all the time.

Letitia Walker, News Director, KATC-TVLetitia Walker, news director of KATC‐TV in Lafayette, Louisiana agrees and adds that it’s all about leading by example.

Why should I expect anyone in the newsroom to do something I’m not willing to do myself? The running joke is that if I were ever involved in a horrible accident or tragedy, I’d be taking a picture to send to our site before the ambulance takes me away. I take that as a compliment.

I’ve always been one to be passionate about my work, and I try to make my enthusiasm rub off on others. When the decision was made to switch to our continuous news format, the goal was to incorporate the entire newsroom in the process. Posting not only on our website, but our social media sites, texting campaigns, crawls, etc. If I’m in the room, I’ll take the lead in making sure all formats get information as soon as responsibly possible.

And that, I think, is the key to solving the question of “who.” It must start at the very top on everything, because it’s our future. To assign it to others and walk away is to leave that future to happenstance. The online effort of a TV station is every bit as important as its newscasts. Every bit! The bastard step child will, sooner than you think, inherit the throne, and the time to prepare for it is now. As a news director, if you don’t have a hands‐on leadership role in this, I strongly recommend you re‐examine your priorities.

News in real time is journalism’s great challenge

news is a processMy colleague Jim Willi has an excellent piece on his blog about how he thinks social media “clobbered” traditional media in bringing information to light Sunday night in the killing of Osama bin Laden. Coming from Jim — a 40‐year veteran of TV News — it’s a pretty profound admission. My family, too, sat together watching TV while sharing information we got via various social media terminals. In that sense, I suppose we were fairly typical.

At AR&D, we press our clients to move to a world of Continuous News, because, frankly, that’s what news has evolved to, and that shows no sign of abatement, only moving forward. We are criticized in some quarters for this — even mocked — and it is to those who disagree that I address the following.

NPR’s Andy Carvin has, since the revolution in Egypt, been the shining star of news in real time via Twitter. He’s a human marvel, aggregating many, many tweets and retweeting those that fit the narratives that he’s following. It is the purest form of real‐time news. Carvin told those gathered at World Press Freedom Day in Washington Monday, “…in some ways, what I’m trying to accomplish is in a sense an oral history in real‐time.” This is the essential problem for naysayers of Continuous News, and it’s an energy that won’t be stopped. The fundamental charge of newspapers has always been to “write the first draft of history,” and that very essence is being challenged today by millions of people with cellphones and social media. The day after bin Laden was killed, we learned of those who actually tweeted the raid in Abbottabad unaware of what it really was. That is news in real time, folks.

Technology will help the Andy Carvins of the world, and soon the only thing that can be rightly judged “news” will be what’s in the stream. We avoid this at our own risk, and I’m deadly serious about that. You can scoff and mock, if you wish, but I encourage you to examine what’s really taking place while you’re doing it. I don’t care so much about being right as I do about watching the demise of the business that was my life.

Mathew Ingram writes of social media being an “ecosystem” that has its own place in the news hegemony.

Looking at it as an ecosystem instead of a competition reinforces the point that all of these things feed into each other: TV reports are spread through Twitter, news that breaks on Twitter forms a part of TV and newspaper reports that try to summarize what has happened, and so on. As one person put it on Sunday night: “Twitter breaks news. TV covers it.” And leveraging the power of social media can help traditional news outlets find sources — like the guy who unwittingly tweeted about the bin Laden attack. Twitter and Facebook‐style networks also helps the mainstream media distribute and promote their content — using network effects to their advantage.

I would love to believe that each has its place, but why turn away from real‐time instead of exploring the ecosystem? Why should those of us in traditional media turn over the future to others?

Emily BellEmily Bell is director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. Formerly of the Observer and the Guardian, Ms. Bell is one of the most respected British journalists of our day. After the bin Laden event, she wrote “Real time, All the time: Why every news organisation has to be live.” Ms. Bell makes several remarkable statements, including this one: “Live is not ‘yet another thing’ for a working journalist to understand, it is the great journalistic challenge of our time.” I couldn’t agree more.

If you are related to the world of news, as opposed to the world of analysis, if you don’t have a strategy for live stories and reporting, then you have a very limited future. If you wish to have credibility even in the world of analysis and have no presence in the breaking news conversation then I would strongly argue that over time this is going to dramatically and adversely affect your brand.

