Friday, September 23, 2005

Time for change, time for a break

For reasons that I'll probably never fully understand, I still live my life on an academic calendar. Perhaps it's a function of being raised in Boston, where each September brought thousands of new students to town. I never much cared for summer. It was too hot. And even as a child, summer seemed wasteful. Summer, it seemed, was for the less bright, the less ambitious.
But autumn was something else entirely. The city filed with students. And Boston seemed as full of promise as they did.
I left school a long time ago. But summer still bores me. And each September leaves me craving change, a new start. In the Septembers since I left grad school, I have moved seven times, started four new jobs and launched two businesses.
And as much as September leaves me yearning for something new, it also points me back toward the past. I miss New England in the fall. I want to be home in September, to see leaves of changing colors.
This year is no exception. Come morning, my love and I are heading out for vacation. We're driving north, leaving Brooklyn behind, and heading to the Berkshires. We'll do some hiking, sleep outdoors and take measure of what is important. It's September, when my year starts, and I'll begin anew in the mountains of New England.
Just a few days ago, I severed ties with OPIS, a publisher of B2B newsletters. It is September, after all, and time for change.
When I return in a week, my working life will be new. I'll be doing more consulting with Chief Marketer, an online product owned by Primedia Business. I'd done some work on that project in the past, but I've now been given the opportunity to increase my participation.
In the meantime, I don't expect to post much, if anything, to this blog.
I'll talk with you all again in October.

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

More on B2B journalism and Katrina

There has been considerable -- and well-deserved -- praise given to the mainstream media for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina. In particular, the tale of the Times-Picayune has captured the attention of the nation.
Industry watchers say Katrina may be remembered as a turning point in American media. The storm may have renewed mainstream media at the same time it introduced citizen media to millions of consumers.
But also worth noting is the response to the storm of B2B media.
As discussed here and here, the world of business-to-business publishing has tried to lend a hand to those affected by the storm. And most every day I hear word of other programs from trade publishers aimed at helping out.
I'm glad to see such kindness from our industry. And I applaud everyone who has gotten involved.
And I'll also take this opportunity to applaud for its coverage of the storm. Take a look at this blog and the accompanying slideshow about an editor's journey with a rescue squad. And ask yourself if Katrina may also be remembered as the time when B2B journalism learned to embrace the immediacy of citizen journalism.
(FULL DISCLOSURE: Firehouse is owned by Cygnus Business Media. This summer I had the opportunity to teach a two-day seminar at Cygnus. Some of Firehouse's staff attended those sessions. But I can't take credit for anything the magazine has done in the wake of Katrina. The folks at Firehouse had a solid understanding of the potency of online storytelling long before they met me.)

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Stealing stories

Every reporter knows what this is like: You break a big story. And the following day some rival organization takes your story, confirms it, and then publishes it as its own.
In daily newspapers, it's often the local TV station that "steals" stories and doesn't give credit.
In the B2B press, it's often the mainstream press that does the stealing.
And although I have heard a lot of reporters over the years complain about the practice, I've never seen anyone fight back until now.
Look at what Rafat Ali says about how the Wall Street Journal is taking stories from his PaidContent site and not giving credit.
The answer to this problem -- just as it is the answer to many of journalism's problems -- is transparency. If we can all learn to be more open about how we work, we will all wind up producing more truthful and professional work.
If you're unclear about how to attribute a story that someone else broke, use the phrase "was first reported in," as seen here and here.

ADDENDUM. 9/22: As reported in Cyberjournalist, the Wall Street Journal has seen the error of its ways.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Changes at ICIS; changes for me

