Wednesday, January 14, 2009

IN THIS ISSUE:

FCC TO CHANGE FROM BABYSITTER TO FOCAL POINT OF OBAMA’S ECONOMIC STIMULUS
CUTS: AT A TIME OF PAINFUL CHOICES, LOOK TO THE OPPORTUNITIES
THE CULTIVATED NETWORK: THE NEW JOB HUNT TOOL
LOOKING FOR A LOCAL STRATEGY? TRY AOL’S WINNING FORMULA
BOOK REVIEW: “NO TIME TO THINK” DOESN’T LIKE YOU

FCC TO CHANGE FROM BABYSITTER TO FOCAL POINT OF OBAMA’S ECONOMIC STIMULUS (Terry)
Julius GenachowskiNews of President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to head the FCC spread like wildfire yesterday throughout the tech community. Julius Genachowski is one of “them,” and the rejoicing could be heard from New York to Silicon Valley. The choice is a good one, if you’re deep into the disruption of the Web, but not so good if your life depends on prosperity for traditional media, especially broadcast television.

Genachowski has deep roots in the tech and venture capital worlds. He’s smart and he understands entrepreneurs, innovation and start-ups. He’s been around the Web since his days as chief counsel for Reed Hundt, FCC Chairman during the Clinton administration. Hundt wrote in March of 2005 that “we specifically formed the view in 1994 that the Internet ought to replace broadcast television,” and one has to assume Genachowski was a part of the “we.”

Hundt told USA Today that Genachowski would be a great chairman. “Assuming he’s nominated, Julius would be the very first nominee ever for the FCC who had previously been a venture capitalist, an entrepreneur and a tech executive.”

He left Hundt in 1997 to join the private sector, serving on the boards of JackBe.Com, Expedia Inc, Hotels.com, the Motley Fool, and Ticketmaster. Plus, he served as general counsel to General Atlantic, USA Networks, Interactive Corp., USA Networks, and USA Broadcasting. Genachowski was chairman of the Obama committee that created the campaign’s Technology and Innovation Plan, which makes a direct call for network neutrality and is highly internet-focused.

So while NAB president David Rehr called Genachowski a “superb choice,” the Obama FCC will be much more focused on expanding the disruptions to traditional media than supporting its needs. It’s doubtful, however, that we’ll see the FCC interfering as public babysitter for indecency complaints as it has done over the last few years, and that would certainly be good for broadcasting.

Genachowski is a strong advocate of media-ownership rules that promote a diversity of voices on the airwaves. Look for him to work to relax media ownership limits. His first big task will be to handle the switch to digital TV next month, something Obama has already stated should be delayed.

“We would expect Genachowski to pursue the Obama communications agenda (which he helped develop) of promoting greater broadband deployment and access, an open Internet and network neutrality, competition and innovation, and media diversity, among other broad goals,” Stifel Nicolaus analysts David Kaut and Rebecca Arbogast told Multichannel News. The article also quotes groups that have opposed efforts to define the Internet in terms favorable to the Telcos.

“As the architect of President-elect Obama’s Technology and Innovation Plan, it is clear that (Genachowski) understands the importance of open networks and a regulatory environment that promotes innovation and competition to a robust democracy and a health economy,” Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, a group that defines itself as “working to defend citizens’ rights in the emerging digital culture.”

The cable industry was quick to praise Genachowski, because he will likely take the FCC away from the à la carte stance of Bush administration FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. He’s expected to be similarly friendly to the wireless carriers, prompting Verizon’s top lobbyist to praise the selection and offer congratulations to Genachowski.

Our view is that Genachowski’s appointment would be a boon to the expansion of the Mobile Web and communications innovation altogether. The New York Times noted that the Obama administration plans to make the expansion of broadband and Internet services a significant part of its stimulus package. That means Genachowski could wind up with an even bigger role than any of his predecessors in shaping economic policy for the U.S.   Link>

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CUTS: AT A TIME OF PAINFUL CHOICES, LOOK TO THE OPPORTUNITIES (Steve)
Global PostThe job cuts are flying furiously now, and with them so, too, comes the stress in the newsroom. “Will I be next?” is the question, and sometimes that applies to the managers making the cuts as well. As I was reminded by a friend recently, these are not easy ways of saving money; they are a must-do.

