Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A slew of product launches

Is it me, or has there been an unusually large number of new B2B products announced in the past few days?
Pennwell has a new aerospace magazine for the European market.
Crain has announced its new offering for the finance community. has added three new blogs -- including one about media law, which may be of some interest to B2B journalists and publishers.
There's also a new collection of blogs coming from Corante.
And eRepublic has launched a technology magazine for Texas government workers.
Perhaps...just perhaps...these announcements are what I hope they are -- early signs of a coming boom in B2B media output. Maybe... just maybe...folks are deciding the time is right to invest a little in the future.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The future of distribution

I've had a number of conversations in the past few weeks with a client who wants an eye-popping Web page. He doesn't want a lot of Flash -- and thank God he doesn't -- but he wants something with visual pull.
Now I'm not a designer. I'm a journalist. And my consulting services revolve around editorial issues. But online design is part of many conversations I have. And I'm getting less comfortable with those conversations, because I think design is getting less important.
In other words, I would prefer that publishers spend less time thinking about electronic design and spend more time thinking about electronic distribution.
I've written before that I think content is becoming containerless -- freed of the confines of your magazine and of your Web site -- and that trying to control the context of your material is a loser's game in an era of re-mixes and RSS feeds.
There's a fascinating piece on Matt McAlister's blog in which he talks about Dick Costolo's recent post about the future of RSS. Read them both. But pay particular attention to Matt's "strategic and operational recommendations for today's publisher." Matt suggests that journalists shoot for quality not quantity, by producing more enterprise stories and fewer pieces about the same topics everyone else covers. In other words, publishers should give up any illusions about being the sole source of news in an industry.
Matt also urges publishers and journalists begin to engage the mash-up community. And he suggests that we create our own mash-ups, just as the Washington Post has begun doing. But truth be told, I can't imagine that any B2B publishers will be able to do such things for several years. Heck, I can't convince many of the folks I work with to link outside their own Web sites! Many journalists aren't ready for the present, let alone for the future.
For more on RSS, check out Dave Newcorn's blog. He's less nervous than I, and thinks we have about five years until RSS becomes mainstream.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Why we became journalists

Just the other day I suggested that the Web browser was growing obsolete, and would likely be replaced by something akin to a Wall Street trader's workstation -- but with the addition of content-creating capabilities. In other words, something like a Bloomberg terminal.
Now my fellow B2B blogger David Shaw suggests that the way we consume content in the future may be closer to the way we -- and by "we," I actually mean people both younger and hipper than I -- create content. In other words, by using something like Microsoft's new Xbox.

And that, in a nutshell, is what I love about media today. Our industry is shifting. Everything is subject to change. And the only thing I know for sure is that the future won't look like the present.

Consider, for example, these two stories from today:
1) Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, says he'll launch a new venture within three months to alter the world of journalism by tapping into the "power of the masses."
2) Bram Cohen, inventor of BitTorrent, has signed a peace treaty with Hollywood. That opens the way for media companies to use Cohen's peer-to-peer software, which already moves roughly one-third of the traffic on the Internet, to provide video-rich files to consumers.

Imagine the potential in just those two pieces of news -- journalism produced by both users and professionals, morphed and added to as it moves across the Internet, filled with memory-intensive multimedia and distributed at unimagined speeds via P2P software.
Everything is exciting and new and unpredictable. And only an absolute imbecile isn't absolutely thrilled.
Because isn't that why we became journalists in the first place -- so that we could have lives of excitement, lives that were less routine and predictable than those of people in other professions?

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Monday, November 21, 2005

How will we consume/create content in the future?

Sometimes I miss my Bloomberg terminal.
Have you ever seen one those things? Have you ever worked with one?
I used to be an editor at Bloomberg. And it was an exceedingly unpleasant job in an exceedingly unpleasant place. But God how I loved the terminal.
I had two flat-panel displays on my desk that tied the limitless databases of the company to state-of-the-art analytics software. I could crunch numbers, generate charts, research companies and find sources with a few keystrokes. Stock and bond prices updated in real time, and the system could warn me when something significant was happening in an area I cared about. It was wonderful. (That's not to say that the terminal didn't have flaws. Bloomberg is an anti-Web company, the sort of place that tries to block employees from using personal email accounts. As a result, the terminal was riddled with lame, Bloomberg-built versions of things from the rest of the Web -- notably an instant-messaging system that arrived years after IM had swept the Web and a strange, VoIP-style phone that doubled as a fingerprint reader.)

