Thursday, May 25, 2006

Getting readers to do the writing

There's an interesting piece in Wired magazine about the rise of "crowsdsourcing," the Web-based phenomenon of "everyday people using their spare cycles to create content, solve problems, even do corporate R & D" for companies. Click here to read the article. And pay particular attention to the discussion of iStockPhoto, the marketplace for amateur photographers.
Publishers and editors should be familiar with iStockPhoto if for no other reason that that it can cut costs dramatically. This "massive collection of royalty-free images" is an alternative to pricier services such as the one run by Getty Images, which, by the way, bought out iStockPhoto three months ago. (iStockPhoto's user agreement on royalty-free images is here. And it seems clear to this non-legal mind that magazines are permitted to reproduce the photos.)
But I don't so much want to talk about iStockPhoto as I want to talk about what it represents -- a system of user-generated content that can supplement, or even replace, traditional content.

Yesterday I spoke to the publisher of a B2B magazine that covers a specialized section of the financial-services market. There's nothing unusual about the magazine other than that it has nice, round numbers that I want to use to illustrate a point.
According to the publisher, his magazine has a controlled circulation of 70,000. That gives the magazine almost exactly 70% penetration of a vertical market he estimates at 100,000.
Now consider the possibility of asking that audience to create content in the crowdsourcing model. If we assume a modest participation rate of just 1%, the magazine would be awash in user-created material. If 1% of the industry was willing to write something just once a year, that would generate 1,000 articles. If we stick with existing subscribers, a 1% participation rate would yield 700 articles a year -- more than two pieces a day.

Consider the possibilities here. These readers are, by definition, interested in and familar with the subjects covered by the magazine. Furthermore, the readers work in a highly competitive field where careers can be made by "fame." The best-known people get the most clients. So there's a built-in incentive to participate in something that can "get your name out there."
Most importantly, this particular magazine serves a professional and educated readership. We can assume that a good portion of these people are capable of creating at least moderately good material prior to editing.
I'm not talking about news here. News requires a commitment of time that most readers cannot make (although any single reader armed with the new publishing technology can become a news competitor.) I'm talking about analysis. I'm talking about essays, thought pieces, best-practices, how-I-landed-my-biggest-sale feature stories, etc.
Think about the power of such content. Think about the sheer volume of it.
And then ask this question: Can you say with any certainty that the efforts of the professional journalists at your magazine -- those three, four or five poorly paid writers -- would be superior in quality or quantity to the work produced by 1,000 readers?

For some magazines, certainly, the answer is yes. Publications that serve a less-educated audience would be hard-pressed to find talented content creators among the readers. If you work at "Bread Wrap, the monthly magazine serving the men and women who seal bread in plastic bags with twisties," you probably don't need to concern yourself with crowdsourcing. But if you work at "Industrial Baking Technician" or "Twistie Engineer," you may want to read that Wired article again.

(NOTE: I paid $3 to iStockPhoto for the photo at the top of this post. That's a great deal no matter how you look at it. But before you spend even that tiny amount, check photo-sharing site Flickr to see if any of the free content suits your needs.)

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

ASBPE releases new ethics guidelines

We are a better industry today than yesterday.
The American Society of Business Publication Editors has released its new set of ethics guidelines. I'm pleased by what ASBPE has done. I think all of us can be proud of what the guidelines say, and each of us should be honor-bound to adhere to them.

You can see the new "Guide to Preferred Editorial Practices" by clicking here. Take some time today to give the guide a quick look. Then, when time allows, make sure you read it in its entirety. Make sure that your coworkers read it too.

In brief, you'll see that ASBPE is calling for a more transparent ethics system, urging publishers to "to make their ethical standards transparent both for its internal staff and externally for its readers, advertisers, and others in their markets." Since that pretty closely tracks what I have urged ASBPE to do in earlier posts such as this one, I'm particularly pleased.

Among the specific items that have gladdened my heart is a call for "full attribution of sources." The guidelines say "Sources should be identified for readers except in rare circumstances, for example, to protect the source from the repercussions of speaking to the reporter. If cited anonymously, use the most complete and accurate description of the source possible."
Readers of this blog know I've long bemoaned the way so many of us in B2B misuse anonymous sources. Now our rules on this have been made clear -- tell your readers as much as you can about the sources in your stories. Don't take shortcuts. Don't mislead. Don't say "sources said" when you mean "a source said."

The ASBPE guide doesn't address everything I would have hoped. For example, there is no clear requirement to label unedited press releases as press releases. Nor is there a call to do a better job of reporting on our own companies by ending the practice of running press releases from our own marketing departments as news. (Note, the guide does call for "full attribution to sources," which I interpret as exactly the sort of call to clarity that I want B2B editors to embrace.)

But I don't want to complain. There is so much that is good and praiseworthy in the guidelines -- calls for feedback mechanisms, clarity in online editorial rules, etc. -- that I cannot help but feel that B2B journalism has taken a remarkable step forward.

