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.
My colleagues will forgive me for going a little off-topic (unless one thinks in the larger sense):
George Carlin is one of my heroes. Not for the routine that made him most famous -- the seven (later 10) dirty words you can’t say on TV -- but for so much of his work that, while making us laugh, also made us look at ourselves and was really social criticism: his poem about his hair and its length (“wear it to there or to there or to there if you dare!”) and the goofy news guy (“In Baltimore it’s 6:43, now for the 11 o’clock report!) making fun of the supercilious seriousness with which so many newscasters intoned to us, decades before The Daily Show.
Comedy is one of the few ways (along with music) in the U.S. to do social criticism and gain mass appeal, fame and fortune, and sneak it under the radar. Early on, and a little bit still, I did comedy, and may do more of it. I can well appreciate the courage Carlin had, the the strength of will and energy. It's bad enough to be standing in front of a hostile audience that doesn't give a damn and is ignoring you through a drunken haze at 2 a.m., or working to fill the pockets of a sleazy club owner who pays you $15 and a drink, if that. But to stand up by yourself on stage in those conditions night after night for years, and build up an audience, and then continue to take risks, not play it safe, get arrested as Carlin was but be unrepentant. Carlin finally got the attention of the establishment, including Congress, for his list of dirty words. I have to think he knew what he was doing, that he knew he wouldn't be sneaking under the radar with those. I noticed in the NPR obit quoting Carlin today that when asked his regrets, he mentions his and his wife's drug use, not because of any edict or strictures, but because of how he felt it harmed his daughter.
My wife gave me a box set of Carlin CDs as a present a few years back, and while I seldom listen, I do cherish them. I'm not a big collector of DVDs or books or spoken CDs -- who has all that shelf space, and how many would you really want to read or watch or listen to more than once or twice? But Carlin's work is an oeuvre that to me goes far beyond comedic laughs. I saw Carlin live, once, at a circle theater in the New York area, and marveled at his mastery, his timing, physical prowess, voice control, microphone technique. A video of a 2003 HBO special under the writer credit says: George Carlin. Not only was he a master performer with impeccable skills, but he also wrote his own stuff. I don't know if others ever wrote for Carlin, but I do know that a great number of top comedians, especially later on in a career, will have others contribute a lot.
Words. Carlin believed in them, in their power, forever playing around with meaning and hidden meaning, while slipping in the social critique. (One of his chosen oxymorons: Military Intelligence.) Today, I admire Carlin's seven dirty words routine more than I did when it first gained fame. I see it for the boundary pushing bit it was, following in the footsteps of Lenny Bruce before him. And society in some ways has caught up to the man who was visionary in his own goofy ways: there are plenty of farts on TV now (watch the routine posted on Silicon Alley Insider, to see what I mean), and Jon Stewart says a barely bleeped "shit" on his show about every 5 minutes. (Granted, it's cable, but that means it's in, what, 85 percent of American homes?)
I was told today by a well-known comedian and satirist that Carlin last year at a show seemed old and tired, not on his game. I've seen a news report that he was performing to get out of tax debt. Both may be true. But neither can remove the wealth of humor and wisdom he left us.
A few weeks back the editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer on "On the Media" talked about how newspapers in Ohio were reaping great benefits trading material, and linking and cross linking. More importantly, she said she was no longer reliant on The Associated Press for her stories from the region but instead was getting the original versions direct from the other sources around the state rather than paying “a big chunk” of her budget, about $1 million for rewritten AP stories. Picking up directly, on the Web, and putting other papers’ stories directly in the newspaper was also better quality, she said, and readers were noticing:
“I mean, we've always had access to news from all over the state. It was just, you know, it went through the AP mill. I frankly think we're getting better, more distinctively written stories because they're not going through the AP mill.”
If local papers skip the AP, that means the core constituency is in revolt. That will potentially be more corrosive than the fight with the blogosphere over fair use. "As long as there are are two papers to trade articles, the AP will exist," one rake at the wire service -- where I worked for seven years on the international desk and as a foreign correspondent -- quipped to me once. But what if the members form their own cooperatives and cut out the AP as middleman?
I’m not saying this will happen immediately. AP, whose core business is the not-for-profit cooperative dues of member newspapers, has offered to cut its rates starting next year. Newspapers, despite ad and circulation declines for decades, have been notoriously slow moving, and many will be reluctant to pick up content from papers they might think of as competitors; the AP has given them the cover they sought to do so less blatantly. But the economic pressures are only increasing as revenues and readership decline more precipitously, and any success in Ohio could be the thin edge of a wedge. “We've set up this little cooperative,” said the Plain Dealer editor, Susan Goldberg. “I don't know how it'll work in the future, but right now it's working really well.”
Add to that AP’s deal to have its direct results placed higher in Google than member papers, further pissing them off, and newspapers will look harder at the Ohio example. We're talking months or perhaps years, certainly not decades. The example could spread nationally or internationally.
CEO Tom Curley has been leading the AP into a future in which an increasing share of its revenues comes from sources other than member dues, such as direct photo revenues, Web content services and broadcast fees. But the transformation may not be fast enough. AP doesn't have the luxury of Bloomberg or Thomson Reuters in which news gathering can be supported by financial terminals that really bring in the bucks.
