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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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January 26, 2006

Convergence is when you don’t know where the next bit is coming from

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Posted by Ben Compaine

Do we rebuild the media industry from the outside in or the inside out? It may depend on what is understood by “convergence.”

Convergence has been a misunderstood concept in the information industries almost from the first time it was uttered. (I don’t know exactly who or when was first, but I was working with Anthony Oettinger in the late 1970s when I first heard about convergence from him at the Program on Information Resources Policy at Harvard. If Tony wasn’t the first, he was near the starting line).

From the beginning, media, telecommunications and computer companies, among others, misinterpreted the significance of what was converging. It was not fundamentally about industries converging—though that is one outcome. It is not about technologies converging, for that would be redundant. Convergence is about the blurring of the boundaries of content as all goes digital. That is, in the historical analog world, a printed page is created through a very different process than a video image: the mechanics of capturing, processing, storing and transmitting are easily defined and differentiated. The economics are different. The regulatory regime can be clearly defined.

But in the digital world, a bit is a bit. A string of zeros and one. Whether it may eventually be displayed as a text or audio or an image bit, it is captured, stored, processed and transmitted much the same way. At that point, it is simply (or maybe not so simply) a function of economics for how it gets to the end user and who provides it. Some examples?

An easy one is the newspaper: take all those bits created in the newsroom and from various outsourced vendors like the Associated Press and create a plate and put ink on it, print a paper and truck it to the buyers. Or take all those bits and impose some flavor of mark-up language on them and store them for access remotely. Oh yeah, this second option can make audio reports and video streams available within the text “pages."

A newer more complex example stems from something like Google’s announced acquisition of DMARC Broadcasting, an apparently Old World business that, ho-hum, places ads on radio stations. But if advertisers can create their own listings and bid for placement in text using Google’s service, why not do the same with digital files that happen to become audio instead of text and show up inserted into digitally controlled station stations instead of Web wages? Whoda thunk?

And now we have “television” programs stored on servers to be sold to folks who will carry them around on their portable iPods and the like. There were 8 million video downloads from Apple’s iTunes service in the first months, and that was tallied from a skimpy inventory of titles and before an estimated 14 million video iPods were opened from under the Christmas tree. You’ve got to extrapolate: what does this do to the broadcast network and affiliate model if consumers decide they like and are willing to pay for their digital video on demand? If consumers can download their re-reruns, where does this leave local broadcast stations that make big bucks from repurposed hit shows like “Friends” and “Law & Order?”  What could be the impact on the DVD distribution Channel, which after all still requires a manufacturing process and energy-intensive shipping?

Soon you may read about Yahoo or Goggle acquiring a firm called SpotRunner, which does for TV ads what DMarc does for radio. From the convenience of a Web browser, it allows a local pizza restaurant owner to order a generic pizza shop TV ad to be inserted on television sets only in its neighborhood during prime time. And at a cost that may not be much different from buying space in the local weekly newspaper.

And it’s doable because it’s all digital. That’s convergence.

It can’t be much fun these days for the top managers of the traditional media companies. On the one hand they must deal with the normal responsibilities of running a large organization. For the public companies there is the overhang of Sarbanes-Oxley as well. In the “old days”—let’s say before 2002 or so—there were the usual strategic decisions: where to reinvest profits, whether to buy, acquire, merge, or seek organic growth. It was always a challenge to get it right more than wrong. But top management got big bucks for trying and often received personal gratification from playing the game.

Today, on the other hand, if their heads are not swimming in the unknown-unknowns facing them they are either naïve or disconnected. 'Cause convergence is when you don’t know where the next bit is coming from.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Convergence

January 25, 2006

January 24, 2006

Readers Must Be Transparent, Too

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Posted by Vin Crosbie

[The listserv of the Online News Association, an association of professionals who run news media sites, has been discussing the viability of unmoderated, anonymous discussion forums. The discussion arose after The Washington Post temporarily turned off the comments facility on its Post.Blog due to "hundreds" of comments "including personal attacks, the use of profanity and hate speech."

While lurking that discussion, I realized that many online news professionals mistake pseudonymity for anonymity. Moreover, I've for some time been meaning to write about a widespread fallacy that I think is impeding progress towards rebuilding the media. So, I today entered that discussion, particularly since someone there had earlier cited some of my earlier writtings elsewhere against news organizations operating unmoderated, anonymous discussion forums.

