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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

January 28, 2008

Paying Sources

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

NPR’s On the Media in its show before the most recent episode brought up the issue of paying sources and brought back some poignant thoughts about whether and why sources should or shouldn’t be paid. Sure, there are all the usual arguments about polluting the system, encouraging untruths, and starting a slippery slope of checkbook journalism. But, “I've always just questioned that taboo on talking about money,” says guest Robert Boynton, an NYU journalism professor.

I’ve been asked more than once, “Why should I help you?” Some folks I’ve interviewed have even pointed out that I’m being paid to report, that the organization I’m working for (whether a newspaper or TV show) is money-making, even for profit, and so why should we reporters feel sanguine about asking or requiring that the grist for our work be provided for free? It’s a hard question to answer, when you can’t say “for publicity that will help your business,” or if someone isn’t buying the argument that getting the word out may help others in other situations or that simply getting it off their chest will be liberating.

In Japan, it’s common to pay sources, especially when they’re experts -- and, yes, they also get the advantage of publicity. There is, in giving over a token amount of cash, a display of gratitude, and acknowledgement that value has been given. I had one uncomfortable interview in Tokyo while working for Newsweek, when an expert in the construction and maintenance of the Bullet Train gave me some inside information about troubles the line had had in its earlier days. I wondered why he was telling me such info so frankly. At the end, he expected -- as he had come to expect from journalists -- a gratuity, and it was left to a Japanese co-worker to explain to him, with both in considerable discomfort, that American organizations didn’t do that. I was uncomfortable, too.

As OTM co-host Bob Garfield and guest Robert Boynton point out in the radio piece, even when no money is exchanged there is a currency of those who give their time and information in exchange for exposure, perhaps the chance to flog their point of view. Some journalists talk of disinterest in how money is made by the organization they work for, which I find a little odd. Is there another such for-profit industry, where the folks steeped in producing the product are willfully ignorant of how it's sold and makes money? There is certainly a coin of the realm, and one in which journalists spin and get spun, journalists and sources use each other in various ways. Boynton says it would be OK to pay, if it were disclosed that someone had done so. That would be an open and honest way of doing it. Let the consumer make his or her own decisions. And it would be more open than the hidden agendas the public sometimes can’t see.

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January 24, 2008

January 16, 2008

January 5, 2008

The Uncertainty May Be Over for Hi-Def DVD: And the Winner is Blu-Ray

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Posted by Ben Compaine

The votes have been cast and the results are in.

I’m referring to the decisive TKO win for Sony’s Blu-Ray high definition DVD format over Toshiba’s HD-DVD format. Warner Bros. Entertainment announced yesterday that starting in May it will release high def DVD’s only in Blu-Ray. Up to now it has been selling them in both versions. Thus, the all Blu-Ray line up is now The Walt Disney Co., Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, in addition to Warner. Blockbuster had stated publicly last June that it would henceforth only stock high definition DVD’s in Blu-Ray. That leaves only Paramount and Universal in the HD-DVD camp. Blu-Ray players have been outselling HD-DVD players. But the industry consensus was that most consumers were waiting for a standard to emerge before committing. That time might be now. bluray_vs_hddvd_12-11-07.jpg

There is a certain irony here, in that in the last big format battle royale in the 1980s, between Sony’s Beta video cassette format and JVC’s VHS format, Toshiba was one of the few electronics companies that stayed with the Beta format for many years. Sony pioneered videocassettes with its ¾-inch industrial U-Matic and then revolutionized the consumer industry by using time shifting as the way to solve the chicken and egg dilemma for getting out prerecorded videos. But then it lost the marketing war with JVC and Matsushita. Most engineers agreed that Beta was the superior technology, but VHS was good enough. Sony tried again with 8mm cassettes, but that never got traction as a pre-recorded format.

Indeed, the lessons from the videocassette battle would have suggested that the HD-DVD format should emerge the winner. Though less technologically sophisticated, it is less expensive to manufacture. Beyond the earlier adopters, the mass market tends to favor low price over tech elegance (top example: Mac vs. PC). But that doesn’t seem to matter when it is the content providers who now have a say in the direction of the hardware victor

The apparent win by Sony is also a minor setback for Microsoft, which backed the HD—DVD format with an external player for its XBox. On the other hand, all 2.5 million Sony PlayStation 3 consoles are Blu-Ray ready.