…The live updating stream of thought and reaction is here to stay, and it will become more prevalent rather than less. If they haven’t already news businesses will need to prepare their journalists, their technologies and their interfaces to reflect this new world. It is not about ‘being first at the cost of being right’, it is about being there, or not.

So the idea of Continuous News — while we’re pioneering it — wasn’t born or nurtured in a vacuum. A great many of the best minds in journalism see what’s taking place and are doing what they can for those who will listen. What’s taking place with the real‐time Web is far bigger than just journalism, however; it’s the new way of thinking for every Western institution in the new world.

In looking back at his seminal epic about the Web in 2004 (We Are The Web), Kevin Kelly told me that if could rewrite the thing, he’d add much more about the drift to real‐time in the world of information. Kelly is a brilliant thinker whose recent book, What Technology Wants, is a deep journey into a culture that is changing forever.

Some are convinced that the old way is the only way, that completed, vetted stories are what makes “real” journalism and that the rest is just noise. They’re also convinced that that’s the way the people formerly known as the audience view things, and so we proceed by pouring our old views into the new wineskins of interactive media. The result is the arrogant taunting of real time, as our waxen wings soar oh so close to the sun of the new. Like Icarus, we’re so convinced of our own immortality that we risk everything by following only that which Madison Avenue will currently feed. This is so foolish in the face of such overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Our view of Continuous News is born of the Web. It has no legacy counterpart. It can’t be bolted onto brands that stand for something else online, because those will always default to the old. We’ll “promote” rather than inform, because that’s what we do. I’ve argued that TV stations are particularly well‐suited to Continuous News, because it’s really just the daytime news‐gathering process made public. Monday‐Friday, 8am‐5pm is prime time for news online, and that fits perfectly with the workflow of a TV newsroom. Our evidence from places that are executing the concept well is stunning; people love the idea of being kept informed as things are happening and dislike being forced to wait. The stream is a natural conduit for news and information.

Why can’t we see that?

Keep your long‐term glasses on

Keep your long term glasses onWhen I was a news director, I was often hired in turn‐around situations, where a company was dissatisfied with something involving the news department, usually the news ratings. Not every one of my appointments fell into this category, but I always enjoyed the challenge of competing with entrenched winners. I had a few rules that I’m sure the talented people who worked for me remember. Rule number one: there are no rules. We wouldn’t let ANYTHING hold us back from disrupting the status quo. Another rule was: keep your long‐term glasses on. We needed to know that taking the mountain was a process that wouldn’t happen overnight.

This rule about long‐term focus applies to traditional media, I think, in these times of change, because we’re on a path illuminated not by short‐term fads but by long‐term trends. It’s vitally more important, therefore, that we always act on behalf of those trends but always question the short term whirligigs that come along every day. I learned in the Coast Guard that the way to avoid sea sickness in rough weather is to keep your focus on the horizon, not on the waves or the view that keeps rising and falling. That’s good advice in any time of change.

But the problem is that many can’t see the horizon. We’ve either got our heads down, buried in day‐to‐day operations, or we’re trying to make ends meet. The horizon, however — our destination point — is what we need most, because if we can see the goal, we can create the processes needed to get us there. This does require, however, fixating our gaze forward instead of down or to the side.

Take, for example, Twitter. To properly view this wonderful notification system, we must begin with AOL. In fact, you’ll always be safe if AOL sits in the back of your mind as a red flag. AOL was training wheels for the Web, but it was its walled garden approach — building a web within the Web — that eventually spelled trouble, the same kind of trouble that Twitter, Facebook and other proprietary, closed systems provide today. What are the broader strokes that Twitter is providing? This is the important question.

This is why AR&D is writing a new book, 2015: The Future of Local Media. Nobody who reads this newsletter regularly will be surprised by anything in the book, because the book merely advances our vision. In the interim — and in the name of our long‐term glasses — I thought I’d publish a list of five of the broad trends that we’re following. We’re all just overwhelmed with options these days, so use this list as a filter to keep yourself focused on what’s really important for tomorrow.

