Wednesday, November 5, 2008



Congratulations, President-elect Barack Obama!

We’ve been talking about this election for two years. President-elect Barack Obama has won an election that has dominated the national conversation, perhaps like no election before. It has certainly been the most “Webby” of elections, with the Web playing a role in fundraising, promotion, organization and nearly every aspect of the campaigns.

Why, may I ask, didn’t most stations change their sites?

I don’t want to tsk tsk too much. I know the answer here — we’re stuck with a templated approach to news. We’re confined within what we have — both with our CMS and with our imagination. But we absolutely have to recognize that there are stories that deserve different treatment. The major stories of our time look different on TV and in newspapers. But on most local TV sites, apart from the quantity of news stories, Election Day looked like just another busy news day.

Can’t we get away from this? Turn the front page into a blog. Post the information in real time. Clean up the page. Have a special page just for breaking news. This is different — so make it different. Find sponsors ahead of time — they’ll know you’re going to be busy.

Be different.

Observations, random thoughts, and other musings…

VOX POPULI AWARD:The imagination came, as it so often does, from the Web-only sites. Twitter built an election page (which has been up for a while) that searched out all comments about the election. In real time, you could see what people were “Tweeting.”

Twitter's election page

: goes to The New York Post, which ran the banner headline OBAMA WINS at 10:16 pm, sticking its tongue out at the previous eight years of polling (or, indeed, even the facts at that point).

New York post page

HELP ME WOLF BLITZER, YOU’RE MY ONLY HOPE: CNN debuted its hologram interview technique. Wolf Blitzer interviewed reporter Jessica Yellin, who appeared as a hologram in the election center even though she was reporting from Chicago. The effect was, to say the least, eerie. It was certainly unneeded and gimmicky, but when better to show off a gimmick than on Election Night? Wolf seemed more interested in talking with Jessica about the technique than about the news — and he seemed to feel he had to be reassuring to the audience that the glowing-blue Yellin was not, in fact, in the room: “It’s still Jessica Yellin and you look like Jessica Yellin and we know you are Jessica Yellin.”

CNN's hologram set

SOCIAL VOTING MATTERS: Facebook was very busy in the get-out-the-vote effort. People “donated” their status reports to remind their friends to vote. Once you voted, you ticked off a box and Facebook kept count. More than five million Facebookers clicked that they voted. That certainly says something to future politicos about the value of advertising there. It’s not just that people voted — they discussed the vote. They donated their space. They shared reasons why they voted the way they did.

USE THE TOOLS! Our client, NECN, used Mogulus, UStream and CoverItLive to livestream and liveblog the night. We engaged the audience in new ways, and it was a fun two-way conversation. People shared information they found from other sites and we kept a dialogue going from 7 pm until midnight.

YOU’RE NOT TV ON THE WEB OR NEWSPAPER ON THE WEB, YOU’RE JUST THE WEB: The Washington Post teamed up with Newsweek to present video coverage during the election. The player was right next to an electoral map. Great layout, simple design. You could watch the (widescreen) coverage or choose from non-narrated live-feeds.

Washington Post

AND THE STUDENTS SHALL TEACH US: The students of the School of Communication of American University absolutely swarmed this story in DC. At their publication, American Observer, they ran blog posts, Twitter updates, local news via RSS and more. They’re our future. And they’re going to be teaching us.

What we witnessed was and explosion of imagination and creativity Tuesday night. We just need more of it from TV. There are sites that are trying the tools of the personal media revolution, but we’re still seeing too many sites locked into templates and old ways of thinking. If every site in town is going to cover the same story in the same way — why is someone going to get the news from you? This election is over — but big stories always break. Have a plan in place for the next one. Break the mold or get moldy.   Link>


A new report by Borrell Associates scheduled for release today paints a dim picture for those who’ve bet the ranch on a future of counting page views and ad impressions. The credit crisis and the general economic downturn have moved up turning points in the local online ad revenue picture, and Borrell has lowered growth projections for next year as a result.

For local interactive media, the big slowdown has begun a year earlier than we anticipated. The spending levels by local advertisers — which have grown at a frenetic 47% this year — are expected to slow down to a relatively paltry 7.8 percent in 2009. Local media companies projecting double-digit and even triple-digit increases in their interactive budgets next year will have a very difficult time meeting those expectations — especially if they rely on banner ads.

