Thursday, January 31, 2008

Changing just one mind

If you could change the mindset of only one person at your publication, who would it be? If you could get only one person to become part of the Web culture, who would it be?
Perhaps you'd say the managing editor. Or maybe the head of ad sales. Maybe you'd vote for the CEO or the editor-in-chief or the publisher.
But here's my suggestion: Change the mindset of your recruiter.

A few months ago I sat on a panel with two recruiters from mid-sized newspaper chains. They were both lovely people. But I think it's safe to say that they didn't share my beliefs about how to recruit or what to look for in a new hire.
One of them was asked "what would make you throw out a resume?" And she replied that she wouldn't hire anyone with a resume that said "multimedia reporter." She went on to say that she was looking for "newspaper people." But then, a few minutes later, she mentioned that the reporters at her chain were now being trained to carry video cameras.
The other woman, when asked about how she looks through applications, said she doesn't look at electronic resumes and won't follow links to Web stories, multimedia packages or other online examples of work. The reason? She said she didn't have the time, and preferred to look at things on paper.

In the world of B2B, I suspect that the folks that screen resumes for us have many of these same mindset problems. And it's not their fault. It's our fault.
At big companies, much of recruiting is done by people in human resources. And those folks are often experts in the world of HR. But how many of them are aware of the changes underway in media? How many of them understand the challenges of moving to online?
At smaller companies, editorial recruiting is often done by the existing staff. But how can we expect legacy editors to understand what to look for in the next generation of journalists. In some cases, the initial screening of resumes is done by administrative personnel. But if we haven't yet been able to get many of our senior editors to understand the Web, why would we expect our admins to grasp the nature of online journalism?

Pat Thornton recently posted a piece in which he complained about "ads looking for people who know PHP, MySQL, Ruby, Python, Django, HTML, CSS, Javascript, Ajax, Flash, multimedia reporting, photo editing, video editing, Incredible Hulk strength, etc." Pat suggests, correctly, that the "the people hiring new media talent at many newspapers don’t have a clue about what they are looking for." So, according to Pat, recruiters are filling ads with a slew of Web terms and acronyms hoping that someone, somewhere will come in to fix everything.
But the problem that I see most often is worse -- people who don't have a clue about new media looking to hire new talent. They don't even know what Web terms and acronyms to look for in a resume.

But either way, the solution is the same. If you want to hire the right people with the right skills and the right mindset, then you must ensure that the person who does your recruiting knows online journalism.
Here are five steps to take:
1. Find out how applications are processed at your publication. Who writes the ads, screens the resumes, etc.
2. Meet with that person on an informal basis. Try to gauge what they do and don't understand about new media.
3. Invite them to meet with anyone on staff who has the skills you're trying to duplicate.
4. Invite them to attend the places where you talk about the future -- senior leadership meetings, editorial meetings, newsroom training sessions, etc.
5. Offer to help. If you know what your publication needs, ask if you can help screen resumes and interview applicants.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Announcements and milestones

I've been running around like a crazy man for the past few days ... working, decorating my new apartment, selling my car, meeting with clients, pitching for new business and exploring my new neighborhood with my daughter. As a result, I haven't done much blogging. So there are a few things I haven't had a chance to make note of until now.

First, I want to congratulate Ryan, Zac, Howard and everyone else involved with Wired Journalists. Some 700 of our peers have already joined this new social network for journalists who want to improve their new media skills. If you haven't signed up, do so now.

Second, the global B2B journalism association known as TABPI (Trade, Association and Business Publications International) has launched its first spinoff unit outside the United States. TABPI South Africa will be run by Louise Marsland of and Natalia Thomson of Now Media. Many members of TABPI and ASBPE will remember Natalia as one of the first international winners of those groups' Young Leaders Scholarship.

Third, Speaking of the Young Leaders Scholarship, the deadline for this year's application is March 3. Winners will get a chance to travel to the ASBPE convention in Kansas City in July. And since I'm the keynote speaker there this year, I think that's a really, really great prize.

Fourth, speaking of deadlines, B2B editors from around the world have until March 5 to enter TABPI's Tabbie awards for the best in trade journalism editorial and design.