The agonizing choices over people’s livelihoods can cause actual health problems. There’s no good way to do this.

What we suggest at AR&D is that, while those painful choices are being made, an eye is kept on how to minimize the pain moving forward. And the way to do that is through reinvention.

Of course, this is easy to say. That’s why we’ve written a book dedicated to the process. Coming out soon, “We Interrupt This Program: The Re-engineering of Local TV” will be full of suggestions on ways to take your ever-shrinking resources and make up ground in business.

There is a lot of chatter out there about how we “had this coming.” The comments on some articles about newspapers shutting down have such anti-journalism vitriol. It’s never been a worse time for journalists. But journalism will survive and become more nimble.

One model to look at is the new GlobalPost.com. (Disclosure: I was an early consultant on this, and worked at NECN for Phil Balboni, its president and CEO.

Balboni’s idea sprung from his observation that America’s need for good foreign reporting is now sorely lacking. He wanted to fill the gap, but knew the expenses behind starting a new TV channel. So he went the Web route instead.

GlobalPost has 65 journalists in nearly 50 countries. And the way the company affords that is by taking advantage of the market for talented freelancers and by using the new tools of our trade.

For the reporters, it is a way to supplement their income. They’re paid about $1,000 a month. They’re also given equity stakes in the company, and should GlobalPost be a hit, they may find themselves with a stake in a valuable property. GlobalPost isn’t sending reporters around the world; it’s using reporters who are already living in the countries from which they report.

This, of course, gives the reporters a different perspective on the news produced for the American audience. Surely, when you live somewhere, you are able to give more context to a story than if you parachuted in, did a story, and then moved on.

Is this “THE” model? Well, it’s one model. And it’s worth following.

It’s also worth applying the lessons of how GlobalPost started up to the current state of local news. As we always ask “If you were to start a newsroom today, what would it look like?” I suggest this is one possibility.

For local news, having embeds in the towns where they live is something Terry and I have constantly recommended. The freelancers are out there, and they just need the right tools for the job. A video camera and a laptop computer are the tools. A laptop with a Web connection and a video camera is the new live truck. Watch this live shot done via Skype, and tell me if you don’t think the idea’s at least worth trying.

There is nothing easy about making job cuts. We suggest that, in the middle of this gut-wrenching time, it’s important to recognize the people on staff who can help with the transformation, both on-air and online.    Link>

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THE CULTIVATED NETWORK: THE NEW JOB HUNT TOOL (Steve)
Rachel HappeMy friend, Rachel Happe, recently lost her job. It came as a surprise to her. She’s a talented Social Media pro, and didn’t think she’d be part of the layoff round. Like many people, Rachel has turned to her network of friends and associates to help her. The difference in 2009 is that her network is online and enormous.

Rachel’s blog, The Social Organization, is a must-read.

Rachel mentioned on Twitter and her blog that she was laid off. Instead of turning to her network, her network turned to her.

In her blog entry, “The Richness of a Cultivated Network,” Rachel writes:

“… cut off from my daily work network, I of course turned to my band of online friends. I was also a little curious about what might happen…I am not typically the type to ask for help so, I’m often surprised when it appears…so I was curious. And what happened, was an amazing outpouring from my network. Some expressions of empathy, some humorous or entertaining tidbits, but more than I was expecting, people who wanted to help or had leads. I spent the day today talking and emailing with people and finding all sort of opportunities.”

Rachel was contacted with job leads, and I use the passive tense intentionally. Think back to the “old days” when, perhaps, you lost a job or were looking for work. What was the old maxim? “Expect a month of looking for each year you were employed.” Rachel started hearing about jobs that day. That she knows her stuff certainly helps. But it was “the richness” of her “cultivated network” that allowed her to get the word out so quickly.

Via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and blogs, we’re not just “networking” anymore. We’re a social safety net. We’ve got each other’s backs. How else would you know that a friend from high school (who otherwise you had lost touch with) had a job that may be right for you?

I love her term “Cultivated Network.” It denotes something a simple network does not. If you just have a bunch of “friends” on Facebook and don’t engage, you’re not cultivating. If you just add and add people to LinkedIn, what’s the point? The genius of the social media is that it allows you to connect on a personal basis. People know you as a real person. A friend, even. And when a friend is in danger, who comes to their aid? Friends.

