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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.
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

Rebuilding Media

November 4, 2005

The media revolution in your pocket: wireless broadband inches forwardEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Bob Cauthorn

Over at Techworld, they're reporting on an astonishing wireless broadband product.

The magazine's reporters attended a demonstration of a wireless product capable of delivering blistering throughput -- better than 3Mbits -- over an 18-mile wide area using little power and unregulated frequencies.

On an apples-to-apples basis, the techonology claims to deliver 1,000 times more bandwidth than existing WiMax approaches.

Furthermore, the company that produces the product -- xG Technology in Florida -- says it can also deliver several megabits of bandwidth over short distances (40 feet) powered by as little as two nanowatts.

And from all appearances, the technology is able to deliver bandwidth to end-users at very low costs.

The company's claims are sufficiently astonishing to invite suspicions of a hoax. But if it is not a hoax and if there is no significant gotcha -- a big if -- what xG Technology is poised to deliver will revolutionize media. The company claims to have a deliverable product by the middle of next year.

Under any circumstances, eventually, we'll see widescale deployment of broadband wireless at affordable prices.

When that happens it will enable a generation of media products unlike any we've yet seen. It will transform television, publishing, movies and games. In terms of new ways of imagining content, it will be as big as the leap from radio to television.

Nearly all of our current thinking on media revolves around the notion of an audience in a fixed location and in fixed circumstances -- at home on the couch, at the office on the computer, in the movie theater, or in front of the game console, etc. Even radio, because it is not random access, assumes a fixed-circumstance listener -- in the car or, say, listening to internet radio

Broadband wireless -- once deployed and cheap enough to be widely adopted -- requires a radical rethinking for existing media even as it ushers in a host of new players. It invites us to conceive content products that are delivered just-in-time or that are geo-specific or circumstance-specific -- or a mashup of all three. Because you will be reaching people on the move and in varying circumstances, local knowledge bases will be king.

Media companies will have to ask themselves not just how many viewers or readers they have, but they will need to measure the footprint in their lives. Media companies will live and die by relevance rather than subsisting on habit as they do today.

None of these new approaches will usurp many traditional modes of media consumption. Certainly some functions today ill-served in today's static-circumstance model will migrate to broadband wireless. However, for the most part, this is a process of addition rather than subtraction on the content side.

Even though this change is coming at us with all the sublety of a freight train in a tunnel, almost no media company is preparing for the day. A hint on the first baby step: start getting your archives of content ready to present in a new form.

And there's this: while it will be a process of addition on the content side, the implications for advertising and commerce are a different matter.

A personal terminal connected to wireless broadband networks will permit the arrival of the ultimate advertising product. All existing advertising models will be turned upside down.

Movie sold out and can't decide what to do next? Check the listings on the move, listen to an MP3 of the artist performing in the jazz club down the street, make a choice and go.... And in point of fact, when the revolution arrives you will seldom encounter a sold-out movie -- you'll either have tickets waiting for you or be notified long before you hit the theater.

Checking out one car and want to compare it with a competitor's model instantly? Want to check the latest prices for a washing machine you're considering while you're in the store? See an attractive camcorder on sale but want to check what other owners say about it? You have two restaurants in front of you, which one has the better review? Done. Done. Done. And done.

If the xG Technology short-range approach works as promised, it will offer exciting prospects for narrow-casting location-specific broadband ads. Walking through a store, one might be able to browse through all kinds of enhanced content about the offerings for sale.

Plus there will be new presentation modes as well -- a publisher might well have wireless terminals installed around cities like ATMs. And the visual noise of billboards will reach a whole new level as they learn to shake their booty and animate themselves with internet content. The branding (and migraine inducing) potential is breathtaking for advertisers.

Of course, more advanced personal data terminal technology -- likely some form of electronic ink or flexible LCD -- will be important too. However, even the existing personal data terminals such as PDAs, Blackberries, laptops and cell phones will be good enough to start. Inevitably, Apple will dream up the iPod Communicator -- the uber chic design in personal data terminal -- and this will cement the transition.

So while presentation is important, it isn't the core issue here. Transport is. The media transformation can't begin without the efficient, inexpensive delivery of significant wireless bandwidth.

That's the big magilla. And no matter what, it's a problem that will be solved in the next couple of years. WiMax is OK, and if the xG Technology works, it's even better because it means the revolution starts next year.

Current wireless broadband options are fairly feeble. Technology with truly wide coverage barely provides real bandwidth. Existing high-bandwidth solutions have range issues and a host of practical impediments. That's why what's happening in Florida is so interesting. Even if xG winds up being vapor, affordable broadband wireless is coming. Bank on it.

Google gets this. The company clearly recognizes this will be the platform for advertising products to trump all others. That's why Google is so interested in providing municipal wireless. Magazines, radio, television and newspapers will see an exodus of advertisers in this direction once widely deployed.

And yet, almost anyone can play and prosper here if they are smart. It is by no means apparent that Google will win in this space, although clearly if you look at their product mix everything they're doing is getting ready for this day and the will be a power player.

The question for existing and new media companies is this: will they be ready when the revolution hits? History will be unkind to those asleep when this change arrives.

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October 21, 2005

Revenge of the telcos: "Content-based billing" software introducedEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Bob Cauthorn

As predicted here in August the FCC ruling that defined DSL providers as "information services" is getting closer to introducing a new wave of internet tariffs.

Today, the net is abuzz about a Bay-Area company -- Narus -- that has released software it claims can monitor traffic on a network to block -- or bill for -- specific types of traffic with a degree of detail heretofore impossible.

First on the list to traffic to monitor and block? Voice Over IP (VOIP) providers like Skype, naturally. Skype's customers sidestep phone tariffs and therefore sit squarely in the cross-hairs of the telcos and cable providers ...Don't want to have too much customer choice, do we?

Even more, Narus' prodigious claims for its software promise network providers the ability to charge for a whole range of traffic. Lovely.

I believe only about 1/3 of Narus's claimed functionality -- I'm skeptical about how it scales to widespread deployment -- but that scarcely matters. The brute force approach of port blocking alone can accomplish what the telcos/cable companies want without Narus' high-end schmutz.

The FCC could have prevented all this, but it chose deliberately to let the big companies tighten their lock on the market. Indeed, in a dazzling moment of doublespeak, it claimed the ruling was "pro-consumer" choice even as the beneficiaries of decision where planning on choking off competitors.

How many carriers will deploy Narus' software? No one knows. But this first shot across the bow on tariffed traffic suggests a new -- and vastly more expensive -- internet could be on the way.