There was great anticipation in the industry over Warner Entertainment’s impending announcement. It was courted heavily by both sides. But with stronger Blu-Ray disc sales in the U.S. and even a greater Blu-Ray preference globally, Warner threw its clout to Sony. Neither the manufacturers nor the studios were benefiting from the consumer uncertainty and, in the case of many studios and retailers, the cost of manufacturing and stocking multiple formats. Everyone was hoping for a winner—though Toshiba wanted its technology to be the one that won.

As word gets out to consumers, look for Blu-Ray players to drop in price as volume ramps up and more titles become available for purchase and rental.

(Photo from Gizmodo)

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January 3, 2008

Gain and Loss of Social Self

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

Who owns you? This is part of the battle brewing over social networks, and networking applications like Facebook. Robert Scoble, the Scobelizer, complains that when he tried to run a “script” on his profile on Facebook, Facebook detected it and kicked him off. He’s appealing the decision. He won’t say what the script is -- says he’s under a non-disclosure agreement with the company that wrote the bit of code that will somehow do something to Scoble’s Facebook profile -- but it seems to be something that would somehow take the info on Facebook, and run some other application on it.

A clue comes from a comment Scoble writes in response to someone who says that in a “walled garden,” the point is that it is walled. “We fundementally (sic) DON’T want someone wholeheartedly using our graphs. Especially not a friend, who we trust to not do that,” writes the commenter. Scoble replies: “What about info you’ve made public? Like, your name? And other stuff that’s on your public profile on Facebook? Are you saying that no one has the right to use that? How about this? Can I write down your email address and put it in my address book? Or, how about your birthday?

“So, why am I allowed to write down your phone number or email address, but my computer can’t take it out of Facebook and put it into Outlook for me? Or another program or service I’m using?

“How about something that actually ads value, like something that’d see that you’re on both Facebook and Twitter and Flickr and could mash those three together?”

So, Scoble is implying that what he wants to do is use publicly available information for private uses that he’d have permission to regardless of technology. This, I would guess, would be legal -- putting aside the Terms of Service issue -- in the same way that making copies of material for purely personal use are also legal.

He also alludes to a holy grail of social networking I think we’ll see more of this year: the social network mashup, applications that allow use of networking and profiles across platforms. Google’s Open Social is a step in this direction, though one that’s more push out than inbound in the way Scoble describes. Media companies and publishers are signing on with Google’s scheme so they can, say, write a widget once and have it spread across myriad platforms, rather than having to write or tweak new code for each. (And then they’re still having to write for Facebook, if they want to reach its millions of users. MySpace is a whole ‘nother issue.) I would expect to see a bunch of such apps come out this year, many with funding, and a few to catch on.

We’ll see, too, continued battle over closed vs. open that’s been part of the conversation since the earliest days of AOL and Prodigy vs. Netscape and Mozilla (and Internet Explorer, which provides the enticement of openness AND the control of digital rights management).

In a way, Scoble is arguing both sides of the coin. He owns the right to scrape his own profile, his own information -- though in joining Facebook, he signed terms of service that said he couldn’t run such applications on the closed network. Facebook, too, is trying to have it both ways. When they were exclusive to the academic community, they had a closed system that, while potentially very large, was limited to people with some similarity in mindset and orientation, at least in the broadest sense, and, probably, less likely to use the system for certain kinds of commercial behavior. By now allowing anyone from any background to register and use Facebook, and open up the API to all developers, the company is trying to reap the benefits of openness, but still with a closed system.

Facebook now has many millions of users. But how long will those millions remain when they are a) hit with an increasing number of unwanted marketing messages, un-needed invitations from non-”friends,” ever more mass messages, fewer directly relevant personal messages, b) finding it increasing difficulty to manage it all, and c) Open Social is on the way? We’ll see shakeouts this year among social networking applications, and an increasing number of profiles lay fallow. Facebook won’t die, and they’re smart enough that they may come up with a graceful solution that leads to more openness and integration with other platforms. The apology they gave due to the controversy that broke out over their Beacon system proves they are a company that’s able to hear complaints and try to adjust. But they will having a tough time overcoming the tension between walled garden and open access.

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