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.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

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

There's been interesting reaction to the new FTC rule, starting Dec. 1, that bloggers must disclose receipt of free samples and/or payment.

Check out "Blogged and Sold" by Choire Sicha in the New York Times, saying "The F.T.C.'s misguided effort to regulate online endorsements. Choire makes some good points about the challenges bloggers will face.

Also interesting article about libel laws and Twitter, "Short Outbursts on Twitter? #Big Problem." Bottom-line: don't defame, people.

Bloggers Need to Disclose Payment or Receipt of Free Products

The FTC is mandating an important change for bloggers. Starting Dec. 1, bloggers will have to disclose if they received free products or payment or other considerations from advertisers. The FTC will also be looking at celebrities plugging products or services on talk shows and on social media platforms like Twitter.

There are some who don't like the rule change. Their arguement is that giving free product to a blogger doesn't mean you control what the blogger posts (as is the case with advertising or paying a spokesperson).

That's certainly a valid point: you can't control what bloggers will post. Just as you can't control what a reporter will say.

However, I think it's a good idea for bloggers to disclose their policies. Walt Mossberg of the Wall St. Journal does. I think it be helpful for readers to understand the nature of the relationship.

That's been a recent issue with New York Times' David Pogue, who in addition to his weekly column, also writes books and lectures on the side about some of the same topics/items he reviews.

I think companies should be able to distribute free copies to enable reporters, reviewers and bloggers to review their software. But I also think it a good idea for them to disclose that they've gotten these products for free -- and what they do afterwards. Credibility (or transparency) is important, and this will help everyone involved.

For example, Mossberg discloses that he deletes software he hasn't paid for or pays for it if he wants to keep it. Either way, at the level of a Mossberg or Pogue, free software is not going to influence how they cover a product. It shouldn't for bloggers, either. Now as consumers, we will have a better idea, too.

As marketers, we've told clients to be wary of bloggers who don't disclose the receipt of free product. Again, this shoudl enhance the credibilty of what otherwise might seem like the Wild West.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Problems at the US Chamber of Commerce -- and what we can learn about managing a crisis of confidence

The US Chamber of Commerce, which proclaims itself to be "the world's largest business federation representing more than three million businesses and organizations of every size," has a big problem on its hand.

High-profile companies have been quitting the Chamber, a virtual Who's Who of top businesses, including Apple, PG&E, Nike, and Exelon.

The reason: the US Chamber's opposition to the Waxman-Markey climate change bill.

The US Chamber points out that "ore than 96% of U.S. Chamber members are small businesses with 100 employees or fewer" and that "As the voice of business, the Chamber's core purpose is to fight for free enterprise before Congress, the White House, regulatory agencies, the courts, the court of public opinion, and governments around the world."

But its members seem to feel that the U.S. Chamber is not listening.

And, as a member of my local Chamber of Commerce, I've been upset about some of the positions staked out by the US Chamber: they didn't truly seem to help small businesses.

I had mentioned something to my local chamber, but it turns out that local chambers of commerce are not necessarily members of the US Chamber -- which is a branding problem.

For both the US Chamber and local chambers.

I'm a member of a local chamber, but have no input on what the US Chamber's policy making function. Yet I was upset enough to consider quitting my local chamber, which has nothing to do with the US Chamber.

Meanwhile, the US Chamber seems to be responding to the news that more big-name members are quitting, seemingly each day, by sticking to its guns.

I'm sure that the US Chamber is losing smaller companies, too.

Yet as a call-to-action for prospective members, the Chamber says, "The Chamber understands your needs and protects your livelihood as if they are our own."

It's not a matter of them being "as if they are our own." As a membership-based organization whose mission is "to fight for free enterprise," its members' needs and livelihood are their own.

