Friday, July 29, 2005

Instant messaging as a reporting tool

I'm on Yahoo Messenger about 12 hours a day.
I can't report without it. I can't edit without it. I'm not even sure I can live without it.
And if you're a working journalist who doesn't know what I'm talking about, then you are falling behind your peers.
I started instant messaging on AOL a few years ago, chatting with friends while I worked. Then, when I was at Bloomberg, that company rolled out its own IM system. And I used it to talk with co-workers and sources who had Bloomberg terminals.
Now I'm a Yahoo guy -- largely because much of my day is spent covering the petroleum feedstocks market. And everyone in that business works through Yahoo. Two of the B2B publishers I work with also use Yahoo to communicate with staff.
I've taken to urging B2B reporters to join the IM world because IM is exactly the sort of tool a reporter needs. It's faster than email. It's transparent (the system tells you whether or not someone is online.) And, for reasons that I don't quite understand, sources who hesitate to talk on the phone or exchange emails are willing to chat via IM.
Odds are that the industry your publication covers has adopted an IM system. Find out which is preferred by your sources. Then join the conversation. If no one is using IM in your industry -- which is impossible in a field such as oil, stocks, bonds, currency, shipping or any business with a trading component -- then start the craze yourself.
Here's what you'll find:
1) Sources who traditionally have been hard to reach will suddenly become accessible.
2) The speed of your reporting will increase rapidly.
Here's what you need to be cautious about:
1) IM is a form of chat. Eloquent conversations are nonexistent. You can use IM effectively to get yes/no answers, figures, dates, story tips and general information. But to get a useable quote, you will often have to ask sources to elaborate.
2) IM is an informal medium. Sources don't see talking via IM as an interview. The advantage of that is they will talk more freely than if you get them on the phone. The disadvantage is that the first time you publish a quote from IM, you're likely to lose a source. Here's my rule. I'd urge you to adopt it. Unlike a phone call, which is on-the-record unless otherwise stated, an IM conversation is not-for-attribution unless otherwise stated. In other words, if you want to pull a quote from an IM chat, tell your source you want to do that.
3) IM conversations are filled with icons that denote emotions, such as the widely understood smile symbol :> There's a reason for this: rapid typing, use of abbreviations and short phrases make it easy for people to misunderstand IM. In particular, jokes and puns are often read as serious. Learn the icons and use them.
Most IM systems are free. There is no reason for you not to master this tool now. Besides, the clock is ticking. The young people who want your job, the new kids coming to work in the industry you cover, are all chatting on IM. Check out this research, which shows that kids think email is for old people.
(FULL DISCLOSURE: I consult with a group of university researchers who study how demographic differences are reflected in price negotiations conducted via IM. We're developing seminars and related products aimed at helping traders become better negotiators.)

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Update your blog, please

One of the more interesting things about blogging software is that it allows for instant publishing. Just a year ago or so, putting something out on the Web took at least a few minutes and required some moderately complex content-management software. Go back 10 years, and publishing required days, if not weeks, and you had to go through a person called a "publisher," who owned the equipment that printed content.
Now everything is so easy, so fast.
So you sort of have to wonder about those blogs that never seem to update.
The expophile blog, which covers trade shows, has an interesting post that points to one such offender. Take a look. Then check to see when was the last time your favorite blog was updated. For that matter, check to see when was the last time you updated your Web site.
(Note: Expophile posts anonymously. I'm not crazy about that in a medium that promotes conversation and transparency. I'm not a regular reader of Expophile, so it's possible that he/she has already given some compelling reason to hide -- perhaps a hostile boss. Regardless of that shortcoming, Expophile is worth looking at if you follow B2B trade shows. Although I think TSMI is a more interesting read.)