Beyond the lowering of expectations is the real stunner of this report: that local and national “standard” ad formats will actually decrease next year. In fact, the decline at the national level has already begun. The below graphic from the report tells the story in the bottom and top two rows.

The decline isn't even

While local ad spending is still growing (bottom row), the top two categories are declining. Unfortunately, these are the types of ads that most local media companies are selling, which is why Borrell thinks they are going to have such a tough time meeting those double and triple-digit growth projections.

While 2009 is going to be a tough year for everybody offline, Borrell is actually projecting some potential “bounce back” for the newspaper industry, especially smaller market papers. “We think that all of the wind that got sucked out of newspapers has been sucked out,” Borrell told me, “and while there will still be some declines in big market papers, we expect significant growth in smaller papers, perhaps even double digit.” TV and radio, he predicts, will have a tough year. Online, Borrell adds, it’s the first time since 1998 that online ad growth will only be in single digits.

But the big story here is the growing lack of interest locally in banner advertising. “It’s going to be a very tough year,” Borrell said, “for anybody with a mass marketing mentality that more traffic equates to more revenue.” Unfortunately, that includes most people who run local media websites.

Another important note in this report is the continued growth of the “promotions” line in local advertiser budgets. As web technology continues to become more user-friendly (while at the same time more sophisticated), more companies are spending money there that used to go to advertising. But this category offers something that pure advertising doesn’t — the ability to absolutely measure results, something that is a growing concern in the minds of all advertisers, whether national or local.

But perhaps the most chilling commentary in the report is this: “The changes foreseen are not cyclical, and show no sign of improving during forthcoming years, irrespective of upward movement in the nation’s economy.” The horse has left the barn, and it ain’t comin’ back.   Link>


I’ve made my share of boring bar graphs and plain-ol’ pie charts in my day. It’s part of the job. They’re unimaginative, yes, but they get the message across. There are only so many ways to represent visually the data we collect. Or so I thought. Then I came across one of the best graphics I’ve seen that represents how people use on-demand media. It’s not as easy to read as a bar graph. And it’s more of a carnival ride than a corporate boardroom. But it is wonderful.

BBC image on how people use on-demand media

Wouldn’t you love to get a report that looks like this?

This is from the BBC’s User Experience & Design team. (Via The group set out to find out how people are using technology right now, as part of its project to launch new online players and services. (Leave it to the British to use humor to explain something serious.)

This was a micro-study rather than a scientific one. The team wanted a snapshot. Adam Hutchinson, the team’s interaction designer writes:

“We asked ten members of the public around the country to take part in our study. They kept “media use” diaries for two weeks and were interviewed in their homes about their entertainment habits. We found that people watch TV or listen to the radio not for its own sake, but in order to achieve a range of goals — such as to relax, to keep up to date or to spend time with each other. This is not new. What we also saw was how these goals are being achieved in ways we didn’t expect.

“By paying attention to the activities that come before and after the watching or listening (like finding, personalising and sharing programmes), we learned a lot about what people find important… Another fascinating insight is how watching TV is an enabler for socialising. Gossiping about plotlines and being up to date with a programme is a form of social currency.”

Start at any place on the chart and follow it around. It’s not linear and it’s challenging — just like the way people consume information. Start in the upper left, for example, with the arched red arrow that says “DAILY ROUTINE.” It goes from AM to PM, and covers the time people spend together and alone. The directions people can go from there include the multitude of social, individual and ambient options for information and entertainment.

The bottom left is all about search and collecting. We search out through metadata (genre, title, date, etc.) put the information through filters (both our own and the Web’s,) find those “golden nuggets” that interest us and decide which to share and keep.

Then we have the options in the lower right: how do we play the information we have found? Do we watch on YouTube? The BBC’s iPlayer (which was the impetus for this study)? Socially? And there is the “triangle of needs”: Immediacy, Constant Availability and On My Own Terms.

No, you won’t find numbers here. That’s because the chart isn’t about numbers. Remember — they asked ten people about their habits. This is about insight and behavior. And it’s dead on. Start anywhere and go anywhere — you’ll be enlightened.   Link>


Viigo logoBy now you know that I’m a huge fan of RSS and the way it can deliver selected news items directly to me instead of requiring that I visit websites. RSS provides what Dave Winer has called a “river of news,” and its simplicity is perfect for mobile devices. For Blackberry owners, Viigo is the ultimate in RSS readers, and so thorough is its usefulness that I rate it as the top news and information mobile application on the market.