So, the lessons learned:
  1. You need to listen to your members. It certainly doesn't seem like the US Chamber is doing this. I'm sure the US Chamber conducts surveys of its membership to help determine the direction and policies to support. But when even energy companies are quitting because they have deep concerns regarding the US Chamber's position on climate change, that's a problem.
  2. You need to respond to your members. The lack of response to the companies leaving seems to indicate that the US Chamber doesn't truly care about what its members think. In fact, according to Fast Company, "Why Did Apple Quit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?" "Apple's move probably won't change any minds in the Chamber of Commerce--Eric Wohlschegel, a spokesman for the organization, shrugged off the mass exodus by explaining that some companies have more to gain from the Chamber's stance than others." Seems like that's not acting as if members' needs and livelihoods are "our own."
  3. You need to realize that, whether you think it's one or not, there's a crisis. Shrugging off "a mass exodus" is not a way to manage a crisis. There is a message from the president of the US Chamber about its climate control policy, but it's dated Sept. 29, and a lot of the high profile membership resignations have occurred in Oct. They haven't even issued a press release this month, as of this morning, Oct. 7, to present their side of the issue. And there are no current op-eds on the site with data that supports a controversial policy.
  4. You need to engage your members. The first step could be to say, we realize that our current stance on climate control may be unpopular but we think it's the right one, but we're willing to meet with members to explain our reasons. Town Hall meetings have a bad tone these days, but why not set up events to talk to and hear from members? Why not show the level of membership support for the current policy? Yet we have no idea of how many members surveyed agree with the policy. So far the US Chamber has not done a good job here.
  5. You need to reach out to prospective members. Considering that the US Chamber needs to continue to recruit members, they need to use policy positions that will encourage prospective members to join. Doesn't seem like fighting against climate change would generate new members.
Meanwhile, I'd have to say that the local chambers seem to be ignoring the matter, too. They may operate independently, but a lot of people may not realize that. There's bound to be a lot of people and local businesses upset, and that could leave them with negative feelings about all chambers of commerce -- which is not what you want right before renewal season. I know it's not the local chambers' battle, but they need to let their local members know they're not part of the US Chamber.

Will Chicago Residents Turns to the New York Times for Local News?

The New York Times, which announced plans to boost local coverage in San Francisco, where the San Francisco Chronicle may either cease publication entirely or shift to online-only mode, has announced that it will boost its coverage of local Chicago coverage.

You can read about the Times' plan for San Fransisco here: Will Bay Area Residents Turn to the New York Times for Local News?

In picking Chicago, the Times is making an interesting selection. The Chicago Tribune is facing financial problems (if you want to get technical about it, the Trib's in bankruptcy), but the Chicago Sun-Times seems to be doing okay.

Why Chicago?

Could it be because that's the President's home town? I think he'd read the Times anyway.

Could it be because Chicago was a contender for the 2016 Summer Olympics? Don't think so.

Ok, I'm not sure why -- though I've always liked Chicago.

But here's what is interesting: The Times plans for its Chicago bureau to increase its local coverage, and then to "turn the production over to a local partner." In other words, outsourcing content development to a local provider (the content to be distributed by the Times), which means the Times' brand values.

Also, what's not clear is how the Times will make its bet pay off. Even when advertising recovers, it's not likely to reach pre-Great Recession levels. So if local Chicago advertisers won't support it, you can't count on new Chicagoland subscribers, too. They pay only a small portion of the freight.

So -- a lot of questions about how and why the Times is going to be able to compete locally in other markets. During the '70s recession, the Times famously doubled-down its bet, expanding coverage when everyone else cut back.

It will be interesting to see how this bet turns out.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Metrics from Online Sharing -- the numbers are not high, which is both good and bad news

If you've got a blog or a Twitter feed, or you're an online marketer (including PR), you want to drive traffic to your site, Twitter feed, etc.

And if you're an online marketer, and your client or boss is reluctant, one of the things you need to do is defend the ROI of social media.

And that has not been easy to do.

