Friday, June 30, 2006

Celebrating change this holiday weekend

I was talking to an old friend earlier this week. This guy is a brilliant reporter, a gifted writer and a truly inspirational editor. He's in the big time...leading a team of journalists at one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world.
And he's depressed.
My friend is convinced that he will be "obsolete" within a few years. He's worried that there's just no room left in the business for someone who does what he does.

His fear, or course, is new media. And I wish I could be more sympathetic. But this fear that something dark and ominous is sweeping across the industry annoys me to no end. I know that change is coming. Heck, the change has already come. But the change is positive. Journalism is a far, far, far more interesting place to be now than it was just a few years ago. What was once a narrow field dominated by one-way lectures and single-medium storytelling has evolved into a bigger, more open, more participatory, more glorious place to work.

Besides, as I tried to tell my friend, there's nothing about new media that's difficult to learn. This ain't brain surgery. It's not even Biology 101. It's new media. And mastering the basics of new media is not an insurmountable task. It's fun. It's easy. And it will make you a better storyteller. And I promise you -- although print-only journalists will be obsolete soon, there will always be room in this industry for people willing to learn new skills, new styles and new ways of telling a tale.

A year ago this week, I suggested that the long holiday weekend was a good time to try and catch up with some of the changes in journalism. And I suggested that readers of this blog take some time over the July Fourth holiday to learn RSS.
If you're still unfamiliar with RSS, I don't know what to say. You're way, way behind. Try to catch up.
The same is true if you're one of those many journalists I meet who can't work in html.
Html isn't that hard. No one expects you to become a programmer. But you should be able to do some basic work on a Web page. How about digital photography? Or audio files? If your new media skills are lacking, take some time this weekend to poke around the J-learning site.

If you're already a multimedia master, I applaud you. But I would still suggest this is no time to rest. New media is about more than media, it's about a cultural shift. It's a fundamental change in how people interact with each other and with content.
As I tried to tell my friend, journalists need to do more than change the way we work. We need to change our minds. We need to change our lives.
So take some time this weekend to join a few social networking sites and virtual communities. Check out MySpace. Look at Friendster. Try Flickr. Sign up for Second Life, build an avatar, fly around, make a friend and buy a house.

And when the holiday has passed and you're back at your desk, find a new way to let your readers engage with you, your work and each other.
For more on fostering community and conversation, read this piece by Steve Outing and this piece by the Online Journalism Review at USC.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sites that work and those that don't

Bloomberg News this morning unveiled a redesign of its Web site. It's worth taking a look at, no matter what your beat. Bloomberg operates television and radio networks in addition to its signature "professional service," the subscription-only news and information service. And that makes them the king of convergence. Few companies produce more print, audio and video content (the BBC, perhaps? ) And certainly no one has done it better or more profitably. And it's always worth remembering that before there was Web journalism, Bloomberg was making money sending news to users' computer screens.

Regular readers of this blog know I'm a big fan of the professional service, and I've argued it serves as a useful guide for the next generation of user interfaces. But don't expect anything quite so grand from the Web site. Bloomberg offers very little for free. So the new and improved site is less than compelling.

However, B2B journalists should make note of two things about the redesign. First, Bloomberg is giving far more prominent space to its video content. Every journalist at Bloomberg is required to have some basic audio and video skills. And I expect that will soon be true of every journalist everywhere.

Second, the site features an unusual gold-on-black design. I love the look, which evokes computer screens of old. More importantly, the site is a welcome relief from the tiny-text, multiple-headline mess that I see on so many news sites.

I expect to see even better things soon at CNBC, which has hired Webby winner Meredith Stark to run its Web site. Stark joins the news network from Gartner, where she was group vice president, product platforms.

But amid this positive news about the Web sites of our financial-news brothers, there is more disappointing news about the Web sites of B2B. A new report from Jakob Nielsen and the Nielsen Norman Group says B2B sites are plagued by lengthy registration forms and bad design. B2B sites "haven't realized yet that the web has reversed the relationship between companies and their customers, where most interactions are demand-driven and you either give people what they want or see them abandon your site for the competition," the report says.

Granted, the study is about B2B sites in general, not just B2B media sites. But take a look at this article on the report. Then look at your sites -- news, data, whatever -- and ask if you 're truly serving your users.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

More bad news about B2B news

I've put off writing about this for a few days now. It's just too depressing to think about. But PR Week has published a story that will break your heart if you care about journalistic integrity. According to a poll by Manning Selvage & Lee and the magazine, nearly half of the marketing executives surveyed say they have paid to get news coverage.
PR Week keeps its material behind a password-protected firewall, so only subscribers can read the original article. But you can read the New York Times take here. Or check out Paul Gillin's blog for his opinion and links to other coverage by clicking here.

