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Vin Crosbie Vin Crosbie
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Dorian Benkoil Dorian Benkoil
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Bob Cauthorn Bob Cauthorn
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Ben Compaine Ben Compaine
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Dorian Benkoil senior consultant at Teeming Media. An award-winning journalist and editor, he was a foreign correspondent for AP and Newsweek, and international and managing editor for ABCNews.com. At ABC News he moved to the business side, handling sales integration and business development, before joining Fairchild Publications as General Manager for their Internet division, becoming editorial director for mediabistro.com, then a consultant for Teeming Media in New York. He graduates this year with an MBA from Baruch's Zicklin school of business. Learn more about him at Benkoil.com or his blog - MediaFlect.com.

Robert Cauthorn is a journalist, former vice president of digital media at the San Francisco Chronicle, and was the third recipient of the Newspaper Association of America's prestigious Digital Pioneer Award. He launched one of the first five newspapers web sites in the world and is generally considered to have delivered the first profitable newspaper web site in 1995. Cauthorn has been in the middle of the transition from old media to new and is recognized as frank-talking critic when he believes newspapers stray for their mission. In mid-2004 he became the president of CityTools, LLC a new media startup based in San Francisco.

Ben Compaine has divided his career between the academic world and private business. He was a journalist when manual typewriters were considered state of the art, but also led the conversion of his college newspaper to cold type. He has started and managed weekly newspapers. His dissertation at Temple University in 1977 was about the changing technologies that were going to unsettle the landscape of the staid and low profit newspaper industry. Since then he has focused his research and consulting on examining the forces and trends at work in the information industries. Among his most well-known works (and the name of his blog) is "Who Owns the Media?".

Vin Crosbie has been called "the Practical Futurist" by Folio, the trade journal of the American magazine industry. Editor & Publisher magazine, the trade journal of the American newspaper industry, devoted the Overview chapter of executive research report Digital Delivery of News: A How-to Guide for Publishers to his work. His speech to the National Association of Broadcasters annual conference was one of 24 orations selected by a team of speech professors for publication in the reference book Representative American Speeches 2004-2005. He has keynoted the Seybold Publishing Strategies conference in 2000; co-chaired and co-moderated last year's annual Beyond the Printed Word the digital publishing conference in Vienna; and regularly speaks at most major online news media conferences. He is currently in residence as adjunct professor of visual and interactive communications and senior consultant on executive education in new media at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and meanwhile is managing partner of the media consulting firm of Digital Deliverance LLC in Greenwich, Connecticut.
About this blog
Two forces have shattered the news media. Technology is the first. Although media technology is undergoing its greatest change since the day in 1440 when Johannes Gutenberg first inked type, for more than ten years now the news industry has mistaken new technologies merely as electronic ways to distribute otherwise printed or analog products. Estrangement is the second. The news media has lost touch with people's needs and interests during the past 30 years, as demonstrated by rapidly declining readerships of newspapers and audiences of broadcast news. How we rebuild news media appropriate to the 21st Century from the growing rubble of this industry is the subject of this group weblog.

Rebuilding Media

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July 31, 2005

Posner on Media Polarization

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Posted by Bob Cauthorn

Federal Appeals Court Judge, and blogger, Richard A. Posner has written an intriguing essay on media polarization that can be found here on the New York Times web site (registration, yada, yada).

It's thoughtful and honest and a nicely written work. At one point he says:


"Challenging areas of social consensus, however dumb or even vicious the consensus, is largely off limits for the media, because it wins no friends among the general public. The mainstream media do not kick sacred cows like religion and patriotism."

...and a few paragraphs later...

"Journalists are reluctant to confess to pandering to their customers' biases; it challenges their self-image as servants of the general interest, unsullied by commerce. They want to think they inform the public, rather than just satisfying a consumer demand no more elevated or consequential than the demand for cosmetic surgery in Brazil or bullfights in Spain. They believe in ''deliberative democracy'' - democracy as the system in which the people determine policy through deliberation on the issues. In his preface to ''The Future of Media'' (a collection of articles edited by Robert W. McChesney, Russell Newman and Ben Scott), Bill Moyers writes that ''democracy can't exist without an informed public.'' If this is true, the United States is not a democracy (which may be Moyers's dyspeptic view). Only members of the intelligentsia, a tiny slice of the population, deliberate on public issues."

