Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Violating our ethics policy doesn't break our rules

Sara Sheadel at the ABM blog has written a response to my post yesterday in which I noted my disappointment that was a finalist for a Neal Award despite being in violation of ABM's ethics guidelines.

Take a moment to read what Sara says. You'll see that although it's unclear if the judges knew that eWeek was in violation, there is a larger problem here. It seems that although it's against the Neal rules for a print publication to violate the ethics guidelines, it's not yet against the rules for an online publication to do so.
Sara says she's "going to wager a guess that these rules may change next year. "
I'll bet she's right.

(Note: It's now been exactly one week since I asked Eric Lundquist, VP/editorial director at eWeek, for an explanation. I still haven't heard back. Thus I'm revoking the right of every journalist at Ziff Davis to complain that sources don't return their calls.)

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

And the award for most egregious violation of our ethics policy goes to ...

Some congratulations are in order ... and some disdain as well. But let's start with the positives.
American Business Media has released the finalists for its Jesse Neal Business Journalism awards. The Neal awards are among the more prestigious prizes in our industry. And it shouldn't come as a surprise that some of the best publications in our our industry -- Computerworld, CFO and Editor & Publisher, for example -- are among the finalists.
You can take a look at the full list on this pdf.

But when you read that list of finalists, you may find you are as surprised and disappointed as I am to see that eWeek is a finalist for Best Web Site.
Just yesterday I pointed out that eWeek is in violation of ABM's ethics guidelines. And it's beyond me why the screening judges at ABM would think that a site that embarrasses the entire world of B2B journalism should be considered a symbol of what is best in B2B journalism.
And it's not just the ethical failings that should have ruled out eWeek. The simple truth is that Ziff Davis' has other problems as well.
Take a look. Notice the incredibly slow load time. Try to make it to the bottom of the text-filled monstrosity of a home page without your eyes bleeding. This is the sort of site that must give Jakob Nielsen nightmares.
eWeek is also a functional mess. As I write this piece, I see that the link on the home page that is supposed to take me to a blog post about "the Ballmer Era," instead takes me to a slide show about Microsoft Vista.
The thing that is truly saddest about these shortcomings is that much of eWeek is actually quite good. The site does have some of the things that make for compelling online content -- the blogs and slideshows mentioned above, as well as feedback functions on article pages.
But all that is good about eWeek is overshadowed by the fact that the site is ugly, performs poorly and is tainted by unethical behavior.
(It's worth noting that one of the other finalists for Best Web site is Forbes, where the staff has fought and won a battle against IntelliTXT links.)

So what explains the appearance of eWeek on the ABM list of finalists?
Perhaps the screening judges are unaware of the IntelliTXT problem. Or perhaps the IntelliTXT links began to appear after the judges made their selections (I'm unsure when they first appeared. I became aware of them last week.) That would certainly make more sense than the alternative explanation: that the judges are unfamiliar with best practices in online design and editorial.

Speaking of best practices, Prescott Shibles says the reason three publications in the Prism stable are among the nominees is because they "all focus on editorial integrity." And interestingly, Shibles says that strengthening the line between editorial and advertising has enhanced revenue, not hurt it.

To take a look at ABM's Editorial Code of Ethics, read this pdf file. Make note that ABM is about as clear as can be on the subject of IntelliTXT ads in editorial copy. "Hypertext links that appear within the editorial content of a site, including those within graphics, must be solely at the discretion of the editors. Links within editorial should never be paid for by advertisers."

To read what I thought of last year's winners of the Neal Awards, click here.

And finally, if someone you work with someone who represents the best in B2B ethics, make sure you nominate them for the Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity. The deadline is Feb. 1.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

eWeek crosses an ethical line

Well that didn’t take very long.
Just a few weeks ago, I predicted in Folio magazine that “at least one major publisher will do something unethical this year and then try to hide behind a claim that ‘things are different online.’
Now along comes Ziff Davis, acting ridiculous, and making me look like a prophet.

Ziff Davis’ property eWeek has begun running those same IntelliTXT ads that have led to scandal elsewhere. Regular readers of this blog know that VNU committed the same sin late last year, but pulled the ads after I complained. And anyone who follows the ongoing battle over ethics in journalism knows that the staff of Forbes magazine had to fight off IntelliTXT ads back a few years ago.

Look – there is no room for argument on this issue. We have been through this time and time again. If you want to hear how repulsive I find it when a publishing company so flagrantly violates the ethical standards of our industry, you can read my earlier post about VNU. If you want to see what the ethical guidelines of ASBPE actually say about this issue, you can also find that information in my earlier post.