Because this is a controversial topic and I'd also think it should be discussed beyond the ranks of news media professionals, I below reproduce my ONA response. Because the ONA might prefer to keep private the identities its members involved in that discussions (including about the topic of transparency?), I've disguised the names of the ONA members who I quote::]

[UPDATE: I'm in error. A friend at Online Journalism Review has informed me that New England Courant Publisher James Franklin DID NOT know that his sixteen year-old brother and apprentice Benjamin was the pseudonymous 'Silence Dogood' until AFTER publishing 14 anonymous articles slipped under his newspaper's door at nights between April and October of 1722. The elder Franklin was upset when he discovered the author's true identity and it contributed to a lifelong schism between the brothers.

Walter Isaacson's recent biography of Ben Franklin (which cites http://www.ushistory.org/franklin/courant/story.htm as its source about 'Silence Dogood') however mentions this as the only time when Benjamin Franklin used a pseudonym without the prior knowledge and approval of a publisher.

I was in error, but think the correct facts still point to recklessness by that publisher, who soon served jail time for his own writings in the Courant and the Boston authorities later banned from publishing newspapers. I've corrected what I wrote below, striking out the earlier paragraphs


While I understand how tying comments to names may have help people recognize their personal responsibilities, I also know there is a rich history of anonymity in American journalism, going back to the early blogger Silence Dogood.

Anonymous to the readers or to the publisher?

'Silence Dogood' has been pointed to as the mother of a rich history of anonymity in American journalism. What is true is that between April and October of 1722 New England Courant Publisher James Franklin printed 14 anonymous articles that had been slipped under his door.

The author 'Silence Dogood' claimed to be the widow of a country minister, but Franklin suspected the name was a pseudonym for someone else. It was common for eighteenth century journalists, including Franklin's, to use pseudonyms when writing articles that the authorities might have been considered to be libelous or illegal.

Historical records infer that James Franklin knew the identities of his other pseudonymous contributors, but not that of 'Silence Dogood'. That failing was perhaps one of many reckless publishing decisions by Franklin, who soon served jail time for his own writings in the Courant and who the Boston authorities later banned from publishing newspapers. He was meanwhile not amused to learn that 'Silence Dogood' was actually his 16 year-old brother and apprentice Benjamin Franklin.

The publisher of 'Silence Dogood' knew exactly who 'she' really was before 'her' writings were published in the newspaper. In fact, New England Courant Publisher James Franklin knew his sixteen year-old brother and apprentice Benjamin very well in 1722 before letting Ben use that pseudonym.

Unlike James Franklin, American Weekly Mercury Publisher Andrew Bradford of Philadelphia a few years later knew before publication that “Caelia Shortface” and “Martha Careful” were pseudonyms for journeyman printer Ben Franklin, who’d fled Boston and joined his employ and started writing articles under the pseudonyms “Caelia Shortface” and “Martha Careful” in that Philadelphia newspaper.

As did American Weekly Mercury Publisher Andrew Bradford a few years later when journeyman printer Ben Franklin joined his employ and started writing articles under the pseudonyms 'Caelia Shortface' and 'Martha Careful' in that Boston newspaper.

When later Ben Franklin himself became a newspaper publisher in Philadelphia, he occasionally published his own articles under the pseudonyms 'Anthony Afterwit' and 'Alice Addertongue.' Yet the 'Richard Saunders' of the eponymous book Poor Richard's Almanac was probably Publisher Ben Franklin's best-known, self-permitted pseudonym.

There is a rich and successful history of pseudonymity in American opinion journalism. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote The Federalist Papers using the pseudonym 'Publius,' but not without their publisher's prior permission and knowledge of their true identities. A more recent example occurred in 1947 when the publisher of Foreign Affairs granted the Moscow-based American diplomat George Kennan the pseudonym 'X' to write the renowned political essay proposing the geographic containment of Communism.

Though I can't think of a current American periodical that regularly grants pseudonyms to its writers, the British publishers of the Financial Times and The Economist regularly grant them for some of their columnists. However, those publishers know their columnists' true identities and vet the columns beforehand.

In all the examples I've mentioned, the publishers not only knew the pseudonymous writers' true identities beforehand but also vetted the writers' submissions before publication. That's a far cry from publishing anonymous blog postings.

