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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

Monthly Archives

October 29, 2005

"Young readers" for newspapers? Won't happen. And Harte-Hanks knew it.

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Posted by Ben Compaine

Harte-Hanks was ahead of its time. And the more data that I see on newspaper readership the more they look pretty smart.

Hitting newspaper publishers with yet another piece of negative data about their future health might seem like piling on at this point. But when the data is so compelling that it has strategic implications it needs to be given broad circulation (so to speak).

I don't know how many of you are aware of the Grade the News Web site, a project of the San Jose State University's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. I just discovered it myself. It describes itself as the Consumer Reports for news outlets in the San Francisco Bay Area. Earlier this month journalism professor and former Knight-Ridder journalist Phil Meyer penned (if that can be used anymore) a column headlined “Newspapers can't maintain monopoly profits because they've lost their monopolies.” In it he voiced skepticism that attracting “young readers” is a viable resuscitation strategy for traditional newspapers. His compelling evidence went beyond the usual table that shows that 20-somethings don’t read the newspaper. No, Prof. Meyer, the creator of the term and author of the landmark book Precision Journalism makes an even more compelling case with this graph:

readership graphIt's a fine example of a picture having value of a thousand words. But just to leave nothing to chance, the import of the data is that the pre-radio generation had and maintains a higher level of newspaper readership than the pre-television generation, which in turn is higher than the boomers who were raised with TV and radio. And the post-boomers, having had VCRs, DVDs, gazillion channel cable and, of course, the Internet, distracted by more media choices than ever, not surprisingly has the least need for-- or at least the least time for-- traditional newspapers.

I'm not sure where Phil got this data, but if there's anyone I trust to have accurate information it would be the author of Precision Journalism.

Meyer does see a sliver of a silver lining, reminding us that "new media never completely replaces old media. They just drive the old media into more specialized niches. Newspapers will survive, but in radically different form, many less than daily." Certainly true for the intermediate future. But it will also eventually result in changes of ownership, as some of today's owners decide they don't want to be in the lower volume, specialized niche business.

The prototype may have been the Harte-Hanks newspaper group, headed by a smart CEO named Robert Marbut. About 10 years ago they decided that the value of their newspapers was high and the future was dull, so they sold their papers-- mostly in Texas-- and redeployed assets into the direct mail business, which indeed has been more robust than newspapers. Direct mail has actually increased its share of advertising expenditures as newspaper share continue to fall. Today more advertising dollars are spent on direct mail than in newspapers. Harte-Hanks may not have foreseen the impact of the Internet when it made its strategic decisions, but it was aware of the move to digital and it understood the long term implications for newspapers. While Harte-Hanks still uses print, it is essentially a data base business.

One scenario is that down the road we may well see a handful of companies that will specialize in smaller, higher priced printed dailies and less than dailies, while many of today's publishers, like Harte-Hanks before them, will morph into something else in the ever-more broadly defined media arena.

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October 28, 2005

I Pay for Digital, Not Print, Media

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

Walking over to the Hilton Hotel for the 2005 Online News Association conference in New York today, I grabbed my copies of free tabloids "AM New York" and "metro." It occurred to me that I pay more for my digital media than print.

And that makes sense: The online versions are worth more – I can see today's and yesterday's and weeks-ago news, search headlines or words, email to a friend, easily save stories with a few clicks, sort things into folders, and all without having to stuff a file drawer or two or three. Some sites let me use their functionality to sift and sort and get feeds of what I want, or check how a company's stock price has moved in relation to a story. I can see what people are commenting about related to a story, and set up or access a tag cloud to see what's going on in the blog-sphere. I can get RSS feeds of many of the subject areas I'm interested in, including for paid products. In print, I can't do very much of that at all.

So here's a rough version of the financials of it: I pay $99 per year for The Wall Street Journal online, about $15 for Avantgo, I get subscriptions to Factiva and Thomson and Reuters through business school (which I have paid for if you count the $60,000 exec MBA tuition). I get access to Time-Warner publications for my family's $15 or so monthly AOL subscription, and a few things (including WSJ.com ) through T-Mobile Hotspots and a few others through Verizon's DSL service. In print, I pay for the weekend New York Times, in part because the coupons in there repay that price of about $19/month, and a couple of magazine subscriptions at between $5 and $20/year. One of those magazines, Business2.0, I paid for just to get full access online (though maybe I could've achieved the same thing through AOL).

I almost never buy a single copy of a newspaper or magazine, except maybe 25 or 50 cents for a tabloid or when I'm at an airport.

That's a long, maybe boring, and incomplete litany, but the basic message is that I pay for digital, and not as much for print. I also could desperately use a consolidator, someone who would come to me and say "You can have it all for $25 or $50 or $75 per month." Or even some way of charging me on a per-use basis.

Regardless: Isn't media in a digital format to you, the user, worth more than in ink-on-paper format?

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October 26, 2005

The Online/Legacy User Equivalence Myth

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Posted by Vin Crosbie

'Don't worry,' the publisher tells his stockholders. 'Our periodical may have lost 100,000 subscribers [or viewers or listeners] this past year; but the good news is that our website gained 500,000 users during that same period!

Now that periodical circulations, TV news viewerships, and radio news listenserships have entered free fall (a situation that many of us have predicted for decades) I've been hearing publishers and broadcasters try to fool their stockholders with what I term the Myth of Online/Legacy User Equivalence.

    The Myth states that each online user is of equal value to a user of print or broadcast.

If you're the publisher or broadcaster whose daily or weekly legacy media audience is declining but whose website has an increasing monthly usership, this myth is a comforting bit of sophism. And it's manna from heaven to your public relations staff.

