Friday, September 29, 2006

Time again for change

Last year at this same time I wrote that for "reasons that I'll probably never fully understand, I still live my life on an academic calendar." I shared how each September I feel obliged somehow to start my life anew. Last September I severed ties with one client and increased my work with another. I also took my love on a vacation in the Northeast. "It's September," I wrote, "when my year starts, and I'll begin anew in the mountains of New England."

When I wrote that, I could not have imagined just how much my life was about to change. Nine months later, my daughter was born.

And now it's September again. The leaves are changing, and so am I.
A few months ago I began writing a column for min B2B, the newsletter published by Access Intelligence. It was a good opportunity, and the money wasn't half-bad. But I've ended my relationship with the publication. My last piece will appear next week.
But when one door closes, another opens. I've been asked to help launch an online news service related to nonprofit businesses. I'll share details here during the next few months. But suffice it to say for now that I'm excited.

So I begin a new year, full of hope and gratitude and anticipation.
I don't expect that this year will bring change quite as dramatic as last year, but I've learned to expect the unexpected.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Mediaweek blurs the lines between ads, editorial

(Note: The following post was written and updated in real time throughout the day. By the time you read it, most if not all of the inappropriate links I mention below will have been removed. Please read the entire post and the comments to understand what happened. Thanks.)

If you love B2B journalism as much as I do, you'll get your heart broken.
Often.

And today my heart is aching.
Take a look at this article on the Web site of Mediaweek. Don't bother to read the article. It's not particularly interesting. Just scroll down to the sixth graf. What you'll find there is an advertisement, right smack in the middle of the story. That hypertext link of the word "advertisers" will take you to the site of Vibrant Media's IntelliTXT, an advertising service that places marketing material into editorial space.

IntelliTXT says it uses "in-text placement to cut through the online advertising clutter." But B2B journalists know such "placement" is a violation of our profession's ethics guidelines.
Here's what ASBPE says about such things:
"Whether for editorial or advertising information, hypertext links should be placed at the discretion and approval of editors. Also, advertising and sponsored links should be clearly distinguishable from editorial, and labeled as such ... Contextual links within editorial content should not be sold, and generally should not link to a vendor’s Web site, unless it is pertinent to the editorial content or helpful to the reader."

Now to me, those guidelines are as clear as can be. Putting an ad in a story is wrong. Editors decide on what appears in the copy. Period.
But it appears some folks in B2B publishing continue to struggle with the idea of keeping editorial and advertising separate.

It's unclear to me who is responsible for the inappropriate links on Mediaweek.
I'd like to think it's some new guy on the advertising side, someone who just arrived and doesn't yet know the rules of journalism ethics.
I assume that the folks on the editorial side are furious, that they are raising holy hell and threatening to quit.
But I don't know.
I sent an email last week to Michael B├╝rgi and Jim Cooper, the editor and managing editor of the publication. I asked what was going on. I asked how the staff was reacting.
I haven't received a response.

Now like I said, what Mediaweek is doing is clearly an ethics violation.
But it's also worth noting that it's a particularly annoying violation.
Here's why:

1. Go back and take a look at that article. What you'll notice is that the ad is the only external link in the copy. Click around the Mediaweek site for awhile and you'll find that the only links in any story are ads. Mediaweek simply doesn't understand the value of links as an editorial function.
For example, the story in question is about a new service on Forbes.com. But Mediaweek doesn't see the value in providing a link so that readers can see the service in question. Or take a look at this story about MTV and Universal Music Group. The story has an inappropriate advertising link in the first paragraph. Think about that -- there's an ad in the lead! But there are no external links that might help the reader put the story in context.
I've complained for a long time about publishers that don't understand the basic concept of online publishing -- the Web is a web. And by now nearly all of the we-don't-link-offsite magazines have come around. But Mediaweek still doesn't get it.

