The speech the NAA should hear

The Newspaper Association of America is meeting in San Diego this week and they’re preaching up at their own choir loft with angry, self-righteous fire and brimstone about their plight. Today, Google CEO Eric Schmidt will address them, but he’ll be polite because that’s the way he is and because there’ll be a few hundred aging but armed publishers with blunderbusses aimed at his heart. They need to hear a new message, a blunt message from the outside. Here’s the speech I think they should hear:

You blew it.

You’ve had 20 years since the start of the web, 15 years since the creation of the commercial browser and craigslist, a decade since the birth of blogs and Google to understand the changes in the media economy and the new behaviors of the next generation of – as you call them, Mr. Murdoch – net natives. You’ve had all that time to reinvent your products, services, and organizations for this new world, to take advantage of new opportunities and efficiencies, to retrain not only your staff but your readers and advertisers, to use the power of your megaphones while you still had it to build what would come next. But you didn’t.

You blew it.

And now you’re angry. Well, gentlemen – and that’s pretty much all I see before me: angry, old, white men – you have no right to anger. Instead, you are the proper objects of anger. The public should be angry with you for the poor stewardship you have exercised over the press and its service to society. Your journalists are angry at you for losing their jobs. Your pressmen and drivers and classified-ad takers are angry at you for the same reason (and at the journalists for paying attention only to their own plight). Your advertisers were angry at you for using your monopolistic power to overcharge them and for providing inefficient platforms and bad service for so long. But they’re not angry anymore because they left you for better advertising vehicles and better prices in a competitive marketplace.

But you’re the ones who are acting angry.

Yesterday, you delivered a foot-stomping little hissy fit over Google and aggregators. How dare they link to you and not pay you? Oh, I so want Eric Schmidt to tell you today that you’re getting your wish and that Google will no longer link to you. Beware what you wish for. You’d lose a third of your traffic overnight. If other aggregators (I work with one) and bloggers (I am one) and Facebook all decided to follow suit, you’d lose half your traffic. On most of your sites, only 20 percent of the audience in a day ever sees your homepage and its careful packaging; 4 of 5 readers instead come in through search and links. In the link economy – instead of the outmoded content economy in which you operate – Google and aggregators and bloggers are bringing value to you; they should be charging you for the value they bring. You should rise up today and give Mr. Schmidt a big thank you for not charging you. But you won’t, because you’ve refused to understand this new business reality.

You blew it.

Your Google snits don’t even address your far more profound problem: the vast majority of your potential audience who never come to your sites, the young people who will never read your newspapers. You all remember the quote from a college student in The New York Times a year ago, the one that has kept you up at night. Let’s say it together: “If the news is that important, it will find me.” What are you doing to take your news to her? You still expect her to come to you – to your website or to the newsstand – just because of the magnetic pull of your old brand. But she won’t, and you know it. You lost an entire generation. You lost the future of news.

You blew it.

You had a generation to reinvent the business but you did too little. I by all means include myself in that indictment because I spent my career in our industry: Guilty. I didn’t raise loud enough alarms (it felt as if they were too loud already) or accomplish enough change (not nearly enough). I blew it, too. But no last-minute hail-Mary passes will make up for our failings. Having not taken advantage of the last two decades to reinvent the news business, you’re not going to manage a rescue in two months, before the creditors come calling. That was your worst hail Mary: stoking up on debt and hoping to milk these cows for years to come. Mad cash-cow disease, that’s what too many of you had. Your other desperate moves: suddenly fantasizing that you can fix everything by going behind a wall (to tell with Google and its billions of readers!) and charging us because you think we “should” pay. Since when is a business plan built on “should?” I haven’t seen a sensible P&L justifying this dream from any of you. If you have one, please stand up show us now….. I thought so. Other desperation moves: fantasies of white knights from foundations buying you and letting you stay just the way you are…. government subsidies (do we even have to discuss the danger?)…. switching to not-for-profit, as if that suddenly takes away the need to sustain the business still… misguided, self-righteousness thinking that Google or cable companies owe you money, as if you have a God-given right to the revenue and customers you lost….. No, none of this will save newspapers and in your subconscious, at least, you know it. You know the truth.

You blew it.

So what can you do? Two years, even a year ago, I would have said that you had time to build the networks and frameworks and platforms that would support the ecosystem of news that will come next. I would have said you could retrain your staff to take on new responsibilities: organizing and supporting that ecosystem, curating the best, training people to be the best. I would have advised you to offer your staff members the opportunity to join that ecosystem, setting them up in business. I would have told you to take advantage of the efficiencies the web allows (do what you do best, link to the rest, I used to say). I would have argued that we need to invent new forms of marketing help for an entire new population of businesses-formerly-known-as-advertisers. I did say that. But the financial crisis only accelerated your fall. It didn’t cause the fall, it accelerated it. So now, for many of you, there isn’t time. It’s simply too late. The best thing some of you can do is get out of the way and make room for the next generation of net natives who understand this new economy and society and care about news and will reinvent it, building what comes after you from the ground up. There’s huge opportunity there, for them.

You blew it.

: LATER: When Eric Schmidt did take the podium at NAA, as reported by PaidContent’s Staci Kramer, he expressed some nicely ironic befuddlement at the AP going after them when Google has “a multimillion-dollar deal with the Associated Press not only to distribute their content but also to host it on our servers.” Then he did chasten the publishers:

But Schmidt came down harder on concerns about intellectual property and fair use: “From our perspective, we look at this pretty thoroughly and there is always a tension around fair use … I would encourage everybody, think in terms of what your reader wants. These are ultimately consumer businesses and if you piss off enough of them, you will not have any more.”

RIght, pissing off customers is not a business model. Not anymore.

  • James Seddon

    And as Google charges advertisers to take their message to consumers maybe they should start charging content companies for taking their content to consumers – and consumers to content. Murdoch doesn’t realise how good he has it right now with Google and whining on doesn’t distract anyone from his mistakes.

  • Jennifer H. Daniel

    Bravo, Jeff. Will RT.

  • http://virtualization.com Toon Vanagt

    Jeff, spot on! Blowing of buzz for those who blew it :)

  • http://lbsrambles.typepad.com Les Blatt

    Bravo, Jeff. Very much on target. I have reached the point where I am concerned about the survival of journalism, not the survival of newspapers – and I agree with your take that the up-and-coming generation of net natives will solve the journalistic problem. It is the news, not the medium, which needs protection.