Smart content providers would be well-advised to keep a close eye on this. It's well within the realm of possibility that a national telco in Europe will try to charge, say, Amazon or CNN a fee for inbound traffic originating from their networks.

Of course, none of this will happen without a fight to keep the net free. As the battle warms up, we'll all get to pick a side: in this corner Narus, select network providers and their pet politicians determined to make the net less free, in that corner everyone else in the ever-loving world.

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October 14, 2005

Does e-paper mean moving pictures for magazines?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Bob Cauthorn

The always with-it Guardian as an article on E-paper -- essentially super thin, super cheap LCD screens -- that promise to bring moving pictures to printed media.

Interestingly, people aren't talking about it as an E-Ink competitor. My guess is that E-Ink wins the resolution and power consumption battle while the new E-paper offers faster refresh rates (hence video). I certainly would like to understand better how they imagine providing power to the magazines using E-Paper.

But no matter what, the the prospects for new display technology just got a lot more interesting.

Assuming the prices quoted in the articles are right, you can also expect to see moving picture billboards in cities within two years. Visual noise everywhere. Motion sickness served hot and fresh on every corner. The whole world looking like Times Square....It's just all so Bladerunner, isn't it?

Of course, many of us can be forgiven if a future city stitched from a mosaic of thousands of TV screens inspires a "stop the future, I want to get off" moment.

In any event, this looks like interesting technology. Certainly we can expect fashion magazines be early adopters. For other media, the prospects it raises for new narrative forms and new advertising models are striking.

It's also a boon for people drafting sign-code legislation...

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October 7, 2005

Delaware Supremes extend First Amendment Protection to online commentsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Bob Cauthorn

The Delaware Supreme Court yesterday delivered what one hopes is a watershed decision when it definitively extended First Amendment protections to an anonymous blog poster who attacked an elected town councilman in Smyrna, Del.

More importantly, the court set the bar high because the unknown posters' comments were filled with obscenities and innuendo about the councilman, Patrick Cahill. That's the bright line for significant First Amendment rulings -- when you see judges protecting loathesome speech, you know they're serious.

A PDF of the rulling may be found here. Download it. Frame it. Savor it.

Considering the drift in our nation lately, one gets the feeling that certain people -- and pretty much everyone in the Bush administration -- have forgotten that America is about inconvenient freedoms.

Convenient freedoms are easy. They cost nothing and they withstand no assault. Standing up for the inconvenient freedoms in the most difficult times is what defines you as a patriot.

Every member of the Delaware Supreme Court deserves a kiss on the cheek today for reminding us that this is America, afterall.

A lower court had held that poster's ISP, Comcast, should be compelled to release the name of the person who submitted the offensive remarks to the blog.

An interesting twist is that the protection was extended to mere comments in the blog. Even more intriguing, the remarks sent to the Smyrna-Clayton Public Issues blog run a newspaper company: the Delaware State News. The poster, "John Doe 1," was represented by the ACLU, of course.

Finally, in one of those moments that makes you happy that the world exists in all its raw peculiarity, Delaware Online alleges that pretty much everyone in Smyrna believes that the anonymous poster was none other than the mayor himself.

Oh, let this marvelous irony trickle down your cheeks like sweet peach juice on a summer day while you smile stupidly at the sheer joy of being alive. Yes, yes, yes: it might have been a public official himself who created the curse-filled rant that led to the lawsuit that clearly establishes the precedent that other public officials may be subjected to further (heartfelt) curse-filled rants from constituents. Forevermore!

That, dear friends, is why we should wave our flags high today. When we protect this kind of speech, all the rest is a trifle.

Additional background can be found in these remarks from a lawyer about the lower court's decision to compel Comcast to reveal the name of the anonymous poster. It was that decision that the Delaware Supremes reversed yesterday.

In the ruling, Delaware Chief Justice Myron Steele wrote that the internet was "a unique democratizing medium unlike anything that has come before" and compared blogging on the net to the pampleteers of old.

The comparison is apt -- indeed, I've made it in the past myself. It's worthwhile remembering that the pampleteers of the American 17th and 18th century, often working entirely alone, laid the groundwork for modern news organizations and the press freedoms we now enjoy. And those pamphleteers were anything but polite.

Steele continued: "We are concerned that setting the standard too low will chill potential posters from exercising their First Amendment right to speak anonymously...The possibility of losing anonymity in a future lawsuit could intimidate anonymous posters into self-censoring their comments or simply not commenting at all."

In a variety of lower court cases, it appeared that contemporary courts are reluctant to extend established press protections with regard to commenting on public officials, etc. to individual bloggers. The troubling suggestion has been that these protections apply if you're a media company but not if you are an individual.

Equally troubling, many of the nation's leading media companies largely have been absent from the fight. They appear to have little interest in helping to secure for individuals the same protections they enjoy as companies. When Apple goes after a blogger for posting a legitimate news item about new products, the nations media should rise up as one to fight on behalf of the blogger.

This is the first time a high court in America has clearly extended the same protections to individuals posting on the net -- specifically with respect to libel and defamation -- as enjoyed by the traditional press. Furthermore the language of the decision suggests that all meaningful press protections should be extended to individuals on the net. This ruling will be cited in trials across America and it will prove to be very influential.

Certainly with outstanding issues like shield laws and the like, there is still much work to do and many more precedents to establish. And some of this might wind up in the US Supreme Court , although I would be amazed if they had the gall to reverse the reasoning in the Delaware opinion.

That work is for another day, though. For the moment, the dancing in the street may now commence.

In Delaware, they've got some heroes on the bench.

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September 25, 2005

Live blogging yoga, community service or the downward dog of PR?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Bob Cauthorn

When you get an e-mail from Susan Mernit, you simply must pay attention. She's a dynamo and one of the True Good Folks of the fresh wave of media.

This message, about the live blogging of a conference sponsored by Yoga Journal magazine, intrigued the hell out of me. It was an e-mail blast -- not a bit of personalization -- in which Susan alerted everyone on her contact list about her live blogging effort for the conference.

Apparently, the Colorado conference is a big deal because one of the sainted figures of western yoga, B.K.S.Iyengar, will be honored. The blogging plans include all manner of multimedia streaming geegaws, text of course, and you know, the usual. So far, so good.

I imagine the streaming geegaws will be essential because, unless you stream something, a yoga conference blog threatens to consist of one blissed-out text confessional after another. A pure text blog likely winds up packed with entries about how "I felt I was in the presence of the greater grandness of the harmonious metauniverse..."