I thought of the Bloomberg terminal earlier today as I read Doc Searls' piece on Geoff Moore's call for a new user interface for the Web.
In brief, Moore wants something less like a Web browser and more like a Wall Street trader's workstation. In other words, he wants a user interface that is more like a Bloomberg terminal, "with many concurrent feeds that enable traders to scan for information, detect trends, and transact, all very rapidly. Switching between states, foregrounding one without losing the context of the others in background, is the technical requirement."
It's a lovely picture. And I agree that the typical trader works with a more compelling information-delivery system than does your typical Web user.

Doc suggests that a Wall-Street-style terminal isn't exactly what we need -- it would still be too much about experiencing content and too little about producing it, too much about receiving and too little about creating. But the easiest system I ever used for creating multimedia content was the Bloomberg terminal. For Bloomberg customers, the terminal was about receiving and acting on information. But for Bloomberg journalists, the terminal was about production -- prose, audio, video and real-time graphics. When we asked the terminal to create a chart, we had the option to "share" it by publishing it with our story. And doing so was no more complicated than pressing a button. And therein may be the key to the next generation of user interfaces -- a system in which producing multimedia content requires no more than an additional keystroke or two. No extra software, no uploading, no FTP, no hassles.

For another vision of the future, check out Dave Newcorn's post on e-paper (I'm far less enthused about e-paper than Dave is. I don't think the audience wants a new way to read content as much as they want a new way to interact with it.)
And for some disconcerting news about today's delivery systems, look at this piece on how few readers open B2B email newsletters.

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Friday, November 18, 2005

Learn to survive

For many journalists, time is running out.
Even some of the more talented people in newsrooms have become deadweight. A lack of new-media skills and an unwillingness to change work habits and writing style to fit the era of conversational editorial have turned former assets into liabilities.
Our industry is changing at a dramatic pace. But in every newsroom I know, there are still people longing for the past. They are angry. They are argumentative. And they are becoming unemployable.

Certainly I'm not alone in this belief. Take a look at what Jeffrey Klein, who runs 101communications, said in Folio magazine. "At our company, when we consider editors for promotion, we select those who live and breathe the Internet ...What I call 'legacy editors,' those who still think print is the only worthy endeavor, are quickly becoming dinosaurs, who we gladly let go to work for our competitors."
Just a few months ago, I was still urging publishers to be patient. I suggested that while all new hires should be journalists with multimedia skills, companies should offer more training in new media for existing staff.
But I don't say that anymore.
At this point, I don't think someone can work in journalism without an understanding of at least the basics of interactive, conversational storytelling. And at this point, you can't blame the boss for not teaching these things. The difficult truth is that people who can't insert a hyperlink, who won't read a blog, who don't know how to work with Photoshop and can't upload a video file just aren't worth having around anymore.

Look: if one of these "legacy" editors is in your newsroom and you would like to protect them from the inevitable layoff, then do something to help them ... and do it quickly.
One place to start is with the University of Maryland's J-learning program. It's a free program that provides entry-level training in new media. Urge your "legacy" friend to give it a try.
Or try to convince your friend to attend a continuing-education course for journalists. Community colleges offer loads of programs. Or if they live in a major city, they can attend one of the dozens of courses offered by Mediabistro. In fact, I may be at this session on multimedia reporting next month, because I like some of the work done by the teacher, Erik Olsen.

And if you're looking for something to help convince your friend that the world really has changed -- that a whole new generation is coming that wants his job -- tell him to take a look at this special report from CNET on the "millennials," the group of tech-savvy kids enamored of remixing and instant messaging.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Asking journalists about bloggers

I like to ask B2B journalists about the bloggers on their beat. It's the sort of question that gives me information that the person answering doesn't realize he's providing.
For example, I still run into folks who say things like "I don't really get blogging" and "my teenaged nephew has a blog" and "I don't read those things." And that tells me that the person giving the answer is slow to sense change and lacking in curiosity.
And people without an inquisitive nature shouldn't be journalists.

