Monday, March 27, 2006

Where B2B falls short

If you work in B2B journalism, then you know we have a respect problem. Our peers in the mainstream press often think we're hacks. Our brothers in the ad department sometimes think we're whores. The companies that we cover think we're part of their industry, not part of the media, and expect us to take on a cheerleading role.

B2B publishing can be a lonely place for reporters and editors who push for excellence. I've lost track of the number of times I've heard talented and ambitious journalists say they wish they worked for a "real" magazine," wish they were "real" reporters.
And the awful truth is that they often have good reason to be embarrassed.

Take a look at this press release from the National Instruments company. Note that the press release is clearly a press release, and that the BusinessWire tag appears at the start.
Then look at this "story" at Desktop Engineering magazine.
The two pieces are the same. Only Desktop Engineering removed the BusinessWire tag and added the phrase "written by DE editors."
Visit the DE news section. Open any story. Copy some text. Paste the text into Google and search. You'll find that the pieces that DE labels as "written by DE editors" are press releases written by someone else.
I sent an email to the editor of DE several weeks ago voicing my concern, but have not received a reply.

Now DE has clearly crossed a line by saying things are "written by DE editors" when it's more accurate to say they were "copied and pasted by DE editors." But it's not fair to single out DE over this issue. Although not everyone in our industry struggles with the meaning of the phrase "written by," lots of B2B publications seem to struggle with the line between news stories and press releases. Regular readers of this blog know I've complained in the past about similar practices by PennWell. And regular readers know that I've lobbied ASBPE to address a related problem -- when a publication runs its own press releases as news -- in its new ethics guidelines.

I shouldn't have to say this, but perhaps I do: a press release often has value. I don't object to seeing press releases on a Web site or reprinted in a magazine.
But I don't understand why anyone would label a press release as news. Press releases are not the same as news stories (although they are often the starting point for news stories.) And by not drawing a distinction between the two we tell readers that there is no distinction. When we label a press release from an outside company as news we confirm the worst suspicions that people have of us -- that we don't "report" the way "real" journalists do, that our "news" is nothing more than regurgitated public-relations material and that our news judgment is determined by how easy something is to do or how much someone pays us to print it.

I know I'm not alone in my concern. John Brady wrote an interesting column for Folio a few weeks ago in which he listed "the tell-tale signs of a magazine that had fallen into the easy marketing arms of PR." If you're interested in excellence, ethics or even just not being half-assed, take a look at his piece.
And if you want to see what folks in the public relations industry think of B2B editors who run press releases as news, check out the comments to this earlier post.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Award winning B2B magazines

I'm back in New York today, but I didn't get a chance to attend the Neal Awards. So I just learned the results a few minutes ago when I checked my feeds.
The big winner was Farm Journal magazine. The veteran monthly picked up the Grand Neal award for a series that the judges called a "masterful blending of science, consumer reporting, and passion." I'm pleased by Farm Journal's win. I've worked with a lot of agriculture publications over the years, and Farm Journal has always been a worthy competitor. And the magazine has managed to excel in what has become one of the most competitive spaces in B2B media.

IDG picked up three awards. And that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who reads this blog. I'm a bit of an IDG groupie. I just adore much of what that company does, and I use them often as an example of excellence. (FULL DISCLOSURE: IDG is a client of mine.)

Take a look at the complete list of winners here. (BtoB magazine has a story here. And check out what my friend David Shaw has to say about the winners here.) You'll see that some of the very best products in trade publishing are represented.

But as longtime readers of this blog would guess, I'm perplexed by's victory as best small Web site. When the Vance Publishing site was nominated two months ago, I made note of just how poor a choice I thought that was. Porkmag, I said, has "no interactivity -- no links, no feedback functions. The news section is just a news feed. The magazine material isn't repurposed and there's nothing original that I see." I have to confess....I don't see anything worth praising at the site. And I'm shocked that ABM found the product worthy of an award.
(FULL DISCLOSURE: I was once a senior writer at Vance.)

AviationWeek Intelligence Network won the Best Web site award for a mid-size product. I haven't the slightest idea if that site is any good. AWIN has the single most offensive registration process I've ever seen on a Web site. Take a look here. And if you're willing to hand over your phone number, someone will call you sometime in the next two days to let you sample the site.

ADDENDUM: I had to chuckle as I looked through the list of Neal Award winners again and saw that DVM magazine won an award for news coverage. Just yesterday I pointed to DVM as having the worst idea in B2B publishing for its silly policy of charging users $20 to email a story to a friend. DVM's award was for something called "The Long Road to Recovery."
If anyone out there has some extra cash, maybe they can send me a copy of the story.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The worst idea in B2B publishing

This may be the worst idea I have ever seen in B2B publishing.
Take a look at DVM, an Advanstar publication that covers veterinary science. Follow the links to the news page.
Look at any story. Pick this one, for example, and open it. You'll find a rewritten press release about the 90th anniversary of Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Now imagine that you had a friend who graduated from that school. And imagine that you wanted to send him this story to let him know about the anniversary.
Click on the little blue box at the top of the story and you'll get a pop-up message that tells you that sending that story to your friend will cost you $20.

