Wednesday, December 10, 2008



We’re hearing a lot of prognosticating about what will or might occur next year. Experts at the UBS’ annual “Media Week” conference in New York this week, for example, are thinking that 2009 will still be a growth year online, despite the recession. Joe Mandese wrote for Online Media Daily that online is seen as a shelter from the storm.

…online advertising growth is slowing down, but it still is poised to grow at rates that would be considered healthy by any other established medium, even in good times. And during the kind of advertising recession that the analysts now say we are heading into, online actually looks like a pretty safe haven.

…Bob Coen, senior vice president-director of industry forecasting at Interpublic’s Magna unit, and the dean of Madison Avenue economists…has consistently been the most bearish for online media, but he nonetheless predicted it would grow 5% in the U.S. in 2009.

As other forms of advertising shrink, online will dramatically increase in the share of overall advertising and will account for 16.1 percent of all advertising by 2011. Coen predicts online will rise more than twice the rate of the next fastest growing media during the recession of 2009.

projections according to Bob Coen

Meanwhile, the situation is a little different with local online advertising, where Gordon Borrell wrote in an email exchange with AR&D that “flat is the new up.”

Gordon Borrell“Online advertising will be the civil war battleground,” Borrell wrote, “where everybody tries to burn each other’s towns. We’ve already seen budgets and strategic plans for dozens of companies for 2009, and they appear to pretty much look the same: Ratchet up online sales by targeting our competitors. TV stations are going after newspaper classifieds, newspapers are going after Yellow Pages advertisers, and the radio guys are pretty much using the Web to go after everybody.”

Media companies continue to see each other as “the competition,” when we need to be looking at outside pureplay companies. The name of the game today is “enabling commerce” at the local level, and copying what others in traditional media have always done, sadly, doesn’t address that mission.

The economy is on Borrell’s mind, as it is with most others, and his view of 2009 for local media companies as a whole reflects this week’s news of bankruptcies and layoffs throughout the industries of newspapers and television.

“I think you’ll see a natural thinning of the weaker companies that made bad decisions in the past decade,” he wrote, “like investing in brand-new printing presses or expanding newsrooms and newscasts into weak audience segments.

“There’s likely to be a spate of bankruptcies and shut-downs, though the bankruptcies will be few and the shut-downs will affect only the weakest performers — a few large, second-place newspapers and quite few small fringe ones; a lot of niche-audience radio stations; the weakest TV stations that will be forced to either shut down or abandon local news programming.”

He’s also predicting consolidation among phone directories, with some big books disappearing along with a lot of little community directories.

“I’m actually more bullish on TV and newspapers, and I have history on my side,” he added “These are strong products with unique attributes that, if invented today, would be all the rage. You don’t have to plug in or recharge or wait for a newspaper to power up, it’s less than a pound, and when they say ‘please turn off all your electronic devices,’ you can keep reading. And if you’ve absolutely got to move inventory this weekend, what other medium can deliver the news about this weekend’s big liquidation sale to 80% of the market’s households?”

“Unfortunately,” he continued. “most legacy media have been oversold over the years, so we’re seeing a natural adjustment. A lot of what we’re seeing in newspaper downturn today is due to the economic cycle. Newspapers have hit their nadir. Yellow Pages and Direct Mail have only just begun their nosedive. Local broadcast TV’s losses will come mainly in the form of the weaker ones disappearing, leaving the bigger stations in an even stronger position.”

Borrell told of an ad he’d seen for a company urging its customers to “Don’t think. Know” adding that it’s a great theme for these troubling times. “don’t think about what’s going on in your local market.” he added. “Know. Companies that make informed decisions are far more likely to come out on top than those that just react. It’s a great time to be smart.”

The conundrum for local media companies is how to define “smart” in a time of extreme bottom-line pressure, because the need to serve the future is overwhelmed by the need to stay afloat. This is a very tough decision in a season of bailouts and bankruptcies.   Link>


Last Wednesday, my friend’s house burned down. Trapped inside were his three young, napping triplets. Paul Spinalli (the names have been changed, the location omitted) tried to reach his two-year olds, but was beaten back by the flames before passing out. Firefighters arrived, saved the children’s lives and rescued Paul.

The story merited a piece on the local evening news and in the paper the next day. And that’s about what it deserved in the context of the major metropolitan city where Paul and Allison live. But to their friends, this is the biggest story in our lives, worthy of constant coverage on our own Friend News Network 24/7 channel.

Fortunately, we have the Social Web.

