Media Deathwatch: Tampa Tribune

Jessica DaSilva posted last week right after the Tampa Tribune Editor in Chief Janet Coats announced a major round of layoffs, and their embarkation for a trip in an entirely new direction:

Then she dropped the reality bomb:

“People need to stop looking at TBO.com as an add on to The Tampa Tribune,” she said. “The truth is that The Tampa Tribune is an add on to TBO.”

(Bold added for effect)

The questions from much of the newsroom apparently were the same old saws: “how will this affect profits” and “How will we compete with the other local paper” (quotes not verbatim, I wasn’t there, but are true to what Jessica posts).

I’m glad to hear they got it. Stop chasing a model that obviously isn’t working anymore. Instead of trying to support print as the end all and be all, with it’s incredibly costly delivery mechanism, start thinking about yourselves as content development. Find *all the delivery streams* that can make you money and optimize them. Forget about the ones that don’t make you money.

More from DaSilva’s post:

Janet believes in the news industry. She believes in holding government, media and the public accountable. And she knows there is not another job that makes such a huge difference and weilds such power. News organizations offer society so much, and that is why she cannot take another job – because journalism is her calling, and she knows there is nothing else she could ever imagine herself doing.

“It’s worth fighting for,” Janet said.

Out of all her quoteable moments, those were the words that stuck with me. It was that powerful statement that conveyed the hope, faith and prayers of all journalists worldwide. That maybe this industry can’t be demolished because of its importance and that maybe our love and passion for it could be enough to keep it running.

It’s going to be tough, and no, passion is not enough to keep things running in a broken model. If you combine passion with a willingness to change, to innovate and revolutionize (is that even a word?), you’ve got a much better chance.

To keep on doing what they were doing would be insane. To quote the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo:

They came on in the same old way, and we sent them back in the same old way

My best wishes to the Tampa Tribune staff, DaSilva and Coats that they can weather the storm.

Twitter, FriendFeed and Overexposure of the Personal Brand

I’ve said it before, but this post especially requires that I state it clearly again: I am a New England Yankee.

That means that I possibly have a heightened sense of propriety and generally would consider a lot of things marketing-wise as crossing the line that some of you might not have a problem with.

I’m noticing lately that a lot of marketing types are spending a lot of time on micro-blogging tools such as Twitter, FriendFeed (the new darling), Plurk, etc. I’m sure many have convinced themselves that a lot of what they are doing is “creating social media brand awareness” for their products. The truth is that Twitter is more about branding for the personal brand, and as such I find in most cases, it creates a level of over exposure that’s downright harmful to your personal brand.

Think about Jason Calacanis, who was for a while offering all kinds of contests, giveaways, etc. via Twitter, trying to increase the awareness of the Majalo Search Engine (disclosure: I signed up to contribute when it first started, but honestly never did produce any results for them). For a time, it seemed that the Twitter stream I was getting was all Jason, all the time. “I’m going to have lunch with xxx here. Burritos, yum” or something like that. The signal to noise ratio was so high that I really began to dislike what Calacanis was doing. I didn’t even know him and I was starting to develop a strong dislike.

Jason mentioned on the This Week in Tech podcast this week that he has a lot of people who can’t stand his online persona, but actually become good friends when he meets them. And for the record, I really enjoy hearing Calacanis on podcasts, and I’m sure I’d like him if we were to sit down for a beer sometime. However the Twitterati Calacanis was, for a time, utterly annoying.

Similarly Jeremiah Owyang – he’s been a perennial link in my posts, but when Forrester did their conference in March this year, I had to un-follow him for the time being, I just didn’t need to know whenever anyone decided to go to the bathroom at the conference, or what specific CEO he was talking to.

On the other side, I see a lot of the Twitterati catering to prurient interests to build their following. Yes, sex sells, for the most part, you’re selling yourself here. Do you really want the interest that brings? If you’re even thinking about that, you might want to talk to Ariel Waldman, community manager at Pownce, who’s now got her own stalker, with all the fun that brings. Oh joy!