The fundamental building block for Posner's article concerns market forces that, he believes, compel media companies to play further to the left or right -- depending on the appetites of their core audience -- than they otherwise might.

It's an argument with merit and a good deal of historical support, assuming one believes media history matters at this particular juncture. (I happen to believe media history does matter now, but people who suggest we're at a historical point of deviation can make a strong case.)

I'm still mulling over the piece because one of Posner's core points is that plummeting costs of production power media polarization (liberal vs. conservative) by encouraging new entrants and fragmenting the market.

In the less fragmented market of yesterday, he maintains, the press could comfortably try to speak to groups larger than their core audience. The assumption required here is that the press actually had a clear and nuanced view of its audience -- and that's kind of a stretch.

I find myself with genuinely mixed feelings about that argument. On one hand, it makes enormous sense, on the other it suggests a more focused long-term view than actually exists in the real-world, generally chaotic, drive to deliver a daily product.

If you remove CNN and Fox News from the equation -- because they clearly fit Posner's criteria -- it gets a bit harder to make his case.

Ample forces contribute to an increasingly polarized media -- media consolidation, fewer journalists heading up the companies, etc. Indeed, on the national level, government officials' enormously sophisticated methods of using access to reward or punish the media drives polarization -- perhaps more powerfully than anything else. Posner touches on the access issue, but still gives more weight to the cost argument.

Nonetheless, I'm going to ponder what he has written a bit longer before coming to final conclusions. I encourage others to do the same.

In the second half of the essay, Posner makes observations about blogging and its relation to media that have some resonance vis a vis the discussion elsewhere about media blogging.

And along the way, Posner suggests the American public doesn't really want a press devoted to delivering facts and trying to speak truths. People seem more interested in media that supports their bias, rather than challenges their world view.

A last observation -- it's a relief to see someone on the federal bench thinking deeply, and openly, about media in times like these.

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July 27, 2005

Memo to mainstream media: You don't get to blog

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Posted by Bob Cauthorn

It is, I'm horrified to report, a direct quote: “We gotta get into that blogging thing if we want to get snaps from younger readers...”

Now, if you happen to hear these words coming from a very senior, 50-something editor at a well-known American newspaper I'm sure your reaction will be exactly like mine, namely: “uh-oh, I'm going to have a grand mal seizure now...”

For the record, I've never had a grand mal seizure. So I was worried about that whole swallowing your tongue thing.

But stepping back from one's own mortality and taking the long view, swallowing your own tongue might be better than living on a planet where aging white male editors utter, without a trace of irony, "if we want snaps from younger readers” and nobody puts them to sleep for saying such things.


“... I'm serious Bob, we've just gotta get some blogging going if we want cred...”

Oh. Dear.

In a just world, secret doors would open and people in lab coats and goggles would jab said editor with electrified barbs and cart his body off to study his atrophied brain. As the lab guys vanish again you would sit there stunned and feeling newly safe and thinking, “wow, that was close.”

No such luck. It is, after all, Our World and no secret doors opened and no people in lab coats and goggles came and you know... you just know... that somewhere in the towers of mainstream media this editor is getting snaps from aging publishers for getting jiggy with the youngsters by jumping into that blogging thing to snarl hella amounts of heinous cred, dude...

Thus, the only sane alternative for me was the grand mal seizure.

And then, as the twitching started and I realized this was it, I looked into his incredibly clueless – and yet oddly hunted – eyes and a comforting thought swept over me.

The apocalypse is nigh.

It's all going to be OK. A feeling of well-being swept over me. The great media sorting out has started and this editor, too, shall pass.

