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.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Twitter, recently. (Twitter, in case you’re not in the thumbs-of-steel set, is a technology that allows people to send short bursts of text under a unique logon about anything they want.) Sometimes, it’s journalism -- an executive just said “this!” Other times, it’s banal musings about what someone -- even journalists from The New York Times -- are doing with their day: laundry, eating dinner, riding a bus.
A commenter on this blog poo-pooh’d Twitter, saying the audience was miniscule compared to blogs. Others have said Twitter won’t be around in a few years because there's no business model. I don’t think it matters if Twitter, itself, survives, what the business model is. What Twitter represents, though, will survive. There’s an information cloud forming. What if in the stadium when the Pope was talking, if you could have a few hundred or a few thousand people Twittering their observations on what was happening, and then somehow assemble them into a cohesive whole. You could get a more meaningful and perhaps more accurate read of what the crowd felt or the “mood” than any single journalist could provide, whether with camera, microphone or by writing.
In the earlier post, I suggested that If you’re going to Twitter for the benefit of others, you should do it intelligently, consider Twitter a medium, figure out how to do it intelligently, not waste their time. But maybe that’s not necessary. Blogs have lots of good information and tons of drek. The good comes through. As this cloud of micro-bursts of information forms, and more people link to and reply to the other bursts, ways to sort and sift and retrieve will -- I hope -- form. Useful information will start to coalesce around a whole. Artificial intelligence will -- again, I hope -- get better, good enough to sort and sift for me, and keep me from having to go through it all myself (but still allow me to do so when I want to spend a serendipitous 20 minutes or so).
There’s not only Twitter, but all the offshoots of Twitter or things that interrelate to it and all other kinds of information feeds -- FriendFeed, and Twirhl and Twitpic and Tumblr and Twitterfeed and more I’m forgetting -- all applications that let you decide what to read from whom and assemble them in one place and perhaps intercorrelate them, distribute or aggregate them as you wish.
In one way or another this all will survive, and inform how we relate and interrelate and handle information and relationships with each other, and commerce and information.
Most of what my colleagues and I write about in this space back in some way to the tsunami-scale scale changes overtaking the legacy media and the absence of a roadmap for what they should do. We can only track what seems to work for others, try to prognosticate the future (iffy beyond, say, six months), observe forces and trends at work, cajole and suggest.
There is, in short, much uncertainty surrounding where the business models for media are and should be headed.
One area that legacy media can control and should know something about is content. Newspapers, broadcasters, publishers of all stripes, have absolute control over their content. Newspaper publishers constantly need to ask themselves “What do consumers want when they subscribe or take $.50 (or $1.00) out of their purses/pockets to buy the publication. Broadcasters certainly ask, ‘Why should viewers tune us in?”
But I’m constantly amazed at their lack of insight and therefore the choices they make. And here I’m referring in particular to the broadly defined “news” segment of the media. Research shows that there has been a range of motivations that are involved in getting individuals to buy a newspaper or tune in a news program—or click to a Web site bookmark. One of the top motivating factors is the interest in learning what we do not know. What happened in the world while I slept? Who won the game last night? What is the weather forecast for tomorrow? What did my stocks close at? What does some “expert” think about a new movie or show? Surprise me!
What we don’t need the news media for is to be told what we already know. The Internet has, of course, made it possible for more people to know more of the answers to the above types of questions before they are available in print or even on a regularly scheduled broadcast. Still, there are many things we know even without the Internet. For example, most of use know if it is hot outside. Or wet or windy or cold. We look out the window or open the door. Anyone who drives a car knows the price of gasoline. Anyone who flies knows the airports are crowded and lines at Thanksgiving are long.
So where am I going with this rant? I’m astounded—and hopefully some of you are as well—at how the editors of news media shoot themselves in the foot everyday with the non-compelling nature of their many of their content decisions. For example, most days I turn on “American Morning” on CNN, even before the computer is fired up. And what do I hear, at length, each day lately? A business reporter, Ali Velchi, telling us the price of gasoline. “Pain at the pump” is the not so original refrain. And the usual “B” roll of someone filling up, with the obligatory quote from the woman in the street who is driving less and someone who will give up their “gas guzzler.” And the anchors commiserating over the latest record. And a reiteration of where Lundburg or AAA thinks the price is going in the “peak driving season.” Compelling stuff, no? Maybe the “Today Show” isn’t so lame.
Not long ago I was asked by a small chain of newspapers to spend a few days with their editors in a session to help them understand and strategize for the challenges facing them. They sent me a large stack of their newspapers so I could get a flavor for them. In the sample were issues from several of the papers with a variation of the headline “It’s Hot Out There.” Immediately I created in my head what this would say. By the third paragraph it would quote some gardener about the heat and how he is coping with it. And sure enough, in the first article I read I was both pleased and disappointed with the copy. There, in the third graph, was a quote from Pedro something, with the Generic Landscape Co. “Yeah, it’s hot. So we start really early and quit by two o’clock,” he explained. I mentally patted myself on the back. But there was more disappointment that the article was so very predictable.
However, the larger point is that, with both CNN and these newspapers (and many others that could be included) that these prominent “stories” were not about news. They were what anyone knew.
In this space I have recently been critical of The Wall Street Journal for a new editorial approach that has often reduced prominence of analysis and surprise in favor of featuring in many cases material that most readers would already know: A who-what-where-when accounting of an earthquake. A routine summary of the previous night’s primary results (and, with its early deadline, less timely that what was in the local newspaper). It is telling readers what many, if not most, could be expected to learn from other media they are likely to have seen.
