Friday, December 22, 2006

Meeting the minimum requirements for an end-of-year post

I spent much of my career as a member of the "mainstream media," which, as you probably know, is run by a joint venture of Opus Dei and the Trilateral Commission. Now look, I appreciate the work those folks do -- manipulating world currencies, assassinating world leaders, choosing the winners of figure-skating competitions, etc. But the truth is I also find them to be real pains in the neck. They're sticklers for the rules. And as lifetime member of the "mainstream media ("You are not allowed to quit," they said one day over lunch at the Harvard Club. "It is forbidden") I have to meet certain obligations.
And one of those obligations, as I was reminded by the monk who arrived at my door last night at the stroke of midnight, is to participate in the End of Year ritual. Thus, I must produce and publish one of the following by New Year's Eve: my predictions for the upcoming year; a review of my predictions for the year now ending; my reflections on the celebrity deaths of this year; a "Best of ..." piece in which I refer to things I wrote earlier in the year; or a Top 10 list of any kind.

Now I've learned the hard way that you can't mess with the folks who make the rules. So I have to do something before an enforcer slips something into my drink and I wind up with a case of writers block, or worse, carpal tunnel syndrome.
So here it is:

My Top 10 list of things related to predictions, old blog posts and celebrity deaths.

1. It was about this time last year when Folio magazine was kind enough to ask for my predictions about media in 2006. In at least one area, I was right. I told Folio that "More journalists will recognize there is much to learn from the citizen-journalism movement and will adopt the most compelling features of the blogging culture. Feedback functions will appear on numerous sites. Agnostic linking—pointing to items produced by competitors—will become more common."
It's sort of funny now to look back and remember how rare this stuff was just a year ago. But time passes. Things change.

2. I also told Folio that "At least one major journalism school will announce an end to track education. Students will study reporting and storytelling in a media-neutral environment. The idea of obtaining a degree limited to broadcast journalism or print journalism will seem increasingly silly."
I'll give myself half-credit for that one. Certainly it does seem increasingly silly to prepare journalism students to work in a single medium. And that may explain why I, of all people, have been asked to speak at this year's College Media Advisers Convention.
But no journalism school abandoned track teaching this least as far as I know. Yet it's worth noting that a number of schools continue to drift in that direction. Also, just about every major j-school seems to be running ads such as this one.

3. Speaking of links, among the blog posts I'm most proud of this year are those in which I tried to ensure that the prediction I made in item #1 would come true by complaining about publishers who just didn't get the "idea" of linking. That's because bit by bit, one by one, even some of the die-hards of old media began to respond.

4. Speaking of responding, let me take a moment here to again thank the folks at VNU for responding to my call that they pull back from their recent foray into unethical behavior. I'm very proud of the small role I played in helping end that foolishness.

5. Speaking of that foolishness, I predict we'll see similar screw-ups again in 2007. I'm quite sure that at least once next year I'll point a finger at some publisher for violating ethical standards.

6. When Bob Hope passed away earlier this year, it was if we had lost not just a great entertainer, but a close friend. Thanks for the memories, Bob.

7. Speaking of hope, I hope that my prediction in item #5 will turn out to be wrong.

8. Speaking of predictions, at least one reader of this blog will post a comment noting that item #6 is wrong and that Bob Hope actually died in 2003. This reader will say that I am either an incompetent who cannot get his facts straight, or a cynic who pokes fun at the dead.

9. Speaking of cynicism, I think item # 7 is naive and ridiculous. Of course item # 5 will come true.

10. Speaking of naive and ridiculous, this blog will be back in 2007.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

The world in my pocket

Longtime readers of this blog know of my longtime obsession with the future of news production.
If you know me, you know I like to argue about the converged newsroom.
If you know me, you know I have no tolerance for journalists who won't learn new skills.
If you know me, you know I've predicted a rise in standalone journalists.
And if you know me, you know I like to daydream about what tools we'll use to write and report in the future.

And every once in awhile I'll come across something that touches upon all these things. And it makes me smile.
Check out this essay about a new generation of handheld devices that promise a newsroom in your pocket.

For a fascinating look at wildly different sort of computer for creating content, watch this video of Jeff Han's presentation at the TED conference.

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

An overdue and well-deserved award for me

I want to thank the people at Time magazine for naming me Person of the Year.
I'll confess ... I was a little nervous that I wouldn't make it. Inexplicably, the magazine has ignored me for 40 straight years (I won once before, apparently for my solid performance in the first grade, in 1966. But I was forced to share the award with some long-haired teenagers up the street.)
So I was a wee bit pessimistic when I logged on to this morning and asked, "Is it me?'
But Time said, "Yes. It's you."

Now as it turns out, once I read the entire article I found that once again I'm being asked to share the award with a few other folks. But that's fine. Some of them seem like decent people -- such as this nice woman and this interesting man. So I won't complain.

