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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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May 26, 2006

Culture Shock within Online Publishing

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Posted by Vin Crosbie

I'm still in shock after the two conferences I attended earlier this month. How times have changed!

During 1998, I flew from a new-media conference in Zürich to one in Las Vegas. I was in a different kind of shock then. Zürich and Las Vegas are remarkably different cities, but culture shock wasn't a problem. Jet lag was. My circadian clock was nine hours askew. Fortunately, Las Vegas is the city where being wide-awake at wee hours is perfectly acceptable.

This year, I flew from a new-media conference in New York City to one in Las Vegas. Jet lag wasn't a problem; there are only three time zones between those cities. However, a week later, I'm still in shock. Culture shock. But not because of the difference in cities.

I'm suffering culture shock because I'd too quickly gone from a conference of digerati to one of analogati. I'd almost say, to one of Ludderati.

Worse, the two conferences were all digerati back in 1998, but the times since have left one of those conferences behind.

The digerati were at the Syndicate conference last Monday and Tuesday in Manhattan. This conference was about how the Internet is changing the way that news and information is distributed. Among its 125 attendees and speakers were AOL Weblogs Inc. Founder Jason Calacanis, Rocketboom host and co-owner Amanda Congdon, Newsvine CEO Mike Davidson, Richard Edelman of Edelman PR (who has his own blog), Brightcove VP of Content and Online Services Eric Elia, ZDNet International Contributing Editor Steve Gillmor, Blogger Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine.com, Eric Norlin, Doc Searls, Technorati Founder and CEO David Sifry, Reuters Consumer Media Senior VP & General Manager Steven Schwartz, Halley Suitt, and David Weinberger. Most of them have invented somne new-media technologies, innovatively adapted those technologies, or successfully started companies based upon those technologies and innovations.

Due to a scheduling conflict, I could attend only the first few hours of the Syndicate conference (I blogged just the opening sessiont of this conference). Most of the speakers and attendees whose names are hyperlinked above can better report about this conference than I can. Nevertheless, I was there long nenough to experience how new ideas were flying throughout, aided by speakers who broke the Fourth Wall of the stage and let the audience participate and by wireless Internet access throughout the conference hall, which let attendees and speakers check facts, check on each other, and all participate even more. It was exhilerating, and I came away with many new ideas.

A few days later, I flew to Editor & Publisher and MEDIAWEEK magazines' Interactive Media conference in Las Vegas. It would be quite unfair of me to call its attendees ludderati or Luddites. The Luddites were a social movement in the early 1800s that objected to technological change and tried to smash new technologies. By contrast, the 300 or so attendees of the Interactive Media conference were executives who owe their positions to technological change and are trying to embrace it. They've spent most of the past eight to twelve years putting their printed publications online. For examples, you can now read The Washington Post, Minneapolis Star Tribune, or Newsweek online, hours before those periodicals appear in print. The online versions sometimes even contain hyperlinks to source materials, though most don't.

In 1998, the attendees at these two conferences had been on roughly the same level of sophistication about technology and new-media theory. However, the Interactive Media attendees are still at that 1998 level, while the Syndicate attendees are now eight years' more sophisticaled. The difference was so striking it shocked me.

One of the few Interactive Media attendees who is as sophisticated as any of the Syndicate attendees is Forbes magazine Executive Editor and Forbes.com Editor Paul Maidment. Read his story about how out-of-date the conference's attendees were, if you don't believe me. He leads it with something he heard:

"I don't know what to do, but I am ready to do it." That was the quote that raised the biggest chuckle at the recently concluded Interactive Media Conference, Editor & Publisher's annual gathering at which the U.S. regional newspaper industry's panjandrums stare transfixed into the onrushing headlights of online publishing. Trouble is, it was a self-knowingly nervous giggle.

I remember that quote. It was one of three incidents I particularly remember from the Interactive Media conference. Here are the other two:

The first was when two college students were interviewed on stage in front of the attendees. They were asked what websites they had browsed that day from their personal computers and also what books they'd recently read. The students said they had browsed no websites from personal computers, but instead did their browsing that day from their mobile phones. They also said they hadn't lately read any printed books except college textbooks, except they had recently bought and downloaded several ebooks onto their PDAs.

That they used their phones rather than PCs to browse surprised the attendees, almost all of whom design their websites for PCs. Similarly, the attendees were flummoxed that someone who read ebooks ("The convenience and portability of having all those books at hand," one student replied. "I can read them whenever and wherever I am").

When the conference later held a panel about publishing to mobile devices, it mentioned that most mobile phones in the U.S. can be used to browse the Internet, and asked the attendees for questions. The opening question came from an executive who announced, "Maybe I'm a dinosaur, but I had heard that it's possible to browse the Web from a mobile phone and I had someone show me how. I could figure out how to type the 'www' but couldn't figure out how to type the '.' in Web addresses. So, isn't all this concern about mobile phones way too early?"