  1. The shift to real time news and information. Dave Winer wrote recently that Twitter is a dress rehearsal for what’s coming, and I think that’s true. During my interview with Kevin Kelly for the book, he noted that THE most important trend to follow is the move from a static Web to “the real time flows and streams” inherent in the living or “Live” Web. Let’s not think of real time as necessarily replacing that which is “finished, vetted and complete,” but rather as a new entity that is evolving before our eyes. Journalists must consider a commitment to real time as a part of doing their jobs, because the stream is the process of gathering news itself. It’s also important to understand that the stream is bigger than anything we put into it. Monetizing the stream, we believe, will come from curating the fire hose for individual consumption and from organizing separate streams from merchants wishing to get messages out to existing or potential customers.
  2. Portability. This is the year that analysts project more portable computing devices will be sold than those that are hard‐wired to an Internet connection. 2011 is a tipping point, because portability brings proximity into the media equation, and that brings opportunity in the form of hyperlocal relevance, not only for news and information but also for making money. But don’t be fooled into thinking that portability is something other than just the good old Web. It’s not. Magazine apps for the iPad, for example, have been a bust, because the iPad is just a presentation layer on top of the Web. If it didn’t work on the Web, it won’t work via a portable device. Portability/proximity also brings a heightened sense of “local” into the information equation, almost a redefinition of the term and one with which we will have to contend in the years ahead.
  3. Unbundled content. In 2004, then FCC Chairman Michael Powell noted that “application separation is the most important paradigm change in the history of communications, and it will change things forever.” Media hasn’t fully caught on yet, because the act of “application separation” means, in large part, the unbolting of media content from the original source in which it was presented. Just as it was with the music industry, so it will be with media, because people not only object to our packaging as inefficient and time‐wasting but also as self‐serving despite claims of the opposite. There’s an old adage among successful bloggers that “if you send people away, they’ll come back,” which influences many strategic decisions about content, including full‐feed RSS and outbound linking. Legacy media doesn’t get this, because it’s counterintuitive to its fundamental need to corral and maintain large audiences. Make no mistake, though, content distribution in the future will be unbundled, and the sooner we get there, the better.
  4. Consumers rule. This is perhaps the most overlooked and underestimated new reality for business in the 21st Century. The industrial age was all about a Mad Men sort of “warfare” in which brilliant marketers attacked the minds of people to move them to buy products. How heroic! The problem is nobody asked people if they could play with them this way, and now we have a problem. Consumers can not only talk back, but they can talk to each other, and this is a serious issue for those who need a one‐way mechanism to change our minds. How have we responded? I just read in Online Media Dialy of “new video pre‐roll units” that will leverage a “variety of targeting methods to deliver high‐quality audiences more efficiently than the typical online video campaign.” People as “targets” aren’t really people, so we can put 15–30 second pre‐rolls in front of 90‐second videos and think that’s tolerable. Everybody knows that the optimum for pre‐rolls is 7–10 seconds, but Madison Avenue refuses to believe that it no longer has carte blanche in messing with the lives of consumers. Starcomm’s Rishad Tobaccowala said many years ago that “we’ve entered an empowered era in which humans are God, because technology allows them to be godlike. He asks, “How will you engage God?” It’s a question we should be asking.
  5. Video, video, video. By 2014, Cisco projects that the average downbound bandwidth of the Web will be 14.4 megs and that nearly all of the growth in traffic will be video. Much, if not most of that video will be advertising of one form or the other (if you don’t believe this, spend a little time on YouTube), and this is something local media companies are ideally suited to provide. At many local TV stations, we have whole production departments sitting around twirling their thumbs while waiting for the next commercial shoot when they could be on‐the‐street making YouTube and other videos for online consumption. We don’t see this, because we’re too busy waiting for the next ad agency to come along with a new pre‐roll. We’re so stuck on attaching ads to OUR content as the only source of revenue, but a whole new world is opening for us to pursue. Newspapers could (and are) easily steal this right out from under the noses of TV stations. The online video world has just begun, and we’re stuck waiting for somebody to show us the way rather than attacking it head‐on today.

What, Terry, no “deals” application? Perhaps. There are many other trends we’ll be examining in the book, in addition to putting it all together for you in a “here’s what it’ll look like” view of local media, circa 2015. Meanwhile, though, if we’ll run anything that’s presented to us through these filters, we’ll be on solid ground for tomorrow. Is it video‐centric? Is it pro‐consumer? Is it unbundled and free to be passed around? Is it meant for portable Web consumption? Is it a part of the real time flows and streams? If that which is before you provides a “yes” to those, then take it to the bank that you’re on solid ground. If not, you might want to proceed cautiously.

