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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

July 23, 2008

What to watch as The Sporting News launches free online formatted magazine.

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Posted by Ben Compaine

Today was the first public edition of “The Sporting News Today.” This is a free, online daily version of The Sporting News, the weekly magazine that got its start as a bible for baseball fans.

The Sporting News has a rich history, starting publication in 1886. I remember my father subscribing in the 1960s. It was thick with box scores and stats for every team and every major sport. In 1977, when the Times Mirror Co bought the publisher for all of $18 million it had a circulation of about 356,000. By the time it was sold to Vulcan Ventures in 2000 for $100 million it had a circulation of over 500,000, but it was being threatened by the successful launch of ESPN Magazine, which had 850,00 circulation within two years of its 1998 launch.

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The Sporting News was sold again in 2006, to American City Business Journals. Today the circulation is about 700,000, but at an annual price of only $14.97 for a new subscription—compared to about $61.00 in constant dollars in 1978.

Like many print publications, The Sporting News has been substantially affected by online content. Daily sports news has been particularly hard hit. The Internet is made for getting late night scores, accessing the scads of stats that even casual fans crave, following teams in far-off cities—and all for little or, most often, no consumer cost.

Like most other print publications, it has had an online presence. The Sporting News Today is something else though. It is a magazine formatted for the screen. But it is not like a Web site. It involves no scrolling. It is pdf-like, though it is not read with Adobe Reader. It is not the print edition read online, as with Zinio. To me each screen looked like a double page spread in a magazine—but with no need for a gutter. I sort of felt that I had spread opened the tabloid-sized magazine. You will note that each of the “double pages” has one page number.

By offering to send subscribers an email each day, readers so do not have to bookmark anything. Just click the link.

The content is vintage Sporting News: Right now heavy on baseball, but lots on football—professional and college. There is hockey, basketball, NASCAR, tennis. Even Little League World Series coverage is promised. And, with a nod to WEB 2.0, it will offer readers the opportunity to provide their own input: “You’ll get a byline, file to an editor.” (Actually, a clever spin on “Letters to the Editor.”)

No surprise, the business model for the Sporting News Today is, for the moment at least, advertising, though it was rather light for a first edition. The inaugural issue had a full page from SpeedTV.com, three half page house ads for Sporting News affiliates and a full page promotion for the revamped Sporting News magazine, which will become a bi-weekly. (Management expects to lose 100,000 circulation from current levels to the free online publication).

I’m not a design expert—I’ll leave that to my colleagues at Innovation Media Consulting Group. But the Sporting News Today will feel comfortable to readers who like the look of print and are put off by clicking here and there for do their online reading. The layout feels modern but grounded in print. How that plays may be generational—or not.

As a final note, it may be worth pointing out that while traditional print publications are downsizing, The Sporting News Today is hiring. Indeed, I got turned on to its impending launch by Charles Apple, it’s new art director, who was hired away from the Virginia Pilot newspaper. (Has anyone seen numbers on how many print journalists have been hired by online-only ventures other than self-funded blogs?)

There has been speculation in recent years on when we will get the first announcement that a daily newspaper will shut down its presses completely and switch to digital-only. There are still some big hurdles, like portability. But should services such as Amazon’s Kindle take off, allowing readers to take their digital publications on the go, then the Sporting News Today model may have legs and encourage a general interest newspaper to give it a whirl.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Magazines | Online | Revenue models | Strategy | media industry

July 21, 2008

July 15, 2008

ContentNext, mediabistro and Math

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

Mediabistro blog FishbowlNY’s swipe at the valuation of Rafat Ali’s ContentNext, sold for a reported $30 million (including an earn-out over time based on performance) to the Guardian Media Group, smells at least a little bit of tit-for-tat over something Rafat wrote after mediabistro’s sale to Jupiter Media. Fishbowl says Content Next revenues in 2007 were $3 million, which it calls a “10+” valuation (I think they mean 10x), and ignores a few factors. Just as people during the mediabistro sale for $20 million plus a $3 million earn-out over two years quoted its revenues of a year earlier and ignored the 30-40 percent yearly growth as well as the inherent value of some of mediabistro’s assets (such as its list of more than 700,000 registered users, more than 10,000 of whom were paying members).

