Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How is the Post-Print Mindset Changing Journalism?

In his compelling column, "After a Year of Ruin, Some Hope," New York Times "The Media Equation" columnist David Carr wrote about some of the positive changes impacting the media.

For one, Carr points out that some "old-school magazines...are moving very aggressively to refashion their brands for a tablet world and rightly so" -- that is, they're embracing new platforms. The key is for publishers to to move out of the nomenclature of 'subscriptions' for content and into the universe of 'applications,' there may be some gold in those hills."

Carr also points to changes in journalism as a result of new technologies and platforms:
  • "On the subject of Twitter, we should point out that new generations of consumers are now guided to important news by the recommendations of trusted friends, and increasingly, they point to great reporting in sources that didn’t exist just a few years ago."
  • "The founder of Gawker, Nick Denton, told me in a note that The Huffington Post and TMZ have demonstrated that news scoops are the coin of the realm and that Gawker will be heading in that direction. He suggested that the Web was further atomizing into sites that create original content and break news, and others that alter photos, float wild speculation or just gin up any old thing that will draw traffic."
  • "And just as new media have absorbed the enduring values of traditional media — developing sources, making phone calls — so more established players are adopting the tools of the insurgency."
  • "Meanwhile, journalism schools are no longer content just to teach the inverted pyramid. A few weeks ago, I was at CUNY’s graduate school of journalism to help judge presentations from more than a dozen teams of young media entrepreneurs. There were some clunkers, as there always are, but there were also some scary good, real-world proposals from students who don’t have to think out of the box because they were never in one to begin with."
My question: how are you seeing journalism change to adapt to social media and new platforms? I'm not interested in a debate of whether the evolution is good or bad -- that's irrelevant because it's happening regardless. What will be different about how journalism is practiced in 2010? Will traditional media focus more on breaking news -- before it can be validated by two or more sources? Let us know.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Gotta Flip about the Flip Marketing Deal with 30 Rock

In addition to advertising on NBC's "30 Rock," Flip has embarked on a very clever campaign. It is shooting behind-the-scenes look at "30 Rock" episodes, and then making them available online.

We see side-by-side shots of the real scene and, from a different angle, the same scene as shot by a flip camera.

Very clever way of demonstrating the quality of the Flip. It's no match to expensive network cameras, but the quality isn't bad.

Additionally, Flip and the cast and probably the writers, too, have created web-only episodes of the characters using a Flip camera. These are funny, and promote both the show and the camera.

I'd be interested in how much Flip is spending with "30 Rock," but the promotion work for both brands. It's TV marketing that's clever and fun to watch.

The Difference between BusinessWeek and Bloomberg BusinessWeek -- Part II

The other aspect of the deal was that Bloomberg said the acquisition was to extend the brand and reach an audience beyond subscribers to the wildly successful Bloomberg terminal.

This makes the firing of popular and well-known columnists like Maria Bartiromo, Jack & Suzy Welch and Stephen Wildstrom all the more perplexing. The personnel changes will help the bottom line, but won't necessarily help accomplish Bloomberg's stated goal.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Difference between BusinessWeek and Bloomberg BusinessWeek

I read through the first Bloomberg BusinessWeek issue -- the one after most of the columnists and longtime reporters had either left on their own or had been pushed.

I'm sure I'll get used to the new bylines, but if the magazine were a real estate property, Bloomberg basically bought the magazine for the prestigious address. The new magazine has similar columns to the McGraw Hill BusinessWeek, but this new version is clearly different.

I'm sure most former BizWeek reporters will do ok. Steve Hamm has already started working at IBM. But there are a lot of reporters who still haven't figured out what they'll be doing. I wish them all the best of luck, and look forward to reading the articles in some other format and some other outlet.

Friday, December 11, 2009

In a Web 2.0 World, It's Important to Define "Credibility"

I've been thinking a lot about credibility lately. Rupert Murdoch makes the point in a recent Wall St. Journal op-ed that there's more competition than ever for people interested in news -- and that's a good thing for consumers.

I don't necessarily agree with more competition is good when it comes to journalism. (That said, I don't think it's good when there's only one source for news, either.)

In his article, "Journalism and Freedom: Government assistance is a greater threat to the press than any new technology,"Murdoch says, "Media companies need to give people the news they want." And that seems to explain Fox News and most of News Corp. properties.

That doesn't always translate into accuracy.

Which leads me back to credibility.

I'm concerned that there are a lot of sites available now that post articles that provide some take on the news, many of them catering to a particular audience's belief systems. And that they don't provide objective perspectives, just self-reinforcing content.

The Boston Globe's Ellen Goodman recently wrote about the topic, "Facts and figures, myths and mantras." Interestingly, the response to her column was a mixed bag of polarized thought, some blaming MSM. (Hint: most times when you hear someone refer to "mainstream media" or especially as MSM, that person will tend to be a conservative and they will have been criticizing the media. You can out the responses to Goodman's column here: May fact-checkers not just endure but prevail.)

So the question becomes: what's credible? How can sites ensure they provide credible news and opinion? And what can organizations do to ensure that their social media programs are credible and engage their constituencies?

CNN launched a new ad campaign that features three CNN anchors with the words "Truth," "Facts" and "News" followed by an ad that says "First."

The problem is that truth, facts and news can be subjective. Facts can be emphasized or de-emphasized to make a particular point.

For example, I'm reading "Perfect Pitch" by Jon Steel about winning new business, and he makes the point that facts alone aren't enough. Citing the criminal trial of OJ Simpson, Steel points out that the prosecution focused a lot of attention on the bloody glove that linked (in their opinion) Simpson to the double murder. Yet Johnnie Cochran said if the glove "does not fit, you must acquit."

News organizations take facts and weave a narrative around them to make sense of the facts. To provide context. That's how you can have the New York Times and Wall St. Journal look at the same topic, reported similarly in their news pages, and take such different, opposing stances on their editorial pages.

That's not saying one paper is right and the other wrong. Just that interpretation of those facts is clearly important these days.

So how should we define what's credible? Is credibility in the eye of the beholder? Is it how the Supreme Court defined porn as you know it when you see it?

Organizations that seek to leverage social media will have to figure out how they can be credible, how they can engage their audiences, without turning them off.

The FTC has issued new rules that bloggers must comply with in terms of disclosing gifts or payments from companies. Will that ensure credibility?

People can now get paid for tweeting paid-for messages.

I think we've got to be very careful about being accurate and credible or else you'll turn off the very people you're trying to reach.

That's one of the challenges to leverage social media.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rupert Murdoch on Journalism and Freedom

News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch gave an interesting speech to the FTC last week that was reprinted in the Wall St. Journal (which he owns, of course). Entitled, "Journalism and Freedom: Government assistance is a greater threat to the press than any new technology," the speech makes the point that technology allows us to represent readers' interest and give them the news that's important to them" on a much greater scale.

Nothing new there, but Murdoch makes several interesting points:
  • "Media companies need to give people the news they want. I can't tell you how many papers I have visited where they have a wall of journalism prizes—and a rapidly declining circulation. This tells me the editors are producing news for themselves—instead of news that is relevant to their customers. A news organization's most important asset is the trust it has with its readers, a bond that reflects the readers' confidence that editors are looking out for their needs and interests."
  • "Quality content is not free. In the future, good journalism will depend on the ability of a news organization to attract customers by providing news and information they are willing to pay for."
  • "In the new business model, we will be charging consumers for the news we provide on our Internet sites. The critics say people won't pay. I believe they will, but only if we give them something of good and useful value. Our customers are smart enough to know that you don't get something for nothing."
The rest of the article basically argues that the government should not step in and help newspapers, as it did with the auto industry and banking sector. That seems to be self-serving, and I'm not going to address that.

But the points about business models and delivery methods (cross-platform, not the old fashioned paper route) are worthwhile. It will be a difficult transition, I think, to get people to pay for content.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Importance of Little Things to Help Differentiate Companies

I had a lunch meeting at the Olive Garden on Rte 9 in Framingham yesterday, the first time I ever met someone at that restaurant and location.

I drove by the Shoppers World mall, in which it's located, but did not see a sign for Olive Garden. I drove past a big building that matched the architecture of the rest of the mall, but there was no sign at all on the side of the building. The side visible from Rte 9.

So I drove on.

Of course, the plain building without a sign on the side turned out to be the Olive Garden.

Eventually, I turned around, and saw that the sign on the front of the building (which does not face Rte 9) for Olive Garden is visible only when driving West. If you're driving East on Rte 9 as I was, you'll see the sign only in your rear view mirror.

When I got to the restaurant, the other people I was meeting laughed. Because they already knew what I had just learned (not that they had told me in advance). So here's some quick advice on how to differentiate Olive Garden on Rte 9: put up a sign on the large otherwise blank side that faces Rte 9, the road most people take out there.

Monday, December 7, 2009

BusinessWeek Warns about Social Media Snake Oil

It was his final article for BusinessWeek, Stephen Baker wrote an important article, "Beware Social Media Snake Oil: Hordes of marketing "experts" are promoting the value of wikis, social networks, and blogs. All the hype may obscure the real potential of these online tools."

