Friday, October 28, 2005

Offline and on the speaking circut

I'm heading out of town for nearly a week, off to speak to journalists from IDG.
I'll be in Massachusetts for awhile, then flying to San Francisco.
The whole thing is putting me in a very good mood. I love to travel and I love to talk. And I love these things even more when I'm getting paid to do them.
I don't expect to do much blogging until I return to New York...although that could change.
In the meantime, if you're so very twisted that you can't wait a week, check out the ASBPE newsletter. There's an interview with me in the latest edition.

tags: , , , , ,

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Learning the basics of conversational editorial

A portion of my life these days involves trying to explain blogging and the world of conversational media to B2B journalists. And these journalists are divided into three distinct camps.
First, there are the bright and ambitious. Some of them have started blogs of their own. All of them are aware of the blogosphere and are participating by posting comments on other blogs. All of them have at least a passing understanding of the fundamental shifts in media.

The second group -- much larger than the first -- consists of people who don't understand a thing about conversational editorial, but think that they do. These folks tend to think only in stereotypes and to demonstrate shockingly low levels of curiosity. They don't read blogs. They often don't think anyone should read blogs. And they like to defend their ignorance with the sort of flawed logic that can give you a headache: "I practice reporting -- I do research, conduct interviews and collect facts. Bloggers don't do these things. I know this even though I have never researched, conducted interviews or collected facts about blogging."
When a publisher convinces someone from this group to create a blog, you'll get the lamest product imaginable. It will be "irreverent." It will likely use words such as "curmudgeon" or "rant" in the title. It won't be conversational. There won't be a feedback function. It won't have external links. All you'll get is a poorly written column that appears in reverse chronological order.

The third group, growing smaller every day, is completely unaware of what has happened in the past few years. They don't know what a blog is. They are still upset that the company started a Web site and they don't believe they should have to write for it. They have never heard of Jeff Jarvis, let alone Adrian Holovaty. They are print reporters, and they never miss an opportunity to tell you that. They are often quite delusional about their writing ability and their influence in the industries they cover. And each and every day they grow less valuable to the companies that employ them.

If you have people on your team from Group 1, you should celebrate.
If you have people on staff from Group 3, cut them loose.
But if your reporters and editors are stuck in Group 2, there is still hope.
Start by showing them this pdf file from a presentation by Amy Gahran to a group of science journalists. Then send them this post from Amy's blog and tell them to listen to the audio file.
After that, if you haven't noticed a new open-mindedness among these reporters, a new willingness to engage readers, then put them into Group 3 and start asking other people to take over their responsibilities.

tags: , , , , , conversational media

Monday, October 24, 2005

News from the micro beats

A few years ago I worked with a guy who had a thing for Altoids. He loved Altoids. He decorated his desk with the little metal boxes the mints are sold in, and he covered his cubicle walls with Altoids advertisements.
He didn't get any money for it. He just really, really enjoyed Altoids. And his personal brand was tied to the Altoids brand. Even folks at the office who had never spoken to him knew him. He was the Altoids guy.
That level of obsessive interest in a company is cherished by branding folks. They know the power of one-to-one style marketing. And they know that folks like the Altoids guy are important to their success.
But people with that sort of passion have also become important in B2B journalism -- producing and analyzing news about their obsessions.
Today's New York Times has an interesting article about bloggers who specialize in news about a single company.
I've written about this phenomenon before both here and here, and suggested that this particular form of standalone journalist poses a threat to traditional B2B publishers and an opportunity for entrepreneurial reporters.
It's time to ask yourself, if you're in this game for the money, how can you compete against someone who is in it for love?

tags: , , , , , , ,

Friday, October 21, 2005

Starting a blog with or without your company

Sometimes your boss is a knucklehead.
And perhaps that's what's going on with the editor mentioned in this post on Businessweek's blogspotting. The editor says his team wants to start a blog ... but the publisher will only back it if the blog supports itself with advertising.
Now just think about that for a second, and put yourself in that publisher's shoes.
Imagine your staff came to you and said they wanted to do more work and create a new product. Imagine they said there was no cost.
Can you imagine saying no? Can you imagine telling them to "sell" the thing first?
Look -- I run into this stuff fairly often. And it's these same publishers -- fearful of change and quick to crush an initiative -- who complain the loudest that their editorial staff isn't ambitious.
And I'm coming to believe that the best move is to just ignore such publishers.
The media word is changing. Someone is going to be left behind. And perhaps it should be your boss.
If you're an editor with a good idea and an entrepreneurial personality, then you don't need your publisher anymore. Heck -- that's the great lesson of citizen journalism. Anyone can be a publisher now. And if you have a few bucks saved, or if you're young and/or brave enough to risk the loss of stability, then you don't need anyone's approval to create a product.
Launch the product. You already have the editorial skills.
Monetize it. Here's a guide. (Or don't monetize it. Just do it for the potential it has for your career. Do it to prove that you're right. Do it because you can.)
You can do it on the side and still collect a paycheck. If you don't get caught first, tell your publisher what you've done after you've succeeded.
Or just quit now, and call the knucklehead in a few months and tell him he can buy your business.

