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.
When I joined the Program on Information Resources Policy (PIRP) at Harvard in 1979, the message that we were delivering to the media companies was that of convergence. It was a tough—no, make that almost impossible—sell. We tried to explain that the future was in digital. And in digital, text bits and video bits and audio bits, graphics bits—they all looked the same. The folks who ran these companies couldn’t understand how television would be any more of a competitor than it already was. They did rally when they saw AT&T make noise about doing an electronic Yellow Pages, but they won that battle (though not the war).
Although there were profound implications for business strategy, we had our greatest impact in the telecoms sector, where the regulatory ramifications of the change from analog to digital were more immediate and the stakes higher. (Anyone here recall Computer Inquiry II? III?) The just mentioned e-Yellow Pages proved just how high the stakes were for classified. Can you say Monster? Craig’s List?
For the media folks, they were probably right in largely ignoring our message, at least in the early 1980s. A few newspaper companies, such as Knight Ridder with Viewtron, made a stab at exploring digital products. But all the technology and economic pieces were not yet in place. Timing may not be everything, but it is important.
Skipping ahead 20 years in one swoop and we can now see the shape of real convergence. Web sites of enterprises that heretofore have been called newspaper publishers are offering the same mix of text, video and audio as are being offered by sites from television stations, cable networks and, yes, radio broadcasters.
And now we even have radio, that last bastion of single sensory output, ramping up for video on its Web sites. “The nation’s commercial radio stations have seen the future, and it is in, of all things, video,” observed an article in yesterday’s New York Times.
“Audiences in Los Angeles, for example, will be able to tune in today to Power 106 for an annual Valentine’s Day event called “Trash Your Ex,” in which jilted listeners are invited to put mementos from past loves in a giant wood chipper — and to let it whir while the disc jockey, Big Boy, urges them on. And for the first time, audiences everywhere will be able to watch streamed video of the event, to be held in a parking lot in Pasadena, on the Web site power106.com.”
Radio, as with other legacy media formats, has had to deal with an erosion of its audience. Of course. The time you have spent reading this entry—multiplied by the millions of people clicking on millions of other Web sites and podcasts—takes time that otherwise may have been spent using traditional media.
To be sure, radio has perhaps suffered less than newspapers and television broadcasting because radio has long been a second medium, used in the background while we do other things. Still, with mp3 players and the like offering some of the same benefits as radio, the amount of time spent with radio has fallen by 14% over the past 10 years (see accompanying chart).
So here is where convergence really starts to get serious: With digital TV sets proliferating, more of what is available on that screen will come via the internet (or perhaps more generically over some TCP/IP-based transmission).Wireless devices, whether 3G or Wi-Fi or Wi-Max—the technologies are not important but the certainty of widely available wireless broadband is—we will increasingly have news and information as well an entertainment and transaction provided in a highly competitive landscape.
The winners and losers are far from being determined. But what is inevitable will be, first, greater fragmentation of the audience over a wide variety of players aiming for sometimes mass and sometimes niche markets. We will see advertisers faced with a greater dispersion of their budgets. And eventually we will have to see a new wave of consolidation to help create some economic rationalization of this scenario. It will continue to put stresses on the regulatory regime, which has been slow to respond to the implications of the changing technologies and media strategies.
I hope to be around to have another retrospective look in 20 years.
[When terminology gets stretched too far, discussion distorts and tempers snap. A friend in the Poynter Institute's Online News discussion group industry recently stretch the definition of 'citizen journalism' to include Letters-to-the-Editor. That 's when my patience snapped and I released criticisms of the 'citizen journalism' movement, which I've intentionally withheld for years.
Online News is an email-based discussion group, so some other friends have since asked me to post my criticisms here, so that they can hyperlink their own blogs or publications. Here goes:
Letter-to-the-Editor are as much journalism as a man's video of his kid's wedding is cinema. Or as much as a woman putting a Band-Aid (or 'plaster' the British would say) onto her kid's bruised knee is practicing medicine. Or as much as a guy appearing in traffic court to dispute a parking ticket is practicing law. It's too much of a rhetoric stretch.