2. Go back and look at that first article. It's about a new development at Forbes. Think about that -- a B2B publication has put an ad in a story about a magazine where the editorial staff had the professionalism and courage to stop a plan to put advertising links from IntelliTXT in their copy. I'm speechless. The Forbes fight over IntelliTXT was one of the most encouraging developments in journalism ethics of the past few years. And Mediaweek seems to .... what? not care? not know? not think that anyone would find this offensive?

3. Mediaweek isn't some tiny publication run by some knucklehead company that no one has ever heard of. It's owned by VNU, which also publishes B2B giants such as Editor & Publisher and Adweek. Furthermore, VNU is the home of National Jeweler and Whitney Sielaff, the recipient of ABM's Timothy White award for editorial integrity. Didn't anyone at VNU think that the praise and honor that Whitney has brought the company might be worth more than cheap cash from IntelliTXT?

ADDENDUM: (10:21, a.m. ET ) Within a few hours of my writing this post, the IntelliTXT links on Mediaweek were removed. I can't say for sure that the decision to pull the links was related to my complaints. Mediaweek has not responded to my email.
But what the heck, I'm going to take credit anyway.
More importantly, I want to offer my thanks and appreciation to Mediaweek for deciding to pull back from this practice.

ADDENDUM 2: (10:57 a.m.) I spoke to soon. Someone just posted a comment to this post saying the IntelliTXT links are back. And when I take a look at Mediaweek, I see that they have, in fact, returned.

ADDENDUM 3: (12:15 p.m.) It appears the IntelliTXT problem at VNU is wider than I thought. Check out this story from Adweek and scroll down to the 13th paragraph. I just left a phone message for Sid Holt, editorial director of all of VNU. I've asked him to respond here, or by email or by phone.

ADDENDUM 4: (12:41 p.m.) The IntelliTXT links also appear on VNU's Brandweek. Look at the lead paragraph of this story. I'm sending a copy of this post to Karen Benezra, editor of Brandweek, asking for her opinion on the links. I'm also going to try and send a copy to Alison Fahey, editor of Adweek, and see if she's able to comment on what's happening. But Alison's email isn't available on the magazine's Web site. So I'm going to have to improvise.

ADDENDUM 5: (3:30 P.M.) Sid Holt, VNU's editorial director, sent me an email saying that the IntelliTXT links are coming down.
According to Holt, "once editorial management became aware that advertising was embedded in editorial content, the ads were removed as quickly as possible (it is taking longer to remove the ads from Adweek than from Brandweek and Mediaweek for purely technical reasons). VNU Business Media has explicit guidelines delineating the relationship between editorial content and marketing messages. Despite occasional misunderstandings, editors and publishers alike understand, respect and observe those guidelines."
That's good news. I applaud VNU for deciding to end this inappropriate practice.
Thanks also to all of you who posted comments, sent emails or called. I'm glad to know that the B2B journalists who read this blog shared my concern about IntelliTXT and VNU.
My broken heart is mending.
Thanks.

For some of my earlier thoughts on unethical behavior click here.
For more on ASBPE's ethics code, click here.
For my advice on how to fight unethical behavior at your publication, click here.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Running out of time, not ideas

Almost every time I give a presentation to a group of publishers or journalists, I run out of time.
Maybe I try to cover too much. Maybe I like to talk too much. Or maybe I'm just disorganized.
But whatever the cause, as the clock ticks down at the end of a speech, I often must discard items I'd planned to discuss.

After a speaking gig I do a little post-game analysis. I go through my notes. I ask a few folks what they thought. If my presentation was recorded, I listen to the tape or watch the video.
And I look again at the items I skipped and try to decide if I made the right cuts as time ran out.

Three times in recent presentations I dropped plans to talk about an idea I'd come across for user-generated content and community building. It wasn't the most interesting part of my speech (which is why I found it so easy to cut), but it is kind of fun.
So I want to make amends by talking about it here.