As I've discussed, each organization brings different skill sets, goals, experience and connections with their target audiences -- so the metrics that matter may be vastly different. My metrics may not be relevant to yours, unlike circulation figures for print magazines, which is an apple-to-apple comparison.

In "Share the Moment and Spread the Wealth: The Big Business of Driving Traffic Back to a Web Site," the New York Times' Brad Stone goes beyond an introductory article on the topic. (The paper of record finds itself often covering the basics so that it can then write deeper articles.)

Stone gets someone to provide hard metrics.

Ok, so Justin.TV disclosed that visitors to its site now share links from the site 6,000 times a day (up from 2,000 per day), now that it uses Meebo. That 200-percent increase translates into 68 percent growth in traffic to the Justin.TV site -- a big drop off, but a much, much better return than direct mail's typical 1-percent response rate.

What's interesting is that the CEO ShareThis reported hard numbers for retweeting. ShareThis provides sharing tools to major sites like FoxNews.com and ESPN.com. According to the Times,
When readers post a link from a ShareThis site onto Twitter, their followers often “retweet” the link to their own Twitter groupies. As a result, 18 Twitter users, on average, click on that link and visit the site. A single link to a story posted on LinkedIn, the professional social network, generates around eight visitors; Digg gets five clicks for every link posted to the site," ShareThis reported.
So, the good news: above are some metrics with which to compare your efforts. You may not be doing as badly as you thought.

The bad news: That's a lot of effort to generated 18 click-throughs, and that's for content from some very professional sites. And perhaps those 18 new visitors can help boost page view and stickiness metrics to tout to advertisers, but it still seems like a long way to go before that gets monetized.

Media Trends by BusinessWeek's Jon Fine

BusinessWeek's media critic Jon Fine column, MediaCentric, offers worthwhile perspective, focused a bit more on traditional media and advertising, but certainly worthwhile reading.

Fine is taking a leave of absence, but before he left, he listed some good trends and predictions, including:
  • Fine says there will be fewer magazines -- a prediction we made back in Jan. However, Fine says that "what happened to city newspapers...will start happening in 2010. Look for the strongest player to outlast weaker rivals in towns and small cities near one another."
  • Surprising stability among the biggest players. His point: despite their problems, NY Times, Wall St. Journal, Time Warner, NBC Universal, etc. will survive. I agree, though there will be changes (i.e., Comcast's potential investment in NBC Universal).
  • A bright line divides media haves from media have-nots. Fine feels that people won't pay meaningful sums for content from most terrestrial radio, newspapers, magazines outlets,which are free or cheap to subscribe to. Additionally, most of the biggest comglamerates do not have big print operations, and that those who do want to "switch sides."
The implication here is that big media will continue to evolve, and look for ways to bring more value to its users. Fine does not discuss ways this could happen.

That remains one of the big open questions: how to continue to be relevant while establishing a sustainable online business model. I'm not sure what will come first: the sustainable online business model or the way to leverage the online world to provide content that readers/users will value enough to pay for.

For one thing, we still have a ways to go before that happens. I don't think we'll see that yet in 2010.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Shrinking Newspaper Size Has Shrunk the Amount of Space Allocated to Seniors

David Mehegan, a columnist for the Boston Globe, made an interesting point about one way in which newspapers have changed.
Newspapers used to have cheerful, wide-ranging columns on senior life. Today, the closest thing to it is the column in the Globe business section, under the daily Wall Street report, which is often about the funding of retirement: stocks, bonds, annuities, insurance, Social Security and 401(k) plans, strategies for protecting wealth. Not about grandchildren or love or art, not friends or community or good times. Money.
It's true -- there's very little about seniors in the paper, unless it's about boomers (hard to refer to them as Baby Boomers now that the leading edge has reached retirement age). There's not much otherwise for people in their 70s and 80s or for their children who are increasingly responsible for them.

And what does appear is all about money, financial planning, etc. Isn't there more to getting old than that?