Fifth, I recently noticed that this blog has broken the top 100,000 level on Technorati. In a world with as many as 57 million blogs, I'm pretty pleased by that. Granted, a good portion of the blogosphere is spam, gibberish and crap. But there are also bloggers far more talented than I that have not been lucky enough to attract as much attention as I have. So I want to thank everyone who has ever read, commented upon or linked to this blog.
Making it to the top-tier of the blogging world is akin to being named the prima ballerina in the Boise Ballet. It's hardly the Bolshoi, but I still feel like dancing.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Getting wired and getting funded

If you're a journalist who believes, as I do, that the best way to improve your skills is to teach yourself rather than wait for the boss to invest more money in you, there are a couple of interesting announcements today.

First, check out Wired Journalists, a social-networking and information-sharing site born in the wake of Howard Owens' call for non-wired journalists to learn the skills of new media.
Wired Journalists has been in beta for a few weeks now (I was the seventh person to join.) But now it's open to the world.
You can read Howard's announcement here.
Read Ryan Sholin's take here.
Check out Zac Echola's thoughts here.
I'm looking forward to seeing more folks from the world of B2B journalism on the site soon. So if you're willing to share what you know, and willing to learn more, join Wired Journalists.

Second, longtime readers of this blog know that I'm a big fan of WordPress, the content-management system popular with thousands of bloggers. I've long argued that WordPress and similar open-source systems are vastly superior to the systems used by most publishers.
Now comes news that WordPress has landed $29 million in new financing ... including an investment from the New York Times.
Check out Matthew Ingram's thoughts on the deal here.
Read Wall Street Journal coverage here.
For an earlier post of mine on WordPress, click here.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

FierceMarkets sale may be harbinger of ...

My friend Rafat at PaidContent is reporting that B2B publisher Questex is buying FierceMarkets, the online-only publisher best known for its email newsletters.
I got an email a few minutes ago from FierceMarkets founder Jeff Gisea confirming the deal.

I have a feeling that this particular deal has major implications for our industry. Sometime later this week I'll share my thoughts.

In the meantime, congratulations to Jeff, his team and the folks at Questex.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

And the award goes to ...

It's contest season in B2B publishing.
If you're proud of the work done by you and your coworkers, now is the time to seek your rewards.

First, there's only a little more than a week to nominate someone for what may be the most prestigious award in B2B journalism -- the Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity. If you know someone who has fought the good fight and stood up to pressure "whether from advertisers, industry executives or upper management," enter their name now.

Second, you only have until Jan. 23 to enter Folio magazine's FAME awards, which recognize the best in magazine-sponsored events. Click here to enter.

Third, ASBPE is accepting applications for its AZBEE awards until Feb. 15. The AZBEEs cover both print and electronic journalism. There are tons of categories. Visit the ASBPE site for details. And check out ASBPE Boston's blog for info on a webinar about the entry process.

And lastly, college journalists should take a look at what Innovation in College Media is calling "the most comprehensive contest for online content produced by student media and student journalists."

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The care and feeding of my gigantic ego

I opened my mailbox last night and found the January/February issue of "Editors Note," the newsletter of the American Society of Business Publication Editors. And much to my delight, the cover story was about me.
I suspect that many of us got into journalism in order to see our own names in print. But for someone with a gigantic ego like mine, few things compare to the the thrill of seeing an article about yourself (and accompanying photo). So I want to thank ASBPE and the article's author, my friend Jeff Gelski of Sosland's Food Business News, for the attention. I also want to thank ASBPE National President Steve Roll of BNA Tax & Accounting. Steve's column on page two of the ASBPE newsletter also talks about me.
The newsletter is available to members in a .pdf file. Visit ASBPE to take a look.

The only thing that feeds my immense ego more than reading an article about me is to stand on a stage and talk. And the ASBPE article announces that I'll be the keynote speaker at the Society's annual convention, which will be held in Kansas City in July. But that's a very long time for someone like me to have to wait to hear applause. Fortunately, I'm also the keynote speaker next month at the Southeast Journalism Conference. Until then, I'm just going to read the ASBPE newsletter over and over and over again and imagine the sound of applause.

Like many people with oversized egos, I have tremendous appreciation for folks who don't walk around with a swollen head. That's one of the reasons I want to recommend a recent post at the Junta42 blog in which Joe Pulizzi admits to a mistake in trying to optimize his site for search. It's an instructive read for anyone who works on the Web. Take a look.
And I hope that in the unlikely event I ever make a mistake, I'll be as self-effacing as Joe is.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

More reactions to "You Can't Teach Culture"

My recent call for publishers to halt training in basic Web skills continues to generate a lot of conversation.
If you're interested in this issue, here are some other voices:
Take a look at what Bryan says at Innovation in College Media.
Check out Pat Thornton's thoughts at Journalism Iconoclast.
The Chicago chapter of the ASBPE is looking to start a conversation on the subject.
Prosthetic Device weighs in here.
And if your German language skills are better than mine, take a look at what Fabian Mohr has to say.