tags: , , , , ,

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Transparency in the B2B media business model

A few months ago I wrote about Education Week's plan to revamp its business model.
I'm glad to hear that things are going well, and I'm even happier to see that Education Week is being transparent about its progress.
Check out this piece on API's site in which a producer from the Education Week site fills us in on some of the details.
I'm sure that many folks on the business side of publishing find such disclosures inappropriate -- even when the news is good.
But I expect to see more of this sort of thing.
The citizen-journalism movement is forcing editorial to be more transparent about how it does its job. And that new spirit of openness is spreading to marketing, advertising and beyond the media world.
Don't believe me? Look at this story about a guy who has the courage to blog about the failure of his business.

tags: , , , , ,

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The new ASME guidelines

As discussed yesterday, ASME has released its new set of editorial guidelines.
I've taken a quick look through them, and I like what I see.
Among the notable items are:
-- Clear rules on the inappropriateness of running ads on the cover of a magazine: "The front cover and spine are editorial space. Companies and products should appear on covers only in an editorial context and not in a way that suggests advertisement. (This includes use of cover “stickers.”)
-- Clear rules banning product placement and product guides: "Advertisers should not pay to place their products in editorial pages nor should they demand placement in return for advertising. Editorial pages may display and credit products and tell readers where to buy them, as long as those pages are solely under editorial control."
Thanks to everyone at ASME for their work on this!
Folio magazine has posted a pdf of the guidelines. Learn them. Live by them.

tags: , , , , ,

Winning awards, searching for bloggers

The American Society of Magazine Editors has announced what it says are the 40 best magazine covers of the past 40 years. The Annie Liebovitz photo of a naked John Lennon wrapped around Yoko Ono -- taken just hours before his death -- won the top prize.
But it's No. 7 on the list -- the "If you don't buy this magazine, we'll kill this dog" cover from National Lampoon in 1973 -- that is my personal favorite. That issue swept the halls of my high school like nothing I had ever seen. Within minutes we had all seen it. And within hours we had all adopted the poses of world-weary cynics and intellectual humorists.
Check out the winners here, and read about the awards here.
As I perused the winning covers today, I found myself wondering -- why haven't I come across any blogs by magazine designers or art directors? Does anyone know of such a site? Lord knows there's a lot of great stuff being written about online design. But is anyone from the magazine world participating in the blogging discussion? If not, maybe one of the nominees for the Ozzie Awards could be convinced to start a blog.
For a look at what such a site could be, take a look at, a blog about newspaper design (thanks to Cyberjournalist for pointing me to the site.) Mark Friesen, a designer at The Oregonian, has created the exact sort of blog that I love -- a passionate and informative product aimed at a small niche. I'd love to see something similar for the magazine world -- ideally by someone who knows both print and online design for our industry.
Or how about a blog about magazine circulation? Is there anyone out there writing about inserts and opt-in lists and such?
If you know of such blogs -- or of others that may be of interest to the world of B2B media -- let me know.
Or, if you're considering starting one, drop me a line. I'll do all that I can to encourage you to join us in the blogosphere.

ADDENDUM 10/21/05:
Yesterday, I received two emails from readers noting that the link I had provided to the photos of the covers was broken.
At first I thought I had made an error. But when I checked my work, I realized that ASME had removed the page with the photos from its site.
I sent an email to ASME asking for an explanation.
What I got back was an email with links to two other sites that have the photos. One of those pages is hosted by a company called Doceus, which sells Web site "solutions" software for trade associations.
The other page is hosted by the Desert Sun newspaper.
No explanation was given for what happened to the ASME page. Nor was there an apology. Heck, there wasn't even a simple greeting in the email. No "hi," no "hello" no "Dear Sir," no nothing. I was disappointed by the entire experience, because I expect a better sense of public relations from a media association.
So I have no idea what ASME was thinking ... because ASME apparently didn't think it was worth telling me what it was thinking.
At any rate, I have changed the link in the original post so that it now points to the Doceus site.