    • Kathleen Laurila

      Bravo Ii — absolutely right. We (citizens) need to be concerned with the product=news, not the medium.

  • invitedmedia

    schmidt : “you blew it.”

    rosenblum: “you’re all f#cked.”

    (personally, i like rosenblum’s line better.)

  • http://www.baristanet.com Debbie Galant

    Were you a Baptist minister in a former life? Great sermon. You should hear the arguments that go on in our bedroom between new and old media.

  • http://bjoern-sievers.de Björn Sievers

    Journalism will survive. I am sure about that. Just because it’s important. But I am not sure about media organisations. Some will die. Maybe even a few more.

  • http://platform.idiomag.com/ Andrew

    would love to be the one to stand up and deliver this speech. superb. some newspapers do seem to moving now that the end has got so close it is almost unavoidable, but yes, most do seem to be running off the cliff.

    the current state reminds me of the classic cartoon frame in which a character has run off a cliff, and is now running fast in mid-air, whilst remaining stationary, and waiting in panic for the inevitable fall.

  • Eric Gauvin

    You mean to say google is not doing What Would Google Do??

  • Matthew Daneman

    What everyone has been saying since at least 2002 – newspapers should (or should have) reinvented themslves.
    What no one still has said – HOW. And new media biz-speak like “build the networks and frameworks and platforms that would support the ecosystem of news that will come next” doesn’t count.

  • JS

    I don’t know about news ecosystems and all that airy stuff. Selfish cad that I am, all I want to know is, is this guy saying I got to work for free?

  • Doug

    “You blew it.” “You’re all f#cked.” Blahhlahblah. Criticism justly warranted, but what are the answers if journalism is to be supported? Advertising? It is so insanely give-away cheap on a per-visitor basis that it does not generate the dollars needed to support reporting and editing depths comparable to newspapers. Subscriptions? The “information must be free” crowd will never support it. And you’ve shown the fallacies in the other solutions.

    What are we all missing here?

  • http://wyman.us Bob Wyman

    Jeff is new to this whole “online news” business. Thus, we should forgive some of the inaccuracies… We had “browsers” long before 15 years ago and folk have been warning the newspaper business about the need to adjust to online realities for longer than 15 years. Heck, back in 1994 there were enough people that already saw the coming issues that we were able to get together on Steve Outing’s “online-news” mailing list and begin the endless discussion that continues today. (That mailing list, recently recovered from Poynter’s attempt to kill it, can be found at: http://groups.dowire.org/groups/news-online ) We’re still talking after 15 years. The newspaper execs are, however, still not listening…

    bob wyman

    • http://www.niemanlab.org Martin Langeveld

      That’s interesting from a historical point of view but doesn’t really change the message. I’ve been watching the threat from the electronic/digital media since 1979, when I went to a New England Newspaper Association conference where the big issue was that cable systems were expanding from a dozen channels to 36 or so! We wondered, What could they possibly do with that many channels? Obviously, they were going to try stealing our classified ads. Nothing much came of that, nor of the various subsequent pre-Web experiments. Print readership held up in the early years of the Web. All of that may have lulled the old white guys into complacency.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Oops. I know better. I know I’m supposed to say the release of the commercial browser (oct. 94). Thanks.

    • JustMe

      I’ve begun to realize the newspaper execs will never listen. Even today I find myself inundated with changes that the print editors (who just recently discovered online) want made because they have a “great idea.” It was a great idea — in 1995.

      When will these people realize that they have experience and expertise on their staff and their stifling it because they don’t trust the very people they employ? Not in time, I fear.

      It’s so bad, I don’t even feel like I can openly express my opinions because I’m not allowed to have them.

      At least not for me. I’ll still work at my “paper,” but I’m now actively working on finding another job — one where I’m not second-class because I’m not a “print” journalist.

      • JustMe

        “they are” not “their” stifling.

        I should not type when I work a 12-hour day.

      • Paul Evans

        http://blackblueandredallover.wordpress.com/2008/06/05/i-have-met-the-enemy-and-he-is-me-pt-1/

        The problem with newspapers is their readers.

        I went to a relatively well-known East Coast university in an urban environment with teachers from several Pulitzer-winning daily newspaper. There my journalism professors often insisted that the biggest problem facing newspapers was their audience.

        Even in the early 1980s newspapers were seeing troubling signs. Many had been shuttered and what has become a 30-year trend of declining circulation was just beginning to be glimpsed.

        These days lots of printed papers are on the brink. Slipping readership has turned into free-fall. Stagnant revenue has turned into advertising genocide. Such traditional newspaper strongholds as the classified pages have become virtually extinct. Other streams, like national display, are being diverted in massive amounts, mostly to online entities.

        Who is to blame? Remarkably, many in the business still spout the old canard about readers. Americans are uneducated, they have forgotten how to read, they don’t want to know what is going on in their backyards — much less the rest of the world. These willfully ignorant, in-bred, idiots would rather watch television or just drift aimlessly illiterate through the world.

  • http://www.danielbachhuber.com/ Daniel

    Last bit of advice you can give to newspapers: know how to fail gracefully.

  • Richard Kendall

    Sad but true. I hate feeling so negative and cynical about it all, but there’s so much ammunition.

    Why oh why has it taken so long and so much opportunity to be wasted.

    Yours frustratedly, a daily local newspaper web editor

  • http://carolinajournal.com rivlax

    Engaging in a “what if” here: What if, say, back in 1994, newspapers that went online had demanded paid subscriptions? I ask this because I was working at a newspaper then and it made absolutely no sense to me to give away one’s product. But, in the frenzied climate of the times, everyone jumped on board. Soon it was too late to put the toothpaste back in the tube. What, and I’m seriously asking here, would the new media landscape look like, what would the situation of newspapers look like, if that had been the way everyone went?

    • Anchor Dragger

      OR: What if newspapers and the AP and Reuters had never gone
      on line at all? What if they weren’t paying a bunch of sub-standard
      rewrite men and would-be columnists and Web artistes to bring them into a future where there’s no profit? What if TV and radio and Matt
      Drudge and all their ilk had to wait until tomorrow to rip off the news?