The old way is to be ashamed you lost your job. People would hide it. The new way is to advertise it. There’s no stigma (unless you’ve done something egregious to deserve it) in being laid off. We’re in this together. Via a Cultivated Network, the lifelines are better than ever.   Link>

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LOOKING FOR A LOCAL STRATEGY? TRY AOL’S WINNING FORMULA (Terry)
AOL Media Glow logoThe headline from The New York Times says it all, “Quietly, AOL Becomes an Overseer of Niche Sites.”

Point a Web browser to Engadget.com, TheBoot.com, or TMZ.com, and elaborate sites about technology, country music and celebrity gossip will appear on the screen. They could easily be mistaken for stand-alone brands.

But a small link to the owner, in a corner of the screen, shows otherwise. That owner is AOL, the long-suffering unit of Time Warner. And the subtle links are intentional.

CondeNast’s Portfolio.com expressed the opinion of many in response to the Times article. “AOL is establishing a new business unit for its surprisingly large collection of niche websites.”

The profundity of AOL’s business shift is extraordinary. The company known for building the original “walled garden” approach to the Web — the company that littered American with so many “free” software discs that they became an artform — has quietly unbundled itself and has built a significant network of niche sites.

According to the Times’ article, AOL will add 30 more sites to its portfolio of 75 niche sites in the coming year. AOL says the sites now attract 70 million monthly visitors, and page views have grown 40% year over year. AOL has reinvented itself using the blog format for news and information, something I’ve been recommending (and pioneering) for local media companies as well.

“Instead of having a handful of front doors, we’re creating dozens if not hundreds of front doors that are more relevant to advertisers,” AOL’s Bill Wilson told the Times. The company announced this week that it was rolling all of the niche sites into one business unit called MediaGlow.

… tens of millions of consumers visit AOL sites each month, some without even knowing it. The niche strategy is also a trend at other major media companies, said Jonathan Dube, the president of the Online News Association. “They’re selling a much more targeted, focused product, both to the audience and to advertisers,” he said.

By organizing their content in new ways and thinking beyond the traditional portal-style Web site, the companies are placing bets on the fragmentation of the Web.

In 2005, WKRN-TV in Nashville built its own network of niche sites. Traffic exploded and all signs were pointing northward until the station’s owner made the tough decision to shut it down in drastic cost-cutting moves. There were times back then when the niche sites combined actually outperformed the branded portal of the station in terms of traffic, and that traffic was lost when the sites were closed. AOL is proving that there’s a lot to be gained with a similar anti-portal strategy.

This is still smart strategy for local media companies for two reasons. Most importantly, it begins the process of creating a local ad network — moving one’s ad infrastructure to the Local Web instead of insisting it be maintained within any walled garden. Two, the various staff members who participate will leap ahead of their contemporaries in learning everything about the Web and how it works.

Valid reasons, both, for going the niche route over a stand-alone portal.   Link>

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BOOK REVIEW: “NO TIME TO THINK” DOESN’T LIKE YOU (Steve)
No Time To ThinkThe 24-hour news cycle and the bloggers are the enemy of journalism. So Howard Rosenberg and Charles S. Feldman posit in their new book “No Time To Think: The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle.” Rosenberg and Feldman’s hypothesis is that journalism has suffered (and may be in End Times) because of cable news and the Internet. It’s one of those books that will comfort those who want a phantom to blame, but it does little in the way of moving the debate forward.

Its plea to “slow down,” while admirable, is impractical. The speed of information has changed. The authors argue that speed has led to inaccuracy and that inaccuracy has clobbered journalism.

You won’t get an argument from us that taking time to tell a story well is among journalism’s great contributions. But there is a “woe is us” pervasiveness in this book that is like listening to your grandfather talk about The War.

We even get lectured about Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow.

As for Citizen Journalists?

“The stench of rotting flesh is everywhere across the media landscape, especially in the killing fields of print where casualties mount daily. As the smoke of the battle clears, citizen journalists and their friends come down from the hills to shoot the wounded. As a result, these would-be-scribes — some call them participatory journalists — are becoming a major factor, rolling in on the Web like a dense fog and increasing their numbers in print and TV news, too.” (Page 92)

Colorful. I can assure you that the rest of the writing isn’t nearly as florid nor composed of mixed metaphors.