In fact, while the “getting snaps” stuff caused my near seizure – and neatly sums up why newspapers simply can't attract young readers – it's the first part of the statement that remains the most troubling: “we gotta get into this blogging thing....”

Memo to mainstream media: You don't get to blog.

You have a publishing apparatus. So you don't get to blog. You have a broadcasting apparatus. So you don't get to blog.

In case you missed this the point while you were reading up on youth slang, I'll repeat it for emphasis. You. Do. Not. Get. To. Blog.

Not that you won't try. Currently, there's a rush among traditional media outlets to get into that wicked bitchin', snaps inducing “blogging thing.” Almost all of these efforts are agonizingly misguided.

Buzzword compliance is a big deal in traditional media. Unfortunately, in America, media leadership is marbled with mediocre minds. And, like loneliness, mediocrity craves company.

Publishers, editors and broadcasters feel precisely naked if they are not participating in the trend of the moment. They yap about innovation and then simply shamble along, following the lead of others. That's why editors love editorial fads. If one person makes a mistake he or she gets blamed for it. If everyone makes the same mistake, it's an industrywide experiment. No blame. Safety in the mind-numbed crowd...

In the late 1970s, the “reporter's notebook” was a hot buzzword. Every news outlet worth its salt had to have one.

There was a romantic vision of American newsrooms abloom with little tidbits of info. Lovely little items that were interesting but couldn't quite support a full story.

Why not gather these items up, the reasoning ran, call it a “reporters notebook” and publish it? Individually, the nuggets weren't worth much, but stack them in a big pile and they would reach critical mass and be great.... Or, it could just be a big stack of trivia. Whichever. But everyone was doing it, so....

What this ignored was reporters are already all too adept at taking a tiny tidbit and turning it into a full story, whether it should be one or not.

Because of this, reporters kind of resented the whole notebook idea. Of course, the reporter's notebooks did give them a chance to mention their granny or cousin Jethro or some such and they thought that was fun at least.

Despite these slender delights, reporters quickly ran out of exciting little tidbits. And their personal musings over said tidbits were not exactly profound. And the notebooks became little more than half-hearted columns featuring references to family and friends. So, after the first wave of notebooks hit, it became clear that – outside of gossip columns – any tidbit worth publishing at all likely merited a real story.

Readers didn't care much for this reportorial dim sum either. They quickly sussed out that the notebooks were embryonic journalism stripped of context and, in a weird way, kind of insulting.

By the mid-to-late 1980s, the whole “reporter's notebook” fad pretty much died except for the odd holdout in Sunday papers. On to other buzzwords...

But wait! “Reporters notebooks” are back from their deserved oblivion. They've been slapped up on the web as media company blogs.

It's happening all across the country as newspapers and broadcasters rush to add their imprint to the blogscape. Mark my words, references to people's grannies or their pets aren't far behind.

And reporter resentment shall follow too. Just yesterday, Variety's Brian Lowry wrote a scathing piece about what a pain in the ass it was to try to blog something like a press tour just because some goon with a title has inter-generational aspirations.

The point from inside the newsroom is: a seasoned journalist like Lowry is already telling us everything he feels needs to be said. The point from the readers perspective is: why are you giving us more of the same old crap all chopped up and calling it pate?

I'll resist the temptation to unleash a list of silly newspaper and television station blogs at this point. There are lots, some run by operations that should know better. Besides, we only need to use one to illustrate the obvious: media blogs simply further expose the staff members who are already well exposed to the public.

If you're curious for an example of why mainstream media blogs are goofy, check out the Miles O'Brian shuttle launch blog at CNN.

Here we find O'Brian plastering the web site with a couple of extra paragraphs of items that might normally appear as color in a real story. It's all spiced with the random, token stab at personal flavor: I kept waiting for him to write, “Wheee!!! Lift off!!! God Bless America! Take that, Fox! You hear that? I said God Bless America before you did!!!!”

I mean, there's just NOTHING there and yet, CNN puffs itself up by playing the "blog" game. Gotta get those snaps, right?