After five or more years writing about why businesses must embrace social media, BusinessWeek has finally written an article showing that it can be a difficult environment. It's worth checking out the article.

There's more from Baker's blog, "My experiment with FastFollowers on Twitter," which provides an interesting look into the editing process.

So let's be clear: social media can be a great tool, but it has to be approached for each client on that client's terms, understanding their culture, their customers, etc. Organizations should evaluate social media, but shouldn't jump in just because everyone else has.

One final point: the article also points out that people will make mistakes using social media, and that it is possible to turn mistakes. As a case study, Baker cites James Andrews, the former Ketchum social media executive who tweeted negatively about Nashville, and incurred the wrath of a FedEx executive. According to Andrews, the embarrassing situation raised his visibility enough be able to launch his own practice.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Verizon v. ATT -- Is that the new cola war? And what does it mean to consumers they're trying to reach?

Verizon and ATT have declared war -- against each other.

Not only do the ads from each company take shots at each other's claims -- taking a tone almost from political ads -- but they're also suing and counter-suing other other, too.

In the '80s, Coke and Pepsi fought the Cola Wars, with each company spending tons of advertising money. Coke won, but at least until recently, Pepsi was doing better, if only because it has a diversified portfolio of products beyond Pepsi Cola.

I generally think voters lose out when politicians wage attack ads, and I tend to think the same, here, for consumers.

The money's going into ads, not into services or lower fees or anything else that really helps consumers. Instead, while making claims and counter-claims, Verizon and ATT are trying to attract customers basically on the message that "We're not them," with the underlying message of "help us beat the competition."

But as Guy Kawasaki says, consumers generally don't buy a product or service to help a company beat its competition. (The exception may be in so-called religious wars such as the fanatics on both sides of Windows v. Macs.)

I'm looking at getting a new phone. And as a Verizon customer, I'm actually considering a move to ATT since it has the iPhone. None of the recent ads from either company is giving me a reason to stay or swith.

Which means that Verizon and ATT are both losing the carrier wars, as far as I'm concerned. At least the Verizon v. Comcast ads, in the cable wars, are funnier, less negative.

What if they took a portion of their advertising budgets and spent it actually improving the stuff that consumers don't like? That may be a heretical concept from someone in PR, but I don't think so.

In an age in which consumer egagement is important, the Carrier Wars are fighting a battle consumers don't care about.

Monday, November 30, 2009

What's going on with Wikipedia?


As I've written before, for people who want to contribute articles, I think Wikipedia can have an unwelcoming, even hostile environment. There are editors who clearly live to delete new content rather than edit new content. (These are known as "deletionists": editors who shoot first and ask questions later.)

And then there are the flame wars, the infighting among "contributors writing about controversial subjects and polarizing figures," according to a recent Wall St. Journal article.

Although Wikipedia continues to be a popular Internet destination, the site is losing editors.

"Wikipedia is becoming a more hostile environment. Many people are getting burnt out when they have to debate about the contents of certain articles again and again," Felipe Ortega, a project manager at Libresoft, a research group at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, told the Wall St. Journal. Ortega analyzed Wikipedia's data on the editing histories of its more than three million active contributors in 10 languages.

So could this mark the end of crowdsourcing -- the theory that "there is wisdom in aggregating independent contributions from multitudes of Web users"?

The Journal points out that "as it matures, Wikipedia, one of the world's largest crowdsourcing initiatives, is becoming less freewheeling and more like the organizations it set out to replace. Today, its rules are spelled out across hundreds of Web pages. Increasingly, newcomers who try to edit are informed that they have unwittingly broken a rule -- and find their edits deleted, according to a study by researchers at Xerox Corp."

I could've told you that.

Look, I don't think Wikipedia is dying. But I think it is facing a crisis, even if it's akin to a mid-life crisis. Check out the interesting Journal article, "Volunteers Log Off as Wikipedia Ages."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Are Your Friends' Tweets for Real or Advertising?

Next month, new FTC rules will go into affect that mandate increased transparency among payments to bloggers in exchange for mentions -- because the FTC feels gifts and payments to bloggers is basically a new form of advertising.

Of course, companies can provide gifts and payments to bloggers but still can't control the actual content, tone, timing, etc.

Meanwhile, the New York Times ran an interesting article about sponsored tweets, "A Friend’s Tweet Could Be an Ad." Startups like Ad.ly, Like.com, Izea and Peer2 offer ways for celebrities and regular people can insert sponsored statements and get paid for doing so.

From a Tweeter's perspective, I certainly understand the desire to monetize one's following. And from a marketer's perspective, I certainly understand the desire to tap the credibility of people so as to conduct a word-of-mouth initiative.

But it raises some key questions.

For example, some services ensure that any sponsored tweet includes either #ad or #sponsor. But it's not clear that every service does that.

Credibility is important, but it's not clear, yet, what the impact of including sponsored tweets will have on followers. Even without sponsored tweets, there's been some controversy, including around Guy Kawasaki and certain mainstream celebrities, who uses tweets prepared by others including personal assistants.

And the impact on marketers is also unclear. Will people resent those companies that are using Twitter in this obvious, harder sell way? The Times quotes Peer2 co-founderJoey Caroni, who said, “We don’t want to create an army of spammers, and we are not trying to turn Facebook and Twitter into one giant spam network. All we are trying to do is get consumers to become marketers for us.”

I understand that goal, but that is asking a lot...to get consumers to become marketers for them.

If those services don't require some designation that a tweet is sponsored, I would expect the FTC to start requiring disclosure here.

But I also think this approach, while it generates a way to make money from having a strong followers, is more of an old-style, offline, one-way sell because it does not truly engage followers. From that perspective, I think sponsored tweets is really a Web 1.0 approach.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Three Rules of Success, According to Accenture's Chairman

I always read the "Corner Office" column in the Sunday New York Times. It's a question-and-answer column with a CEO regarding his or her management experiences.

There's usually a something valuable in each week's column.

This week's column, "68 Rules? No, Just 3 Are Enough," interviewed William D. Green, CEO of Accenture, who made this point:
I once sat through a three-day training session in our company, and this was for new managers, very capable people who were ready for a big step up. I counted, over three days, 68 things that we told them they needed to do to be successful, everything from how you coach and mentor, your annual reviews, filling out these forms, all this stuff.

And I got up to close the session, and I’m thinking about how it isn’t possible for these people to remember all this. So I said there are three things that matter.

  1. The first is competence — just being good at what you do, whatever it is, and focusing on the job you have, not on the job you think you want to have.
  2. The second one is confidence. People want to know what you think. So you have to have enough desirable self-confidence to articulate a point of view.
  3. The third thing is caring. Nothing today is about one individual. This is all about the team, and in the end, this is about giving a damn about your customers, your company, the people around you, and recognizing that the people around you are the ones who make you look good.
Pretty simple, and all are important. But the first two aren't enough -- the third point is vital, especially in today's economy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Supreme Court Rules 5-4 Against New England School of Law

At the top of the hour, WBUR-FM did its minute of thanking listeners who support the station, including New England School of Law, touting that four Supreme Court Justices will visit the school this year, its centenary.

That's nice, I guess. But a more provocative way to get mileage from that could have been to say: "Supreme Court Rules 5-4 Against New England School of Law -- find out why at..."

The school could then announce that it is appealing the decision -- and invite other justices to visit the campus.

Actually, I just had lunch with a person in charge of communications at a nonprofit client we've worked with, and we talked about the reticence of some nonprofits from engaging in active PR. Look, every organization has to be comfortable with the type of PR before, and there may be some great strategies and tactics that just aren't right for the organization. So you don't do recommend reluctant organizations to take on a PR campaign that goes against their culture. But it can be fun to imagine what they could do with it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Walt Mossberg, David Pogue & the State of Consumer Tech Reviews

Providing consumer technology reviews is a difficult job.

I say this not to suck up to consumer tech reviewers, but to acknowledge that they really do face significant challenges that include:
  • Conducting daily triage on products that are relevant to consumers. There's a lot of new gadgets and technology, especially around Christmas and CES, and most of them may be worthy while still not worthy of reviewing.
  • They have to sort through claims that products are "revolutionary," "paradigm-shifting," etc. when perhaps they're not all that.
  • If the technology is truly revolutionary, it may be of interest only to very early adopters, not mainstream consumers. (In 1975, the Altair 8800 was the first microcomputer -- but the PC didn't catch on until years later.)
  • They have to translate geeky features and terminology that only engineers care about into language that consumers can understand.
  • There are a lot of cross-over products that work for consumers and small businesses, but most consumer tech reviewers really only look at consumer technology -- which doesn't stop publicists handling SMB technology to call and complain to them.
  • There's a lot of useful technology out there, like utility software. But reviews of utility software don't sell papers like reviews of the latest mega-pixel camera, smartphone, etc. -- which doesn't stop publicists handling utility software to call and complain to them.
  • They get advanced look at buggy software, gadgets with glitches, etc. You know how frustrating it is when your own technology doesn't work as advertised. These folks are on the front line for that, so think how frustrating their jobs can be -- though, of course, when they have a problem, they get priority tech support from the company.
Point made? A difficult job.