I'm just thrilled that this year I won't have to repeat that ugly lie: "It's an honor just to be nominated."

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Designing a magazine about magazine design

A little more than a year ago I expressed a wish that someone from the world of magazine design would begin blogging.
No one ever took up that call. At least as far as I know.
But perhaps the next-best thing is here.

In my mailbox yesterday I found a brochure for something called "FPO, the First Magazine for Magazine Creatives." A look at the marketing copy and a related Web site promises a quarterly publication that serves as "an enthusiast magazine for designers and editors who love their job and want to produce great work."

FPO (or For Publications Only) appears to be a print-only product for print-only designers. That's a bit of a disappointment to me. When I was wishing for a design blogger last year I said the ideal writer would be someone "
who knows both print and online design for our industry." The overlap between those two facets of publishing is enormous. And one of the complaints I hear most often from publishers and senior editorial staff is that the art department can't work on the Web. Sure, there are differences between designing for the page and designing for the screen. But there are similarities too. And the simple truth is that a graphic artist without basic Web skills is walking around with a fire-me-and-cut-costs sign on his head. (On a related note, check out this wish list of new hires for Web 2.0.)

At any rate, it's too early to tell if FPO will be an interesting publication. It's being produced by Auras Design, a Maryland-based company that designed such magazines as American Style. So it's a pretty good bet that the folks at FPO will know design. But that doesn't necessarily mean they'll know how to write, manage or market a magazine. So I think I'll wait a bit before I decide if I want to pay $44 to subscribe.
In the meantime, I'll keep hoping for that magazine design blog.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Comments on no comments

A reader sent an email urging me to take a look at ABM's MediaPace blog because "someone posted a comment for the first time in more than a year!"

Longtime readers of this blog know I have disliked MediaPace since its beginning. There's no need to rehash the reasons. You can click here to read a history of my criticism. Suffice it to say I never found a compelling reason to read MediaPace. And I know that many folks in B2B journalism shared my dislike of the product.
Certainly MediaPace never seemed to generate much interest. And a quick look through the archives shows that the email I received was almost right.
There have been two comments posted to MediaPace in the past year.
Just two.

Now there are many ways to measure the value of a blog. Comments are just one of them. But comments are certainly one of the better ways to measure "engagement." And the truth is that the B2B publishing community has not appeared particularly engaged by MediaPace.
On Dec. 7 of last year, Paul Woodward posted a comment that can hardly be called flattering.
Then there were no comments from anyone ... for months.

MediaPace went dark briefly over the summer. Shortly after the blog returned, Folio's Tony Silber posted a brief comment on July 19.
Tony commented again on Aug. 28, noting a major change. Someone new was blogging for MediaPace, producing what Tony correctly noted was "a great post. Fun, opinionated, but with a message. "

That new blogger, Sara Sheadel, has continued to write witty and insightful posts. Her work has proven to be a delight. And as a result, many of us in B2B journalism have begun to read MediaPace again.
So it was inevitable that the long comment drought should end.

There's something else worth noting here ... because it can serve as a guide to any journalist in this new world of conversational media. The comment to Sara's post is a criticism, albeit criticism given in a less-than-nasty tone. Sara handled it with grace and wit and diplomacy. She didn't ignore it. She didn't attack. Instead, she corrected an error. She made at least one reader smile. And she kept the conversation going.
And that's what makes for good blogging.

For some background on Sara, click here.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Blogito, ergo sum

I had a conversation a few weeks ago with Rex in which I said part of the reason I blog is that, for me, the act of blogging has become part of the act of thinking.
I'm a writer. And when writers think, we think as writers. Sometimes that means we think with pen in hand. Sometimes not. But it always means we assume there is an audience for our thoughts. It is that single personality trait -- an arrogance of sorts -- that allows us to be writers.

But blogging has changed something. In the old days, I felt that my thoughts had to be completely formed before someone read them. In fact, there had to be agreement that my thoughts were fully formed. Because there was always at least one editor who had to believe that my thoughts made sense.
But in blogging, things are different. Just as thinking and writing have always been linked in my head, now thinking and publishing are linked. I can share my thoughts as they form. And, sometimes, when I'm lucky, a reader will comment or some other blogger will write something and eventually my thoughts clarify.

I thought of these things today as I sat down to write about, to think about, a post from the New York Times DealBook blog. DealBook is reporting on a visit by Jim Buckmaster, the chief executive officer of Craigslist, to the UBS global media conference. In brief, the Wall Street folks at the meeting were completely perplexed by Buckmaster, who said he wasn't interested in maximizing revenue.
Take a look at the post here.