And that's the fundamental failing of media company blogs: they aren't blogs in the proper sense and they utterly misapprehend what is fascinating about blogging.

The majority of the time, media blogs deliver more staff voices that are already published and broadcast ad-naseum. Occasionally, you might hear from, say, a copy editor or section editor or librarian who otherwise does not make it into print or on the air. And yes, that can have marginal appeal. But it scarcely registers in the big picture because media company blogs adhere to the old top-down, we-talk-you-listen-punk publishing model.

Furthermore, one wonders if spending any staff time writing blogs is a prudent use of resources when American newspapers and broadcasters should be throwing all their energy at fixing the creaky mindset that is losing them audience every day.

Fact: Most major media players couldn't lose their audience faster if they were chasing them with a stick. And rather than reform and transform, major media – in some kind of manic pratfall – responds by further exposing the public to the very same cast of characters that the audience has already rejected. Staff blogs. Wow.

Goddamned brilliant, that.

There is a deeper issue that mainstream media doesn't comprehend here.

The DNA of blogging is a complicated matter that touches on being outside voices and taking personal control of the media. But at minimum the DNA of blogging has to do with distributing the conversation. Contrary to that, the DNA of mainstream media – to date – is all about dominating the conversation.

Bloggers are, for all intents and purposes, the pamphleteers of the 1700s all decked out in modern livery. Some are crazy. Some are geniuses. Some are vile. Some are heroic. Some boring. Some cooler than cool. In other words, they're us.

Like those pamphleteers, at this point blogging tends to be more about opinions than facts. Also like those pamphleteers, bloggers are in the process of laying the groundwork for very important journalism going forth from here.

It's early in this cycle for new journalism. Early, but exciting. In some cases it reaches beyond blogging and into citizen journalism to cover stories the mainstream press can't or won't -- for instance consider the grand sweep of Indymedia.org.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, it can be remarkable and intimate blogging, such as when Scott Cutshall noticed that a golden age of handmade craft bicycles was upon us and, on his own, undertook to interview the framebuilders because no one else was doing it.

For some reason, most of mainstream media doesn't understand that blogging happens when you don't have a printing press or a broadcast booth available, but you do have something to say. Nor do they understand that distributing the conversation is one of the most important forces alive in media today.

...continue reading.

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Finalists for the Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism

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Posted by Vin Crosbie

The Institute for Interactive Journalism at the University of Maryland has selected five finalists from among 65 entries for the 2005 Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism. The awards recognize efforts at establishing new standards for American interactive journalism that advance creativity in digital storytelling and challenge the traditional roles new organizations play in their communities.

  • The News & Record of Greensboro, North Carolina's 'Town Square' was selected as a finalist for its "daring initiative to rethink the role of the newspaper in the community" by letting readers submit news stories.

  • ChicagoCrime.org, a public interest site by Web software programmer Adrian Holovaty, was selected for its merging of public crime database with Google’s online mapping technology to allow users to see their neighborhood’s relative safety through an easily searched and navigated interface.

  • Minnesota Public Radio's Public Insight Journalism was selected for its 'Idea Generator' online software designed"'to engage people in brainstorming public issues."

  • Interactive Magazine Online was selected for The View, its quarterly magazine full of stories produced by journalists from England, the U.S. and South Africa, who "use video-centric Web tools to tell personalized stories."

  • And Newsday was selected for its online section 'The Cost of War', which is described as "an extravaganza of detailed information and artful graphics about the U.S. effort in Iraq that set a new bar for telling fact-dense stories."

The main winner will be announced on September 12 during the free Batten Symposium at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and will receive $10,000. Second place will receive $2,000, and the three remaining finalists will receive $1,000 Awards of Distinction.

The symposium will feature a keynote dialogue on participatory news with Michael Kinsley, departing Editorial and Opinion Editor of the Los Angeles Times, and Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia. The Batten Awards and Symposium are funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and honor the late James K. Batten, former CEO of Knight Ridder.