Only in the minds of her and most of the 300 other attendees, despite the evidence before them, I thought.

The second incident was orchestrated by speaker and Innosight consulting company Managing Director Scott Anthony. He presented a 30-second video and asked the attendees to count in it the number of times a basketball is passed among a trio of people wearing white who were weaving among a trio of people wearing black. Most of the 300 attendees counted anywhere between 12 and 16 passes. But Scott then asked how many had seen a person wearing a gorilla suit walk across the screen and wave at the attendees. Only about a dozen of the 300 attendees raised their hands.

So, here was a conference about a changing environment, but most of its attendees weren't able to perceive an obvious incongruity — a real change — in a 30-second video. That was Scott's point.

gorilla.jpg

Outside research indicates that only about 10 percent of average people see the gorilla in that video (an ape easily seen in this still image). That means that at least 30, not only a dozen, of the 300 attendees should have seen the gorilla. Moreover, this conference's attendees are people paid by their companies to perceive, understand, and deal with change. Shouldn't more than a dozen or 30 of the 300 Interactive Media attendees have seen the gorilla in their midst? I think that most of the attendees of the Syndicate conference would have.

You won't find much blogged about the Interactive Media conference because its organizers decided not to provide its attendees with wireless Internet access (reportedly because using the Internet might distract attendees from hearing the speakers — a remarkablly Industrial Era policy in an Information Era where people routinely multitask. Moreover, why should a concert about interactive be interactive? Go figure.).

With the exception of not providing wireless, the fault in Las Vegas wasn't Editor & Publisher or MEDIAWEEK magazines'. It was the attendees. They're so driven to do what made sense to them in 1998 that they don't question whether that makes sense now or how things are changing.

There are many executives in the newspaper and magazine industry who are as sophisticated about technology and new-media theory as the Syndicate attendees, but most of them no longer attend the annual Interactive Media conferences. I can understand why (perhaps they correctly don't think they will learn anything), but the people who do attend and the industry as a whole lose by those people's absences.

All this tends to confirm the quote Paul Maidement reported. The attendees might know that their businesses need to change, but they don't know how and probably won't be able to perceive the answer if they saw it. This drives deep to the heart of why newspapers and magazines have failed to adapt to the Internet beyond about 1998.

I'm still in shock. My thanks to the conference's organizers for letting me speak on the panel entitled What's Wrong with Media. I'll probably attend next year's Interactive Media conference, but I've more than enough reasons to question why.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Newspapers

May 25, 2006

Local Group to Buy Philadelphia Newspapers: Dreams of the Naive or Fresh Thinking of New Players?

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Posted by Ben Compaine

Is the agreement by a new local group of Philadelphia investors to buy The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Daily News from McClatchy any sort of vote of confidence in the future of daily newspapers? I’m afraid not. But we still may be able to scratch out some good news in this outcome.

The price being paid, $562 million in cash and debt assumption, is about nine times the reported EBITDA of the newspapers (EBITDA is “earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization,” which approximates operating income).  This is based on 2005 earnings of about $62 million. However, income at the two Philadelphia papers has been declining for years. Indeed, 2004 income was about $75 million. And one can’t argue that 2005 was just a down year for the economy.

Nine times EBITDA would not be a bad deal for a growing property. But if income declines by a similar percentage in 2006, the price would be 11 times EBDITA—a rather rich price. Still, if the winning bid had been placed by an experienced newspaper group such as Gannett there might have been some reasonable room for speculating that there was serious hope for turning around the direction of these two declining newspapers. But, alas, it was a local group of investors, with no known experience in publishing. Thus, one must assume that part of the valuation they placed on the properties was "“home town” sentimentality, maybe boosterism, perhaps charity, or even naiveté that they had a “plan for turning things around.

It was probably some combination of all the above.

Though I would tend to be skeptical that the new management has any magic for substantially changing the growth vector of the newspapers, there is some reason for very cautious optimism. The other side of the naiveté coin is fresh thinking, such as offering “fixed slots to repeat advertisers." Not being saddled with the tradition of the ways of newspaper publishing, this new group may be able to implement strategies or specific programs that come out of their very different backgrounds: residential home building (Toll Brothers), consumer packaged goods (NutriSystem), an insurance brokerage, even a labor union pension fund.