The problem we have is that so many of us are making the mistake off blending our personal and our professional lives. In business, I prefer not to be known for my ability to consume Mojitos…although personally I really like them. Yet, I blend my Twitter posts with a weird mix of both professional and personal information (yeah, do as I say, not as I do).

I think too many of the Twitterati are making the fundamental mistake of overexposing their personal brand via social networking, to their personal and professional detriment. Your thoughts?

Reel-Time.com Acquired By NameMedia

In what has become an utterly bizarre turn of the tables, NameMedia Inc. has bought Reel-time.com – the site I have been working with since 1995 or 1996 as managing editor, head geek and general do-what-needs-to-be-done guy, is now owned by my current employer.

It’s a great thing for Thorne Sparkman, who is now able to repay the investors in the site. David Churbuck (he blogs on this story here)  and I had been almost completely disengaged and had no financial stake in the final buy out. The big winner is honestly the community which now will actually move forward, vs. being in a holding pattern.

Last September, when I posted my final Fishwire Report for the Boston Region (a report of what’s going on for saltwater fly fishermen) I swore it would be the last. Yesterday, I wrote two of them…handling both Boston and Cape Cod. The good news is that I was for the first time able to write them during normal working hours, instead of getting up at 4 in the morning.

Reel-Time.com was a niche online community before anyone had any idea that such a thing could exist. In a lot of ways we invented, identified or were afflicted by, just about anything you now hear about termed as “Social Networking” or “Social Media.”

So as things change, in many ways they stay the same for me.  I’m now back where I began, at Reel-Time.com and after 13 years, I couldn’t be happier.  Now if I can just get some fishing time in.

Newspaper Deathwatch: OC Register Tests Outsourcing Editing to India

When Reuters did this 6 years ago, we all laughed at them. “Want curry with that?” Now respected American daily The Orange County Register has begun a test using a New Delhi firm for editing tasks. From BusinessWeek:

Orange County Register Communications Inc. will begin a one-month trial with Mindworks Global Media at the end of June, said John Fabris, a deputy editor at the Register.

Mindworks’ Web site says the company is based outside New Delhi and provides “high-quality editorial and design services to global media firms … using top-end journalistic and design talent in India.”

So what’s it mean? In the short term, nothing. In the long term its just one more bit of evidence that the print publishing model for newspapers isn’t going to work forever. In fact just minutes ago The Washington Post posted this:

…We wonder and worry, too. Anxiety has intensified this year with an accelerating decline in newspaper advertising, and it has hit home for us in a particularly painful way this spring, first with the early retirements of scores of colleagues and then, this week, with Len Downie‘s announcement that he’ll step down Sept. 8 after 17 years as executive editor.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg last week noted that The New York Times has seen it’s biggest Ad Revenue drop of the year during May.

Ad sales at the News Media Group, including the New York Times and Boston Globe, fell to $130 million, the company said in a statement today. Total sales declined 6.6 percent to $227.5 million as increased circulation revenue couldn’t offset drops in national, retail and classified ads.

The deterioration in May advertising mirrors drops at other U.S. newspaper publishers. Gannett Co., the owner of USA Today, reported yesterday that newspaper ad sales fell 14 percent in May. Those declines follow the industry’s worst quarter on record in the three months through March, according to the Newspaper Association of America.

“Expectations were that 2008 would be similar to 2007, but clearly things have gotten worse,” John Morton, an independent newspaper industry analyst in Silver Spring, Maryland, said in an interview. “Classified is in a tailspin, and there’s no hope for newspaper advertising until they win back some of that revenue.”

Meanwhile, in the This Week In Media Podcast this week, Alec Lindsey suggested that 2010 was the year that the model would break for the broadcast television market, stating that it would probably be the first year in which a revenue decline would be seen in the Upfronts. So, Mr. Television, your time is coming…

The real message here is that the traditional media model is utterly broken, and while it may be too late for print, television might still have time. My money is on the new online media providers and the networks slowly cutting their affiliates and the cable outlets out of the loop.

The Shine is off Social Networking

Say it ain’t so, Joe! Over the past few weeks, it’s begun to look like Social Networking, the current darling of the conference and consultant set, might have jumped the shark.  I personally would peg the exact point where it went careening off track as the day that Waste Management (the guys that probably run your local honey truck) opened their own social networking site.