Though there is a rich history of pseudonymity in American journalism, there is none of anonymity. It has long been understood that if the publisher of a reputable periodical grants a writer use of a pseudonym, then that publisher knows the writer's true identity and takes responsibility -- legal and otherwise -- for that writer's words.

Printed periodicals grant pseudonymity but never anonymity. Imagine the cacophony that would result if printed periodicals published unvetted, unreviewed, and anonymous Letters-to-the-Editor or Op-Ed essays.

Yet we're now discussing how some of those periodicals' are doing the equivalent of that online. Should there really be any surprise that many of those comments are scatological, obscene, or libelous?

Publishing anonymous, unvetted, and unreviewed commentary is a huge difference from those publications' print editions' policies. It's a different kettle of fish, one that can stink for the publishers. Indeed, those publishers and their new-media managers are being reckless. And if you think I've used too strong a word, poll newspaper libel lawyers and libel insurers.

Forgive me, but I would respectfully suggest that the topic IS worth discussing more than once, particularly in a medium evolves as fast as ours.

Yes, it's certainly worth discussing again and again. But we do realize that, for human reasons, the topic has not evolved during the past 10 years despite the evolution of technology. This topic is substantially the same as it was when the first open bulletin boards were posted on the Web in 1996 or when the first proprietary online service user forums went online years earlier. Online news managers who don't know its history are doomed to relive it.

Although the technologies of this medium evolve with the speed of 'Moore's Law,' the actual laws and liabilities governing the technologies evolve about as fast as the eponymous Gordon Moore can walk (he celebrated his 77th birthday this month). That is because the mechanical topic of technology and the human topic of ethics aren't related to each other. Although we may strive to offer bulletin boards and commentary fields where people might provide thoughtful and ethical comments without scatology, obscenity, or libel, we cannot and will not achieve that through technology alone.

What I'm about to state might seem farfetched, but a decade of studying online news media leads me to fear that it is true:

...continue reading.

Comments (10) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Newspapers

January 9, 2006

Bundling equals diversity and serendipity for cable as much as for newspapers

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Posted by Ben Compaine

Matthew Gilbert, a writer for the Boston Globe, published a column last Thursday headlined “Ordering a la carte would make cable a tastier treat.” His topic sentence:

…when I shop for cable TV channels, don't bully me into paying for TV I don't care for. If I don't want to invite a preacher, a gruesome medical operation, or -- gag -- Nancy Grace into my home, I shouldn't have to.
He continues:
Rather than forcing us to buy TV in crazy, mixed-up combos, where non-sports fans pay for ESPN and those without children buy Noggin, a la carte cable would enable us to make specific decisions about what gets piped into our homes. Parents would be able to make specific decisions about what gets piped into their kids' brains.

“I think it's called freedom of choice.

Now, while the discussion of  what makes sense for how cable companies package and sell their service is certainly legitimate for discission, I found it curious that this was coming from the keys of a print newspaper scribe. Following is the note I sent to Mr. Gilbert (no response yet).

I found it curious a newspaper writer is complaining about bundling. The newspaper is, historically, the original bundle.

I would like to buy just the parts of the newspaper I read: maybe the City/Region section and Business. I look at the front page only because it hits me in he face when I get the paper. Sports I could do without-- I'm a Philadelphia sports follower, so the Patriots and Red Sox etc don't grab me. Sidekick [a tabloid insert] is a waste of newsprint from my perspective.

Oh, and I don't need the Living Section, though I did find your article there yesterday as I was pulling that section out of the bundle. What serendipity!

Now that I think about it, I do sometimes read something or other in the front section, but just 'cause I already have it. Same for Sports now and again. (But never in Sidekick).

But if I had my choice, would the Globe sell me just the two sections I really want? Maybe for $.10 each??

Of course, the Globe's cost would not decline much even if they had to print fewer overall pages. The real cost of newspaper production is the first copy cost-- additional copies are just the marginal cost of paper, ink an a few cents for running the press one more rotation. For the Globe to maintain its staff, it would need to rejigger its charges to keep revenue from falling from both readers and advertisers. So while the full bundle may be priced at $.50, each separate section might be $.20. Thus for my two sections I would only save a dime. Heck, might as well get the whole thing then.

