Wednesday, October 8, 2008



Chicken Little, courtesy Disney clipartMy friend Jay Rosen has been writing a blog for many years now called “PressThink.” Throughout its entries, Jay makes the case that “the press” generally moves as one in our culture. It is influenced by many things, but more often than you might think, its biggest influence is what each other is writing and saying.

We all may talk about being independent, but we seem to come together on what the stories are, and this, Jay argues, is not necessarily good for the culture. I agree with Jay, and the latest illustration is what’s taking place in our economy. Stung by accusations that the media itself played a role in the collapse of the financial sector — we apparently failed to ask the right questions and failed to understand what was taking place — the press is now scrambling to do the right thing. Unfortunately, the right thing seems to be pounding the case that we’re all somehow going to die (or worse).

The cumulative effect of all this is a relentless dose of bad news followed by more bad news, with everybody frantically working to see who can make the most mileage out of dire predictions. Every day brings more market woes, and the sky definitely appears to be falling.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PricewaterhouseCoopers released data this week about internet advertising in the first half of the year. It was up, but that didn’t get much attention. What did were questions about what the second half of the year will be like. Take a look at this graph. The only reason anybody would care about how growth “slowed” a wee bit is if they’re using it to tee up a bad forecast for the second half of the year.

chart from IAB/PWC online advertising report

That’s a pretty healthy-looking chart, and I agree with the analysts who don’t believe that online advertising will crash and burn as a result of what’s happening in the financial markets. Advertising didn’t end during the great depression; in fact, creativity and innovation flourished, and that’s where we need to be today.

There was a time in my journalistic life when reaction was the second-day lead. The first day was all about absorbing the story, which, in this case, is that web advertising was up 15% in the first half of the year. But the need to scoop the next guy has moved the second-day lead (reaction) to the first. This overwhelms the real story here, and this is one of the reasons we only get the negative.

There’s also the cumulative factor, something anybody who has worked in a hyphenated market will understand. If it bleeds, it leads is on steroids when a station is serving multiple population centers, and the cumulative newscast effect is one of wall-to-wall death and destruction.

This has an effect on the psyche of the community, and so it is with our current economy. People are holding back, waiting to see what happens in the weeks and months to come. This is different than it was during the depression of my parents, because we have access to information like they didn’t have. When the run on banks began, that’s all anybody saw.

The economy of the West is based on faith, not actual numbers, and confidence impacts its ebb and flow. Those of us in “the press” must exercise a degree of responsibility to that end, and this is a Herculean task in today’s competitive environment. Meanwhile, let’s keep moving forward with innovation, tapping the growth market of the Web in ways we perhaps haven’t before.

For all the bad news we’re hearing, it IS a time of incredible opportunity as well. The sky isn’t falling; it’s only a storm.   Link>


iReport via CNN.comNewspapers have, unwittingly, had reporters run deliberately false stories. TV stations have aired reports that someone internally knew were wrong. Neither of these events brought down their craft. Yet to read the reaction to one bonehead’s posted iReport on CNN, you’d think the end of citizen journalism is nigh.

Amazing, isn’t it, how once we’ve decided not to like something, we’ll find its faults no matter what? When all you want to find is the bad, there turns out to be plenty of it to back up your opinion.

Here’s what happened: last Friday, one person — one person, who had never put up an iReport, posted:

copy of actual fake posting

That’s it. On a board of thousands of postings, one person puts this. No references. No nothing. Surely anyone with any common sense would think “Hmm… if El Jobso were dead or dying, CNN would probably have picked up on this.” But rather than use common sense, people decided this was enough information to consider authentic.

So the price of stock went down, ending the day at an 18-month low. (Disclosure: I have some Apple stock, although barely enough with which to buy a computer at this point.) And because it’s so unlike stock traders to panic, or to trade on unsubstantiated rumors, this became news.

And the media hens clucked with joy, with Silicon Alley Insider leading the way, writing “ ‘Citizen journalism’ apparently just failed its first significant test.” (Forgetting the thousands of other successful tests it has passed in reporting community news and such national events as elections, the VA Tech shooting, the Minnesota Bridge Collapse, the London Transit Bombings…)

Or as Scott Karp writes at Publishing2: “Someone posts a false report to a citizen journalism platform — I’m shocked, SHOCKED to find that gambling is going on in here!”

Karp rightly notes that this isn’t a failure of citizen journalism, but it could be construed as a failure of a closed system. Traditional media is trying to own citizen journalism, so it says “Here! Be a journalist for us! For free!” thus walling off another garden. The correct way to go, notes Karp, is to take advantage of the existing excellent CJ work already out there. Of course, that’s much harder — and it’s less obvious how to monetize.

In the space of the last three days, I’ve had the article forwarded to me several times. And with due respect to the friends in the media who have sent it to me as a “See, I told you so!” I ask for a reality check. Just like we have reality checks in the “real media.”