Take a look at Cool Hunting, a Web site that markets itself as a "daily update on stuff from the intersection of design, culture and technology." But that's just a fancy phrase for what Cool Hunting does -- find stuff that's cool.
The site has a number of regular contributors, just like many a magazine site uses freelance writers. But Cool Hunting also has an unusual, user-generated feature worth noting.
Scroll down the Cool Hunting home page and in the center column you'll find a section called "Reader Contributions" -- a feature that allows readers to participate in the hunt for cool things by using the del.icio.us bookmarking tool. (Instructions on how to participate are here.)

Hundreds of thousands of people use del.icio.us. But I haven't seen any B2B publication attempt to do what Cool Hunting has done -- urge its community to participate and share the results with other readers.
Certainly any Web site can make use of del.icio.us -- whether or not the publication seeks the help of its readers. Rex Hammock, for example, provides a del.icio.us feed of items of interest to folks in the magazine industry. And Make magazine uses del.icio.us to point readers to cool items. And of course I'm free to tag any item that I find interesting with "rexblog" or "makemagazine" or "coolhunting."
But I find the Cool Hunting approach compelling. I can't imagine an easier way to get a reader to "contribute." Little work is required; the process takes only seconds. More ambitious users can still create more elaborate contributions -- articles, graphics, etc. -- that they store on their own Web sites and "share" with a simple del.icio.us tag.
And the only thing that's required is that you ask your readers for their help.

For a look at the history of del.icio.us and the Wall Street "quant" who created it, click here.
For some of Matt McAlister's thoughts on tagging and social bookmarking, click here.
For more of my thoughts on community building and user-generated content, click here.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Folio enters the blogosphere

Folio, the magazine for magazine management, has entered the blogosphere.
And I couldn't be happier.

The blog, dubbed Folio: Forum, first appeared in a soft launch on Friday (you can find it by following the links on the home page.) And it's exactly what I've been hoping Folio would do (well...almost exactly. There's no RSS feed.) The first few posts are thoughtful, well-written and on-topic. There are insights about the magazine industry, as well as a peek or two inside the goings-on at Folio itself.

Of course, even if Folio: Forum had been awful, I would likely have said something kind. That's because in one of the initial posts on the new blog, Folio editor and publisher Tony Silber was nice enough to list me as one of the "important voices" blogging about the magazine world.

Speaking of Tony, I'm hoping he continues to write the blog. Although there are some very talented folks at Folio, it's Tony's voice that I most value there. More importantly, there's something about Tony's writing style that seems to mesh well with the blogging world.

And as long as we're on the topic of new blogs, take a look at the work of one of my newest clients. Swarfblog is written by Lloyd Graff, editor and owner of Today's Machining World, a B2B magazine that covers the machine-tool industry. I met Lloyd when I spoke at the ASBPE convention in Chicago a few weeks ago. A few weeks after that, I flew back to Chicago, met with Lloyd and his staff, and helped them launch Swarfblog.

I'm thrilled with the result. Lloyd is another of those fairly rare journalists who takes well to blogging. His writing style -- informal, passionate and conversational -- is well-suited for this form of publishing.
But the thing that pleases me most about swarfblog is its name.

Swarf is what machinists call the debris that's produced by their work -- the tiny bits of leftover metal that can be both dangerous and valuable (Lloyd already runs a column in his magazine under the brand Swarf.)
And when Lloyd explained the meaning of the word to me, it seemed a perfect definition of much of what we put in our blogs: bits and pieces -- sometimes sharp and cutting, often mistaken for trash -- that are produced as we do our other work .

So welcome Tony and Lloyd to the world of blogging, welcome to the world of swarf.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

We were reporters once ... and young

It's been a long time ... a long time ... since I was young journalist with a new job in a new town.
And I'd almost forgotten how much fun it is to take on something new, to be at that point in your career where everything is a challenge and the possibilities are endless.

So I suppose part of the reason I so enjoy the work of Angela Grant is that she helps me recall the joy of starting out in this business. Angela's blog, called In the Circle, tells the story of a "reporter breaking into the emerging world of multimedia journalism."