After all, isn't an eyeball an eyball? Isn't a user a user, no matter whether he uses print, online, or over-the-air? Isn't your audience merely shifting from print [or broadcast] to online; so that if your monthly online usership equals your daily or weekly losses in circulation or viewership, there's no net loss? Right?

Only if you flunked junior high school math. I think that most publishers and broadcasters did. (You'd think so too if you read Temple University Professor John Allen Paulos' A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper, but that's another story.) Because the myth that each online user is of equal value to each user of print or broadcast is a wonderfully plausible but fallacious belief.

The myth is so plausible that it is hard not to blame Northeast University Journalism Professor and former Boston Phoenix media critic Dan Kennedy for falling for it last week. Dan commented in his Media Nation blog about stories reporting about the Boston Globe's loss of nearly 8 percent daily circulation this year:

But though these are certainly dark days at 135 Morrissey Blvd., especially with the national operation being dismantled, there's a larger point that everyone is missing.

Take a look at the media kit for the Globe's Web site, Boston.com. As you'll see, Boston.com claims to have 600,000 registered users. Moreover, it cites a third-party study showing that Boston.com is visited by more than 4.1 million unique users every month.

Now, those 4.1 million people aren't all Globe readers. Boston.com includes features not just from the Globe but also from New England Cable News and New England Sports Network, as well as some of its own content. But, for the sake of simplicity, let's say that Boston.com and the Globe are one and the same. Divide those 4.1 million monthly users by 30 days in a month (another oversimplification), and you've got an average of about 136,000 people reading the Globe online every day.

Add those readers to the Globe's current circulation, and you get 552,000 on weekdays and 803,000 on Sundays. Significantly, those numbers are similar to the Globe's best years pre-Web. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), the Globe's weekday circulation in 1991 was 519,000. Its Sunday circulation in 1994 was 815,000.

You get his point: If an online edition user is equal to a printed edition user, then everything is coming up roses for the Globe.

doesnotequalBut that's not what a closer sniff reveals. Let's nose into the reality:

Almost all surveys of printed newspaper readership (the most recent was by the Readership Institute at Northwestern University) indicate that the average reader of a metropolitan daily newspaper (such as the Globe) reads it 3 to 5 times per week, spending about a half hour each time and scan through all daily pages. Note that I said per week.

By comparison, almost all surveys and meterings of newspaper website usage (including by Nielsen/Netratings and its archrival ComScore Media Metrix) indicate that the average user of a metropolitan daily newspaper's website (specifically including the Boston.com) uses that site 3 to 5 times per month spending about a half hour in aggregate there all month and seeing less than 30 webpages during that time.

Since there are 4 and one-third weeks in a month, this means the average readers of the printed edition and the web editions are clearly not equivalent. Each print edition reader uses the publication 4.33 times as oftenas the average online reader. Then factor in the difference between how many pages those respective average readers read: 40 to 60 daily by the newspaper reader versus less than 30 all month for the online reader. Finally, factor in the amount time each spents reading: approximately 30 minutes per print use versus 30 minutes total for all monthly usages online. There are obviously one or two magnitudes difference between the value of these two types of readers.

Speaking of value, it gets even worse: A Borrell Associates survey by of 245 U.S. newspaper websites in 2003 showed that their average annual revenue measured per user was $7.93 (the revenues for the New York Times Company, which includes Boston.com, was $7.56). Compare that the average annual revenue measured per users of a printed edition. How do you calculate the average annual revenues from a print reader? Take the printed newspaper's annual advertising revenues and divide those by the newspaper's circulation, and then add the newspaper's annual subscription rate ($400). You'll come up with a figure of between $500 and $1,200 per reader, depending upon the individual newspaper.

In other words, a print edition reader is one or two magnitudes more valueable to the publisher than an online users. As a consultant about online publishing, I hate to state that and am working to change it, but it is true.

Unless publishers {or broadcasters] can create compelling website that get used — and earn — at least as much as their legacy media does per user, then the fact that more and more of their legacy media users are switching to online access of their service isn't good news.

And those publishers and broadcasters who are claiming that each online media user is equivalent to a legacy media user? Either they're fooling their stockholders or they themselves are the fools.

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October 24, 2005

How to Build a Successful Blog Network

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

By now it's oldish news that blog creator and aggregator Weblogs Inc., run by the irrepressible Jason Calacanis, is being bought by AOL, after flirtations with a lot of the other big players.

How did Calacanis's network, home to leading tech-blog Engadget, and other blog powerhouses, get so big so fast, so he's able to cash out only two years after creating it? One way is through careful and constant use, care and feeding of Google's Ad Sense ads to maximize revenue. So good, in fact, that Google has done a case study to talk about how Calacanis did it. (Here's a short piece on the study.) Another way, according to this piece, is by "gaming" blog-rating service Technorati by having all the blogs link and cross-link. Look in the lower right column of any of the Weblogs Inc. blogs, like Engadget, to see the list. But if that's a crime, there are a LOT of guilty people, from pornographers to B2B sites and major media. (Perhaps it's more incumbent on the folks writing the blog-crawling algorithms to correct for that, as search engines have corrected as best they can for "keyword packing." It's a constant challenge. But can we blame Weblogs for pointing us to its other properties?)

And, when I met Calacanis at the "We Media" conference a couple weeks ago, he told me the secret to his success, and how he's managed in some instances to leapfrog rival Gawker Media run by Nick Denton: hire good bloggers and keep them. If they do well, and traffic is going up, keep giving them more money, so they'll stay with Weblogs. Meaning, get good people, and treat them well. Comforting to hear a publisher say the way to gain audience that leads to financial success is by finding and rewarding talented journalists.