That's fine for the participants, but generally speaking satori is between the individual and the universe. I'm not clear on how blogging helps in that regard.

Worst case: you're experiencing bliss and you immediately fire up a web browser? How messed up is that? Next thing you know Google will market instant satori as a web service. Exploits just around the corner from the script kiddies... Dude, there's a buffer overrun exploit for Google Satori (tm).

Of course, Google being Google, the Satori product would be in permanent beta. And I kind of like that idea of satori always being in beta. Sweet. But I digress (in beta).

While there will certainly be a little shared text bliss, it looks like the main point of the Yoga Journal blogs will be to allow remote visitors to experience bits of the conference for themselves. And that's a wonderful thing. Here you find a magazine that is trying to stay in direct touch with its readers. Yoga Journal deserves applause for the inspiration.

Susan's point in her e-mail -- and it's a good one -- is that live blogging is a staple of the tech conference so why not make it a staple of other kinds of conferences?

That said, too often the official tech conference blogs (as opposed to independent, unsanctioned, live blogging) wind up as little more than PR devices for the conference organizers and tend to get filled with unvarnished promotion of product launches, etc.

The irony of it is that legitimate publications -- like Yoga Journal or computer magazines -- are often the sponsors of the events. If they let live blogs become wholesale PR machines, they toss media ethical issues out the window. However it's a young field and, as such, mistakes are made. Mistakes that can be righted.

At the moment, the notion of "official" live blogging nearly ensures that we're going to get PR. Unless, that is, we get something that looks like community service. That could be the case here. From the perspective of a Yoga Journal reader, even a PR laden "official blog" is likely going to be of interest and welcome. It's a self-identified community, so a little pro-yoga spin isn't going to hurt anyone, right?

Yet, there this: Yoga Journal organized this conference to make money, so what's the likelihood of someone posting an entry that says they felt ripped off? Zilch.

You need the balance of a yogi to determine whether this is a good, honest exercise or callous marketing disguised as frank discussion. Because Mernit is involved you can simply assume the best and I'll place my bet on it being an honest exercise any day. But the overall issue remains.

As live blogging of events develops, it would be nice to see a high premium set on "official" event blogs including disparate independent voices. At the last Democratic and Republican conventions live bloggers from all political stripes worked their trade. But that was a result of an open press-credential process. Private conferences are not obliged to play by those rules. But private conferences run by media companies should gladly hold themselves to these requirements.

Going forward, transparency from private events run by media companies will be important. I'm not sure the Yoga Journal blog could find a detractor. I mean, how can anyone be against yoga per se? However, one might be against the business of yoga today. I don't know.

Ultimately, only the social pressure from readers will ensure that live event blogging remains honest, open and adhers to the same ethical demands of regular journalism.

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September 21, 2005

Newspapers, meet precipice: It's the product, stupidEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Bob Cauthorn

They call it Black Tuesday at the New York Times and Boston Globe where the layoffs come because the margins are squeezed.

The don't even have a name for the buy-outs at the defiantly anti-margin San Francisco Chronicle, where leadership can neither grow revenue nor circulation and thus always loses money.

Staff reductions are also taking place in Philadelphia, and more soon at a newspapers near you.

It's only September. For real fun, wait until October hits. You see, September and March are when the audit periods take place for the all-important "Publishers Circulation Statement" at newspapers across America. The September statement is published in October and those results are what support ad rates.

Just so there's no October Surprise for Corante readers, here's next month's headlines today: In October metro newspapers across the country will post astonishing year-over-year declines.

The circulation fall-off at large metro papers will be between 9% and 15%. Smaller market and mid-sized market newspapers will fair slightly better. But across America, the average decline will be somewhere between 3% and 5% year-over-year.

Those bleak numbers will be a best-case scenario. Why? Katrina. Newspapers are the accidental beneficiary of the the Gulf Coast's torment -- readers eager for Katrina news in September will provide an offset to even the darker baseline circulation in the month. Katrina won't help much, though, because it's mostly a television and web story.

When the circulation numbers hit, general industry panic will ensue because they come at a time when advertisers finalize budgets for 2006. National advertisers, in particular will recoil from metro newspapers' inability to sustain readership, much less grow it. Advertisers bet the winner. Newspapers are not acting like winners right now.

As advertisers chill, the pundits will get worked into a lather. It has already started in one quarter. And financial analysts, formerly sanguine because even weak newspapers deliver a decent margin, are sharpening their knives too. Warren Buffet himself looks to be cooling on the sector, despite his massive holding in the Washington Post.

Faced with admitting that readers duck and cover as newspapers get thrown at them, the industry will provide spin and false comfort. It will talk about "high quality readership" and suggest the fall-off is really because newspapers are dumping low-quality (i.e. free or sponsored) fake circulation.

Ummm, does that mean advertisers will get a refund from an industry that sold ads based on what it now admits was hallucinogenic circulation? No? Didn't think so.

The "high-quality readership" blather gets scary when you ponder it at length. But we'll leave that for another day.

The pro-industry spin will talk about combining web-site and print readers, which is disingenuous in exactly 1,465 ways. For example, does someone from Islamabad dipping in for one story on your web site have equal value to a seven-day-a- week local print subscriber? No? I'm shocked!

Nationally, the average time people spend on newspaper web sites is under four minutes. Clearly, people are reading a story or two and leaving. That's not to say that online readership doesn't matter -- hell, online readership is my religion -- but let's be honest about how people use newspaper web sites. You can't transform the media by lying to yourself about it.

To put the cherry on top of the "bad news is really good news" sundae, the industry will talk about "platform shift."

Good old platform shift. It's a popular idea among editors who, in reality, couldn't attract a new reader with a free back massage.

The notion of platform shift -- people moving from print to web just, you know, because -- is a comfort to the media establishment as it suggests people still really, really, really love their product, they're just selecting a different distribution mechanism.

Nonsense. The platform shift doctrine is a dangerous -- and for some media companies, ultimately fatal -- illusion that blinds the industry to necessary changes in the core product. Platform shift is the argument for the status quo: We don't have to do anything different. We don't have to change. We just take our super-wonderful content and shove it down a different pipe and everyone can retire happy.

Hey, platform shift is a no-brainer! Problem is, you need brains now to save newspapers. Active brains. Big ones. With fresh ideas and no fear.

Why? Because as readers flee and advertisers follow and confused newspaper executives fiddle with their Blackberries the one thing that almost certainly won't be discussed as the cause for readership decline will be the product itself.