I read that piece early this morning, and it's hard for me to describe how delighted I was by it. I found myself smiling like a fool for a good half-hour. And at one point I logged on to Craigslist just so I could look at the site again, even though I had been apartment hunting on it just last night.
But as I blog this morning -- as I write, think and publish -- I'm not quite sure why I find it so funny that Wall Street doesn't understand a company "that exists to help Web users find jobs, cars, apartments and dates — and not so much to make money."
I suppose part of the reason I'm so pleased by this is because I find many of the denizens of Wall Street to be hideous. I've lived much of my life here in New York, and much of what I dislike about this town can be traced to the more vile characters that work in finance. And I like any story that makes such people look like fools.
But the primary reason I liked the story so much is because I felt, somehow, vindicated by it. A good portion of my career has involved trying to convince wealthy people that a publication's primary purpose is to serve its readers and its workers. And if I had a dollar for every private-equity investor, overpaid executive, Blackberry-addicted venture capitalist and cash-flow-crazed M&A advisor who didn't understand me, I'd be as rich as they are.
But those people have to listen to Craigslist. Craigslist is big. And big makes them drool.

Longtime readers of this blog know that I was once vice president of online content at Primedia Business. That company had been saddled with hundreds of millions of dollars in debt by Wall Street wizards. And yet you could spend weeks there without ever running into anyone in top management who thought that was a bad idea. One of these guys once told me that the problem with the company wasn't an unreasonable debt load, the problem was that the company had "too many editors in places like Kansas where they all want to go to the kids' Little League games instead of work." Those people, unwilling to work longer hours for less money in order to service the debt, needed to be replaced, he said.
Under any circumstances, that conversation would have offended me. But the scene that day was like some sort of parody of greed. We were having lunch in the executive dining room of a leveraged buyout firm. And he was drunk.
I don't know what became of that guy. I don't much care. But I expect that if he was at the UBS conference he was perplexed by the man from Craigslist.

Of course Primedia Business is no more. First small pieces were sold. Then dozens of people lost their jobs. Then big pieces were sold and hundreds of people were laid off. And then what was left was sold again.
Now, 16 months later, the New York Post says that new buyer has $847 million in long-term debt.
And in the end, all this seems so silly and endless and wrong.

So perhaps what I would say if my thoughts were well-formed is this: I'm pleased when someone like Craigslist's Buckmaster says "no." Because it will give me strength the next time I have to remind someone: "It's about the readers; it's about the journalism; it's about the staff; it's not about you."

For an earlier post of mine about Wall Street and trade publishing, click here.
Click here to read how just a few months after VNU was acquired by private equity investors, the company is laying off some 4,000 workers.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Jon Udell leaves journalism ... sort of

Jon Udell, arguably the most talented guy working in B2B journalism, is leaving B2B journalism.
Sort of.
Jon is departing InfoWorld for a new gig at Microsoft. But according to Jon, little will change in what he does each day. "The details aren't nailed down, but in broad terms I've proposed to Microsoft that I continue to function pretty much as I do now. That means blogging, podcasting, and screencasting on topics that I think are interesting and important; it means doing the kinds of lightweight and agile R&D that I've always done; and it means brokering connections among people, software, information, and ideas -- again, as I've always done."

It's too early to tell just what Jon's work will look like when it's published by Microsoft. But I'm not worried. First, it's a pretty good bet that Microsoft hired him because it respects him, not because it thinks it can control him. More importantly, Microsoft has already demonstrated with Scoble that it has the wisdom to let its workers share their thoughts with the blogosphere. (In fact, with nothing more to back this up than my hunch, I'm going to say that Microsoft is hiring Jon partly because it misses the credibility that Scoble lent it before he jumped ship.)

Certainly Jon's decision is a blow to IDG. And since IDG is a client of mine, and one of my favorite B2B publishers, his departure saddens me. Besides, there is something a little sad for all of us in B2B publishing when one of our own decides the opportunities are greater elsewhere.

For an earlier post of mine about Jon, click here.
For Rex's take on Jon's new job, click here.
Click here to see how marketing sites are becoming more like media sites.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Socrates would have skipped the hemlock if he had the Web

I was educated by Jesuits.
So in my spare time I like to think about the big questions ... the sorts of things that have puzzled philosophers for centuries.
Before there was a Web, I'd pose these questions to an indifferent universe. I would cry out in the night, but no answers would come.
Now, of course, things are different. I have a computer. The answers are always near.

For example, there were three such questions bouncing around in my head this morning as I brushed my teeth.
First, can I compare apples to oranges? The answer, as it turns out, is here. (Thanks to David Shaw for pointing me toward it.)
Second, why are there so few self-tagged Gnostic bloggers? Click here and scroll down to find the answer, but it's mostly because Technorati is not all-powerful.
And third, is it unethical for someone in public relations to behave unethically? Actually, as of press time, no one had yet answered that question in this empty B2B publication forum.

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