I suppose it would be worth mentioning here that Rosenberg and Feldman have a blog: notimetothinkbook.com. The writing on the blog is full of giant headlines and hyped-up writing. I hope this is deliberately ironic. Otherwise, it’s, well, ironic.

The book accuses the media of being an echo chamber all while shouting “ECHO!” into a cavern. Andrew Keen, who has a special disdain for the people who share their opinions and ideas is chosen as one of the experts here. Keen’s quoted here as writing “Instead of a dictatorship of experts, we’ll have a dictatorship of idiots.”

(I note that there is a missing quotation mark in the original text.)

I think we can all agree that deciding our audience is full of idiots is not the most helpful way to move forward.

The most serious mistake the book makes is in referring to “The Bloggers” and “The Blogosphere,” as though it were one entity with one opinion. Yes, news channels have picked up untrue stories from blogs and run with them. Is that the fault of a blogger? Blogging, as we’ve written, is the use of software. That’s all. That there are some outlets that hate that people are saying mean things about them is hardly a reason to reshape your news. Bad editorial judgement has existed in every era.

Chapter Nine devolves into speculation, bordering on fiction. Departing from their reporting, Rosenberg and Feldman present nightmare scenarios for us. “What If? Scenarios, Dark and Darker” is the opposite of how a book like this should end. Instead of offering suggestions on how to change, the authors simply try to scare us into believing that history would have been much darker if we had the Internet in the Good Old Days.

“Would its Watergate coverage have been different had Woodward and Bernstein been commanded to write not only for the main newspaper but also for its online editions?

“Yes,” says (the Post editor Ben) Bradlee. “It was quote a while before we had any sense of the real importance of it. [Watergate]. And if these guys [Woodward and Bernstein] had been writing three times a day… they would start to guess and start to hype.” (P. 184)

So much for having faith in your own reporters.

The book goes on in this fashion. The Iran Hostage Crisis would have led to immediate war if we had the Internet in 1979, says former Carter spokesman Hodding Carter. Ted Sorensen, adviser to President Kennedy, says the Bay of Pigs could have led to nuclear war because the media pressures on the President today would have demanded faster action.

The insults continue in this fashion, right through an unsatisfying (if self-satisfied) conclusion that somehow drags Happy Meals into the process.

It’s clear the 24-hour national news channels are all about speed. So, too, is the Web. But is a book dedicated to yelling “Slow down you crazy kids!” going to help? A lot of the book is dedicated to the “pressure” that the Web puts on traditional journalists and politicians. There has never been pressure before? And — come on — the newspapers make their share of mistakes as well. That’s why we have a corrections page (which is often buried).

The book came to my attention when I read that the authors were supposed to be interviewed on KRON in San Francisco, only to get the boot at the last minute. At first, the authors were told there had been a “format change.” KRON’s News Director, Aaron Pero, later admitted “I am not all that interested in a book that is going to be critical of what we do as a business. So I am going to pass on this one.” The book blog’s headline on this uses the term “FIRESTORM OF CONTROVERSY.” It’s one of the few headlines on the blog that doesn’t end in an exclamation mark.

Bad move by Pero. He could have given these guys enough rope with which to hang themselves. A good interviewer would have torn holes in their arguments.

“No Time To Think” will be a tremendous comfort to those who would prefer to complain about how things are rather than work to offer any real, practical suggestions on improving journalism. We’ve heard the tired “What Would Murrow Do?” and “What Would Watergate Have Been Like” stuff. Well, maybe Watergate would have had great, expanded online coverage with hours of the Nixon Tapes available for people to sort through to assist the Post. New stories will break via the Web — perhaps even stories that wouldn’t have come through the previous route. It’s fine to feel bad that things ain’t what they used to be. But we need leadership that sees how things can and will be instead. This book will be of no use to those leaders.   Link>

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QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Most VHF stations moving to UHF will have sharply reduced coverage. The converter shortage is just a red herring. The real problem is signals that won’t be there. Doc Searls on the transition to DTV.