Good point, Mr. Mehegan. Check out "Don’t show me the money."

L.A. Kings Hires Its Own Reporter -- An idea for the rest of us?

Increasingly, professional sports teams are hiring their own reporters, rather than rely on their local papers.

Check out: "As Coverage Wanes, Los Angeles Kings Hire Own Reporter." Just as with social media, the new Kings reporter (who gets a bump in pay and perhaps better long-term job stability) Rich Hammond contends that fans will know the difference between reporting and public relations.

In other words, it comes down to credibility.

But if there's not much coverage elsewhere, fans won't really have much of an alternative to either, and may not be able to tell the difference.

It's not just sports teams, either. Check out: "ESPN’s Boston Site and Patriots Line Up on the Same Side of the Ball."

So the question: should PR functions hire their own reporter to generate coverage? In some cases, that could make sense, such as several nonprofit research institutes I'm familiar with -- that have lots of news about studies and programs they conduct. That could be worthwhile.

For the rest, especially B2B companies, that might be overkill. Though they could solve the perennial need that companies have: to promote customers who won't speak for attribution.

Then again, the credibility arises. I bet more companies might consider working with now-freelancing trade reporters. The question: who will blink first at the sign of negative news by a hired journalist: the journalist or the company itself.

What do you think?

Reaction to Dow Jones' Peter Kann on "Quality Reporting Doesn't Come Cheap"

Recently, Peter Kann, a former chairman of Dow Jones, wrote an interesting article about what happened to print journalism. On Saturday, the Journal ran three letters responding to the column. You can find my reaction to Kann's article here: Dow Jones' Peter Kann on "Quality Reporting Doesn't Come Cheap."

Not surprisingly, given the readership of the Wall St. Journal, the reaction was to blame liberal bias for the decline.

But the claims that bias -- liberal or otherwise -- is the reason that newspaper quality has declined is a canard. Newspapers in most other countries have a political slant towards one side or the other. In fact, newspapers throughout US had often been politicized...until the theory of needing to be balanced came to play in the 20th Century. Just look at The Waterbury (CT) Republican-American or Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle.

And claims that newspaper quality has declined has clearly been around since Mark Twain, judging from his quote cited in one of the letters:
"Mark Twain's observation that a 'man who doesn't read the newspapers is uninformed; a man who does read the newspapers is misinformed.'"
(And let's not forget the newspaper report that famously and falsely claimed Twain had died before his time.)

I do agree that trying for balance has weakened journalism sometimes -- articles contain the "other side" of the issue even when there's not much of a case to be made for that side. I've seen that on issues involving both liberals and conservative perspective.

On the other hand, the trends that Mr. Kann cites regarding the decline of the quality of journalism (not just of newspapers) seems to be reasoned and accurate. And I find it interesting that he didn't blame liberal bias.

Perhaps, given that we live in a still-polarized country, politicized journalism is the way to maintain, even boost, ratings. That's a lesson to be drawn from the rise of Fox News and MSNBC. But that leads to an interesting point that Mr. Kann made -- the negative impact this will have on democracy. Relying on search engines, people will be able to select the news and the political bias they feel most comfortable with, and will be able to avoid getting news from "the other side." This will reinforce, not force readers to question their beliefs, which will serve to continue to polarize the country.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Dow Jones' Peter Kann on "Quality Reporting Doesn't Come Cheap"

The former chairman of Dow Jones, Peter Kann wrote an interesting article about what happened to print journalism. It's well worth reading "Quality Reporting Doesn't Come Cheap: The decline of newspapers is a tragedy for democracy. How can it be stopped?"

