Wednesday, July 23, 2008



Terry Heaton and Jeff Jarvis at PRNDI conference in Washington D.C.I was fortunate enough to participate in a panel discussion and Q&A session over the weekend in Washington, D.C. at a conference of the country’s public radio news directors. The topic was blogging and how NPR stations can use blogging to help connect with the people formerly known as the audience (TPFKATA). Attendees represented every level of acceptance regarding the importance of the Web in their news lives, and this made for a sometimes heated give-and-take.

One man (“I’m a news director, man!”) was especially antagonistic. Jeff Jarvis, who was on the panel with me, wrote about it after the session for his blog.

Terry and I were almost through with opening tap dances when a hotheaded curmudgeon in the third row interrupted — which is fine; we like conversation — to go on the attack and save the world from these horrible blog people. He spat out all the usual lines, including how terribly busy he is being a news director (his italics) and how this is such a nonsense and a bother. My favorite sputtering: “I have a job. Do you have jobs?”

…I have decided I’m not going to waste my time anymore with lazy, rude, self-important, self-delusional, intellectually dishonest, closed-minded curmudgeons who bark against the full moon of change. It has all been said before. I see no reason to waste my time, nor that of everyone else in the room. My new policy has been that I’m going to fight curmudgeonliness with curmudgeonliness. I told this fool that if he didn’t want to see the opportunities to do things in new ways, fine.

And then we proceeded with a very nice discussion of practical questions about blogging in news organizations, a discussion that continued later in the day. Everyone else I heard wanted to explore these new opportunities and had plenty of questions and doubts to deal with — as well they should — as well as experience to share; they welcomed change or at least know they couldn’t scare it away.

Meanwhile, the curmudgeon acted like a child sent to the corner and refused to look forward at the panel for the rest of the event. My goal was to get us past the growling as soon as possible and onto a substantive discussion. That is, I think, how to deal with curmudgeons. You can always find reasons not to do things. Then fine, don’t do them. Far more interesting and useful is to explore what might happen if you do them.

Everybody loves a curmudgeonThis man was saying out loud what we’ve all felt at one time or the other, and I suspect he’ll change his tune in the seasons ahead. But it gives me a chance to repeat a theme that you’ll always hear from me — in media, the Web is your TOP priority. This statement is debated even within companies, and I’ve seen it played out in strategic decisions by media companies over the last few years. In the minds of many managers, it’s a hard position to embrace, when the overall bottom line is how they’re being graded. “I’ve got bigger problems than the Web,” one manager shared with me, which was a polite way of saying “thanks, but no thanks.” This is a very dangerous place to be.

The problem with this thinking is that we’ve crossed from a place where the Web was adjunct to our primary purpose to a place where the Web is now determining how we think and behave in the “real” media world as well. And that says nothing about how the people formerly known as the advertisers are continuing to move money to the Web.

Why has this happened? It’s the consumers, baby. The appetite for unwashed, news-as-a-process is enormous and so much so that it eats away at the foundation of our “finished” news products. Few people wait for the 6 o’clock news or the morning paper to get their news anymore, and smart managers are feeding this appetite hoping to actually drive traffic to their offline products. That’s the right strategic approach. built a TV show this way.

And I’m hearing more and more from the sales side that agencies are buying online and asking that offline be included as “value added.” Even though research clearly shows that TV is still the cat daddy in terms of advertising, a chink in that armor is revealed anecdotally in the day-to-day trenches of web sales.

As money shifts and consumers shift, what choice do we have but shift with them? None. The Web is our top priority. There is no downside to experimenting and creating online, but there is a huge downside to the opposite, for smart internet pureplay entrepreneurs are already taking nearly 60-cents of every LOCAL web advertising dollar.

A lot of experienced news people — whether broadcast or print — feel like they’ve been baited and switched, that they were trained and hired to do one thing but are now being required to do something else. That’s understandable, but it’s also completely irrelevant. We all need to just deal with it and turn the page.   Link>


Scarborough reported last week (.pdf) that 11% of U.S. households obtain coupons via the Web, an 83% increase since 2005. The study found couponing increases in all sectors, but nothing that rivals the growth online. The Sunday paper is still the primary way households get their coupons.

more Americans getting coupons online

Coupon clippers are a highly attractive sector of consumers.

Grocery Coupon Clipping Households tend to spend slightly more money on groceries weekly, $114, versus the national average of $110. They are more likely than the average household to purchase a variety of grocery products across categories — from pantry staples like coffee and ready-to-eat cereal to health items such as yogurt and energy/nutrition bars.

The demographic profile of Grocery Coupon Clipping Households illustrates that the appeal of coupons is wide-ranging. They are average for having children at home. People across all income brackets clip grocery coupons — however those with higher household incomes tend to be slightly more likely to clip grocery coupons.

Thus, the huge growth in online couponing is a significant opportunity for all local media companies and an absolute necessity for newspapers. A Google search for online coupons” reveals an abundance of applications and resources for the coupon shopper, but I think this is an area of significant growth opportunity for somebody, and especially during a time of recession.

There are two killer apps in this space, only one of which is currently available. RocketBux offers the unique ability to create barcodes for cellphones that can be scanned at store checkouts, and this offers many opportunities for those able to produce the codes. To give this a test run, text the word DEW to 20123. You’ll get a message back with a link. Click on the link, and you’ll get the coupon (it’s no longer valid, sorry). Now, let your imagination run with how you could meet the needs of local advertisers using this.

The second killer app isn’t in use yet for media companies, but its coming is inevitable. I’m talking about tying online coupons directly to the customer cards that get scanned at the supermarket checkout. Kroger, for example, offers a way for customers to log into an account based on the unique id number that’s assigned to their card. Once recognized, the customer can click on savings items, which are later reflected at the check-out stand. When retailers figure out how to create one-click solutions for this, a new form of Sunday couponing will appear on-the-scene, and they’ll turn to anyone with online reach to deliver them.

