Saturday, May 26, 2007

The next big thing isn't here, but it may be very, very close

I've had no luck getting journalists and B2B publishers interested in creating widgets.
I've tried. But I've failed.
I can think of at least a half dozen conversations and emails on the subject in the past few months. But no one I've talked to has reacted with anything even close to enthusiasm. It's my fault, I'm sure. I didn't create a sense of urgency about widgets ... because although I've viewed them as exceedingly cool things, I haven't thought of them as crucial to a B2B publication.
But that may have just changed.
In a related vein, in the past few years dozens of journalists and publishing executives have asked me what I think will be the next big thing in publishing. And although I've used that question to launch conversations on dozens of topics, I haven't given a definitive answer ... because I didn't think I knew the answer.
But that too may have just changed.

If you've heard the news about Facebook, you may know what I'm about to say. If you haven't heard the news, let me explain. Facebook, the social-networking site that dominates the online lives of millions of college and high-school students, has said it will allow outside companies to embed applications and widgets in its pages. Facebook is opening its API to the world. What that means is that anyone is now free to build entire online businesses -- including content businesses -- on top of Facebook.
Scott Karp says the move gives Facebook the opportunity to become the next Google.

The first widgets are coming from predictable sources such as Amazon and Digg. But the possibilities are endless.
Certainly some of the smartest folks in the media business have jumped on the Facebook train. Take a look at this post by Rob Curley of the Washington Post, which "secretly" developed three applications for Facebook (Note: Rob emphasizes that Facebook is doing more than accepting widgets, but is instead looking for applications that are "real social-networking tools." And he even makes a point of saying that a simple widget of headline feeds would be about the dumbest thing anyone could try to get the Facebook community excited about.)

So am I saying that Facebook is the next big thing? For B2B? Not really.
Look -- Facebook has clearly become the most exciting company in the online world. And unlike a year ago when I first tried to sign up for a Facebook account, now even gray-haired B2B types like me are free to join. But I don't see Facebook becoming a major factor in the working lives of people in their 30s and older.
Am I saying that widgets are the next big thing? in B2B? Not really, although it's clear that many of the most exciting online products we'll see in the next few months will be widgets built for Facebook.

What I'm saying is that Facebook's decision to open its API is going to prompt a shift in the world of online content -- similar to the shifts that came with the rise of content aggregation and search. Once again the way that early adopters find, consume and share content is going to change. More importantly, an entire new class of entrepreneurs will emerge to build content companies on top of Facebook's API.
What I'm saying is that the next big thing in B2B publishing will exist because of what Facebook is doing. What I'm saying is that after new entrepreneurs figure out how to make money from content on Facebook, they'll figure out how to make money in B2B using a similar, widget-like process of embedding applications on top of someone else's business.
And the place that I think that's most likely to happen is

If you're not familiar with Salesforce, take a walk over to the desk of the guy who sells your ads. Odds are he knows it. Odds are he uses it. Ask him to explain it to you. Or just take a look here for an explanation of how Salesforce's customers can pick and choose from applications.
What you'll find is that Salesforce already is what Facebook is trying to become -- a technology platform that allows users to build a place to be on the Web. And while Facebook is about life, Salesforce is about work. Just like B2B publishing.

So consider this: Earlier this year Salesforce launched a service aimed at financial-service professionals. Merrill Lynch has already signed up 25,000 of its employees. Those employees are now using market-data streams and other applications in the Salesforce environment. But what they are not using is content, data or anything else from a traditional B2B publisher. Because as near as I can tell, none of the dozens of financial-service magazines in B2B have thought of a single application to offer them.

When I look at Facebook and Salesforce and open APIs, I'm convinced that I see the outline of the next big thing. I'm not sure exactly what form this next big thing will take. I'm not sure exactly how it will work. But I know that it is being born.
And as I have warned before, the world of B2B publishing isn't ready for it.