      • Don

        Matt Drudge used to dumpster dive for news. He truly hacked the system.

        Professional journalists seem far too dignified to ever sully themselves to bring me an interesting story.

        Ping to Jeff: Props on your bodaciously sweet rants. Atta boy! Keep up the good work. ROTFLMAO.

    • JustMe

      Or what if newspaper had charged appropriate rates for their online advertising? Perhaps that would have help as well.

    • inkgrok

      I don’t think that would have changed newspapers’ situation at all. There just isn’t much of a market for subscriptions to news sites. And even if newspapers could successfully convince enough people to pay subscriptions to offset the loss of readers from a free access web site, I don’t think they would be able to realize enough revenue to make a difference in the bottom line.

  • Damien Cave

    Ok, I get it, newspaper bosses have made mistakes. Granted. But the news produced by them is more read than ever before, worldwide, and by young people — in iPhones, laptops and Blackberrys. So how about a little perspective and a little less grave dancing?

    I understand the anger at what might have been, and there are plenty of publications that resisted for far too long and probably deserve to die or shrink, but even in their flawed forms, newspapers provide many if not most of the stories that make the conversation of the Web go ’round. It strikes me — as a reporter who cut his teeth online, moved to magazines and now newspapers — that there is nothing wrong with finding a way for the companies that benefit from our work to contribute financially.

    Yes, media outlets benefit from the link culture of the Web, but the argument you make about Google deserving to be thanked reflects a one-sided view of what amounts to a symbiotic relationship. Think about radio; it’s advertising for musicians after all, so by your logic, the record industry should be grateful and ask for nothing in return. But radio stations, even online, still pay licensing fees, and no one suggests that this is somehow wrong or outdated. Why should journalism, another form of intellectual property, be any different?

    Surely this need not be the zero sum game that you, Jeff, and many others seem to harp on. We shouldn’t have to choose between Google and The Washington Post or The New York Times. It’s not a question of win or lose, one or the other — it’s a question of pricing. What I hope is that there is a willingness in both camps to make a good faith effort to understand that their interests are aligned, and that it’s time to come up with a more formal pricing model. Our bosses shouldn’t expect Google or any other aggregator to make up for their mistakes, or cover the industry’s entire shortfall — but a little give does not seem unreasonable. At the very least, the precedent of payment needs to be re-established.

    This is what mature businesses do. At the startup phase, no one gets paid. Once success arrives, the checks go out. The Web just tends to push the day of reckoning — the day of figuring out how much everything is worth — down the road. Yet, this is a communication revolution, a brave new world, but just as the dot-com entrepreneurs of 1999 (who I once covered) exaggerated the Net’s power to re-write the rules — internet dog food sales, anyone? — so too are today’s blogging boosters ignoring the fact that even here, in a world of links, there are some basic business fundamentals that still apply.

    • IGetFreeNewspapers

      Newspapers do not need to charge necessarily. I receive a Free Local Paper at my doorstep every week that I do not pay for or subscribe to. I like, I read parts of it most of the time. Furthermore, those that link to stories are not rebroadcasting or republishing – they’re simply showing people where to go to see the published work. Your analogy that music on the radio is comparable with linking does not work in my opinion. Music is being rebroadcast. The DJ doesn’t get on the mic and shout – “So and So is a really cool band, go here to listen to them”. That’s basically what “linkers” are doing.

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  • http://www.worldplenty.com John Banfill

    Newspapers and magazines need to realize that they do not have a monopoly on anything anymore like they used to. They need to quit trying to charge their readers for their product.

    Your readers are giving you their attention. This attention is your product that you can then sell to advertisers. Your value to your advertisers rests totally on how many eyeballs look at your publication. The easiest way to get more attention is to reduce your price to zero. (See Chris Anderson’s work on Free and the Long Tail.)

    When you reduce your price to zero you probably will need to make modifications in your costs. Give your papers to public places where they will be read and yes on grocery store free-paper racks. Give them free to your carriers and let them make it or not by charging for delivery of the free newspapers to homes.

    Work from your strengths. Enhance the niches that are uniquely dominated by you such as investigative journalism. Know that your journalistic standards are one of your most desirable points. Compete head to head with others. If Craig’s List is giving away free ads and the Thrifty Nickel is giving free ad papers why are yours so expensive and so poorly organized. Give free classifieds to individuals.

    Have a strong online presence. Your audience with a paper product is the local community. Your audience online is the world. You would be surprised at how many people may be interested in your area throughout the world.

    • Robert Golding

      You have just described how Google makes their money, free product up front (search) to gain eyes, then sell these ‘eyes’ to advertisers.

  • Andy Freeman

    > What no one still has said – HOW.

    Produce content that people will pay more for than it costs to produce and distribute.

    Journalists keep telling us that they produce unique and valuable content. Those that actually do will do just fine.

    If you’re selling a commodity, you must keep your costs down because we’re going with the low-cost producer. (Fortunately, distribution costs are way down, but they’re way down for everyone.)

    And, if you’re not producing something that we value ….

  • Taylor Walsh

    Jeff’s insights remind me of David Halberstam’s 1986 book “The Reckoning,” which recounted what happened to the auto industry when the “car guys” were replaced by the numbers guys, who laughingly dismissed the cohort of crappy looking low-margin Datsuns that were entering the US market in the 70s. The Japanese got better at design, and customers bought what they could afford, not on the basis of the zip code where the machine was made. That tragedy continues today.

    This tragedy is far worse, since Seeing the USA in Your Chevrolet is an expression of our freedom, not an essential part of its plumbing. I am afraid that Jeff is right about current leadership’s willingness to gut their own paradigm. But I have to believe that there are many people in leadership rolls who do not want to see journalism eviscerated. Gotta be. Time to step up. Step out.

  • http://keithneisler.com/blog Keith Neisler

    Bravo!

  • http://www.minnpost.com Joel Kramer

    “Google and aggregators and bloggers are bringing value to you; they should be charging you for the value they bring.”

    No, they are delivering traffic, not value. The enormous traffic translates into a glut of inventory that contributes to the plummeting price of advertising. If the reader won’t pay, enormous traffic is not a business model for sustaining professional journalism.