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Expertise and achievement on the Web

Prescott Shibles, the smartest guy who ever worked for me, has joined the blogosphere.
Prescott, who is the electronic-media guru at Primedia Business, promises to write about "strategy and tactics for creating compelling online products and attracting qualified audiences." That should be of interest to anyone in B2B publishing -- especially those who don't think they need to think about electronic media.
After you've spent some time with Prescott thinking about what you should do online, take a look at some of the more interesting things that have been done online. J-Lab, the institute for interactive journalism, has announced the five finalists for its Batten awards for innovations in journalism.
It shouldn't be a surprise that Adrian Holovaty, lead developer for my favorite newspaper site, is on the list (albeit for a different project.) Nor should anyone be shocked that my second favorite newspaper site is also on the list.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Seeking guidance in ethical guidelines

My fellow B2B media blogger David Shaw has exactly the sort of post on his site that I like to see -- a transparent look at a how a B2B publisher handles a controversial issue.
I won't say much more here than this -- David is maintaining his professional ethics amid a challenging sales environment. Everyone in the press should take a look.
In recent weeks I've had two disconcerting conversations with B2B journalists about ethics. In the first, a group of editors sought my advice because they were having a hard time resisting pressure from advertising sales staff who wanted promises of frequent, positive coverage of advertisers. In the second conversation, a B2B editor I work with argued that he was free to run in-house ads about conferences and new products as news stories, not as ads, because such pieces are "BIG news for our customers."
The common denominator in those tales of journalistic immorality is the mistaken belief that a business need trumps an ethical requirement.
That's why I'm always pleased by people such as David, who don't think the trade magazine business model gives us some sort of free pass on ethics.
If you're in doubt about what is, or is not acceptable, take a look at ABM's guidelines on professional ethics. The ASBPE also publishes ethics guidelines, although they are not as clear and are in need of an update. They are available on the group's Web site.
If you are being pressured by advertisers, publishers, fellow journalists or ad sales people to do something wrong, this is my advice:
First, explain why their request is unethical. It's my experience that many an ethical slip happens because people on the editorial side assume everyone knows the rules, but are choosing to ignore them. But there are many folks on the business side of a publication who are simply unfamiliar with journalism ethics. Be courteous. Strike up a conversation. Odds are you'll find that your coworkers are uninformed, not unethical.
Second, don't budge. Giving even a little bit on these issues always ends in disaster. Fight early, fight loudly and fight in public. Get other journalists from your company involved. Take your complaints to the publisher, to the board and to your readers.
If that fails, tell the offending party that you're willing to forsake your ethics and imperil your career if they will do the same -- you'll give them the coverage they want, if they give you sex and cash.
That usually shuts them up.

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Monday, July 25, 2005

A font of font wisdom

I'm not a design guy, although I know what I like when I see it. And I probably pay less attention to design issues now than I did in the past, because I'm one of those folks who think content is moving away from its containers.
Nonetheless, I have a bit of a thing for typeface.
I remember the first time I came across a font that I found compelling. Her name was Amelia, and she was the futuristic style used throughout the original "Rollerball" movie.
This week, New York City is filled with the sort of typeface groupies who try to merge utility and beauty in print. Check out this piece in the N.Y. Times about "TypeCon, a yearly gathering of typographers, printers, designers, calligraphers and assorted, self-described font freaks and type nerds who can argue about kerning into the wee hours."
And for an inside look at the world the world of fonts, check out the blog of Mark Simonson. Mark is attending TypeCon and blogging about the gathering.

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Friday, July 22, 2005

Read this headline and look 10 years younger!

Cyberjournalist has a letter from a reader today who says that in the age of RSS, headline writing has become more important.
I agree...and even go a wee bit further. I think there's a growing need for expertise in all types of ultra-short writing. Certainly news organizations will look for writers who can create headlines to pull in RSS users. But advertisers will too. If text ads, paid links, etc. continue to grow, then the guy who can write a three-word phrase that generates a click is of value.
If you're looking for a guide to how to write headlines for the online world, look no further than Money.CNN. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I was a producer at, which merged its operations with the online offerings of Money magazine to become Money.CNN.) No one does a better job of writing the pithy phrases that get users to click through to the story. The headlines are clear, not cryptic. They are conversational and inviting. Here's a sample from today:
Google's best not enough
Reverse shoplifting: Artists drop while they shop
What Greenspan didn't know
Franchises of the future
Demystifying hedge funds
Each of these headlines (average length of 4.4 words) is informative (telling you the subject of the story -- Google, artists, Greenspan, etc.) Each headline also "opens" a conversation without closing it. For example, a headline that says "Google sales and profit rise, but less than hoped; Shares fall" tells the reader everything he needs. It makes it too easy to not click through. More importantly, the CNN.Money headlines are lively. They feel more like television than print, and that's exactly how a Web headline needs to feel.

