Wednesday, March 11, 2009



Google logoThe advertising system that is Google just got a whole lot stronger with word today that the company is entering the behavioral targeting world in a big way. There are two reasons this is extremely significant for local media companies.

One, Google’s Adsense program is so widespread that the cookie data they’ll gather from it automatically puts them in the driver’s seat in terms of understanding the behavior of people who use the Web. The more sites in the ad network, the richer the data on behavior. Behavioral Targeting (BT) uses cookies placed on users’ machines as a way to follow behavior from site to site. Erick Schonfeld of TechCrunch describes it this way:

Since Google already knows what each site or page is about, it will use this information to place each user in one of 600 subcategories of interest. If you visit tech blogs often, you are probably interested in technology. If you visit Trulia, you are probably in the market for real estate. Through AdSense, Google can now target ads not only based on the context of the page you are on, but also based on the context of the pages you have visited in the past, even if you are on a site that is completely unrelated. For instance, as a completely hypothetical example, it might show you a real estate ad targeted to the towns you were searching on Trulia when you visit a gadget blog.

Google’s Adsense is saturated in every market, and it is used by advertisers in those markets as well. Now, those advertisers will be able to target anybody, including people who have visited their own sites. This is called “retargeting,” and it’s one of the most powerful advertising methods ever created.

But there’s a second reason for media companies to be concerned. Google also gives users the freedom to control how they are being targeted. You can determine the use of your own cookie, and this is a game-changer for web advertising. Google is doing this to head off privacy issues, and it’s damned smart. Moreover, its database will gather even more precise information for targeters, because users can actually state what kinds of advertising they want served to them as they wander the Web.

Stacey Higginbotham at Giga-Om views this as both good news and bad.

Google even provides a downloadable opt-out option that will keep you opted out of Google tracking, even if you clear out your cookies. Nice. All of this is a beautiful step forward with regards to some of Google’s least invasive information tracking. Like a boyfriend bringing you a dozen roses after cheating on you, it’s a lovely gesture — but don’t let those flowers blind you to his faults. Google stands to gain quite a bit from people self-selecting their targeted interests, as advertisers might pay even more for delivering the most relevant ads to people ( I would totally participate in this if I never had to see another acai berry or belly fat ad again). Sure, some might opt out, but few people get upset about ads delivered based on information provided by cookies.

By moving in this direction (remember, Google owns DoubleClick as well), Google has thrown a serious monkey wrench in the plans of anybody who wants to be competitive in the advertising space that is the Web, and it sets the stage for serious examination from federal anti-trust agencies. Read the next article.   Link>


What is it about Google, and how have they become the number one brand in the world in such a short period of time? There’s even talk today about Google being added to the Dow, to replace either General Motors or CitiBank. The pie charts of local online advertising that Gordon Borrell puts out every year are looking more and more like Pacman. Google is leading the way, as pureplay web companies are gobbling up market share at an alarming rate. Whether you believe it or not, if you’re in local media, Google is your main competitor and the most serious threat to your well being.

Well, you say, but Google isn’t a TV station or a newspaper or a radio station or a yellow pages directory or any form of content creator.

No, but it is an advertising system, and this is why you should be afraid. Its ecosystem is the World Wide Web. Its reach is far and wide, but that’s not what makes this advertising system so powerful; Google’s real strength is that it’s an enabler of others. It wins by serving the needs of others in the enabling of commerce at all levels.

Google Analytics is rapidly becoming the default web statistics platform. Don’t think so? Just ask the advertisers in your market. You say you don’t use Google Analytics on your site? You will, because the advertisers will demand it. They’re the ones with the money, and in a great many cases, they know more than you do about the Web, thanks, of course, to Google.

Did you know that YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world? Google is first, but Google owns YouTube. What does that tell you about the future of video commerce? Smart auto dealers are using it to sell cars. What will be next?