(DISCLOSURE: ASBPE was kind enough to seek my input on ethics several months ago. The suggestions I made to the association can be found by clicking here.)

For more on the new guidelines, check out the blog by the Boston chapter of ASBPE.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Attacking things you don't understand

Among my pet peeves are poorly reported pieces about how new-media makes for poor reporting.
And as more old-media types are forced to confront the future, I expect to see a lot more silly pieces such as this one by a journalism professor at Washington & Lee University.
Consider this quote: "The news person who is expected to update a breaking story throughout the day is doing so at the expense of reporting that would develop and deepen the story so that it's illuminating and satisfying to readers."
That's simply absurd. A story isn't updated in lieu of reporting, a story is updated BY reporting. In the 24-hour news operations where I've worked (CNN, Bloomberg), a journalist reports, writes/produces and then files a story. Then he goes deeper. He calls another source. Then another. When he gets something interesting, he updates the story. He starts compiling more source material and posts it to the Web. He starts editing the audio of those earlier interviews, looking for good soundbites and MORE information. Then he calls another source. Then another, ad infinitum.
That's not acting "at the expense of reporting." That IS reporting.
The rest of the essay by Edward Wasserman has similar flaws. Wasserman announces in stereotypical newspapers-first arrogance that few "print reporters are eager to become helpmates to TV news, which they regard as entertainment programming." He suggests that the converged newsroom is some sort of recent arrival that promotes "third-rate journalism," whereas even a casual observer who has ventured off a college campus since the Watergate scandal must realize that convergence has been a well-established practice at some of the giants of journalism for years. Hell, the Chicago Tribune has had cameras in the newsroom for something like 20 years.
As if the essay couldn't get worse, Wasserman ends with the following cry of anguish and outrage: "When do we hear from the professional journalists? Where is their independent assessment of how these powerful new technologies can be used, not to plant the flag in cyberspace, not to reclaim market share, but to provide great, meaningful journalism?"
Really, Ed. Are you kidding me? Those people are everywhere! Have you ever seen the work of Adrian Holovaty, creator of and now an editor at the Washington Post? Ever heard Rob Curley speak? He serves on the professional advisory board of College Media Advisers, the organization that helps folks like you understand the new world. Holovaty and Curley created the converged newsroom at the Lawrence Journal-World, perhaps the best new-media operation in the world.
How about Steve Outing, formerly of the Poynter Institute, the newspaper think tank. How about Amy Gahran? She does some writing for Poynter too. Speaking of Poynter, a search of that site yields 56 results for the phrase "converged newsroom." And sure enough, as I take a look at them, I find that many of them are written by professional journalists wondering how to create meaningful journalism.
Do you know Dan Gillmor? How about Canada's Fine Young Journalist? Have you followed the work of your peers at CMA? Speaking of your peers, do you know Doug Fisher at the University of South Carolina? How about Mindy McAdams at the University of Florida?
Ever hear of Tim Porter? (He knows you. He linked to you once.) Ever talk to him? Post a comment to his site? I mean seriously, Ed, could anyone who claimed to know anything about journalism write a piece about converged newsrooms without knowing about Tim Porter?
Jeez, Ed. Do some more reporting before you sit down and write.

For an earlier post that discusses the disconnect between new and old media at journalism schools, click here.

UPDATE: Given the nature of this post, I couldn't resist the urge to update with additional information. I'd guess that Ed knows all about the Poynter Institute now. Miami Herald executive editor Tom Fiedler used a Poynter forum to respond to Ed's essay. Tom kindly suggests that Ed had an off day and has "spent too much time lately in his Virginia classroom recounting journalistic history and not enough time in newsrooms plotting journalism's future."
My point exactly.

UPDATE2: Do you see how this works now Ed? I found another piece of information, so I'm updating again. This time I think the readers might want to know that Mindy McAdams has also weighed in on your piece. She's kinder than I have been, but she too thinks you're off base.

UPDATE3: OK. I'm just fooling around now. I don't have anymore updates.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Adrian Holovaty speaks to journalism grads

Longtime readers of this blog know that I've often sung the praises of new-media genius Adrian Holovaty -- the mash-up whiz who created, the developer who helped the Lawrence Journal-World become one of the greatest newspapers of the Internet era, and now the "editor of editorial innovations" who leads the Washington Post's forays into digital journalism.

Well it turns out that my alma mater, the University of Missouri, had the good sense to ask Adrian to give the commencement address at this year's j-school graduation.
I'm thrilled that Mizzou did this. And I take back every nasty thing I've ever said about the old-media dinosaurs at that school.

You can read what Adrian told the next generation of journalists here.

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My newest gig in B2B

I've been so busy of late that I haven't had the time to share some exciting news about my career.
Access Intelligence has asked me to write the B2B boxscores column for the MIN B2B newsletter. If you're not familiar with the boxscores, you should be. Each week the newsletter analyzes advertising trends at trade publications. And if I do my job correctly, that analysis will be both insightful and fun to read.
I'm thrilled to death by the deal, and I filed my first column last week. However, MIN B2B is a paid-subscription product. So I won't be linking to my column from this blog. If you're interested, you can subscribe to MIN by clicking here.

