The Advent of the Micro-Celebrity

Admit it...you want to be the object of attention!
Admit it...you want to be the object of attention!

Welcome to our brave new world…it is a place in which style triumphs substance, and appearance supercedes truth.  A place where the personal myths we create become truth, and are rechristened as “personal branding.”

We are in the age of the micro-celebrity. The era in which we don’t need to be fully rounded individuals, where simply being the “thought leader”, guru or expert in a certain online niche is enough.  Warhol was right, we indeed will all have our 15 minutes of fame.

Deep down, we all really want to be the Paris Hilton of our own personal fiefdom.  We’d all like to have red carpets rolled out for us, to have a tribe of fauning syncopants to “me too” our every post.  We want everyone to realize what utter geniuses we really are.

The problem is that in online communities, like sewerage treatment plants, it is not only cream that floats the the top.  It is easy, at least for a time, for the poseur to assume a position of stature within a community.  The good news is that over time, and as the community matures, the fraud is generally identified, the true experts eventually become evident.

So how do we become that micro-celebrity in our online community?

  • Be a good citizen – it’s not all about getting involved in the latest falderall.  Take the time to welcome newbies, answer the simple questions, and generally be available.
  • Correct The Incorrect – I see oh so many “accepted truths” that are absolutely incorrect.  Perhaps they fit for one situation, but not for the one in question.  Don’t let it pass, but do so in a way that builds the corpus scientia, without starting a flame war.
  • Discuss and Accept –  We don’t know everything…and we’re learning all the time.
  • Give Credit – It’s easy to do, and everyone likes to be appreciated.

I’m tempted to add a list of what not to do, but instead I just offer this advice: before you are the teacher, you must first be the student.

News Has Always Been Free…

Image couresy of WSJ.com

I read an interesting post this morning by Michael Hickins on The Faster Times that posit that “Internet Isn’t Killing Papers, We Are“.  His basic premise: that the tech industry, and the web in particular with with the dotbomb era and sky high salaries and insane stock packages, inflated journalist salaries well beyond their regular levels.

Why? Because salaries had to be adjusted for the stock options that artificially inflated the potential compensation packages offered by the dot-com start-ups. How could Walgreen’s compete against Drugstore.com without compensating for the stock options that could make someone an instant millionaire? They couldn’t. The dot-com bubble burst threw some people out of work for a short period of time, but did nothing to bring salaries back into line.

So all of a sudden, in 2001, I went from making $45,000 for the print publication to $60,000 per year for the online version while working for the same publisher, Conde Nast. Not that I complained. At my last full-time position, I made $90,000 per year working as an editor at Ziff Davis Enterprise – and had reporters working for me who earned well above that. It’s public knowledge that Walter Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal earns over $1 million per year.

I posted the link via Twitter and was quickly reminded by Stephen Hadley that “…Most of my reporter friends who are losing their jobs aren’t overpaid. It’s just that the papers they work for no longer are able to sell advertising to support their staffs. Ad dollars are moving.”

That, to my mind is the crux of the matter. You will definitely spot other problems throughout the newspaper industry, but the real problem right now is ad revenue going away.  This doesn’t mean that there aren’t a myriad of other compounding issues here, such as circulation declines, outdated technology, Jurassic management, etc., and certainly those are all factors.  But the real problem comes down simply to a matter of dollars not coming in the doors.

Brian Carr pointed me towards the AnnArbor.com launch – a Michigan newspaper opened a new site, using 54  staff members. (according to their site masthead)  Ponder this: 54 newspaper folk took a couple months to launch a site using what appears to be a bog standard MoveableType installation.  Frankly, given part of a weekend and a 12 pack of Mountain Dew, I could have outdone them.  Seriously…

The big problem for journalists is this: even though Hickins may tell us that the web got us big salaries back in the day, the sad truth is this: the prevailing thought on the Internet today is that content is free.  As content originators, that means our work isn’t under valued, if FLAT OUT ISN’T VALUED.

Back in the day, I got $500 for a blog post.  Granted, those were some excellent blog posts, but right now I do basically the same thing for free.