Then there are the folks who spew venom and confusion when they answer the question. They often don't know anyone who blogs about the industry they cover. But they do have a vague notion of someone who once wrote something terrible about someone on a blog. They are still very upset by this. They are also usually still very upset by talk radio. And they will link them in their answer to my question. They often launch into a tirade about the state of journalism. They take a very long time to answer my very simple question and will eventually use the word "amateurs" to describe bloggers and use the word "objectivity" to describe their own work.
What they tell me with their answers is that they are overly emotional and have difficulty with reason. In other words, they cannot be objective.
And people who aren't self-aware shouldn't be journalists.

Then there is everyone else. They give clear and concise answers to my question. They know a few folks who blog on their beats. They like some of them. They dislike others. Sometimes they are jealous of a blogger's "freedom" in writing style, use of anonymous sources, etc. Sometimes they have blogs of their own. Sometimes they post comments on the blogs on their beats. Sometimes they link to the blogs on their beat. Always they are aware of what the bloggers are doing because they try to be aware of everything on their beats.
And what these people tell me with their answers is this: We are journalists.
And I love those people.
The Wall Street Journal has a piece today on the most influential bloggers in a number of U.S. industries. Take a look. Is there anyone on the list that you should be reading but aren't? A few of my regular reads are on the list -- Curbed (because I'm a New Yorker who is looking for a new apartment) and Adrants.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Good content, bad conduct

If you're going to create a digital edition -- and as I've said before, the only reason to do so is "so that a print product can be sent to people who otherwise wouldn't get it in a timely fashion" -- check out the work of GIE Media.
The B2B publisher is launching a digital edition of Lawn & Landscape Magazine, even though, as the press release says in immodest fashion, L&L already "offers you a fantastic Web site, dynamic interactive message boards, an online Dealer Search feature and numerous other Web tools."
In other words, GIE is offering a digital edition in addition to its Web site, not instead of a Web site.
It's also worth noting that GIE's Web offerings really are pretty close to "fantastic." This is a company that understands the nature of conversational editorial. Heck, even the press release has a feedback function!
That's not to say that I'm completely thrilled with GIE. And here's why. The announcement of the digital edition is, as I said earlier, a press release. It's a well-written press release. It's informative, sort of fun and gets its point across well. But it is a press release.
And it offends me when a publisher runs its own press releases as editorial content. Giving editorial space to someone in marketing -- whether it's someone from your company or from some other company -- is a violation of our ethics standards. And pretending that these ethical standards don't apply to our own ads and our own marketing material is a mistake.
I mean seriously, if the world of journalism has a belief system it can be summed up in these two sentences:
Only the laziest reporter runs a press release without editing it.
Only an unethical company runs ads in the space reserved for editorial content.
I've written before about what I see as GIE's lapses in this area. And people from GIE have responded by phone and email. Some of them have agreed with me. One did not.
GIE isn't the only B2B publisher to engage in such behavior. I've lost track of the number of times I've seen promos for publisher-sponsored trade shows dropped in the middle of news pages.
In response to such practices, I have suggested that ASBPE, which is in the process of revamping its ethics guidelines, clearly state that in-house marketing material is an advertisement, and must be clearly delineated as such per the ad vs. edit guidelines.

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Monday, November 14, 2005

Diverse newsrooms for a global economy

In the past few months I've met with around 300 journalists from a few dozen B2B magazines at around a half dozen publishers in several different cities.
And this is what I've seen:
White people.
Lots of them.
On occasion I've seen some Asian faces...perhaps as much as 1 or 2 percent of the editorial staff at some companies. I think I've met one editor with a South Asian name. I've run into two or three folks from the former Soviet Union (although they too were white.) I've met a few folks with Spanish-sounding last names. I don't think I've met anyone with a background from the Middle East other than some Israelis.
And, believe it or not, I've only seen two black people.
Now for the record, I'm a white guy. I am, in fact, a member of the most common demographic in publishing --I'm a middle-aged white guy.
So when someone like me winds up consistently shocked by the lack of diversity in B2B newsrooms, then we can probably assume that the situation is pretty severe.
Look -- I don't care what your politics are. And you shouldn't care about mine. Diversity should be your goal for business reasons as much as for political or ethical reasons. I've said before that given our increasingly global economy, business-to-business publishers need to hire journalists who speak languages other than English. I've suggested that ambitious journalists may want to expand their language skills. But even putting language skills aside, B2B publishers should be aiming for a more diverse workforce. Because -- and trust me on this -- it has become positively creepy to visit your newsrooms.
When I look out on a sea of all-white faces, the question that comes to mind is this:
What racist imbecile is doing the hiring here?
Now of course I realize that question is unfair. And of course I realize that there are thousands of factors other than racism that can create a monochromatic newsroom.
But that is the question that pops into my head.
And I would suggest that you should begin to wonder how often that same question enters the head of your customers, sources and advertisers.
Today's Wall Street Journal has a very interesting piece on the "business imperative" of diversity.
And if you're in New York this week, check out the Magazine Publishers of America's discussion of the multicultural audience.