Eric Schmidt on Charlie Rose ShowGoogle CEO Eric Schmidt, who understands well that his company is an advertising system, was on Charlie Rose’s show last weekend, and here’s what was said about monetizing YouTube. Note how unconcerned Schmidt is about the business model and the faith he has in the market to create itself:

Eric Schmidt:
So there is a total market of monetizable things. Here is a model for you. For things which are going to be viewed by 2 billion people, you’re going to use advertisements. And you’ll use, in the case of YouTube, you’ll use videos around the sides, you’ll use ads at the bottom, you’ll do 15 second pre roll or post roll. And all of those experiments are being tried at YouTube. I would say YouTube’s monetization of that is half way. we’re not where we need to be, but we’re much farther along than we were last year.

Charlie Rose:
Okay. Take social networks like Facebook and MySpace. They have the same problem.

Eric Schmidt:

Charlie Rose:
The argument is made that the people who are on Facebook are interested in what their friends are doing. They’re not interested in ads because they’re not searching for products.

Eric Schmidt:
But that denies the fundamental progress of innovation. There absolutely will be solutions for that. We just haven’t invented them yet. we’re still waiting for the 20 percent timers to come up with these insights.

Charlie Rose:
Got some Google boys and girls out there working on this as we speak.

Eric Schmidt:
You can’t sort of tell them. It has to occur naturally through the bottoms up process. So we’re waiting. But we know it will come, because the amount of time being spent on that is so significant that we know we can use that time for some form of entertainment, advertising or some other kind of immersive experience.

“So we’re waiting,” he says. Meanwhile, media companies are desperate to force the issue, and this may not be a good use of resources. What media companies want is a way to monetize content, but if Google has shown us anything, it’s that content is not king online, and if that’s your only play, you will always take a back seat to its (or somebody else’s) advertising system. If we want to compete with Google at the local level, we have to play the ad system game, but the response is usually, “That’s not our business model.” Enabling commerce is the real road to online profitability downstream, not multi-platform distribution of content that is increasingly seen as unnecessary to advertisers.

We can beat Google locally for two reasons. One, we have sales feet on the street, and, two, we have a mass media platform from which we can drive business. But we’ve got to first understand what that business is, and we can do no better than studying Google to find out. After all, everything about Google is out in the open. If we claim ignorance, it’s our own fault.

We need no other reason to become Google experts than this: the people formerly known as our advertisers and the people who will be advertisers downstream are already there.   Link>


The newspaper industry is contracting, with many papers outright collapsing. There is still time for papers to hang on without changing much but they, too will suffer the same fate. So, what’s next?

You have read Terry and me on the topic of “localism” for some time. Forget us — you read it in almost every discussion of the future of news. We’ve been bandying about the idea for more than 10 years. But now hyper-localism is seeing its first real series of tests. The sites are run lean, and their ad model is different than those of old.

AR&D promotes the idea of media reinvention. Building sites from scratch is a reinvention, and there are plenty of good journalists to go around.

Christopher AndersonChristopher Anderson, a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University explains part of the dilemma on his blog, J‑School:

“Usually the organizations that have bothered to do the experimenting (like Philly Future, or Young Philly Politics, or Hallwatch) have been those organizations with the fewest resources. We need to stop relying on the starving visionaries. Or rather, somebody with cash and an organization infrastructure needs to take the lead and help the visionaries not starve.”

This is one of those “only in news” things. Only in news would you try to start a company with no money. Only in news would you start a new division of the company but limit its ability to sell advertising. (“Go sell — but don’t step on the toes of the ‘real’ sales guys.”)

In late February, The New York Times announced it was starting a local blogging initiative. From AdAge:

“The New York Times (has) dipped its toe in the water with the launch of two local blogs it calls The Local: one covering the Brooklyn communities of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, and another covering the New Jersey suburbs of Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange. Each site has a dedicated Times reporter, but they share an editor and take contributions from bloggers and journalism students.”

But this, too, is an experiment that is asking for trouble. For starters, the sites have awkward URLs: is hardly a catchy brand name. To find these sites, you need to go to the site, click on “Blogs” and then find the local site you’re looking for. This is no way to start a new business.

the Brownstoner logoReports give credit to Brownstoner, a Brooklyn blog — whose self-described “turf” includes Fort Greene and Clinton Hill — for scooping the story:

According to an email that was forwarded to us, the subject matter will include “cultural events, bar and restaurant openings, real estate, arts, fashion, health, social concerns and anything else that goes on in the ‘SoHo of Brooklyn.’ ” Each site will be helmed by a writer/editor from the paper, a Times official told us, but will draw upon contributors from the neighborhood as well as some free labor from the CUNY journalism program.