Of course, there is statistical support for the platform shift argument. Study after study demonstrates that readers are replacing print media with online readership of essentially the same content. The results are irrefutable. And these results are damned comforting if you're after business-as-usual.

Unless, of course, one steps back and challenges the context in which the studies take place.

All of these studies -- sincere as they are -- have a pre-defined outcome. Of course people replace print with the same content online because they have no other option today. Nearly all online efforts of print companies are little more than shovelware. Media companies have not provided meaningful product differentiation between print and the web, leaving aside the odd multimedia package here and there.

Newspapers, in particular, position their online offerings as perfect substitutions for their print products and then they knit their brow at the results. Platform shift? Try platform monotony instead.

The spin of the traditional media continues: "It's really all about brand anyway. We're a trusted brand and we'll blast that brand at you through any hose you want. Brand, brand, brand...."

Business thinking tends to run in generational cycles. For the last 15 years or so, the fashion in business thinking has focused on the ascendency of The Brand. Instead of being product oriented, modern companies tend to be brand driven. There are precious few companies left that fuse the two orientations -- think Apple, which defines itself entirely by its products and thus gets a brilliant brand in the process.

Brand logic is the bulwark of defending the status quo. Product logic is where the revolution comes.

When it comes to a war between products and brands, products almost always win in the end.

A few examples:


  • Ford and Chevrolet had the great brands in the 1960s. In the 1970s, the Japanese ate Detroit's well-branded lunch by focusing on products
  • Sun Microsystems assured us it was the "dot in dot.com" and could rightfully claim to be at the core of the early internet. But the company collapsed becaue its products didn't meet the needs of the marketplace. We all used Sun. And then we all stopped using Sun. And now, some us are returning to Sun again because -- amazingly -- it is becoming a product-oriented company once more.
  • Sony was exciting when it was all about products. It became passe and complacent when it started to think too much about what the Sony brand meant. Now Sony is in a panic because while it's still "the lifestyle company" it has discovered that innovation is thwared by brand logic. Sony tosses in its sleep mumbling: "Apple. Ipod. Samsung. Apple. Ipod. Apple. Apple. Apple."
  • Microsoft has one of the best-known brands in the world and yet finds itself flailing against the open source movement, which is all about product.
  • And indeed, the internet itself is all about products. The notion of brand in this space is much more fluid than it is in other places. Brands don't confer protection on the net, products do.

More or less, you start talking about brands when you don't want do anything new. New ideas chase their own outcomes and sometimes those outcomes are corrosive to the brand. Tough.

Traditional media in general, and newspapers in particular, shall pay a grievous price for excessive brand consciousness. In a worldview filtered by brand, it's logical to take what you do in print and plaster it unaltered online. In a brand-driven universe, constistency matters above all. Don't want to violate that brand promise, do we?

And if print readers migrate to the web because you've given them nothing else to do, at least the brand is intact.

Or it will be until barbarian products arrive to sack your neat little branded cities.

So what if....

...newspapers were to become product focused rather than brand focused? The old modes of thinking will crumble. The print problem and the digital opportunity will be viewed as separate, but entwined, issues.

Digital media will be recognized for exactly what it is: a full medium in its own right, with its own internal logic, unique advantages, specific shortcomings and opportunities. Newspaper companies will begin to ask the proper questions about digital media, instead of simply mumbling about cannibalization and print.

What are the right questions? Just a few starters: what form should storytelling take online, what is the natural and robust role the community plays, what does geo-focused and just-in-time news delivery look like, does data presentaion itself become a story, what does true interactivity looks like, how can the social conversation be distributed now, what level of personalization is valuable and what level is numbing to the intellect, how can digital media provide real value to local advertisers?

A product-driven newpspaper would look at digital media and say, what can we do differently here and how does the digital product differentiate itself from a print product?

A product-driven newspaper would look hard at its print results and come to the only sane conclusion possible: readers leave print because the print product is broken. It's not a product people want, so they walk away from it. They happen to walk to the web because, well, to date the industry has offered nothing more than a straight-up replacement.

Rather than shrugging and saying "it's just the web's fault" serious questions need to be asked about the print product. Print still works when editors and publishers -- who need to start accepting real accountability -- deliver the right product.

Across the world, people return to revived print products. You see it when formats change to compact, you see it when newspapers return to locally focused news (like the "20 Minutes" newspapers in Europe), you see it when upstart free newspaper products arrive and topple the 100-year-old brands of the incumbent newspaper.

A clever newspaper makes its online product do one thing and its print product do something else. Some players are finally moving in that direction. Example: the Denver Post and its smart effort at hyper-local online news.

Proper differentiation between print and online products encourages people to use both. The industry's current direction of creating undifferentiated products simply ensure readers will switch media.

If newspapers fix their print products circulation will grow -- change format, revive local coverage, alter the hierarchical approach to the news, open the ears of the newsrooms and get reporters back on the street where they belong. If you want to get really daring, re-imagine print newspapers as a three-day a week product rather than as a seven-day a week product.

As a practical matter, print newspapers only make money three days a week anyway. Imagine the interplay between a seven day a week digital product and a densely focused (and wildly profitable) three-day a week print product . Each doing different things. Each serving readers and advertisers in different ways.

Unfortunately, it appears the brand fetish/platform shift paradigm is the dominant one right now. No less than the New York Times itself is promoting this view of the world. And of course, Tuesday's layoffs demonstrated the inevitable payoff of this old-world thinking.

Newspapers, meet precipice.

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September 13, 2005

Austin American-Statesman gets it right with bloggingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Bob Cauthorn

A while back I created a mini-firestorm by challenging the establishment media wisdom that major publishers and broadcasters can honestly blog.

My basic point -- to the howls of some in the media who have a direct stake in staff-written "blogs" -- was that mainstream media blogging is just publishing as it has always been conducted. Tarting up short-form staff content to look like something different doesn't make it truly new. And no, reader comments alone aren't enough. Those are just letters-to-the-editor version 2.0. Besides, look how few comments most staff blogs evoke.

In point of fact, I should probably amend the original remarks a bit -- some of the media's Katrina blogs where vibrant, compelling and fresh. However, outside of a disaster, staff blogs are just business as usual for the media.

Worse, by assuming that "now we're interactive, we've done our job, check that off the list" the staff-blogging media misses vitally important new ways of telling stories online. And they will lose an opportunity to reconnect with their traditional audience while there is still enough of an audience left to matter.

