Posts about Media

Newspapers: Find your essence

Moments after posting the news about the the Daily Mail doing without a TV critic (below), I read Lucas Grindley on another paper getting rid of its movie critic and NFL writer, among others, . . . because they are not local and newspapers, at their essence, must be local. Amen to that.

The managing editor for the Winston-Salem Journal was faced with the need to cut his budget. And when looking around the newsroom, he saw the same thing all of us do. Duplication of efforts. So the Journal’s film critic and NFL writer were laid off.

Local film critics for national movies are a vestige of different times. For most markets, there’s no local angle to Mission Impossible 3.

Reassign your reporter now, before it’s too late, to something that might attract new readers. I wonder what the Journal’s managing editor would have covered if he had reassigned that film critic a year ago.

Maybe you’re the film critic. Don’t wait around for this same fate. Convince your editor to use wire copy so you can cover something else. Because when it comes time for the editor to look around the room for cost savings, your beat needs to be local and indispensable.

Sports writers, listen up. If you’re not writing something more than the game story, then you’re next. An editor can get that same gamer from the wire.

Features writers, if what you’re covering is on the wire regularly, then your beat isn’t local enough. Food is a national topic. Travel is a national topic.

Business writers, you’re not immune either. Prominent media types are already advising newspapers to “outsource” all types of coverage.

Death by a thousand cuts. A slow death is happening as newspapers lose writers. Don’t let positions get cut because you didn’t have enough foresight to realize they were being wasted. Maybe circulation declines wouldn’t be so steep today if we’d ensured every beat in the room was local, and couldn’t be replaced by wire copy.

Now read the managing editor of the paper, Ken Otterbourg, writing on his blog about the cutbacks:

We were one of the smallest newspapers to have a full-time film critic, and we enjoyed that distinction. But there’s plenty of excellent film criticism out there that we can use for nationally released movies. We’ll still occasionally review movies with a local tie-in. By contrast, nobody else is covering the local board of education or the city council. It’s unique content. So in making our decisions, we were guided by our belief that what we can do best is cover Winston-Salem, Forsyth County and Northwest North Carolina. That’s where we think our future lies, being a metro paper with a strong community focus.

Here are a few posts where I’ve been pushing newspapers to boil themselves to their essence. But Lucas Grindley is right: This is about making shifts and investments now, before it’s too late.

Whither magazines?

Time Magazine just made a rash of brash decisions: cutting its rate base from 4 to 3.25 million (now barely ahead of Newsweek’s 3.1) by getting rid of junk circulation; raising its cover price by a buck to a rather ballsy $4.95; cutting five of its eight special demographic editions; and trying to convince advertisers to buy based on the alleged count of readers vs. the actual count of magazines sold. It’s looking bad for the old beast.

Just before I read the Time press release announcing this yesterday (on my Treo, not in print), I ran into my former colleague, Conde Nast Editorial Director Tom Wallace, at FourSquare, and I was downright optimistic about his magazines.

The difference? I think that general-interest magazines may well be fated to fade away. General-interest anything is probably cursed. For the truth is that interest never was as general editors and publishers thought it was, back in the mass-media age. Old media just assumed we were interested in what they told us to be interested in. But we weren’t. We’re proving that with every new choice the internet enables.

Yet special-interest magazines — community magazines, to put it another way — have a brighter prospect — if they understand how to enable that community.

When I spoke on a panel at the American Society of Magazine Editors sometime ago, the guy who invited me asked a favor: “If you’re going to say that magazines are doomed, Jeff, could you not come?” So I thought about it and decided that magazines aren’t doomed, not necessarily.

And mind you, this comes from someone who buys a fraction the number of the magazines I used to. That’s partly because I no longer have an expense account from a magazine-publishing employer, but also because I just found the issues piling up, unread, as only The New Yorker once did, a mountain of guilt in the corner. I love magazines. Hell, I started one. But I’m just too busy reading — or listening or watching — fresher, more focused, more personal, higher interest content on the internet. But some of that is still from or around magazines (see Business Week’s Blogspotting, for example). I still have a relationship with these brands, only not always in print anymore. And even when I do still read the magazine in print, I want a relationship with the magazine — and, more important, my fellow readers — online.

Magazines aren’t doomed if they can figure out that relationship. And it starts here: The editor of a magazine finds the good stuff and the people who make it. That attracts the rest of us, who like the same good stuff they like. That has always been the essence of the magazine value and brand. But now the internet makes it possible for me to find the good stuff my fellow readers have found. In that sense, magazines were the original collaborative filtering algorithm — only I couldn’t see the stuff my fellow readers liked. Now we can, thanks to the internet — if, that is, the magazine in the middle allows it.