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

IDG sees more paid, controlled circ on Web

You'd be hard-pressed to find a publishing company that is smarter than IDG. So it's always worth paying attention to what the owner of CIO and ComputerWorld thinks. In the past, I've made note of IDG's interest in overseas B2B publishing, and I've urged journalists to pursue a more global strategy and culture.
Now Wired magazine has an interesting interview with IDG's chief executive officer Pat Kenealy. According to Wired, Kenealy predicts that Web publishers will move to become less Web-like by hiding more material from search engines.
It's an interesting prediction...but not one I share.
Take a look at the article. Make particular note of IDG's adoption of a multiple choice style of Web publishing, which Wired describes as a mix of "free content, cheap content, expensive content, content that requires an onerous registration process, and content that requires little more than an e-mail address and ZIP code."
I suspect that this not-one-size-fits-all strategy is one that every trade publisher should adopt.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

More changes at Vance

There are more changes at Vance Publishing, where I was once senior writer. And as I've been saying for awhile now, the changes point to a divesture of some properties.
In the latest move, all the food-related publications, including the Packer newspaper and the Red Book directory have been rolled into a new division called Food360°. According to this undated press release, Vance's Produce, Crops and Livestock divisions are now part of Food360°.
The revamp seems to be a departure from the plan, announced just six months ago, to reorganize the food properites into a single unit with two divisions --produce and animal foods.
But whether it's two divisions or one, Food360° now functions largely as a standalone company based in the suburbs of Kansas City. To me, that looks like preperation for a sale. (The rest of Vance's properties, which cover the wood, hair salon and home decor industries, still report to company headquarters in Lincolnshire, Ill.)
I'll continue to predict that Vance plans to sell the food publications. And I'll continue to predict that the buyer will be Ascend Media -- which is based just a hop, skip and a jump down the road from Food360° in Johnson County.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The direction of directories

I try to stay out of the print-is-dead debate. To me, there is no debate.
Some of print is dead. Some of it isn't...yet. And some of it will live forever.
For example, there will always be a place for the long-form narrative. That style of writing simply cannot work well on the Web, but it is too beloved by writers and readers to disappear. The narrative will fade further from magazines and newspapers and drift deeper into books. But it will stay a print product.
On the other hand, some forms of print are clearly already dead. When was the last time you checked a stock quote in a newspaper? How can such a print product compete with real-time quotes that link to research reports and fundamental analysis?
Other forms of print are wounded, perhaps mortally. Newspaper classifieds are ancient now, and largely useless. Craigslist has changed everything. Smart papers are looking for online ways to compete. Print classifieds may have a longer life in B2B magazines, I suppose. But classifieds must be searchable to compete. So smart B2B publishers will also move such products online.
On the other hand, I may be the only person on earth who thinks the future of print directories is secure. (Even the king of directory publishing -- the Thomas Register -- disagrees with me.)
Every B2B company I have ever worked with has some form of textbook-sized directory of the industries they serve. At Vance, we published the Red Book Credit Service guide to produce and shipping companies. It was impossible to work in the produce industry without having the book on your desk. At Traffic World and the Journal of Commerce we published guides to logistics companies, railroad executives and ports. At Primedia, there were separate companies such as Bacon's that published directories. Many of the magazines at Primedia published directories of their own. And later today, when I work on some newsletters for OPIS, I'll likely consult one of the Stalsby directories of petroleum executives.
Certainly there are compelling arguments to be made that these products cannot continue in print. Their primary purpose is as a reference tool, yet they aren't searchable. More importantly, the distribution and printing costs of such oversized products is troubling.
But I think they will survive.
Up until two years ago, I was municipal finance editor for Bloomberg News. Bloomberg had taken a look at the insular world of municipal-bond trading and decided it could do a better job of covering the industry than the trade pubs did. In particular, Bloomberg thought it could beat "The Bond Buyer," the daily tabloid newspaper that served the industry.
I'd argue that Bloomberg succeeded. Muni bonds are an insider's game. Connections -- both personal and political -- determine success. Bloomberg assumed that the muni market was in need of more new and openness. Most importantly, Bloomberg assumed that the muni market would quickly dump the day-old data that filled the back of "The Bond Buyer" in favor of real-time data on the Bloomberg terminals.
To a degree, Bloomberg was right on all counts. "The Bond Buyer" now has a far more extensive online offering than it did just a few years ago. I suspect that even the old timers at that paper recognize that print is not the medium for people who trade real money in real time.
But what hasn't changed....and I suspect never the directory that "The Bond Buyer" publishes. It's called the "Municipal Marketplace." But most folks refer to it as "the Red Book."
I know that every day at Bloomberg I turned to the directory -- searching for sources, checking names, etc. It was a very valuable tool for a journalist and a very valuable tool for anyone in the muni industry.
I don't see that changing anytime soon. And I can't shake the feeling that the physical product -- oversized and in print -- is the key to its usefulness. There's something reassuring about being able to "reach out" for information by reaching across your desk. There's some valuable, emotional connection in these products.
This week, SourceMedia announced an expansion of the Red Book's listings. I think that's a good idea. At least in this small slice of B2B media, print is not dead. And just in case I'm wrong, SourceMedia also offers the Red Book online.