The blog actually launched about a year ago when Angela was still in journalism school. But today she's at the San Antonio Express News, where she's already winning awards for work such as this.

I've thought of Angela quite a bit lately. In recent weeks I've met with dozens of B2B journalists who are considerably less excited about their jobs and the changes in media. They are reporters and editors of a certain age who think that multimedia is an inferior form of journalism that somehow represents a threat to their jobs. I understand those fears. Layoffs are common in our industry these days.
But the best defense against a layoff isn't in resisting change. It is, rather, in recapturing that youthful belief that new skills can be mastered, that life is just starting, and that our profession, more than many others, rewards the open-minded and inquisitive.

For more on the "transformation" from print, see what the folks at IDG have to say.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Learning to listen

I'm heading out on the road for a few days, and won't do much, if any, posting to this blog.

Until then, take a look at the cautionary tale in today's New York Times about a journalist who behaved unprofessionally and fraudulently on his blog. There's much to be learned here, particularly about how to handle hostile comments online. But the thing I like most about the article is the following quote, which succinctly explains the anger, misunderstanding and blunders that often come when old-media journalists move into new media:
"Blogs, which may look like one more way to publish, are first and foremost a way to listen, something that journalists at established outlets don’t necessarily do well."

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Friday, September 08, 2006

The return of new media's power couple

It's as if Martin and Lewis were appearing again in Vegas.
It's like Mantle and Maris had taken the field again.
It's as if Fred and Ginger have stepped onto the dance floor once more.

The two most interesting guys in the world of online journalism are reuniting.
Rob Curley has taken a new job with Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, the same company where Adrian Holovaty works.
That's particularly interesting news for those of us in B2B journalism. Because the parent of WPNI, the Washington Post Co., owns a slew of trade magazines, including Government Computer News and Defense Systems.
Curley and Holovaty were the top guys at the Lawrence Journal-World when that tiny paper morphed into a multimedia showcase, becoming one of the most influential publications in America.

But eventually the pair moved in different directions.
Curley headed to the Naples Daily News in Florida, where he became director of new media and convergence. And he became a superstar in the world of college media, speaking to young journalists about the opportunities and challenges of new media.
Holovaty went on to win a series of awards, create the best-known news mash-up (chicagocrime.org) and then join the Washington Post to help oversee its rebirth as a converged publication.

I won't say much more about these guys. I know I sound as if I'm swooning, and Lord knows I've said enough about Rob and Adrian in posts such as this and this.

But I will urge you to read two things ... and think about what it may mean for journalism in general and your publication in particular.
First, check out this piece by Steve Klein at the Poynter Institute, where he interviews Rob about the new gig.
Then check out the latest post on Adrian's blog, in which he writes about a "fundamental" way in which newspapers must change. Read through his post and substitute the word "magazine" or "newsletter" or "any news product" where appropriate.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Facebook loses face; We lose FYJ

Last week I met with some journalists at IDG to talk about the next generation of media consumers. I won't share the details of my presentation here; but I will say that -- quite predictably -- I urged those editors and reporters to spend some time on the social-networking sites popular with high school kids and college students.

What I didn't mention, but perhaps should have, is that most of those journalists won't be able to check out Facebook. Membership to that service is limited to students at universities, high schools and a handful of businesses. (If a middle-aged person tries, as I did, to sign up for the community related to his high school alma mater, he'll get an ego-shattering message saying he's "too old" to participate.)

Given that, most of us in the media will have to get our understanding of the new scandal at Facebook from secondary sources. So today I'll urge journalists to check out the coverage of what went wrong when Facebook seemed to violate its long-standing commitment to users' privacy.
There are stories here, here and here. (Whenever I want to learn about social networking, I turn to Danah Boyd, who may be the brightest person working in the field. But as I post this piece, Danah hasn't written anything about the new Facebook scandal. But I'll suggest you keep checking here for an update. On the other hand, whenever I want to learn about almost anything, I turn to Rex. And he has weighed in on the Facebook issue.)