Does its publication in a newspaper somehow make a person's opinion be journalism? If so, you might as well shutdown college schools of journalism. No need for those.
Yes, too many newsroom have become remote from, and condescending to, readers. Letting readers comment or converse in newspaper (web)pages is a much needed remedy. Yes, it's great when citizens who posses a particular expertise help report stories about that topic. Likewise, when citizens who witness a news event contribute their first-hand experiences. And, yes, it's heartening to believe that citizens themselves might be capable of reporting a significant portion of the news. Don't get me wrong: The concept behind 'citizen journalism' is noble, much like Karl Marx's vision of pure communism or Jean-Jacque Rousseau's vision of natural goodness or Ayn Rand's vision of objective individualism.
However, I live in the world of real people. It's hard enough to find a professional journalist who can sit through 52 weeks of zoning board hearings and write intelligently about that, nonetheless finding an amateur who doesn't have a vested interest or axe to grind and who can sit through and objectively write about those hearings.
Too much of what's being cloaked or prattled about in our industry as 'citizen journalism' isn't journalism at all and a lot of it is simply b*llsh#t. I'm sorry, but I'm tired of all this groupthink. We need objective reporting about this topic, too.
I sincerely compliment my friend Dan Gillmor who, in a neologism that Thomas Paine would have admired, coined the term 'citizen journalism.' That coinage helped make the concept palatable to many professional journalists, a group hugely pre-disposed to believing that everyone has a latent desire to do what they do. Others in our industry, such as my friend 'Robespierre' Jarvis, have even painted 'citizen journalism' as a struggle between the people and 'big media' (I remember Andrea Panciera of 'big media' Belo's Projo.com retorting at an ONA meeting, 'Hey, I'm too a citizen of my community!') And many of the news industry's think tanks -- whose own thinking about how to reverse the declines in news readership, listernership, and viewership has become bankrupt -- have climbed aboard the citizen journalism bandwagon for lack of anything else to play. Propelled by all this groupthink, the concept has gained huge inertial momentum in our industry.
Again, don't get me wrong. I think that technologies via which readers can comment, help report, eyewitness, tip off, and otherwise supplement, amplify, or redirect newspaper coverage are absolutely needed. These are tools that every news organization should begin using (oops, I should have used the politically correct phrase: 'begin sharing') with people. I applaud BlufftonToday.com and other well conceived applications of this. And I support my friends who are helping to teach citizen journalism to the few citizens who do want to report.
But citizen journalism is a supplement, not a panacea. Citizen journalism itself isn't going to reverse the declines in news readership, listernership, and viewership. Not by a longshot. The real solution requires more than just the tools that folks in our industry are calling 'citizen journalism' and that are providing so much distraction.
Every country seems to think that someone else is ahead of it in practical application of online media. I'm often asked which country is the best. The answer since the late nineties has clearly been the four Scandinavian counties, though South Korea and Estonia have joined them in the top rank during the past four years. The Finns, Swedes, Danes, Norwegians, South Koreans, and Estonians have pulled well ahead of the Americans, Canadians, British, Irish, Dutch, Germans, and Singaporeans in online media usage and application.
Before putting Norwegian online usage into perspective, allow me to first tell you about Norwegian printed media usage. Until Japan surpassed it last year, Norway for years had the world's strongest readership of daily newspapers 0.626 copies sold daily per adult, compared to 0.33 in the US). At the beginning of 2006, the national tabloids Dagbladet and Verdens GangVerdens Gang and Dagbladet were selling 343,703 and 252,716 copies per day respectively in a nation of only 4,610,000 people. Imagine the equivalent daily circulations in America, which adjusted for population would be 22,366,789 and 16,445,726, far above the actual circulations of 2,269,509 for USA Today or 1,086,798 for The New York Times. DB and VG are very successful printed newspapers.
Despite that strong readership, print circulation is rapidly declining in Norway. The state agency Medianorway reports that VG's circulation dropped 6.2 percent and DB's 13 percent during 2005. Several DB staffers told me that the as yet unreported 2006 circulation changes were be similar. [Update: Audit Bureaux of Circulation figures released Febuary 12th showed that VG's daily circulaiton during 2006 had dropped by 28,000 copies to 315,500. I don't yet have the ABC figure for Dagbladet.]