The article isn't solely about B2B. Rather it appears that marketers are paying to play in a variety of publications. And I think most folks in our industry assume that some genres -- particularly fashion and shopping magazines -- are filled with this nonsense.
And it's possible that the survey isn't an accurate representation of the truth. An optimist might say the marketers are simply bragging -- claiming to have influence that they don't actually have.

But I'm not much of an optimist. I've seen too many publications engage in shocking or cheap behavior. So I'm walking around today with my head hung low.

For a look at the ASBPE's rewritten ethics guidelines, read this earlier post.
For my advice on how to handle pressure to behave unethically, read this earlier post.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

That which we call RSS, by any other word would smell as sweet

Jakob Nielsen, the Web design guru extraordinaire, thinks people like me should stop talking about RSS, because it's confusing to anyone who is not an obsessive information junkie. Nielsen tells the Wall Street Journal that one of his "real strong recommendations is to stop calling it 'RSS' and start calling it 'news feeds,' because that explains what it does."
Point taken.

So...I was reading news feeds in my news reader this morning when I saw that Jakob Nielsen, the Web design guru extraordinaire, prefers email newsletters to news feeds. Longtime readers of this blog know that I've grown less than fond of email news. And although I don't recommend that publishers exit the email-newsletter game -- there's still too much money to be made --I do suggest that they add news feeds now and prepare for the inevitable end of email news.

One interesting note -- in the Journal interview, Nielsen points to an example of the sort of targeted email newsletter that "people really look forward to getting." It's called "Your baby this week," and it serves new parents. And I have to admit that a newsletter like that does have an appeal to someone like me. Just days ago I became a first-time father. So my obsessive information gathering has taken on a new level of frantic energy. So I signed up for "Your baby this week," published by BabyCentre, even though it appears to be very similar to the email newsletter I already get from American Baby magazine.
Then I returned to my news reader, where I subscribe to a dozen news feeds for parents, including The Blogfathers and Older Father.
And that about sums it up: 12 feeds versus 2 newsletters. I apparently like news feeds about six times as much as I like email newsletters.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Can you Digg it? Hugo starts a new site for B2B

Digg is among the more interesting experiments in community journalism. If you aren't familiar with it, you should be. In brief, Digg is sort of new version of Slashdot, the online community pioneer. As remarkable as Slashdot was and is, Digg took things a little further by allowing readers to "rank" the importance of stories. Suddenly there was a news site where the "front page" was selected by readers, rather than by editors (like every publication you've ever seen) or algorithms (like Google News.)
Spinoffs emerged quickly. The most popular of those is probably Hugg, a Digg-like site about the environmental movement.

Now my friend and fellow B2B blogger Hugo Martin as created a Digg-like site about B2B media. Check it out. Read the stories. Submit new stories that you find interesting. Vote for the things you like. Share. Participate. Enjoy.

It's worth noting that AOL this week relaunched the Netscape site in Digg style. Check out Rex's thoughts on the change here.
For some of my ideas on building community online, see this earlier post.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Congratulations are in order

When I head to Chicago next month to speak at the American Society of Business
Publication Editors conference, I'll have to try and make a point to meet Anthony Fletcher and Natalia Thomson. They're the winners of this year's TABPI Young Leaders Scholarships -- an honor which wins them a ticket to the conference as well as my heartfelt admiration.

The scholarships are sponsored by ASBPE and Trade, Association and Business Publications International. And although I'm fairly sure that ASBPE has additional scholarships for U.S.-based editors. I haven't seen a list of those winners yet. But perhaps I missed an announcement. Regardless, details about the show can be found by following the links at the ASBPE site.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Bad news about B2B news

Today is not a good day for B2B journalism.

First there is the depressing study by research firm Outsell, which says that "press releases have surpassed trade journals as the leading source of information for knowledge workers."
I've long bemoaned that too many of our peers blur the lines between press releases and original reporting. But now, if the Outsell report is to be believed, readers in at least one B2B space are saying they use press releases more than they use our publications. And that is simply heartbreaking.
Certainly some of this can be traced to the immediacy of the Web. Companies that once needed us to distribute their press releases can now communicate directly with their target audience. And as I've said before, in a world where anyone can be a publisher, we must find a new role to replace that of gatekeeper.

The other piece of bad news today is that "Amusement Business" has closed down. It's almost always sad to see a magazine close. But the death of "Amusement Business" is particularly tough to swallow. The publication had a history, a significance, worth noting. "Amusement Business" debuted in 1894 as "Billboard Advertising." And like many a B2B publication, it morphed and grew, eventually spinning off one of the bigger names in our industry -- "Billboard" magazine.
Take a few minutes today to bow your head, mourn the loss, and read this story about the death of "Amusement Business" in BtoB magazine.

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