In the meantime, I’m going to let Matt McAlister speak for me. I first heard about the eWeek problem through a post on his blog. And he summed up my feelings perfectly when he said "media sites scrapping to maintain profits on the page view model are bottom feeding for clicks with clutter and misleading links. Instead, they should spend their resources courting relationships with readers."

Look. Everyone knows that Ziff Davis is in trouble. After nearly going bankrupt a few years ago, the company has been searching for a buyer for a year. Bidding ended a few days ago, and no sale has been announced yet. But regardless of how things turn out, it’s unlikely that Ziff Davis’ owners, private equity firm Willis Stein & Partners, will get back anything close to the $780 million they paid for the company in 1999.

Ziff Davis has had a dismal performance of late in print. But online revenue has risen. And that has given investment bank Lehman Brothers, which is advising Ziff Davis on a sale, something to push. And when you have a private equity company and an investment bank both intent on boosting online revenue in the short term to help drive the sale of the company, you’re going to wind up with some embarrassing behavior.

So let’s be reasonable – selling IntelliTXT ads isn’t going to do anything to help turn the company around. There just isn’t that much cash involved in these things. Selling IntelliTXT ads won’t even provide enough of a short-term lift to help boost the price of the company. This is an absurd and offensive practice that won’t help a troubled company.
And let’s be frank – Ziff Davis isn’t in trouble because it didn’t have IntelliTXT ads until recently. Ziff Davis is in trouble because it’s run by people who think it makes good business sense to trade their reputation, their ethics and the morale of their staff for a few pennies.

Note: I sent an email to Eric Lundquist, VP/editorial director at eWeek, several days ago. He has not responded to my request for a comment.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Requiring feedback on feedback

Yesterday I wrote about the changes in how CNET is compensating some of its writers, and how those changes could affect the rest of us.
Now I see that CNET is changing how its reporters interact with readers -- requiring that they respond to every question that comes in via feedback functions. And once again it seems obvious to me that something significant has happened. The search for online community, the acceptance of conversational editorial, the rise of user-generated content -- all these things are becoming ingrained in how we do our work.
And nothing could please me more.

For an earlier post of mine about online communities, click here.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Paying journalists for results

I tend to have a pretty optimistic outlook on the changes in journalism. Sure, this can be a confusing time. And of course, we're all facing pressures that we couldn't have imagined a few years ago.
But for me, the world of new media is one of endless opportunities rather than countless threats.
So it shouldn't surprise anyone that I'm not upset by the news that CNET has introduced a pay-for-performance system for some online writers. But I'm not so insensitive to suggest that no one should be upset. Because this could, once again, represent a fundamental shift in our careers.

First, let me take a moment to note the significance that this change is coming from CNET. The San Francisco-based company has been at the fore of a number of significant changes in the journalism model, including comparison-shopping tools and the use of editors in video reviews. And although CNET wasn't the first news operation in Second Life, it was certainly the first to have one of its reporters attacked by flying penises.
More importantly, CNET's article pages have become a model for Web writing and design. Take a look at this piece for example, and pay particular attention to the "High Impact" graphic. CNET uses that box to make the "nut" graf of print-style feature writing more Web friendly. And close observers of online journalism will have noted that the Wall Street Journal -- king of the "nut" graf -- has adopted the "nut" graphic for its online edition.

Now CNET may be taking the lead again by creating a new compensation system for writers at its ZDNet unit. (You can hear ZDNet writer Mary Jo Foley talk about the system in this podcast.)
In brief, ZDNet is paying its bloggers based on the number of clicks they receive -- rewarding writers who generate traffic.
That's likely to cause worry among some journalists, who fear that publishers will begin rewarding writers who "cater" to an audience by creating content that is popular but has little journalistic value.
But I agree with Steve Rubel that since the ZDNet blogs are written by "veteran journalists," it's unlikely "that the performance based compensation changes their ethics one iota." And I agree too with Scott Karp that for professionals in search of hits, "quality will increase your odds a lot more over the long term than pandering and sensationalism."

And that, in a nutshell, is why I'm not worried about pay-for-performance journalism. I don't expect it will lead to a race to the bottom. I don't expect it will cause publishers to replace high-end prose with low-brow content. Rather I expect pay-for-performance to become a way to reward the best among us -- those exceptional few writers that bring readers. And I see pay-for-performance as a way for forward-thinking publishers to keep their most valuable employees from striking out on their own in search of readers and rewards.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Time to brag about yourselves

If you're proud of some of the work you've done this year, this is the time to brag about it.
Tomorrow marks the deadline for entries to two contests that seek to reward the best in our industry.
First, consider entering your magazine and/or electronic products in the ASBPE Excellence Awards. ASBPE has added 16 categories this year, including one for multiplatform journalism. Second, make sure that the folks in your events and tradeshow department know that tomorrow is the final day for entries to Folio's FAME awards for magazine events.

