Rest stop reflections

Every once in awhile, something inside me forces a halt to all activity, so that I can step back a bit and gather a hundred different thoughts. I don’t plan this, but these rest areas on the new media highway are essential for me, ‘lest my attention be drawn to a new exit or a wreck. I’m in one of those periods right now. My gut is telling me to pause and take a really good look around.

I came across a great quote from Napoleon Bonaparte yesterday: “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” I think there are a lot of mistakes being made “out there,” and I want to make sure my clients aren’t a part of them. The business world likes to adopt the slogans of great war generals, because there are a lot of similarities. The word “enemy,” in business lexicon, means competition.

There is so much being written today about new media that it’s impossible to keep up. Everybody is jumping on bandwagons I was writing about two years ago, and the media industry is absolutely awash in efforts to capitalize (literally) on every idea that comes down the pike. It kind of reminds me of ten years ago in the tech world, and this, too, gives me pause. When everybody jumps on the same idea at once, a bubble follows, and after losing my shirt (literally) five years ago, I’m a wee bit sensitive to bubbles.

And so, I’m conscious of this “mistake” thing, and I want to make sure that my competitors are making them, not me.

So here’s what I’m thinking in terms of things I can trust in the weeks, months and years ahead:

  • We are now well inside the era of the empowered customer. As Starcom’s Rishad Tobaccowala noted two years ago, “The customer is now God. How will you approach God?” People with Weblogs are taking on big corporations, simply by writing about their customer experience, and this is re-writing the rules of both customer service and public relations. This impacts media more than we care to admit, for audiences are armed with weaponry far beyond the remote control. Those who don’t accept this — and act upon it — are making a mistake.
  • The personal media revolution will continue to challenge all media, but next in line is television. I just saw another TV station in a box” technology that, for $5,000, gives anybody the capability of switching a multi-camera TV program. Watching the top while the bottom is creating television is a serious mistake.
  • Embracing the local citizens media community is no longer an option. The media in general has responded to this by attempting to create their own, closed-network citizen media entities, and this is a mistake both in terms of resources and vision. The blogosphere already exists, thank you very much. And here’s the thing: it’s growing dramatically without your help. In Nashville, where my client WKRN-TV hosts the aggregator Website Nashville is Talking, we sent invitations to approximately 50 bloggers for a meet-up in February. There are now 190 blogs in the Nashville is Talking blogroll, and we add approximately ten a week. Ignoring this growing entity in your community is a mistake, as are any attempts to harness or control it.
  • The portal Website concept for local media is dead. Put a fork in it. Content delivery via subscription (RSS, etc.) is where it’s at, and everybody except the TV industry seems to know this. Building fancy “one stop shopping” portals is so twentieth century, and I’m more convinced of this every day. Any site that isn’t fully customizable is a very big mistake.

    RSS is very much a geek term, and it only needs a marketing campaign to become widespread. And there are some very smart players deeply invested in this, including the major portals, so we all need to be thinking about HOW we deliver our goods via subscription. This IS the future, and those who ignore it are making a mistake.

  • The video journalist movement is (finally) coming to America, and I believe it will explode for local TV in the next 12–24 months. A handful of news executives are beginning to understand that it isn’t about cost-cutting (although it IS much more cost-effective) or typical “one-man band” news coverage; VJ news can be an entirely new way to make television news, one that is vastly more flexible than two-person crews make possible. Moreover, the new newsroom systems that it requires make it far easier to incorporate the local community into the newsgathering process, something that I think is absolutely necessary to be successful downstream.

Podcasting for traditional media is one of the items that concerns me a bit, so it’s not on my list. I recently participated in a discussion on the viability of podcasting, and I came away skeptical. I hate that I feel that way, because all my friends seem to think this is the next big thing. The bandwagon is already loaded and more are climbing on board every day. My issue with it is that it is a one-to-many form of communication. One-to-many is another phrase for “top-down,” and my fear is that — because they’re familiar with this form of communicating — local media will see it as their salvation, when it could, in fact, only be a diversion. That would be a mistake, so I can’t openly embrace it for my clients.

As I am quick to tell all of my clients, revenue isn’t the problem — audience is the problem. Fix the problem. Fixing it, however, is a complicated and tricky proposition, and one that requires vision and commitment.

And an occasional rest stop.

(Cross-posted at The Media Center’s Morph Blog.)


  1. Your comment about RSS needing a marketing campaign is right on. Just look at the word “podcasting”. It’s just another function of RSS. With all this hype about Apple supporting podcasting, the reality is that Steve Jobs simply put an aggregator on iTunes.

  2. Lynann Bradbury says

    Yesterday, The Guardian (UK) echoed what you’ve been saying for the past two years about the personal media revolution. Their piece, “We had 50 images within an Hour,” highlighted the public’s influence over crisis newsgathering and compared the influence of old and new media efforts to get the word out on the London attacks.,16132,1525911,00.html?=rss. Terry, I immediately thought of you when I read this piece. Hopefully it won’t take another tragedy for others to “get it.”

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