Also, anyone interested in newsroom training should pay attention to Howard Owens' $100-to-get-wired campaign. And anyone interested in trying to follow the extraordinary number of new products that are being launched every day by journalists who already live on the Web, take a look at Journalism Enterprise.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Responses to "You cannot train someone to be part of a culture"

My post from a few days ago in which I urged "employers not to offer any training in Web journalism" generated some interesting responses.
If you care about these issues, I'd urge you to take a look at what others are saying.

Rene` Edde said she had "an aha! moment" and that she "can’t help but to agree with Conley that the industry as a whole is way past teaching people the basics" of Web journalism. But Rene` has mixed feelings about cutting off the dinsoaurs. Take a look at her post here.

Zac Echola says he agrees to a degree, but wonders if we're "at this point yet."

Mindy McAdams said my claim that there's no room left for Web newbies left her "feeling very conflicted."

Steve Yelvington says I'm "right that any journalist who hasn't made the effort to keep up with the real world isn't worth keeping on board." But Steve disagrees with my call to end training. You can see his post here. (Note: I think the stuff I said in the comments section of my original post probably bring Steve and I closer to agreement.)

Dan Gillmor writes that there is a reason for my "apparent madness," but that he doesn't "entirely agree with it." Read his thoughts here.

Finally, take a look at what David Cohn has to say. David is not responding to anything that I've written. But he seems to be feeling some of the same frustration that I am when he says "I think the time for evangelizing is over." (Thanks to Ryan, who thinks it's still worth the effort to train the dinosaurs, for pointing me to David's post.)

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Fighting Hole Tactics: Part Two -- Finding Allies

(Editor's note: This is the third in a series on building a "B2B fighting hole." I'm expecting difficult financial times in trade journalism in 2008. In this series I offer some suggestions on building a defensive position where editors and publishers can ride out the coming onslaught. You can read the post that started the series here. You can read Tactic One here.)

In the history of warfare, there are two groups that have fallen from favor: mercenaries and privateers. But if, as I believe, B2B journalism is about to begin a tough financial period, I think we need our own versions of both.
In simplest terms, a mercenary fights for a paycheck and a privateer fights for a share of booty. But both share some significant traits. First, they fight by choice. It's even possible to argue that they like to fight. There's no need to worry about morale or motivation. Second, they are best used as a supplement to an existing fighting force. No one wants to be entirely dependent on for-hire fighters. But many nations have found advantage in employing them to take on some military tasks.

Magazine Mercenaries and Publishing Privateers
When revenue declines, publishers have few ways to keep their products afloat (and their staff employed.) The first choice is nearly always to freeze hiring. But not only does that tend to stretch the existing staff too thin, it also always makes it nearly impossible to launch new products that can generate revenue.
When the hiring freeze fails to help, many publishers turn to layoffs. But layoffs have the exact same negative results: the staff burns out and product development comes to a halt.
I suggest that the way for publishers to escape this downward spiral is by giving up some control and having mercenaries and privateers launch new products.
In particular, I think it's time for B2B companies to do two things:
1. hire offshore companies to do print layout and design work -- especially for new products and custom publications.
2. let freelancers and outside contractors run online products for a cut of the revenue -- particularly Web-only products and newsletters.

In the first scenario (call it the mercenary method), publishers can launch new print products at lower costs. And at least one department -- design -- doesn't have to take on additional duties. It is, of course, also possible to offshore other parts of the magazine process. Heck, at least in theory, even reporting and copy editing can be done by outside contractors in Asia. But I suspect that most B2B editors, publishers and executives aren't comfortable with that least to start. And I can't imagine a time when I'd ever feel comfortable offshoring reporting functions.
So I think it's a wiser move to begin by offshoring layout and design for new products and custom pubs. If things work out well, layout and design of other print products can also be offshored.

In the second scenario (call it the privateer play), publishers can launch new online products at no cost. By offering a revenue split to outside contractors, publishers can create limitless numbers of small, hyper-niche products. This is the business model of New York Times Digital's (Disclosure: About is a client of mine.) About's network of sites are run by independent contractors who work for a share of revenue (with a base payment as a site ramps up.) The privateer play is also similar to the system used by Associated Content and some of the blogging networks.
I suspect that many editors are already working with freelancers who would consider such a deal. The key, of course, is to sell the privateer on the upside potential -- the more you work, the more inventory we have to sell, and the more both of us make.