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Monday, July 18, 2005

Pushing ads, pulling journalism

There's an interesting piece in the Times today about a system that uses Bluetooth technology to "push" movie trailers onto cell phones. If you walk near a kiosk with the technology at a Loews theater, your cell phone will receive the ad.
I find that a little intrusive. But that doesn't mean that most people will.
What I find interesting about the technique is its potential as an editorial tool. The Loews ads are essentially a push/ad version of the pull/journalism idea that I call immersion journalism.
And although I dread the day when simply walking through the streets of New York subjects me to vibrating pagers and ringing cell phones full of geographically targeted ads, I look forward to the day when geo-targeted information and news can be summoned with a click or a phone call.

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Who is buying the B2B media companies?

I've been known to bemoan the rising influence of Wall Street in trade publishing. One of my favorite things about B2B media is that so many of our publications are smaller, family-run companies. Heck, even some of the big companies in B2B publishing are still family run.
I worry like crazy that the new breed of B2B media owners -- private equity firms and Wall Street bigwigs such as KKR, VSS and JP Morgan -- don't understand our industry or our culture.
Given that, I wasn't pleased to see a report from DeSilva & Phillips, which indicates that Wall Street deals dwarfed more traditional media deals last year. "The media companies — which collectively present informed opinion to the world — were subdued in the deal market. 'Subdued' is overstating it. In the magazine market, strategics accounted, altogether, for a mere 4% of the value of the DeSilva & Phillips Top 15 Deals — a record low."

You can see the report here, or read a piece about it in Folio.
There's also a piece here by David Shaw that points to a N.Y. Post article that indicates not all Wall Street investors are pleased with the B2B space. (FULL DISCLOSURE: The Post article is talking about KKR's investment in Primedia Business, where I was once the vice president of online content.)

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Being a B2B benchmark

Many a journalist in B2B media describes his publication as "the voice of the industry" it covers. I've said that's an outdated concept in the age of conversational media. And I believe that trying to be such a voice is a sure way to get your publication excluded from the conversation.
Wouldn't it be better to be the benchmark of an industry? To be so well respected that the prices people pay for goods are based on what you say? Wouldn't it be wonderful, in other words, to be the Dow Jones in the Dow Jones Industrial Average?
It's a lofty goal. And whenever someone achieves that level of respect in an industry, it's worth noting. So congratulations to Reed Business' ICIS, publisher of Chemical Market Reporter and related offerings. ICIS is launching something called the ICIS-LOR Ethylene Index (EIX). The index will be used as the benchmark settlement price at the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange for the world's first over-the-counter (OTC) ethylene futures contract.
That's the sort of brand-name recognition that should be the goal of every B2B publisher.
Consider how difficult it becomes for ICIS' rivals to call themselves the dominant force in the ethylene market when the ICIS brand is attached to the commodity's price.
On the other hand, consider how easy it is for someone armed with the tools of new media to compete against ICIS in other areas.
Is there anything that could stop a standalone journalist, armed with a video camera, some b-roll and this article from producing a rival to ICIS' television service?
(FULL DISCLOSURE: It's worth noting that ICIS competitor Platts is the benchmark in the trading of some other chemicals. And it's worth noting that both Platt's and OPIS are benchmarks for some petroleum product prices. I work on a number of newsletter products for OPIS.)