    Bashing the industry leaders who haven’t figured out a business model is not a business model, either.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      That is a sales problem.

      • http://www.minnpost.com Joel Kramer

        I disagree, Jeff. Basing your business on selling something for which there is limited demand but almost unlimited supply is a strategy problem, not a sales problem.

    • http://blog-o-blog.com Zac Echola

      Joel and Jeff. It’s a sales problem as much as it is a strategy problem. A sales strategy problem, if you will.

      First, the sale problem: Influx of drive-by users eat inventory that would be more effective for other, more sustainable users.

      The strategy problem: Newspaper site ads treat all users as the same. We need to figure out who are the drive-by users and serve them a different class of ad compared to other users. Audience segmentation is key.

      There’s tons of data points available, even on the most rudimentary site. Social, behavioral, geographic, contextual. No major newspaper site has yet bothered to figure this one out. Nobody has bothered to store that information in a way they can leverage it.

      • http://forthemedia.blogspot.com Francois Nel

        @zac Important points, well made.

        But to say ‘no major newspaper site has yet bothered to figure this out’ isn’t quite accurate.

        A number of major publisher have been ‘bothering’ and have also recognised that it’s not enough for a single site to be able to provide a granular view of audiences – ad buyers facing myriad choices want a common ‘currency’ on which to base their decisions.

        That’s one of the reasons Martha Stone of the World Association of Newspapers’ Shaping the Future of the Newspaper project has been convening the Media Measurement Integration Task Force on both sides of the Atlantic. The next meeting is in London in few weeks.

  • T. Ferguson

    Context
    I believe that in the juxtaposition of the Newspaper industry & the web, we are witnessing the free market at its best (or worst, depending on your point of view). As you noted, newspapers are dying because they are failing to adapt to what the market wants – whether it’s their long-form content, old-school delivery mechanisms, or their tendency to disguise editorial content as fact-based reporting – they are becoming irrelevant. You captured very well some of the problems.

    The key is the failure to adapt their overall business and operating models. The old business model (classified section subsidizing…) has been thoroughly disrupted, but the failures of the old model and possible paths to success go well beyond mere content delivery and format. My opinion (and this author’s) is that the industry has shown no ability to effect relevant change.

    Old Model Problems
    Before the web, the Denver Post-Gazette, for example, could write content, purchase it from the AP, etc, and they added value through content aggregation, organization, and distribution services as well as for their own original content. They sold that paper in Denver, and Denver citizens bought it and read it because access to that content didn’t exist everywhere, or anywhere else. This made sense when content was not ubiquitous, but the web has clearly and obviously changed that.

    Now, though, the notion of an entity adding value to highly specialized content through aggregation and point-to-point paper-based distribution is antiquated. With the simplest tools, for example, hyperlinks and bookmarks, or even slightly more advanced ones like Google Reader, I no longer need someone to aggregate content for me. With devices such as Android, iPhone, and Kindle, I no longer need – or want – a giant bundle of paper that gets black stuff all over my hands.

    There is still a ton of room for not only adapting the style of content, but also in deciding what content to offer and – perhaps more importantly – what content not to offer. For example, every newspaper does not need to offer a weekly Home and Garden section. Online, Martha Stewart is dominant here and will likely grow more dominant courtesy of the industry’s inevitable trend toward inventory extension via tools such as DoubleClick Network Builder. Offline, there is no shortage of magazines that offer current, relevant, and targeted Home & Garden content. Newspaper H&G section attrition, for example, seems healthy and inevitable.

    Another, perhaps more controversial example is in national news. Does Denver Post-Gazette, for example, REALLY need a staff working on national news? The best content available comes from SF Chronice, NY Times, Chicaco Sun, Wall Street Journal, and other major papers. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal are virtually ubiquitous in paper form, and there is more quality national news available on the web and television than any human could possible consume.

    New Model Possibilities – Hey newspapers, ever heard of competitive strategy?
    It’s one thing to discuss and be explicit about what kind of content each paper should not offer, but it’s another to come up with a direction or strategy and to be clear about what content they will offer. If I’m the people at Denver-Post Gazette, for example, right now, I would be thinking about what niche content we could compellingly offer, in what format, and via which distribution channels. My early hypotheses on niche content would be:

    – Denver local news, state news, and perhaps some type of “Western-States” style regional news
    – I might also consider Travel & Leisure as a core competency, given Denver’s vibrant tourism, skiing, and cycling communities/areas
    – I might consider some content aimed at ranchers (“The Cattle Report”), an important Colorado sub-culture

    There are certainly others, but you get the point. In all, it seems reasonable to me that as classifieds move online to eBay, Craig’s List, and Match.com or offline to specialized circulars, and as content becomes more ubiquitous and redundant, that this industry needs to take major steps – and extremely different steps – to adapt. And simply changing content format and delivery isn’t the full answer. Paper-by-paper competitive strategies that articulate exactly how they will differentiate and participate in the the newspaper industry is what I believe is required.

    Newspapers: Indeed, your monopolies have vanished, and you are in competition now with one another. I suggest you find, hire, and retain some professionals who know how to operate in that environment. I might suggest posting the roles somewhere other than your own classifieds.

    • Eric Gauvin

      Competition on the internet is an interesting topic. It seems so unpredictable and elusive as to what will become successful and why. There may be a better eBay or craigslist out there, but craigslist and eBay don’t seem to face any serious competition. They’re more than just websites or business models, they’re a part of the culture and philosophy of the internet. It’s hard to compete with that.

  • Jonquil

    ” What if, say, back in 1994, newspapers that went online had demanded paid subscriptions?”

    As I recall, some of them did. The eyeballs simply went elsewhere, barring the special case of the Wall Street Journal. Note that the New York Times itself just gave up on charging people for access to the archives.

  • http://www.dallasnews.com Anthony Moor

    Working inside the newspaper industry since 2002 has been like living in molasses. We could see the world around us but moving in it and toward it has been painfully slow. Complaining about Google isn’t a solution to transformative change.