Look at the fiasco a few weeks back when Chris Anderson, of Long Tail fame, and EIC of Wired Magazine lifted huge sections of wikipedia articles for his new book “Free: the Past and  Future of a Radical Price” (and yes, he’s talking about free content…). If a Wired Magazine editor can’t even manage to properly cite Wikipedia, what does that say for his view of the value of content?  Oh, right, I guess we should re-read the title of that book…

The real problem inherent in all of this is that after we’re done killing off all the reliable primary news sources, such as newspapers, television news, or even magazines, is that we’ll find we’re left with a gaping void.  The thought is that blogs will take over.  unfortunately, while blogs are generally interesting sources of commentary and opinion, I see very few that provide anything like news, and when and where they do it, they generally do not do it reliably.  You can’t count on today’s source to have good info, or any info, tomorrow, and you definitely should not expect extensive enough general coverage that will allow you to get a good picture of the world, or any small part of it for that particular piece of time.

Okay, I’m sure one of you is thinking now about the Iranian Election a few weeks ago, and how it broke on Twitter.  In fact, it would have broken on major news outlets as well, but it got bumped for the MJ Media Circus.  Even so, Twitter may be many things, but it’s not a reliable primary news source.  Yes, it may provide a lead here or there, but any good journalist knows, that’s just where the story starts…not where it ends.

Getting back to the original theme here, I think now that we can see that news generation was a loss leader for newspapers.  It took a lot of effort to do it right, but it was something they could monetize through ad revenue.  Today, we need to forget about how content gets delivered, and remember that content generation is still a valuable and necessary product.  When we rediscover a proper way to monetize it, the world for journalist and everyone will be a better place.

Because none of us wants to work for free…

5 Lessons from a Social Media Campaign Gone Horribly Wrong

Jim Louderback of Revision3.com has a great article up at JackMyers.com entitled “Murphy-Goode Wines Social Media Campaign Goes Horribly Wrong” about the companies recent trip to the Internet woodshed over their handling of I-celeb Martin Sargent during a recent online spokesperson ballot.

While the specifics are generally quite funny…Jim gives us an excellent list of 5 takeaways that any of us who might consider a Social Media campaign ought to commit to heart:

Respect the Wisdom of the Crowds: If you’re going to solicit entries from the internet, and then ask people to vote, then you need to at least pretend to abide by their selection. Murphy-Goode built a framework that would have let them finesse this. All they had to do was put the top ten vote getters into their top 50. Even if they had zero intention of ever giving Martin or the other nine a job, they should have – at a minimum – given them some recognition for winning the popular vote.

Know Your Web Stars: You may have never heard of Martin Sargent. But he’s an extremely powerful web celebrity – both because of his own following, and his influential friends. If John Stewart, Tom Brady or Britney Spears had entered – or even Wine Spectator editor James Laube — you can be sure they would have been treated with kid gloves. Martin got snubbed and snubbing sucks. But Martin was powerful enough to get a (well deserved) revenge.

Monitor Constantly: While running a social media campaign, keep a close eye on what the social-sphere is saying about your brand. Use Twitter search toolsTweet DeckTrendrrbacktype – among others – to keep track of how your campaign is doing. And when you notice something going awry…

Fix it Fast: As soon as “Martin-Gate” began to spread around the web, Murphy-Goode should have jumped in and fixed it. Perhaps they could have added a 51st finalist to the list. Or maybe they could have expanded the competition to end up with two winners, a winery choice and a people’s choice. Rapid action could have saved this campaign. Even an apology and am “I’m Sorry” would have gone a long way to repairing the winery’s reputation. Instead, company representatives responded with lame platitudes like “You’re too famous” and called Martin overqualified for the job. That just served to fan the flames – particularly because one of the top ten finalists was Rachel Reenstra, former Animal Planet and HGTV show host.

Don’t be half-assed: But here’s the biggest slap to the face of everyone who created, watched, voted and even paid attention to this online kerfuffle. As the story got out, it turned out that some of the candidates for the temporary position were actually sourced by recruiters, who told them that “the online votes were relatively unimportant.” That’s the worst thing that ever could have gotten out. Today’s engaged social network users are no less passionate than the millions of Iranians that flooded the street when their votes were ignored. And they’re far more connected as well. Be honest, be authentic and be real. Murphy-Goode, alas, tried to pull a fast one. But on the internet, it’s extremely hard to be opaque.

I think the big thing here is this: if you’re going to do a campaign that is designed to look and feel “democratic” you better be prepared to accept whatever the results from the people are.  Otherwise you’re going to have a lot of people feeling very disenfranchised, and in the end, that’s worse than not having done the campaign at all.