Recently, there's been talk about the New York Times' David Pogue and potential conflicts of interest. As a long-time reader of Pogue's column and email newsletter, I think he's a pretty straight shooter. But I think he should do a better job of disclosing potential conflicts of interest. His credibility is important for the success of his column, which is important for all his side endeavors. There's no reason he'd jeopardize the credibility of his Times column, but, again, better disclosure would help.

The latest contretemps involves Walt Mossberg and his review of Windows 7. The complaint: that Mossberg wrote a glowing review of the now-reviled Vista, and used almost verbatim copy to describe Window 7. (Check out the complaint here.)

Seems to me some of the problems Pogue had also entailed his reviews of Win 7 and also of Snow Leopard, Apple's operating system. I know operating systems are important -- it's the reason I've waited to replace my aging computer until Win7 became available, and didn't replace it earlier in the year when I should have but would have had to deal with Vista. So maybe that's the problem: people take operating systems very seriously, and are therefore much more critical of reviewers who praise faulty OSes.

On the other hand, I say, give Mossberg and Pogue a break. There used to be lots of tech reviewers out there, every paper had at least one for a while. Now there are far fewer of them. So ask them to make more disclosures and to voluntarily follow the same rules the FTC will be applying Dec. 1 to bloggers in terms of receiving free products, and let's move on.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

We All Live in a Genre World -- It's a Matter of Choosing What Genre to Live, or to Write

Funny essay in the New York Times Book Review about literary genres.

Seems there really are just a handful of genres. In "What to Write Next," by author Colson Whitehead, author of “The Intuitionist” (ist) and “John Henry Days” (encyclopedic), quickly identifies the mainstream different literary genres.

He did not, alas, identify different genres or styles among bloggers, which I will start to do here, albeit not as humorously:
  • Self-expressive: more like a diary open to the public.
  • Humorous.
  • Hobbyist.
  • Professional. Opinions and insight into a sector.
  • How-to: focusing on specific functions or sectors, covering all industries.
  • Get-Rich-Quick. Which often are used to sell get-rich-quick solutions from the blog's author.
  • Political: across the spectrum. Some like to fact-check opposing perspectives (i.e., point out wholes or inconsistencies).
  • Opinion, Political: often without original reporting.
  • Mommy -- there are some Daddy bloggers, but seems to be far fewer than Mommy bloggers.
What genres of blogging have I missed? Let me know.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Are Shelter Books Dead -- Or merely the new bridal magazines?

With the news that Hachette Filipacchi Media is shuttering Metropolitan Home magazine, we've come to a turning point, I think, in what used to be known as the "shelter books" -- magazines focusing on interior design for the home.

In an environment where home foreclosures continue to mount up, the potential readership for decorating tips has other things on their mind.

In fact, a lot of people seem to renovate these days only to spruce up their homes to make them more marketable. I know someone who had put off updating their kitchen for year because they thought they might move, and now are moving -- but not before investing $10,000 to update their kitchen appliances. And that's even though they know any buyer will rip out those improvements to more completely renovate the kitchen. (My friend is also lamenting that they didn't spend the money years ago to enjoy the new appliances.)

I'm not saying that's the only reason or only time these days that people are renovating or updating their homes. But it does seem true when I look around at friends and colleagues.

The advertisers and publishers seem to recognize that fact. After all, they've pulled the plug on at least six other shelter pubs: nStyle Home, Cottage Living, Blueprint, Country Home, O at Home and Domino.

True, there are still a lot of other shelter pubs out there, like Better Homes & Gardens and Elle Decor.

But I think people interested in interior design magazines may be shifting their reading habits, and won't be interesting in annual subscriptions to those magazines. Like readers of bridal magazines, these will be interested buyers, looking for tips and ideas before they actually decide to update the look of their homes. They'll buy a couple of issues, and be done.

Besides, they can always look online at the weekly home sections still published by many newspapers. Of course, the graphics on newsprint aren't as impressive on high glossy magazine stock, but it's more convenient.

And while our clients usually are not interested in shelter pubs, one reason I'm interested in this change is that the high resolution graphics necessary for shelter pubs was one reason I thought they -- along with bridal and high-end travel magazines -- would survive without having to shift to an online-only business model. Because the graphics are so important to the end product.

For the moment, it seems only bridal and high-end travel magazines may be able to resist going online only.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bloggers and Journalists Need to Improve Transparency/Credibility

According to surveys on the perception of different careers (journalists, car dealers, etc.), journalists often score low – and bloggers will soon face the same if they don’t increase transparency about who they are and any potential conflicts of interests (free gifts, employment, etc.)

A couple of years ago, a political blogger famously talked to Bill Clinton without disclosing that she’s a blogger, and captured him saying something he shouldn't have, something he probably wouldn't have if he had known he was talking to a blogger.

I know, these days, everyone can be a blogger or a citizen journalist. But if you're at an event to blog about it, you should tell people you talk to that that's why you're there talking to them.

Meanwhile, the FTC's new rule on mandating bloggers to disclose paid relationships (including gifts) has generated a lot of initial buzz among bloggers.

It may be that people don't care, but I continue to think it's important to maintain credibilty. The FTC rule may not be a great rule, but at least they're trying to keep up with technology.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Do You Have the Infotention Skills to Survive Online?

Infotention is Howard Rheingold's term for the psycho-social-techno skill/tools we need to find our way online.

The basis of Infotention, according to Rheingold is:

Honing the mental ability to deploy the form of attention appropriate for each moment is an essential internal skill for people who want to find, direct, and manage streams of relevant information by using online media knowledgeably.

Knowing how to put together intelligence dashboards, news radars, and information filters from online tools like persistent search and RSS is the external technical component of information literacy.

Read more Here.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Wired's 10 Best Things We'll Say to Our Grandkids

Just 10 items, a quick read. Most of them very funny, and mostly, I think, accurate.

Check out #2, 3, 5, 6 & 9.

Lessons to be Learned When Politicians Attack the Media

Politicians who gripe about the media should be taken with a grain of salt. Because they weren't complaining about agendas and getting the story wrong when the media wrote positive stories about them.

On the other hand, Fox News didn't really do any positive stories about Obama, so perhaps it's not a typical love-hate relationship...since there was never any love to begin with.

But I think we can learn some interesting lessons from what's going on now.
  1. Media on both sides of the aisle (whether they admit that or not) find the fact that Obama thinks Fox News is biased is a great story. The Times has written about it extensively ("Fox’s Volley With Obama Intensifying). So has the Wall St. Journal. The latest entry is from the Journal: "Obama Is Right About Fox News."
  2. Fox News LOVES the controversy, becoming the Dick Cavett of News by making itself part of the story as I blogged earlier in the month.
  3. The public actually doesn't care about the story at all. Ok, I can't back this up with a specific survey, but with the two wars, the economy, the foreclosures, etc., it's difficult to imagine that most people care one way or the other.
  4. Obama's claim that Fox is biased is actually silly because no one really thinks it isn't. Instead, conservatives think of it as an alternative to liberal media.
  5. Fox's claim that it's being bullied by the president is equally absurd because they constantly find ways to play up small, negative stories about Obama (the Town Hall shouters were promoted and reported by Fox) -- and because Fox is able to play the valiant hero to its base, saying it's able to take on the president.
In the end, the White House needs to back off, because it's providing the oxygen to keep this fire burning. and it does the administration no good.

So the lessons:
  1. Be careful of who you fight with. The old adage was never start a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel. Now, you no longer have to worry about the ink, it's the pixels. And Fox has a lot of 'em.
  2. Decide what's a reasonable outcome. What could the Obama administration think could be a positive resolution to this situation? Fox chief, Roger Ailes, isn't going to slap his forehead, and say, "Y'know what, Barack is right, we need to deliver truly balanced news."
  3. Develop a plan to achieve that reasonable outcome. Not sure there could be a plan -- other than to not engage with Fox. That's still a plan.
  4. Enlist partners to make the case. Fox has done that. Not sure that the White House has.
  5. Sometimes the smartest decision in a fight is not to start the war in the first place. I learned that lesson from "War Games," and it still seems like a smart line.
Are there any lessons you think I missed? Let me know.

Meanwhile, check out "Veteran reporter's 5 lessons for Obama" by Helen Thomas.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

In Detroit, Separation Between Church and State -- Editorial and Advertising -- Has Blurred

So it's come to this: the separation between editorial and advertising (also known as church and state) at a major newspaper has become blurred. While it seemed like there wasn't always a lot of separation at the smaller trade magazines, there was always a strong separation at major newspapers. Until now.

Check out an interesting Wall St. Journal article about the Detroit Free Press and Humana: "Major Detroit Newspaper Takes Cues From Advertisers; Free Press Gets Idea for Medicare Series From Humana, Defers to Target on Timing of Education Stories."

Given the significant ad slump everywhere, and the lousy economy in Detroit, it may not be surprising that it happened there.

I bet we'll see more of this kind of collabortion. We just won't always be aware of it.

NYT's David Carr May Be Right That Business Media Has Changed Forever -- But Steve Jobs Continues to Be a Great Cover Subject

As I wrote earlier this week, Is NYT's David Carr Right? Has Business Media Changed Forever?, business media probably has been changed forever, due to the advertising decline and the impact of the Internet.