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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A look at Red 7's past and future

There's a feature story in the Fairfield County Business Journal about Kerry Smith, founder of Red 7 Media -- the company that runs Folio magazine. The article is actually pretty lame. But that's often true of the editorial in regional business publications. I often get the feeling that the folks who run such publications are torn between acting like journalists and acting like the Chamber of Commerce.
If you've paid any attention to Kerry's career -- his time as an entrepreneur, his battles with management at Primedia, and his return to his own business -- then you know his story is a lot more interesting that this article would make it appear.
But read it anyway. There's some interesting information about Smith's plan to exert some control over controlled circulation and limit subscribers to 10,000. "Our philosophy is that since we're in niche segments, we want to make sure we're reaching the cream of the crop in terms of readers. We've tightly defined who our audience is," Smith said.
Even more interesting is the information ... albeit limited ... on Smith's next venture. Event Design magazine is set to debut in October.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Looking at the future by looking at the VNU deal

I've read a lot in recent days about VNU's $7 billion purchase of IMS Health. And truth be told, very little of what I saw in the business press interested me. The Journal, the AP, Reuters and the Times all seemed focused on the size of the deal, rather than the nature of the deal.
So I was pleased to come across this piece by John Blossom (thanks to PaidContent for pointing me toward it.) John argues that the deal is part of a larger shift by "business publishers and aggregators towards being providers of a broad array of business solutions for specific horizontal and vertical markets instead of mere folios of publications."
Try to ignore the jargon-laden writing (and there is a LOT of it in John's piece.) He's saying something of value here.
Deals such as the VNU purchase are signs of a shift in the B2B media,
according to John. Ad-supported publications are in trouble, John says, because trying to control the context in which B2B content is consumed is a loser's game. In other words, although your customers may need your content, they no longer need the paper it's printed on or the Web page where it's posted.
RSS feeds and related technology have freed content from the package. RSS and similar developments have freed your customers from having to buy the car when all they need are the tires.
This means thinking about your content as objects that can travel from place to place within various solutions and that can adapt its monetization capabilities to its context readily" John says.
There's a similar call for a post-context world in this post by Steve Gillmor (and thanks to Rex, guest blogging at ABM, for pointing me toward it.)
Steve bemoans the "
the continuing slide of the trade space" and points out that new voices and new delivery methods are leaving traditional B2B publishers behind.
"...print is dead. And like print, page views are dead," Steve says.
Read both pieces. See if you agree with them, and with me, that there is simply no going back. The B2B audience has tasted power and autonomy. It has no intention of being dictated to ever again.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Lessons from a niche publisher

The Washington Post today has an interesting look at BNA Inc., formerly known as the Bureau of National Affairs, the publisher that covers the minutiae of regulatory life in Washington, D.C. The article is about BNA's upcoming move to new offices in Arlington, Va., but make sure you read it. The piece provides information of interest to anyone in B2B publishing.
BNA produces subscription-based newsletters that cover micro niches inside federal regulatory agencies. Competition is often not an issue because, as one reporter explains, beats are so narrow that no one else covers them.
I've been warning B2B publishers that they are vulnerable to competition from their own employees. And BNA, which makes its money in specialized beats where sometimes only one person produces all the content, should be particularly vulnerable to such a threat.
But no such threat has arisen at BNA. And no such threat is likely to either. Because the 1,300- person company is owned by its employees. The built-in loyalty that comes with such a structure makes BNA less vulnerable to the threats posed by new publishing technologies than any other B2B company I know.
BNA has another advantage worth noting. The company is an advocate of clear, concise writing that emphasizes information, not prose styling. Visit the site, check out the product samples. You'll see that the writing may be dry. But it reads as if it is written by professionals, not by children enamored of cutesy tricks. That's a vast improvement over much of the throat-clearing, cliché-filled drivel that marks much of our profession.

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More on immersion journalism

My idea of immersion journalism -- creating stories that are retrieved on mobile devices by users who follow hyperlinks in the real world, rather than on a Web page -- is still generating some attention from journalists and journalism teachers.
Today K. Paul Mallasch of J-Log says he's "intrigued" by the idea and is looking for feedback. Drop by and share your thoughts.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Link to something, anything. Just link