The REAL American Heros

I’m at the point that I can barely watch the news anymore.  Almost a month in and they are still talking round the clock about the death of the mono-gloved King of Schlock…as though we should really care.  What I do care about is that we stop looking at drug-addled sequin-encrusted performers as heros.  They aren’t.

Real heros are the folks that do the right thing when it’s too easy to do the wrong thing.  They’re the people that take the hard road, so that others can live easier.  They’re the people that stand up, not just in war, but in all facets of life, and say “I’m going to do something about it…”

People like:

  • Byrd and Melanie Billings who were murdered in a home invasion this week.  They have adopted 12 handicapped and mentally challenged children, on top of their own 4 children.
  • The 5 NJ Policemen who were shot while apprehending two robbery suspects.
  • Miguel Colon – the New York father who was killed by a motorist as he pushed his son out of his way, saving his life.
  • Lance Cpl. John J.T. Doody – a marine who was shot multiple times while on duty in Fallujah, Iraq in 2007, nearly died and is now paralyzed.

Or perhaps anyone of the thousands and thousands of people across the world who make the effort every day to make the world a better place.

How NOT to Research a Story – USA Today

(Disclaimer: I work for Namemedia, Inc. who is one of the largest owners and resellers of domains in the world.  I don’t work in that end of the business, and I don’t speak for them.)

I picked up an interesting article today via David Churbuck’s Delicious.com feed, from USA Today with the salacious title “Cybersquatting’ crooks profit on marketers’ brand names.”

Now I hate cybersquatting, but I have to say this, which I said yesterday and have said ad nauseum over the years: your domain name is a business asset.  A corollary to that would be that you need to protect it, just as you would any business asset.

Simply put, if you’re planning to launch a new brand and you haven’t secured the appropriate domain names that are associated with that brand, you are a fool.  At the very least, you’ll be increasing the value of something you will most likely need to buy at some point.  So do your homework!

The thing that ticked me off about this article was the fact that it appearred as though the writer had written it right off a Marketing Association press release. It showed almost no thought about the issue, and in appearance, seemed to aim at driving home a single, shop worn idea: cybersquatting is bad.  Wow, hold the presses.

There are several other sides to this, none of which are considered, mentioned, or apparently, even though of.

  •  What happens when I own a domain and one of the big guys decides to create a new brand using the same name, such as yesterday’s example of Blatz.com.  Are we proposing that even with “prior art” I should reassign the domain to them, simply because I otherwise might be considered “cybersquatting?”
  • Is it not the companies responsibility to protect their own brand?  There is plenty of history with people setting up shopping sites under unused brand name inspired domains.
  • If you didn’t buy a particular domain, you cannot consider revenues made on that site “lost revenues” associated with your brand.
  • The assumption underlying this article is obvious, that sales made via third party shopping sites, etc. necessarily would have gone to the brand with which they might have appeared to be associated.  In my experience,  such sales are generally more casual impulse buys.  

Here’s the part that makes me really annoyed:

They drive people to a “squatted” site via e-mails or through paid search. Once they’ve led someone there, they hope to steal credit card information, spur clicks on ads to skim revenue from online ad networks or sell fake products, such as pharmaceuticals or pricey handbags.

Since when did USA Today decide it was a nepharious act to show advertising to people on your own website, in hopes that they might actually click on it?  Is that not THEIR OWN REVENUE MODEL?  Further, is not email or paid search also condsidered marketing?  Why would marketing one’s own website be considered “theft?”

Listen, I don’t cybersquat and I don’t condone it, but this article is simply ludicrous.  USA Today, stop phoning in your work…

Whither Investigative Journalism?

The “Special Sauce” for news media has always been investigative journalism, ala Woodward and Bernstein.  It’s what made myself and an entire generation of young writers want to get into journalism back in the 1970’s, each of us aching to bring the mighty low, to shine lights into dark places and in the process, make our names, too, household words.

Today, investigative journalism is a dying craft.  Dying not because there aren’t reporters willing to ask the tough questions, but because media itself has rolled over and become passive.  Somewhere in the 80’s and 90’s news switched from investigating controversy to reporting on press releases. 

Why is it dying?  