But in his column, "Business Is a Beat Deflated," David Carr said he thought we had reached the end of the period of CEOs-as-gods cover stories.

Well, someone forgot to send the memo to Fortune.

Fortune just crowned Steve Jobs: CEO of the Decade.

Do we really need to determine the CEO of the Decade?

Is most of this decade one that most CEOs -- whose tenure has gotten shorter and shorter -- would prefer to forget?

And, by the way, for the record, I pointed out that there was an exception to the no more CEOs-as-gods stories: "Steve Jobs, who still gets adulation."

That prediction proved correct far more quickly than I had expected.

Getting Internet Buys for Top-Tier Sites For Cheap -- Using Ad Networks

Advertisers have a cost-effective way to reach top-tier media sites: it's using ad networks that sell unused space on websites. When a site like the New York Times can't sell space, it turns to the ad networks to fill that space at a discount.

This process helps nytimes.com and the advertisers, too.

The catch is that the ad networks can't guarantee placement on the top-tier sites. But these ad networks also enable advertisers to target demographics that may not be possible through the Washington Post, for example.

There's no similar workaround for PR functions, but it's interesting to know these alternate distribution channels exist.

While they provide a service, these ad networks are also having a negative impact on newspaper sites. Check out this NY Times article, "Online Rally May Sidestep Newspapers."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Is NYT's David Carr Right? Has Business Media Changed Forever?

New York Times media critic David Carr has written an interesting article about the state of business media in his column, "Business Is a Beat Deflated."

In the article, Carr wrote, "While the business of business may be back, the business of covering it with heroic narratives and upbeat glossy spreads most certainly is not. And probably never will be."

I think that the nature of business coverage will have to change, that we're not going to see many CEOs-as-gods stories (with one exception, Steve Jobs still gets adulation).

That's not to say we won't see cover stories on CEOs. We will. They just won't be as glowing profiles, for the most part.

I don't think that's a bad thing since the CEOs I've met have generally been very smart but also very human, too.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Recession & The Newsroom

Clark Hoyt, the Public Editor at the New York Times, wrote an interest an interesting article, "Recession, Revolution and a Leaner Times," about the impact the recession is having on the newsroom. Here are some highlights:
  • The Times retains the largest newsroom of any American paper — 1,250 reporters, photographers, editors, columnists, graphic artists, Web producers, videographers and more — it is about to cut 100 people through voluntary buyouts and, if needed, layoffs that would happen in the weeks before Christmas.
  • Other cuts: The Baltimore Sun had 400 journalists, is now down to 150 journalists. The Los Angeles Times, where a staff of more than 1,100 has been cut nearly in half.
  • Rick Edmonds, a scholar at the Poynter Institute, a journalism training center in Florida, estimated last month that newspapers have reduced spending on journalism by $1.6 billion a year over the past several years.
  • Bill Keller, executive editor, said he is determined to avoid closing foreign or national bureaus and does not expect significant cuts in Washington, DC.
  • The Times has already reduced "the support staff, cutting freelance budgets, capping expense-account meals, seeking bargain airfares and hotels, rotating foreign correspondents every five years instead of four, and housing some bureaus in correspondents’ homes rather than downtown offices. The nice car and driver for the London bureau chief? History."
  • "The metro staff, with more than 60 reporters, is still the largest, but it has been reduced by nearly 20 percent over a decade. The paper, for example, no longer has correspondents in the state capitals of New Jersey and Connecticut." Much the way the Journal announced that it would close its Boston bureau, shifting some coverage to New York.
  • With an around-the-clock news cycle, reporters file throughout the day, and copy can be edited over a smoother cycle.
  • Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, said the newsroom cuts and a decision about charging online readers are entirely separate issues. The cuts are “meant to address the immediate, short-term realities of our current economic situation.” Charging for online content, he said, is a strategic issue that “would have little or no impact on our financial results in the short term, but rather position us differently for long-term grow.
Very interesting insight into the newsroom.

Friday, October 30, 2009

More Bad News for Print: WSJ, Time, & Forbes

Although the Wall St. Journal's front page had a positive story about the economy, "Economy Snaps Long Slump," it's clear we're not out of the woods yet.

Need more convincing? This morning's breaking news, Consumer Spending Tumbled, now appears on wsj.com above the story it now contradicts ("long slump").

That perhaps explains recent media moves:
  • "Time Inc. Is Expected to Eliminate More Jobs": The $100 million in cuts is expected to come largely from layoffs, which comes after 600 layoffs last year.
  • Forbes announced on Monday that it was dismissing 40 to 60 people from its editorial staff. According to an early Times story, "Depending on how you count, there are about 200 editorial employees at the magazine. And depending on who you talk to, at least 40 people could be cut, while one source who was not authorized to speak about the layoffs said the number could go as high as 60."
  • Wall St. Journal to close its Boston bureau, according to the Boston Globe. The bureau, which covers health care, education, and financial services, will close Dec. 31. The paper will shift most of the coverage to its New York office...According to Robert Christie, a Journal spokesman, said the paper does not plan to close any of its other 36 news bureaus. “We are not giving up on the beats; we are just relocating them,’’ he said. “A lot of the companies that we used to cover are no longer in Boston and a lot of the jobs that were in Boston could be located anywhere in the US.’’
What's interesting is that even as the Journal reported good news about the economy, it is continuing to look at ways to cut costs. Furthermore, the Journal also is beefing up its tech coverage, called Biz Tech Tuesdays. Guess it won't feature much New England tech.

I think if the Journal can close its Boston bureau, it and other papers will close other bureaus, too, especially those that can be covered by regional hubs. For example, expect that there could be consolidation of all the San Francisco and Silicon Valley bureaus out there.

US Chamber of Crisis Lands on the Front Page of the Wall St. Journal

The US Chamber continues to respond to criticism of its positions on climate control and other issues by taking a tougher stance on what its trying to achieve.

So from one perspective, the US Chamber has successfully raised awareness of the organization. Today, it scored a front-page Wall St. Journal article, "No Deal: Chamber Chief Battles Obama."

Not bad for an organization that had been called a sleeping giant.

But is this tough go-it-alone stance going to pay off in the end? Will the visibility drive companies to embrace and support it or push them in an opposite direction?

Seems to me there could be an opportunity for another business-focused organization that is willing to be less intransigent, more interested in dialog. (As an example of how unwilling the US Chamber is, it wouldn't even talk to the Wall St. Journal on the above article.)

When all is said and done, I think the US Chamber will have raised awareness of the organization and will have also hurt its reputation. Because at some point, Congress will enact new legislation, which is sure to be a compromise, and I'd bet the US Chamber will not win -- which its critics could characterize as a loss.

I think a take-no-prisoners approach is much more difficult in a Web 2.0 world, where a lot more people can respond and make their views known. And in an environment that encourages engagement, the fact that the US Chamber is not engaging is a mistake.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Are Add-on Ticket Fees the Dark Side of the Force of "Star Wars in Concert" -- Or the myth of frictionless eCommerce

One of the aspects of e-commerce that we all accept on faith is that it is "frictionless," that the Internet removes or reduces barriers to doing business that otherwise increase what consumers pay.

The result: low prices from online retailers.

But that's not always the case.

Take, for example, purchasing event tickets online. There are often additional charges, not fewer, when buying event tickets.

My kids love Star Wars, so I looked into tickets for the Stars Wars in Concert tour.

Turns out the tickets show the Dark Side of the Star Wars in Concert -- at least in Boston.

Prices for the tickets are $72.50.

But wait. There's more.

You also have to pay a "Facility Charge," though there's no explanation for that. The Facility Charge is $2.50 per ticket.

You also have to pay a pretty stiff "Convenience Charge."There's no explanation for the "Convenience Charge," especially since I believe you can't buy these tickets at the TD Garden, where the tour plays in Boston. But that convenience will cost you $11.65 per ticket.

So far, you're paying $86.65 for your $72.50 tickets. Talking about arbitrage. I'd love to invest in the ability to buy tickets for $72.50 and make $14.15 with no real effort.

But what, there's one thing I left out.

There's also a charge to print up the tickets on your own computer -- $2.50 per order. That's not a lot of money, but they're charging you for your ink and paper -- when they have no cost involved in letting you print the tickets yourself. You're actually saving them money. (That's why the airlines prefer you print your tickets yourself.) If you don't want to print them up yourself, you can order them by standard mail, which is free -- even though they have to print it up, put it in the envelope (which they also have to purchase) and mail it with a stamp.

Seems to me that should be reversed: they should charge you for sending tickets by regular mail, and let you print them up for free.

Perhaps that's a problem in Boston.

In Providence, Star Wars in Concert costs $73.00 (or $0.50 more than in Boston) while the Facility Charge is $2.00 (or $0.50 less than in Boston. While the Convenience Charge is $9.85 (or $1.80 less than Boston). Meanwhile, in Bridgeport, CT, concert tickets cost $85.25, with no additional charges.

I guess it works out in the end since the price is about the same in those three markets. Yet I hate to pay a Convenience Charge when there's really no convenience or when it helps the vendor as much as it help the consumer.