The Institute for Interactive Journalism offers site showing all five finalists.

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July 20, 2005

The Lessons of Lawrence

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Posted by Vin Crosbie

One problem with contributing to this Rebuilding Media blog part-time is that sometimes part-time means no time. Work for clients takes precedence and pro bono work backlogs. Now that I've got some free time again, I'm working on that backlog.

One backlogged item involves The Newspaper of the Future, a three-page story published afront the business section of The New York Times on Sunday, June 26th. The story profiled the Lawrence Journal-World in Kansas, a newspaper company that also built its town's CATV system 30 years ago, launched its own cable TV news operation on that ten years later, and nowadays has launched probably the most innovate set of websites by any U.S. daily newspaper.

After the Times' story appeared, it was discussed on the Online News listserv for online news periodical publishing executives. Despite the Times story's length, many Online News subscribers weren't sure what, besides delving early into multimedia, could be learned from the Lawrence Journal-World's example. One Online News subscriber asked:

    "Let me put it another way: It may be interesting to discuss what 85% of the dailies arguably might have done in the past. The relevant question is, whether this so-called 'newspaper of the future' offers any ideas or lessons on what they might profitably do now."

    Good question. I posted a reply there today, which I'm also posting here.

    Many people assume that there might be some glamorous new application or service that a newspaper (or a news magazine or a news broadcaster) can implement onlikne now that will bring immediate profit and success. Unfortunately, what news organizations must do now online are much less unglamorous things and don't bring immediate results. Does the Lawrence Journal-World provide any ideas or lessons about what newspapers must do now?)

Yes, but the answer requires us to see the forest and not just the trees.

What newspapers must do now is the same thing that they should have done then: Specifically, cease myopia and mimicry.

Most newspapers are ill with myopia. Nearsightedness. Short-term thinking. Newsrooms are concerned just with today's or this Sunday's stories; ad sales departments with this month's quotas; circulation departments with the next Audit Bureau of Circulation deadline; publishers with capital investments that can be recouped within 12 to 36 months; and newspaper corporations only with the next financial quarter's results. Relentlessly short-term thinking is pandemic in the newspaper industry.

Even newspapers’ strategic planning is relatively short-term. Most of it concerns pressroom equipment or front-end systems purchases, not new-media. Despite the huge and long-term changes underway, few newspapers are planning for new-media more than two -- nonetheless five or ten -- years ahead. Most don’t even believe that planning new-media that far ahead is possible. Myopia.

Planning what must be done – even in new-media – now and five to tens years out isn't mysterious or even difficult if you bother to see the forest rather than all the trees. I'll explain the specifics of what further below, but lets go back to the example of the Lawrence Journal-World.

I think the primary reason why that newspaper company has been successful at new-media -- why the Sunday New York Times business section devoted a three-page cover story to it, terming it the 'newspaper of the future' -- isn't necessarily because of now departed new-media chief Rob Curley. Nor is it the specific services offered by LJWorld.com, Lawrence.com, or KUsports.com. Nor is it because the Lawrence Journal-World also owns the cable television (CATV) franchise in its town, along with a cable TV news operation. Those are all products of the primary reason, not the reason itself.

No, whether the medium is newsprint offset lithography (which Lawrence pioneered in the U.S. during the mid-1960s), CATV in the late 1960s, the Web in the mid-1990s, or mobile devices today, the primary reason why the Lawrence Journal-World succeeds is because its owners approach any new media with long-term, fresh thinking. Not myopia or mimicry.

The Simons family, who own the company, understood that they wouldn’t receive short-term returns or profits when they started each of those media ventures. They knew that they'd have to invest long-term and sometimes heavily in purchasing, installing, learning, and refining some very unexciting infrastructures before launching any promotable services. They understood that there are no quick solutions, instant answers, nor immediate shortcuts to profits, no 'magic bullets' that will instantly make ventures profitable now. There never were. They Simons instead knew that there is no time better than *now* to start implementing the infrastructures necessary long-term for success.