But even if CN’s valuation is lower than FishbowlNY is saying (they should, I think, subtract the earn-out to get a base value for the deal, which may be lower than $30 million) there are many reasons for it be high. One, as HighBeam and Newser.com CEO Patrick Spain noted to me on the phone yesterday, is the value of the core ContentNext audience -- media executives, decision makers with budgetary control. It also has a budding and growing group of conferences for which attendees pay hundreds of dollars admission to see even higher-profile execs speak (Murdoch, Cavuto...), a strong list of email recipients, high-profile business and financial advertisers it has cultivated and maintained for years, successful media properties in the U.S., U.K. and India (India!), a growing research component, and ContentNext Dex, a listing of media-tech stocks it has created and which serves as a technological bit of value. The participation of high-profile investor Alan Patricof, former WSJ.com GM Nathan Richardson as CEO, and, of course, editorial co-chief Staci Kramer, as well as a cadre of strong, international journalists who’ve stuck with the company for years, and a growing and successful sales team all adds up to value as well. The Guardian group, I’d say, bought the management as much as the company’s book assets, and I’d wager that the earn-out is larger than mb’s. Add, too, the U.K.-based Guardian group’s professed desire to go more international, the synergies with its other properties, the fact that it is a trust able to think and act more long-term than a typical public company, and there’s a lot of value to be wrung from its purchase of ContentNext beyond a typical times-revenue or even more cumbersome financial calculations, such as WACC. (I doubt there’s much if any debt on the CN’s books, and also doubt that capital structure played much of a role in the decision to buy it.)

I love mediabistro, where I’m proud to have serves as editorial director before the sale, and ContentNext, where I’ve helped in a couple different ways, and for the record my analysis here of both properties is from publicly available reports and discloses no private details. Mediabistro’s audience of media professionals is and was, like CN’s, worth a lot more than an average consumer audience. Rafat duly noted in his interview with Kara Swisher after his company’s sale that it does cost quite a penny to produce their brand of journalism: “We’re a news media business on the Internet, but we’re not a consumer Internet company. We will never be.”

While it’s impressive that he got $30 million for the company so soon after Patricof invested, and in the midst of looking for a second round of funding, one eyebrow raiser from the Swisher interview is the speed with which the deal took place: “It all came to be in three weeks,” Rafat says, something he repeats on ScribeMedia.org, which is, full disclosure, a partner in Naked Media.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: media industry

July 14, 2008

Random News, No Preference

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

For the upcoming episode of Naked Media, I’ll be speaking with Patrick Spain and Michael Wolff, co-founders of Newser.com. Preparing one of the “fun” segments of the show, we went out on the street this morning and asked about a dozen people of all ilks where they get their news. Once again (as with our segment on Twitter), I’m reminded that we in the biz need to remind ourselves that “normal” people don’t focus on a lot of the things that obsess us. A number of folks who looked to be in their twenties and thirties said they didn’t bother with the Internet, and instead go for free newspapers or TV. Or perhaps check NYTimes.com and nothing else. Most didn’t know, whether they were looking at the Web or TV, what “brand” of news they were consuming, though some did refer to a specific TV channel by number (‘I watch channel 5”) or just “my email” or “The Internet” or, perhaps, “AOL.” No one in our non-car culture here in New York mentioned radio.

No one talked about the “experience” and only one guy (a ringer from Scribe Media who was happening by) talked about RSS feeds or doing any personalized aggregation, or using any new technologies. None seemed terribly able to say why they watched one channel or Web site over another. It all seemed rather random and haphazard, that folks just happened upon a channel, whether TV or Web, and stuck with whatever they were fed. Few expressed a strong preference for any news or information brand.

You can write and shoot and brand and produce your heart out. But whether your stuff gets seen might all come down to whether your bizdev folk got the headline on the AOL or Yahoo homepages.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Internet

July 2, 2008

You Can't Have it Both Ways

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Posted by Dorian Benkoil

In spite of all the new ability to measure. digital media also present new challenges in figuring out what works. This thought gelled for me during a Naked Media discussion with Erin Byrne and Ben Ezrick, both leading digital strategists, he for Ogilvy, she for Burson-Marsteller. We watched the Bronze Lion-winning but fake JC Penney ad that has finally been removed from YouTube after getting hundreds of thousands of views. The commercial was since withdrawn from the awards, apparently.