We need to pay attention to developments in this area, for this is a form of advertising that we can easily understand and adapt. Smart managers will already be knee-deep in investigating online coupons.   Link>


Local news should be in the “green” business. That’s not a cynical way of saying “money.” We should be building niche verticals about the environment. This is very easy to accomplish — there are plenty of online resources that you can use. The content is there for the taking and linking.

Start with the Environmental Protection Agency. Really, it’s all there. has plenty of information. Give them the proper credit, of course. Want information on recycling? Here it is. Want to inform your audience about air pollution? Here ya go. There’s a whole section just for kids as well.

Keep America Beautiful is another great source.

The World Resources Institute has a free online database of environmental, social and economic issues at EarthTrends. Here’s a map on the cumulative carbon emissions of all the countries in the world from 1950 — 1999. Here’s one on global oil reserves. EarthTrends has a CreativeCommons license. Show them, cite them, use them.

energy starEnergyStar has lots of tips about how to save electricity. It also lists which products are deemed qualified to have the “Energy Star” label. You’ll help your audience save money and the environment.

Each state will have localized information as well. I checked Massachusetts and found that the Office of Geographic and Environmental Information (MassGIS) has a host of databases.

Go green this summer and you’ll being doing an important community service. You’ll be building a great niche vertical — and a solid reputation.   Link>


I’ve often found that bullet points succeed where vast prose does not, and this is especially true when communicating with busy executives. Here are the six strategic principles that I pose to every AR&D Media 2.0 client as fundamentals to downstream success:

  1. The Web is our platform. Simply stated, we cannot generate enough “pages” to offset revenue losses to legacy platforms. Our online platforms are just too small, so we must be willing to pursue strategies that take us beyond our branded content.
  2. Value creation is the top priority. Does our strategy simply move something we already create from point A to point B, or are we actually bringing NEW value to the table with our online innovations? What new value are we bringing to our customers, both consumers and advertisers?
  3. Revenue flexibility is at the property level. Many media companies operate with a centralized online entity as a way to avoid duplication and group eyeballs for national ads. Online revenue’s big growth area for the next five years, however, is at the LOCAL level, and in order to capture that money, individual properties must have more flexibility that many have today.
  4. Our audience is at work. This one ought not need explaining, because it ought to be obvious. The problem is that while we may understand it, our behavior doesn’t reflect it. Only the continuous news model perfectly fits this consumer demand.
  5. Focus on the goal, not the process. If media business planners are going to miss the mark, it is generally here where it happens. Managers are process people and require a clearly understood path from here to there. Leaders, on the other hand, are comfortable with the goal and figuring out how to get there along the way. Our industry needs leaders today.
  6. Make informed tactical decisions. We need to be fully up-to-speed on all things new media, and that means digging into tech media like never before. We’ve got to expand our knowledge base to include that which is coming from Silicon Valley, or we’ll be easily led astray by clever gimmicks and smart salespeople.

So there you go: a few principles upon which to chew this last week in July. Enjoy.   Link>


Doctor HorribleDr. Horrible’s Freeze Ray probably won’t stop time or even the way we do business. But it is another look at how video on the Web keeps changing and how conventional TV production gets disrupted.

“Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” is the title of a deliberately cheesy three-part series now online at It’s also on Hulu. If you want to download it and keep it, you pay iTunes $3.99 for the three parts, each of which lasts about 13–14 minutes. (That’s not much shorter than a “half hour” sitcom runs these days, is it?) It is the perfect summer series.

The wide-screen show is produced by Joss Whedon, the brain behind “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and stars Neil Patrick Harris as “Dr. Horrible,” a not-quite-evil evil scientist who is doing his best to become more evil. (Don’t try to follow.) His nemesis, the too-good good guy, “Captain Hammer,” is played by Nathan Fillion, who was the captain of Whedon’s spaceship “Serenity” in the canceled-too-soon “Firefly.” Its production values are top-notch. Whedon’s writing has always been witty and irreverent, and that’s certainly on display here.

Of course, this “Sing-Along-Blog” wouldn’t be a sing-along without the songs. And the music propels the story line just as it would in any musical. The songs are quite good, too. If not quite Broadway-quality, the songs are certainly right out of any pop music movie soundtrack. And Neil Patrick Harris can sing!

The bottom line — is it any good? Yes. It’s not an A, but it’s certainly a B, and that’s appropriate considering all the B movies it parodies.

And, oh, it’s a huge online success.

Last Tuesday, the site crashed due to the volume of traffic. Whedon’s followers are nothing if not fanatical. At TVWeek, Daisy Whitney is holding a poll that asks what people like best about “Dr. Horrible.” As of this writing, the two top answers: The writing, and “The sheer absurdity of the whole shebang.” I went with the latter, but it’s true that you can’t pull off anything this well without good writing.

“Dr. Horrible” is Web-only, and it only works on the Web, too. It’s the kind of show that, were it on TV, would be called “a bold experiment,” would be loved by critics, and would be canceled within a week. Online, it crashes servers.

Does one very silly miniseries change the game? Of course not. But it’s another piece in this constantly shifting dynamic, and it’s worth noting. It is the kind of show that the media asks “If it’s a hit, will it go on TV?” I hope not, because that’s not the point. (And, again, it would never last.) When a content creator as high-profile as Whedon can produce high-quality programs and go straight to the viewer who has the option of streaming for free or downloading and paying — that’s a significant disruption.

And not even Dr. Horrible’s freeze ray will stop things for us.   Link>


It’s my birthday. Be nice to me, for I am an old man (but you’re only as young as you look, and I look mahvelous!). Terry Heaton