Passages: Put a fork in me, media. I’m done!

terrywhole2As I approach my 8th decade on the planet this summer, I’ve decided to move along in my professional life to something a bit different. I’d like to share it all with you, my friends.

It’s a heady thing when people choose to read the things you write, and I’ve always been extremely grateful and humbled by that. I’ve been writing The Pomo Blog for 15 years now, and we’ve covered a lot of ground in the posts and the essays. I’ve organized groups of bloggers, helped write the book on aggregation, helped originate the idea of unbundled media, wrote about data long before anybody could grasp the meaning, innovated the concepts of Continuous News (which is now everywhere), local ad networks, and advertising as content (aka “content marketing”), and identified things that are still influencing media and far beyond, such as the concepts of spectrum within spectrum and the evolving user paradigm. I’m also the only person who continues to study postmodern journalism and its consequences for tomorrow.

And for all of that, I’m broke.

And you know why? Because the industry that I’ve been trying to help for the last 15 years, local broadcasting, doesn’t give a ripple chip about any of it. Oh, the people in the trenches certainly do, but not those who live in the towers and write the paychecks, including mine. I’m tired of beating a dead horse, and that’s what local TV has become (thanks, Harry). What used to be a thriving industry of innovation, public service, and people who wanted to change the world has become the lifeless bones of an aging and smelly corporate carcass whose owners specialize in sucking the marrow to milk whatever profit is left. These wealthy bean counters, lawyers, and “managers” beat the drums of self-righteousness and the law, while picking the bones through cost-cutting, consolidation, and clout. Am I bitter? Of course I am, but not because I’ve been rejected, but because I actually believed they would want the industry to survive and thrive the disruptions to its core. That’s not the case, however, for the true inspiration of the people who run these companies is a comfy retirement, and the pathway is happy shareholders – the people who care ONLY about profits. Those people are also a part of the 1 percent, each seeking their own comfy retirement, too. I guess I’m angry with myself for ever believing something different was possible.

And so, I don’t care anymore now, and I’ve chosen to say “f**k it.” Effective immediately, I’m removing media and new media from the focus of my attention and moving on into other parts of culture, especially religion. I’m unsubscribing from all the newsletters, RSS feeds, and anything that has anything to do with media, advertising, etc. I’ve finished a new book, “How Jesus Joined the GOP” and while it’s being edited, I’m searching for the right agent and publisher. I was responsible for executing Pat Robertson’s plan to use television to “change America for Jesus,” and I know things about that process that are both fascinating and frightening, especially as it relates to today’s political landscape.

But the most remarkable observation to me is that I have studied cultural postmodernism through a different lens than those who’ve studied it in the name of “the church” and yet we’ve come to similar conclusions. I believe I have a lot to offer this world, and that’s my goal. There may not be much in the way of profit for me financially, but I’m used to that by now. What’s clear to me today is that life itself is changing before our eyes here in the 21st Century, and it goes far beyond the limiting scope of media. That’s where I want to be and need to be. It’s calling me – quite loudly, I think – and that’s where I’m going.

There are incredible events taking place in the world of spiritual understanding. It’s a transformation brought on by the same energy and innovations that are changing media, the kind of stuff that will shock and reinvent religion’s role in culture for the better. Its exhilarating and filled with people who really care about what’s happening. They need (and I hope they want) my eyes and the knowledge I’ve acquired as a cultural observer.

So I hope you’ll join me on this journey, but if you don’t, that’s okay. I’m very proud of the work I’ve done since I left the TV News business in 1998, despite the lack of proof that it has meant anything to the industry that was my life for so long. I’m alright with that, because the end of that story hasn’t been written yet, and who really knows where anyone will end up in the sands of tomorrow? I only know one thing for certain: I have touched The Unbroken Web, and that is worth any price I have to pay in this life.

May God bless and keep you all.

Free Range Content Consumption

flytvsmHere is the latest in my ongoing series of essays, Local Media in a Postmodern World.

Free Range Content

Facebook’s wish to put media content inside its own application is potentially self-destructive to those providing the content. Moreover, for Facebook, it smacks of the days of AOL. All of this would be irrelevant, if media could bring itself to release its content into the wild of the Net, but that appears more and more to be an impossible task.

To media companies, their competition is and always has been other media, which is an absurd proposition online. When a TV station, for example, behaves online only as it does in the linear world, it has already lost in the battle for relevance.

The problem with RSS

RSS logoGoogle shuts down its RSS reader soon, and this has the usual suspects talking about what’s “wrong” with RSS. I’ve written much about the technology, and I’ve always been an enormous fan. Dave Winer basically invented the concept of moving content around the Web sans formatting, and it’s always “worked” for me. I built aggregators in Nashville that were enormously popular among the web crowd, and I’ve supported Dave at every turn. Dave likes news rivers, and I do, too, but I don’t believe that’s the best use of RSS. One of the interesting things about RSS is its versatility, as Dave explains:

“…people who believe in mailbox-style RSS readers are in a RDF. If I say “I like a river style of news” they almost explode in passion and sometimes rage. They tell you what they need. At length, in great detail. I never understood why they do this. But I have found the solution. Just say ‘Hey I can have a river and you can have a mailbox and the earth will still revolve around the sun, birds will sing in the morning, people will fall in love and have babies, etc etc.’ My getting what I want won’t effect you getting what you want.”