WNCN-TV (NBC17) in Raleigh is undertaking one of the biggest-scale hyperlocal reporting projects we’ve seen. (NBC17 is an AR&D client.) aims to cover its region, one town at a time. MyNC covers 20 communities in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. MyNC was launched last year, and takes an innovative approach to local reporting. It has hired “community content liaisons” to report and encourage local contributions. These liaisons live and work in the communities about which they report. In July, 2008, WNCN President and General Manager Barry Leffler talked with AR&D’s Terry Heaton about the liaisons:

“Our Community Content Liaisons are responsible for being our eyes and ears in the community. They are helping us listen to what a community’s needs are so we can respond accordingly. They then work within the local communities to facilitate content for the sites.” acts as a portal for the region, but is not a brand-extension site for the TV newscast. It aggregates news from the local “pro” media as well as from area contributors. The aggregation is critical — it’s the way to bring in lots of stories and take advantage of the region’s information resources. aims to report, one town at a time, about its region. The site has built up an impressive database of advertisers and bloggers. This is crucial to the success of hyperlocalism.

As excellent journalists look to reinvent themselves (by choice or otherwise) we encourage the development of these new models. Run lean, work with your public, incorporate the new tools of the media trade. Those who believe there will be “no replacement for newspapers” have already given up. We have to keep trying and learning from these exciting experiments.   Link>


When we look at the enormity of the disruption that’s attacking the mainstream media business model, people are often confused by the nature of the disruption. It seems so staggering, because we view it as technology, and who has the time to learn all that? Television people are generally those who sided with the bad guys in “Revenge of the Nerds,” and who knew we’d need them so badly today?

Every time some engineering whiz opens his or her mouth, we shrivel up into a ball and want to cry. The world of technical acronyms is a foreign language, and who has the time or energy to learn all that?

I faced this fear and won when I bought an internet company many years ago, one that required the boss know everything, including how to write code. At age 52, I became a hands-on student of things I never imagined I’d be learning, but the secret to my success was in learning by doing, not by studying.

This same method can be applied to everything that a reporter in Louisville or Tallahassee or Dallas might need to know to transform herself into a multi-skilled, multimedia journalist. And here’s the thing: it doesn’t require taking courses at the community college. In fact, I’d argue that’s the wrong way to learn.

The first recommendation I’d make to any budding multimedia journalist is to start a blog. Don’t go the easy route (Google’s “Blogger”); go to a hosting company, like Bluehost, buy a domain name, and lease monthly space on a shared server. It costs $6.95 a month. Like other newer breeds of hosting companies, Bluehost will set you up automatically with WordPress or other forms of software. I like WordPress; it’s powerful and easy-to-use.

You will now be in business as a blogger, but more importantly, you’ll have a very powerful and flexible content management system at your fingertips. WordPress is “open source” software, which means it has an enormous community of geeks working to improve it every day. You can find thousands of “plug-ins” that will do amazing things, simply by adding them to your installation of WordPress.

When entries are published in WordPress, all kinds of cool things happen. A searchable archive is created automatically. The software will “ping” search engines, a way of telling them that you have posted new content. Your RSS feed will come alive with fresh content. It operates the way your station’s website should operate, but probably doesn’t.

You’ll want to put images in place, and it’ll do that for you. You’ll want to customize the look of your website, and there are tons of places to go for help with that.

You’ll learn two important concepts: templates and CSS (cascading style sheets). These two elements control the way your content is presented online — the look and feel of your website. Templates control where things are placed on the page. CSS controls how they are displayed, including colors, fonts, spacing, line sizes and such.

In a simple, two-column WordPress model, the page you deliver is divided up into four parts.

The header controls the top of the page.

The footer controls the bottom of the page.

The sidebar controls the right hand column (or left) of the page by default. This is created by simply adding the widgets that you like. It’s far easier than you might think.