And when it comes to reality checks, it turns out nothing is faster than the Web. When you make a mistake in the newspaper, it takes a whole day for the audience to see the correction. Online? Write Jeff Jarvis at Buzzmachine in his piece “Citizen journalism ruins the world (again)”:

“…the sanest response to reading a report from an unidentifiable source on Steve Jobs’ health is to get on the phone to Apple and find the truth. Note well that that happened quickly online. When I first heard this “news,” it was not that Jobs was sick but that Apple said he wasn’t sick. The reporters I talked to said that was what they first heard as well. Hmm, the system seems to have worked pretty well — except for fools who sell stock based on baseless rumors. But then, that has happened on Wall Street long before there was an internet.

“The web, as it turns out, is almost as fast at spreading truth as it as at spreading rumors.”

The person who was bent on running the fake report was going to find a forum in which to do it. According to cnet, someone submitted it to 4chan. That’s the same bunch behind the Sarah Palin email hack.

Last year, there were 37,248 fatal car crashes. Do we decide that citizen drivers are dangerous and that only professionals should be allowed to drive cars? Each year, people spread malicious gossip over the telephone. Some times they even plan murders on the phone. Did companies decide “we’re not getting into the phone business — that’s too messy?” Of course not. We look at the benefit as a whole.

As journalists, we’re supposed to do that — dispassionately, rationally and without prejudice. So why can’t we do that when it comes to our own profession?

Steve Jobs isn’t dead. Citizen journalism isn’t dead and new ideas that threaten the status quo are flourishing. What did your Mom tell you? Don’t let one bad apple spoil the whole bunch. Good enough for Mom — good enough for us.

(PS: Read more of Scott Karp’s piece. He gives some excellent suggestions.)   Link>


RTNDF logoThe journalism students at the University of Texas attending the Southwest Broadcast Newsroom Workshop were stunned to hear it: they’re more experienced than most of the rest of us. And for the first time in modern journalism history, they can go into a job interview and be the ones who ask if a newsroom is prepared to handle the skills they have.

I had the honor of being on a panel and leading two seminars at the workshop last Saturday. The RTNDF paid my freight, but the Texas Association of Broadcasters also did the heavy lifting, and UT School of Journalism in Austin played wonderful hosts.

In one of my workshops, “The Platform Agnostic,” we talked about how journalists right now define themselves in terms of their current platforms. I then went into my usual shtick about how they need to change and adapt. But we’re talking about kids who grew up with this stuff. They don’t need to adapt to anything. Mostly, they wanted to know what was taking the rest of us so long. I didn’t have a good answer.

What I pointed out to them was that they have skills that we need. They don’t just “know” social networking; they live it. They don’t need focus groups to tell them how young people get their news. They are the focus group.

In the main gathering of about 150 people (mostly students, some young journalists, a few mixed veterans) I asked: “How many of you get your news from the local television newscasts.” Almost nobody. They get it from the Web. I asked them why they don’t watch local news. I heard the usual mix of “It’s not convenient,” “It’s irrelevant,” “It’s not there when I want,” etc.

This, of course means one thing: You have people applying for jobs working on something they don’t watch, don’t use and think is irrelevant.

What do we make of this? If you made cars, and an applicant said “I hate your product, and all cars suck. I get to work on a bike,” would you hire them?

But what if that applicant came with the 10 different ways he had studied alternative transportation? What if that applicant majored in alternative fuel studies? What if that applicant thought the way you were doing something now was ridiculous, but they could help you find something better? Would you hire them? And now — be honest — would you hire them if they said as much to their face?

I encouraged the kids to be really, really honest with prospective employers. Getting a job in journalism is no longer about finding someone who will “allow” you to work for them. Just like in every other discipline, it is about finding a good match. And if you don’t have the equipment, the tools, the approach and the attitude toward new media that these rising journalists do, it’s going to be a bad match. You don’t want to get new employees who have this much enthusiasm and these many skills to get into a newsroom environment that will poison and pigeonhole them.

Employees are coming who can help you. You need only know what to look for. I told the students their resumes should include their experiences building blogs, social networking and using the tools of the personal media revolution.

They thought I was nuts. This would be like me telling you to make sure you put “plays with Tonkas and Matchbox cars” on your resume, as far as they’re concerned.

I may be nuts. But on this one, I’d like to hear from you. Wouldn’t you like to know whom, among your prospective new hires, would be able to set up the station’s Facebook page in five minutes? Wouldn’t you like someone on staff who could explain Twitter? Someone who knows emerging media not because they hear about it from guys like me but because they live it?