    Google organizes the Web. Something needs to do that. My concern is that they’re effectively a monopoly player in that space. Oh sure, there’s Yahoo, but who “Yahoos” information on the Web? I understand and recognize the revolutionary nature of the link economy, but I’m concerned that it’s Google which defines relevance via their algorithms. (Yes, I know that they’re leveraging what people have chosen to make relevant, but they’re still applying their own secret sauce, which is why we all game it with SEO efforts) and that puts the rest of us in a very subservient position.

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  • http://www.andrewaltenburg.com Andrew

    Harumph such a sore subject. As an avid reader, having to ‘go to the web’ from magazine for ‘the rest of the interview’ only to discover that said interview along with all the other contents are free, made me question: why the f am I paying an annual subscription for a magazine with the exact same content?

    On the other hand, even when online newspapers demand my email address to look at their site, I’m apt to simply try a different site.

    So I guess I got trained to expect free content.. well, not only free, but with absolutely no strings attached.

    What confonds me these days are the number of sites (Variety for example) that will not allow article sharing to Facebook/Twitter. Do they not understand that sharing their work is what will get more people drawn to their voice?

    The media congloms that killed all the interesting columns and homogenized all the newspapers so that they all became USA Today is the real reason that newspapers are dying off. When are people going to ‘get’ that ‘unique is good, the same is not’ ?

    Long live indie bloggers and newssites! It’s very exciting here in the ‘new media’… and I think we’ve got quite a way to go before the dust settles. :)

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  • Paul Bucalo

    Your post perfectly encapsulates the bitterness I feel now that I have left the news industry and given up on them completely.

  • http://www.WithoutWarningCoach.com Rodney Johnson

    Quite simply, what you’ve exposed is a Silent Problem (from the book Without Warning) A Silent problems is a problem that is being ignored, neglected or going unnoticed. I write “Five Reasons Why Managers Avoid Problems” here
    http://www.withoutwarningcoach.com/blog/mar1-2009/

    We have every right to say “I told you.” They know they’re becoming insignificant. However, they’re also protecting their jobs as long as possible. They’re not necessarily interested in sustaining the industry. And everything from this point will be about protecting the status quo as long as possible. And to do this they will speak from authority, yet profess little knowledge.

  • http://www.newscred.com Shafqat

    Great post Jeff… You linked to my post about newspapers losing 30% of their traffic if Google shuts them off. Tim Burden added in the comments that in his previous work with newspapers, he’s seen percentages as high as 60% coming from organic search traffic.

    I really want to see one of the big publishers formally request Google to stop sending traffic. They’ll soon realize that proverbial cake can either be had or eaten, but not both!

  • Kim Kolarik

    Um. You don’t have a Share button for Facebook and Twitter etc. ??????

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      My son and webmaster is busy with exams.

  • http://antoinerjwright.com ARJWright

    Bravo; well written piece. Very, well stated.

  • David

    I love the theory of a free or lower priced product as is mentioned above.

    However, from my experience in the industry at a paper which was free then moved to a pay model, the major advertisers don’t want to pay for a free paper without an accurate sales gauge to tell them how many eyes actually saw a paper. In short, they wanted little to do with free papers.

    This whole mess is frustrating as there doesn’t appear to be an answer which works. Consider a small market paper attempting to sell online ads to support free content. Advertisers cannot or will not pay the rates necessary to support a staff to gather and report the news.

    In the end, SOMEBODY has to pay for the news. If not the readers, then the advertisers. And in this climate, selling ads to car dealers and real estate, longtime stalwarts in supporting papers, is next to impossible.

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  • http://blog.revmike.us Rev. Mike

    Jeff, just great. For years now, we’ve been reading the newspapers publishing surveys that showed kids were no longer reading the news, and presuming their dominance of the industry, its pundits opined about what a bunch of ignoramuses we were rearing and how disinterested they were in the world around them. They were unable to recognize that these young people had simply voted with their mouse clicks.

  • Whippersnapper

    So much for self-important people who rant back at newspapers for not embracing technology, not serving the wired masses, blah blah blah.
    What they’re missing is that there is no business model that will pay people to gather news and put in online. NONE. No one is doing it without the paper product supporting it. Everyone online wants everything for free. It will never work until newspapers are virtually extinct and people start to notice that news isn’t there anymore and realize that getting news about your local region/state/country may cost you more than a few cents a day.
    One the flip side, saying people don’t read papers because they’re not convenient or online or whatever, is a non starter. Net natives, young people and the wired masses aren’t hungry for news. They’re too busy twittering, blogging, youtubing, facebooking, playing flash games, looking at pictures of cats, chatting, IMing, RSSing and sharing. They just have run out of time to read because of all the other things Americans like to do. Older readers still read because they have the time.
    Newspapers, or the online equivalent, are the essential tools of people engaged in the world around them.

    • Eric Gauvin

      “Newspapers, or the online equivalent, are the essential tools of people engaged in the world around them.”

      That’s a good point, yet there really isn’t an online equivalent for newspapers yet.

      The internet has really mastered the classified ads part of newspapers, but the rest of it remains to be seen.

    • http://forthemedia.blogspot.com Francois Nel

      @whippersnapper
      “What they’re missing is that there is no business model that will pay people to gather news and put in online. NONE. No one is doing it without the paper product supporting it.”

      You’re wrong.

      Here’s just one example fromd the north of England: In 2007, a group of business editors & journalists from large regional papers formed their own online-only business news serivice that has, reportedly, been profitable since the first month: TheBusinessDesk.com.

  • Jeffrey Jones

    Agreed. Here is what you left out. For thirty years, their profits have been a mouth-dropping 20% (Fortune 500 average is 5%, I believe). One former editor of the Virginian-Pilot told my class of journalism students they were making 40% profits in the 1980s. My point is not only did they not act when they had time, but they did not act when they had the friggin money to do so–to truly invest in plant, as the saying goes. Don’t cry for me, Argentina!

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  • http://bootlog.org Tomás Pollak

    Right on the spot Jeff.

    However I must say the fight isn’t over yet. Traditional media companies still mantain lots of power. They sure have blown it throughout all these years, but they still hold the power of the brands.

    I think the real countdown is not only about content but actually more about structure: if there’s actually a way these huge organizations will have the ability to shrink and adapt into more flexible and open structures. Otherwise the future will sure as hell blow them away.