And I don't like to pay to download tickets when, again, this is something that saves them money and work.

In the end, though my children are big Star Wars fans, I decided not to purchase the tickets as a bit of a protest. Don't charge me for convenience that actually helps you make more money.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Print Edition of Computerworld Now Hits Twice a Month

Computerworld is changing the frequency of its print edition -- acknowledging that news doesn't wait for weekly production schedules. Now Computerworld will print twice a month.

They're still covering news online.

And will keep a News Analysis section in the print edition.

As it is the print edition continues to shrink. Wonder it the next move is to become a monthly.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Steve Ballmer & the "New Normal" or How Microsoft Regained its Mojo and All I Got was this Right-Sized Operating System

Ah, the "New Normal." I remember when I first started using that term, Nov. 7, 2008 in a post, Layoffs & PR Strategy.

Since then, a lot of people have climbed on that bandwagon.

The latest: Steve Ballmer of Microsoft.

C'mon in, Steve, the water's, um, lower than it used to be.

Ballmer defines the new normal as including the "The New Efficiency: With Less, Do More." How's that different from the old efficiency -- glad you asked: in the new efficiency, companies must "increase productivity and find ways to deliver new value to customers."

How can you achieve that new efficiency? Glad you asked. Ballmer says, "a new generation of business solutions is transforming IT into a strategic asset that makes it possible to cut costs without crippling customer service or constraining workforce creativity and effectiveness."

Those new solutions might be led by Windows 7, which finally shipped last week.

Look, it can be easy being snarky about this. But it's also worth hearing what Ballmer says he is smart, he does run Microsoft, and his vision will be difficult to avoid, even if you're a Mac. Check out "Microsoft CEO on ‘The New Normal.’"

On the other hand, the latest Journal interview with Balmmer, with a headline he can't like -- Ballmer Tries Bringing Back Microsoft's Mojo" -- quotes him using a lot of buzz words and vague predictions and qualifications of those predictions. For example:
We took actions as a business to make sure we had our cost structure right-sized. And hopefully with a recovery, we're right-sized. If things meander along, we're right-sized. And both of those are possible, and maybe other things not as positive are possible.
Ok, anyone else find the key message he wanted to convey? I have to assume Microsoft's mojo has been right-sized...if only because he sprinkles the term five times throughout the interview.

He also says he wished he had "message with our employees" earlier than he did. I think he meant "talked with." Messaged as a verb seems very top-down, but not very engaging, which is more the Web 2.0 approach.

To keep this post right-sized, I'm going to stop here. Thanks for reading.

Are Twitter's Founders Posing on Purpose Like the Mac & PC Guys?

Ok, quick -- which is the New York Times photo of Evan Williams & Biz Stone and which is the Apple ad featuring John Hodgman (as "PC") and Justin Long (as "Mac")?












I know the Times' photo is not an exact duplication of the Apple ads, but it certainly has a separated-at-birth, through-the-looking-glass vibe going on.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Should the Government Subsidize Newspapers?

For the past year, some journalists and editors have suggested that one way to help print journalism is to get government subsidies.

Now, in the past, the government has used farm subsidies to enact policy. So we had farmers paid not to farm, for example.

Would we pay journalists not to write -- if so, how do I get in line for that? Would the government reward papers for certain types of coverage (more patriotic news) and penalize them by cutting back support for other types of coverage (like reporting on scandals among politicians)?

I do believe that newspapers are important to our democracy working. The question is how to support them when the market isn't. I don't think subsidies are the way to go, and neither does Seth Lipsky, former editor at the Forward and the New York Sun. Check out his Journal op-ed,
All the News That's Fit to Subsidize, http://bit.ly/1IB35a.

And note, the swipe at the Times.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Does More Housework Mean More Sex? -- Or other questions you didn't expect to read about in the Wall St. Journal

Is the Wall St. Journal, in an attempt to broaden its readership, going soft?

The Journal, which battled the New York Times in covering the travails of the super rich, seems to be opening a new front: women-focused features.

On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, the Journal ran soft feature news on the front-page of its Personal Journal section.

On Tues.: "Lies, Damned Lies and Lies to Tell Your Spouse," which featured more responses from women about why they lie than men (who didn't really respond to the article).

On Wed.: "Does More Housework Mean More Sex?," which makes the case that the more husbands handle housework, the more sex they get. The article doesn't actually use the term quid pro quo, but might as well.

Interesting articles, but even though written by long-time Journal reporters, Elizabeth Bernstein and Sue Shellenbarger, the latter the "Work & Family" columnist, it seems like a new front for the Journal vs. the Times. At the least, a bit risque for the Journal, and perhaps evidence of Murdoch tarting up the Journal (as he has done with every other newspaper in the News Corp. portfolio).

The question: how will the Times respond?

When in Disgrace with Fortune and Men's Eyes -- Or, less poetically, some serious changes to Fortune Magazine

Ok, perhaps Shakespeare is not relevant, as in the quote from Sonnet 29, but there's still something rotten in the state of the publishing world.

Fortune Magazine will cut its publishing frequency from 25 issues -- basically every two weeks -- to 18 issues, which means some months Fortune will publish only once a month.

Although it recently remodeled the look and feel of the prestigious business magazine, Fortune is expected to remodel the magazine again, this time focusing on longer articles on fewer topics. If Forbes is about investing, and BusinessWeek about news, Fortune will continue its emphasis on managing (which had gotten less emphasis over the past decade) by adding new columns "to help business professionals do their jobs more effectively. It will have a cleaner, less cluttered look and an upgraded Web site," according to the Wall St. Journal.

In other words, the new Fortune will be more like Entrepreneur or Inc. or even its kid sister publication, Fortune Small Business (FSB) -- all good magazines, but all really focused on service journalism. That's not exactly what Fortune, which has columns on investing and executive lifestyles, was known for.

What's interesting, I think, is that service journalism -- basically articles offering advice and how-to's -- has become more important because the media world is evolving so rapidly that few people truly have a secure grasp of things. I think that's why how-to articles in the blogosphere are often so much more widely read than analysis articles (such as this one). People are looking for advice to help them make sense and respond to the changes.

Well, it looks like Fortune is giving people what they want.

Oh, and unfortunately, there will be layoffs, too.

Here are some of the proposed changes, according to the Journal:
  • The magazine itself will become more of a lush-looking premium product. Fortune plans to increase the minimum number of editorial pages in each issue.
  • They will stop (or reduce the number) of "CEO-as-god magazine covers that have been a staple of the magazine, whether with Jack Welch or Warren Buffett." Replacing the "CEO-as-god" stories will be more conceptual stories, such as one about the White House's relationship with Google.
  • The emphasis on large companies will continue, including on its website. Fortune.com will be "recast to focus on key companies. Executives point to Fortune.com's blog about Apple Inc. and said there are more high-profile companies that will be treated similarly."
  • I would expect certain special issues to continue, including the Fortune 500 issue, among others. In fact, we can expect more online-only content about the Fortune 500, "which the magazine hopes to turn into more of a brand that lives online all year."
  • Fortune is beefing up service journalism (as noted above), "adding features about career advice and business how-tos. One might feature a person who gives hundreds of public speeches a year, and her advice on how to give more effective presentations. Another column might explain how to manage your online profile. Reflecting the growing influence of the federal government in corporate affairs, Fortune is adding a one-page column called 'Washington Watch.'"
But is it enough for Fortune to succeed? I don't think so. I think Fortune looses some prestige by dropping its publishing frequency, and perhaps some of its relevance. I also think they're making at least one mistake: "Executives decided it was more important for Fortune to be more visible on the Web, where the magazine may add staffers."

Yet the web-based version of Fortune is free -- the magazine generates no subscription revenue there, just some ad buys. But online advertising buys typically generate less money than print ads.

Meanwhile, on the personnel front, there are going to be layoffs, probably in the next week or so. It also means that whatever stories reporters were working on may be shelved. It means turmoil for the editorial staff and those of us pitching them.

How Business Magazines Are Responding to the Continued Ad Slump

We've seen a big change at BusinessWeek, now owned by Bloomberg. Big changes at Fortune. I guess we're waiting for the shoe to drop for Forbes.

Meanwhile, here are some interesting points from the Journal article, "Fortune Magazine Cuts Back Number of Issues; Changes Are Said to Foreshadow Further Restructuring at Time Inc. Publications as Ad Slump Drags On"
  • "Industry executives believe news, business and general-interest magazines—unlike fashion and entertainment titles—are unlikely to rebound fully even after the economy is on a firmer footing." Which is to say, despite a recent Journal article that the business spending slump looks like it's ending, we're still not out of the woods yet.
  • "They see a permanent change in how readers interact with news titles in the Internet age." Again, the advice component is something that news outlets and news websites are not offering.
  • Business magazines have been hit hard during the ad slump: "The number of advertising pages in Fortune dropped 35% from a year ago, on par with the declines at BusinessWeek, Forbes and Newsweek." In contrast, "Ad pages for entertainment and celebrity magazines declined 15% this year from 2008, and fell 18% for fitness and men's lifestyle magazines such as GQ, according to Mediaweek," a far shallower dropoff.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Inc's Blog of the Month for October -- Worth checking out

Inc. Magazine's "Blog of the Month" for October points to Seth Godin, writing about change. blogs about learning how to embrace change:

"The best way to get smarter, to embrace and to cause change and to triumph in times of market turmoil is to adopt the scientific method. Ask yourself, 'What do I believe that's wrong? How can I change the way I do things? What works? What doesn't?'…Restlessness and the scientific method…create a culture of testing and inquiry that can't help but push you forward."