I'm happy to report that the Austin American-Statesman and its Austin360.com portal site get gets it right with a new blogging effort. (update: I posted an incorrect link previously: here is the link to the community blogs The link above points to the American-Statesman's -- sigh, more of the same -- staff blogs. Go to the community space instead, that's where the action is.)

The American-Statesman's community blogs are not just a little right, they're enormously right.

Instead of throwing up ever more ways of reading the same old voices, the newspaper invites anyone in the community to post their very own blogs to the site -- words, pictures, viewpoints untainted by any interest other than those of the writer.

This is proper. This is smart. This is what must be done if newspapers intend to refresh their relationship with readers.

Remember, the underlying electricity of this moment in time involves involves distributing the conversation about our world, not dominating it as traditional media models dictate.

Unfortunately, the American-Statesman buries the content on a too-busy site. A pity, that.

A better move would be to place it front and center and make a very big deal out of it. This is an important moment for the newspaper and the community and the site design should reflect that importance.

The newspaper made an interesting decision by using a company named Pluck.com to power the blogs. I'm not sure why they went that route when there are so many great open-source blogging tools out there. However, it could be that Pluck brings enough management value to the table to make paying them worthwhile. Not my problem, in any event. I'm just happy to see a newspaper doing this right.

Good on them. By taking this step, the city of Austin has been put on notice that its newspaper intends to be part of the life of the community -- in an open and passionate way -- for a long time to come. All it took was the simple, generous and brave act of inviting others to speak...

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September 6, 2005

A prototype of your new best friend...Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Bob Cauthorn

OK, you can burn $50 million to $100 million on building a modern printing press/distribution center for a medium-sized publishing outfit. But, like, why?

Ubiquitous Wi-Fi (or Wi-Max or whatever, pick one) will spread cheap connectivity far and wide. And your new best friend will look something like this, from Philips and E-Ink.

For years, many of us have been awaiting the deployment of inexpensive electronic ink to transform modern publishing. And after lots of fits and starts, it looks like the time is pretty damned nigh.

The scrolling format of the Phillips device -- harkening to Chinese printing from 2,000 years ago, cool! -- is a particularly interesting approach. Now, imagine this device in your pocket silently downloading restaurant reviews of places within walking distance....

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Yahoo accused of outing Chinese reporterEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Bob Cauthorn

Reporters Without Borders has accused Yahoo! of revealing to the Chinese government the name of the author of an e-mail about press restrictions in China. Said author has been summarily convicted and jailed in China, according to Reporters Without Borders.

The dissident journalist, Shi Tao, apparently used Yahoo! mail to send the e-mail and Yahoo! is accused of handing over his name to authorities. Why? Because Yahoo! has significant interests in building business in China.

If the charges are true, it's a telling failure on Yahoo's part. Media Companies know what it means to exert cultural weight and know that sometimes you have to make decisions that are bad for business simply because they are the right thing to do ethically. Or at least, we hope media companies understand that -- sometimes the modern media landscape does shake that faith a trifle.

On a fundamental level, tech companies still don't realize that as they semi-kinda-really-sorta-maybe-yep-it's-true morph into media companies they must assume certain profound social responsibilities. These responsibilities include not outing dissident voices to the authorities, no matter how good it is for business.

Despite recent appearances, being a media company is not a game for the cowardly or people with flexible ethics.

Tech companies' lack of awareness here raises scary prospects in other realms, which we'll visit later this week in a post about social networks.

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August 8, 2005

Friday's FCC ruling could usher in new internet tariffsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Bob Cauthorn

On Friday, the FCC decided to ease regulation on broadband services (DSL and cable modems, in the main) by designating them as "information services." Because media now relies on networking, the effects of this change could touch all media consumers and providers over time,

Smacking of newspeak, the FCC decision was couched in language that made it look like a gesture in favor of internet freedom, when it fact it was really about expanding telco power with respect to DSL and broadband networks.

Effectively, telcos are no longer required to allow competitors (such as Speakeasy) direct access to telco lines at reasonable, regulated rates. In fact, telcos no longer have to grant access to competitors at all. And if the competitors can access the telco lines, they can't serve consumers.

The ruling -- which will certainly be fought -- threatens to reduce the amount of broadband competition considerably.

Aside from the prospect of paying more for broadband access, media consumers will face another creepy threat going forward: providers blocking certain ports and/or charging extra for access to certain ports.

Each internet service (e-mail, web access, internet telephony etc) communicates via a specific "port" and if you block a particular port at the network level, users can't access that particular type of service. Thus, if a telco blocks access to port 80, its users can't access the web.

Port blocking or additional tariffs would be controversial, for sure. Such efforts might invite re-regulation. Yet, some telcos might feel it is worth the risks.

For example, internet telephony certainly is deeply frightening (no long distance charges!) to some telcos. Why not block the ports used by internet telephony pioneers like Skype to render the service worthless? (Meanwhile, Skype is reportedly in talks about being acquired by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. I wonder how that's going today now that the US market has changed...)

Likewise if you're a cable company and you feel that a Netflix download service might cut into your pay-per-view revenue, why not block those ports or charge more for accessing any Netflix port?

The FCC has frowned on such internet rudeness to date. Not long ago, it sanctioned a regional telco for blocking access to internet telephony provider Vonage. But that was under the old rules, though, and as of Friday the FCC has significantly less leverage to repeat such sanctions. In other words, it will be able to do little more than frown going forward.

There are ways around port blocking, Indeed internet telephony is more sophisticated in this respect than most services, But port blocking workarounds are difficult to implement effectively on any large scale for consumers.

Until now, competition prevented network providers from blocking ports. For instance, while file sharing is a huge bandwidth hog any company trying to limit it or charge for it would watch its subscriber base vanish to competitors.

It's generally true that competition and technology are driving bandwidth costs toward zero. In such a climate, network providers could find the notion of a tiered internet rate card extremely appealing. Internet telephony, movie download services, gaming, music and file-sharing could be the first targets for add-in pricing for consumers.

Large web players, such as Amazon, have expressed concerns about the FCC change too. It appears they fear telcos or cable comapnies will decide to charge web service providers for the right to access customers in the telco's service area. Under this scenario, web access over port 80 to, say, Amazon.com or the New York Times would be metered and telcos would charge Amazon and the NYT when customers surf their sites.

As a practical matter, I consider this unlikely. But it's certainly not impossible. In a landscape of fewer competitors, those who remain can dictate terms.

According to Reuters, the FCC made pains to point out that the it really, really, really, really, super-duper, honest-to-god hopes no telco or cable giant takes advantage of the situation....