Because I live 600 miles away from Paul, I didn’t find out about the fire on the news. I found out on Facebook from a mutual friend. He started a support group for the Spinallis. In turn, another friend set up a blog where people who lived near the Spinallis could constantly update everyone on the “conditions on the ground.” From there, a donations page was set up, so we could send money via credit card and PayPal.

lotsahelpinghands logoVia the astonishing Website, we are coördinating the hundreds of offers that are coming in to a centralized email we have set up. It would be impossible for the Spinallis to do this. Their triplets are in intensive care. They have enough to worry about. So 18 coördinators take turns manning the email offers and coördinating them on the lotsahelpinghands site. The offers are as simple as “Where do I send food to the hospital?” to “Do they need a lift?” We have set up a schedule of rides for the Spinallis so they can get to the hospital and back to their temporary living quarters. In all, 324 have signed up to inform, donate and help.

They are friends, colleagues and relatives. They are old college pals like me who only see them every few years. They are high school buddies who only heard about this because they rediscovered the Spinallis via Facebook or Twitter or MySpace.

This is the kind of story that the media completely misses about Social Media. While it debates whether Twitter and Facebook are for narcissistic teens, we have marshaled the forces of more than 300 people from around the country to help two friends and their triplets who are fighting for their lives. When Twitter is dismissed as “not real news,” I can tell you it is my personal breaking news service. When Facebook is written off as “stupid and childish,” I can tell you it is helping a family get back on its feet.

Social media is about bringing people together. Sure, we post silly pictures of each other from high school. And people do some pretty goofy things with it. That’s what brings us together in the good times. So why do we only read about the negative side about these amazing technologies? I am able to help a friend several states away in a meaningful way because we’re all connected. Making a cash donation is one thing, and it makes you feel good for a few minutes. But when you can donate a little time and facilitate the donation of a crib or clothing a meal — that’s the promise and the good work of Social Media.   Link>


Gabe RiveraTechmeme, the tech news aggregator, has hired a real person to “help” its news aggregation process. This is a really big deal in the evolution of new media and one that ought to give a little hope to the man versus machine crowd. Techmeme was built as Memeorandum in 2005 by Gabe Rivera as a hands-off aggregator of news for the tech community. The simple brilliance of Rivera’s software is its ability to detect patterns from the writers in its database via link-based algorithms, and this quickly raises “top stories” to the forefront. Much of it is based on the slippery and subjective term, “importance.”

Techmeme is high on my recommended RSS feed list, because it beautifully handles a niche that interests me, and it has introduced me to many of the really great writers and thinkers in the tech media space.

This week, Rivera wrote a post admitting that technology can only go so far in aggregating news.

Automation does indeed bring a lot to the table — humans can’t possibly discover and organize news as fast as computers can. But too often the lack of real intelligence leads to really unintelligent results. Only an algorithm would feature news about Anna Nicole Smith’s hospitalization after she’s already been declared dead, as our automated celeb news site WeSmirch did last year.

…Early on, when our system was less technically refined, the clearest path toward improvement involved simply iterating algorithmic development. Later, as the automation reached a certain degree of maturity, we recognized that direct editing could now improve news results by leaps and bounds. Though our roadmap contains a number of novel future algorithmic enhancements, introducing editing now appears to be a no-brainer.

…I should note that the experience of introducing direct editing has been a revelation even for us, despite the fact that we planned it. Interacting directly with an automated news engine makes it clear that the human+algorithm combo can curate news far more effectively that the individual human or algorithmic parts. It really feels like the age of the news cyborg has arrived. Our goal is to apply this new capability to producing the clearest and most useful tech news overview available.

Rivera is a really smart guy, and I’ve always admired his genius, but this “revelation” — to an old media warhorse — is a bit like the youngster with an iPod who, in a flash of brilliance, told his friends, “We should make a device that gets live music via radio waves!” What Rivera has discovered is what many in traditional media have been saying all along, that aggregation is just a four-syllable word for “editor.”

I’m delighted to see Gabe working to improve Techmeme, because it really is one of my favorites. I’m also happy to see that at least somewhere in tech land, somebody is acknowledging that human beings can do certain things better than machines.   Link>


the Pulitzer PrizeYou’ve always had to have a “dead trees” edition of a newspaper to win a Pulitzer. If your news was distributed via the Web only, no prize for you. (“Brought down the government, you say? I’m sorry, we didn’t see it in newsprint.”) It was only as of 2006 that you could get a Pulitzer for your online work — and that was only if you were “attached” to a regular newspaper.

Well hand it to the Pulitzers for getting hip with the times. No — you still can’t win a prize for simply doing good journalism. But you can win one if your paper is now “Web-only.”

From the Pulitzer press release:

“While broadening the competition, the Board stressed that all entered material — whether online or in print — should come from United States newspapers or news organizations that publish at least weekly, that are “primarily dedicated to original news reporting and coverage of ongoing stories,” and that “adhere to the highest journalistic principles.”

