Monday, March 30, 2009

Journalism by any other word would smell as sweet

March is academia month for me.
Each year at this time I visit with college journalists and their teachers. And each year it is both a rewarding and frustrating experience.
This year was somewhat unusual in that I did less college-focused stuff than usual. I had too much work to do much travel. And some academic events were canceled. But I did get to spend a few days at the annual College Media Advisers convention in New York.

I saw many of the same disheartening things this year that I've written about before -- journalism departments that have not converged; students just weeks from graduating with nothing to show for it but a working knowledge of Quark; teachers and students with no understanding of how the media business operates; etc.
On the other hand, I saw less of some of the stuff that upsets me. This year, for example, I was pleased to find that only one person in a room full of journalism advisers didn't own a cell phone or PDA.

As you'd expect, much of the conversation at this year's convention focused on the troubles of the media industry. No one seems to be landing a job. The kids are frightened.
So I spent a lot of my time talking about where I see opportunities.
And the place where I see the most opportunity for the next few years is in content marketing.

Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, I didn't meet a single teacher, adviser or student who was familiar with content marketing.
And so, repeatedly, I found myself giving a brief overview: Content marketing is about removing the middleman. Companies that once spent their marketing budget on advertising are now spending it on creating content themselves. Content marketers are free of the greatest pressure that the rest of media faces, i.e., content marketers don't need to make a profit from their content. I talked about some of the content-marketing sites that I've written about earlier such as Security Focus as well as Kraft, WeightWatchers and the sites of Waterfront Media.
And, of course, I talked about Joe Pulizzi's Junta42, which is ground zero for the content-marketing movement.
But what I found was that the folks I talked to seemed to have tremendous difficulty with the word "marketing." No matter how much I talked about content marketing as a new form of journalism, they seemed to think it could be nothing more than a new form of marcom.

So it was with great pleasure and gratitude that I stumbled upon a recent post by David Meerman Scott.
In David's "Open letter to journalists," he talks about the opportunities for "open-minded" journalists in the new world of content marketing.
But most importantly, David introduces a new (or at least new to me) term to describe the content-marketing industry.
So you can expect that in March 2010 I'll be telling students and teachers about the opportunities in "brand journalism."

To read my four-part series on college journalism from last year, click here and follow the links.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Awards for the dead

Congratulations to the folks at "Heavy Duty Trucking" for winning the Grand Neal Award from American Business Media.
HDT, a monthly magazine owned by Newport Communications Group, picked up the prize for a special report called "Fuel Crisis Survival."
It's a pretty good piece of reporting and writing. And the people involved should be proud of their work.
But seriously, wouldn't it make more sense in 2009 to give the top editorial award in B2B to something that at least had a Web component?
You can read "Fuel Crisis Survival" on the HDT site ... but it's hardly a top-notch Web experience. This is shovelware, pure and simple. Take a look. See if you can spot anything that indicates anyone at the company has even looked at this thing online.

There was one other bit of news from this year's Neal ceremony that I found a little disconcerting.
Crain's FinancialWeek and picked up a number of awards -- including Best Web Site.
And as close followers of the B2B world know, the FinancialWeek brand is no more. The print product shut down in December. The website closed earlier this month.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Layoffs and shortcomings

The layoffs are coming so frequently in B2B media these days that the announcements have become little more than background noise. It's getting harder to remember who has lost their jobs, which publications have folded, what companies have had their debt downgraded, etc.

But sometimes a piece of the bad news catches my attention and I feel obliged to say something.

So it is today as I hear that Crain is laying off 150 of its staffers.
I'm terribly sorry to hear this. I offer my sympathy to the folks who have lost their jobs. I've been laid off in the past. And it's a painful experience.
But there's also a part of me that is somewhat less than sympathetic.
Here's why:
Way, way back in the days before the Web, Crain was my idea of just how good a B2B publisher could be. I was a fan of the company and many of its brands. I thought of Crain as a guide to what all of us in B2B were supposed to do.
But since the arrival of the Web, Crain has become a company I tend to use as an example of what not to do.
And it was nearly two and a half years ago, as I wrote a piece criticizing the company, that I decided Crain would never "get" the Web.

I have no doubt that the folks who have made bad decisions at Crain in recent years will survive the layoffs. That, as unfair as it may be, seems to be the way the world works. Many of the newly jobless are likely innocent of any sin against journalism or the Web. A quick read of the comments in that post I linked to above shows that at least one journalist at the company was struggling even then with the limits placed upon her. And I assure you, I've met several other Crain journalists who have voiced similar thoughts.

I would like to think that things can change at Crain. I'd like to think that somehow the difficulties of the economy and the shock of the layoffs will prompt the survivors to take more risks and practice a more serious form of Web-based journalism. There are reasons to be hopeful -- the Web sites at Crain have in fact improved -- albeit slightly -- since November of 2006.
But tonight I don't see the one thing that would convince me the company is still serious about journalism.
That's because as I write this piece tonight, I can't find a story about the Crain layoffs at either of the Crain sites dedicated to covering this industry: Media Business and B2B Magazine.

UPDATE (3/19) As a comment to this post points out, Crain did eventually publish an article about the layoffs. It appeared on Wednesday. March 18, at 1:25 in the afternoon EDT -- nearly 24 hours after the layoffs were announced.

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