While we're on the topic of blog networks: By way, Glam.com, a fashion blog network pointed out to me by TopButton.com, which I do work for, is being hailed as a sign that the VC money is back for real: Many are calling it the first "vertical" aggregation -- a group of properties on a single topic area (fashion) -- with serious money behind it since the go-go days.

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October 21, 2005

Google Still Plays Its Own Game

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

Since we're taglined "the economics of content" here at Rebuilding Media, here's an interesting tidbit that's a bit arcane but is crucial to valuing the stock of what's one of the world's biggest media companies. (See John Battelle for more on why Google is a media company. It certainly accounts for a lot of traffic that a lot of media companies are counting on.)

You may have noticed that Google reported earnings yesterday that were well above analysts' expectations and made its stock rise 12% to an all-time high of $339. But you may have missed that before yesterday, the search engine giant had been pulling an accounting maneuver that had been driving Wall Street analysts nuts. The unconventional company (remember the "Dutch Auction" ? How about the world-saving lingo http://www.google.com/corporate/ in their statement of principles) decided until yesterday to file their accounting numbers according to strict rules, the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles decreed by the people who mandate these things.

But last week, Google's chief accountant said they would report not only GAAP results on Oct. 20, but also "pro-forma" results, which strip out financials not directly relating to normal operations – things like employee stock options and the tax benefits the company gets from compensating employees that way.

Wall Street analysts like the "pro-forma" results because they are supposed to show how well the company is doing from its real business, its day-to-day operations. Yet, the Wall Streeters pull their own funny maneuver by stripping out the non-operating charges but including the tax benefits that come from them. In the words of Marketwatch's Bambi Francisco they "accentuate the positive."

Google said it would start to play nice, giving the pro-forma earnings, but would be more honest by also NOT including the tax benefits related to stuff it had stripped out. So, while Google did give non-GAAP numbers yesterday that were easier to compare to estimates, it still didn't give numbers in a way that we can easily compare to stock analysts' expectations; they did however specify exactly what was removed to calculate their pro-forma earnings. And what a whopping number it was.

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Revenge of the telcos: "Content-based billing" software introduced

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Posted by Bob Cauthorn

As predicted here in August the FCC ruling that defined DSL providers as "information services" is getting closer to introducing a new wave of internet tariffs.

Today, the net is abuzz about a Bay-Area company -- Narus -- that has released software it claims can monitor traffic on a network to block -- or bill for -- specific types of traffic with a degree of detail heretofore impossible.

First on the list to traffic to monitor and block? Voice Over IP (VOIP) providers like Skype, naturally. Skype's customers sidestep phone tariffs and therefore sit squarely in the cross-hairs of the telcos and cable providers ...Don't want to have too much customer choice, do we?

Even more, Narus' prodigious claims for its software promise network providers the ability to charge for a whole range of traffic. Lovely.

I believe only about 1/3 of Narus's claimed functionality -- I'm skeptical about how it scales to widespread deployment -- but that scarcely matters. The brute force approach of port blocking alone can accomplish what the telcos/cable companies want without Narus' high-end schmutz.

The FCC could have prevented all this, but it chose deliberately to let the big companies tighten their lock on the market. Indeed, in a dazzling moment of doublespeak, it claimed the ruling was "pro-consumer" choice even as the beneficiaries of decision where planning on choking off competitors.

How many carriers will deploy Narus' software? No one knows. But this first shot across the bow on tariffed traffic suggests a new -- and vastly more expensive -- internet could be on the way.

Smart content providers would be well-advised to keep a close eye on this. It's well within the realm of possibility that a national telco in Europe will try to charge, say, Amazon or CNN a fee for inbound traffic originating from their networks.

Of course, none of this will happen without a fight to keep the net free. As the battle warms up, we'll all get to pick a side: in this corner Narus, select network providers and their pet politicians determined to make the net less free, in that corner everyone else in the ever-loving world.

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Downsizing Newspapers: 'Cause "The times they are a-changin'"

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Posted by Ben Compaine

As a media format the daily newspaper as we know it is in trouble. It will not die in our lifetime. Indeed, it will linger for quite a while and produce profits for many publishers. But maintaining an appearance of health will take hard work and tough decisions. Newspapers are like a beauty queen past her prime. Make-up, exercise, and the proper lighting may produce an illusion of her old self. But beneath it she knows the reality. For newspaper publishers, cost cutting, judicious use of technology, and sharp management may produce a profitable newspaper. For the industry as a whole, a long term decline is inevitable.

I wrote that almost exactly 14 years ago for a speech to the Inter-American Press Association in Sao Paulo. I stumbled across it, covered with digital dust (it was in a WordPerfect 4.1 file) as I was preparing to address CEOs and top executives from about 45 newspaper publishers from 28 countries, ranging from southern Brazil to Singapore, Russia, Central America and Europe. They were in Cambridge, Mass. for a seminar called “What’s Next?” sponsored by the Innovation Media Consulting group I work with. Many of the same people had participated in a similar seminar in Cambridge 12 years ago and I had been trying to find any record of my talk back then.

The scenario I painted then is playing itself out. Not for every newspaper everywhere, but certainly for the industry overall. And it’s getting harder for the publishers to keep up the facade of beauty— or profitability. Recent earnings reports from Knight Ridder, (don’t left the headline mislead you—the profit is from a one time sale of assets, while operating earnings are down) Tribune Co., and Gannett are not pretty. Scripps showed higher operating earnings largely because of profit from the Shopzilla.com site they purchased earlier this year. The publishers have been responding the way any organization has to respond when their revenue is not increasing as fast as expenses—they cut expenses. In the case of newspapers, there are three main expenses: giant printing presses; paper, ink and fuel; and labor. The former is rather fixed: even if they print fewer papers they can’t save any money on the 25 year depreciation schedule they have on this capital equipment. With fewer or thinner editions, they do save a bit on paper and ink not used. But the loss in advertising revenue from lower circulation is greater than the lost circulation revenue. So by far the most substantial item to cut is labor. In short, a newspaper that today sells 160,000 papers daily cannot afford as large a staff as one that 10 years ago sold 200,000 paper daily.