"The Federal Communications Commission issued a statement of principles that encourages providers of broadband to allow consumers access to any Internet content and applications they want."
....even as it removed the regulatory requirements that ensured healthy competition.

I suppose that in the FCC world view, impeding competition and reviving service monopolies while issuing statements of principles will naturally stimulate selfless corporate behavior. Telcos are traditional models of restraint, right?

For competitors like Skype or Speakeasy, the world just got a whole lot more complicated.

Historically, telcos seldom rush to exploit regulatory changes. That would look too much like opportunistic gloating and besides rushing to make changes invites political backlash. And telcos just don't move fast at anything. Instead, they'll wait until the news dies down and start step-wise changes. We'll learn their real intentions over the next 12-18 months.

For the moment, the competition between cable internet services and telco DSL could help keep any per service tariffs in check. There we go again: relying on that quaint American notion that competition keeps markets lively. The FCC demonstrated on Friday it lacks an appetite for keeping competition lively when massive corporate interests are at stake.

Of course, one can expect this ruling to meet brisk court and legislative challenges from the competitors of telco/cable companies. Consumer groups will likely jump into the fray as well.

In the end, it's hard to believe the ruling won't be significantly amended to ensure competition as matter of policy, not just principle. As this gets sorted out one hopes for quick deployment of other technologies like WIMAX to provide additional broadband alternatives.

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August 3, 2005

Are metro papers outdated? Unofficial Local coverage day continues at Rebuilding mediaEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Bob Cauthorn

My fellow Corante denizen Vin Crosbie was on NPR today talking and posting about citizen journalism's impact on local and hyperlocal coverage.

One portion of the terrific discussion grabbed my attention because it leads me once again to the belief that the scale of the metro newspaper has become a central liability of today's press.

Vin and Marc Glaser from the Online Journalism Review both touched on the idea that local coverage has been diminished primarily as result of steady newsroom cutbacks over the last 40 or 50 years.

For my part, I remain unconvinced by the evidence that cutbacks were the main cause for reduction in local (and hyperlocal) coverage.

Certainly, cutbacks contributed to the decline, but newsroom appetites also played a major role. In too many newsrooms, the sex appeal of good local coverage evaporated. Reporters and editors didn't think local coverage was a path to career advancement.

But there this too: urbanization played an enormous part in the decline of local coverage.

American metro areas are now sufficiently complicated for one to ask whether any single news organization can truly cover them. Naturally, that's where citizen journalism shall contribute meaningfully. Nonetheless, the rise of citizen journalism should not, as Vin points out, let traditional media off the hook when it comes to local efforts.

There is an object lesson -- in print no less -- that good things happen if newspapers focus on local coverage. It also reveals much about scale issues.

In San Francisco, the Examiner -- with a reporting staff of six -- beats the Chronicle on SF coverage virtually every weekday. And that's despite the Chronicle's rich resources: it has one of the largest newsrooms for its circulation size in America.

How does the Examiner do it? It focuses its slender resources entirely on San Francisco proper, uses wire stories for national and
international coverage and seldom concerns itself with the larger Bay Area. The Chronicle meanwhile is self-identified as a metro paper for the region -- and as practiced that definition assumes it can't cover any specific area in depth.

With each passing day, readers in San Francisco embrace the new Examiner specifically because it covers local matters more aggressively and more creatively. Plus, the word on the street is that if you approach the Examiner with a local story idea, you actually might see it in print. That's impressive. Just for giggles, try approaching a typical metro with a story idea sometime.

Thus, the metro daily's putative lack of interest in hyperlocal coverage opens up a market segment that a smaller, but still very traditional, rival gleefully exploits.

But is the newspaper actually uninterested in local coverage or is the real problem built into the structure of today's metro newspaper?

I suspect the latter. If the Examiner experiment succeeds, the deeper message is that the metro newspaper concept is futile and outdated.

Like a cartoon character with its legs spinning wildly while it gets exactly nowhere, the metro paper can't find traction these days.

It used to be the metro daily was a regionwide source for national and international news and lots of lifestyle and cultural coverage. It was also the "prestige paper" in the market. Now the net delivers all these types of news better and media prestige just ain't what it used to be, ya know?. Meanwhile, smaller, more nimble players deliver local news better and definitely serve local advertisers more effectively.

True, metro papers have the resources to fund "big journalism" -- sending reporters overseas, devoting staff to investigatve work, etc. But cutbacks are affecting that too and the quality of "big journalism" lately has left much to be desired.

The metros remaining strength stems from this: national advertisers find them convenient. But if they sour on metro newspapers, and signs suggest that is starting, then a reckoning will be at hand.

As our cities have grown, metro newspapers evolved with them. That brought a necessary giantism -- giant presses, giant distribution mechanisms, giant staffs. And because of the size of the enterprise, metros require giant advertising revenues to stay afloat.

Simple biology: giant creatures always require more food from their ecosystems. That also means there is a maximum size that giants can reach before their ecosystems collapse.

Plus, giants tend to begin to miss the small; the small stories certainly, and even the small advertisers. When you are a giant, the national revenues from a General Motors or a Proctor& Gamble make more sense than the local revenues of the dry cleaner.

Yet people live, even in a metro area, on an intimate scale. Their lives are are made up of neighborhoods, and local shops and the fate of schools and all the delicate subtleties arranged around us.

Unfortunately the size of those delicate subtleties fail to move a giant. It's almost a physical problem -- giants just can't see things smaller than a certain size.

And so, for a newspaper like the San Franciso Chronicle or the Los Angeles Times or any metro daily, it becomes easier to send a reporter to cover a giant story like Iraq than it is to send a someone to figure out why one intersection in a city has more traffic accidents than any other.

Of course, citizen journalism lends itself to the small and hence the excitement over what is happening in that space. Communities will have their stories told. That's an eternal truth. If one entity refuses to tell the stories, in time another shall.

Perhaps we should now begin asking whether there is a maximum size that a newspaper can achieve before it outgrows its ecosystem and begins to fail its community.

This concept runs counter to every instinct in a newsroom or publisher's suite where the fundamental logic dictates that bigger is always better. Yet the smartest business move at this juncture might be to break up metro papers into a suite of smaller newspapers serving the same geographic area, but with very different goals -- celebrate local stories, re-discover local advertiers. Keep a tiny super-structure of the old metro in place to support some "big journalism" efforts and facilitate national ad buys across the local titles.

Clearly the lame efforts at zoned editions at metro papers haven't succeeded. Zoning was always more about revenues than coverage anyway.

