Posts about Media

Flackwire

I find it amazing that the PR Newswire would be worth $1 billion. They distribute press releases and charge for the privilege. In a world of links, anyone who wants your flackerie, your company line, can come to your company site. But, of course, you’ll still want those who don’t want your stuff to see it and you’ll want writers to read it. But the days when one organization could charge for having a conduit to newsrooms is likely short-lived as is the value of getting just to newsrooms.

Prince of the air

Rarely is a puff piece so well-deserved as the one about TVNewser Brian Stelter in today’s NY Times — on Page One, yet. He is, indeed, a phenom.

The moral to the story is pretty much the same as the one in David Carr’s column on TMZ.com: “TMZ is yet another lesson — a depressing one for old media types — in the Web’s ability to create a brand at breakneck speed.”

Depressing unless you’re the one building it.

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.