Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I'm a famous personality

If you're anything like me, you like to visit B2B magazine Web sites -- particularly those that cover the industry in which we work (publishing.)
But if you're anything like me, you have been consistently disappointed that the sites that cover our world are such poor role models. Certainly the reporting at places like min, B2B magazine, etc., is often quite good. But the sites themselves are also often quite ugly.

But as of today, that is no longer true at the flagship publication of the magazine-publishing industry. Folio magazine has launched its long-awaited redesign. And as I took a quick spin through the site this morning, I decided that it's lovely. Take a look.

As you peruse the new site, pay particular attention to Folio's new bloggers section. You'll see that I'm one of the folks featured. Folio has been nice enough to label the section "Folio: Personalities." I like that. It's nice to be thought of as a "personality." It's so much more pleasant than "jerk," "vermin" or any of the obscenities that regularly fill my in-box.

Addendum: Check out Prescott Shibles' reaction to the new Folio site here.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Improving our reputation

B2B journalism has many problems. But certainly the largest problem we face is our reputation. The ugly truth is that trade journalism is often thought of as second-rate and unethical.
Back when I launched this blog a few years ago, I did so with one primary purpose -- to call for a new era of professionalism in B2B publishing.
And by and large, I have been pleased by what I have seen. Furthermore, I have been impressed by the hundreds of B2B journalists I have met who believe that our work is both vital and honorable.
So this week, as we in the U.S. celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, I'll be expressing gratitude for all of the folks in B2B that work to ensure that those of us who toil in the trade press be thought of as talented and moral professionals.

But when the holiday ends, I'll go back to the trenches. Because this fight isn't over.
Consider if you will the nasty tone of this article in MediaPost, in which the writer says :"You’ll rarely get a point of view in a trade magazine that’s not biased by some hidden agenda. "(Thanks to Prescott Shibles for pointing me toward the piece. His response can be found here.)

Although I am disappointed to see an article like that in 2007, I am not surprised. The trade press is an easy target. We make ourselves an easy target.
For every hero in B2B, there are whores.
For every champion, there are cowards.
But I believe that bit by bit, day by day, article by article, we are becoming an industry worthy of the love we show it.
And that progress is all because of folks like you -- the readers of this blog.
So thanks. And Happy Thanksgiving.

(Note: It was almost exactly a year ago that the Wall Street Journal suggested that trade journalism was a less-than-ethical backwater in the media world. Click here to see my reaction.)

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Be an expert in less than an hour!

What new-media skill can a print-based journalism student -- graduating in December without a job -- learn quickly enough to avoid having to move back home with Mom and Dad?

That's been the question bouncing around in my head following my recent meetings with journalism students at the National College Media Convention, as well as the recent online conversation about the state of such students.

And I think I have the answer: search-engine optimization.

Now don't get me wrong. No one can become an SEO expert in a matter of weeks. But it is possible to learn enough about SEO in just a few minutes to impress the heck out of anyone who doesn't know SEO.
And if there's one thing I've learned in this business it's that most folks in publishing don't know anything about SEO. More importantly, many of the working journalists I know stubbornly refuse to learn SEO. So nearly every newsroom -- particularly at the smaller newspapers and magazines -- needs someone who knows SEO.

So if you're about to graduate, here's what you should do:
1. Follow this link and watch the video of Marshall Simmonds, the chief search strategist at the New York Times Co. (DISCLOSURE: I do some work for New York Times Digital.) The video will run for 25 minutes.
2. Watch the video a second time.

After that, you'll know more about SEO than almost any reporter or editor on almost any publication you can name. You won't be an expert ... not really. But it's pretty unlikely that anyone you interview with will know that.
Add a sentence or two about SEO to your resume. In your cover letter, talk about using SEO to attract readers to the work you plan on doing once you get hired. Make sure that you mention how much you're looking forward to sharing your SEO knowledge with other folks at your new job.

When you schedule an interview, make sure you ask your prospective employer what content-management system they use on the Web site. Then, before the interview, find someone on campus (possibly in IT or computer science) to help you understand how to use your new-found SEO skills in that CMS. (In other words, does the CMS allow you to customize the title tag, or will you have to know a little html? Does it automatically choose the headline as the title tag? Or does it just default to the name of the publication?) Be able to tell your prospective employer how you'll optimize the stories you write for his publication.
Then pay a visit to Search Engine Land, the single best source of information on SEO. Read everything you can.