Godin's blog with well worth reading. Check it out.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

More Validation About the Importance of Client Communications

I've written about The Importance of Client Communication, and continue to see examples of how good reporting helps business relationships, and have experienced where bad reporting has hurt it (particularly from a vendor to a company for which I serve as a director).

I also believe that clients will pay more for better reporting. The current issue of Inc. magazine makes that point in an article, "How Would You Make Over the U.S. Postal Service?"

Here's what Sean Harper, Co-founder, TSS-Radio, had to say:

"When it comes to shipping small packages, the USPS is cheaper than its competitors and offers comparable and sometimes even faster delivery times. However, since it doesn't offer reliable tracking, we pay a premium to ship most of our packages with UPS. If the USPS tracked packages as well as UPS, it could capture a lot of business."
Reliable tracking is another way to say reporting. The USPS does offer tracking that you can pay for, but I believe it's not available for every type of shipping.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Good Lessons on Leveraging Events for PR

I know a lot of organizations are cutting back on events. But there are still times when they are necessary.

In the current issue of Fast Company, Nancy Lublin, CEO of Do Something, a nonprofit, provides an instructive postmortem of an event that Do Something held.

Key points from the article, Stinking it Up: We had a big party, but got no buzz. Lessons from a PR failure," included:
  • Find a good story happening at the event -- not just who's being honored. Lublin's example: Boys Like Girls (a band playing at the event) has "a pet turtle named Dorota, named after the Gossip Girl character, and they met Zuzanna Szadkowski, who plays Dorota, at the event.
  • If you have celebrities, be exclusive with the media to get bigger play.
  • Don't forget to work with bloggers and others in the social media space (i.e., Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
  • Make sure to get a photographer, and then to send photos to appropriate outlets.
  • Strategize after the event. What worked, what didn't.
  • Follow up. Not just to make sure articles hit, but to leverage those articles by bookmarking them (via Digg), tweeting about them, etc.

US Chamber of Crisis & Hoax

For the US Chamber of Commerce, it's business as usual in terms of climate control. They continue to act as if the Chamber is not in a crisis.

But a rogue group held a press conference at the National Press Club pretending to be the US Chamber of Commerce in order to communicate views on climate change that it thinks the Chamber should hold. That's not just a PR stunt. It's a sign of frustration.

I am not condoning the actions of the faux US Chamber. Here are scenes from the faux press conference:



But I continue to believe that the US Chamber has a crisis, and is burying its head in the sand while trying to maintain its position on climate control.

Which is to say: the US Chamber is not doing a good job communicating why it believes its position makes sense. It is not doing a good job in establishing a conversation with opponents to its views. Perhaps it thinks there's nothing to be gained from engaging in a debate about how to address climate change.

But I believe that a lot of people are frustrated with the Chamber's position, and are being turned off by it.

That's why, even though the faux press conference was sparsely attended, there were so many reports that the US Chamber had changed its perspective.



The Chamber's response to all this? To circle the wagons, and not use this as opportunity to make their case. I think it's a mistake.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fox is the Dick Cavett of News: It makes itself part of the story

Fox News is becoming the Dick Cavett of the news business.

For those young enough not to know Cavett or old enough to have forgotten him, Dick Cavett used to have a talk show in the 1960s. Actually, he's had several talk shows along the way.

Often, he would ask questions of his guests that had more to d to with Cavett than with the guest. I remember a segment (though I can't find it on YouTube) when Groucho Marx was on the show, and Cavett asked, "Remember the first time we met?"

According to Brian Stetler in the New York Times, "Fox’s Volley With Obama Intensifying," "Fox has made the channel’s tensions with the White House a story."

And, now, so has the Times.

Should Reporters on Twitter Get the Privilege to Refuse to Identify Confidential Informants When Subpoenaed?

This may be inside baseball since most reporters don't get subpoenaed and don't work with confidential informants.

David A. Logan, a dean and professor of law at Roger Williams University School of Law, wrote an interesting op-ed in the Boston Globe, "A reporter’s privilege for Twitterers," that makes the case that the law in this area (probably in most areas) has not kept up with the technology.

Taking a different stance is William H. Carey, a retired justice with the Massachusetts Superior Court. In his letter to the Globe, "Media will live to regret their support of shield laws," Carey says -- well, you can figure it out by the headline. Ok, he says, "As a matter of reality, the lack of a shield law statute very often is not the impediment to a final news story or journalist’s report. One can usually get the desired result without the help of any shield law. To seek relief through the legislative process rather than the courts is a mistake."

All right -- inside baseball. But should reporters expect the same protections when they post on Twitter as they do when they post an article to a newspaper? Both are just channels of distribution for news, but should it matter that one is online and the other print -- I don't think so. But there's enough anonymity on the blogosphere and the Internet. So should bloggers be able to get the protection of the shield law -- or only paid journalists?

What do you think?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Can Local Papers Survive?

I think they can. But it's not going to be a cakewalk. Local broadcasters are having trouble this year.

Check out an interesting profile in the Times by Richard Perez-Pena, "A Reporter With a ‘Tom Sawyer Business Plan’ Buys a Newspaper.

Are Press Releases Dead?

Last year, I wrote that news embargoes were dead (If News Embargoes are Dead, What about Press Releases?), but that I didn't think press releases were dead.

I still think they're not dead.

Instead, there's been talk that they have or should evolve.

Most of the press releases I see online are not Web 2.0-type releases. I have not asked BusinessWire, PR Newswire or Marketwire if that fits with what they've been seeing.

Marketwire, which has improved its reporting capabilities (with more improvements due shortly, they tell me), doesn't make it easy to distribute a Web 2.0-type release. I think BusinessWire makes it easier to do so.

There are more channels by which to get out an organizations' news, such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc., but I still think there's a need for press releases.

There's a good article on press release basics, "Anatomy of a Pitch-Perfect Press Release," from the Sept. issue of New York Enterprise Report, a very good service-journalism magazine that's aimed for small businesses in New York. The article even includes a good illustration of a basic press release -- which is actually useful to me right now because we've been asked to write a press release for a client's partner, and that partner has never issued a press release before. This illustration at least will help them understand some key terms like biolerplate. The article also contains the "10 Golden Rules from the Experts." And, unlike the 10 Commandments of Social Media, which changes depending on each organization, these are pretty good commandments.

On the other hand, if you think the press release is dead, let me know. Of course, if you do, I think I know who killed it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Yet More Reactions to FTC Rule on Bloggers Must Disclose Free Products and/or Payment

I liked the New York Times' print headline better than the online headline: "Fessing Up About Freebies" over "New F.T.C. Rules Have Bloggers and Twitterers Mulling" in the online version.

Seems like disclosure is a big issue in the fashion industry. And also with the software reviewers.

This is article also points to the discrepancy between how bloggers and print reporters are being treated.

I think the FTC will expand its regulation to include print media, too. Or at least have a good reason for not including print media.

Wall St. Journal Sees Increase in Circulation

A bit of good news for print media. The Wall St. Journal said its circulation had increase to 2.02 million, including print and online subscriptions. USA Today has been the long-time circulation champ in the U.S., but saw its circulation drop slightly to 1.9 million.

About 356,000 people subscribe to the Journal online. It's unclear how many of those also subscribe to the print edition (as I do).

It's also important to note that the Journal's increase occurred even with a price increase -- but it's also important to note that the online subscription rate is significantly lower than the print subscription rate. So you can't estimate the revenue figure just from 2.02 million subscribers. Yet the Journal is one of a handful of sites to successfully charge t for online content.

It may not matter to the Audit Bureau of Circulation, which monitors and certifies circulation figures, but I think advertisers might care about the overlap in print and online subscribers.
I wonder if my two subscriptions should count as if two people are receiving the paper. Some days I don't touch the printed version, some days, I don't log onto wsj.com. I pay twice, but I'm not two people so advertisers paying on that basis are being mislead.

Invisible Banner Ads -- Sure, consumers will like them, but not the companies paying for them

There's a lot of dark out there. Dark matter -- matter in the Universe that physicists can't see. Dark pools -- of liquidity that buy-side traders can't see because it is not displayed on order books. And now, dark ads and dark press release pick-ups. (I could've mentioned the dark side of the force, for Star Wars fans, or Dark Side of the Moon for any Pink Floyd fans, but thought those were dated references. Well, Pink Floyd certainly.)

Dark ads are those that are coded to appear on sub-pages of some websites. The intent is to collect money by selling space that doesn't really exist. According to the Wall St. Journal, "Web Ads Hidden Under Cloak of Invisibility," what happens is that "software code running behind the scenes opened more than 40 Web pages, each including three ads from marketers."

The user doesn't see those ads, but the marketers are charged for them as if users had.