And keep your long‐term glasses on.

More on the Denton‐Gawker view

My post about Nick Denton and Gawker led to a Twitter challenge from Jake Brooks, and so I want to explain a few things. First of all, to fully understand my view on all this, you’d really have to be familiar with the whole body of my work. I don’t make statements about new media that come from nowhere. I’ve written the book(s) on reinventing local media, so a great deal of thought and history stand behind my views. I say that because, to fully understand what I’ve written about Gawker, I have to go back and restate facts and concepts already in evidence.

Gawker wants to now look like a traditional media website. I get that. I call it a step backwards, because that’s not where the news and information business is heading.

Firstly, all media people are what I call “front end” people. They look at the Web based on what they see. This is understandable for traditional media, because all they’ve ever seen is their finished products, so it’s on that that they base their judgement and value of the product. Ah, our product. We media people are in love with our content. It’s why we live and breathe, but it’s not content that’s in disruption (necessarily); it’s advertising, and a day of reckoning is coming with advertising.

Jakob Nielsen has built his “usability guru” reputation by talking about facts, not perceptions. His “banner blindness” isn’t discussed in media circles, because if it was, people would be very afraid. Madison Avenue certainly can’t bring itself to discuss it, because it would be an end to Madison Avenue, which is based on formulas and the selling of “inventory.” They should, because what’s happening with advertising via the Web is going to kill those who assume that front end displays are the path to prosperity. Nobody “sees” Web display advertising. Nobody, and Nielsen can prove it. Meanwhile, the Web — and permit me to reference “the Web” as a person — rejects all formulaic assertions about the front end. Why? Because the Web doesn’t care about the front end.

When spiders from Google or Bing or whatever pay sites a visit, they don’t send back oohs and ahs about Nick’s enterprise content. They don’t glow with envy over how well it’s sorted and displayed for users and report that back to Google. They care only about what’s new. “What can I report back about the stream and flow?”

So live by the CPM, die by the CPM. Live by the RFP, die by the RFP.

Media companies secretly know this, but there’s still so much money attached that they’re paralyzed. So Nick is taking his company back in this direction, rather than continuing to explore how to monetize his audience, not his content. I think that’s a mistake.

I certainly agree that we’re moving to a video‐centric Web, but that will also be a real time stream and flow. Display advertising is not, nor will it ever be, the driver of Web advertising. It’s designed for a one‐to‐many display, and the Web is a constant, real time two‐way connection.

Take a look at the advertising pie, and you’ll discover that traditional media sites capture only a very small share, with lots of competition for that share, regardless of whether it’s growing or not. The real money is in helping the people formerly known as the advertisers conduct commerce via the 2‐way conduit that is the Web. Media companies amazingly find themselves unable to move in this direction. It’s Clayton Christensen’s “innovator’s dilemma.”

So let me restate that I think Nick Denton — for all his brilliance — is making a tactical error in shifting from the blog format to one that is more traditional. It’s not that the descending order of items is “better” than what he’s proposing, but at least it’s more in tune with the real time streams and flows. Besides, where we’ve had clients make the switch, wonderful results have followed. We haven’t done research on it yet, but each site has show significant traffic increases and, more importantly, increases in unique visitors.

One of the most “right” guys observing all this is Dave Winer. I agree completely with him that Twitter is a news system. Does Twitter give a crap about how anything looks? Dave, of course, had a big hand in inventing RSS, which is the unbundled, real time distribution system for news and information, you know, the one that makes such a lovely handshake with the back end of the Web. RSS has gotten lost, because media hasn’t supported it, because they’re always defaulting back to how their content looks. Actually, they don’t like the unbundled nature of RSS2, because money flows from the bundle, those display ads that nobody sees in the first place.

Can you see the perfect storm brewing? Can you see why I believe Nick Denton is wrong?

Why Nick Denton is wrong

I'm confusedWhen I first read Nick Denton’s apologetic for moving away from the blog format for his Gawker empire, I thought I’d misread the whole thing. I spend a great deal of time convincing traditional media companies to embrace the blog model, so it’s more than a little surprising to read that one of the pioneers of blogging wants to do the opposite.

