Friday, February 29, 2008

Preliminary report from the College Tour

"He slung his words at us like darts."

That's the lead from an article in the student-run newspaper at the University of Tennessee-Martin about my recent appearance at the Southeast Journalism Conference, where I gave the keynote presentation (titled "Brace Yourself: What journalism is like in 2008. Why you're not ready for it. What you can do about it.") and joined in a panel discussion on the future of newspapers.
You can read the entire article here. But suffice it to say that my comments caused some discomfort among some of the students and teachers in attendance.

Here are a few of my thoughts.

1. Over and over again I heard from students that the journalism departments at their schools were divided. Some teachers are offering coursework and advice related to new media and convergence. But other teachers are adamant about adhering to a one-medium track. And if the students' reports are to be believed, the split among teachers is acrimonious.
2. Several students complained to me that they had difficulty following my speech because they were seated near teachers and professionals who grumbled and complained throughout my presentation.
3. There's little doubt that today's students aren't following developments in today's media. Nearly everyone I spoke with seem genuinely surprised when I talked about layoffs, shuttered newspapers and declining market values.
4. The weirdest thing I heard at SJC: A senior editor who manages a section at a major daily newspaper told the students how excited he was that he was about to get training on how to post his department's stories to the Web. All I could think of was "who the hell has been doing it for the past few years?"
5. The coolest thing I saw at SJC: the student media center at Ole Miss. It's positively gorgeous.
6. The coolest site I saw at SJC: Vanderbilt's InsideVandy, a Drupal-based, multimedia powerhouse. It won the SJC award for best student-run website.
7. The coolest thing I learned about at SJC: GIMP, an open-source alternative to Photoshop. I'd heard about GIMP before, but I never bothered to check it out (I think the name of the product just offended me.) But now I'm sold.

Next week I'll be meeting with students, teachers and other professionals at Northwest Missouri State University. The week after that I'll be running a one-day workshop and joining in two panels at the College Media Advisers convention.
When those gigs are done, I promise to share my thoughts on the next generation of journalists.

In the meantime, check out blog posts by students who attended SJC here and here.
And take a look at this earlier post on the next generation of journalists (and check out the comments.)

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The most important award in B2B journalism

I want to offer my congratulations to my friend Harry McCracken of PC World for winning the most important award in B2B journalism. Harry is this year's recipient of American Business Media's Timothy White Award for editorial integrity.

Harry has had a long and distinguished career. But there's little doubt that the challenges he faced in 2007 played a major role in his winning the award. And there can be little doubt that ABM did the right thing by acknowledging that Harry stood up and did the right thing at a difficult time.

So congratulations to Harry. Congratulations to ABM. Congratulations too to IDG, parent company of PC World and a client of mine. This marks the second consecutive year that the Timothy White award has gone to an IDG editor.

For B2B Magazine's coverage of this year's award, click here.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

The College Tour

It's coming up on that time of year again when, as my friends and family remind me, I spend too much time doing too much work for free. Each year at this time I head out on the road to visit with college journalists and their instructors to share my thoughts on media.
I don't get paid for this work. But I don't care. As I remind my friends and family, there's more to life than money. And there's nothing I enjoy more all year than the time I spend with future journalists.

Later this week I'll be heading to Oxford, Mississippi, where I'm the keynote speaker at this year's Southeast Journalism Conference. I've titled my little speech "Brace Yourself: What life is like in journalism in 2008; Why you're not ready for it; What you can do about it." I'll also be joining a few newspaper executives for a panel on the future of that industry.

After that I'll stop back home for a few days before heading to the Midwest to visit some clients and attend the annual meeting of the professional advisory committee at Northwest Missouri State University's department of mass communication.

By mid-March, I'll be back in New York and attending the College Media Advisers national convention. I'm co-hosting an all-day session on multimedia reporting and Web-first publishing on March 13. And I'm serving on two panels on March 17.

If you're going to be at any of these events, please stop by and say hello.

With all this activity in the next few weeks, I expect my blog posting to be rather infrequent. I will, however, share my thoughts about the next generation of journalists when my schedule gets back to normal.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Buying a staff for the future

Late last month came news that B2B publisher Questex was buying FierceMarkets, the online-only publisher best known for its niche, email newsletters. I said then that I thought the deal had some major implications for our industry. Today I'd like to elaborate.

First, I want to make it clear that the FierceMarkets deal doesn't change my opinion of email newsletters. As a general rule, I can't stand the things. I much prefer to get my news and information via RSS feeds. As I wrote on this blog slightly more than two years ago: "With RSS I don't have to worry about annoying "unsubscribe" functions that don't work properly. With RSS I'm not subjected to a never-ending stream of spam and other marketing nonsense from publishers. For a content consumer, RSS is a vastly superior delivery mechanism. And I expect that, eventually, every consumer will demand it."
I still believe that.
But I also believe that this is not the time for B2B publishers to walk away from email newsletters. There's still money to made with them -- lots of money. That's why publishers love them. But someday soon it will become clear that publishers' love of newsletters will not be able to compete with users' love of convenience and control.

But my dislike of email newsletters doesn't change the fact that I like the Questex/FierceMarkets deal. And here's why:
I have a feeling (and it's really just a feeling, I don't have much hard information), that the deal isn't really about newsletters. Nor, for that matter, did Questex buy the company because FierceMarkets also distributes news via RSS. Nor is the deal about FierceMarkets' cash flow or profits.
I think Questex bought FierceMarkets' staff. This is a deal about people...a sort of large-scale version of what Rex calls an "acqhire".
I think Questex decided to buy a staff that understands the Web.

To understand what I mean, take a look at FierceWireless. Drill down a bit. Read some pieces. Make note of the Web-friendly writing, short stories, agnostic links and reader-friendly design.
Then head over to Questex. Make your way to the page about the company's telecom products.
Then try, as I have several times today, to visit Wireless Asia. What I found was a dead link. You can also try searching for "Wireless Asia" on Google. What you'll find is that the top link goes to -- the same dead link. In fact, the only live link I can find to Wireless Asia is to a three-year old media kit from when the product was owned by Advanstar.
And as I made my way around the Questex site today what I found over and over and over again was a series of dead links.

Now I don't want to judge Questex based on what appears to be a bunch of technical glitches. These things happen. But it seems to me that the dead links are indicative of a larger cultural problem at Questex.
I did eventually find some links that worked. Take a look at the site for Response Magazine or American Salon. See if it's as clear to you as it is to me that the sites are afterthoughts ... an endless series of in-house ads aimed at getting people to subscribe to the print products.

I believe that Questex -- like many other B2B publishers and newspaper companies -- has recognized that it needs a staff that thinks of the Web first. And Questex, like many other publishing companies, has come to believe that its existing staff was never going to get there. So Questex did the right thing: it bought some folks who could help lead the company into the future.
FierceMarkets had been in play for awhile. And I know that some potential buyers thought the asking price was too high. But those folks were looking to add to already sophisticated Web teams. They didn't need to "acqhire" anyone. They just wanted to buy some cash flow and growth potential.
But Questex saw something else in FierceMarkets, something it needed -- an editorial staff that could help shape the company's future.

We're going to see more of this. We may see a lot more of this. And as a general rule, I'm likely to applaud such "acqhires" of a Web-savvy staff. But I'd urge caution. FierceMarkets is a fairly rare bird. Not every online-only company is staffed by very bright people. And even the smartest number crunchers won't necessarily recognize brilliance in an online editorial staff.
So make sure that whoever does your acqhiring or hiring understands Web culture.

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