Click here to read how the development community views Facebook and Salesforce.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

The best and brightest among us

I've been too busy to post much to this blog this week. But I'm going to take a second or so now to offer my congratulations to some of my favorite new-media journalists for winning grants from the Knight Foundation.
First and foremost among the winners is Adrian Holovaty, who picked up $1 million. After winning the award, Adrian quit the Washington Post and announced that he's starting a business. I've been saying for a very long time that Adrian, programmer/journalist and creator of, is among the smartest people working in our field. I'm glad that the Knight Foundation agrees.
Also among the winners are Amy Gahran and Jay Rosen. Longtime readers of this blog know that I've been urging journalists to follow their work for a long time.
No one understands the future of journalism -- and what those of us in the trenches must do to succeed -- better than these three.

Click here to see the entire list of winners.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Relapse of an ethical lapse

Let's review.
Ziff Davis began inserting ads inside editorial.
I complained that such practices violated the ethics guidelines of our industry.
Michael Vizard, editorial director and senior vice president at Ziff Davis, disagreed. He told Folio magazine that selling parts of a news story as an advertisement was "in compliance with existing ASME and ASBPE guidelines as we understand them," and said his company would "be inclined to" remove the ads if those "officially recognized bodies adopt specific policies related to IntelliTXT ads."
ASBPE responded with a statement that was about as clear as any I have ever seen in the world of ethics. The trade association, which represents the journalists of B2B, said "ad links within editorial text should NOT be sold under any condition."
The ads disappeared from Ziff Davis' sites.
Sam Whitmore reported that Vizard told him that Ziff Davis was dropping the ads, but wouldn't issue a statement on the controversy.

And just when it seemed that this ugly incident was over, a reader of this blog sends me an email to tell me that the ads are back at Ziff Davis' PC Magazine (Take a look at this article for examples.)

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Another win in ads-in-edit controversy?

Maybe we're making some progress.
Last week, just as I learned that Ziff Davis had apparently ended its offensive practice of inserting ads in editorial text, I learned that CMP had begun doing so. But as a few readers of this blog have told me via email, CMP also now seems to have also retreated. Clickable ads that had appeared in stories here and here have disappeared. And as I take a quick cruise through the site this morning, I can't find any more of the offensive things.
However, I'm not entirely convinced that CMP has decided to do the right thing. When I look through the source code of those stories, I find references to IntelliTXT ads. That code may be something that's left over even if the ads have been removed forever. I just don't know for sure. So I'll wait awhile before I thank CMP for behaving responsibly.

But I would like to once again thank the readers of this blog who have voiced their support over this issue. And I'd like to offer special thanks to the American Society of Business Publication Editors. After publishing executives claimed that selling ads inside editorial text didn't violate ASBPE's ethics guidelines, the association responded quickly with a clear and definitive statement that no one could possibly misunderstand: "ad links within editorial text should NOT be sold under any condition."

On the other hand, I'm still awaiting a formal statement on this issue from American Business Media and the American Society of Magazine Editors.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

All's well that ends well

I like a happy ending.
Harry McCracken has been reinstated as editor of PC World. And that should please everyone at PC World, parent company IDG and the journalism world in general.

If you haven't been following the story, you can read coverage from CNET.
But suffice it to say that McCracken stepped down after complaining that he had been facing inappropriate pressure on coverage from executive Colin Crawford.
Now from the beginning, I've had a hard time with this story. I've met both Harry and Colin. And I like and admire both of them tremendously. In fact, I haven't written about the issue prior to today because I had hoped that I might help arbitrate the dispute. I've believed from the start that this was a situation that could be resolved. Two good guys, both of them professionals, had a disagreement over vital issues. And it seemed to me that if we could lock them in a room with a disinterested third party (not me, I had some other folks in mind), then things would be resolved quickly.

As it turns out, IDG didn't need help from me or anyone else. It seems that the company handled things with sensitivity and common sense. Harry is back at PC World. Colin is returning to his role overseeing online initiatives. I expect both guys will do great work in the future.