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  • http://www.suck.com Tim Cavanaugh

    Great rant, but this is just more wishful thinking: “The best thing some of you can do is get out of the way and make room for the next generation of net natives…”

    Asking the useless, bump-on-a-log, whining, self-pitying alter kockers at major newspapers to get out of the way is like asking a sponge to start flying. Their whole purpose on this earth is never to get out of the way, never to change anything, and never to allow anybody under the age of 50 or under $100,000 in annual salary to try and change anything.

    Things will get a lot clearer when you understand that they are not trying to make a more competitive product and failing. They’re trying to make a less competitive product and succeeding.

  • Anonymous for a Reason

    And how are the newspapers doing who did have you advise them, Walter?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQl5aYhkF3E

    Take yourself out from up in the midst of this stuff, and your argument is so much easier to listen to.

  • Menlo Bob

    Sort of reminds me of the handwringing that came after the invasion of Iraq. “Why didn’t we ask more questions, or follow the obvious signs, or listen to the disgruntled intelligence community?” Because the questions weren’t being avoided, the signs weren’t obvious, the intelligence community–isn’t. The newspaper industry knows the newspaper industry, not the ‘news delivery over the internet and make the same amount of money’ industry. No need to rant about it. When they run out of money something will take it’s place–you want it to be seamless. But then you’re in the business of seamlessly ranting about the stupid newspaper industry, and business is good.

  • http://www.citrusbegin.com peter levitan

    2 memories that echo your “you blew it” rant. I was once the “president” of the digital something or other of the Newspaper Association of America and…

    1) Followed Bill Gates onto a convention podium. The news guys were afraid of MSFT at that time. Why, because MSN was going to destroy the news business. OK. MSN of all things! This was maybe 1998.

    2) I once gave a talk to the board of the NAA, again around 1998, and tried to make loud noises about the impending death of paper-based classifieds, the need for a total rethink and putting digitally savvy management in charge of classifieds. (None of this required a neurological degree.) My key memory was of Tony Ridder in a very nice suit nodding off. Anyone remember Knight Ridder?

    If you haven’t heard enuf yet, here is a good one from Danny Sullivan: http://daggle.com/090406-225638.html

    So, yes Jeff.

  • andrew

    What is missing is that while all of the angry old white men are out in the audience spewing and foaming, they are also sitting on secure retirements, homes on the marsh, etc, etc. These white-haired old farts have out-run the rock rolling down the hill, they know it, and are just riding it down while playing the role that’s expected of them. They have beat the system they have helped create while leaving the baggage for another generation to deal with. These peacocks will strut into retirement, wringing their hands all the while, but with an ever-so-slight grin twitching at the corners of their mouths.

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  • Eve

    For what it’s worth . . .

    I joined in on this late; just saw something come across Twitter (from Jay Rosen @jayrosen_nyu) that drew me to the discussion. I’m not an industry commentator. I’m new to the social media thing, started three days ago, and still read magazines . . . not newspapers other than the local free one that shows up each week.

    Thoughts from an “average” mid-thirties female consumer for you to consider or dismiss:
    – news flows quickly online and I trust sources like AP, WSJ, NYT, CNN, and the major networks; I don’t need the paper because it’s “old” by the time it arrives
    – classifieds: I have no idea if any of the legitimate services advertised in my local paper are any good; I’ll go to Angie’s List for recommendations
    – garage sales: MINT material for print; want something in front of me and there’s plenty older than me that scan those . . . just like
    – Obituaries: there’s something classic to reading those in print; morbid but true
    – I agree with the person above that said print should feature local news, events, entertainment, restaurants, shopping, openings, closings, festivals, etc. THAT is the kind of stuff that is most helpful
    – local celebs and interest stories: for the trained journalist, it’s bunk; I get that but there’s something “big” about seeing your kid in print . . . or yourself for that matter
    – magazines: I’m a female; I like and pay for magazines (to a point); ads are good to review; art direction goes a long way but there must be a balance w/content. I would be tragically sad if all mags went online. Most content is topical or static and doesn’t change by the time it’s written, goes to print, and arrives at my door

    Admittedly, I have scaled back on the # of magazine subscriptions because I can’t read all the ones I received; also precog about retail sales going down the tubes and the fact I might lose my job. I did last month. Glad I cut back on the subscriptions.

    Don’t eliminate the entire garden section; Martha Stewart never covers growing conditions in Ohio; or the clay soil issues I contend with in Columbus (that I didn’t have to deal with in Cleveland). Stay local w/content and issues and it’s a gold mine. I want something applicable to me and not the other more populated areas of the country that have drastically different weather conditions.

    Weather & movies: nice for older folks w/out internet . . . but even they can watch TV for the weather.

    Sports: still have classics, kids teams, etc. Also, fans love to pick up hardcopy when teams are in playoffs. It’s not the same to print it off the laserprinter and save as a momento.

    I don’t have an answer to your profit woes off the top of my head but there is one out there. Obviously, it will take some adjusting and adapting from old school models.

    Keep the funnies and the word find/crossword puzzle. They’re fun.

    Recap major events; news that broke. Online & TV better for breaking stories.

    Editorials always fun in print or online.

    Emotional content & nostalgia are things to play up. Those rank big even if you’re under the age of 40.

    • Taylor Walsh

      Eve, what a great contribution.

      You have provided the “answer” when you write:

      “Don’t eliminate the entire garden section; Martha Stewart never covers growing conditions in Ohio; or the clay soil issues I contend with in Columbus (that I didn’t have to deal with in Cleveland). Stay local w/content and issues and it’s a gold mine. I want something applicable to me and not the other more populated areas of the country that have drastically different weather conditions.”

      The coin of the digital realm is you and people like you in Columbus who share this interest. How many of them are there around the city do you think?

      Everyone else, please extrapolate.

      • http://www.newscred.com Shafqat

        Agreed – Eve nails it with the gardening example. Newspapers have to dominate in all areas of local interest, not just local news. If I’m searching for *any* local content, be it news, gardening, sports, culture, events etc, the local paper better dominate those search results. I just don’t see that happening today, and I think that’s the only way out the mess they’ve gotten into. High quality content, and alots of it, about the things that matter to your community. Forget *everything* else. Oh yeah, and don’t waste time printing on paper, so online only, please.