But because of click-through fraud, "Advertisers often buy display ads based on the number of times they are loaded onto a page, rather than the number of clicks they get."

Now, to dark press release (as opposed to dark marketing; check out my blog article on dark marketing). Part of the service you get when you distribute press releases via one of the paid services is a report showing where the press release was picked up. Sometimes the links they provide are from very well known media sites. In the pick-up report, you get the media outlet's logo and a specific URL for that press release.

Clients are often impressed with the media outlets' logos.

But when you click on that media outlet's home page to conduct a search for the client's press release -- well, you can't find it. The press release exists only on that link the distribution service provided and it is not searchable or findable any other way.

So, if you can't see these pick-ups except for when you actually have the specific links -- do they count?

I wouldn't think so -- but, on the other hand, when I searched online for two Wall St. Journal articles I had seen in the print edition, I could not find them using the Journal's search engine. However, I was able to find them using Google. So, do those articles count if they're not easily accessible using the site's search engine?

The answer: of course the articles count. They're just harder to find.

We still have to show what kind of pick-up press releases get, but we now prefer services that have improved their reporting to find pick-ups beyond the dark press release pick-ups.

In a searchable world, you have to be able to find content for it to count. The articles were found by Google, even if the Journal's engine couldn't (and they were from today's paper). The dark press releases can sometimes be found using Google, even if the media site's own search engine couldn't.

My preference: original articles, not just press release pick-ups. But in this age of smaller news staffs, we're seeing a lot more pick-ups than ever before -- albeit slightly edited.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New York Times Decides Not to Sell Boston Globe

On Monday, I wrote a post, Will the New York Times Actually Sell the Boston Globe?, that said I'd bet the New York Times would decide to not sell the Boston Globe.

Turns out I was right.

Just now, the Times declared that it decided not to unload the Boston Globe (and its sister paper, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette) for $35 million plus the assumption of $59 million in retirement benefits for a total of $94 million.

Check out "New York Times Decides Not to Sell Boston Globe."

That doesn't mean the Times won't make further changes -- i.e., cuts. It also doesn't mean the Worcester T&G is safe.

As a betting man (at least when it comes to media predictions), I still think the Times would sell the Worcester T&G.

The T&G is the third largest paper in the state, and Worcester doesn't get great coverage from the two largest papers -- so I think the Times feels the T&G is at least worth $35 million itself. And I would agree. The T&G could be worth seven BusinessWeeks if only because there are lots of sources for business news, but not a lot of alternatives for the Worcester area. And one day, the ad market will recover, if slightly.

The key issues for the local group that's interested in the T&G is how much it can offer; they should not think that $35 million rejected Globe bid is the ceiling for its bid for the T&G. But the local group should expect to pick up all T&G pension liabilities.

So even as I believe in the importance of local papers, I will bet the T&G could soon be sold. Anyone want to put together an offer?

WSJ Editorial Page Sees Politics, Politics In Defection from US Chamber of Commerce's Stance on Climate Change

In this case, the Journal sees "green politics" as the villain, not the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This is not a political blog so I'm not going to wage in, on one side or the other, of the political issue at stake here.

Regardless of the cause, even if there's seems to be a vast Apple, Nike conspiracy, as the Journal alleges in its editorial, "Apple, Nike and the U.S. Chamber: Putting green politics above the interests of shareholders," the fact is that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a crisis on its hands.

I wrote earlier this week, Problems at the US Chamber of Commerce -- and what we can learn about managing a crisis of confidence, that part of the crisis is that the US Chamber doesn't realize it has a crisis on it hands.

Even if the organization does not want to change its policy with regard to the current climate change bill, there are steps it can take to more fully explain itself to its members and to the extended business community.

At the very least, the US Chamber is missing an opportunity to make its case in front of a larger public that may no be paying attention.

New York Times Urges Truth in Online, Offline Advertising

Pointing out that marketing to consumer-generated (i.e., blogs) and social networking sites (Facebook, MySpace but not, as yet, Twitter) is expected to grow 20 percent in 2009, up from $1.01 billion in 2008 (which had increased 25% from 2007), the New York Times believes that "a lot of it is paid advertising masquerading as bona fide endorsements by celebrities, well-known bloggers and even ordinary people — honest comment, free from pecuniary considerations."

According to the Times, "In 1968, an F.T.C. advisory demanded that advertorials disclose that they were advertising, not editorial...The rules offline should clearly apply online. This is a matter of principle, not medium, and the new rules are not an excessive burden."

I certainly agree with that.

The Times also urges the FTC to "focus enforcement on the advertising companies," not the bloggers."

The Times also feels that "advertisers are the drivers of this new trend. The onus should be on them to ensure that blogs pitching their stuff warn readers about the commercial motivation of the endorsements."

As a blogger, I'm not sure I totally agree with that last point. I have urged clients to work with credible bloggers, who disclose potential conflicts of interest. But as a PR executive, I know we have little control over bloggers, and would not want to be held responsible for them. That said, we're just providing information or trial software for reviews. We're not engaging in some of the problem issues that the Times rightly cites (such false testimonials).

It's not clear from the Times' editorial whether its editorial board understands how bloggers work.

At the same time, we do provide trial software for product reviews to print reporters. I think there needs to be a disclosure page for tech reviewers to let everyone know their policies. The Journal has a code of conduct that's easily found, but you can check it out here. Kara Swisher, a former Journal reporter who now works for All Things D, posts her ethics policies here. And Walt Mossberg posts his ethics policy below his bio here.

I think more online and offline reporters and bloggers should post codes of conduct. Now, I don't review or endorse products here, but I have posted in my bio that if I do mention clients, I will always disclose that fact. And I do so here and on Twitter.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What Does Bloomberg Get in Buying BusinessWeek

The news that Bloomberg LLC has bought BusinessWeek provides the magazine with a good home, but raises some interesting points and questions.
  • According to the Wall St. Journal, "Bloomberg's staff of more than 2,200 journalists is bigger than the combined newsrooms of The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times."
  • BusinessWeek lost $43 million, and is expected to lose more than $60 million this year.
  • Bloomberg will have to cut costs by combining bureaus -- like DC, Chicago, San Francisco. Even its NYC headquarters will have to leave its overpriced McGraw-Hill office building to move several blocks east to Bloomberg's midtown offices. But will Bloomberg also seek to reduce staff levels?
  • Subscribers of the Bloomberg terminal, typically Wall Streeters, will now have access to BusinessWeek information, according to Daniel L. Doctoroff, president of Bloomberg. That means the traders won't need to subscribe to the magazine -- so a loss of some revenue.
  • BusinessWeek has lost more than half its advertising pages since its peak of more than 6,000 pages in 2000, according to BtoBOnline.
  • “Although Bloomberg has built one of the world's largest news organizations, with more than 2,200 journalists, our primary audience has been our 300,000 Bloomberg Professional service subscribers. … BusinessWeek helps better serve our customers by reaching into the corporate suite and corridors of power in government, where news that affects markets and business is made by CEOs, CFOs, deal lawyers, bankers and government officials who typically are not terminal customers,” Daniel L. Doctoroff, president of Bloomberg, said in a statement.
  • Norman Pearlstine, Bloomberg's chief content officer and a former editor in chief at Time where he was responsible for all of Time's publications, will become chairman of BusinessWeek and will oversee the integration of the property into Bloomberg.
  • According to MarketWatch, it seems that the "privately owned Bloomberg is doing this deal because of a desire to satisfy an executive's ego. Still, it seems likely that whoever is driving this proposed acquisition will get a great deal of criticism." For one, Bloomberg was not successful with its print personal finance monthly magazine.
  • According to MarketWatch, citing "a report on BusinessWeek's Web site, the terms weren't disclosed but Bloomberg's cash offer 'is in the $2-$5 million range and that it has agreed to assume liabilities, including potential severance payments.'"
  • Jon Friedman at MarketWatch feels the deal doesn't make sense.
I think it provides greater visibility to the Bloomberg name. And I would bet that a lot of BusinessWeek writers would like to believe what Stephen Baker tweeted, "Bloomberg bought us. Seems like good news. They dont want to fire everyone. Others get McGraw Hill severance for next 12 mths. Good combo?"

I also think that the deal gives Bloomberg a well known, popular website that has been developing its own community.

Actually, if the economy is rebounding, it doesn't really make sense for McGraw-Hill to unload BusinessWeek. To me, it seems that Bloomberg is betting that the recovery will start being felt in 2010. Even as the new normal means reduced ad spending, at $2-5 million, plus pension liabilities, Bloomberg is buying a respected brand name and robust website that have a global reach at a significant discount to building one itself. Bloomberg will be able to cut huge costs by combining bureaus, including the overpriced McGraw-Hill offices. I don't think they need to reduce costs by $60 million to make this work. They can leverage BusinessWeek's conferences, too.

Wall St. Journal's "Lighter Side"

People usually think of the Wall St. Journal as being no-nonsense coverage of the business world.