tags: , , , ,

Monday, October 17, 2005

More on ethics guidelines

Later today, the American Society of Magazine Editors will release an update of its ethics guidelines. I'm looking forward to it, because I expect ASME will state its opposition to calls from some advertisers for looser rules on product placement.
The American Society of Business Publication Editors is also revamping its guidelines. That group was kind enough to ask for my input. And just this morning I got around to sending my suggestions.
I'm a big fan of ethics guidelines...because I've seen far too much unethical activity in B2B publishing. I've seen shocking behavior by publishers and I've seen shocking behavior by trade associations. And I think ethics guidelines are a powerful tool in the fight against the dark side.
Not everyone agrees. Rex is more cynical about the usefulness of guidelines. And he urges that trade associations "call for transparency and accountability in revealing all relationships between marketers and media, rather than playing Church Lady and issuing "commandments" to define specific sins."
I've written before about some of the issues that I'm hoping ASBPE will address, and I too have suggested that the answer to our problems may be transparency.
And in keeping with that call for transparency, here are a few of the less traditional suggestions that I made to ASBPE:
1) In-house ads -- B2B publishers tend to cut corners for themselves that they might not cut for others. In particular, B2B media companies treat their own ads -- for trade shows, new products, etc. -- as news, not as advertisements.
I'd urge ASBPE to clearly state that in-house marketing material is an advertisement, and must be clearly delineated as such per the ad vs. edit guidelines.
2) Anonymous sources -- Even more so than the mainstream press, B2B writers tend to overuse anonymous sources. I would urge ASBPE to adopt the following:
The use of anonymous sources should be rare and must be justified.
Reporters should clear each and every use of an anonymous source with a senior editor. A reporter should have a compelling reason for granting anonymity -- the source would be at risk of job loss if his/her name was published, there is no other way to obtain the information, etc.
When anonymity is given, a reporter will make every effort possible to provide as much information about the anonymous source as is possible. In other words, referring to someone as "an anonymous source inside the investment bank" is better than "an anonymous source." And "according to two executives in the marketing department who wished to remain anonymous" is superior to "according to sources in the marketing department who wished to remain anonymous." It is unethical to misstate the number of sources in a story. "An anonymous source inside the company" can never be referred to as "sources."
3) Transparency -- Reporters should make every effort to make the process of journalism transparent to readers. All attempts should be made not to mislead readers. When possible, reporters should provide links to source material. When not possible, reporters should clearly explain the source of the material. For example, the phrase "'the company is doing great,' Jones said" implies that the reporter has spoken with Jones. That's fine, if it's true. Otherwise, use a phrase such as "'the company is doing great,' Jones said in a press release" or "'the company is doing great,' Jones said in a written statement."

tags: , , , , ,

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Go East, young man

If I were young again and just starting out in journalism, I'd learn an Asian language. Heck, I'm not young anymore, and I've been in this business for a long time, but I recently decided to learn some Vietnamese. (PERSONAL DISCLOSURE: The love of my life was born in Vietnam, and although she's been a Brooklyn girl since she was a baby, she still speaks Vietnamese with her family. So my decision to learn that language has more to do with my heart than with my career.)
But regardless of who you love, you could do a lot worse than to learn a new language from the developing world -- for that's where the opportunity is in B2B journalism.
Check out the latest news from Reed Business, which is launching a new publication about the pharmaceutical industry in Asia.
Reed has made similar moves before, and it isn't the only publisher to sense that there is growth in the East. Look at what I've written about before here and here.
If you want to hear more about international opportunities in the trade press, try to attend this upcoming session at ASBPE's New England chapter. And follow developments at the blogs of my friends Paul and Hugo.

tags: , , , , ,

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Vance buys Doane, expands into ag radio

I guess I got this one wrong.
I've been predicting for awhile now that Vance Publishing, where I was once a senior writer, would be sold to fellow Kansas City-based B2B publisher Ascend Media. But now comes word that Vance has acquired Doane Agricultural Services of St. Louis. The purchase doesn't mean that Vance won't be sold, but it sure doesn't make it more likely.
The Doane deal is an interesting one for Vance -- expanding the company's offerings from B2B publications into commodities analysis and advice. In addition, Vance picks up a radio program in the deal -- AgriTalk, a daily program broadcast through 74 affiliate stations.
I wish my friends at Vance well. Agriculture may be the most competitive space in today's B2B media world. I'm a fan of the changes at and I love such non-traditional publishers as agwired. And I've said before that agriculture seems particularly well-suited to coverage by standalone journalists (take a look at just such a site by Matt Mullen, a regular contributor to this blog.)
The Doane deal may prove to be a first step in exactly the sort of expansion beyond traditional publishing that Vance needs in this new environment. Most importantly, the deal gives Vance its first true multimedia holding -- pushing it into the big leagues of ag journalism alongside Farm Journal and DTN.