The video shows two teenagers "Speed Dressing," timing themselves as they put on their clothes after undressing to "get away with it" in the girl's basement -- a message a Penney marketing manager has said the company would never condone. But the company has also gotten a lot of notice for the ad, which, as The Wall Street Journal points out , may curry favor with more urban teens, especially on the coasts. So, for a mass brand like Penney, they condemn the ad. But they, perhaps, reap the benefits of the branding in a measurable way -- hundreds of thousand saw the video before it was pulled, and it's now available on other sites. Ezrick, in the Naked Media segment, points out that neither Penney nor its ad agency, Saatchi and Saatchi, have yet completely explained how the ad got to be entered in the Cannes awards contest, nor exactly how people affiliated with them were involved in producing the video.

Both Ezrick and Byrne point out that Penney can't have it both ways: If they genuinely don't condone the video, they need to investigate and reveal how it came to be to the best of their knowledge. If they had something to do with it, they must say so, and, if need be, apologize honestly for any discomfort or harm they may have caused. But what they can't do is reap the benefits of the video going viral and also be upset while they gain brand awareness. You also can't, in a digital age, segment audiences as you could in a previous era, showing one ad to the coasts, say, and another to "Middle America." Perhaps digital media means everything is outed, eventually. And that means we have to be more honest, or at least more consistent.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Advertising

Hard data confirms changes in Wall Street Journal’s news choices under Murdoch

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Posted by Ben Compaine

I really, really promise that I will not be stuck forever on what might be seen as a crusade about the change in the editorial mix of The Wall Street Journal since Rupert Murdoch took control. I don’t want to become the Ben-one-note on this as Lou Dobbs has become for his anti-immigration tirades.

Still, there is some news on the subject. I have written several times now about how the Journal has been devoting its front page to hot-off-the-press headlines that are essentially the same as what every other daily publishes: “Obama wins primary,” “Cyclone levels Sri Lanka.” This is a form of run-of-the-mill reporting to which the Journal brings little value added and, with earlier deadlines than most local dailies, perhaps less value.

But now comes some hard data—that’s what I like more than impressions—that does indeed confirm a substantial shift in the Journal’s editorial coverage since the change in ownership. The Project for Excellence in Journalism undertook a content analysis of the front page stories in the Journal for the four months before the December 12, 2007 date that News Corp. acquired control of Dow Jones, the parent of the WSJ and the three months following. Its finding was unambiguous:

In the first three months of Murdoch’s stewardship, the Journal’s front page has clearly shifted focus, de-emphasizing business coverage that was the franchise, while placing much more emphasis on domestic politics and devoting more attention to international issues.
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The before and after change is most dramatic in several areas, as seen in PEJ’s chart I’ve cribbed here. Political news is up four fold, reflecting the intense coverage of the primaries that in the past election cycles would have received less space (if only because until recently the Journal rarely devoted more than a single front page column to any story). The full report at the Project’s Web site also compares the “new” Journal’s editorial mix with that of The New York Times, which Murdoch is keen compete with. There are still substantial differences, with the Journal devoting more of its front page to foreign topics, business and economics, less to politics.

Jack Shafer, writing at Slate’s Press Box last month, made note of the PEJ data, but chose to focus on his more generalized impression that the Journal may indeed be better under Murdoch because “it was swinging hard again in its traditional wheelhouse to produce great enterprise journalism.” He proceeds in identifying some examples, all, indeed quality reporting in which the Journal has long excelled.

This may be wishful thinking on Jack's part. I hope not. He has certainly identified some fine-- and traditional -- Journal pieces. But I'm speculating that perhaps they stand out because, as Jack notes, the primary season is over, and there had been no devastating earthquakes or cyclones for a few weeks, and the presidential campaign was in pre-convention simmer. Indeed, in the midst of these fine articles was the front page on June 4, as Obama wrapped up the Democrat's nomination. It struck me immediately as I picked up the Journal and The Boston Globe from the driveway that the Journal article was readily interchangeable with the Globe (and other dailies) articles. In my analysis, every day the Journal wastes newsprint with such headlines, photos and copy is a day lost to do the type of journalism Jack is rightly trumpeting.

I’ve mentioned before
that I have great respect for Murdoch as a savvy businessman and as a risk taker who has made real contributions to the competitive landscape of the media.. My current critique is that the hot news approach is not a strategic direction that plays on the Journal’s long time strengths. To the contrary, it takes the paper on a path that daily newspapers should be trying to leave behind.

Ok. ‘Nuff said. I’ll leave this behind. If only Lou would move on from his obsession.


Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Media Competition | Newspapers | Strategy | media industry