Reed Business' ICIS unit is rebranding its Chemical News and Intelligence service and adding coverage of the oil industry. The news operation, now known as ICISnews, has reporters based in London, Houston, Singapore, Shanghai, Moscow, Buenos Aires, Washington and New York.
It's a little unclear to me how much of the service is actually new. Chemical News and other Reed properties have been global players for quite some time in the chemical world. Reed's Chemical Market Reporter has been around for more than 130 years. And Reed already publishes some newsletters about petroleum product prices. Nonetheless, the new ICIS does seem to be offering something that the old Chemical News service did not -- daily news stories from around the globe about the petroleum industry.
That's good news for journalists. The new ICISnews may offer some interesting job opportunities for B2B reporters and editors. It's also good news for traders and others in the petroleum business, because information is vital in a market where a move of a penny can cost millions around the globe.
But it's bad news for those companies that already cover the petroleum industry -- notably Reuters, Platts, Pennwell and OPIS.
Now this is normally where I would disclose my ties to newsletter publisher OPIS, as I have in earlier posts. But those ties were severed just yesterday.
I'd been arguing that OPIS was vulnerable to new competition because its products were old-fashioned (the electronic publications are text only), often shoddy (many OPIS products are published without being edited) and unprofessional (in-house ads are run inside of news copy.) But I failed in my attempts to impose some of my beliefs about quality B2B journalism. First and foremost, I failed to convince the company of the need to edit copy. So OPIS and I have parted ways.
Now it would certainly be fun if I could say that ICISnews is exactly the sort of threat to OPIS that I envisioned. But that wouldn't be true.
ICIS will compete against OPIS in some limited areas, including feedstocks and crude oil. But ICIS isn't going after the core of OPIS' revenue -- news and pricing data from the wholesale gasoline market. OPIS is nearly all alone in that niche. Although a few competitors have risen over the years, they've been other Mom and Pop operations (sometimes started by OPIS employees) with similar less-than-stellar products. OPIS has beaten them back.
But I remain convinced that some new competitor will emerge in that space -- most likely someone such as Reed that is already the benchmark player in similar markets -- and take advantage of OPIS' weaknesses.
In the meantime, I'm off to new challenges. I'll post more about those in the next few days.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

New plans, new media, new Web

I've spent some time in recent days feeling nostalgic for my time at, the online business-news site that is now known as I was a producer there in the early days of the Internet boom. I worked with a slew of exceedingly bright people and we created some remarkably good work.
I've been thinking about the past because of an announcement about the future -- Time Warner plans to combine all of its business magazine Web sites into a single property under the banner of CNN.Money.
The move makes sense in at least one way -- editorial operations will be run by CNN.Money, which is a far superior site to anything else in the Time Warner universe.
And the consolidation was predictable, because Time Warner's Web operations continue to be roiled by corporate infighting. The purchase of AOL created open warfare among executives looking to control the conglomerate's new media offerings. There has never been peace. And it seems to me that battles are often fought solely for executive glory. So the latest decision may be nothing more than the result of corporate warfare; the new CNNMoney may prove to be an unmanageable mess held together, temporarily, by some leader's will and arrogance -- a sort of post-war Yugoslavia for the Internet.
Interestingly, Time Warner says the move is driven by advertising. And I'll confess to being confused by that. Take a look at what Prescott Shibles, the smartest guy who ever worked for me, thinks about Time Warner's ad plans.
But while I was reminiscing about CNNfn and contemplating the future, I had a thought worth exploring that may shed some light on what Time Warner is doing.
I worked the late shift at CNNfn, taking over the site a few hours after the markets closed in New York. I started my commute into Manhattan at around 3 p.m. or so, and just before I left my apartment each day I "synched" my Palm Pilot using a software system called AvantGo. The software would drop all of CNNfn's stories into my PDA. And I'd read those stories on the train. By the time I arrived at work, I was up to speed on everything we had covered around the globe while I slept.
Today I think of that software as an early warning of what I think now is a fundamental shift in information distribution. As I've written before, content is separating from its containers. RSS, podcasting, etc. are indicators of a new world where content moves outside the confines of a single Web site, magazine or device.
In this new world, a Web site becomes less important than the individual pieces of content that once lived on it. And thus, for someone like Time Warner, it becomes less important to operate a series of Web sites for each of its brands.
Instead, it may make more sense to consolidate all the content on a single site -- knowing that even that lone site is likely to grow less relevant with time -- and work on ways to distribute, monetize and brand content that moves across platforms. In other words, Time Warner may be making the exact right move -- dumping a bunch of unneeded Web sites and moving electronic content under the control of the smartest Web guys at the company.
For Businessweek's take on the new culture of the Web, click here.