The wise magazine will enable its community to speak among themselves. And it will also find ways to extract and share the wisdom of its crowd. This is true not just of magazines but of other, similar brands in other media (The New York Times, The Guardian, 60 Minutes, the Food Network, and most any trade publication. . .). I don’t want to know what the nation’s best-sellers are — the top books in the general-interest mass market. I want to know the best-selling and best-reviewed books among New Yorker or Times or Economist or Guardian readers. I want to know what EW’s community thinks of Borat. I want to see what Advertising Age’s crowd thinks of Time Magazine’s moves.

To gather a community together today and then not enable them to be a community is a waste or worse: It could be fatal to the brand.

I ran into a magazine circulation exec I respect not long ago and he lamented that too many magazines don’t update online nearly often enough with nearly enough good stuff. Others in his job would — and often do — say the opposite; they would fear that a robust internet site would cannibalize circulation. Not this guy; he’s smart. He said that without a strong online relationship with a magazine’s public, he has no opportunity to sell to them, to maintain and build the relationship and thus the brand and the business. Are the economics different online? Of course, they are. But so are the opportunities. At FourSquare, I heard Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg talk about ways they’ve exploded the usage of the service among the same people. Magazines should think that way.

Some magazines — like fashion and design books — will continue in print. Some — like trade publications — will morph entirely online. But in all cases, they must enable their communities to join together online.

So what about Time? Does it have a community? I don’t think so, no more than NBC does or Warner Brothers. Well, somewhat more. But you get the point. What would I do with Time? Man, that’s a tough one. I hear the new boss, Rick Stengel, is a helluva good editor and when I met him at a panel, I was impressed. But it’s one tough job. Can Time become a collection of communities? Can it become a new kind of news service? Can it invent new, broad forms of networked journalism? Can it survive? We’ll see.

What Time did this week is just what TV Guide did more than a year ago when it cut its rate base and junk circulation and reduced its editions and changed its focus to online with new community enabling features like blogs. They can only hope it’s not too late.

: LATER: See friend Rex Hammock on b-to-b magazines’ lead over the masses:

As I’ve blogged here many times, the consumer magazine arena often claims “community” but rarely actually hosts or facilitates or even recognizes it. However, in the business-to-business media, you often find the leading publisher in a vertical will be the same company that puts on the largest seminars, conferences and conventions; collects and analyzes and packages the data; and, yes, even hosts the dominant space on the web in that category.

While B2B media companies may not “be there” yet, they are far ahead of consumer (mass) media companies in understanding community — or, as I’d refer to it in the business context — the marketplace of human beings who are buyers and human beings who are sellers.

Yes, and why shouldn’t there be New Yorker Meetups?

: Michael Parekh adds:

I have the same problem…love the magazines, but am seemingly unable to MAKE the time to attack the increasing pile in the corner on a regular basis.

Much in the same way that by RSS feeds pile up in the hundreds everyday in my blog reader, as do dozens upon dozens of podcasts in my iTunes and on my iPod.

Too much good stuff, way too little time.

Not necessarily an old media vs. new media problem.

Just a new problem for ALL media.

And one of the solutions to that is the link: taking in what your friends and editors tell you is the good stuff. That is a key value of the content community.

The net’s voice in the election

I think the internet brought more change to the biorhythms of American politics in this election than the last, but in more subtle ways that we can only now begin to measure.

Start with this: Wouldn’t it be ironic if the netroots’ excommunication of Joe Lieberman led the Democrats to lose a seat and not quite get control of the Senate? It won’t matter much in reality, of course. Lieberman’s still a Democrat, whether some Democrats want him or not.

But there’s a lesson here for newly empowered popular movements and for political parties. It’s just not clear yet what that lesson is. Does the law of unintended consequences rule: A movement rose up to purge Lieberman from the party but ended up losing one for the party? Or does this demonstrate to party leaders that they can’t lose control of their parties? Can they still? The people and the power brokers have to figure out who’s on top.

And:

YouTube allowed anyone with a camera to report on any candidate and so now any misstatement gains toxicity and speed; this is the true viral politics.

The speed of politics has changed, just as the speed of media did before it. Dan Rather couldn’t wait 11 days to correct his mistake. Allen and Kerry couldn’t wait hours to back off their media malaprops.

The voice of politics has changed, not just because the people can now be heard in our blogs but also because we can cut through the nonsense of media coverage with the no-nonsense attitude of comedy news. On YouTube, you can remix and mock any politician. Anyone can be Jon Stewart. Everyone can call bullshit. I hope we are starting to see the death of the dutiful voice of politics in America.

Yes, this was an incredibly ugly, TV-run election in many races (including our Senate race in New Jersey) but I believe that we will see an ever-declining influence of television and political advertising on TV in future elections. They will find new ways to get ugly in new media.

Quoted: Community at the core?

From this week’s Media Guardian podcast:

Emily Bell, editor-in-chief of Guardian Unlimited: “In the next two to three to four years, community goes from the edges to the core. Otherwise, you’re not going to have a business.”