Denton is a smart fellow, but I think he’s made a decision that will ultimately cost him, for in turning his whole online bloggy magazine consortium into one, giant traditional media display, he’s assumed the role of disrupted instead of disruptor.

In his post announcing the decision — with the cleverly spun headline “Why Gawker is moving beyond the blog” (beyond the blog?) — Denton lists seven reasons for the move, but it’s really all about featuring what Gawker feels is important and monetizing that. In so doing, he’s making an unspoken confession that traditional media has it right, while the real time stream and flow made available online is wrong. His sites will keep the stream evident, “but subordinate” and moved to a sidebar with largely headlines and links.

This is a mistake on many levels, that I’ll get to in a minute, but first, here are his reasons.

  1. The power of the scoop, rediscovered…One law of media competition applies as strongly to web properties as it did to their predecessors: scoops drive audience growth…
  2. Aggregate or die… Our strength as an aggregator remains editorial curation; but we’re limited even in that by the blog format. The more short items we run, the more rapidly our high‐value scoops are pushed off the page…
  3. Demonstrate a rounded personality…An undifferentiated blog column is such a poor showcase of our talents. We would laugh at any marketer that scrambled its message with such a random assortment of content, dozens of points to a page…
  4. The web is a visual medium…I used to think that our expertise was text; that TV companies would have an unmatchable advantage when it came to web video. But what is increasingly evident is that traditional media companies are encumbered by old formats in video as much as they are in written journalism. Gawker bloggers, once they’re as familiar with iMovie as with cut‐and‐paste, can beat them…
  5. The growth of video advertising…A growing proportion of web advertising too is built around video. Already, some 30–50% of agency RFPs indicate that the client has video assets, typically a 15‐second spot…
  6. Appointment programming…The editorial calendar will remain for event and seasonal programming such as CES and holiday shopping. But many topics are less time‐sensitive and they will be moved to a programming grid which owes more to TV than to magazines. For instance, Lifehacker’s personal finance coverage is popular with both readers and advertisers; like much of our more helpful content it is often lost in the blog flow. From next year, it will be showcased at a regular time, say Fridays at 3pm, a personal finance hour…
  7. Gawker is a branding vehicle…Gawker Media has already put distance between our properties and those of the commodity ad networks. We booted them out from our titles five years ago; they were cheapening the sites and devaluing the brand benefits to our directly sold campaigns. Today, a large proportion of our sales depend on those “roadblocks” which offer a marketer an exclusive presence on a front page for the day. These are branding opportunities which the ad networks cannot easily match.

Did you catch the assumptions? Scoops drive growth? Scrambling their “message?” Gawker bloggers can beat TV companies? Helpful content gets lost? Most of the reasons Denton cites relate not to news but to what the company feels is editorially important to display to everybody. It assumes that people come to their site once a day and need immediate guidance as to what’s important or what should be seen or viewed, as if they need and want such guidance.

This is the same process traditional media has followed forever in crafting a finished product out of the stream that is news. The New York Times commented that this is the same thing the newspaper industry discovered over a century ago.

… if you pick up a New York Times newspaper today you will see only 6 main story headlines, all carefully chosen and placed on the page.

This change happened at The Times—and simultaneously to other newspapers—over a number of decades as designers and editors figured out that readers didn’t want more news, but instead wanted a more concise culling of news.

And what have readers done to this model? They’ve rejected it, but Nick thinks this is the way to go.

It’s actually quite a colonialist insult, because it questions the competence of the audience to figure things out on their own, and it puts the real time digital stream of news and information into the same category of headlines on a printed page.This is exactly what Denton is doing with this move, and it doesn’t suit the advances technology has given us in the last two decades. Moreover, the 6 headlines referenced by the Times do nothing to help people find anything through search. Google alerts, for example, LIKES lots of new updates to ongoing issues, which the blog format does exceedingly well. This is one of the problems we have with clients who don’t fully understand the concept of Continuous News. The blog format was created by the Web, for the Web, and the back end handshake is what’s so critical for digital news ventures. No amount of re‐organizing the front page is going to help with that.

In response to the Times commentary, Dave Winer noted via Twitter, “Fine, but Gawker isn’t a blog, it’s a professionally edited news site.” A professionally edited news site, indeed. That’s what Nick Denton wants to be considered, and in so doing, he’s not advanced anything.

He’s taken a giant step backwards.

UPDATE: Here are more of my thoughts on the subject.