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Shifting from print to online

Over at the Poynter Institute, Steve Outing has a post about a journalist at the New York Times making the move from print reporter to multimedia reporter. Steve warns other print reporters that similar changes are "in their (near) future."
That's exactly the message I've been trying to get across to folks in B2B journalism in posts such as this one. (But read through the comments section to get a feel for how frustrated I am in this fight.)
If you're looking for further proof that our jobs are becoming less about print and more about multimedia, then check out the latest news from Reed Business. The giant of business-to-business publishing has named Tad Smith as its new chief executive officer.
Smith, who will now oversee more than 100 B2B titles, is the former head of Internet operations at Reed. And his "top priority" in his new job is growth ... "especially in the electronic realm.”
Note: Although Smith is clearly an online advocate, I'm not very impressed with much of what he's done online. Smith's most recent gig at Reed involved overseeing the publications of the media division. That means he's the guy who ran Variety. And as much as I love what Variety has done with blogs, I find that site a cluttered mess. Furthermore, the site seems to freeze and crash more than any other site I visit. The media division also includes Multichannel News and Broadcasting and Cable. I like the look of those sites, but they are essentially print products dropped onto a Web page. Links are nearly nonexistent. There's no conversation and very little graphic material. (Multichannel News has a particular feature that annoys me -- a "feedback" function that doesn't let readers post a comment, but instead sends an email to some unnamed person.) The media group also includes Video Business, a site that does seem to understand online content. It has a few flaws, but it's generally a good Web-based product. In particular, I'm pleased by the comment function that runs with the columns.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Public-relations departments don't need us now

I've written before about how public-relations executives have adopted the tools of citizen journalism, turning themselves into publishers and bypassing the press to speak directly with customers.
It's a development that journalists should be worried about. One role we journalists play in the marketplace is as a filter for public relations. But now p.r. pros are learning new, more sophisticated ways to get their message across, build brand trust and keep us out of the equation.
This development should also embarrass journalists. Here's why:
Our world has changed. The media has been altered forever by blogging software and the other tools of citizen journalism. Our readers have found their own voices. Yet many "professional" journalists have reacted with disdain to the rise of the "amateurs."
Many public-relations executives, on the other hand, have done a good job of adapting to the rise of conversational media. They follow developments in the blogosphere. They engage in public discussions with their customers.
And many p.r. pros have started blogs of their own like this and this, taking their message directly to the audience they want to reach.
So it's worth noting that the godfather of the public-relations blogs is closing this week after a year of operation. That's exactly how it was planned. General Motors' launched its smallblock engine blog a year ago to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the small-block engine. And in the past 12 months, GM product managers and mid-level executives have turned the site into a must-see destination for car enthusiasts, engineers and others.
Take a look at the blog. Take a look at what Kevin Dugan at Strategic Public Relations says about GM's efforts.
Then ask yourself if it's time you got over yourself and stopped looking down your nose at p.r. pros, bloggers and the rest of the media world.

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When print fades

This is not a good week for news about print news.
Newspaper circulation continues to fall -- dropping another 2.6%, according to the latest figures.
MediaLife magazine is predicting that one of the three major newsweeklies will soon fail.
A giant of the daily newspaper industry -- Knight-Ridder -- is facing pressure from shareholders who want to exit the business.
And, of course, the culprit cited again and again in these tales of woe is the Internet.
I should be more sympathetic. Dozens of people I care about deeply work in print. But as I've written before, I'm having a hard time being nice anymore. I hear too much whining these days. Sure, the Internet was a confusing place a few years ago. I remember in the early 90s when all of this was new and I was a bureau chief at Knight Ridder. When I talked about online back then, everyone was confused. Hell, I was confused, and I was the one trying to convince my bosses to move some of our products to the Internet.
But this is 2005. And how the hell can anyone still be confused?
If you're a reporter or editor who bemoans the loss of the past and resents the future, here's what you need to know:
-- your publication can't survive in print alone, and nor can you.
-- your publication is becoming a multimedia operation, and you best become a multimedia operator.
-- you can not transplant much of what you believe is good about your work in print (story structure, writing style, story length) to an online environment. Having worked in print does not make you an expert in online.
-- the people you work with and for are growing less patient with you, your lack of new media skills, your glamorized vision of print, your lack of enthusiasm for new products and new storytelling techniques, your stubborn personality and your delusional belief in the value of your outdated skills.
For more on journalism's problems and how to fix them, check out this post on a blog by Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News.