In my view, RSS is an XML software that stands alone in the distribution of unbundled media. The reason it hasn’t blossomed into what it could be is that the people who make the content that we presumably want to read/watch make their money via THEIR infrastructures, not the content directly. Therefore, they are disincentivized to participate in anything that lessens the need for that infrastructure. This has led to media companies using the “headline and couple sentence” format in their RSS distribution.

Imagine Twitter being handled this way. Instead of 140 characters, everybody sent just 40 characters, with the requirement that the user had to click on the Twitter item in order to read the remaining 100 characters. Obviously, that would be a pain-in-the-ass, and Twitter would soon cease to exist. This is different than tweets that contain links. In my example, access to the link would be beyond the first 40 characters. To me, this has been the misuse of this great piece of technology. I profoundly believe in full-feed RSS. To me, that’s its most powerful product, and until we find a way to play in that environment, RSS will never reach its full potential.

The dawn of so-called “Native Advertising” could bring with it a market for distributing this kind of content via RSS, and that might open the flood gates of revenue for entrepreneurs and those who make the content.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

When advertising enters the stream

Here’s the latest in my on-going series of essays, Local Media in a Postmodern World. I think this may be one of the most important I’ve ever published, so read on.

When Advertising Enters the Stream

Thanks to the Web, the world of digital news and information is moving from static pages to real-time streams, a la Twitter and Facebook. My friend and Harvard geek David Weinberger recently wrote that the Net has altered his personal time scale, and I feel that, too. “The Net can do a hundred years in a gulp,” Weinberger wrote.” Ten thousand years is the new century.” That sense of accelerated time is what’s also contributing to a very old and archaic sense that becomes obvious when consuming various forms of news as a finished product. This is all a work-in-progress, and nobody really knows where it’s all headed.

One thing is certain, however. For this to make any sense, the ad industry is going to have to be a part of it, because content producers won’t contribute to live streams unless they get paid. For the first time, in just the past month, I read an informed article about this, and it prompted an immediate advisory to our clients. This essay expands that thinking and explains why I think it’s time for real action.

New Pew report should open eyes

Today’s new report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism reveals some unsurprising but damning information about news websites that we can ill afford to ignore. Here are the key findings:

  • In-House ads, ads selling or promoting a news organizations own products, fill more space across these news websites than any other advertising category.
  • The finance industry is represented far more than any other on the news websites studied.
  • Discount or coupon advertising such as Groupon was fairly limited.
  • Most of the news sites did not feature ads targeted to consumers based on their online behavior.
  • News organizations tend to rely most heavily on static banner ads.
  • Even though search ads don’t appear on most news sites, Google’s advertising presence is still strong there.

What this says to me is that media companies continue to try and force “their” business model into a medium that rejects it. Moreover, I think this is right where Silicon Valley wants us.

Media, in its purest business sense, is an order-taker world. What we have is so scarce and so important that people call us to spend their money with us. In the good old days, regardless of which form of media we’re talking about, the sales force got into a nice rhythm of sitting at desks and counting the money. Oh I know that people will debate this, but a replacement for that rhythm is what we desperately seek today. We need something to replace it, because if we have to work harder to make and sell our audiences, the price of sale (POS) goes way up, and our business model itself collapses.

Searching for this replacement online, however, has been our mistake, because the obvious benefits of mass marketing are utterly disrupted by the Web, and mass marketing is all we know. All we’ve done is waste our time, and the Pew report makes that statement loud and clear.

Beginning with newspapers and continuing with television and other forms of media, we’ve built websites that serve (we think) the business model of mass marketing, and that has been nothing less than suicidal. So far downstream are we in this error that we can’t even imagine anything different for now, so let’s begin with a few basics:

  • Time is the new currency. We don’t care about this in the outside world, where scarcity earns us the right to stomp all over people in the name of “serving” them, but online, this is a crucial, crucial reality. We must conform our online products to this reality.
  • Do what you do best and link to the rest. In a world where infrastructure carries the monetization mechanism, it’s necessary to keep people inside that infrastructure for as long as possible. This doesn’t work forever online, however (think AOL, not Facebook), because the Web is bigger than anybody’s application. One of the oldest Web axioms is “If you send people away, they will come back.” This is a habit unpracticed by media companies, but one we must begin embracing.
  • Create “for” the Web by accepting the following: The Web is not TV. The Web is not newspapers. “The Web is more a social creation than a technical one,” said Sir Tim Berners-Lee. The Web is a three-way form of communication: up/down, down/up and sideways. The Web is real-time flows and streams, not static displays.
  • News content online must be unbundled, so that users in the network can pass it around to meet their needs to inform and share. Our need to drive users to our infrastructure is contrary to this, and we must find the courage and creativity to do something about it.
  • Advertising is content – the only new content that really matters. Advertisers are the new content makers, and we need to be exploiting our strengths as experts in the world of content creation in order to serve this burgeoning market.