The legacy “news” media cannot materially change the trend toward whatever is coming via technology. But they can slow their demise by concentrating on the content of their products. And they can enhance the position of their digital products as well by providing audiences with the serendipity factor and with a value added quality that is needed to have users buying, tuning or clicking to their products. That has been the not-so-secret sauce behind the strength of The New York Times, USA Today, Fox News and, until recently, The Wall Street Journal. Give people what they don’t know, not the current weather or yesterday’s price of a gallon of petrol.
Shelly Palmer asks at JackMyers.com today how one can make money from content in a copyright free zone like China. He’s in Shenzen, the town that’s literally a subway ride a way from Hong Kong, and has gone from a pig- and farm town with dirt streets to a bustling metropolis in less than two decades. (I saw the tail end of the pig days. If you think New York changes quickly and has constant construction, you ain’t seen nothing; the changes are stunning.)
Here’s an answer: The content becomes an upsell for something else. Hard to justify making millions of dollars of material as a marketing play, but it’s done very successfully in multiple venues. Bloomberg, for example, almost gives away its news product -- and did, literally do so for years -- to help sell its proprietary stock and bond market terminals and information. Reuters, now part of Thomson, also gets a minority of its budget from news, which it sells on its own but also feed its proprietary terminals. For mediabistro.com, the editorial product gets paid membership and attracts ads, but it also helps attract users to the big kahunas: jobs and classes.
What, though, if you produce entertainment, TV shows or movies and the like? How can you make money from a drama that’s cost millions to make, and you want to sell, if everyone gets illicit digital copies? That’s a tougher one to answer. Perhaps, if ads are embedded, the ads are paid for even if the program is copied and distributed free. If you give the programming away, or make it tremendously cheap, the counterfeiters can’t outsell you. You can take a brand you’ve created and launch ancillary “products,” as Disney’s done with the Miley Cyrus concert tours (no way to counterfeit a live concert). Add enough value to a the paid experience through a controlled distribution channel that people will want to pay for those additions.
CBS buying CNET might make sense financially and the chart they released (see bottom of post) showing the various properties makes a good case for "synergies" of adding unduplicated audience in various verticals. CBS Chief Les Moonves, in PaidContent interview, makes a good case for the assets and how they all fit.
It's the operational part -- integrating the two -- that will be a challenge. Very different cultures, even if CNET is one of the more traditional-style companies in its space.
What do you think are/should be the rules of Twitter journalism?
A few folks have been using Twitter as a kind of live-blogging mechanism, so folks following a Twitter feed can read what a reporter has to say about an event or news scene as he/she types it in a handheld device. That can be perfectly valid, but it’s important -- as with any medium -- to consider the audience, and how they’re likely consuming what’s being provided.
A lot of the Twittering I’ve seen reads as if you have to be at the event to understand what was said -- you have to be so much an insider that you’re already on the inside. If that’s the case, what’s the point? To be pedantic about it, some questions:
Do your readers need more information? Should you give a full name of whom you’re talking about?
Shouldn’t you say specifics rather than just allude?
Can you sum up, or should you quote?
Yes, it’s only 140 characters, but as Mark Twain might have said: I wrote a full article because I didn’t have time to Twitter. Writing intelligently in 140-character bursts is a hard thing to do.
Sometimes less can be more. This is the implication of my colleague Dorian Benkoil’s thoughts here last week about how newspapers (and other legacy media) might position their Web-based content to optimize revenue over eyeballs. Special interest magazine publishers have long worked this way, charging far higher cost per thousand ad rates for Time Inc's Fortune for example, than for its People, as the former has more attractive demographics for many advertisers than the latter. So a far smaller circulation can bring in as much revenue and perhaps greater profit margins than more circulation and costs. This has been the economics behind many subject-focused cable TV channels as well.
Here’s another way to look at more by subtraction. David Pogue, a New York Times tech columnist who I find entertaining and quite informative, had a column last month about why a product can be a success even with acknowledged flaws. Referring to Apple’s Mac Air he wrote:
…When your laptop has the thickness and feel of a legal pad and starts up with the speed of a PalmPilot, it ceases to be a traditional laptop. It becomes something you whip open and shut for quick lookups, something you check while you're standing in line or at the airline counter, something you can use in places where hauling open a regular laptop (and waiting for it) would just be too much hassle.
It's the same lesson I learned when I reviewed the Flip "camcorder" a couple weeks ago: if you change the shape and concept of something enough, it ceases to be that thing. It becomes a new thing, or a descendant of that earlier thing. But it's no longer the original thing, and you can't judge it on the same yardstick.
Lesson learned: Form—the products attributes—can create the function. Thus an entrepreneur can break out of a well-defined category (camcorder, laptop, cell phone) by changing some key characteristics—weight, time to boot up, capabilities—even a dramatic new price point.
Does this insight provide any guidance for the media industry? Should the local newspaper continue trying to be a general interest publication even when online? Is it already something else, in which case it needs to be evaluated by a different metric (i.e., time spent, return visits) than what has been used in the past (i.e., hits or clicks or gross eyeballs or total page views)? Or, perhaps, should legacy media be creating new “things” based on the old? What is the media equivalent of the Mac Air or Flip camcorder: a product that is recognizable but, by changing—often removing—product attributes is used by consumers (and advertisers in this case) in new ways?
Experiments with short form videos—first popularized from the bottom up thanks to the YouTube platform—have now become mainstream with the traditional video programmers. Viacom purchased short film pioneer Atom Films in 2006. But most attention continues to be on finding outlets for conventional programming, such as NBC Universal/News Corp.’s Hulu.
If I had the answer I’d offer it (though probably not here—a guy’s got to feed his family, or in my case, start paying college tuition). But I think it is an area ripe for brainstorming and another round of informed trial and error.