Hence, we see regular announcements of cuts in newsroom staffing.

We’ve heard the response that if these publicly held companies weren’t so obsessed with maintaining 20% net profit margins they wouldn’t have to cut. That’s true—to a point. That’s a very short, one time fix—sort of like showing higher earnings through a sale of assets. If the publishers were willing to accept a profit that was more in line with most manufacturing industries, they could maintain the current level of staffing and pay scales and watch their margins decline for a few years as expenses continued to outpace revenue. Then they are in the same place as today: Do they start cutting staff or let profit slide to the point where there are no resources left for travel, equipment and benefits?

So the down sizing of today is insidious if we think that newspapers are only in a temporary down trend. If only the publishers would hold on, things will get better and they can keep staff and profit. But that’s not the reality, as I noted 14 years ago (and further back, but I don’t have a 5.25” floppy disk drive anymore to retrieve older documents).

On the other hand, there are new opportunities for journalists and editors. Yahoo! has Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone, as well as an editor and journalist in the comfort zone back in headquarters. New players, such as Techdirt Inc., employ journalists for its service that edits your personal news feed and blogs to provide their expert commentary. Back Fence and Pegasus News may be prototypes of other new opportunities for journalists, editors and others who used to find work as top down journalists. And of course there are any number of Web sites and blogs that do or will be home for writers, editors and commentators who in the “old days” would be at a printed newspaper.

One of my messages to the publishers at “What’s Next” was not to look at change as a negative. It is also an opportunity—and that includes the downsizing at our old newspapers. Not only can those who have been let go recycle themselves, but a new generation of digital natives are coming into journalism without the baggage that “newspaper” needs to be on paper.

In another context, my generation loudly sang along with Bob Dylan:

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.
(Copyright © 1963; renewed 1991 Special Rider Music)

So true in the context of Rebuilding Media.

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October 20, 2005

What Obstacles Exist for Online Journalism?

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Posted by Vin Crosbie

What obstacles exist for online journalism?

That topic will be on the minds of attendees at the Online News Association's annual conference next week in Manhattan.

Unfortunately, the major obstacle for online journalism is the people who practice it — the best of whom will be attending the conference. Most are transplanting into the new medium the failings of the old, mass medium: the failings of traditional journalism and the failings of traditional journalism’s packaging.

Journalists, whether they work in mass or new media, still tend to believe that traditional journalism and its packaging are as correct in a new medium as those once were in the mass medium. It is as an article of faith within their secular trade.

Yet, traditional journalism and its packaging have demonstrably failed in the mass medium, and there’s abundant evidence that that those are failing the new medium, too.

The verdict was handed down long ago in the mass medium. North American viewership of televised news has been plunging for two decades. In most of the world’s industrialized countries except Japan and China, newspaper readership has been plummeting for a third of a century. Radio listenership of news dove even longer ago. And the credibility of the news media, at least in North America, is in tatters.

So, why is most online journalism shovelware from traditional print, traditional video, and traditional radio?

Speak with most of the journalists who will be attending the ONA conference and they'll give you several excuses: 'Our website doesn't have enough staff to do anything but shovelware.' ‘This type of journalism is what was taught to us in journalism school and is still being taught there.’ 'If it’s good enough for print or video or audio, it's good journalism online.' Etcetera.

Even what little original journalism is being done online is being done along traditional models (Macromedia Flash optional).

Although there are other reasons why viewership, readership, and listenership of news have declined for decades, traditional journalism is certainly a major reason, if not the major reason.

Simply reporting who, what, when, why, and how; quoting both sides' statements; and expecting the public to decide the issues from such factoids is no longer effectively satisfying the unambiguous needs of viewers, readers, and listeners. Neither does traditional journalism’s story selection and packaging. The numbers were in decades ago.

Delivering that traditional journalism via HTML, CSS, Flash, PDF, streaming media, RSS, or podcasting solves nothing. If anything, it only makes the problem worse.

Ten years into the Internet era, although news publishers and broadcasters now boast of the numbers of people who visit their websites, the sites’ average visitor use those much less frequently and far less thoroughly than the average reader, viewer, or listener of those same publishers’ or broadcasters’ plummeting old media.

Neilsen/Netratings and Comscore Media Metrix agree that the average visitor to an American daily newspaper website visits only three time per month and read less than 20 pages and spends less than 30 minutes there during that month. According to the Readership Institute at Northwestern University, the average reader of a printed newspaper reads it three times per week, and readi more than 20 pages and spends nearly 30 minutes each time. The ratios between American broadcasters’ websites and their TV or radio broadcasts are little better.

Online journalism — if it is ever to be used more than the continuously lessening use of newspapers, news television, and news radio is — must change. Otherwise, shovelware will bury it.

Some online journalists say that 'citizen journalism' should be the future of journalism. But that shirks their own relevant roles.

The people attending the Online News Association next week have done yeoman work putting news online and deserve credit for that. However, it has come time for them to stop shoveling traditional journalism online. To stop waiting for their brethren in broadcast or print edition newsrooms to solve the problem of why viewership, readership, and listenership have been declining for decades; to stop hoping to shovel into online whatever that solution is. Judging by their long track record, it is highly unlikely that traditional journalists will ever solve that problem.