Just think about that for a second. DVM is telling its readers that it will charge them for the right to do word-of-mouth marketing on DVM's behalf. DVM wants its customers to pay every time they try and get someone to check out DVM.
Now I'd find this idea laughable under any circumstances. But DVM goes beyond the absurd. It's trying to collect these charges for press releases that are available in dozens of other places and that DVM doesn't hide behind a password-protection wall.
Given how unlikely it is that people are silly enough to pay such fees, I can't imagine that DVM actually generates any revenue from this. But I'm quite sure that the damage to customer relations as well as the loss of free marketing is sizable.

I've seen similar schemes elsewhere in B2B. And I'm left speechless by them.
I'd love to know what these folks are thinking. And for the low, low price of $20, they can post a comment and tell me.

ADDENDUM: 3/24/05. About a day or so after this post was published, DVM changed its system. Read the comments to this post for more details.

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Friday, March 17, 2006

Students, teachers and visionaries

The annual convention of College Media Advisers is here in New York this week. And if I finish this post and a few other items in a timely fashion, I may make another trip in to Manhattan to hear some lectures and talk to some of the roughly 1,500 college journalists who attend the convention.
I was at CMA earlier this week (I'm on the association's professional advisory board.) Last week I visited Northwest Missouri State's new media program (I'm on a similar board there.) So I've been giving a lot of thought of late to the next generation of journalists.
And much of what I've been thinking hasn't been positive.

Perhaps the strangest thing I've run into is what I've come to think of as the silo student. Kids keep handing me resumes that look like they were written 20 years ago. They mention the student newspaper, the yearbook and the college literary magazine. But they don't mention Web sites, blogs, email newsletters, podcasts, html skills, citizen journalism projects, video, etc. And when I ask the students about their online experience, I get these weird responses. Lots of them tell me "I only want to work for a newspaper." Lots of them say things like "I'm going to be a writer, not anything else." Some seem genuinely perplexed and ask me if I think "most newspapers have Web sites?" or if "reporters need to do things on the Web?"

When I asked teachers what they thought about this, I found that they were as upset as I was by their students' disconnect from the realities of media today.
Teachers told me over and over again that their students were adamantly opposed to converging news operations at their schools. The print kids don't like the TV kids; the Web kids don't like the print kids, etc. The "cultures" don't mix, so the products don't mix and the students don't develop multimedia skills. Remarkably, as one teacher pointed out, few print students actually "lived" in the world of old media. They all owned iPods. They snap photos with cell phones, communicate with Instant Messenger and join social-networking sites. Yet they expect to work in some sort of old-fashioned land of ink and paper.
A number of teachers blamed the disconnect on their peers in college journalism programs. Many programs are dominated by older, established teachers who haven't worked in the press for decades and have an open contempt for newer forms of media. And no doubt such elitist dinosaurs are helping to create a new generation of unemployable followers.

If you take a look at what I wrote on this blog a year ago today, you'll see that the silo student is not a new phenomenon.
And longtime readers of this blog know that I still find silo professionals as well -- veteran journalists who have failed to develop new media skills -- and that I urge publishers to fire them.
I take a similarly harsh stand with students. As I told the folks at CMA, I have no interest in even talking to a student who has neither the curiosity to acquire basic new-media skills nor the common sense to understand that the industry is changing.

The person I did want to talk to -- the king of new media skills, the visionary who has taught us much about change -- wasn't around. Rob Curley is also on the professional advisory board, but he didn't make the meeting. Although I'm a fan of Rob's, we've never met in person. And I had been looking forward to being as star-struck as this guy was.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The long march of March

March is my favorite -- and often my busiest -- month.
This is the month of my birth. And everyone who knows me well knows I never work on my birthday. But it seems like every other day of the month is packed with work and travel.
I'm on the road starting tomorrow for most of the next few weeks. I'll be flying to Kansas City to see friends and associates. I'll be visiting Northwest Missouri State, where I'm on the professional advisory board of the Mass Communications Department. I'll be back in New York for the convention of the College Media Advisers, where I'm also on the professional advisory board. After that I have trips planned to D.C., Boston and possibly Florida.
Things should settle down again next month.
In the meantime, I'll keep posting to this blog when the mood strikes me. But I expect things will be more sporadic than usual for a few weeks.

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Friday, March 03, 2006

RSS or Really Successful Syndication

I like to tell publishers that adding an RSS feed is the best easy thing they can do to serve readers and improve their online offerings.
But until I read Matt McAlister's blog yesterday, I failed to notice just how easily one company has managed to become the RSS provider of choice for some powerhouses of the press.
As detailed on Matt's blog, Feedburner is conducting "a systematic conquest of publishers' RSS feeds."
Certainly part of Feedburner's success is due to the product itself. RSS is about the simplest function in publishing. And Feedburner has made it even easier. For example, I'd guess that I spent all of about five seconds creating my Feedburner feed, and that is about 1/1000th the time it took me to learn to operate my cable TV remote. Combine ease of use with upside potential and you have a product that any publisher would like.
But the most interesting thing about Matt's post is his comparison of Feedburner to IndustryBrains, the ad-serving network used by IDG, Slashdot, eWeek, Investors Business Daily and others.
Check out what Matt has to say here.
Or you can read some of my earlier thoughts on RSS here.

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