Let's talk about real structural change instead: partition the giants. Maybe the LA Times should actually be broken into three or four or five distinct papers to better cover the market one giant lumbers across today. If you did it smartly, you could still retain many of the economic benefits of large scale while gaining the focus of smaller organizations.

Of course it won't happen. There are too many embedded interests that will prevent it. What editor or publisher wants to see his or her kingdom divided and part of it given to another? Sure, it might make the best long-term business sense, it might make the most sense for readers or advertisers. But giants don't cede their size without a fight.

Instead, we should keep our eyes open as multiple, small upstarts -- ala the Examiner -- arrive to do the local job the metro daily refuses to complete. Add citizen journalism to that mix and you get a spectrum of media that is downright hopeful.

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August 1, 2005

Prudential examines newspapers circulation numbersEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Bob Cauthorn

Editor and Publisher has two stories on Prudential Securities' efforts to keep a close eye on the way newspapers manage circulation numbers in a climate of overall reader flight from the product.

Behind the upbeat headlines -- "Quality circulation is on the rise!" -- the overall circulation trend is bleak. Indeed, the headline itself is misleading: you can only say "quality circulation" is on the rise as a proportion vs. the number of nearly free (and utterly unrequested) copies newspapers throw at readers to prop up the circ figures. Using less crap circulation might make the percentage of "quality" greater in the overall pie, but it's not the same as growing full-paid circulation, which continues to drop in real terms.

Pay close attention to some of the language in this this one at E&P as well. The LA Times paid home circ is down 18% and single copy sales were off 9% year-over-year according to Prudential. Wow.

Lastly, pay very close attention to any discussion of the "third party sales" numbers -- copies free to readers but paid for by others -- as this practice is a time bomb in the industry.

Prudential has a great interest in this particular means of inflating circulation and so, if rumors are to believed, do federal prosecutors in New York. After the September auditing period -- basically, the "sweeps" season for newspapers -- some very distressing numbers are likely to be revealed.

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July 31, 2005

Posner on Media PolarizationEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Bob Cauthorn

Federal Appeals Court Judge, and blogger, Richard A. Posner has written an intriguing essay on media polarization that can be found here on the New York Times web site (registration, yada, yada).

It's thoughtful and honest and a nicely written work. At one point he says:


"Challenging areas of social consensus, however dumb or even vicious the consensus, is largely off limits for the media, because it wins no friends among the general public. The mainstream media do not kick sacred cows like religion and patriotism."

...and a few paragraphs later...

"Journalists are reluctant to confess to pandering to their customers' biases; it challenges their self-image as servants of the general interest, unsullied by commerce. They want to think they inform the public, rather than just satisfying a consumer demand no more elevated or consequential than the demand for cosmetic surgery in Brazil or bullfights in Spain. They believe in ''deliberative democracy'' - democracy as the system in which the people determine policy through deliberation on the issues. In his preface to ''The Future of Media'' (a collection of articles edited by Robert W. McChesney, Russell Newman and Ben Scott), Bill Moyers writes that ''democracy can't exist without an informed public.'' If this is true, the United States is not a democracy (which may be Moyers's dyspeptic view). Only members of the intelligentsia, a tiny slice of the population, deliberate on public issues."

The fundamental building block for Posner's article concerns market forces that, he believes, compel media companies to play further to the left or right -- depending on the appetites of their core audience -- than they otherwise might.

It's an argument with merit and a good deal of historical support, assuming one believes media history matters at this particular juncture. (I happen to believe media history does matter now, but people who suggest we're at a historical point of deviation can make a strong case.)

I'm still mulling over the piece because one of Posner's core points is that plummeting costs of production power media polarization (liberal vs. conservative) by encouraging new entrants and fragmenting the market.

In the less fragmented market of yesterday, he maintains, the press could comfortably try to speak to groups larger than their core audience. The assumption required here is that the press actually had a clear and nuanced view of its audience -- and that's kind of a stretch.

I find myself with genuinely mixed feelings about that argument. On one hand, it makes enormous sense, on the other it suggests a more focused long-term view than actually exists in the real-world, generally chaotic, drive to deliver a daily product.

If you remove CNN and Fox News from the equation -- because they clearly fit Posner's criteria -- it gets a bit harder to make his case.

Ample forces contribute to an increasingly polarized media -- media consolidation, fewer journalists heading up the companies, etc. Indeed, on the national level, government officials' enormously sophisticated methods of using access to reward or punish the media drives polarization -- perhaps more powerfully than anything else. Posner touches on the access issue, but still gives more weight to the cost argument.

Nonetheless, I'm going to ponder what he has written a bit longer before coming to final conclusions. I encourage others to do the same.

In the second half of the essay, Posner makes observations about blogging and its relation to media that have some resonance vis a vis the discussion elsewhere about media blogging.

And along the way, Posner suggests the American public doesn't really want a press devoted to delivering facts and trying to speak truths. People seem more interested in media that supports their bias, rather than challenges their world view.

A last observation -- it's a relief to see someone on the federal bench thinking deeply, and openly, about media in times like these.

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July 27, 2005

Memo to mainstream media: You don't get to blogEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Bob Cauthorn

It is, I'm horrified to report, a direct quote: “We gotta get into that blogging thing if we want to get snaps from younger readers...”

Now, if you happen to hear these words coming from a very senior, 50-something editor at a well-known American newspaper I'm sure your reaction will be exactly like mine, namely: “uh-oh, I'm going to have a grand mal seizure now...”

For the record, I've never had a grand mal seizure. So I was worried about that whole swallowing your tongue thing.

But stepping back from one's own mortality and taking the long view, swallowing your own tongue might be better than living on a planet where aging white male editors utter, without a trace of irony, "if we want snaps from younger readers” and nobody puts them to sleep for saying such things.


“... I'm serious Bob, we've just gotta get some blogging going if we want cred...”

Oh. Dear.

In a just world, secret doors would open and people in lab coats and goggles would jab said editor with electrified barbs and cart his body off to study his atrophied brain. As the lab guys vanish again you would sit there stunned and feeling newly safe and thinking, “wow, that was close.”

No such luck. It is, after all, Our World and no secret doors opened and no people in lab coats and goggles came and you know... you just know... that somewhere in the towers of mainstream media this editor is getting snaps from aging publishers for getting jiggy with the youngsters by jumping into that blogging thing to snarl hella amounts of heinous cred, dude...

Thus, the only sane alternative for me was the grand mal seizure.