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Journalists as entrepreneurs

I've been talking for awhile about the competitive threat that B2B publishers face from their own staff. As I've said here and here and here, the tools of citizen journalism enable everyone to be a publisher. A journalist no longer needs a middleman to communicate with an audience.
And it looks like at least one major player in media shares my belief.
According to a post on the ASBPE Boston Blog, Tony Silber, editor and publisher of Folio magazine quoted me in a recent speech in which he predicted that entrepreneurship will be the next publishing trend. (Thanks Tony!)
Now the simple truth is that there are lots of people in this industry who don't listen to me. And that's fine. Not that I'm ever wrong. But on very, very, very rare occasions, I've been less than fully correct.
But not listening to what Tony has to say would be a move of remarkable stupidity. So my guess is that business-to-business publishers may now start to pay more attention to what citizen journalism means for them.

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Rex, some magazines and Katrina

Magazine executive and blogger extraordinaire Rex of Rexblog has "adopted" a magazine publishing company that has been displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
Romney and Charley Richard are the publishers of "Louisiana Cookin'" as well as a B2B publication called "Sugar Journal." And they were forced from their home and offices by the storm.
Rex is looking for volunteers from our industry to help in the efforts to keep the magazines operating. Rex has created a site called about his plans (although the site couldn't be reached when I tried this morning. If it's still down when you try, you can also reach Rex through Rexblog or his business site.)
For some other assistance efforts by B2B publishers and journalists, look at this earlier post and the comment section.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

More suggestions on journalism ethics

I'm really starting to think that B2B journalism is making some progress on ethics. I was pleased to see the topic is on the agenda at ABM's "Top Management Meeting," scheduled for Nov. 14-16 in Chicago. Rance Crain, president of Crain Communications, is hosting a one-hour session called "Editorial Integrity: Under Assault?" On the dais with Crain are Terry Evans, associate executive editor of Home Channel News; Pat Panchak, editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek; and B2B media's ethics hero -- Whitney Sielaff, editorial director and publisher of National Jeweler.
I'm afraid I won't be there. But I'd urge any of this blog's readers who can attend the meeting to make an effort to get to the ethics session.
Regular readers of this blog know that I've written quite a bit of late about ethics. I've published my thoughts on how to handle unethical requests by coworkers or advertisers.
I've applauded ASBPE for its decision to update its ethics guidelines, and did the same several months earlier when ABM issued its new guidelines. I've condemned the gross violators in our industry, and pointed with disgust at the unethical types who claim to lead us.
I'd like to think that my discussions of integrity in B2B journalism have some value; I'd like to think that my opinions have some influence. That's why I'm going to make a suggestion to the folks on the panel in Chicago (and to the board of ASBPE as it reworks that group's guidelines.).
No doubt much of the talk in Chicago will be about the blurring of lines between advertising and editorial. And I thank you for that in advance. I applaud any discussion aimed at recommitting B2B publishing to a clear line between those two worlds. I've spoken to too many journalists of late who face growing pressure from the dark side.
But I'm also going to ask that the panelists take on one of the trickier areas in B2B journalism ethics: the use of anonymous sources. I'm convinced that we are doing damage to our reputations through the casual and unjustified use of anonymity. And it's not a problem we can blame on the advertising staff.
I'll also ask that the panelists give some thought to the difficult area of reporting on our own companies -- for time and again I find that otherwise good companies stumble by confusing press releases with news, and by cutting corners for themselves that they wouldn't cut for others.
And I'll suggest that the answer to both problems can be found in the post-objectivity movement and Dan Gillmor's work on transparency.