  • daves

    do you really have to say “angry white men”
    are you a racist

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  • Morten Stensby

    I am news editor in a small, local norwegian printed paper. We also have a website, http://www.avisa-valdres.no. Since starting a study of multimedia management at The Norwegian School of Business in Oslo, I really began following a number of American media experts, Jarvis included. After having read this very interesting article, I think this ought to be obligatory reading for all media people in Norway during the coming easter holiday!

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  • Solitude

    Part of this is total BS.

    “and that’s pretty much all I see before me: angry, old, white men ”

    Sorry that you are so senile Jeff.

    The women in dinosaur journalism are just as myopic and bitter as the men.

    But if your ideology cant let you write this without a lame attempt to make it about race then I suppose you personally fit in with all of them,

    Now don’t you?

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  • Mike Manitoba

    Uh, Jeff? Aren’t you an angry old white man yourself? I mean, you’re old enough to be my father.

  • Matt

    It’s easy to preach from academia where you don’t actually have to do any journalism. I wonder how long it’s been since you’ve actually worked in the media. Do you actually think that bloggers can stand up to real journalists? I admit that mistakes were made, I just get really annoyed by academia who think that they know all the answers for an industry that they don’t even work in.

  • Mike Trautmann

    Everything you say about narrow-minded executives is true, but woe to this country if it loses the experienced reporters who dig up all this news that everyone expects to get for free.

    If you expect community and national bloggers to do the job of professional journalists, you’re kidding yourself.

    • Andy Freeman

      > If you expect community and national bloggers to do the job of professional journalists, you’re kidding yourself.

      The question is not whether community/national blogers can do “the job” that professional journalists have been doing, it’s whether doing said job is worth anything to readers.

      When readers abandon your newspaper for Craigslist, which provides no news, it’s pretty clear that the news that they were getting from professional journalists wasn’t worth much to said readers.

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  • Michelle

    Profoundly brave to pile on with the obvious. Zzzzzzzz
    As a genxer in this industry, as I see it, it was your generation (self righteous boomers) that sat round and did nothing. Here we are. Mass exodus of young executives, brain drain, there goes the future.

    • Mike Manitoba

      Oh, my God. This is the most right-on thing I’ve read in this thread. In his ongoing froth, Mr. Jarvis conveniently forgets an entire generation of journalists. He seems to think only college-age students and enlightened curmudgeons such as himself know how to use the Internet.

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  • http://www.wenalway.com/forum Wenalway

    “Profoundly brave to pile on with the obvious. Zzzzzzzz
    As a genxer in this industry, as I see it, it was your generation (self righteous boomers) that sat round and did nothing. Here we are. Mass exodus of young executives, brain drain, there goes the future.”

    Boomers are destroying the country. We can’t be rid of them any too soon.

    And while we’re generalizing:

    “The women in dinosaur journalism are just as myopic and bitter as the men.”

    I’d stick a “Some of” at the start of that sentence.

    That said, if we’re going to start analyzing genders, I worked with a number of female journalists who were exceptional and who have moved on to big things.

    But the ones who were bad were TERRIBLE. Bill-Walton-announcing TERRIBLE. Very unprofessional, very immature.

    Plus, one of journalism’s dirty little secrets is the “Female writer/editor marries Sugar Daddy” pattern. Then the female writer/editor’s job performance plummets because there’s no longer any incentive to perform. And the pinheads who run the paper see this couple as “stable,” so no one is going anywhere.

    It’s likely also a major reason why few technical innovations or medical innovations get the shredding they deserve: The writers have embedded conflicts of interest that their livelihoods depend upon.

    I’m sure this philosophy will be ripped, but damn, it felt good to type that.

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  • Paul

    I’ve read all the replies and the question persists:

    “How do writers get paid and get the resources to find, write and report good news?”

    Within the google aggregate, the links are not organized by the publishing newspapers, they are organized by the individual article, written by an individual journalist. The google aggregate becomes in effect a newspaper itself. It organizes the content in a comprehensible fashion and matches that with advertising in order to sustain itself.

    Perhaps not prevalent at the moment, but if I had a blog and I posted a unique story about a pressing national issue, I have just as much chance getting a top google listing as the Baltimore Sun.

    The fundamental question is, should I get paid for that and how?

    According to the link economy, I cannot charge for my content, but I am responsible for creating a monetization plan that will sustain my efforts. How? My little blog advertisements can’t do it alone or cannot do it in a stable manner, by this I mean, what I write today is hot but tomorrow maybe not. What I write is still important but just doesn’t hit a chord with the hundreds of thousands of people necessary to garner 1% advertising clicks necessary to pay the bills.

    A good example of this is that until today I’ve never even heard of Jeff Jarvis but this post is relevant and interesting to me today. I will probably never return to this blog again, link or no link, it’s just the law of probability versus the number of content sites out there. Plus I’m thinking that Mr. Jarvis makes a whole lot more from CNN appearances or speaking engagements than he does strickly from this blog in other words the actual journalism here is subsidized in a similar manner as in newspaper business models.

    At the issue’s core: If I don’t get paid, I can not continue to do it. Newspapers today have placed themselves in an intermediary position. Writers work for newspaper because they offer paychecks and resources with which to get the job done. As newspapers die, journalists will try to make a go of it on their own but can an individual come up with the money needed to go undercover for a story? Probably not as effectively if just relying on advertising.

  • David

    I handed my publisher, for free, frameworks and programming — developed on my own time — with which they could expand Web services. I developed the programming for internal newsroom use, and to allow reporters to toggle Web pages of digital analysis from private, internal use to public presentations in support of my news analysis.

    Instead, the newspaper refused to allow me ongoing access even to the data I analyzed on our servers. My managing editor said “I’m not ready to box my resources up and hand them over to Web.”

    The data my now-former employer deleted included real estate and tax analysis that demonstrated the depth of the emerging economic crisis in late summer 2008. Instead, the paper continued printing stories claiming the trends were bottomed out, and never reporting local statistics demonstrating the depth of the collapse.

    To me, this was criminal fraud on the part of my employer. I walked out.

