Monday, December 31, 2007

Out with the old; in with the new

Here it is New Year's Eve -- albeit several hours before the ball drops in Times Square about 25 blocks north of my office -- and I'm scrambling to finish off a few projects for 2007. It looks as if 2008 is going to be a very busy year for me. So I'm hoping to begin the year without any uncompleted tasks in my Franklin Planner.

But as I say good-bye to the old, I also want to say hello to the new.
Some new bloggers have emerged in the two worlds that I write about on this blog -- B2B publishing and journalism education. I'd urge you to add these new writers to your RSS feeds and help them join the conversation about online journalism.

First, the Cleveland Chapter of the American Society of Business Publication Editors has launched a blog. Take a look here. Cleveland joins a slew of other ASBPE chapters that are blogging about B2B journalism.
Second, check out Trade Pressed, a brand-new blog from "Sara," a trade press editor. I don't know Sara's last name. And I don't know where she works. Here's hoping that we learn more about her and her thoughts on the trade press in 2008.
Third, take a look at The Linchpen, a blog from Greg Linch, the managing editor of The Miami Hurricane student newspaper. I had the good fortune to meet Greg earlier this year. He's one of those rare young journalists who "gets it."

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Digging a fighting hole

Back when I was younger and even more attractive than I am today, I was a soldier.
And like other soldiers, I learned a set of skills that are sometimes difficult to transfer to the civilian world. I, for example, am a pretty good fighter with a bayonet. But my clients in the B2B world seldom have the need to employ me for my skills with edged weapons.
On the other hand, back in infantry training at Fort Benning, I learned to dig a fighting hole. And I think that will prove a valuable skill -- at least in the metaphorical sense -- in 2008.

A fighting hole, sometimes called a fox hole, is exactly what it sounds like. It's a hole in the ground from which a soldier fights.
But the key to a fighting hole is that it is a defensive position. It's the place where a soldier lives, fights and struggles to hold the line. Although it is possible to advance from a fighting hole, it is more of a place to resist an onslaught than to plan an attack.
And I've decided that it's time for B2B editors and publishers to build some fighting holes.

As the year draws to an end, I find myself worrying more and more about what next year will bring for our industry. As I mentioned a few days ago, "I'm worried that 2008 is going to be an awful year for B2B publishing."
Since I wrote that piece, I've spoken to a few more B2B folks. And nothing I'm hearing suggests that I'm wrong to be nervous.
So if I may continue this metaphor, let me say this, and let me say it my best drill sergeant voice: "Shut your damn mouths. Grab your god-damn entrenching tool and dig a god-damn hole."

When the new year begins, I'll post some of my thoughts on what a B2B fighting hole looks like. In the meantime, it's worth noting that some of the smarter folks in the industry are offering their suggestions on how to weather the coming dark times.
First, David Shaw says now is NOT the time to panic or overreact.
Second, Scott Karp suggests that now IS the time to go for broke in online ad sales.
Third, in an article in Folio magazine, 1105 Media's Neal Vitale says it's time to rethink staffing and accept that "you might find that you need more resources devoted to online content development."

On a related note, Folio has published its annual list of magazine predictions. And everyone and his brother has weighed in. (Full Disclosure: Folio was kind enough to ask for my predictions. In brief, I said that I expected weak revenue and a continuation of B2Bs' ethical woes. I also predict a surge in one of the key areas of my fighting-hole policy -- editorial outsourcing.)

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Joining (and re-joining) the conversation

If you're anything like me, you never grow tired of thinking about and talking about the world of journalism.
And for we obsessive types, there's now a new place to discuss one key area of of our world -- journalism education. Check out the new CICM member link, "where advisers, faculty and affiliate members and friends of the Center for Innovation in College Media can explore solutions to the challenges of the digital age."

Perhaps more exciting for obsessive B2B journalists, is the return to the blogging world of David Shaw. Welcome home, David!

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Year of Living Unreasonably

I'm worried that 2008 is going to be an awful year for B2B publishing.
I don't have any data to back up this fear. What I do have is a sense that something is about to go wrong.

In the past few weeks I've spoken with a number of B2B editors, sales people and publishers. And each of them also seems to be worried. Certainly there is a widespread and justified concern that our print products will continue to face challenges. And certainly more of them will fold in 2008. But that is old news, and not particularly interesting. As my friend Rex said, "every year is a magazine shake-out year."

So what's different now?

It seems to me that the rise of online has led to unreasonable expectations. The lust of investors, the demands for growth, the need to justify ourselves to the people who control the purse strings are pushing us into a new era of preposterousness. Everywhere I go I meet people with revenue targets that seem delusional.

There's probably not another person in B2B publishing who has championed Web journalism more than I. But my love of new media is born of my love of all media. Online storytelling excites me. Just like other forms of storytelling do. The fact that new media has also made money pleases me, but it's not why I love it. Cash flow doesn't stir my soul.
But cash flow does stir many a soul in publishing. And in some cases, it warps them.

Here's what I see happening; here's why I'm worried about 2008:
1. Amid a credit crunch and suggestions of recession, online advertising is likely to contract. But no one in B2B seems to be revising their online growth numbers downward. Rather, the growth numbers I'm hearing are higher than in 2007.
2. When pressure for revenue growth builds, many folks in B2B behave badly.
3. The most exciting thing about new media has been the growth of new media. Every established publisher faced more online competitors in 2007 than in 2006. I expect that will continue.
4. The business model currently in fashion in B2B publishing isn't built to withstand a slowdown in online advertising. Nearly everyone is leveraged to the hilt. Nearly everyone has already cut everything that can be cut.
5. I don't believe that B2B is prepared for whatever the next big thing may be.

I'm not suggesting that it's time to panic. I am suggesting it's time to look long and hard at what we are capable of doing. How much can we reasonably expect to grow? How realistic is it to expect the online advertising market to continue to expand? How can we survive a downturn and meet the debt payments?
What can we reasonably expect from 2008?

(For more on this subject, check out what my friend Paul says about B2B in Asia. I think he's a little worried too.)

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Monday, December 03, 2007

It's time to fire my friends

"Listen, the Web is the most exciting part of a modern journalism enterprise for ambitious writers and editors. If they haven't figured it out by now, to hell with them."
Those are the words of Jon Friedman in a column published today on MarketWatch. You can read the rest of his comments, born of a frustrating experience at the American Magazine Conference, by clicking here.

Now it's worth noting for the thousandth time that I am not one of those people who believe print is dead. Rather, I believe that some of print is dead. Some of it isn't dead yet. And some of it will live forever.
I, unlike Friedman, don't expect to read the obituary of the magazine industry any time soon.
However, I do believe -- strongly -- that the careers of a great numbers of great journalists are dead. The refusal to accept the changes in journalism has turned many of the people I know in this industry from assets into liabilities. These people -- many of them friends of mine -- are the whining editors and publishers that Friedman says "still view the Web as more of a curse than a blessing."
And although it is sad, and although it is a loss to the profession, it's time to let these folks go.
Friedman is right: writers and editors that haven't figured out that Web is now the most important part of what we do aren't worth worrying about any longer.

On the other hand, I'm not ready to give up on journalism students ... at least not yet.
As I've said before, the next generation is woefully unprepared to work in today's media. But I have faith that smart teachers can undo the damage inflicted by the journalism dinosaurs that roam the halls of academia.
And even if this entire generation of college students turns out to have been ruined by print-centric, elderly people, there are indications that today's high school students may turn out just fine.

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