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Monday, September 12, 2005

Video clips for B2B news sites

Short-form video offerings -- brief clips of news or entertainment content distributed via the Web -- "are booming," according to the Wall Street Journal. The article suggests that as broadband penetration rises, the online medium becomes more video friendly.
More importantly, technology has put video production -- once the sole domain of those with TV studios and millions of dollars worth of equipment -- in the hands of everyone. Just as blogging means that anyone can now be a publisher, vlogging means that anyone can produce a TV newscast.
Some B2B publishers understand the potential.
You can find video offerings on CMO's Web site. CNET has tons of video. And Variety offers videos as well, although the publication recently downsized that department.
But most of our industry seems not to have noticed that video production has suddenly become easy and inexpensive. That's disappointing, but not surprising. Regular readers of this blog know that I have complained again and again that much of our industry doesn't seem to have a clue about even the basics of multimedia storytelling.
If you're a B2B journalist, it's well past the time for you to master multimedia skills -- if for no other reason than to increase your pay.
If you want to see one version of the journalist of tomorrow, keep your eyes on what Yahoo and Kevin Sites will do.
And if you want to see the video clip -- strange, lovely, addictive and otherworldly -- that I've been playing compulsively the past few days, click here.

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Friday, September 09, 2005

Layoffs at CXO diminsh all of B2B publishing

Now this is discouraging news.
Some 10% of the staff at CXO Media have been laid off, according to Folio magazine.
Layoffs are always bad news. But CXO is the parent of CMO magazine -- which may be the best publication in B2B. I love CMO. And I'm not alone; the magazine has been a big winner in B2B journalism awards this year.
CXO is also the parent of CIO, a magazine I adore nearly as much as CMO.
And CSO, winner of three Neal Awards from ABM this year, is also a CXO property.
So I'm left more broken-hearted by these job losses than I would be by almost any other layoffs anywhere in B2B journalism. For the lesson here is unpleasant -- excellence doesn't protect us.
Granted, CXO says the job cuts are part of restructuring aimed at refocusing on growth areas -- including online. And I tend to agree with strategies that emphasize online over print. Also, Folio says editorial jobs "remain largely untouched" by the layoffs. And that's certainly good news. But other folks on the creative side, including people in the art department, have lost their jobs. I would imagine that every one of these people is talented. CXO's products are lovely, remarkable and extraordinary. And I would imagine that each of them will find new jobs soon.
But that doesn't lessen the loss to our industry. I fear we may be losing something rare and inspirational.

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Thursday, September 08, 2005

B2B journalism and Katrina

Three times yesterday people asked me what the B2B publishing industry was doing to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
And I had to admit that I had little idea.
That may be because I haven't been paying attention. Or it may be a question of public relations -- some publishers may be taking action, but failing to issue a press release for fear that a public-relations statement would seem ... tacky.
For example, one company that I work with is taking steps to "adopt" a family left homeless by the storm. But the plan is being implemented quietly.
On the other hand, some B2B publishers with clear links to the recovery effort have been very open in their actions. Cygnus' and Pennwell's Fire Engineering both serve the search and rescue community. Both sites are awash in Katrina coverage and links to charities.
I notice that the Magazine Publishers of America have published a page of ways to help. And ASBPE has a link to the Council of National Journalism Organizations, which is organizing help for journalists who were displaced by the storm.
And I've seen some individual efforts by some of the publications and bloggers that I follow on a regular basis. MeetingsNet, for example, has done interesting work related to New Orleans' convention industry.
If you're interested in helping, start by looking at Prescott Shibles' blog. He has links to finding banner ads for the Red Cross for your site and some discussion of what publications at the former Primedia Business are doing to help the storm's victims.

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The buying and selling of B2B

I can't keep up anymore.
It seems that everything in B2B publishing is for sale. And what isn't for sale was just sold a few days ago. And anything that hasn't been sold or isn't on sale is looking to buy something else.
Stamats has picked up a new property, according to BtoB Magazine.
101Communications is on the block, according to Folio.
Advanstar just bought some trade shows a few weeks after selling some magazines.
And VNU Business is thinking about a sale too, according to the Deal.
Of course it was the same group that owns the Deal that just bought Primedia Business.
The pace of all this seems ... somehow... too frantic. I believe with all my heart that this is a wonderful time of change in our industry. I'm excited by things such as participatory journalism, standalone journalists, RSS feeds and post-objectivity ethics.
But I'm also nervous. I fear that at a crucial time for our trade, too much attention is being paid to short-term returns.
There is, of course, the additional concern that the sudden arrival of a slew of B2B properties on the market may hurt values. Or, as my friend and fellow B2B blogger puts it: "Can the market bear another large overall deal?"