Viigo displayLike any RSS reader, you open the application, and it displays headlines from the feed. Click on any item to get a blurb or the full story, depending on whether the feed is full text or a link back to the original. The choices menu is filled with options on what to do next, and I mean filled.

Viigo doesn’t claim to be anything other than an RSS reader. You can customize it many ways, either by adding your own favorite feeds or by choosing from what seems like an endless list of feeds that Viigo has made available. If it has an RSS feed, you can bring it to you on your Blackberry with Viigo.

But its flexibility goes beyond that. You can email items to yourself or others directly from the application. You can set an alarm to alert you when a new item has been added to a favorite feed. You can post directly to Delicious. You can create a search term feed. As feed readers go, Viigo has all the bells and whistles you can imagine right there on your Blackberry.

There are other choices for RSS on mobile, but Viigo is hands down the best I’ve seen. It moves news and information into a whole new dimension, and the question for you is this: how do your RSS feeds play in Viigo? The application already contains local weather and traffic information, so it’s just a matter of time before local news is included. Will you be a part of that?   Link>


Changes at the MonitorI belong to a fun little site called HubDub, where you bet virtual money on the Big Questions of the day. (And some not-so-big-ones, too.) The idea is to see if we can somehow tap the marketplace wisdom of the crowd to predict the news. I’m doing so-so. This is why, as I tell prospective clients, “My predictions are free. It’s the research that costs money.”

One of the questions I bet on in July was this: “Will a Daily American newspaper (circulation 50K+) fold this year?

89% predicted yes. I went with the longshot bet (which would have paid off my virtual money a lot better) and said “no.” It was July, after all. I figured the big papers still had at least six months to live.


The New York Sun printed its final edition on Tuesday, September 29. Give one to the wisdom of the crowd. Strike one against your humble prognosticator. (Hey — I did get it right on Madonna and Guy Ritchie breaking up, OK?)

Right now, there’s a question “Will print newspapers cease by 2014?” 19% say yes. I’m not making a bet that I won’t know the answer to until December 31, 2014, but I still have to think there will be a few.

But will they be in print?

Last week, the 100-year-old Christian Science Monitor announced it is ceasing its print version and will go online only. The Monitor becomes the first national paper to stop its “dead trees” version. It won’t be the last.

And here’s the part to stop and ponder: The Monitor’s a non-profit. So if the non-profit can’t see a way to cover a print version, what does that mean for the papers that actually have to make a buck?

The Monitor’s subscriber base dropped from 220,000 in 1970 to 52,000 today. Contrast that with visits to its Website at, where it sees traffic of three million pageviews a month. Monitor editor John Yemma (who recently took the job after leaving the Boston Globe) wants to grow those numbers tenfold in the next five years, according to the New York Times: “Even if he can fill the site only with remnant, cheap ads, he said, if visits grow as he is projecting, ‘that’s a sustainable model.’ ”

When it comes to Capital J Journalism, The Monitor is unquestioned:

“The Monitor is an anachronism in journalism, a nonprofit financed by a church and delivered through the mail. But with seven Pulitzer Prizes and a reputation for thoughtful writing and strong international coverage, it long maintained an outsize influence in the publishing world.”

Judy Wolff, chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Christian Science Publishing Society cited three goals that drove what she called “our evolving strategy” for the Monitor:

  • Producing a website that can be updated 24/7 and delivered instantaneously “better fulfills Mrs. (Mary Baker) Eddy’s original vision” for the Monitor to be daily than does a five-day-a-week paper delivered by mail with frequent delays.
  • Focusing resources on the fast-growing Web audience for news rather than on the economically troubled daily newspaper industry “increases the Monitor’s reach and impact.” The Monitor’s website currently attracts about 1.5 million visitors a month.
  • Eliminating the major production and distribution costs of a daily newspaper will allow the Monitor to “make progress toward achieving financial sustainability” while supporting its global news resources.

These seem like good goals for any news organization. You can apply much of this line of logic to television stations as well.

Still, old habits die hard. On last Tuesday’s version of the Website, even as the Monitor was announcing the death of its print version, the top banner ad read “Special Offer: Subscribe to the Monitor and get 32 issues RISK-FREE!”

OK — a little risk. It won’t be in your mailbox…   Link>


In unstable times, growth comes from leaders who create change and engage their organizations, instead of from managers who push their employees to do more for less. Seth Godin, Tribes, We Need You To Lead.