Then show up for the interview, dressed nicely and smelling of breath mints, and show them that you're more than just another print guy.
And if, god help you, you actually land the job, try to find a real SEO expert who will coach you for a few hours on what to do once you start work.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Good news on the ethics front

I'm in a good mood.
Just a day after I noted in this blog that Ziff Davis' PC Magazine had broken its word and once again violated industry ethics by using ads-within-edit, a reader of this blog sent me some good news.
American Business Media has changed the rules for its Neal Awards. Henceforth "Web sites submitted (for consideration for Best Web Site) should not hyperlink editorial content to advertising or other paid material." (You can read all the rules in this pdf document.)

I'll take some credit for this change. Longtime readers of this blog will remember that I complained earlier this year when eWeek was nominated for a Neal Award even though the magazine's Web site violated ABM's ethics policy. Check out this earlier post in which ABM's Sara Sheadel responded and said the organization would likely change its rules.

Selling links inside editorial copy is wrong. It's offensive, misleading and disgusting. It belittles the work that thousands of B2B journalist do every day of their careers. It cheapens a Web site and damages the reputation of all of us in B2B publishing.
ASBPE has ruled on this issue. And now ABM has made its stance clear as well.
ASME, however, remains silent.
And that is just pathetic.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Ziff Davis breaks its promise: Ads return to edit copy

Just a day after I noted with disdain that ABM and ASME have yet to respond to the ads-within-edit scandal, I find that Ziff Davis has apparently gone back on its word.

The offensive and misleading ads from Vibrant Media -- which appear as links within news stories -- are now appearing in PC Magazine. Take a look at this article to see the ads.

If you've followed this issue in the past year, you know that Ziff Davis promised to remove the ads from its Web sites if the B2B trade associations said the product violated ethics policies. ASBPE came forward to say exactly that. And Ziff pulled the ads.

So why are the ads back? ASBPE hasn't changed its policy. Has PC Magazine decided that the rules of ethics don't apply?

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

ASME arrives late to ethics debate

In the past year, B2B journalism has suffered one of the most embarrassing scandals in its history, as several companies -- including VNU and Ziff Davis -- began to sell ads within editorial. Words in stories were marked as hypertext links. But the links didn't lead to other news or information chosen by editors, the links were inserted by a company called IntelliTXT and they led to ads. The links were misleading, offensive and clearly violated ethics guidelines.

Longtime readers of this blog will remember the debate that ensued. But if you're new to this issue, let me say this: most of the associations that claim to represent the interests of B2B publishing failed -- miserably -- during the crisis.
On May 3, I published something on this blog asking the American Society of Business Publication Editors, American Business Media and the American Society of Magazine Editors to issue a ruling on the ads-in-edit controversy. Although VNU had backed away after I complained, and although it was clear to me and to hundreds of others that these ads were unethical, an executive at Ziff Davis had told Folio magazine that the ads did not violate the organizations' ethics guidelines.
So I asked the three groups to clarify.

ASBPE -- god bless it -- responded within hours, issuing a statement that "ad links within editorial text should NOT be sold under any condition."
But ABM and ASME never responded.
They never issued statements. They never answered my emails or phone calls on the subject. They just ignored the whole thing. They have continued to ignore the scandal ... for six months.

So you'll have to forgive me for being unimpressed by the news that ASME intends to update its ethics guidelines.
I mean seriously, ASME has had a half of a year to decide if its existing ethics policy actually means what it appears to mean. ASME has had a half of a year to decide if it's unethical to sell the actual words that journalists write. So I have no faith that ASME's new policy will actually address the tough issues, and I have no faith that ASME will actually stand behind whatever policy it does issue.

Glamour editor Cindi Leive is president of ASME. In announcing the plans to update the group's ethics policy, she said that "The church-state wall isn’t as clear or defined as it is in print.”
I disagree. As I have said dozens of times in this blog and in meetings with journalists and journalism students -- the rules of ethics haven't changed online, and you shouldn't let them. The church-state wall is clear. Edit is still edit. An ad is still an ad. Transparency is still the key to ethical behavior. And all of our ethics rules still boil down to one simple concept: Don't mislead the reader.

What has changed is that the journalists of B2B have fewer places to turn when the pressure to behave unethically builds. We can still trust ASBPE to stand behind us. But ABM and ASME have demonstrated that we cannot depend upon them.
(UPDATE: ABM has made it's position clear, and I'm thrilled.)

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Monday, November 05, 2007

More on the next crop of journalists

Leonard Witt at PJNet is concerned by some of the advice that I, Bryan Murley, Doug Fisher and Rob Curley give journalism students.
This is important stuff. And if you care about the future of our industry, you should be involved in this discussion.

If you haven't been following this debate, you can read my original post here.
Check out what Leonard said here.
Read Rob's response here.
Read Doug's original post and his response to Leonard here.