But it goes far beyond that.  Earlier this week Om Malik wrote a very interesting piece showing that social networking may have flattened out, or even may be decreasing. He notes:

Today there are numbers out from comScore that indicate plateauing growth for the big two — MySpace and Facebook — in the U.S. Last week, Revision3 canceled “SocialBrew,” an online video show dedicated to social networking. Meanwhile, Monster killed its Tickle social networking service (first reported in April by TechCrunch), following closely on the heels of CondeNast’s shuttering of Flip and Verizon’s decision to close up its virtually unknown network, which had managed to garner a mere 18,000 members. (Verizon has shifted its community to Facebook.)

And these just might be the tip of the iceberg, for there are way too many me-too networks out there failing to find the traction, and hence the volume, needed to grow their revenues. The lack of monetization will only accelerate this process.

I’ve also been detecting a subtle change in the “conversations” on Twitter lately, with some brave few actually taking a stand against the social networking Kool-Aid.  In one telling argument, it came down to a final comment from the prime Kool-Aid drinker that “You just never got Social Networking,” reminding my of my favorite line from a movie I dearly love, The Duellists, in which the lead character, D’Hubert, (a Napoleonic era officer who has served from Spain to Russia and back) is condemned with the single statement “You never loved the Emperor.”  Indeed, one might as easily be condemned for “Not being Politically Correct,” or whatever the actual flavor of the moment is.

Also, I find the current “Proactive Customer Support” wherein companies monitor social networking apps to create a two tier service network, in which the middle to upper income have a vastly different support experience than the lower middle to poor do.  Think about “Comcast Cares” on Twitter, a Comcast rep, who actively searches out support issues to help fix them.  I’ll bet he’s finding most of the problems are centered in Bel Aire, not in Compton.

Social Networking wasn’t invented by the current crop of Powerpoint wielding wannabes, and it’s been around a lot longer than most would suggest.  Honestly, I see it actually predating the internet, going back to the days of computer bulletin board services (Do you remember them?).  Most of the basic fundementals of Social Networking were really polished in online forums, on IRC, and in the first Instant Messaging Apps.  It’s not utterly new, in most cases, this is just a better presentation.

Some general Social Networking notes:

  • “Join the Conversation” – I’m growing tired of hearing this.  If you already aren’t talking to your customers, then maybe there’s a reason.
  • Just because Facebook says we’re friends, it doesn’t mean I will loan you money…
  • Why is it the GuruVangelistPerts on Social Networking seem to Twitter from bars or about going to bars so often?

What is new, is that there is now a widespread understanding of Social Networking and it’s overall importance in both web design in particular and marketing in general.  I realize many readers may be rather upset at my saying the Emperor has no clothes, but indeed, that is not what I am saying. I am saying it’s a waste of time to talk about the clothes, rather than the more substantive issues about the Emperor, like taxes, etc.  When the medium is the subject of the message, there is a problem with that medium.

I’ve said it before, I say it again here.  Social Networking and Social Media are not ends unto themselves.  They are aspects of good web design, and should be employed as such.  To use Social Media for Social Media’s sake is a waste of time.  There is a limit to the number of Social Networks I want to be a part of, and I personally would prefer to have more in common with my fellow users than simple ownership of a computer.  Niche communities are the way to go…as Om so brilliantly notes.

The Newspaper Decline – The Side We Don’t See

We’re generally quite happy to say it’s the online revolution that’s killing print media. Sure, it’s had it’s effect, but the truth is that there’s (as there generally is with all things) more to the story.

You see the downturn for print also came at a time when big print publishers (aka “newspapers”) were starting to get a whole lot more information to deal with. They had invested in systems that allowed them to get into some very extensive data modeling which allowed them for probably the first time to get a real picture of their subscriber base (readers) and that understanding caused them to do what any prudent business owner would do, prune out the non-profitable distribution means and concentrate on the most profitable areas.