But the Journal also has a lighter side, in what used to be called "A-hed," the center column on the front page. The A-hed, started in 1941, was the place in the Wall St. Journal that offered a glimpse into "feuding nudists, dueling translators of the Bible into Klingon, and high-quality prison underwear." (For more on A-heds, check out "An Essay on the 'Middle Column.'" Or check out the Journal's collection of A-hed columns, "Floating Off the Page: The Best Stories from The Wall Street Journal's 'Middle Column.'")

According to Gawker, "The End Of The A-Hed" in Jan. 2008, Rupert Murdoch planned to kill off the Journal's home to whimsical off-beat feature stories. It seems there was a stay of execution for the A-hed because it continues to live on, albeit at the bottom of the middle column, not the space at the top o f that column, which is had occupied for decades.

For some reason, I really liked yesterday's column on extreme ballooning, "Extreme Ballooning Features High Drama (and Hot Air); At the World's Biggest Festival, Unruly Winds Mess Up Pole Grab; 'Kissing,' Not Colliding."

Where else would I learn that when two balloons collide, it's called "kissing" (because the FAA takes midair collisions seriously, even if between two balloons).

I especially the photo after the jump page; you can check them out here.

Interesting Case Study on a Small Newspaper's Survival

I think that small newspapers will survive because it's still the best way for people in a town to get a sense of what's going on in that town.

According to Daniel Akst, a freelancer who contributes to the Wall St. Journal, New York Times, Fortune Small Business (FSB) and other outlets, the Hudson-Catskill Newspaper Group is surviving on a formula of local "coverage and cost control."

I think we can agree on cost control, but Akst's point is that a lot of local papers don't actually offer local news: "Small-town papers often pay lip service to local news while filling their pages with generic wire stories," citing Prof. Philip Meyer's book, "The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age," which claims "that big-market papers typically have a lot more local coverage than small-market papers. One study found that over a four-day period the Detroit Free Press had roughly twice the proportion of local news as the Macon Telegraph."

I've seen that generic wire service copy in lots of small town papers. That's how services like NAPS and NewsUSA, which distribute matte releases, can offer pickup in hundreds of papers. (Though not my local paper.) I understand the rationale of matte releases, and on occasion, have recommended clients consider them.

But I do think it's a problem when too high a percentage of the local paper is filled with non-local news. That's when the paper is not doing it's job.

Check out Akst's article, "Write Local: How Small Newspapers Are Surviving."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Should Your Site Be Optimized for Mobile Users?

I continue to be surprised by the number of sites that don't seem to have a mobile strategy.

A good Computerworld article, "Got a mobile strategy? Start connecting with customers' smartphones; Don't have a strategy for interacting with customers via their mobile phones? It's time to get one, and learn from previous mistakes," lists some key steps to consider to help develop a mobile strategy:
  • Study your customers' demographics and mobile behaviors -- this should be a given for any company contemplating a redesign of its website.
  • Explore mobile-specific functionality such as location awareness -- clearly this is more important for retailers with offline locations.
  • Decide whether to build a site that's compatible with multiple devices or optimized for specific types -- again, that depends on customer demographics and to some extent the type of organization.
  • Make sure all of your customer channels feature a consistent look and feel, while being sensitive to the fact that the interfaces on small devices must be easy to navigate -- this is essential
  • Integrate the mobile applications with back-end systems that hold customer, inventory and product data -- linking everything together keeps things efficient.
  • Learn which technologies you need to support, either in-house or through contractors. They include Objective C for iPhone applications and Java for Android systems -- you may have to contract out for specific platform expertise.

The article also lists some criteria for once you've developed your mobile strategy, but now need to figure out how to implement that strategy:
  • Does the site use a .mobi top-level domain?
  • Can the site automatically detect a mobile browser or device?
  • Does the mobile site offer different functionality than the desktop site?
  • Is the site optimized for mobile browsers?
  • Is the site optimized for the iPhone?
  • Does the retailer's main Web site have a landing page that details the company's mobile offerings?
  • Does the retailer offer downloadable apps for the iPhone or BlackBerry, or for Windows Mobile and Android devices?
Not every company will need to offer downloadable apps, but a recent New York Times article, "What Do All These Phone Apps Do? Mostly Marketing," points out that phone apps are really a way to market a company. That perspective could open up new thinking to widgets and apps.

Meanwhile, check out "Analyzing the Analytics: How to make sense of your website's performance data" in the Oct. issue of Entrepreneur, which makes several good points, including: set trackable goals.

Will the New York Times Actually Sell the Boston Globe?

After all the drama this spring about the future of the Boston Globe -- layoffs and buyouts, reduced salaries and benefits, union votes, and potential bidders -- it seems like the Globe may not sold after all.

Check out the Times own coverage of the situation: "Boston Globe’s Fate Remains Unclear." The current bids are $35 million plus assumption of $59 million in retirement benefits -- That's $94 million for the Globe, its real estate, and its sister publication, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. For perspective, the Times paid $1.1 billion to acquire the Globe and the Worcester paper in 1993. The reason not to sell the Globe is that the Times would not be able to recoup $1 billion.

On the other hand, the Boston Globe reports that the Worcester Telegram & Gazette is generating interest from a local group, "Local buyers target T&G: Polar Beverages chief, ex-editor join forces."

I'd bet the Times will hold onto the Globe and sell the Worcester T&G.

We shall see...

Didn't Make the Forbes 400. Again.

Just finished reading through the Forbes 400, the annual look at the Richest Americans. The one with Oprah, Warren Buffet, Jerry Jones and Sandy Weill on the cover, and the headline: "What a year! Fortunes Made. Fortunes Lost."

Here's something that didn't make the cover: I didn't make the Forbes 400. Again.

I think there might be some who would prefer not to be highlighted in such a list this year. It's too over the top when unemployment is up, when so many people have lost their homes, and when conspicuous consumption looks, well, tacky.

Actually, 32 people who made the list last year, didn't make it this year. I don't know how many of those decided this was a year not to make the list. (Could not being on the Forbes 400 be the new black this year?) An additional six didn't make the list because they had died. But that's going a bit too far, if you ask me.

It was a tough year for a lot of us, of course, but I don't know if I can say I had a better year than Warren Buffett, who lost $10 billion or about $1.1 million per hour. Kirk Kerkorian lost $8.2 billion ($940,000 per hour) while Bill Gates lost $7 billion ($800,000 per hour) -- so their losses pretty much eclipsed mine over the past year.

Yet I still didn't make the list in a year when what Forbes calls "the price of admission" dropped from a networth of
$1.3 billion to $950 million. That's a significant discount.

In 2007, there were 82 billionaires who didn't have enough to make the Fobres 400 -- the number 400 refers to the 400 guests who were invited to Mrs William Astor's grand ball in 1892. So making the Forbes 482 didn't really count. But this year, having a billion finally gets you something -- on the Forbes 400.

Still, I have never been closer this decade to making the Forbes 400. Just $951 million!

If there's any good news it's that I know my 2010 will be better than it will be for a couple of members of the Forbes 400:
  • Donald Fisher, founder of Gap, worth $1.3 billion, recently died, so he won't be on the 2010 list.
  • R. Allen Stanford, who made the list in 2008, has been arrested on charges alleging he committed a $7 billion fraud.
But I'm a bit bummed by the Sept./Oct. quintuple whammy.

  1. I covered not making the Forbes 400.
  2. I wasn't named a MacArthur Genius this year, either. (Are they saying my blog posts and tweets are not pure genius?)
  3. I wasn't nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Just because I can't sing?)
  4. I did not win an Emmy. (The Academy didn't even recognize my work with a nomination!)
  5. And I did not win a Nobel.
I just hope the rest of the year doesn't suck as much as the last 45 days.

Perhaps they won't: I've just an email (actually about 100 of 'em, so it must be true) that I can be nonimated for the degree I want: Bachelors, Masters or Doctorate. So perhaps things are turning up.

Friday, October 9, 2009

More Reactions to FTC Rule on Bloggers Must Disclose Free Products and/or Payment

Another day, another reaction to the new FTC rule.

This time from the Wall St. Journal: "Save Us From the Swag-Takers" by Eric Felton, who summarizes the situation this way:
"The agency declared that 'a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement.' Sounds reasonable enough, until it becomes clear just how expansive the FTC's concept of an 'in-kind payment' is. The blogger who gets a free review copy of a book and writes up his opinion of it is now being labeled by the government a commercial endorser of the book—even if he pans it. This is not how traditional media are treated, which is what makes the new rules so significant: The government has weighed in on the contentious topic of whether bloggers are journalists—and delivered a resounding No.
What's more, Felton says"
"Even newspapers with the strictest of ethics rules accept free copies of books for review. Movie, music and theater reviewers get their tickets comped. The scribblers covering sports aren't in the habit of paying skybox rates for their privileged perches at the stadium. While newspapers make no secret of these common practices, they don't plaster warnings on every book review or description of a football game. But that's exactly what the FTC is requiring of bloggers."
Felton concludes his article with an important disclosure:
"FULL DISCLOSURE NOTICE: In preparing this column, I downloaded a free copy of the new FTC regulatory guidelines. Thanks, guys!"
I agree that this is a complicated issue, and that the FTC needs a more nuanced approach. In the meantime, we prefer to work with bloggers who do disclose their policies and potential conflicts.