That’s the first immediate lesson from Lawrence. Begin implementing now the long-term projects necessary for your newspaper to survive in the future, even if those projects don't have short-term paybacks. When faced with major changes in their business environments, the organizations that will exist in the long-term are those that make long-term investments in their future. There aren't any quick fixes or shortcuts. Start the long-term projects now.

The New York Times, The Guardian, the BBC, and the Washington Post are other examples news organizations using this thinking. You’ll notice that those organizations think long-term plus that most either aren’t beholden to public stock markets or, if they are, tend to resist stock analysts’ maniacal myopia about quarterly financial results.

Although I reluctantly disagree with Professor Philip Meyer's thesis correlating journalistic quality and newspaper survival, his book The Vanishing Newspaper superbly chronicles how most newspaper companies have hobbled (and perhaps doomed) by myopically trimming their costs, staffs, and investments to focus instead on short-term results.

Because long-term thinking forgoes micromanagement, which means that the newspapers that utilize it must find and hire people who don’t really need to be managed. In other words, to paraphrase citizen journalism advocate Dan Gillmor’s dictum about his readers, your employees (should) know more than you do about running your newspaper business. The Simons of Lawrence are smart, but their smartest managerial acts have been to hire of people who are smarter than they are about the pertinent sectors of their business.

The result is 'top-up', not 'top-down', management, somewhat of an inversion of conventional newspaper management. New ideas and policies flow up, not down. The Simons don’t necessarily dictate how their newspaper, CATV system, broadcast news operation, or websites are run. They instead hire people who know more about operating those media than they themselves do and then let those people do whatever. For example, Publisher & Editor Dolph Simons Jr. knew that Rob Curley not only knew how to run a better new-media operation than he did, but that Curley knew better what a better new-media operation was than he did.

Rob Curley likewise knew that his own staff knew more than he himself did about many of the possibilities of new-media. I remember visiting when executives of another newspaper chain asked him how he conceived a few of Lawrence's most innovative new-media services. 'I didn't,' he replied. 'I simply hired some top-notch, young programmers and told them to develop whatever they thought newspaper websites needed but didn't have.'

Curley’s answer may flabbergast many traditional news media executives who adhere to the old dictum that only higher management knows what needs to be created. Yet, what’s truly flabbergasting is that too many news organizations do think that higher executives, who spend most of their time in corporate meetings, might know more about new-media than staffers who actually have hands-on experience working with it. Lawrence’s ‘top-up’ approach fosters creativity missing from too many levels at too many newspaper companies.

Indeed, this ‘top-up’, hands-on approach also increases creativity and perspective at higher levels of such companies. It’s no coincidence that the few newspaper executives who actually have taken time to immerse themselves in the raw materials of new-media (such as program coding or the sciences underling the Internet or telecommunications) are those who are recognizably innovative. Learning the new through hands-on experience, they’ve been training themselves to think in fresh ways, to resist merely mimicking what other newspaper companies are doing online, and to perceive the long-term changes newspapers face.

Therein lies the second lesson from Lawrence: Resist mimicry and instead think afresh for solutions. Zoologists say that primates have a natural tendency to mimic the solutions of their peers whenever they don’t understand. I think that our highest primate specie also tends to rationalizes that there must be a good reason why others are using that solution (even when the real reason might simply be the herd instinct). For instance, how many times have you heard, 'We're doing this online because other newspapers like ours are doing it.' If those rationalizations had proven true, newspapers today would be delivered online via PointCast or ;CueCat scanners.

Business development executives should approach new-media as if the legacy procedures and practices of printed newspaper didn’t exist. Approach problems afresh; there’s no other truly successful way (ask Craig Newmark of Craig's List, if you don’t believe me). Far too many newspaper new-media executives (and their bosses) think that their mission is to transplant their legacy business into online. Ultimately, however, that’s a self-destructive mission. It ultimately transplants online the problems underlying why printed newspapers are declining in popularity (hints: those problems aren’t newsprint or lacks of audio or video).