I responded in a comment to Leonard's blog. I've posted a copy of that comment below:
I think it should be clear by now that none of the folks you mention in your post believe that multimedia skills replace writing skills. This isn’t an either/or issue. (On the other hand, I do believe that reporting skills trump all other skills. Being a good reporter requires a particular personality type. I can’t teach that. I can, however, teach anyone to tell a story in adequate fashion. Many professional outfits feel the same way. For example, Bloomberg News requires that every journalist they hire — even those with decades of experience — attend a month-long program where they learn to tell stories in the Bloomberg style. )
What Rob, Doug, Bryan, Ryan and I are talking about is what students need to know in order to land a job. And the simple truth is that a kid who “only wants to be a writer” is unemployable.
Life in the working media today is hard. Competition is fierce. The hours are long. And the single most valuable thing an employee can bring to the table is flexibility.
I know dozens and dozens of very talented “writers” with decades of experience that have lost their jobs in recent years. I’m sure you do too. And it’s insane to expect that an industry that has laid off thousands of 40-year-old “writers” would be interested in hiring 22-year -old “writers.”
We expect something more from the next generation. We expect basic skills in Web journalism.
There is also another ugly truth here. I’ve met these kids. I’ve read their clips. And, as Rob Curley said, “they're not nearly as hot as they think they are.”
When I meet someone who “only wants to be a writer,” this is what I tell him:
1. Good luck.
2. Sell your work. If you have any writing ability at all, you should be able to sell your stuff on a freelance basis. A byline in the college paper doesn’t make you a writer. If you haven’t sold some pieces by your senior year, you either can’t write or you don’t work hard enough.
3. Find a way to pay the bills. Because no one I know will hire you as a journalist. Just like a struggling actor, get a job as a waiter and practice your craft in your free time.
4. If writing is the only thing you want to do, then write. Do it every day. Try to do it well. Do it because it makes you happy. But don’t expect me or my clients to subsidize your passion with a paycheck and health insurance. We’re not in the writing business. We’re in the journalism business.

For more on this topic, check out what Chris O'Brien at PBS' MediaShift said. And read what John Robinson at the Greensboro News & Record said.
Make sure you check out this advice from journalism student Sean Blanda.
And if you want to read the work of a 23-year-old who "gets it," check out Pat Thornton.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

The next crop of journalists

"In almost every newspaper I've worked in, the most close-minded person I've ever come across is the 23-year-old recent grad."
Those are the words of Rob Curley, arguably the smartest guy working in journalism today. Rob's comments came last week during his keynote speech at the National College Media Convention hosted by College Media Advisers and the Associated Collegiate Press. (You can see a photo of Rob and listen to an audio clip of part of his remarks by clicking here.)

I was lucky enough to be at the convention and hear Rob in person. And I assure you, there's not a more passionate advocate for this profession.
I was there to co-host a session on resumes, portfolios and other tools for landing a job. (Longtime readers of this blog will guess correctly that I was invited because of my earlier comments on the subject.)
I met a lot of students at the convention. And I'm afraid I must say the next crop of entry-level journalists is about as close-minded as the present set. There were some exceptions, but they were few and far between. Most of the folks I met were similar to the "silo students" I've been complaining about for awhile now -- those inflexible seniors who become the close-minded 23-year olds in Rob's newsrooms.
And the root of this inflexibility seems to be the sort of nonsense that some of the older journalism teachers are feeding their students.
Among the disconcerting things I ran into at the convention:
1. A senior who said his journalism teachers told him he should never tell a prospective employer he knows how to shoot photos, because it means he'll never get a chance to write.
2. A student who said her adviser told her she should never, ever mention her college newspaper's Web site on her resume, because no magazine will hire someone who has written for the Web.
3. A student who said she was told by teachers that newspaper design was a booming field.
4. A slew of students who seemed unaware of the financial and circulation challenges the print media industry is facing.
5. At least a dozen students who said they want to be "writers" and that have zero interest in working on any Web-based product.

Rob and I aren't the only people to notice that a large percentage of the next group of journalists seem completely unprepared for journalism in 2007 and beyond. Just yesterday, Howard Owens mentioned the problem.

I have my doubts that journalism schools will be able to resolve this problem anytime soon. I fear that the industry is going to have to wait a few years until more of the older and out-of-touch professors retire.
Until then, we may all be better off recruiting from outside journalism departments -- looking at English, business and computer-science majors.
But I haven't given up completely. And I'll be sharing my opinions on journalism careers with another bunch of students in February when I'm the keynote speaker at the Southeast Journalism Conference in Oxford, Miss.

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