Also, coming from outside newspaper publishing, these investors may not be basing their calculations on obtaining the profit margins that traditional publishers have become used to. Knight Ridder’s profit margin in 2004 was over 19%, which is about what newspaper publishers expect. The Philadelphia newspapers reportedly had a margin of half that, clearly dragging down the overall corporate rate. But for manufacturing industries in general, 9% is pretty good. For example, in the home building industry, 5% net income is typical. So perhaps these investors decided that an investment that could return close to 10% ain’t too bad. That might actually be a positive sign for a newspaper if it was in the context of a strategy to position it for a changeover to a greater emphasis on online income.

As the TV reporters like to end with, where this goes remain to be seen. But see it we will. Stay tuned.



Note: At my Who Owns the Media Blog I have taken a different angle on this deal, focusing on the media ownership implications.

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

May 11, 2006

From "We" to "Oui"

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

Sorry couldn't resist the pun, but have some actual thoughts. Vin has complained on this blog that the "We Media" conference is really more a "they" media and that it tends to be people of stature talking down to the assembled masses. I don't necessarily agree that it's as dire as that, but did have a few thoughts about how the conference might better achieve its aims of being inclusive and using all the newish tools to allow a sort of participation not common at such confabs. They include:

  • Participation via low-end tech. The live satellite hookups were very impressive, and so was Jeffrey Sachs via Web cam. How about, following their concept of regional "We" sessions, have "booths" for conversation with people in the various regions hooked up to, say, chat to and from African and Arab and Asian countries. Maybe Internet cafes or other areas. Kind of a constant, live, video chat or video conference. People across regions should be able to connect, too. We can patch those in during the conference -- add to the "we-jay" concept the organizers used of having bloggers give a first-run impressionistic take on what they saw, by having we-jays from other regions.


  • How about, on large live screens, have the IRC or whatever chat mechanism scrolling live behind folks, and people at the conference can see the conversation multi-dimensionally?

  • Experiment with seating arrangements. Mostly, it was stage there, audience here. As always. How about having the presenters/discussers, the panels, in the middle, surrounded, or inter-mingled with the audience. Have them come sit at tables, and hear from audience members what's going on. Frame the discussion and start with questions. Allow for more of an intellectual melee (which might conversely have the effect of tamping down on folks who were shouting out at the assembled when not called on for questions). The smart panelists will relish the chance to hear more of what folks in the audience think.

  • Have folks from governments speaking on behalf of those governments, in translation if necessary. When people are taking the piss out of the Chinese, have a Chinese official answer (if that's do-able).

  • Allow questions from outside the room -- not just via the we-jays, but, say, via Skype or other audio or even video hookup.

    Both through social structure and technology, we can make it an even richer experience, push the envelope, use the media themselves to show what "we media" can be and do.

    Technorati tag: . Conference tag:

  • Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Internet

    May 5, 2006

    "Trust in Media" survey adds to data that the erosion of television and newspaper use continues

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    Posted by Ben Compaine

    The “Trust in Media” survey conducted by the BBC, Reuters and the Media Center released this week has something in it for almost anyone. I’ve written up one take at my Who Owns the Media Blog, where I conclude that it is a positive sign for diversity of content that there are no dominate, pervasive sources of news and information in the U.S., unlike some other democracies.

    It found that the media were trusted a bit more than governments, Fox News was the most trusted medium in the U.S. Al Jazeera most trusted in the Middle East and the BBC (surprise?) most trusted globally. Blogs, says the report, are the least trusted form of news, with 25% of respondents finding them trustworthy.

    But the report has some significant markers for looking down the road at where the business of the media is headed. On the one hand, few individual news Web site were cited by respondents as the source they trusted most. On the other hand, given the short time this media format has been around, the Web's inroads may be considered significant.

    • No surprise, youth use online sources most. Among all those survey over 10 countries, 19% of those 18 to 24 years old named an online source as the most trusted, compared to 3% of those 55-64 years. As significantly, 56% overall valued the opportunity to obtain news online. In the U.S. it was higher, at 60%.
    • The young male audience, in particular, is moving away from television towards the Internet. Ten percent fewer young males, compared to the average, name television as their most important news source (46% as opposed to 56% overall); and 15 percent say the Internet is now their most important news source in an average week, compared to just 9 percent of respondents as a whole.
    • In the U.S. as might be expected the important news source in a typical week is television, mentioned first by 50%. But the Internet, mentioned by 14%, has surpassed radio as a news sources (at 10%) and is only 7% lower than newspapers, at 21%.
    • Fully 20 percent of American men name the Internet as their most important news source.
    Figure 1:"I value the opportunity to get news using Internet/wireless technology" trust%20media_internet.JPG

    Figure 1, taken from the study, shows the percentage of respondents overall who “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed with the proposition “I value the opportunity to get news using Internet/wireless technology." The greatest disparity is in the age demographic, providing yet further data points that online information is already entrenched and will steadily encroach on older media formats as the population ages.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Internet | Radio | Television

    May 3, 2006