Because traditional journalists will never lead that change, it has become incumbent upon online journalists to lead, reinvent, and revitalize journalism for the 21st Century. That time is now. I challenge my fellow Online News Association members. Manhattan beckons.

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Optimism Over The Daily Show

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

There's a considerable amount of hand-wringing over people trusting the "Daily Show's" Jon Stewart as a reliable news source.

But I think there are reasons for hope. For one thing, people have to have a certain analytical ability to get his jokes. The people who watch Stewart are quite possibly more sophisticated news consumers than the average. I suppose I'm thinking along the "Everything Bad is Good For You" lines ("The junk culture we're so eager to dismiss is in fact making us more intelligent.") but I'm coming at this on my own.

This weekend, NPR's "On the Media" bemoaned a finding that younger adults who are Internet news consumers consider Stewart their most-trusted source. ("In a study of 18- to 29-year-olds done before last year's election, Stewart was voted most trusted news anchor by those who get their news mostly from the Internet," according to co-host Brooke Gladstone.) Well, if those Internet news consumers say Stewart is most trusted among them, maybe that means


    a) They already have the headlines and basics and are looking for a little exposition, and some good questions. A significant portion of Stewart's show is devoted to interviews with real newsmakers, and Stewart sometimes asks very good questions in a way that doesn't seem as self-important as mainstream news can.


    b) People like getting their news from someone who really does seem skeptical (I was brought up to believe that's a virtue in journalism), and asking the questions that normal people not steeped in the minutiae may be wondering.


    c) He's raising real issues that aren't raised elsewhere to as wide an audience.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who has, watching the "Tonight Show" or "Late Show" monologues, or Saturday Night Live's "news," sometimes wondered where the real news ends and the joke begins. Sometimes, I've even been driven to my computer to check ("did President Bush really say that"?). Remember, we used to wring our hands about how many people got their news from the late shows before Stewart came along.

Stewart has often noted that he's a comedian, not a newsman, the implication being that he shouldn't be taken seriously, or perhaps that he shouldn't be held to account. But since the days of the court jester, it's been the joker's role to bring up real issues that couldn't be comfortably addressed through mainstream channels. And if folks are sharp enough to get the joke, and glean the real information, maybe that's a cause for optimism, rather than hand-wringing.

Now, how about a survey to see how much of the news The Daily Show viewers know, and get right, compared to non-viewers?

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October 19, 2005

Leo Bogart, R.I.P. (1921-2005)

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Posted by Vin Crosbie

leobogart

Leo Bogart, a Polish-born, former U.S. Army Intelligence officer in World War II, who later applied his talents for analysis to the media in general, and tried to reverse the decline of American media, died Saturday in Manhattan.

During the 1960s, Dr. Bogart was among the first of analysts to detect and predict the since continuous declines in newspapers' readerships, television news viewerships, and radio news listenerships. He later lamented that the print media industry wasn't using methods of modern marketing analysis to stem those declines. He also argued that market forces shouldn't be the only determinant of media content.

Author of more than a dozen books and hundreds of media trade journal articles (an example from 1996), Bogart was best known for applying scientific analysis on the editorial content of newspapers, magazines, and television and relating the results to readership and viewership.

He served as the executive vice president and general manager of the Newspaper Advertising Bureau; taught marketing at New York University, Columbia University and the Illinois Institute of Technology; and was a senior fellow at the Center for Media Studies at Columbia and a Fulbright research fellow in France. At the time of his death, Bogart was a director and senior consultant for Innovation, an international media consulting firm, and wrote a column for Presstime, the magazine of the Newspaper Association of America.

The New York Times today reported that Bogart died ten weeks after being diagnosed with babesiosis, a tick-borne, malaria-like disease that destroys red blood cells. Rarely infecting humans, babesiosis is typically found in coastal islands of the Northeast U.S.

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October 18, 2005

October 14, 2005

Does e-paper mean moving pictures for magazines?

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Posted by Bob Cauthorn

The always with-it Guardian as an article on E-paper -- essentially super thin, super cheap LCD screens -- that promise to bring moving pictures to printed media.

Interestingly, people aren't talking about it as an E-Ink competitor. My guess is that E-Ink wins the resolution and power consumption battle while the new E-paper offers faster refresh rates (hence video). I certainly would like to understand better how they imagine providing power to the magazines using E-Paper.

But no matter what, the the prospects for new display technology just got a lot more interesting.

Assuming the prices quoted in the articles are right, you can also expect to see moving picture billboards in cities within two years. Visual noise everywhere. Motion sickness served hot and fresh on every corner. The whole world looking like Times Square....It's just all so Bladerunner, isn't it?

Of course, many of us can be forgiven if a future city stitched from a mosaic of thousands of TV screens inspires a "stop the future, I want to get off" moment.

In any event, this looks like interesting technology. Certainly we can expect fashion magazines be early adopters. For other media, the prospects it raises for new narrative forms and new advertising models are striking.

It's also a boon for people drafting sign-code legislation...

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October 12, 2005

Are Ad Agencies Changing?

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

Recently met an OgilvyOne ad agency exec in San Francisco who over drinks told me things that made me think there may be a future for advertising agencies. Some of the common wisdom has been that ad agencies, as intermediaries who have survived by collecting a percentage for placing ads, were doomed to failure with the disintermediation brought by the Internet. In other words, if you can just log on and place the ads you want, why bother going through a costly third party to post them for you?

Furthermore, agencies were all about "creative" and "branding" and not about the kind of strictly measurable performance digital media afford and marketers are now used to demanding. Another nail in the ad agency coffin was that a lot of advertisers have moved the creative portion of the equation in-house, getting their own graphics departments to create banner ads or flash graphics or whatever, and if necessary contracting to a third-party for a specialized portion of the work.