(DISCLOSURE: I consider IDG a client, although I haven't worked with the company or received payment from it for about a year. More importantly, I consider IDG a good example of how to run a publishing company. And the way IDG has responded to this crisis renews my faith in the wisdom of the company.)

For more on this story, check out what Chad Dickerson has to say.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

One step forward, two steps back

God, this business is getting depressing.
Just as I hear a piece of good news, someone sends me a piece of bad news.

First, the good news.
It appears that Ziff Davis has wised up and removed the ads from within editorial text. Regular readers of this blog know that I've been arguing for this for a week now. A few days ago, the American Society of Business Publication Editors issued a clarification of its ethics policy so that even the folks at Ziff had to accept that the practice violated ASBPE ethics guidelines. And now it looks as if Ziff has retreated. I no longer see the ads on Ziff Davis' sites.
But as good as this new is, I'm cautious. Ziff hasn't issued a statement. And longtime readers of this blog know that we've been down this road before with Ziff.

Now, the bad news.
Just as Ziff Davis seems to have accepted the rules of decent behavior, someone else has decided to violate them.
CMP's InformationWeek is now running the same ads-within-edit links from IntelliTXT that Ziff Davis did. You can see examples here and here.

As pointless as it sometimes feels to do, I will now quote from ASBPE -- "ad links within editorial text should NOT be sold under any condition." And while I'm at it, I'll also quote from American Business Media's ethics guidelines -- "Links within editorial should never be paid for by advertisers."
Now that seems crystal clear to me. But I'm quite sure that someone from CMP will send me an email full of convoluted logic and muddled thinking to explain why selling links in editorial doesn't actually violate the guidelines.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Teach yourself

A reader sent an email last week saying that I have "argued quite well, and quite long, about how journalists need to expand their repertoires to incorporate a variety of digital abilities," but that I should provide "details or suggestions about how one might attain such skills."
Point taken.

Back in the early days of this blog, I did a fair number of posts about where to learn the skills of multimedia journalism. My emphasis was on free or inexpensive resources that allowed journalists to teach themselves. But I haven't published anything like that in awhile.
So here, without further ado, is a quick and updated list of resources for multimedia 101.

1. -- There was a three-month period of my life where I used J-learning as the home page of my Firefox browser. That was an easy way to remind myself to take the time to master everything that the site offers. And I would recommend that any journalist looking to learn the basics of online do the same. J-learning offers brief, do-it-yourself lessons in html, databases, audio, video and the rest of the new-media skill set. It's 100% free. And it's wonderful. This is the place to start.

2. News University -- The newspaper industry's Poynter Institute has also launched a site for aspiring multimedia reporters. It too is free.

2. Soundslides -- This is Flash-based software, built by journalists for journalists, that lets you build slideshows without any programming knowledge. Even if you've never done any multimedia work before, Soundslides can make you look like a pro. The company's motto is "ridiculously simple storytelling" -- and that's an accurate description of the product. Soundslides is also ridiculously cheap. It will cost you $40.

3. Audacity -- Free, open-source software that lets you record and edit sounds. It's a good idea to invest in an audio recorder. And there are loads of inexpensive models out there. But with or without a handheld, digital recorder, you can begin your audio career with Audacity.

4. Bloglines -- Folks can argue back and forth forever about the potential of RSS. But for journalists, there can be no argument. Nothing will improve your ability to monitor your beat faster than learning RSS. Nothing. If you don't understand RSS, check out this video. Then sign up for a Bloglines account. It's free. It's wonderful. It's Web-based (so you can check your feeds even when you're at another computer), it works great on PDAs (at least on my Treo), and it's addictive.