And then, as the twitching started and I realized this was it, I looked into his incredibly clueless – and yet oddly hunted – eyes and a comforting thought swept over me.

The apocalypse is nigh.

It's all going to be OK. A feeling of well-being swept over me. The great media sorting out has started and this editor, too, shall pass.

In fact, while the “getting snaps” stuff caused my near seizure – and neatly sums up why newspapers simply can't attract young readers – it's the first part of the statement that remains the most troubling: “we gotta get into this blogging thing....”

Memo to mainstream media: You don't get to blog.

You have a publishing apparatus. So you don't get to blog. You have a broadcasting apparatus. So you don't get to blog.

In case you missed this the point while you were reading up on youth slang, I'll repeat it for emphasis. You. Do. Not. Get. To. Blog.

Not that you won't try. Currently, there's a rush among traditional media outlets to get into that wicked bitchin', snaps inducing “blogging thing.” Almost all of these efforts are agonizingly misguided.

Buzzword compliance is a big deal in traditional media. Unfortunately, in America, media leadership is marbled with mediocre minds. And, like loneliness, mediocrity craves company.

Publishers, editors and broadcasters feel precisely naked if they are not participating in the trend of the moment. They yap about innovation and then simply shamble along, following the lead of others. That's why editors love editorial fads. If one person makes a mistake he or she gets blamed for it. If everyone makes the same mistake, it's an industrywide experiment. No blame. Safety in the mind-numbed crowd...

In the late 1970s, the “reporter's notebook” was a hot buzzword. Every news outlet worth its salt had to have one.

There was a romantic vision of American newsrooms abloom with little tidbits of info. Lovely little items that were interesting but couldn't quite support a full story.

Why not gather these items up, the reasoning ran, call it a “reporters notebook” and publish it? Individually, the nuggets weren't worth much, but stack them in a big pile and they would reach critical mass and be great.... Or, it could just be a big stack of trivia. Whichever. But everyone was doing it, so....

What this ignored was reporters are already all too adept at taking a tiny tidbit and turning it into a full story, whether it should be one or not.

Because of this, reporters kind of resented the whole notebook idea. Of course, the reporter's notebooks did give them a chance to mention their granny or cousin Jethro or some such and they thought that was fun at least.

Despite these slender delights, reporters quickly ran out of exciting little tidbits. And their personal musings over said tidbits were not exactly profound. And the notebooks became little more than half-hearted columns featuring references to family and friends. So, after the first wave of notebooks hit, it became clear that – outside of gossip columns – any tidbit worth publishing at all likely merited a real story.

Readers didn't care much for this reportorial dim sum either. They quickly sussed out that the notebooks were embryonic journalism stripped of context and, in a weird way, kind of insulting.

By the mid-to-late 1980s, the whole “reporter's notebook” fad pretty much died except for the odd holdout in Sunday papers. On to other buzzwords...

But wait! “Reporters notebooks” are back from their deserved oblivion. They've been slapped up on the web as media company blogs.

It's happening all across the country as newspapers and broadcasters rush to add their imprint to the blogscape. Mark my words, references to people's grannies or their pets aren't far behind.

And reporter resentment shall follow too. Just yesterday, Variety's Brian Lowry wrote a scathing piece about what a pain in the ass it was to try to blog something like a press tour just because some goon with a title has inter-generational aspirations.

The point from inside the newsroom is: a seasoned journalist like Lowry is already telling us everything he feels needs to be said. The point from the readers perspective is: why are you giving us more of the same old crap all chopped up and calling it pate?

I'll resist the temptation to unleash a list of silly newspaper and television station blogs at this point. There are lots, some run by operations that should know better. Besides, we only need to use one to illustrate the obvious: media blogs simply further expose the staff members who are already well exposed to the public.

If you're curious for an example of why mainstream media blogs are goofy, check out the Miles O'Brian shuttle launch blog at CNN.

Here we find O'Brian plastering the web site with a couple of extra paragraphs of items that might normally appear as color in a real story. It's all spiced with the random, token stab at personal flavor: I kept waiting for him to write, “Wheee!!! Lift off!!! God Bless America! Take that, Fox! You hear that? I said God Bless America before you did!!!!”

I mean, there's just NOTHING there and yet, CNN puffs itself up by playing the "blog" game. Gotta get those snaps, right?

And that's the fundamental failing of media company blogs: they aren't blogs in the proper sense and they utterly misapprehend what is fascinating about blogging.

The majority of the time, media blogs deliver more staff voices that are already published and broadcast ad-naseum. Occasionally, you might hear from, say, a copy editor or section editor or librarian who otherwise does not make it into print or on the air. And yes, that can have marginal appeal. But it scarcely registers in the big picture because media company blogs adhere to the old top-down, we-talk-you-listen-punk publishing model.

Furthermore, one wonders if spending any staff time writing blogs is a prudent use of resources when American newspapers and broadcasters should be throwing all their energy at fixing the creaky mindset that is losing them audience every day.

Fact: Most major media players couldn't lose their audience faster if they were chasing them with a stick. And rather than reform and transform, major media – in some kind of manic pratfall – responds by further exposing the public to the very same cast of characters that the audience has already rejected. Staff blogs. Wow.

Goddamned brilliant, that.

There is a deeper issue that mainstream media doesn't comprehend here.

The DNA of blogging is a complicated matter that touches on being outside voices and taking personal control of the media. But at minimum the DNA of blogging has to do with distributing the conversation. Contrary to that, the DNA of mainstream media – to date – is all about dominating the conversation.

Bloggers are, for all intents and purposes, the pamphleteers of the 1700s all decked out in modern livery. Some are crazy. Some are geniuses. Some are vile. Some are heroic. Some boring. Some cooler than cool. In other words, they're us.

Like those pamphleteers, at this point blogging tends to be more about opinions than facts. Also like those pamphleteers, bloggers are in the process of laying the groundwork for very important journalism going forth from here.

It's early in this cycle for new journalism. Early, but exciting. In some cases it reaches beyond blogging and into citizen journalism to cover stories the mainstream press can't or won't -- for instance consider the grand sweep of Indymedia.org.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, it can be remarkable and intimate blogging, such as when Scott Cutshall noticed that a golden age of handmade craft bicycles was upon us and, on his own, undertook to interview the framebuilders because no one else was doing it.

For some reason, most of mainstream media doesn't understand that blogging happens when you don't have a printing press or a broadcast booth available, but you do have something to say. Nor do they understand that distributing the conversation is one of the most important forces alive in media today.

...continue reading.

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