And yet another reason for the doomsaying is that the mainstream left hand part of agencies have not known what the digital right hands were doing. In fact, they're often not only separate operations, but also completely separate divisions with separate headquarters, different management chains, and so on. This had been my experience with Ogilvy's main shop and its digital arm, OgilvyOne.

But this exec, who asked to remain unnamed, claimed that his company's mainstream and digital arms are working hand-in-hand, bringing digital management principles to advertising, and accounting for performance. In other words, instead of claiming "mindshare" or even GRP (gross ratings points — percentage of a target audience you reach times frequency with which your message gets to them), they're looking at clickthroughs and other very measurable actions. They're also, he said, synching up the digital and mainstream media campaigns in ways that weren't really done as little as 18 months ago.

The 70-person San Francisco office was set up late last year largely to handle the Yahoo Internet account, which turned over work to Ogilvy that had been handled by a smaller internal operation. So, Yahoo apparently went from believing it could to it all to turning the work over to ad specialists. And an Internet company, that itself is all about disintermediation, has gone for the intermediaries.

Of course, this may work only on the kinds of scale that a Yahoo provides. But I find it interesting that there is, on the face of it, at least one case in which an ad agency can make a case for its survival. And, as a final note, I see that what used to be two Websites, representing Ogilvy and OgilvyOne, is now one and the separate OgilvyOne site has been reitred.

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October 7, 2005

Delaware Supremes extend First Amendment Protection to online comments

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Posted by Bob Cauthorn

The Delaware Supreme Court yesterday delivered what one hopes is a watershed decision when it definitively extended First Amendment protections to an anonymous blog poster who attacked an elected town councilman in Smyrna, Del.

More importantly, the court set the bar high because the unknown posters' comments were filled with obscenities and innuendo about the councilman, Patrick Cahill. That's the bright line for significant First Amendment rulings -- when you see judges protecting loathesome speech, you know they're serious.

A PDF of the rulling may be found here. Download it. Frame it. Savor it.

Considering the drift in our nation lately, one gets the feeling that certain people -- and pretty much everyone in the Bush administration -- have forgotten that America is about inconvenient freedoms.

Convenient freedoms are easy. They cost nothing and they withstand no assault. Standing up for the inconvenient freedoms in the most difficult times is what defines you as a patriot.

Every member of the Delaware Supreme Court deserves a kiss on the cheek today for reminding us that this is America, afterall.

A lower court had held that poster's ISP, Comcast, should be compelled to release the name of the person who submitted the offensive remarks to the blog.

An interesting twist is that the protection was extended to mere comments in the blog. Even more intriguing, the remarks sent to the Smyrna-Clayton Public Issues blog run a newspaper company: the Delaware State News. The poster, "John Doe 1," was represented by the ACLU, of course.

Finally, in one of those moments that makes you happy that the world exists in all its raw peculiarity, Delaware Online alleges that pretty much everyone in Smyrna believes that the anonymous poster was none other than the mayor himself.

Oh, let this marvelous irony trickle down your cheeks like sweet peach juice on a summer day while you smile stupidly at the sheer joy of being alive. Yes, yes, yes: it might have been a public official himself who created the curse-filled rant that led to the lawsuit that clearly establishes the precedent that other public officials may be subjected to further (heartfelt) curse-filled rants from constituents. Forevermore!

That, dear friends, is why we should wave our flags high today. When we protect this kind of speech, all the rest is a trifle.

Additional background can be found in these remarks from a lawyer about the lower court's decision to compel Comcast to reveal the name of the anonymous poster. It was that decision that the Delaware Supremes reversed yesterday.

In the ruling, Delaware Chief Justice Myron Steele wrote that the internet was "a unique democratizing medium unlike anything that has come before" and compared blogging on the net to the pampleteers of old.

The comparison is apt -- indeed, I've made it in the past myself. It's worthwhile remembering that the pampleteers of the American 17th and 18th century, often working entirely alone, laid the groundwork for modern news organizations and the press freedoms we now enjoy. And those pamphleteers were anything but polite.

Steele continued: "We are concerned that setting the standard too low will chill potential posters from exercising their First Amendment right to speak anonymously...The possibility of losing anonymity in a future lawsuit could intimidate anonymous posters into self-censoring their comments or simply not commenting at all."

In a variety of lower court cases, it appeared that contemporary courts are reluctant to extend established press protections with regard to commenting on public officials, etc. to individual bloggers. The troubling suggestion has been that these protections apply if you're a media company but not if you are an individual.

Equally troubling, many of the nation's leading media companies largely have been absent from the fight. They appear to have little interest in helping to secure for individuals the same protections they enjoy as companies. When Apple goes after a blogger for posting a legitimate news item about new products, the nations media should rise up as one to fight on behalf of the blogger.

This is the first time a high court in America has clearly extended the same protections to individuals posting on the net -- specifically with respect to libel and defamation -- as enjoyed by the traditional press. Furthermore the language of the decision suggests that all meaningful press protections should be extended to individuals on the net. This ruling will be cited in trials across America and it will prove to be very influential.

Certainly with outstanding issues like shield laws and the like, there is still much work to do and many more precedents to establish. And some of this might wind up in the US Supreme Court , although I would be amazed if they had the gall to reverse the reasoning in the Delaware opinion.

That work is for another day, though. For the moment, the dancing in the street may now commence.

In Delaware, they've got some heroes on the bench.

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October 6, 2005

The Aims of Journalism in the 21st Century

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Posted by Vin Crosbie

Don’t think of stories as text or video or audio. Free yourself of any legacy constraints such as 'This is how [online] newspaper stories have been presented' or 'this is how [online] broadcast reporting has been done.'