I spend a lot of time complaining about B2B publications that live on the Web but don't understand the Web. Chief among my complaints are articles without hyperlinks.
I don't know how many different ways I can say this, but let me try again. The Web is a web. Connecting to other stories, to other sites and blogs and databases and everything else is the basis of Web culture. So it should be the basis of Web journalism.
When a B2B publisher fails to understand this and bans links, or when a B2B journalist is too lazy to insert links, the site becomes invisible to others. Because links are how the Web decides the value of a site.
There's a nice piece today in Folio about search engine optimization -- the art of making your site visible to others on the Web. Check out this quote from Prescott Shibles, the smartest guy who ever worked for me, on how silly it is to not use hyperlinks. "Nobody links either to their own articles or to others [in the b-to-b space],” criticizes Primedia’s vice president of online development Prescott Shibles. “This is one of the highest considerations from the search engines. We have this fear of linking off-site, but guess what? Users are going to Google it anyway and find them."

Web portal lacks Web features

PennWell has launched a new Web "portal" -- pulling content from some of its B2B magazines into a single site that also sells equipment for the energy industry.
It's a move that perplexes me.
I didn't understand the portal concept back before VerticalNet collapsed. I didn't understand the concept any better when Primedia tried it with Industryclick. The word "portal" refers to an entrance, a gateway. But every Web portal I've ever seen is something else entirely -- a silo, a one-stop, an attempt to monopolize and localize a user.
Perhaps most disappointing about PennWell's new venture is that it is the latest B2B publisher to announce a new Web strategy that fails to take advantage of the Web.
Take a look at this story on the site, or this one or this. (And can someone tell me why every one of those stories has two date stamps in two different styles? Jul-07-2005, 7 July 2005, July 7. Doesn't anyone look at these things after they are posted? Can't anyone agree on what the style is on dates?)
None of the stories have links -- either internal or external. There's no feedback function, no interactivity, no graphics.
Why would anyone bother to build a site like this?
For a look at what a B2B magazine site can be, take a look at CMO. I like that site more every time I look at it.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I do work for OPIS, which also covers the petroleum industry. But PennWell and OPIS concentrate on very different areas of the business and are not direct competitors. Also, it's only fair to note that OPIS has subscription-based electronic products -- email, Web applications, etc. -- that share PennWell's lack of interactivity. I hope to change that.

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Thursday, July 07, 2005

Lessons from a table of contents

Last weekend I was sitting in the new and lovely public library in Princeton, N.J., catching up on my reading. I had a comfortable chair, a pile of publications and nowhere better to be.
One of the things I was reading was a back issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the oversized tabloid that serves the nonprofit world. I glanced at the cover and then turned to the table of contents. At the top of the page was a brief subhead that described the table of contents as "A guide for the busy reader."
My first reaction, given my leisurely pace that day, was to think that I had no need of such a guide. But upon reflection, I found myself pleased by that simple line. It seemed the Chronicle had found a simple way of describing the true mission of a TOC -- providing a service to the reader. As much as each headline and brief summary on a TOC is designed to lure a reader into the publication, each also serves as a gatekeeper -- telling a reader what he doesn't need to bother with. A TOC, in other words, is a service, not a sales pitch.
I thought of the Chronicle's TOC again yesterday in a conversation about RSS feeds.
Two schools of thought have emerged as RSS has grown. One group uses RSS to send headlines and summaries -- a sort of TOC entry. The other group uses RSS to send the entire article. I don't worry about which choice a publisher makes. There are good arguments for both approaches. Nonetheless, I tend to recommend that publishers start with the former and use RSS to lure readers back to a Website.
Even so, some publishers balk. They worry that providing anything over RSS will reduce traffic flow to their Website.
When I heard that worry surface in my conversation yesterday, I suggested that the way to think of RSS is as a table of contents. Giving a peek at what's inside will surely attract some readers, and will just as certainly drive some away. There is risk and opportunity there. But as long as we think of our customer first, as long as everything we do is a guide for the busy reader, then we will build loyalty.
For more about summary and full feeds, take a look at what Amy Gahran has to say.
To see how Matt McAlister is handling a switch to full feeds, take a look here.
For more about TOCs, read this article in Folio by John Brady.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Acquistions that make sense