  • Mega-corporate ownership – Many of the owners of major media now are not primarily media companies per se (think of NBC as owned by GE), hence their primary goal isn’t news, it’s now earning profit for the corporation.  Is it possible the GE has muzzled the news? 
  • The economy – when things are down, it’s hard to justify putting a reporter on a special assignment for a day if it isn’t going to lead to a story right away.  The best investigative journalism often takes weeks or months.

I’m sure if I thought about it, I could come up with many other reasons.  One thing I can state with certainty is this: not only has the way we get our news changed, the very fabric of what our news is has changed.  And I am not at all convinced its a good thing.

In the vacuum that has been created, we’re now getting much more news “analysis” which is very easy to produce, very cost effective, and really comes down to us listening to someone else’s opinion.  Often those opinions come with agendas, be they right or left wing.  The funny thing is that if we really want analysis, we can get if via podcasts, vidcasts, blogs, etc. There is little that big media brings to the table here that can’t be found elsewhere.

At the end off the day, we all lose without investigative journalism.

Advice for Those New to New Media – Specialize

My father used to tell a story from his youth, growing up in the depression with my Grandmother and my Great Aunt Sue, the family matriarch and a woman whose strength  I never fully appreciated in my youth.  There were rules which Aunt Sue used to keep the family together, and one of those was “No Day Laborers.”

It was tough times in Dorchester, Ma during the Great Depression.  As it turned out, that rule worked quite well for the family.  It was also taken loosely to also banish “jack of all trades.”

What’s that got to do with new media?  Well, I see a lot of  “new media specialists” in twitter, on friendfeed, etc. these days.  It reminds me of the distant past when I started working on the web, I started as a webmaster (you haven’t heard that job description for a while, have you?).  You see, then the field was so new, it was the province of the generalist.  We had to know a little about everything, from server management, to installing code libraries, to writing and debugging scripts, SEO, SEM, community management, advertising, etc.  Each of those areas of knowledge now is its own particular specialty, with people who devote virtually all their time to thinking about it.  In that transition, the need for a real webmaster died. Continue reading “Advice for Those New to New Media – Specialize”

10 Things Every Journalist Should Know in 2009

…And every blogger as well.  From Journalism.co.uk via Brenda Christensen, a list of the skills every journalist should have.  

5. That churnalism is much easier to spot online. If you do this regularly, your readers are already on to you – merely re-writing press releases without bringing anything to the table no longer cuts it.

6. Google is your friend. But if you are not using advanced search techniques, you really have no idea what it is capable of.

7. You do not have to own, or even host, the technology to innovate in journalism and engage your readers. There is a plethora of free or cheap tools available online, so there is no excuse for not experimenting with them.

 

I’d add to the list one thing: that journalism doesn’t only happen at newspapers, or the established news channels.  It happens where ever you are, in whatever you write.  The world is changing for journalists.  You can be an innovator.

The Star Tribune Files Chapter 11

Via Editor and Publisher…with a pointer from Hart Van Denburg.

Less than two years after it was bought by a private equity group, the Star Tribune has filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

But wait, there’s more…

In December, Harte told employees the “survival of the company” was at stake and asked labor unions to agree to $20 million in cuts by mid-January. Without those cuts, Harte said the newspaper could face bankruptcy.

The Star Tribune ranked as the nation’s 15th-largest paper last October, with weekday circulation of about 322,000 and Sunday circulation of almost 521,000. The paper has nearly 1,400 employees.

Here is why this is important news: less than a decade ago, we looked on The Star Tribune as one of the few papers, (the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was another) that seemed to really “Get” the internet.  A real model for how a paper would move forward.

The problem is that even if you start moving in the right direction, if the financial folks aren’t, you’re sunk.  And obviously, like the Tribune Co., The Star Tribune managed to saddle themselves with massive debt at exactly the wrong time.

We knew things were getting bad for newspapers, but the economic problems of the country are particularly harsh on the most overleveraged.  I suspect we will see much more of this in the coming months.  Perhaps it’s time to start up the Newspaper Dead Pool.

For those at the ST, I hope you manage to power through.  I’ve always been a fan of your work, and look forward to more in the future.

Old School Journalism

Wow…absolutely hysterical…

Via Suzeanne Yada on Twitter…her description is better than any I could come up with:

A 1940s short film on journalism. Watch as men in fedoras call editors with visors and completely shaft women!