5. WordPress -- When I launched this blog, I opted to use Blogger, Google's free content-management system. And I stick with it because it works just fine. But there is a vastly superior system. And it too is free. That's what I urge my clients to use. WordPress may be the coolest and easiest CMS you'll ever use. Get a free account. Start a blog. Use that blog to experiment with new media. If you want to see just how much can be done with WordPress, check out the Web site of XXL magazine -- a multimedia-filled extravaganza that is run on WordPress. It's also a good idea to learn some of the other leading, open-source content-management systems. When you're ready for the next level, check out Drupal, which now powers the New York Observer.

6. Google mash-ups -- Few things in multimedia journalism have had the impact of, the mash-up created by Adrian Holovaty. You too can merge a Google map with other data to create a storytelling, interactive graphic. And Google will tell you how. Once you learn the basics, check out to see what other folks are doing.

7. Flash Journalism -- Many of the coolest applications you see in multimedia are built using Adobe's Flash. Mindy McAdams, who holds the Knight Chair in journalism at the University of Florida, wrote the book on the subject. Buy it. And add Mindy's blog, Teaching Online Journalism, to your Bloglines account.

8. Photoshop -- I don't know of a better way to work with photos on the Web than this software. Unfortunately, it ain't free. However, there are tons of free tutorials related to it. My favorite source is Lifehacker. Check out the freebies here. There are also alternative software systems for photo editing. And one or another of them is included in just about every digital camera sold on earth. But Photoshop rules this world. Do everything you can to get your boss to pay for it. Or, if you work for yourself, just be grateful that you can deduct it.

9. NewsVideographer -- For print folks looking to move into multimedia, the trickiest issue will be video. Fortunately, there is a young journalist who offers advice for free to anyone who is willing to learn. Get to know the work of Angela Grant.

10. You -- A few months ago I asked the managing editor of an email newsletter company what her newsletters looked like on a Blackberry. She didn't know, she said, because the company didn't provide her with a Blackberry. That, in a nutshell, is everything that can possibly go wrong with a journalist. Her curiosity, her pride, her tenacity and her common sense had all disappeared. Don't let that happen to you. If you don't have a Blackberry, borrow one for a minute and check out your publication. If your company won't give you a gorgeous and expensive SLR digital camera, then get yourself a cheap little one that fits in your pocket. If your company won't pay for someone to train you, then teach yourself. You're a journalist, for god's sake, and there was a time in your career when you wouldn't take "no" for an answer.

tags: , , , , , , , journalism education

Friday, May 04, 2007

ASBPE takes stand in Ziff Davis ad-link scandal

Well this should put an end to the debate.
The American Society of Business Publication Editors has issued a formal statement saying "ad links within editorial text should NOT be sold under any condition." The statement comes in response to requests from me and others that ASBPE clarify its ethics guidelines as related to hyperlinks.

If you haven't been following this story, here's the background:
Earlier this week I blasted Ziff Davis for engaging in unethical behavior by selling ads within the editorial sections of its Web sites. The tech publisher had begun using IntelliTXT ads -- in which words in news stories link to advertisements.
Folio magazine wrote a story based on my post. And in that story Michael Vizard, editorial director and senior vice president of the Ziff Davis Enterprise Group, denied doing anything wrong. According to Vizard, selling parts of a news story as an advertisement is "in compliance with existing ASME and ASBPE guidelines as we understand them."
Vizard also said that Ziff Davis would "be inclined to comply" if those "officially recognized bodies adopt specific policies related to IntelliTXT ads."

Now to me, the rules of both organizations were already crystal clear -- editorial space belongs to the editorial department. But in a post last night, I asked those organizations, as well as American Business Media, to clarify things for Vizard.

ASBPE is the first of the three to respond. And I want to thank the organization for moving so quickly on this important issue.
I think it's fair to say that ASBPE's response is clear and strong. You can read the group's entire statement on Folio's blog or in the addendum to the magazine's earlier story. But the bottom line is that ASBPE says "ad links within editorial text should NOT be sold under any condition."