It's seldom that a B2B media acquisition makes editorial sense to me.
Sure...I understand that trade publishing has become less about publishing and more about trade. I accept, albeit grudgingly, that Wall Street investors play a bigger role in our industry nowadays than do the old-time family publishers.
That's why I'm so pleased when I see someone in B2B make a purchase that seems to be more about content than cash flow.
Cygnus Business Media has announced it has acquired EMS Magazine and a series of related properties. That's about as logical a deal as you'll see this year. EMS serves emergency medical technicians, rescuers and other first responders. Cygnus already owns Emergency Medical Product News as well as Firehouse magazine and some related trade shows. Cygnus also owns Law Enforcement Technology and some related products. So the purchase of EMS means Cygnus is now the dominant player in all three areas of emergency response.
For a reporter, that means every interview with a firefighter can be mined for a story idea about medics. Every article about post-traumatic stress syndrome can be repurposed for cops, firefighters and EMTs. For an advertising salesman or tradeshow rep, the sale means that Cygnus now reaches almost everyone in the U.S. who works with rescue rope, stretchers or walkie-talkies.
In other words, this is a deal full of synergies. And although I loathe the word "synergies," I love the concept.
But while I'm celebrating the Cygnus deal, much of the B2B world is wondering who will acquire Advanstar. For a thoughtful analysis, take a look at what fellow B2B bloggers Rich Westerfield and David Shaw have to say.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Cygnus is a client of mine, and I'll be teaching a two-day writing seminar at the company later this month. And as long as I'm disclosing things, I should mention that I'm a licensed EMT. So it's possible that any deal involving EMS magazine would get me excited.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Going straight to the sources for news

One of journalism's functions -- whether we journalists care to admit it or not -- is to funnel public-relations material to an audience. The best journalism operations apply their best editorial judgment to p.r. material. If it's not newsworthy, it's not published. And even worthwhile stuff is rewritten to remove jargon, p.r.-speak and over-the-top promotional material.
In the best newsrooms, public relations material is no more than a starting point for a reporter. A press release can provide story ideas, contact names and background info.
In the worst newsrooms, a press release is published verbatim by lazy or unethical journalists.
Understandably, public-relations executives would generally prefer that their material be unedited, while being surrounded on the written page by editorial copy. P.R. pros understand that such placement gives their copy the appearance of news produced by journalists.
So what happens when public-relations companies can produce their own news and use it to "surround" their marketing message? Last week, Purina did just that. And as I've said before, I expect to see a surge in B2B news produced by B2B news sources.
Today, Doc Searls points toward a news-filled blog that is written by Boeing engineers. As Doc points out, the blog is serving a p.r. function and doing it much better than a press release could. And an article in BusinessWeek says one of the more popular blogs in France is run by the head of French retail giant E. Leclerc. That blog is filled with copy about news topics such as inflation and government policy -- editorial copy that surrounds and "legitimizes" a public-relations message.
In a world where news sources can now be news publishers, traditional B2B publishers should be asking themselves how they can respond to such developments in the industries they serve.
And B2B journalists need to ask themselves -- and ask themselves honestly -- if they'll miss it when someday in the near future their in-boxes are no longer filled with press releases.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Rob Curley leaves Kansas for Florida

Rob Curley, the new-media genius behind the converged newsroom of the Lawrence Journal-World in Kansas, has accepted a new job in Naples, Fla.
The move comes just days after Rob's work captured the attention of the New York Times.
Rob's move is certainly good news for Naples, but it's a sad day for Lawrence. It's a sad day for me too. I love Kansas and visit at least once a year. And part of the fun of that trip has been watching how the Journal-World serves its community. I've never been anywhere in Florida. But I suppose now I'll have to visit.
Everyone in journalism should pay attention to Rob's work. And everyone should be making some effort to duplicate the success he has had with convergence.

A really simple project for the long weekend

Here in the USA, tonight marks the start of the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Most businesses will be closed until Tuesday. I'll be spending part of the long weekend doing long-weekend things -- cooking, exercising, being with family, napping and going to the movies. Unfortunately I'll also be doing the most long-weekend thing of all -- catching up on work.
Before you take a look at your own to-do list, allow me to make a suggestion.
If you haven't already learned to use RSS, then you're already way behind many of your peers. Take time this weekend to learn the system that will make it possible for you to once again keep track of the news and information you need to do your job.
It's easy to do. I promise. There's a reason why they call this stuff really simple syndication.
If you've followed my earlier suggestion to download the Firefox browser, then learning RSS is going to be really, really simple. Firefox has RSS-reading capability already built into a feature called Live Bookmarks.
For a fun look at these subjects, check out this piece in the Chicago Sun-Times.