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The ugly truth about ugly sites

John Maeda, a professor at MIT's Media Lab, has a new column at Businessweek about design. In today's column, Maeda wrote about a type of trail marker he came across while hiking. I was struck by this line: "The key is to provide the hiker, the user, or the viewer with enough -- but not too much -- information."
I wish that everyone with responsibility for a B2B journalism Web site would spend some time on that same trail, and digest that same lesson about simple design. Because perhaps the most consistently embarrassing thing about our industry is the preponderance of truly garish Web sites.
Take a look, for example, at Cleaning and Maintenance Distribution. The site is an exercise in visual overkill -- blinking ads, poor color choices and non-intuitive navigation. Putting aside the editorial issues -- advertorial copy in the news hole, lack of a feedback function -- and there's only one thing you can say about this site.
It's ugly.
And it's not alone.
I've written about sites that are just ugly, and I've written about sites that seem to not have a clue. And I remain perplexed as to why so much of what B2B publishers do on the Web is so amateurish.
If you're interested in what does and doesn't work in Web design, take a look at the work of Jakob Nielsen and read the Eyetrack study.
If you'd like to see an example of good design from a trade publisher, check out CMO Magazine.
And please take a look at brandchannel -- perhaps the loveliest B2B site on the Web.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Your readers are remixing your Web site

Unless you are younger or hipper than the average guy working at a trade magazine, you probably haven't paid much attention to remix artists. But now you have to.
Remix artists take existing work and redo it in a fashion more to their liking. The most well-known example is the "The Phantom Edit," in which a remix artist re-edited the Star Wars film "Phantom Menace" to remove the annoying character Jar-Jar Blinks. Perhaps more interesting is DJ Dangermouse's "The Gray Album," which combines the Beatles "White Album" with Jay Z's "The Black Album."
Remixing has also captured the attention of Web programmers. And there are now plug-in applications available for the Firefox browser that allow readers to see your site the way they want to see it, not the way you want them to see it.
Wired has an interesting article on the enabling technology, known as Greasemonkey, and some of the applications. B2B publishers should take a look. Greasemonkey lets users circumvent two of the major revenue sources of online publishing. First, by downloading a Greasemonkey script I can avoid seeing the ads on your page. Second, I can download scripts that offer up alternatives to any e-commerce applications on your site.
This is powerful, compelling stuff. And publishers ignore it at their peril.
Content is separating from its containers.

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Friday, September 02, 2005

When advertising lays an egg

When advertising is poorly done, it's bad news for the editorial department.
Cheap, stupid ads don't serve the advertisers' needs. And that can lead advertisers, publishers and salesmen to put pressure on editors to do something inappropriate to help. I've been watching this scenario play out for decades now. When an editor tells me that he's being pushed to help an advertiser by writing a puff piece, etc., I ask to see the ads that the company runs. Inevitably, I find that the company is using the dumbest, lamest, most amateurish ads you can imagine. Sometimes the ads are done in-house by the advertiser; sometimes they are done in-house by the publisher. But whatever the source, the problem is the same -- the ads suck.
That's why I believe that big companies with skilled marketing departments and creative ads aren't what threaten editorial ethics. It's always the little guy -- the little, dumb guy -- who makes outrageous and unethical demands.
I've argued that the best defense against such things is the use of compelling advertising. And perhaps B2B publishers need to invest in hiring more talented people to create ads for their customers.
Or, perhaps B2B publishers should hire less talented and creative people to create ads. Maybe the problem is too many people trying too hard to create serious ads. Take a look at this remarkable commercial. (Thanks to Adrian Holovaty for finding this thing in digital form.) Then ask yourself the following vital questions:
1) Does content have to be professional and well-done in order to be compelling and effective?
2) Is someone at my publication -- whether it be a salesman, support staff or the publisher -- helping advertisers to produce work that works?
3) If that thing is Eagle Man, why is it laying an egg?

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