tags: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Brace for change; protect yourself by changing

I've been laid off a few times in my career. It's an unpleasant feeling.
At its core, a layoff tells you two things.
First, your bosses have screwed up. What was once a successful business (or at least an optimistic business plan) has turned sour. Profit has turned to loss. Opportunities have been missed. Investments have been squandered. And the people at the top are the ones who are responsible.
But second, and far more important, getting laid off means that you have screwed up too.
If your boss was a fool, you should have seen it a long time ago and began looking for another job. If the company was being mismanaged into the ground, you should have quit and gone with a smarter bunch of people.
Or, as I see time and time again, if the industry itself was changing, than you needed to change even faster.
The Los Angeles Times has a piece today about the growing number of layoffs in the newspaper industry. And I read it with what I found to be a surprising lack of sympathy. The article is filled with phrases such as "collective funk," "dispirited" and "falling morale." But the article doesn't even mention what has caused the "problems" in the print industry -- a remarkable and fascinating shift in which new forms of storytelling have emerged and where the audience has become part of the news-gathering process. The news business has become a conversation -- and that may be the most exciting thing that has ever happened to us. But the L.A. Times piece has nothing to contribute to this conversation other than whining and self pity.
If you want to work in editorial, then you're going to have to accept that change is here. Learn to be one of those journalists that your publisher needs to help navigate the new world. If you haven't mastered multimedia skills, do so. If you're not participating in the conversation about conversational media, do so.
If you're not interested in changing, then get ready for that pink slip.

tags: , , , , , conversational media

Monday, October 10, 2005

Instablogs stumbles, but the threat remains

Longtime readers of this blog know I like to warn B2B publishers that they face a competitive threat from standalone journalists -- sources, ex-employees and others who use the tools of citizen journalism to bring their work directly to users.
If you're a B2B journalist, you should be aware of the new opportunities you have now.
If you're a B2B publisher, you should be worried about these new standalone competitors taking away your business.
But whoever you are, it doesn't look like you have to worry about Instablogs.
Instablogs is a new collection of single-topic blogs -- some of which cover the business world. Among them are sites about the advertising and outsourcing industries.
But the network has stumbled badly in its opening days...and I'm just not seeing anything that would indicate the blogs have enough professionalism or passion to make a go of it.
First, I agree with Steve Outing at Poynter that publishing the blogs anonymously is a bad idea. I'm sure Instablogs has the same concern that I think B2B publishers should have -- letting a single person become the voice of your product leaves you vulnerable to the whims of that same single person. But running a blog that doesn't conform to the culture of the blogging world -- personal and transparent -- is a bigger mistake.
More importantly, whoever these anonymous bloggers are, it appears they aren't the most professional bunch around. Instablogs has already issued an apology for plagiarizing other writers. But in what I've already come to think of as Instablogs' flawed style, the apology itself is not transparent. In other words, it doesn't tell me what happened. It doesn't tell me why it happened. It doesn't even tell me what the offensive blog was.
Instablogs is getting crucified in the blogging world. I'll be surprised if this experiment lasts much longer.
But that doesn't mean that B2B publishers are off the hook. The threat from a new generation of entrepreneurial journalists -- many of whom already have name recognition in the industry you cover -- has arrived.
(ADDENDUM -- About two hours after I wrote this post, Instablogs responded to my complaint about the lack of transparency in the apology on their site. You can see their response here or by following the link in the comment section below. I'd like to give Instablogs credit for a rapid and professional response. Thanks folks.)

tags: , , , , , , ,

Friday, October 07, 2005

Kansas City's role in trade magazine history

I work from my home in Brooklyn. But years ago I worked in the suburbs of Kansas City for Vance Publishing. And there was much I loved about that life. The commute was easy. The folks I met were friendlier. And, although it bothers many of my fellow B2B journalists in New York when I say it -- my coworkers were generally of a higher caliber than can be found elsewhere.
I've written before about why I think Kansas City is one of the best possible places in the U.S. to practice trade journalism.
Now the Kansas City Star has published an interesting piece on the history of trade publishing in that city. It's worth a read, and I'd urge folks to take the time to see how our game became so big in the Midwest.
Also take a look at fellow B2B blogger David Shaw's take on the cities of B2B.