Forget about conveying just who, what, when, why, and how and any concept that people can decide for themselves given just those facts. That model of journalism has failed. Think instead of your stories as something to be taught.

Yale University Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Computer Science and Statistics, and Graphic Design Edward Tufte (who The New York Times has called "The Leonardo da Vinci of data") has said the core ideas of good teaching are explanation, reasoning, finding things out, questioning, content, evidence, and credible authority without patronizing authoritarianism. And a good teacher interacts with those who he teaches.

Those are the core ideals for which journalism in the 21st Century must aim.

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October 5, 2005

In Us We Trust

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

I wish I were allowed to put quotemarks in headlines here because that headline is a quote of the title of the final panel, featuring Craig Newmark, Richard Edelman, Karen Stephenson and Watts Wacker, moderated by Media Center's Peskin.

Newmark, inventor of Criagslists, says the following about being optimistic:

"My amount of optimism is increasing over time, because I do see customer service every day, I do see that the people out there are overwhelmingly good and want to do the right thing. The bad guys are good at seizing power, but when you enable the good guys to get together you enable them to talk to each other (they can correct the bad guys.) "

He's talking about how on Craiglists messages can be flagged for deletion, and if others agree, the messages go "bye-bye."

I hope Craig's right.

And I'll let that be my final comment from the conference for now.

= = = = =
Despite tags, these posts aren't showing in Technorati. Not sure why.

Technorati Tag: wemedia. We Media tag: .

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Lessons for Legacy Media from Intel: Management, Fire Yourself!

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Posted by Ben Compaine

The Wall Street Journal published an article (sub required) last Monday about how The Los Angeles Times was hoping to reverse a long time slide in circulation and advertising by tinkering with the editorial mix toward more shorter stories, “softer” news and more regional reporting. The Times was purchased five years ago by Tribune Co., generally one of the more savvy newspaper publishers. But I read the Journal’s article with my mouth figuratively hanging open. They still don’t get it. Management seems to talk the talk (digital, convergence, online, yada, yada) but they don’t seem to walk the walk.

I’ve been preparing a talk to a large group of international newspaper publishers here in two weeks. I’m supposed to be addressing what the Internet means for them. So I’ve been thinking about what I can discuss with them that they have not heard before. Meanwhile, I have been leading a group of MBA students in their capstone course, something called “Cases in Decision-Making.” That lead me to revisit former Intel CEO’s Andrew Grove's 1996 book, Only the Paranoid Survive. In the process I was reintroduced to one of the points Grove made that is oh so applicable to managers of the incumbent media industry. Grove says people succeed in a certain corporate environment precisely because their mind-set fits that environment. Those same people are therefore unlikely to be quick at adapting to a changed environment. Grove then observes:

"If existing management want to keep their jobs when the basics of the business are undergoing profound change, they must adopt an outsider's intellectual objectivity."

Grove recalled that when Intel found itself being threatened by Asian producers of memory chips – its bread and butter in the 1980s – its first response was to try to beat them at their own game: sell them for less, or make a better chip. Or they could try for niche markets. After a year of analysis, he eventually realized that there was no solution for Intel in the memory chip business. But that would mean abandoning the business which was the founding basis of Intel. “Intel equaled memories in all our minds.”

To face the real crisis, Grove and his top management had to take themselves and the baggage they carried out of the decision process. What he did was ask his colleague Gordon Moore (of Moore’s Law): "If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what do you think he would do?" Moore’s response: "He would get us out of memories." To which Grove responded, "Why shouldn't you and I walk out the door, come back and do it ourselves?"

And they did. Intel refashioned itself as a microprocessor business and the rest is history.

There’s a very relevant lesson to be found here for newspaper publishers today—and perhaps soon for broadcasters and publishers of other formats as well. Enterprises in industries that are mature or declining or just being threatened by change tend to be defensive, even when they may look like they are building or acquiring. It’s the "covering your ass" mentally of responding to threats rather than genuinely seeking opportunity.

And you really can’t blame them as an initial response. They have everything to lose. Their challengers only need to pick up a little market share here or there to win. In the newspaper business there are high fixed costs. There are low marginal costs. Thus, the first copy of the daily paper bears almost the entire cost of the operation. Subsequent turns of the press cost relatively little. That means that a 10% circulation decline saves little in costs but weighs heavily in lost revenue, primarily in lower ad rates.

On the other hand, a new player in the information space, call it Challenger.com, has much lower fixed costs and even lower marginal costs. If they pick up only two or three percent of the newspaper’s advertising revenue, they might have a very profitable business.

One of the points I will tell the publishers is that they have to pull an Andrew Grove. Building on Bob Cauthorn’s piece in Rebuilding Media last month (“Newspapers, meet precipice: It's the product stupid"), publishers truly need to talk thinking like outsiders. And Dorian Benkoil added a post here just today as I was writing this ("Big media trying to get it" that asks the same questions.

Last April News Corporation’s Rupert Murdoch gave a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors that was right on the money—almost. And in News Corp's case, they are putting up their money. He warned:

The peculiar challenge then, is for us digital immigrants – many of whom are in positions to determine how news is assembled and disseminated -- to apply a digital mindset to a new set of challenges.

In short, we have to answer this fundamental question: what do we – a bunch of digital immigrants -- need to do to be relevant to the digital natives?

Probably, just watch our teenage kids.

What he should have said is “Just hire our teenage kids.”

The answers are not likely to come from the current generation of management unless they are following the insights from a generation that is not imbued with the culture of newspapers or other legacy systems. They must fire themsleves and come back as outsiders.