AP should own the Web. It has its roots in the trading and sharing of information. It gets a significant chunk of revenue from providing the backbone through which others pass content. It coded and tagged and parsed content with everything from category codes to prioritization markings, and ways to match text and photos decades before those practices became fashionable for everyone. But culture and old habits are very hard to change, and I fear for the company's viability hope it can work out a more creative win-win solution for all.
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Spend almost any time with people in the mobile (meaning mobile phone) content, advertising or applications industry, and you’ll surely hear something about how the cell phone carriers are making life more difficult for them. At the Mobile Marketing Forum in New York today:
Rene Rodriguez of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.: “We still often don’t even know who our users are ... Targeting our users in arena, our fans, and I have no access to that information” because the carriers refuse to share it.
Gene Keenan, VP, Mobile Strategies, Isobar (ad agency holding company): “In some instances we can’t target as well on the mobile phone as online [because demographic information such as age] is held pretty closely” by the carriers. And, he says, he isn’t allowed to give content away, even though many brands want to, as part of a marketing or branding campaign.
Tom Daly, Group Manager, Strategy & Planning, Global Interactive Marketing, The Coca-Cola Company: Carriers are making it tough to bring content to consumers for free (because they see it as competition to premium content. “We created 20,000 songs, 15,000 artists in Europe ... We created a great platform for everybody ... You share it with us, we’ll share with the world. The artist wins, the consumer wins. We hope some of that love wears off on Coca Cola.” But it’s not easily done.
And on and on, like at a recent iBreakfast where Randy Haldeman of Apptera says that mobile so far is about 99% spam free, because the carriers block it, but they’re responsible for whatever spam there is.
The arguments I’ve heard in favor of the carriers are:
*They can’t just enable everything on their networks, make it an Internet-like free-for-all, because they need to protect the golden goose: voice communication. They can’t let a bazillion people sending rich ads and video and pictures clog or freeze the network and endanger their biggest most important task. They’ve invested a lot to build their networks, which are not government-initiated with multiple agnostic redundancies, as is/was the Internet, and also have to recoup that investment.
* When I said content creators are complaining about the amount carriers charge for their content, one carrier exec said to me that there is no real reason content makers should be able to charge for the same content multiple times on different platforms. Not sure I understand the argument, but it is what he said.
Regardless of the arguments, though, the tide is, I think, turning away from the restrictive nature of carriers, their locked phones and their plans. Not only is Google Android coming, which will create open standards for cellphones on new network bandwidth (if I understand correctly), but the Supreme Court has allowed a case to go through that will challenge restrictions on unlocking phones. Add all the voices of the Mobile Marketing Association and friends, and you’ve got quite a clamor for more openness and fewer restrictions. Government policy here in the U.S. allowed cellphone networks to develop as competitive fiefdoms, rather than a blanket network with a single standard, and we’re paying the price for that today, with all the restrictiveness, confusion (quick, tell me the rules of your mobile plan, in detail), plethora of mismatched services and devices, and the U.S. lag in many ways behind other countries.
There's a discussion on a listserv (remember those?) some of us here are on as well as some Internet discussion about Microsoft leader Steve Ballmer's remarks that paper media will go away in 10 years. Only he doesn't say that, exactly. He says it's immaterial whether it's 8 or 10 or 14 years. The exact timing isn't his point.
He also doesn't literally mean, I would guess, that all ink on paper production will cease in toto, full stop. Horse and buggy still exists, as do books made by hand, despite the invention of the press and moveable type. But his point in a larger strategic sense is, I think, well-founded. That the lion's share of media -- media that matters in a larger, societal and business sense -- will be delivered over an IP network, at least in the industrialized world. Who can refute that, honestly? Newsprint and fuel costs rise, we're choking on garbage and need to recycle, our forests are becoming denuded. Meanwhile, the technology of the next next next generation Kindle and Sony reader and iPhone and e-paper and tablet computer will all be better better better, and eventually get good enough that people will be comfortable opening their flexible, reaable (and listenable and watchable and networked) thin, bendable screen (or goggles or mini-projector or who-all knows what?) as they do a newspaper or book today.
People love books and magazines and newspapers not because they're ink on paper, but because they're right now the best technology around: quick, easy, never need rebooting, easy to fold, put in a bag, read in nearly all conditions, don't need power, etc, etc. If the IP device technology approaches those attributes, it will be immaterial on what surface people read, and the cost- and other pressures I mention above will move folks to digital (or IP, if you prefer).
Sure, some glossy magazines will still give a "luxury" experience that won't be well-approximated by the screens. And some may get news on paper -- those at the bottom rung who can't afford digital or at the very top who CAN afford good paper -- but the mass will probably be digital. So, yes you'd win the bet if you said there will be print around in 10 years. But if it's 14 or more, you might lose if you say it will have primacy above digital.
The Wall Street Journal's editors again flub an opportunity to differentiate themselves from the fading pack of daily local newspapers. At least the Times used the slightly more accurate "Claims" rather than "Clinches" and uses a marginally less trite photo.The Journal used the same photo as chosen by the Philadelphia Inquirer editors.
It will take the a few circulation reporting periods (March 31 and September 30) to get a feel for whether the Journal's new "look like a conventional daily" strategy is a positive or negative.