What happened was that the papers realized that the increased cost of distribution for outlying areas wasn’t worth it, due to the fact that these areas tended to have a much higher cost of reader acquisition (the cost the paper incurs getting you to sign up) and a much higher Churn Rate (the rate at which customers drop subscriptions).

There’s been a lot of mastication on this issue around Blogykistan, but I can tell you this as a point of fact: newspaper system vendors put a lot of time and money into developing newspaper circulation business intelligence systems, and they did play a roll, no matter what anyone says to the contrary. I was a witness while I worked at Atex. It was the grand plan to “high grade” the readership and “treat your best customers best.”

Deep inside this is the real motivator: as time goes on, it becomes harder and harder for newspapers to make a profit delivering papers. Fuel costs rise, unions push for more money and slowly, it becomes economically unfeasible to to deliver to more and more areas. Meanwhile, they have pressure from the web where there aren’t the same costs. If gas costs go up, they have a more subtle effect, via energy costs (and believe me, data centers use energy) as well as the pressure for employee cost of living raises.

As Ken Doctor notes in his blog, the newspapers he dealt with:

offered the “cutback to quality circ” argument and said they’d cycle through that within a year or so. In Year Four, it seems like less compelling a reason. Just how much how low-quality circ is out there, anyway, or is the definition of it a rolling phenomenon?

Welcome to the brave new world, the newspapers are going to be riding that horse into the ground. You see, once you start making decisions based upon certain metrics, it becomes incredibly hard to stop.

So really, it isn’t just online that’s managed to hurt newspapers, its a confluence of many factors. Think of it as a “Perfect Sh*t Storm.”

One place it looks like they’ve actually made the transition is at IDG, where their trade magazines have made the transition from print to online. From the NY Times:

Across the company, the remaining print publications still typically play a vital role, but a lesser one — physically smaller and financially diminished. In 2002, 86 percent of the revenue from I.D.G.’s publications came from print and 14 percent online. These days, 52 percent of the revenue is from online ads, while 48 percent is from the print side.

Last year, print and online publications accounted for 70 percent of I.D.G.’s $3 billion in revenue, with the rest coming from its conference business and its technology research firm, I.D.C.

Of course, numbers can be made to lie, and the statements they don’t make leave an awfully big whole in the story.

  1. Has overall media revenue increased, decreased, remained the same?
  2. What’s the comparision of Ebita for the past few years?
  3. What’s the net affect on employment – more or less jobs (I’m guessing less…)?
  4. In short, is I.D.G. really doing better now than they were in say 2002?

I don’t mean to sound snarky – I am really and truly hoping this is working as well as the NYT would have us believe. Yet, it doesn’t offer a complete roadmap for newspapers, as I.D.G. is really in the tech news sector, and let’s face it, none of us are willing to wait over 30 days for a full print cycle to get our tech news. We want to get it now, and that’s why they’ve got to deliver online.

David Churbuck has a good take on what’s going on at I.D.G. on his blog.

What I saw was a company in the throes of a difficult transition from decades of print excellence to the more ephemeral but pressing world of online news. Print and online dichotomies were tough, but in the end it was the red ink that pushed the print legacy to one side (InfoWorld went online only) and broke down the old artificial barriers between print and online editorial staffs.

(Disclosure: I was webmaster for Atex, a leading system supplier for the print industry for 7 years where I worked with top minds in circulation and data modeling like Nettie Angotti, Betsy Hofflin and Arnie Korshin, and did contract work for I.D.G. subsidiary CXO Media)

Thoughts after a week of Twitter

After slapping Twitter around for the past year, I thought it was about time for me to shut my mouth and actually try it. So after a week, here are my initial impressions.

First off, communications through Twitter are by their nature somewhat superfluous. I’ve really only had one discussion that’s actually meant anything. My impression is that it’s basically the Internet equivalent of the CB Radio. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.