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, at the Tory party conference in the UK: “We have 35 million blogs, doubling every six months. The average blog has exactly one reader: the blogger.”

Hmmm. Why own Blogger, then? Why place ads on them? Why diss them? Perhaps it’s because the core of Google remains not people but machines.

Exploding TV: The atomic bomb

At the Picnic in Amsterdam — which, sadly, I couldn’t attend because of various duties — Matt Locke, head of innovation at BBC Future Media and Technology, sings sweetly to this pew in the choir about the real structure of media. The Guardian’s Mark Sweney blogs it:

The good news is that the BBC turned out to be the most commonly referenced big brand [in blogs].

The bad news is that just 0.3% of the millions of blog posts analysed referred to the BBC.

What does this all mean? It means that what the BBC does, creating programmes, is just a tiny ‘atom’ in the new media world and how on earth can you grow that 0.3%?

The likes of YouTube and blogs equal cheap forms of production of content.

You can’t ‘own’ all the relationships audiences have in the web world so the best plan is to ‘atomise’ content, disintegrate, to ‘explode’ into places where they are.

Amen, brother. I said sometime ago that media is not about owning content or distribution. It is about relationships. And Locke is quite right: relationships are also not something to be owned. Sweney continues:

Here we go, he has four rules/lessons/options for large media companies, this ought to be interesting. Hmmm, I seem to have come out of it with 5 – perhaps one is an example.

1. The BBC is not making programmes it is making ‘atoms’, tiny elements going everywhere in the digital landscape. The controversial Creative Archive is an attempt to “unlock” elements, “atomise the archive”.

2. Decentralising production. BBC Backstage project. Not to get too techy but this seems to be where clever people are allowed to create applications. One chappy created a system that tailored the BBC news output into “moods” – good or bad – by scanning for key words such as ‘festival’. 90 have been built in the last year and some might get commissioned.

3. Host successful sites and communities and don’t try and re-invent the wheel by doing a “me too” MySpace or YouTube. They are already out there so provide content and engage with them. . . .

4. Be an aggregator. Like the MTV guy said yesterday TV channels can be aggregators. Example: Radio 1 site pulling in content that refers to the radio brand from the likes of Flickr and YouTube. . . .

5. Don’t panic. Linear TV is not disappearing. Broadcasters just need to take different strategies and roles in different media. Example: Creating a virtual festival complete with streaming video footage within Second Life of an event held in the real world.

I had coffee this week with Richard Sambrook, the BBC’s director of global news and world service, just to compare notes. I come away from encounters with the BBC impressed that even with its gargantuan size and leaden history, culture, and structure, it is still able to innovate and explode assumptions. Contrast this with the talk among American newspaper companies in a post I’ll put up shortly. You won’t hear them talking in such blunt terms about the fundamental change in media.

Who’s afraid of the big, bad mogul?

In light of the Knight Ridder and Tribune fiascos, I have to laugh at all the mewling about big, bad, media consolidation. The mewlers needn’t waste their breathy angst on media companies getting bigger. The big ones are toppling of their own weight, weighed down by their heritage, habits, and huge costs. Others are forced to open up — see the networks taking their shows to the internet. The irony of the parallel falls of the Tribune and Knight empires is that regulation against consolidation is what stopped Knight from diversifying, at least within media, and finding efficiencies with media cross-ownership within its markets. But the fact that Tribune was grandfathered in, owning one of every medium in Chicago, wasn’t enough to save it.

To those who celebrate that some newspapers will be freed from the yoke of remote corporate parents as they are bought up by local egotists, beware: New cash from would-be moguls and kingmakers in local markets will only stave off the inevitable. To those who want to regulate big media into extinction: Relax. They will die of their own weight.

: SEE ALSO: Jack Shafer, who says that trading the big, bad media conglomerate for the local mogul is not such an enticing prospect.

Everybody’s still avoiding the real necessity: restructing the news industry and its products and services. More later.

Yahoof!

Yahoo announced disappointing ad revenue growth for automotive and financial services today, kicking its stock in the groin.

This comes as Yahoo also announces a big and expensive marketing push: Dunkin’ Donuts for all.

I’ll say it again: Yahoo is the last old-media company. It is dependent on the same dynamics — good and bad — as other media companies: the high value but difficulties of direct sales to agencies; the cost of acquiring users; the vulnerability to larger market trends; the high cost of owning content.

Google, on the other hand, just rides atop the waves, wherever they go. So far, at least, it does not tie itself to the old models of owning (or licensing) content or getting value only out of bringing people to its site.

The successful media companies of the new age will be the ones that enable media wherever it wants to be.

Jon Stewart for President… or an Oscar

HuffPost finds a campaign to elect Jon Stewart president. Hmmm. Wonder whether it has anything to do with this: Robin Williams playing Jon Stewart running for President.