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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

February 7, 2008

Murdoch does not take Wall Street Journal to the right (place)

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Posted by Ben Compaine

When News Corp. first announced its intention to bid for Dow Jones, some critics moaned that Rupert Murdoch would impose his political ideology (presumably conservative) at the flagship Wall Street Journal. Jack Shafer at Slate, no knee-jerk Murdoch critic (“I genuinely admire the rotten old bastard”), nonetheless had his early list to be skeptical.

Rather than muck up a successful franchise that has outperformed the dismal newspaper industry metrics in advertising and circulation in recent years, my take at the time was why would he do more than invigorate management?

Well, I was wrong. Although there is no noticeable new slant ideologically, there has been a very visible change in editorial priorities. My own opinion is that they are taking the Journal 180 degree from where it should be.

For me (yes, I know, a sample of one), the attraction of the Journal was the unique front page: Distinctive both in physical layout and in content. It was clearly not my hometown Boston Globe—or your hometown whatever. I need not elaborate for anyone who has been a Journal reader.feb6_composite.JPG

While the Journal had moved away from the old six column layout, with most articles running one column down the front page, to a more conventional design with multi-column heads and less copy on page 1, the gist of the content was the same.

Now, many days I pick up the Globe and the Journal outside my door and I need to stare for a second to figure out which is which. Do I really need the Wednesday Journal to tell me about the vote tally from Tuesday’s primaries (and with an earlier deadline, less complete than the Globe). For that matter, what proportion of Journal readers even need the morning paper to inform them of the outcome? They got it from TV last night, from TV this morning, or online anytime.

feb7_composite.JPG
There was certainly room for improvement in the management of Dow Jones that News Corp. could provide. Fresh thinking can be introduced. As one who has been following the ups and, more lately, downs of the newspaper industry professionally for 35 years, the fresh air being blown across the newsroom of the Journal seems to be a cold wind rather than a crisp breeze.

Prove me wrong Rupert. It’s your money and legacy. But if I’m right, can I get the old Journal back?

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February 2, 2008

Microsoft and Yahoo (Microhoo?) Makes Time-Warner/AOL Merger Look Good

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Posted by Ben Compaine

We know—or thought we knew—that Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer are smart fellows. But smart, as in understanding software architecture or how to manage a company or develop products is a different kind of smart than strategic smart. Apparently Messrs Gates and Ballmer don’t have the smart big acquisition gene.

I say this as an outsider. I don’t have access to the crunched numbers and five year outlooks no doubt ginned up by the Microsoft investment bankers. And, to be sure, many business pundits have a similar pat justification, all along the lines that both Microsoft and Yahoo have persistently tried to best Google but failed. “No one can compete with Google on their own anymore,” says Jon Miller the former chairman and chief executive of AOL. “There has to be consolidation among the major players.

Suddenly Microsoft, just a few years ago the bad boy of the computer galaxy, is—what—the white knight? Mark Read, director of strategy for the WPP Group, which owns ad agencies like JWT and Ogilvy & Mather, opined, “It is good for investment. It is good for competition.”

A combined Microsoft and Yahoo, notes The New York Times, would beat Google in Web traffic and come closer in ad revenues. Most importantly, the pair would give Google a greater challenge as it tried to enter display advertising, because Yahoo has the largest share of that market.

But wait a second. What does a merger with Yahoo really do for Microsoft—to the tune of a cool $44 billion? Lets look at some numbers. search_historical_share.JPG

Google has grown dramatically, going from zero to $17 billion in revenue. It is highly profitable, a bit (well, $200 million) over $4 billion in 2007. Very impressive. But Microsoft had almost 3.5 times that revenue -- $58 billion—and four times the profit-- $17 billion.

So what does Yahoo bring to the party? Not even $7 billion in revenue and a piddling $660 million in profit. It brings a search engine that’s technically pretty good. But Microsoft already has a comparable piece of technology. Yes, most of its revenue is derived form online advertising, nearly twice that of Microsoft.

And what’s the synergy of Microhoo? (or Yahsoft?). Not much that is obvious. Microsoft forecasts at least $1 billion in annual cost savings for the merged entity, from synergies in areas such as combining engineering talent.

Sure, a merger of this magnitude—pegged to cost savings rather than market opportunities-- would make sense if Microsoft was a struggling enterprise. It's not -- and a 29% profit margin at that. It has $21 billion in cash and short term investments. Assuming it actually realized the savings—so what? Microsoft already has the resources to compete with Google—if it is possible at all.

Then what does a Mircohoo end up with? Despite trying, Microsoft has not come up with a strategy to erode Google’s dominance in search and online advertising. Its share of the search market ended last year at 9.8%, down from 12% in mid-2006. Yahoo does better, but fell from an estimated 28.8% mid-2006 to 22.9% last year. search%20market%20share.gif

Now, let’s see. We take Microsoft’s failed strategy and add it to Yahoo’s failed strategy... and the best they can come up with is some savings effect, as the combined entity slides further behind.

I understand that the hope is that the two combined would bulk up to a third of the search market—perhaps in aggregate enough to prime the pump to attract more advertisers. But Yahoo alone had nearly a third of the search business in 2005 and that did not keep it from sliding downhill since then.

The combination of Time Warner with AOL in 2001 has been a disaster. However, it was primarily the outlandish $112 billion price tag, negotiated at the peak of the Internet bubble, that made it ridiculous. The notion of an old time content company wanting to modernize by associating with the new media start-up had some strategic sense, even if the conflicting cultures and stratospheric valuation doomed the combination. I could understand the potential synergies, even if not to the degree that could justify the cost.

I can also understand Microsoft’s necessity to segue from the operating system and packaged software business to a greater reliance on Internet-derived revenue. It knows it needs to modify its current business model. But I can think of better uses of $44 billion to get there. Glad I sold my Microsoft stock last year.

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