(NOTE: Fans of Steve Smith have nothing to fear. Steve's new-media boxscores column will continue to appear in MIN B2B. I'll be writing the print boxscores only. And fans of this blog have nothing to worry about either. Although no one pays me to write this thing, I couldn't stop it even if I wanted's too much fun.)

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Finding our voice or falling silent

Businessweek has an interesting piece about Boeing's use of blogs as public-relations tools.
The airplane maker has "has learned to cede some control and expose itself to stinging criticism in exchange for a potentially more constructive dialogue with the public," the magazine reports.
I applaud such a move. Yet each and every time I see a company open itself to the joys and difficulties of conversational editorial, it pains me to remember how few B2B publications have been willing to take that risk.

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you may remember that nearly a year ago I pointed to Boeing's first foray into the blogosphere and warned that in a "world where news sources can now be news publishers," journalism had much to lose. If our past was one of gatekeeping, what would we do in a world where our readers and our sources could open and close gates without us?

I believe the answer to that question is clear -- we must engage sources and readers alike in dialogue. We must surrender our belief that we are entitled to some monopoly voice in the marketplace, and evolve into something more open. We have to become less like arrogant lecturers and become more like gifted conversationalists.

For an interesting take on how trade magazines can make this transition, check out this post by Barry Graubart.
For more on my thoughts on conversational media, read this earlier post.
For a look at a new blog from one of my favorite non-publishing companies, click here.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

ABM newsletter makes poor choice for name

The American Business Media trade association, which is hosting its annual Spring meeting in Arizona this week, says it's launching a monthly email newsletter covering the trade show and events industry.

That's a nice idea. And I may subscribe. But I can't help but be disappointed to see ABM is calling the new publication the "Face-to-Face Report." It seems to me that someone should have thought of a name that wasn't so close to "Face2Face," the blog about the trade show and meetings industry run by Sue Pelletier, an editor with ABM member Prism media. If I were Sue, or someone at Prism who writes the checks to ABM, I'd be livid.

But never mind. I don't want to talk about that anymore. Instead I want to take a moment to introduce my new trade association, American Business Mediums, or ABM for short. We represent the interests of psychics who work in the B2B press. ABM is holding its Spring meeting this week at the Coney Island resort here in Brooklyn. But members are predicting a light turnout.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

B2B moguls gather in Arizona

Folio magazine is publishing a daily newsletter from the ABM Spring Meeting in Arizona, where various bigwigs of the B2B world gather each year to cavort, golf, merge, acquire and generally do the things that bigwigs do. The Spring Meeting is an event as much as it is a meeting. Think of it as the biggest thing of the year for the smaller media moguls who don't get invited to Herb Allen's shindig in Sun Valley.

I'm not in Arizona today. I'm at home in Brooklyn. I'd given some thought to heading west to enjoy the meeting festivities, but I'm tied to the home front these days. My first child is due to arrive in just a few weeks! So I'm too nervous to wander far.

Remarkably, my absence from the ABM meeting is not mentioned in Folio's article entitled "Who's attending, and who's not," which makes note of the "notable exceptions" on the attendee list. I'm sure that Folio regrets the error.

Despite that grievous ommission, you may want to read the article and the rest of the newsletter, which is available in an electronic version here. There are some worthwhile items, including a look at vertical search and Penton's stock maneuvers.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Novel tells tales of B2B magazine sleaze

Years ago I had a friend who worked at a tiny B2B magazine in Washington, D.C. And it bothered him to no end that in our nation's capitol -- a place were "journalist" is a job with a considerable degree of caché -- he worked at a nondescript rag staffed by unskilled editors and unethical bosses. It wasn't that the job was so awful. It was that he was convinced he was missing out on the glamour of a life in another part of the media.
So he consoled himself by working endlessly on a script for a situation comedy about the nutty and charming characters at a trade magazine.

I thought about that guy recently when another writer at another trade magazine sent me a press release announcing the publication of his novel that "satirizes the compromised ethics at play in the fictional offices of American Tractor Times magazine."

Now I don't expect to live long enough for my old friend's B2B sitcom to appear on my television. But I wouldn't have thought I'd live long enough to see a humorous book about B2B publishing either. So anything is possible.

I'm not going to offer a review of the novel, which bears the-wink-and-a-nod-to-James-Frey title of "A Million Little Pieces of Feces." I can't. I haven't read it yet. But I have ordered the book. And you should think about doing so too.
Because even if it isn't funny, any book about compromised ethics in B2B may cause some embarrassment to the least ethical among us.
And that's worth $18.99 plus shipping and handling.

CORRECTION: The author of the book sent an email to tell me that his work is not a graphic novel, as I said in an earlier version of this post, but is rather "a traditional novel, all 90,000 or so words."
I regret the error.

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