To ponder a journalism-ethics question raised by Facebook and other social-networking sites, check out this earlier post.
For more on the social-networking phenomenon, take a look at this piece in Fortune about the founders of MySpace, and how missteps by rival Friendster set the pace for MySpace's success.
For a look at a new initiative from the magazine industry to attract the next generation of media consumers, check out this piece in the New York Times. (Note: my first reaction to this idea is to roll my eyes and moan out load, but maybe college kids really are eager to get pdf-like files in their email.)

And one final note: as those of us in the media have pondered the next generation, we've often turned to the voice of the Canadian reporter known as Fine Young Journalist to help us understand what was happening.
We won't be able to do that any longer.
FYJ has stopped blogging.
I would urge all of you to read his farewell post, which is full of the insights and lovely writing that I've come to expect of him.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Reed's new Internet unit

Next week I'll be in suburban Boston to speak to reporters and editors from Reed Business about online journalism. It should be an exciting day. Because as outlined in an article in BtoB Magazine, Reed Business is in the process of revamping itself into a Web-first company.

The move comes less than a year after Tad Smith assumed the helm at Reed, which I said then was "further proof that our jobs are becoming less about print and more about multimedia."
More importantly, the creation of the new Reed Business Interactive unit this summer coincides with a widespread improvement in how Reed's journalists work online.
If you've been following things at Reed in recent months you've seen more multimedia content, more news in front of the firewalls, and a general sense of commitment to the Web -- particularly at the company's Electronics and Media publications.

Take a look at the BtoB article and see how Reed is revamping. But don't make the mistake of assuming that creating a "centralized Internet division" will work for your publishing company just because it seems to be working quite well for Reed.
The BtoB article mentions two other trade publishing giants with separate Web divisions -- Cygnus and PennWell. Cygnus (where I've also done some work) produces some fantastic online properties --notably the award-winning Firehouse.com. But as I've said before in posts such as this and this, no B2B publisher seems to do a worse job on the Web than PennWell.

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

The lessons of Danny Sullivan

I am not a search-engine expert.
But I know a fair amount about search-engine optimization. I can hold my own in a conversation on the topic. I can help editors improve their search results. I can teach a little bit about writing headlines and title tags and such so that Google and the rest of the engines will rank a site highly.

And everything I know about search engines I owe to one guy -- Danny Sullivan.
And I have never even met him.

Danny is the genius behind Incisive Media's "Search Engine Watch." And last week he announced he was leaving the company because he and Incisive could not reach an agreement on compensation.
The news hit the search-engine world hard. No one -- NO ONE -- is more important than Danny in the search industry. And everyone seems perplexed that Incisive would let him go, including Danny, who was quoted as saying "I can't understand why [Incisive Media] would expect me to stay with them if they can't give me a long term incentive to build their business."

Longtime readers of this blog know that I've been warning B2B publishers for quite some time that they are vulnerable to competition from their own staff. The anyone-can-be-a-publisher software used by bloggers means that key editorial people no longer need their magazines. I've predicted a rise in entrepreneurial journalists -- most of them the key editors that become synonymous with a magazine's brand. I've predicted that they will quit their jobs -- or, more likely, accept early retirement -- and start running their own online publications, usually concentrating on a very small niche.
In a sense, Danny is the perfect example of what I've been talking about.
At the same time, Danny is an extreme case. He's already been an entrepreneurial journalist. He actually co-founded "Search Engine Watch" in 1996 and sold it to Jupitermedia a year later. But Jupitermedia knew that what it was really buying was Danny. And things went smoothly until Jupitermedia sold "Search Engine Watch" to Incisive last year.
So what's the lesson here?
If you're a B2B publisher I would urge you to look long and hard at the folks in your newsroom. In particular, look at that guy who has been around forever, the guy everyone in the industry you cover knows, the guy that "is" your publication.
And then ask yourself, and ask yourself honestly -- am I too dependent on him? am I doing enough to keep him? what do I do when he quits?

For more on Danny's departure, take a look here or here.

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