“Consistent with its historic focus on daily and weekly newspapers, the Board will continue to exclude entries from printed magazines and broadcast media and their respective Web sites.”

Well, now I’m just confused. What if you used to be a printed magazine, but now you’re a news organization that “publishes at least weekly” online? Does Pulitzer go by what you used to be? For that matter, your blog could be “dedicated to original news reporting and coverage of ongoing stories” that used to be considered more “magazine”-style reporting. (We’re no longer limited by “magazines are weekly, newspapers are daily” thinking here. What’s Slate?) noted the humor of this line from the release:

“The Board will continue to monitor the impact of the Internet…”

Yes? How? By the shrinking number of entrants that can follow your rules?

The Pulitzer is sticking with its anti-broadcast history and not allowing entries from broadcast media Websites. Spiffy. But what does that mean? What if WXXX has a hyper-local site that’s all print and pictures? Further, as we have asked in the past “WHAT IS A BROADCAST SITE ANYWAY? THEY’RE ALL WEBSITES!” The audience does not care about your old medium.

It gets more confusing still:

“In addition to text stories, the competition will continue to allow a full range of online content, such as interactive graphics and video, in nearly all categories.”

So video’s cool. Unless it’s been on television? What if the newspaper does a video piece and it appears on its companion TV station? What if a citizen journalist captures the best video of the year and sells it to a newspaper and a TV station? Do they get the Pulitzer for breaking news?

Why, oh why, can’t the Pulitzers recognize the change has come? Joseph Pulitzer died in 1904. And, by the way, he didn’t say “give these awards to newspapers or inventions connected to newspapers, for those shall ever be the one true news medium.” Isn’t it at least possible that he would have seen TV and the Web and thought “Wow! That’s amazing! Let’s give out some awards for great work!” This is right up there with the “What Would Murrow Do?” thinking that is holding back TV journalists. Who cares? What are we going to do to save a dying business?

If the Pulitzers are going to continue to mean anything, they should stand for excellence in journalism, regardless of the medium. Prize snobbery doesn’t help advance the state of the industry, it only reinforces the notion that “Newspaper Good, Internet Inferior.”

Who is going to prize that kind of thinking?   Link>


Time is the new currencyA few years ago, Bob Jeffrey, CEO of J. Walter Thompson, noted that “time is the new currency,” and I’ve used that image with clients far and wide. It neatly forms the core of how we, as media companies, ought to rightly approach the people formerly known as the audience. They don’t dislike us or our products as much as they just don’t have time for us.

This was brought home again in a recent blog post by Seth Godin. Using the hype we’ve heard from various companies that the internet is running out of space, Godin wrote that it isn’t the Web that’s almost full. We are. It’s a matter of attention, or, as Jeffrey would say, the currency of time.

Ten years ago, you had a shot of at least being aware of everything that mattered. Five years ago, you had to be really selective about what you took in, but at least it was possible to know what you didn’t know. Today, it’s impossible. Today, you can’t even read every article on a thin slice of a thin topic.

You can’t keep up with the status of your friends on the social networks. No way. You can’t read every important blog… you can’t even read all the blogs that tell you what the important blogs are saying.

Used to be, you could finish reading your email, hit “check email” and nothing new would show up. Now, of course, the new mail is probably a longer list than the mail you just finished processing.

Welcome to life in a networked world, and nobody is about to take a step back into the barn that we’ve worked so hard to escape, so it’s not going to get any easier. This is why there’s such a market for aggregation. It’s also why we must approach those people interested in the news (aside: I think everybody is interested in “the news;” people just have different definitions of what that means).

A lot of well-intentioned media types think people are looking for more — more depth, more insight, more analysis, more understanding — and that this is some form of Holy Grail to pursue. While I think newspaper sites may carry an expectation of depth, the research I’ve seen all suggests that people are looking for simple, raw, breaking news during the hours that they use the Web for news, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. This is why Steve and I are so adamant about the concept of Continuous News as the online mission for news organizations throughout the day.

Sites like the Tribune Company’s “Chicago Breaking News” site are popping up, and I expect this trend will accelerate throughout the coming year. Why? Because Continuous News meets the needs of people who are at work and want to keep up with what’s going on in their community. Why? Because they increasingly don’t have the time for “scheduled” news, either on-the-air or in print.

This business of time is vastly more important than people realize, and the real prize will go to the person who figures out how to mesh the needs of the local business community to the time-sensitive needs of its consumers.

It won’t be through ad-supported “team” or other in-depth news coverage.   Link>


Because it helps sell more books. People like to read a little of the pirated versions, but then they buy the book.
Author Paul Coehlo in Paris on why his blog contains a pointer to a site that lists links for pirated versions of all of his books. Who knew?