...continue reading.

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July 11, 2005

Benkoil Calls for New Multidisciplinary Group about Online Content

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Posted by Vin Crosbie

Dorian Benkoil, former general manager of Fairchild Publications's consumer and trade magazines' Internet operations and former managing producer of ABC's news site, thinks most new-media groups in the news industry aren't looking at online content from the appropriate perspective. You can read his original posting on his blog, yet he expanded on this topic today for Corante:

    "The groups that exist today leave a gap in the way they address digital media. Some, like the Online News Association, look at media in the digital realm mainly from a content perspective, and largely concern themselves with techniques, standards, technology and other means of executing content. There are groups, like the Online Publishers Association, that look at media from a monetary perspective, and tend to have marketers and salespeople who don't really understand content – its value, how to produce it, etc. – and see it as the stuff that fills the space between the ads.

    "I see a need for a group that acknowledges that, in today's media landscape, we need to look at and understand both, simultaneously. The people who manage and produce the content are now also concerned about making money from it. Today's Online/Digital Editorial Director probably also has to understand the effects of ad serving or bizdev deals on his/her site, and the Publisher or General Manager needs to understand the coding, technology and editorial processes. Unlike traditional media, in which church is able to operate almost devoid of state concerns – essentially going with hand out to the 'business side' whenever it wants to fund a project – in the digital realm even fairly junior manager have to consider the revenue and cost implications of what they do. In large media organizations, this kind of cross-pollination is very difficult. In small organizations, it's difficult for the people running it to figure out all the issues.

    "I propose forming a group that will fill this gap. Call it the Digital Media Business Association, or anything else appropriate. The group will be for thinkers who are able to simultaneously hold both editorial and business ideas in their heads. Its purpose is to find a forum for people who find themselves either ahead of the curve or sometimes feeling off the track – jumping between or among worlds, and having to go to all these different realms to bolster their expertise.

    "The idea would not be to knock down the wall between church and state – not to have rampant commercialism pollute the valuable editorial products – but rather to preserve the value of editorial products by continually exploring both means of content production and the ways of making money from it.

    "More than anything this group would be a bridge, a bridge to help the editorial people appreciate what the commercial folks do, and vice-versa.

    "I know I'm onto something and want to get this going, but am not sure exactly where to take it. Here’s a thought on how we could get it going:

  • Start with a charter group coming up with ideas at informal gatherings. No membership fee.

  • Once we decide on our charter, register, buy a Web URL, etc, and start getting the word out to various email lists. Charge a small membership for first-comers, but only for a limited time.

  • Come up with local events that would fulfill the charter mission – have speakers talk about both, say, ad serving and editorial. Educate marketers about the value of editorial. Educate both sides in the disciplines of the others: ad-sales for journalists, journalism for salespeople, etc."

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July 8, 2005

July 7, 2005

New Media From The Horse's Mouth

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Posted by Vin Crosbie

Just what is this blog about? If you see a horse on Main Street, ask it how to tell when fundamental change becomes obvious. Its great-grandfather probably knew.

In 1905, although steam locomotives pulled trains between cities and the New York City had some subways trains with electric locomotion, transportation media in America meant horses. They pulled coaches, wagons, carts, carriages, and even streetcars. Riders astride saddled horses were still an everyday sight. As the proprietors of livery stables, businesses of which every town had many, would have told you, 'Humanity has depended upon the horse for millennia and always will'.

They were wrong. Most purveyors of that medium were out of business within 20 years. Despite millennia of humanity’s reliance on horses, fundamental change, fueled by new transportation media technologies, swept that old media away and quickly replaced it with new media. It’s a lesson that news & information media industry executives today should learn for their own sakes and survivals.

With today’s hindsight, it is easy to see how horseless carriages, mass production, and paved roads relatively quickly (circa 1900-1920) and ineluctably replaced horses as Americans’ preferred medium of transportation. But who in 1905 would have seen that fundamental change underway in transportation media to be so obvious?