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

When online content is really offline content

I'm back at home after spending a few days talking about the future of online journalism with the folks at IDG. I had a wonderful time, met some interesting people and got to hear some of the more talented folks in publishing share where they think our industry is heading.
I gave lectures at IDG's offices in Massachusetts and in San Francisco -- jabbering on about the things that interest me for about four hours at a time.
At no point did I mention digital editions of magazines. Nor did anyone ask me about them.
And I suppose that is predictable. I don't much like digital magazines. Nor, in fact, have I ever met anyone who did. Digital editions are often what publishers do when they can't figure out what to do online. And I can't see how these things would play much of a role in journalism's future.
So I shouldn't be surprised by the negative attention given to the digital editions of Folio's tradeshow daily last week. Prescott Shibles, the smartest guy who ever worked for me, blasted the product on his blog. My fellow B2B bloggers David Shaw and Sue Pelletier agreed with Prescott.
Prescott argues that digital editions are kind of a pain to read online. Lord knows I agree. You can go blind trying to view these things on a computer screen.
And I agree that a publisher has to be crazy to use a digital edition as a substitute for a true Web product.
But I don't think that's what Folio was doing. Folio didn't produce the edition instead of a Web product. Folio opted not to produce a Web product. Folio decided instead to create a print product -- a traditional, tradeshow daily paper. It made the product available at the show. And it also sent it out via email to people like me who couldn't attend the show. And that's the only reason anyone should have a digital edition -- so that a print product can be sent to people who otherwise wouldn't get it in a timely fashion.
I mean sure, these things are sort of goofy. And sure, they don't work as well on the screen as a product created for the Web. But that's missing the point. It's soft of like complaining about a "print this" button on a Web page. Of course the printed version is less compelling than the Web version. But sometimes people have to print the thing anyway.
Prescott also argued that blogs may be better suited than print products for capturing the mood of the tradeshow floor. And that makes sense. Blogging software allows for real-time reporting -- and that, for example, gives reporters the opportunity to tell readers what is happening during a keynote speech. More importantly, blogs are conversational -- users help to create the content by posting comments, etc. And at tradeshows in particular, the converstation often is the news.
Prescott points to the work that Primedia Business did at the Supercomm tradeshow as an example of how blogs and other Web-based products can produce compelling online content.
But when I look at what the Primedia staff produced from the floor show, I'm just as disappointed as I am when I read Folio's digital edition.
The Supercomm blog doesn't have a feedback function. The stories don't have external links. Nothing seems to be written in real time. In other words, Primedia has a blog that ignores the blogging culture and has Web-based products that aren't taking advantage of the Web. (The absence of feedback functions and external links is a recurring shortcoming of blogs produced by Primedia. Look here or here or here.)
So what's the lesson?
Putting a print product on a computer screen doesn't make it an online product. Thinking like a print reporter while working online is a mistake. The end result is every bit as silly as a newspaper reporter hosting a TV newscast by sitting in front of a camera and typing.
Journalists need to change -- not just their software, not just their delivery systems, but the very nature of their work.
This is what I told the journalists at IDG last week: You don't need to launch a blog (although you may want to.) But you need to be more bloglike in everything you do. Learn to link. Accept that people interact with content, not just read it. Add a feedback function to your stories. Accept that journalism has become less of a lecture and more of a conversation. Learn multimedia. Accept that you are no longer just a writer, but are becoming a producer.
(DISCLOSURE: I do some consulting at Primedia Business these days, although not on the products mentioned above. Also, Folio magazine has launched a channel about digital magazines. I was interviewed for the section by one of the editors. My comments about RSS appear in this article. My comments about digital magazines weren't used.)

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