Now I'd like to see ABM clarify its position (although to be honest, the existing language is about as clear as can be: Links within editorial should never be paid for by advertisers.) And I expect that ABM will issue a statement soon. I'd also like to see ASME clarify its position (although, again, I think its guidelines on product placement, which say that editorial pages should be solely under the control of editorial, say all there is to say.) But to be honest, I have little faith in ASME's ability to handle controversy. I don't expect an answer from them for months.

But even if ABM and ASME don't respond, it seems clear to me that Vizard has got his answer:
Selling links in a story is unethical.
So when will Ziff Davis "comply" and pull the ads?

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

More on the Ziff Davis ads-in-edit scandal

Folio magazine has written an article about my dispute with Ziff Davis over that company's insertion of ads into the bodies of stories.
Take a look.

I think it's fair to say that while folks such as Rex Hammock and Jeffrey Seglin (both quoted in the Folio article) agree with me that the ads are violations of our industry's ethical standards, the folks at Ziff Davis disagree. Rather, Michael Vizard, editorial director and senior vice president of Ziff Davis Enterprise Group, says the ads are "in compliance with existing ASME and ASBPE guidelines as we understand them."

But consider, if you will, the wording of ASME's ethical guidelines: "Advertisers should not pay to place their products in editorial pages nor should they demand placement in return for advertising. Editorial pages may display and credit products and tell readers where to buy them, as long as those pages are solely under editorial control."
The key here, it seems to me, is that last section. Editorial pages must be "solely under editorial control."
I think it's clear that ASBPE is even more clear in its ethics guidelines: "Contextual links within editorial content should not be sold.”
But I think the award for clarity on this issue has to go to American Business Media. Here's what ABM has to say: "Hypertext links that appear within the editorial content of a site, including those within graphics, must be solely at the discretion of the editors. Links within editorial should never be paid for by advertisers."

But as clear as these rules are to me, they are apparently not clear enough for the senior management at Ziff Davis. Vizard wants ASBPE and ASME to be even more direct. He tells Folio magazine that "Should these officially recognized bodies adopt specific policies related to IntelliTXT ads, we would welcome that clarification and would also be inclined to comply with those guidelines."

Now putting aside that Jeffrey Seglin is a member of the ASBPE ethics committee, and that in the Folio article he seems to offer exactly the sort of clarification that Vizard says he wants, let's try to put an end to this depends-upon-what-the-meaning-of-the word-'is'-is foolishness.
Let's just ask the "officially recognized bodies."

So here goes: I'm formally asking that ASBPE, ASME and ABM issue statements on the use of advertising links in stories. Please publish your opinions on your Web sites and/or the comment section of this blog.
Thank you.

For other takes on this issue, see what Matt McAlister, Eric Shanfelt and Rex Hammock have to say.

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Those darn meddling kids

I've written quite a bit about the widening gap between the skills of working journalists and the demands of new media.
Want to see where you stand? Want to see where your publication stands?
Right now, do a quick inventory of your digital skills. Can you shoot and edit video? Operate a digital camera? Edit those photos? Design a site and/or article page? Operate an open-source CMS? Function on any CMS other than the one you're required to use at work? Can you do any coding? Can you read at least basic HTML? Do you know Flash? How about map mash-ups? Ever publish in real time? Ever run a forum or manage a "conversation" through feedback functions? Belong to any online communities? Ever start from scratch and build an online news site?

Now take a look at the future: a news site run by high-school kids.
Not college kids. Not pros. Just a bunch of 16-year olds.
Take a look and ask yourself honestly -- what are these kids doing on this site that I can't do at my publication?
(Thanks to Howard Owens for pointing me to the site.)