I know you can see where this leads to in the cable industry. The cost of the cable plant does not decrease under a la carte. The cost of program acquisition would not decrease commensurate with any declines in subscribers to particular channels-- the programmers costs don't decrease if viewership drops, say, 15%. As much as it annoys me personally that the most expensive single channel for Comcast is ESPN, which I could easily live without, I understand why a la carte is not as simple as it seems to the audience that doesn't understand the economics of the newspaper or cable system.

And we should not under estimate the value of serendipity and diversity in the value of the bundle. One of the great joys of the newspaper is stumbling across something that we wouldn't have seen if all media were stove piped-- that is, focused only on what we know we want or like. Like the Web is for many. I'm glad I saw your column, just as I'm glad that in using the "next channel" button on my remote I occasionally stumble on something on the Biography or History channels. If asked to pay for them I probably wouldn't. But they're bundled and it's not such a bad thing to hear some promotion on the radio or elsewhere for one of their programs and, what the heck, I watch since it's available. Bundling equals diversity.

In fact much of the a la carte argument -- the serendipity-- will fade as on-demand becomes more prevent. In the meantime, we still see that more households are adding on services on cable, not cutting back.

So I urge the Globe to keep their bundle and not insist that Comcast shed theirs.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Cable

January 4, 2006

Quote of the Week?

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Posted by Vin Crosbie

"The people formerly known as the audience."

New York University Journalism Professor Jay Rosen quoted in The New York Times about how new media has empowered people to correct traditional media.

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January 3, 2006

What role for public broadcasting in the new media future?

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Posted by Ben Compaine

Speaking of the future of the media industry, do we continue to need publicly funded television and radio to accomplish the objectives that were set out in the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967? Is the chronic controversy over biases, typified most recently in the resignation of the last chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, worth the tax dollars (relatively small at $400 million out of a $2.3 billion budget)?

Last month a blue ribbon panel headed by former Netscape CEO James Barksdale and former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt took a stab at addressing the future of public service media in a report, “Digital Future Initiative: Challenges and Opportunities for Public Service Media in the Digital Age.” In the Foreword they write: “Our nation’s media marketplace is becoming increasingly fragmented and on-demand…. If today’s public broadcasters can successfully adapt to this new environment, the potential for enhanced public service through digital media is vast…”

From the start public broadcasting in the U.S. was destined to be a political football. On the one hand, the legislation required a "strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature." But it also prohibited the federal government from interfering or controlling what is broadcast. This set up an obvious tension where the government that created the CPB would not be able to do anything about a perceived failure to meet its obligation for objectivity and balance without interfering in some way.

In the U.S., where there has always been more choice for viewers than most other places, the Public Broadcast Service network (PBS) has always had very low ratings. And those audiences have been heavily skewed to educated, higher income demographics— the very groups that have access to buying DVDs, premium cable/satellite programming tiers such as the Sundance Channel, as well as books, magazines, etc. Public media’s core constituency, as described by the public broadcasters’ own promotions are “affluent, influential, educated, discerning, and diverse. They are the decision makers and opinion leaders…”  Central Michigan Public Television claims that its audience penetration “runs deeper into upscale households than any other medium. According to surveys conducted by Roper Reports, public television viewers have high incomes and are likely to have invested in stocks, bonds and mutual funds.”

Meanwhile, public broadcast individual contributors have been falling for years. About 4% of households contribute to a PBS entity. The bread and butter of PBS is now available on channels like Discovery, History, Biography. Their aggregate audience is greater than PBS. C-Span, available in nearly 90% of households, provides political coverage that PBS could never dream about.

Viewers everywhere vote with their eyeballs. It’s not widely recognized that in early 1980s videocassette recorder adoption was faster in Europe than U.S. Why? The U.S. had market driven programming. When VCRs became available, Europeans were faster to escape the benevolent programming constraints of public authorities by becoming their own programmers using video rentals.

The “Digital Future” report argues that public broadcasters try to adapt “to this new environment,” in which case they have a future (apparently by tackling the “nation’s literacy and learning crisis.”). That in itself should send a message: if they need to work so hard at finding a media role, then maybe it is time to sunset itself. Indeed, the Digital Future panel could have started out with this point of view: if a public service media organization did not exist today, what are the compelling arguments that would rally the public to support the creation of such a service? As we think about the media landscape for the future, we do need to consider whether a publicly funded entity, with all its baggage, is truly needed.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Public Service Media