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At the VC Panel

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

Attending the "Invest" panel at "We Media," with four venture capitalists talking to the group, and the consensus seems to be that it's about social networks, and software, that there's a dichotomy between software companies (at Web 2.0) and media companies (at We Media). Brad Burnham of Union Square Ventures makes the analogy of chocolate and peanut butter – a reference to the old Reese's Peanut Butter Cup commercial in which the two live in, as he said, "parallel universes" until they're brought together in a happy candy. But others, including Craig Forman of Yahoo say there's a new universe of Reese's Pieces, and that the two are having the same conversation.

Yahoo, argued Burnham, "became a media company by accident, and now is the biggest and fastest growing," and that traditional East Coast media companies don't understand the threat. "I don't think Microsoft," he added, "understands the threat of Yahoo or the media companies."

Technorati Tag: wemedia. We Media tag: .

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A Vacant Room

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

At the large AP conference room in which these "We Media" panels are being held, with a few hundred people inside, the plate on the door outside is set to "Vacant." Editorial comment, perhaps?

(Sorry, couldn't resist a little joke.)

Technorati Tag: wemedia. We Media tag: .

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People Don't Know They're Using RSS

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

Given "hot off the presses" copy of a new Yahoo! study done with Ipsos Insight whose headline conclusion is that 27 percent of the people use RSS but don't know that they're using it. Four percent use it and know it. (Which leaves more than two thirds who don't use it.) That's another sign the medium is arriving. We all use telephones. Few of us wonder about, or care about, the technology behind it. I can't give you a link to the study, because so far there's only a white paper, in print (no kidding), headlined "RSS – Crossing Into the Mainstream."

Other findings: 12 percent of people are aware of RSS. My Yahoo, Firefox and My MSN are the top three providers of RSS to the "RSS Aware" public. For the "unaware" it's My Yahoo at a whopping 72%, My MSN at 41% and Google's personalized page at 10%. Bloglines is in fourth at 2%.

NOTE: This post corrected from an earlier version that did not clarify that 27 percent was percentage of all users, rather than relative percentage.

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How do You PAY for It?

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

"We haven't really figured out how to pay for the individual piece of video yet," says Andy Hayward, president of CBS News, on the current panel. Right. And how does AP or CBS or any traditional media company make a profit in this? I know that Chris Peck, Editor of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, who is here, is interested in the financials, as is his publisher and all the other 1,400 or so small- and medium-sized U.S. newspapers.

Matt Drudge, running DrudgeReport, or Rafat Ali, running PaidContent, make money with skeleton staffs and plenty of ads. Yahoo and Google are mass media and are able aggregate and target huge audiences and use the cash they garner to try to produce something new and original – especially Yahoo with Hotzones.

A lot of what's changing is the economic model.

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Who's the Conversation Among

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

Vin and Andy Carvin have a point. This is largely a room of men, mostly white (I'm one), and white women. All of us (by the look of it) over the age of 30. No matter how diverse we want to be, I'm not alone in in wondering who is included in this mass conversation, which mass it is.

Technorati Tag: wemedia. We Media tag: .

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Photos to come, photos available

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

I've got photos and will try to upload them later – having trouble with my Memory Stick. Technorati Tag: wemedia. Good photos, and audio, over at PaidContent.

We Media tag: .

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White tablecloths, microphones and stage lights

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

Do we have to gather in a big room with white-clothed tables, have a microphone, someone speaking from a lectern? Started off with conversation between Dale Peskin, Andrew Nachison of MediaCenter.org and Chris Willis hypergene.net, then Andy Carvin. It was, essentially, a panel. Intelligent people I enjoyed listening to. But how is this conversation of three or four people leveraging the intelligence of the people in this room who collectively know more than those four possibly could? (Analogy: It's said an airplane is too complex for any one person to know all its details. But they fly.) Just asking.

Nachison did refer to the diversity of perspectives, "the incredible tapestry of perspectives" from Hurricane Katrina, for example, which this medium, these media, afford. For that is true diversity. Often, despite our varied backgrounds, skin colors, religious beliefs, we can find ourselves all speaking, thinking, talking the same way. Large organizations, or groups, can have trouble accepting diversity of perspective more than skin color or ethnic background.

Technorati Tag: wemedia. We Media tag: .

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Big Media trying to get it

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

It's heartening in a way to hear the Big Cheeses of AP, CBS and BBC grapple with the issues. They're talking about the challenges, they know we're up against major inflection points, but they haven't reached conclusions. Tom Curley notes that AP is still trying to figure out how to take in masses of info from masses of people and put it out in what he said will remain a B2B model. He did note that it's important to figure out how to compensate people for their work.

Larry Kramer of CBS: "We're trying to treat news more like a loop … stories don't end when we post them, print them in newspapers. People respond, interact more than ever."

Richard Sambrook of BBC: This is a fundamental realignment between big media companies and the public. You're open, accessible and accountable to a degree you've never had to cope with before."

They know there's a challenge. They don't know what the solutions are.

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At 'We Media'

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

Am at the We Media conference, and blogging quickly from the room to say that I'll try to post later. I'd rather gather my thoughts a little than rush.

But you can see some posts by looking at the Technorati Tag: wemedia.

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October 4, 2005

Batelle: Google is media, Yahoo too

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

Interesting interview on IWantMedia with John Batelle, most recently of "The Search" fame. (It's a book about how Google, and search in general, has changed our lives). Batelle has a good definition of media: Yahoo is a media company because it makes most of its money from ads. Google is, because it creates "experiences" for consumers. He also says that traditional media is terrified, doesn't know what to make of these companies. While it seems true, he doesn't make much of a case.

Batele, though, is still being a bit cagey about just what his new company is, beyond a network that will aggregate ads across a bunch of blogs. (At the party for "The Search" one of his PR people told me they'd also would add value by using human intelligent to select the blogs in their network.)

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