The index controls the actual blog content. It sits to the left of the sidebar and between the header and footer. Here’s an illustration to help you understand:

outline for WordPress template

You can find all kinds of design models for WordPress, including multiple columns or whatever you wish to present as a design. These models come fully equipped with templates and CSS.

Eventually, though, you’ll want to customize these elements, and that’s a whole lot easier than you might think. Just remember one rule. Always keep a copy of the original file you’re customizing on hand, because you may need to put it back the way it was. It happens to everyone.

You can learn customization many ways. Just let your mouse do the walking in a search on “customizing wordpress” and see what you can find.

The best way is to find somebody who knows HTML and have them show you hands-on. If you don’t know anybody so skilled, you’ll learn a whole lot quicker by paying a pro than by going to school. Always learn by doing, and work using your own WordPress blog. Check your local You’d be surprised how many WordPress advocates exist in your market. Of course, you can always learn on-line, but the fastest way is in person with an expert.

In just a matter of days (really), you’ll be familiar with more things that you ever anticipated, plus you’ll have your own customized publishing system.

The reason I recommend this path is for the eye-opening revelations that come with it. As you work with the same tools that the personal media revolution is using, you’ll have a new appreciation for the sheer magnitude of the disruption and a new respect for those who work therein. You’ll see how easy it is to create a standalone business, and you’ll also find it increasingly difficult to work within the restraints of centralized, command and control web software. All of this is good for you and good for the company that’s paying you.   Link>


It’s common wisdom that companies can’t change because they are too stodgy or not used to change. But a couple of books I’ve been reading offer another suggestion: we’re not wired to change. And knowing about the human nature regarding change can help us better understand our own roadblocks.

Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational points us to a simple test that demonstrates this. The Lottolab Studio at University College in London examines perception. One of the best examples is the following (and I apologize to those who have color blindness — my Dad is among you.) Look at this cube. Specifically: Look at the middle squares on the top and the side facing you. They will stand out:

do you see the brown square?

What colors are those squares? If you’re like most people, you will perceive that the middle square on the top of the cube is brown, and the middle square on the side facing you is a kind of dark orange. But when we put a “mask” over each of the sides, we see something different:

is the square still brown?

The colors are, in fact, the same. They’re both a sort-of burnt orange. So, having learned this, you can go back, look at the first picture, and you’ll see the colors are the same, right? Guess again. Go ahead and do it. No matter how many times you try, you’ll see the top square as brown and the side square as orange.

Writes lottoloab:

“To understand how we see correctly we need to understand why it seems we sometimes see incorrectly. Illusions, therefore, are critical windows into the mind. What they tell us is that the mind didn’t evolve to see the world ‘as it is’, but to see the world in a way that proved useful to see in the past.”

Isn’t that amazing? “The mind sees what proved useful in the past,” no matter how many times you show it otherwise.

Anyone see where I’m going with this?

Predictably Irrational LogoDan Ariely’s wonderful book has many more examples of human behavioral studies. (As an aside, “Predictably Irrational” was the first book I read on my new Kindle 2.) Ariely is a professor, and conducts research into “behavioral economics.” Standard economic theory believes that rational people will do what’s best for themselves. Behavioral economics says, in essence, “That’s fine — but nobody is rational. We all have our own biases.”

Ariely conducts a number of social experiments that bear this out. I won’t get into all of them, but one conducted at M.I.T. showed that M.I.T. students preferred “M.I.T. Brew” to Budweiser. That would be fine, except “M.I.T. Brew” was, in fact, Budweiser with two drops of vinegar.

However, if you told the test subjects ahead of time that they were about to drink vinegar and beer, they hated it.

We see the world through our own lenses and we’re wired against seeing change. Those are two important lessons we need to keep in mind. Traditional media keeps looking at new developments through a traditional context. Even shown the truth, as with the cube experiment, our minds still tell us things can’t be so.   Link>


QUOTE OF THE WEEK (and speaking of perceptions)
Nobody wants to tune in to cable day after day to hear yet another dirge for yet another one of their stocks. There is a financial imperative for the pundits to keep their core audience of investors coming back, and therefore an obligation for the pundits to distort empirical reality to make a grim future seem manageable. Gabriel Winant for Slate on the “bizarro world” of CNBC