A similarly fundamental change in news & information media is underway now. For many executives in that industry, this change doesn’t seem obvious. To us, it obviously is.

Despite humanity’s reliance on newspapers for four centuries, on magazines for one and a half centuries, on radio for a century, and on television for half of a century, a fundamental change, fueled by new media technologies, is sweeping away those old media and replacing them relatively quickly and ineluctibly with new media.

By now, media companies should start to realize that the time to start new-media subsidiaries has ended and the time to replace their old media with new-media has begun. Unfortunately, most media companies don’t yet see how obvious their need to accept this fundamental change is. Like those livery stable owners a century ago, they’re still clinging to the past.

It is true that no new medium ever entirely replaced a previous medium. There are places where you can still rent a horse. You can hitch it to a carriage. You can still see horse races. Nevertheless, horses are no longer viable transportation media in America. Newspapers, magazines, and most radio and television broadcast are likewise becoming no longer viable because all communications media are undergoing fundamental change. The time for them to stop clinging to the past has ended.

Please understand that we don’t mean the new media that we see today will necessarily the succeed old media. Most new media today are flawed, as might be many of these new media’s applications.This is nothing new. Thomas Edison believed that rotating cylinders of foil were the best way to record sounds. Alexander Graham Bell believed that his newly invented telephone would be used by people primarily to listen to concerts. Guglielmo Marconi was ignorant that his newly invented radio would be used primarily for entertainment.

We expect that many of today’s new media might be turn out to be merely short-lived steps towards even better, newer media. We won’t be surprised if different, newer, and unexpected usages may soon be found for today’s new media. We believe that we’re perhaps only one-third to one-half way through the fundamental change now underway that might take decades; and that better, newer new media will be developed.

However, whatever the future holds, we know now that old media are doomed to be replaced by new media. The declines in newspaper and magazine readerships, in radio listenerships, in television viewerships, and in cinema visitorships are obvious, well predate the rise of the Internet, and are accelerating. Two forces are shattering the old media.

The first is technology. Although media technology is undergoing its greatest change since the day in 1440 when Johannes Gutenberg first inked type, the news & information media industry has mistaken these new technologies merely as electronic ways to distribute otherwise printed or broadcasted products for more than ten years now. This industry hasn’t, and unfortunately still isn’t, ably using the unique characteristics and capabilities of new media technologies.

The second force is what we can perhaps call estrangement. The news & information industry has largely lost touch with consumers’ needs, interests, and purses during the past 30 years. The rapid declines in newspaper readership, broadcast viewership, and cinema visitorship are among the evidence demonstrating this. The rapid increases in peer-to-peer file sharing systems, podcasting, and perhaps even citizen journalism, plus the very fact that more than 600 million people worldwide have gravitated onto the Internet despite their already having access to the old media, underline this.

We’re here to discuss the fundamental change underway. We’re multimedia and multidisciplinary. We’ll not focus solely upon one format of the news & information media (such as newspapers). We’ll not focus solely upon one discipline within the industry (such as editorial or advertising) because, for examples, we know that editorial solutions that don’t have viable business plans will fail and that new technologies adopted solely for one discipline’s purposes will fail.

Nor will we preach change just for change’s sake. Any change is not necessarily better than none at all. We expect the news & information industry to make many missteps. To divine which, we may need to examine or gore a few sacred cows of new media, however politically incorrect that might be. No holds or examinations barred.

Among a few of the topics we’ll examine, with examples, are how disintermediation, unpackaging and individualization (‘personalization’) of content is changing the industry. What affect will on-demand and online mobility have? Will newspapers, magazines, and broadcasts survive in any forms? Are peer-to-peer file sharing systems, podcasting, and citizen journalism true replacements for old media, just reactions to the old media’s estrangement from its audiences, or are simply reinforcements or building blocks for better new media? How can the growing rubble of the old media plus the exotic new materials of the new media be used to rebuild the news & information industry?

No horsing around.

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