As in most other countries, many print edition executives are blaming their companies' free online editions for cannibalizing printed edition circulation sales. These print edition executives want either (a) access to the online editions to be sold for a subscription fee equivalent to print or else (b) that the online editions not provide full news and instead encourage online readers to get that by purchasing a printed copy.
That first option is philistine and regressive in a world where the only growing sector of daily newspaper circulation is free papers up more than 137 percent during the past five years, from 12 million to 28 million copies worldwide. The second option is like insisting that each automobile one hundred years ago have a horse in front of it, a workable but really dumb idea.
Almost all Norwegian adults and teenagers are online, far higher percentages than in America, Canada, or the UK. The average bandwidth into Norwegian homes and offices is 1.5 megabytes per second. And the strong newspaper readership and advanced online infrastructure shouldn't lead to any mystery that Norway produces what may be the world's best online editions (so too do several of the dailies in Sweden, Denmark, and Finland).
VG.no receives 950 000 unique users per day and Dagbladet.no 750,000. The weekly unique user numbers are 2,240,000 and 1,820,000 respectively, almost entirely domestic traffic. The equivalent number in the US would be 61,822,124 and 48,806,940 unique users daily, or 145,770,060 and 118,438,174 per week. Compare those numbers to to NYTimes.com's 13,372,00 unique users per month. Online editions are pervasive in Norway.
Dagbladet's new-media EBITA earnings climbed from 8.5 million to 22 million Kroner (1.3 million to 3.3 million US dollars) between 2004 and 2005. The 2006 increase was at least 40 percent more and forecast to be the same during 2007. The Economist magazine last year reported that VG's publisher Shibsted earned nearly 40 percent of its revenues from new-media. Dagbladet AS reportedly earned about a third of its that way. New-media will probably contribute more than 40 percent of each companies earnings this year.
I asked Dagbladet staffers whether they or VG had the best online edition. With typical Scandinavian humility, most answered that VG did. Their answer was like the student who scores 98/100 saying the student who scored 99/100 is better. A tiny difference.
I've been in Oslo because Dagbladet asked me to be the featured speaker at their seminar Thursday for approximately 90 of Dagbladet's online advertisers. My role was to explain what the future of digital media will be. No one, including me, truly knows the answer to that. I chose not to tell them the trends indicators that have too often been wrong during the past 15 years of public access to the Internet. I instead explained the underlying dynamics that are driving change and, in particularly, what this will mean to not only dagbladet.no but the company's social networking site, blink.no. More than 350,000 Norwegians including 42 percent of norwegians between ages 16 and 18 and 75 percent of those younger than 26 years belong to it.
[I apologize if I'm being cryptic here about what underlying dynamics are driving change. It's intentional and I apologize. I've been writing a long piece about the answer, which I plan to post soon. During the past few months, I've had a radical change in philosophy about what ails the news industry. Let me leave for now to state that the answers are two-fold: failure to utilize fully the new technologies plus the errant course that journalism itself has taken during the past 30 years. The latter should put me in real good standing with journalists and J-schools!]
Dagbladet also invited me to their parent corporation's winter holiday party where I was easily identifiable as the sole person among the 300 there who didn't speak Norwegian.
I was surprised to discover that the Norwegian state broadcaster NRK, which has long been involved in online media, produces a good website, but its online, mobile, and interactive/digital TV developments and strategies seem behind the British Broadcasting Corporation and other Western broadcasters, and well behind the South Korean broadcasters. Is it lack competition that could make NRK change more quickly? I don't know.
While in Oslo, I talk to several people about the idea of holding an online news publishing conference in Scandinavia. But the World Association of Newspapers beat me to the idea, announcing yesterday that one will be held there on March 8-9 relatively short notice.
By the way, did you know that the Norwegian word for beer, øl, is pronounced url? No wonder Norwegian's are technosavvy.