    I’m apparently not the only one accusing the news industry of crimes against their constituents:

    http://tinyurl.com/press-malpractice

    http://tinyurl.com/press-indicted

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  • Tyrone

    Hey Jeff,

    how many companies can you name where the impulse for dramatic change came from within the company as long as money was still pouring in? How many industries can you name that reinvented themselves driven just by the prophecy of smart people within the industry? Of prophets that said: “ten years ahead things might be very different”? I’m positive that for every example you find I could give you at least ten counterexamples.

    If I look at the average newspaper company I think it is very understandable that online never really caught on, at least not as long as print was/is still earning the money. Newspaper companies were built to be well oiled newspaper producing machines, often all the crossmedia blabla in the company brochures being nothing but bullshit. Newspaper – it’s in their company culture, it’s in their processes, it’s in the heads, it’s in their reward systems. Most newspaper companies were simply not build to deal with a high change rate. Even when money eventually stopped pouring in, the culture and the processes where so stiff – it made change nearly impossible. Let alone the fact that even nowadays 50% of the people in newspaper companies hardly use the internet for anything else but email (and that ist a very friendly personal guess).

    Real change does not come from inside the industry it is forced upon the industry from the outside.

    I don’t think it is worth the time to be mad at the old folks. What’s even more ridiculous than people complaning all the time is people who keep on complaining about those who are complaining. The sad story is that the newspaper biz seem to be filled with exactly these two kinds of people: the ones that complain about change. And the ones who complain about exactly the people that complain about change.

    I found it better to ignore all the complaning and get the work done…

  • Potkettleblack

    “The sad story is that the newspaper biz seem to be filled with exactly these two kinds of people: the ones that complain about change. And the ones who complain about exactly the people that complain about change.

    I found it better to ignore all the complaning and get the work done…”

    And which of the above is the writer not?

  • K

    Local news will DISAPPEAR as local newspapers die off. It’s that simple. And as long as today’s spoiled teenagers and twitters don’t pay for news (or music or movies), these businesses will continue to die off.

    People pay for coffee, for clothes, for art, for ANYTHING of any value made by hard-working, skilled people. Why is it so hard for people to pay for news? Do you not value the people who produce these articles? People work very hard write these stories. They spend hours, sometimes days researching them. They and the companies they work for deserve to be paid. Period.

    And if you don’t care about local news, just watch what happens as newspapers die off. The news you take for granted on the internet will vanish faster than your $4 latte! And then the bloggers who spent hours picking apart every little word in every article will have nothing to blog about as they sit home alone in their basement.

  • K

    And if you think reporters working for web sites will fill the void, please show me a web site that PAYS people a living wage to actually produce local newspaper articles.

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  • http://www.masternewmedia.org Robin Good

    Dear Jeff, thanks for this absolutely wonderful article. To the point, inspiring, ruthless, sincere. I think you have hit the nail right on the head multiple times and that newspaper businessmen should really read carefully what you have written here.

    My humble suggestion to such newspaper executives is to look with more open-mindedness in the direction of becoming valuable aggregators, syndicators and distributors of some of the great content being produced out there. As a matter of fact I believe, that a huge opportunity for newsmaskers sits in the ability to simply aggregate, filter, pick and juxtapose news and content according to very specific interests and needs. I call this newsmastering and its output “newsradars”. Many newspapers would still be on time to save part of their ass by transforming themselves into such swift and targeted news providers.

    I find this piece so valuable, that I would also like to ask humble permission to republish it in full, as is, with all links in place and with full credit and link back to your original. I think my international readership (I publish in four languages) would really appreciate having access to this stunning post.

    Thanks Jeff! Keep up this great work, and next time you come by Rome, please, do let me know.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Robin, thanks & of course.

      • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

        I just realized that I’m writing in Twitterese by reflex. I had room for that “and”.

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  • Gene Wirchenko

    I love this bit: ‘You all remember the quote from a college student in The New York Times a year ago, the one that has kept you up at night. Let’s say it together: “If the news is that important, it will find me.” What are you doing to take your news to her?’

    Why? “quote” is a link to the New York Times which requires a login. I log ago decided that I was not going to get one. (Remembering umpty-ump login id’s on systems I rarely or even only occasionally use is a bother I can do without. I can do without it.) When I see that NYT login page, I have a choice to use Back or close the tab. NYT news will not be finding me.

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  • J

    I know it does not mean much, but I have noticed that there seems to be less cuts about at the moment? Can’t remember hearing of one for a good few weeks. Except the Press Gazette in the UK.

  • Peter Heywood

    Apparently, newspaper advertising revenue first exceeded revenue from consumer purchases in 1913-14. At that point the newspapers had a new master, the advertiser. The reader be damned! So while publishers wring their hands about people not reading anymore, they’re really pissed off about not having advertisers anymore. Advertisers aren’t loyal and if a better vehicle comes along, they move on. It took 80 years but it happened. Readers ARE loyal, or would have been if the content was really provided for them, but newspaper stopped thinking about that audience a long time ago. Like so many other things, the web has just provided an alternative to switch to that didn’t exist before. If an equivalent innovation had happened in the ’50’s, the crisis would have been then, not now. Cash cows make for lazy and complacent businesses…

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  • http://www.facefinance.com Avery

    [...] lot of other people are linking to this Jeff Jarvis rant, so when I got an email directing me to read it — stat! — I delved [...]

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  • http://www.aptsoft.net AptSoft

    [..] commercial browser and craigslist, a decade since the birth of blogs and Google to understand the changes in the media economy and the new behaviors of the next generation of [..]

  • http://www.cafemarly.com Marly

    [...] Yet, this is a communication revolution, a brave new world, but just as the dot-com entrepreneurs of 1999 (who I once covered) exaggerated the Net’s power to re-write the rules [...]
    That is interesting for me since we are living in cyber world.

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  • http://saschacrocoli.wordpress.com/ Seth Woernle

    What a great web log. I spend hours on the cyberspace reading blogs, about tons of different themes. I have to first of all give kudos to whoever built your theme and intermediate of all to you for writing what i can only describe as an fabulous post. I honestly think there is a ability to writing articles that only a few posses and honestly you have it. The combining of educative and upper-class content is decidedly extremely infrequent with the king-sized amount of blogs on the cyberspace.

  • http://www.blanqueamientodentalcasero.net/ EllenOr

    very interesting and so true. there is very little excuse to not be up on the latest technology in today’s business world.

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