The means of communication is totally different. Look at the stunts Web A Lister Jason Calacanis; as he basically uses Twitter as his personal marketing platform.  He’s offering a Mac Book Air to be raffled off if he is “followed” by 20,000 people. He’s been using Twitter to bombard sites, move articles on Digg, etc. The other day he flooded UStream with people as he offered via Twitter to give a way a GPS unit. I was there, it was hysterical – the chat window was rolling so fast it couldn’t be read. He actually had to tell everyone to stop using it. But the real point is this: if he’d used any other communication means it would not have worked. If he email me, or worse, called, and asked me to go there for a chance to win a GPS I’d have reported him to his ISP for spamming. But for some reason, spamming seems to be okay here.

I’m going to chock it up to the bleeding edge nature of Twitter. I still don’t get it, but at least now I can see uses. However, I’m a results oriented kind of guy. I’m betting I find I don’t have time for this in my life.

This will really work when it’s teamed with groups.  Simply following a couple hundred people increases the signal to noise ratio to a point that it’s almost unusable.  However, it could come in handy when working with team members, or extended communities like a club.  Groups would cut the signal to noise ration down and make it useable.

For now, it seems like a place where A Listers like Calacanis and Steve Gillmor flood the Tweetwaves and make it tough to use.  I’ll have to narrow down my “follows.”

Niche Social Networking is Networking that Works

Niche Social Networking with Mark CahillI’ve been saying for over a year that there is a limit to the places I want to network with people, and I’m going to go one step further right now: there are a whole lot of people out there I am not interested in networking with.

There, I said it. It’s not that I hate people, it’s just that for the most part I have little interest in the generic style networking that’s offered by Facebook, and in my estimation, it’s lesser brethren, LinkedIn and MySpace. Call me a snob, but I’d like to have something in common with the folks I’m going to network with, and frankly I’d like to have that commonality reach a little deeper than computer ownership and a willingness to share banality over the web.

The shine if off the first round of Social Networking, and it’s not going to come back. I’m not the only one who’s realized it either. You see, Social Networking for Social Networkings sake is a waste of time. The truth is, it’s a tool that as web developers we should be deploying where appropriate.

I believe that ’08 is going to see the rise of niche social networking. A place were the tenets of social networking find real traction in niche spaces, by users who share that common thread, be it cycling, classic cars, fly fishing, whatever.

While Twittering still doesn’t make much sense to me, I can see that it would make a whole bunch of sense when I’m networked with my fly fishing buddies (like “I’m on a blitz of blues at Sagamore Beach right now” ). Online user groups make total sense to me when it’s applied to a classic car group, but an online group of people who simply live within 40 miles of me makes no sense if I’m not interested in dating (and I’m not). Think about it.

Niche Social Networking is like hanging out at your fishing club, while Mass Social Networking is like hanging out in a bus terminal – the two are totally different experiences.

I’ve been working with niche communities since 1995 – niche social networking is a winner.

More Reading: Gary Andrews

Media Bias is Us

Read the following statement:

The media is utterly biased.  Obviously biased sources like (choose one: Fox News | The New York Times) spout a constant stream of propaganda from (choose one: the dastardly Republicans | the evil Democrats | our Alien Overlords) which is meant to deceive us from the truth.

The problem we face today is that the way in which we get our news is fundementally changing.   Instead of getting a cross section of the news that someone really smart (read news editor) thought we’d need to know, we’re as likely getting our news from heavily biased secondary sources, also known as blogs, forums, etc.  We forget that a blog like this one is roughly analagous to the content you’d get from a columnist in a newspaper.  That means it’s opinion.  Opinion is, by its very definition, biased. 

So as we decry the problem of media bias in the primary sources of media, we’re gravitating to sources that are in fact much more biased.  We move from Fox News to Drudge Report or Instapundit, from The New York Times to the Huffington Post.  And in the process we’re losing out on the local, we miss the voice telling us that something should be on our radar, not merely showing us that which is already on our radar in a way that reinforces the way we already percieve it.

The problem is that when we have start to move from a primary source to a secondary news source, we’ve got to fill in for all the other stuff.  Like the weather (okay, we add a widget for weather to our desktop) or traffic (we get an sms update to our cell phone), but there is so much else.  Do we really want to have an obituary widget so we can watch for notices on people we know?. 

We’re moving to a model where we’re only as good as our information, and our access to information is limited by our ability to find, process and filter that information.