Want to see how rare and valuable these digital media skills are in B2B? Read an interview with the CEO of Vance Publishing, in which she says her company has been adding new positions in digital media, but has been unable to fill the slots.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Ziff Davis crosses the ethics line again

(Note: My policy is not to use foul language on this blog. But I'm making an exception today. I apologize in advance to anyone who is offended. )

There's no reason to pretend any longer that Ziff Davis is a reputable company.
Regular readers of this blog know that I complained earlier this year when Ziff Davis inserted ads in the text of stories -- perhaps the clearest violation of professional ethics I have ever seen. Executives at the company failed to return my emails or phone calls. But ethical journalists from Ziff Davis kept sending me emails asking for help. So I kept writing and writing.
And eventually, Ziff Davis pulled the offensive ads.

But now my inbox is filling again with complaints from journalists at Ziff Davis.
Because the company is once again placing ads inside stories.
If you've never seen one of these things, take a look at this story. You'll see that the second word in the lead paragraph -- "software" -- is a link to an ad for Adobe.
If you have the stomach for it, you can find similar ads in Ziff Davis' CIO Insight (take a look at this guest column, where the advertising department now controls the content.)
But if you want to see the single most ridiculous, most offensive, most disgusting and dimwitted thing in the entire history of B2B publishing, then take a look at the Editorial Mission statement of Baseline magazine -- the Editorial Mission statement, for god's sake!!! -- where ads have been inserted in the copy. (Screenshot is below.)

Look. I have nothing against advertising. But this is not a negotiable issue. The ethical standards of our industry are as clear as can be in this area. The editorial department controls editorial. It's that simple. Here, in fact, is what ASBPE says: "Whether for editorial or advertising information, hypertext links should be placed at the discretion and approval of editors. Also, advertising and sponsored links should be clearly distinguishable from editorial, and labeled as such ... Contextual links within editorial content should not be sold, and generally should not link to a vendor’s Web site, unless it is pertinent to the editorial content or helpful to the reader."
There may be a place for ads such as these, but that place cannot be in any publication that claims to adhere to the standards of professional journalism.

Years ago, when I was a young and impressionable reporter, an ad salesman took me to lunch to explain his side of the business. I remain forever grateful for what he taught me that day. He told me that he made his living by marketing my integrity. As long as I was pure, he could sell ads. But if I forgot what made for professional journalism, then he couldn't tell advertisers they were buying space in a credible publication.
There was, of course, a downside to his approach. There were always advertisers who would pay higher rates for puff pieces, fawning profiles of executives and "investigative" pieces aimed at competitors.
"Paul," he told me, "the truth is that guys will pay a lot more for a blow job than for a handshake. But blow jobs ain't what we're selling."

As I said at the start of this post, there's no reason to pretend any longer that Ziff Davis is a reputable company. There's no reason to pretend anymore that Ziff Davis is selling handshakes.
So let's all stop pretending.
I'm urging the senior staff at Ziff Davis to admit that they can't live by the standards of our profession, and to thus stop claiming to be part of our profession. I want Ziff Davis to resign its membership in American Business Media.
I'm urging organizations such as ABM and ASBPE to cut the crap and cut ties to Ziff Davis. Don't accept their applications for awards. Don't invite their executives to speak at your conferences. Stop letting them cheapen your reputation and our profession.
I'm urging everyone who competes against a Ziff Davis publication to take advantage of the current morale crisis there. Companies such as Reed Business, IDG and CMP all have magazines that compete directly with Ziff Davis' magazines. Surely the folks at the legitimate companies know at least one or two talented Ziff Davis' employees at rival books. Today is the day to steal them away. Call them now. Many of them are miserable at Ziff Davis. Get them out of there.
Most importantly, I'm urging every professional journalist at Ziff Davis to refuse to whore. Stop pretending that things will get better.
Grab a few coworkers, head to a nearby coffee shop, and plan a rebellion. They can't fire all of you. Don't report. Don't write. Don't edit another word for people that think you're a whore.
It's time to get all "Norma Rae" about this.
It's time to make your bosses miserable and to make yourselves proud.

Click here to read Folio magazine's new profile of Ziff Davis.

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