There are so many things I could say about what we need to be doing, but that would take all day and then some. The point of this Pew report – and many others like it – is that what we’re doing isn’t working, and that’s being kind.

We’ll never get out of this hole unless we first stop digging.

The power of the personal brand (in a social world)

Kim KardashianIn a recent Nieman Journalism Lab article on the possibility of newspapers making money by selling ads on Twitter, Justin Ellis notes the successful efforts pioneered by celebrities and athletes. The fact is that the reach of certain celebrities far exceeds that of traditional media companies, so why shouldn’t advertisers pay them instead of media companies to get their word out? Besides, there’s that whole illusion of endorsement thing.

Mr. Ellis says much in a tongue-in-cheek reference to a certain reality show “star.”

Not to mention non-news outlets like, um, Kim Kardashian, for whom pay-per-tweet is a long-standing phenomenon.

Kardashian may be a “non-news outlet,” but she is so only in the sense of a traditional view of “news.” Prior to social media, celebrities required the filter of news organizations in order to be promoted, but much of that is now in their own hands. Are they “media companies?” Of course they are. And just as Wal-Mart has a bigger advertising platform than the New York Times and the Washington Post combined, Hollywood and our athletic fields are cranking out new platforms regularly. It’s into this environment that the efforts of newspapers to play copycat look just a little weak in comparison.

In the last few weeks, The Hartford Courant and The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune have experimented with using Twitter as a new advertising channel. At the Courant, they’ve started offering twice-daily deals to local businesses — think Groupon by tweet — to their followers. The Times-Picayune, more controversially, used Twitter to advertise itself — or at least its website, as the online division of its parent company, Advance Publications, paid New Orleans Saints players to tweet about the newspaper’s relaunched Saints site on

Mr. Ellis notes that the hashtag #spon, which appears at the end of some tweets is a “semi-legible indicator of a sponsored tweet.”

“A Twitter search for #spon is an enlightening look,” he adds, “into what sorts of companies are paying people to tweet: at the moment, Verizon, Clorox, Pepperidge Farm, and Q-Tips.”

I like what Advance Publications did in employing NFL celebrities to promote its website, but the use of a mass media Twitter news stream is problematic. It’s is a part of what I dubbed “unbundled advertising” in a 2005 essay about how to make money in the unbundled universe of the Web. It was written prior to Twitter.

If unbundled media is where we’re headed, then unbundled advertising must necessarily follow. This is a scary concept, however, for there is no command and control mechanism or manipulable infrastructure in the unbundled world. The upside, though, is that it costs very little to participate. All that’s necessary is the release what I call “ad pieces” into the seeming chaos of the Internet, where other businesses will take those pieces and reassemble them when summoned by customers who are trading their scarcity for information they actually want.

So while I fully support the concept here, we need to go back to the comparison with Kim Kardashian to understand why media companies using this particular application — in their own streams — is suspect strategically. The problem is that Kim Kardashian is a real person; The Hartford Courant is not. Ms. Kardashian’s brand is personal and as transparent as a reality star can be. Followers and fans connect with her on a visceral level. They experience emotions in their vicarious relationship with her. When Ms. Kardashian tweets for a sponsor, there’s an inference that she wouldn’t try to “fool” her fans. The endorsement also benefits her directly, and fans understand, accept and appreciate that. The few seconds it takes to “see” the endorsement isn’t wasted; it supports a real person with whom fans are connected.

Moreover, the purpose of following a celebrity on Twitter is different than the purpose of following a news organization’s stream. For Ms. Kardashian, it’s about the connection. With The Hartford Courant, it’s about the news feed. To the former, therefore, a sponsored tweet is about the person, but to the latter, it’s about noise, an interference. A sponsored tweet in the midst of a stream of news is an interruption. It’s, well, advertising.

Nevertheless, it’s good strategic thinking, because it gets us into the world of unbundling, where aggregation is the real value proposition. We’d do much better, however, if we would take up the challenge of developing the personal brands of our news people and helping them create the relational types of connections with fans enjoyed by others with celebrity. This would directly conflict with the core value proposition of mass media — the maintenance of a sterile stage from which to place advertisements — so it’s not likely a concept that media companies will enthusiastically embrace. Moreover, media companies think of employees as “theirs,” so the idea of trumpeting a brand that might one day quit and go elsewhere seems counterintuitive. This is, however, precisely the kind of thinking we need to employ, for today’s media is increasingly unbundled and social, and people follow people, not institutions.

But Mr. Ellis nails the real problem. “Newspapers,” he wrote, “are trying to insert themselves as a middleman in a medium that doesn’t require one.” He’s right. With the possible exception of aggregators, there’s just no market for middlemen online. Advertising is the new content king, because they can place that content directly in front of people in the same way we can. The people formerly known as the advertisers are now competing with us for the same eyeballs.

It’s a battle we’ll lose, because they have the money.