But here's a summary of the key points:
  • Free online versions enabled newspapers to expand readership.
  • There was one problem. Even as readership grew, revenues did not keep pace (that whole "free" price).
  • The new business model is not sustainable. And newspapers became more reliant than ever on advertising revenue to support journalism.
  • Yet, to continue to attract readers, online sites add bells and whistles and interactivity to their sites. With no way to charge for it. Greater investment, yet revenue grew slowly and indirectly.
  • Meanwhile, the main revenue generator -- print newspapers -- were increasingly perceived as less valuable because the news was actually old before it even reached subscribers.
  • Worse, newspapers let down its guard, which included the "blurring of traditional lines between news and opinion and news and entertainment, predatory pack journalism, an undue emphasis on conflict rather than context, pessimism and cynicism (as differentiated from appropriate skepticism and criticism), social orthodoxy, elitism, flea-like attention spans, and more. Yes, the traditional newsprint medium was becoming less appealing, but its messages also were becoming less enlightening."
  • The commonly held wisdom is that online newspapers can't charge readers for content because they're used to free. If readers must pay for online content, online readership will drop (although print readership may stop declining). Online advertisers would be upset to see readership decline, and would demand lower rates, diminishing the revenue stream.
But the real problem, Kann believes, is the threat to the practice of journalism.

"The real threat is to the future of news—informative, relevant, reliable news of the wider world around us. And that is disappearing as newspapers, whose reporting staffs still produce most of the news, no longer can afford to do so. As their news budgets and staffs continue to shrink, the key question is what can fill that gap?

"Television does not begin to fill it...(Even the) so-called cable news channels...now devote most of their resources to covering celebrities, crimes and sundry social trivia and to prime-time programming that pretends to be analysis and informed opinion..

"The Internet is not filling news vacuums either. There are hundreds upon hundreds of online sites and blogs that claim to provide news, but virtually none of them even pretend to pursue the traditional news role of newspapers, which is to invest in professional staffs dispersed around a community and across the country or the globe to cover, analyze, and only then comment on, events. Actually, all they do is comment."

Kann's point is one I've made many times on this blog: journalism is important to democracy. What's not clear is how we can protect our democracy by supporting (not bailing out) journalism.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Boston Radio News is Getting More Competitive

Boston radio has undergone some significant changes lately, which a number of format and station changes. We've seen the growth of additional sports stations.

Up next, a new all-news and talk station, owned by public station WGBH, to compete with public station WBUR-FM.

That means two stations will broadcast some portion of NPR-generated content.

WGBH-FM can now re-package news from its television operation, WGBH-TV.

Not only will they compete for listeners. Since both stations rely on fund raising, they will compete there, too.

Check out the Globe article, "WGBH bids for broader presence in public radio" for more details.

The question is: does this change in the Boston market represent a trend -- will other markets see more competition for listeners for news -- or is this a one-off event.

Given the change in the NY radio landscape, one thing is for sure: classical music stations (Beethoven & Bach, not the best of the '60s & '70s) don't have a bright future. New York still has one classical music station, but it's moving higher up on the spectrum, has a weaker signal and smaller coverage area.

If it's going to be a trend, WGBH will need to come up with a product that's different from WBUR, as another NPR station.

New Survey Finds that "Two-Thirds of Americans Object to Online Tracking"

Effective targeted or customized advertising has been the holy grail for online advertising, but a new study shows that consumers aren't so thrilled.

I'm not surprised. Actually, I'm more surprised someone had to conduct a study to find that out.

I'm also not surprised that of adults, there's one group that consistently responded that they're interested in getting targeted ads, discounts and news. That group: 18-24 year-olds.

So who doesn't like targeted advertising? Respondents 35 and older, who have the old-fashioned perspective of wanting to protect their privacy more. (Click here for a few charts.)

I find it mildly interesting that, 1,000 people were willing to answer questions about their preferences regarding advertising -- especially since two-thirds of them were concerned about their privacy.

What's more interesting, and potentially more troubling for online marketers, is that 69 percent of respondents said they would favor a law that would give people the right to know how much information a web site has about them.

On the other hand, as they become adults, teens may feel the same way 18-24 year-olds feel, and in a few years, the Times could report that most people like targeted ads.