tags: , , , ,

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

More awards for B2B magazines

Folio magazine has announced the finalists for its annual Eddie and Ozzie awards. (The Eddies are sort of unusual -- they measure a magazine's performance against its own mission statement. The Ozzies are for magazine design.)
Longtime readers of this blog won't be surprised by the results. Some of my favorite magazines have done well in the Folio contests. CMO, for example, which may be the best overall publication in B2B, picked up four Ozzie nominations and one Eddie. CFO magazine, which I also adore, picked up three Ozzie nominations. And Millimeter, which has made some interesting moves on the Web, picked up an Eddie nomination.
But the biggest winner appears to be Bloomberg Wealth Manager, which picked up five Ozzie nominations.
Congratulations to all.
(DISCLOSURE: I do some consulting with Chief Marketer, which is owned by the recently sold Primedia Business. Chief Marketer competes with CMO. Millimeter is also a Primedia property. And although I don't work with that magazine now, I'm the former vice president of online content for Primedia Business. In addition, I used to work for Bloomberg, but did not work with Bloomberg Wealth Manager.)

tags: , , , ,

The poetry of content

"B2B writing,/ print, online or in email,/ would be prettier/ if more of us gave more thought/ to beauty than to word count."
You like that? It's my attempt at Tanka poetry, an ancient form of writing that has newfound popularity. In a lovely and unexpected development, young people in Japan have taken to sending Tanka text messages via cellphone. The Tanka craze is the latest example of consumers creating new forms of media from new types of technology. I'm always delighted by such things..and often amazed by the speed at which they arrive.
There are lessons here for B2B journalists and publishers. And at least one of them is something that I've written about before: the line between content producers and content audiences has disappeared.
But perhaps more important, we in B2B media should note that a new generation has emerged that has a true love of the written word. I'm old enough to remember when pundits bemoaned that young people had no interest in writing. When I was in college, it was common to complain that "no one writes letters anymore." But today, young people write...and read...letters at an extraordinary rate. Granted, those "letters" come in forms we couldn't have imagined just a few years ago -- email and instant messaging. And granted, these new forms have new rules that can confuse old-timers. But although the forms have changed, the center has held. Writing is still writing. And writing, when done well, is still poetry.

tags: , , , ,

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Awards and honors in B2B media

I missed a few things of interest while I was away last week.
1.) There was more acquisitions news, as my friends David Shaw and Paul Woodward reported.
2.) Trade association American Business Media announced the winners of its B2B advertising awards. (I had been looking forward to actually seeing the winners, but no one yet has seemed to think of putting the ads on the Creative Excellence in Business Advertising Web site or linking to them from the ABM press release.)
3.) And, most interesting to me, Folio announced its Dream Team of the best minds in magazine publishing.
Remarkably, I didn't make the list. But I'm sure that's only because Folio didn't have a category for best-looking consultant. But I'm not going to complain, because Folio did agree with my nomination for best editor-in-chief in B2B publishing -- Whitney Sielaff of National Jeweler. Longtime readers of this blog know I'm a fan of Whitney's work and an admirer of his career. The Dream Team honor is well deserved.

tags: , , , , ,

Monday, October 03, 2005

Writing with words, talking with pictures

Last week, while on vacation, I stood on a street corner in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, waiting for the light to change. And I was shocked to find that I was staring at an electronic sign that said "Don't Walk." Perhaps much of the country still has those things, but it has been ages since I've noticed one. I've grown accustomed to the graphic version, popular around the world, where a red hand tells me not to walk and a white outline tells me I'm free to cross. I'm not even shocked anymore when I find an artist here in New York has modified one of the graphic symbols.
But pedestrian directions in word form surprised me. It seemed old-fashioned, silly.
I thought of that again this morning as I read about an exhibit at the Science, Industry and Business Library of the New York Public Library about differences in advertising from medium to medium. Among the more notable observations is that online advertising -- more visual than radio or TV -- has more in common with print ads than it would first appear, using visual wit and "grabby graphics" to capture attention. At the same time, one lesson of the exhibit is that "the best online ads are not only visual but also kinesthetic."
There's a lesson here not only for the folks in the advertising department, but for editorial types as well. Interactivity, movement, graphical representations and visual presentation are the hallmarks of compelling online storytelling. Dropping text on a Web page does not create an online product. It's just a jarring reminder -- like a "Don't Walk" sign -- that things are out of date.
For a look at someone who understands the visual world of online storytelling, check out the beta version of CNET's redesign.

tags: , , , , ,