But if you miss those deadlines, don't panic. There's still time to enter the Tabbie contest, which looks for the best in global B2B publishing. The Trade, Association and Business Publications International group, or TABPI, has added two categories this year, including best B2B Web site.

(Full Disclosure: Both ASBPE and TABPI have been kind enough to ask me to help judge some of the categories in this year's contests.)

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Sharp ends and sharp minds

"Skillset is important. But mindset is most important."
That's a quote from Rob Curley, one of the sharpest guys working in media today, writing about what the next generation of journalists needs to bring to the job interview. You can read the rest of Rob's thoughts by clicking here.
Or you can just wait until I speak at the College Media Advisers convention in March, at which time I'm likely to steal many of Rob's ideas.

(My thanks to The Guardian's Kevin Anderson, who pointed me toward Rob's most recent quote. And my thanks to Kevin also for including me with Howard Owens and Steve Outing on the list of journalists that "are at the sharp end" of the changes in our industry. I assure you all, if I have anything at all to contribute to the conversation, I stole it from Rob, Howard, Steve, Rex, Mindy, Matt, Adrian or any of the dozens of other folks, all much sharper than I, that populate the journalism blogosphere.)

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A second wind for Second Life

I was on the road last week visiting clients and friends in several cities. And nearly everyone I spoke with asked me about Second Life.
Now when a media phenomenon that I love becomes so pervasive that everyone I know wants to know my opinion about it, I get a little nervous. Sure, perhaps the subject at hand has reached the tipping point and has become less of a trend and more a permanent part of our lives. Certainly that's the experience I've had as an advocate for blogging, external links and a few other things. And as a general rule, that's a wonderful thing.
But it's also possible that when a phenomenon becomes mainstream it loses something. Perhaps it's exclusivity. Perhaps it's the sense of being cool and ahead of the curve. But something important can get pushed out the door as the crowds rush in.

The first time I spoke to journalists about Second Life was a little more than a year ago. I showed some screen shots. I said I saw enormous growth opportunities for journalists in Second Life. And I talked about one of the newspapers that had appeared there -- a real publication that covered a virtual world.
But I got the feeling that the audience thought I was nuts. Or at least a little silly.

But things change. Time passes. And eventually real-world journalists discovered the virtual world. Late last year both Reuters and CNET opened bureaus in Second Life. An entrepreneur opened a virtual porn magazine. Corporate America found the place too. And even a Congressman took up residence. And soon flying through Second Life began to feel quite a bit like walking through the real world.
And somewhere in there, I lost interest.

But things change. Time passes. And last week Second Life decided to open up its source code.
(You can read more about the decision here and here.) And although I am not a developer, and I have no intention of trying to do anything with the code, I was absolutely thrilled by this news.
Here's why: As wondrous as Second Life is, it has never been what it promised to be -- a virtual world. It was, instead, a virtual room. Albeit a very, very big room.

I don't know what a new and open Second Life will look like. Perhaps the change will be monumental. Perhaps not.
But I do know this -- I'm more excited about Second Life than I have been in a long time.
Because now, just like in the early days, it feels like anything can happen there.

For a look at an earlier post of mine about Second Life and online communities, click here.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Five things you probably don't know about me

Danny Sanchez at Journalistopia tagged me in the latest blogger game back on Dec. 21. And I'm only just now getting around to responding. My apologies to Danny and the entire blogosphere.
The object of the game is to tell you five things that you probably don't know about me. And then "tag' five other bloggers and have them do the same.