Surely “I have skills that can help change and evolve your company for the better” deserves more room on a resume than the summer the kid spent scooping ice cream at Four Seas Ice Cream on Cape Cod, no matter how much “leadership” that showed. (And no matter how good that ice cream is. The place is in Centerville. Let me know the next time you’re in town. The chocolate is unreal.)

The students are here. They are ready for their jobs. Will you be ready for them?   Link>


In the decades following World War II, Japanese businessmen visited the U.S. regularly, touring plants and studying infrastructure. I remember doing stories about this early in my career, and most of these tourists brought with them their cameras. As the Japanese rebuilt their business world, it bore a remarkable resemblance to ours, and this did not go unnoticed by observers.

A version of this copycat phenomenon exists throughout the traditional media world and has flouished for decades. Somebody would stumble onto something that “worked” in their market, and soon, it became standard fare for everybody. This is partially responsible for the homeogeneity of the news business, and while it’s made people a lot of money, it now is a net liability, for media companies seem unable to move unless somebody has proven a model, which can then be copied.

Sheryl Sandberg, courtesy MediaPostAt the American Magazine Conference in San Francisco this week, Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer for Facebook, was invited to address the crowd and was introduced by BusinessWeek Editor Steve Adler. Adler told of the rapid success of Facebook and noted that, according to Media Daily News, “the astounding rise of the social networking phenomenon rightly has many traditional media executives wondering, “WTF?” or perhaps more accurately, “HTF did you do that?”

In other words, “Tell us how you did that, so that we can learn from it (and copy it).”

“We’re not a content site. Our mission is to give people the power to share information with each other.” And it just so happens that “they often do that through content,” including sharing magazine articles.

But for content to be part of users’ online lives, they have to see it first, Sandberg reminded the audience…

The key value here, Sandberg said, is “the ease with which I can find content”–for example, Google (her former employer) at one time measured its utility not by how long users were on the site, but how quickly they left the site, having found the information they sought.

That last statement is remarkable, because it’s the opposite of what mass marketing brand management teaches. But for empowered users, the value proposition of finding what they’re looking for is supreme. This is part of what Long Tail guru Chris Anderson describes as “the economy of free.” Google makes its money by running ads on the sites that are on the other side of its powerful search engine.

Wherever Steve and I go to speak about the future and what television stations and newspapers can and should be doing, we’re always met with, “Who’s doing that?” It is a curse that is destroying the ability of media companies to innovate, for innovators don’t copy. They, well, innovate.

To illustrate this point, here’s an image you’ve seen before. It was originally created by Borrell Associates and the Harvard Business School to describe the disruption to traditional media (Media 1.0). The green circle is getting larger and consuming the blue circle. Opportunity for traditional media lies within the green, but the best we’ve been able to do so far is take certain aspects of the disruption and attach them to our basic business model (the gray area). Hence, we’re not really exploring the disruption; we’re copying elements of it that fit our fundamental, mass marketing business model.

The Media 2.0 disruption

The green circle, however, is funded by venture capital and is driven by visionaries seeking to create new models, because they understand the disruption correctly and completely. Facebook began in the green and functions within the green. A media company (blue) that incorporates the essence of the Facebook model (social networking) into its “website” merely bolts another gray element onto its already overburdened brand extension application and, in so doing, wastes time and resources that could be better spent exploring real innovation within the green circle.

We don’t do that, because it seems the best we can do is copy. Our industry doesn’t need copying; it badly needs reinvention, and that, I believe, will happen from the bottom-up, because each market is unique and has its own opportunities. The notion that broad strokes can be administered from on high that will dramatically impact the bottom line is increasingly just wishful thinking. The real work is at the street level, and that’s where we need to be focused.

Media 2.0 offers a blank slate upon which we can write. Instead of waiting for somebody else to “figure it out,” we need to get busy writing.   Link>


According to new research by Secure Computing and reported in Computerworld, spammers gave Barack Obama a seven to one landslide win in spams containing the names of the Presidential candidates last month. Here were some of the most common subject lines:

  • Barack Obama Team In Crisis As George W Bush Lends Him ‘Full Support’
  • Obama Supporters Attack Hillary In Second Life
  • Jesus Endorses Obama; Four Horsemen Opt for McCain
  • Obama Ahead Amongst Voters With Similarly Weird Names

Palin won over Biden by a 5–4 ratio.

Sven Krasser, director of data mining research at Secure Computing wasn’t surprised by the numbers. “Palin and Obama are the most targeted by spammers because they got more media attention during the month,” he said. “Spam trends generally follow media trends; they’re just trying to judge what the public is interested in.”

And now you know, the REST of the story.   Link>

Most people still think of Google as a search business. But what the analysts understood long ago, and the rest of us are realizing now, is that what they really want to do is organize all the world’s information, and then put ads on it. Michael Arrington of TechCrunch stating what many of us have been saying for years. This should be the mission of local media.