(Disclosure: I feel so strongly that there are opportunities for both mercenaries and privateers in B2B that I've taken steps to position myself appropriately.
One of my newest clients is Mindworks Global Media, the India-based outsourcing company run by Tony Joseph, the former editor of India's largest business magazine. Tony's company does work for publishers around the world and recently won a contract with McClatchy's Miami Herald newspaper.
Furthermore, Paul Conley Consulting is now available to run editorial for Web sites, online newsletters and other electronic products on a contract or revenue-share basis. I'll be announcing some new deals here soon.
If you'd like to talk about how your company can benefit from mercenaries and privateers, drop me an email at inquire (at) paulconley (dot) com)

(Addendum: 1/15/08. Editor and Publisher is reporting that the Miami Herald has backed out of part of its deal with Mindworks. The Herald will continue to outsource "the production of some advertising sections and monitoring of website comments," according to E&P. )

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Fighting Hole Tactics: Part One -- No More Training

If you've read this blog in recent weeks, you know I've grown very worried about what 2008 will bring for B2B publishing. A few days ago, I wrote that it's "time for B2B editors and publishers to build some fighting holes" -- defensive positions from where they could ride out the coming onslaught of bad economic news.
I promised then that I would "post some of my thoughts on what a B2B fighting hole looks like." And given the news that the smartest guys on Wall Street think a recession is coming, I think today is the day for me to start discussing tactics.

Let's start with a little story.
A few weeks ago I had coffee with a long-time friend and journalist. We got to talking about new media. I told him about the remarkable work being done by Rob Curley's team at Loudoun Extra, and I told him that he should go straight home, log on and check it out.
But my friend said that he did not have an Internet connection at his home.
When my shock wore off, I asked why. And my friend, who makes pretty good money, said he didn't want to pay for Web access. "It doesn't seem worth it," he said.

I was reminded of that conversation earlier today when an anonymous reader posted a comment to an earlier post of mine. That reader complained that"employers aren't doing much to train their current employees and prepare them as online journalists."
That's true, I thought. But I don't care. I believe that journalists need to learn these skills themselves. As I said more than two years ago"... at this point, you can't blame the boss for not teaching these things. The difficult truth is that people who can't insert a hyperlink, who won't read a blog, who don't know how to work with Photoshop and can't upload a video file just aren't worth having around anymore."

Now, as difficult times loom, I'm taking an even harder stance.
I'm urging employers not to offer any training in Web journalism.
There are two reasons for this. Here they are:

1. You cannot train someone to be part of a culture.
For someone to work on the Web, they must be part of the Web. That, after all, is what the Web means. The Web is a web. It exists as a series of connections. An online journalist isn't a journalist who works online. He's a journalist who lives online. He's part of the Web.
It's a waste of time and money to teach multimedia skills and technology to someone who hasn't already become part of the Web. And there's no need to teach skills and technology to the journalists who are already part of Web culture, because the culture requires participation in skills and technology.
Or, to put it another way -- I cannot teach the Web. No one can. Yet all of us who are part of the Web are learning the Web.

2. When the fighting begins, the training must end.
We had a good run. For the past few years, life has been pretty easy for B2B publishers that have embraced the Web. We have been an army that has known nothing but victory.
But if I'm right, the easy times are over.
We have moved too far, too fast. Our lines are overextended. Our advance has been halted. We are vulnerable.
We cannot move backward to round up the stragglers and train them to fight. It's too late to try to convince print journalists that the Web has value. It's too late to tell them that an Internet connection is worth a few dollars a month. As revenue shrinks, we can't spend money on training. We can't gather up the print folks and "prepare them as online journalists."
You can't prepare people to dig a fighting hole. You just tell them to dig. And the ones who don't dig fast enough, deep enough or well enough, die.

( Some readers are sure to be thinking -- "Is he nuts? Isn't training newsroom staffs part of what he does for a living?" To which I reply, "Yes. I am nuts. And I do offer training to newsroom staffs." Odds are there's something valuable I can offer to the staff at your publication. There are certainly non-training services I can offer your company. Send an email to inquire (at) paulconley (dot) com and we can talk about it. Just don't ask me to teach another "writing for the Web" course. There's no room for Web newbies in a B2B fighting hole.)

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