So here goes:
1. I was a soldier once, and young. The thing I'm most proud of is that I once served in the Army. I was an 11B -- an infantryman, a ground-pounding, highly motivated knucklehead with an M-16. And god how I loved it. I had to struggle like crazy to get into the service. I've had a medical condition (phlebitis) for most of my life that led to my failing a few intake exams. But eventually the Army took me in. As fate would have it, my condition worsened. Eventually I received a medical discharge. And on my last day in the Army, on a parade ground in Fort Benning, I wore a uniform and saluted the flag for what I assume will be the last time in my life. And I cried like a baby.
2. I was once a roadie for "Alvin and the Chipmunks." Years ago I found myself on a tour through the Midwest and Canada of a Christmas show featuring Alvin, Theodore, Simon and Dave Seville. I spent seven weeks living on a bus with a bunch of incredibly cute dancers from Los Angeles (in the show they donned costumes to transform into the Chipmunks, Frosty the Snowman, Mother Goose and assorted other characters.)
3. I got into a lot of trouble when I was a kid. I had a hard time staying put, being good or associating with decent people. I skipped a lot of school, broke a lot of laws, and hitchhiked up and down the East Coast. I was busted a few times. I was homeless for a short while. And one night, far from home and surrounded by strangers, someone drove a knife through my left lung.
4. I like to dance. I spent much the late 70s and early 80s in the nightclubs of New York -- CBGBs, the Mudd Club, the Peppermint Lounge, etc. I used to be a great dancer. And now, despite the phlebitis and middle age, I'm still pretty good. I look forward to the day when I tell my baby daughter that I met her Mom on the dance floor -- at a salsa class.
5. Back in the early 80s, I had a buddy named Kevin who was sick with what people then called gay cancer, then later called gay-related immune deficiency, and eventually called AIDS. And Kevin used to tell me that his dying wish was that I hook up with this wonderful girl he had met -- a disc jockey/dancer/singer with a fabulous name who had moved to the city from Michigan. But I didn't follow up. And eventually Kevin died. So I never met Madonna. On the other hand, I did once get an Eskimo kiss from Natassia Kinski.

Now I'll pass this on to five of my fellow B2B media bloggers: David Shaw and David Newcorn (in hope it will prompt them to blog more often), Colin Crawford (in hope it will prompt him to blog again), Prescott Shibles (to congratulate him for returning to blogging) and Sara Sheadel (to welcome her to blogging.)

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Reading the magazine predictions

Folio magazine was kind enough to once again ask for my predictions for the upcoming year.
In brief, I told them I expect two things. First, I'm forecasting at least one major ethics flap in B2B. Second, I said that this is the year we'll see B2B publishers begin outsourcing editorial operations overseas.
You can see the details of my predictions, as well as those of a few other folks in the industry, by clicking here.

If you want to see how my fortune-telling skills worked out last year, take a look at items #1 and #2 on the list in this post.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

My friend, you never buy the newspapers

I'm as self-absorbed as the next guy.
Heck, who am I kidding? I'm considerably more self-absorbed.
So it feels particularly gratifying when it seems that something really is all about me.
So put yourself in my shoes -- the comfortable shoes of a middle-aged white professional who lives in New York, works in media, makes a six-figure income, invests in the market and rides the subway -- and consider the newly redesigned Wall Street Journal.

Now you can read what the Journal has to say about its new look by clicking here.
But what I find most interesting about the changes is how they reflect my life. I am the target audience of the Wall Street Journal. And the truth is that I changed how I consume news long before the Journal changed how it produces it.
And that, after all, is the point.
According to Editor and Publisher magazine, L. Gordon Crovitz, publisher of the Journal, "is rethinking how the Journal and its siblings like Dow Jones Newswires and MarketWatch produce and distribute content in an age in which newspapers are fast becoming an arguably irrelevant place to break news."
In simplest terms, the print edition of the Journal "
will move even further away from breaking news, letting the online version and its sister properties pick up the slack. The idea is to free up Journal reporters so they can do more in-depth, analysis-type stories that will better explain what the breaking news means. "

Consider, if you will, how I "experienced" the changes at the Journal.
I read that E&P article and a slew of reaction pieces over the weekend via RSS feeds to my news reader (Bloglines.) Then I read Crovitz' letter online this morning.
And when I decided to write something about the subject for my blog, I realized that I would have to walk to the corner store and actually buy a print edition -- something I haven't done in months.
So I did. And when I placed the Journal on the countertop the man from Iran who usually sells me milk, gum and lottery tickets said "My friend, you never buy the newspapers. Is this a resolution for the New Year?"

Now it's too early to tell if the print edition will work its way back into my heart. I'm not making any New Year's resolution about the Journal or anything else.
Nor would I go so far as to say that this move by the Journal or similar moves by other print products will be enough to save them. But the fact remains that mainstream media companies are moving back toward me after I moved away from them.
And that is probably a good thing for both of us.

For a look at some of the continuing problems in modernizing newsrooms, click here.
For an earlier post of mine on the topic of changing newsrooms, click here.
For an earlier post of mine about B2B magazines struggling with the needs of the new audience, click here.

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