Thursday, August 28, 2008

B2B blogger scoops world on Biden pick

I'm feeling a wee bit proud today. Heck, I think everyone in B2B journalism should be feeling a little proud today. Particularly those of us who live and work in the B2B blogosphere.
As Adam Tinworth has pointed out, perhaps the biggest news story on earth last week was broken by a B2B blogger.
According to Adam, Reed Business Information's Flightblogger was the first with the news that Barak Obama had chosen Joe Biden as his running mate. And he broke the news through Twitter and with the help of his readers. If that's not an example of how to report in 2008 -- fast, first, connected, Web-first and employing tweets and crowdsourcing -- I don't know what is.

Now according to Adam, others in the blogosphere picked up the story and ran with it. And, according to Flightblogger Jon Ostrower, other bloggers, as well as the news networks, failed to credit him for the scoop.

It's worth noting that if, in fact, Jon was the first with the news (on 8/22 at 5:33 pm and 8:03 pm), then he only has himself to blame for not getting more attention. His posts are, well, sort of vague. Even he uses the word "speculation" to describe his findings. More importantly, he buries the lede. The "news" is at the bottom of continually updated post. And you have to read pretty closely to see that he's actually on to something important. Even the headline is lackluster -- "Presidential Picks and Planes." His tweets are no better. At 8:22 pm he writes that he "may" have the story: "NetJets 863 MDW-ILG may point to Biden as Obama VP. Look for a return flight."

But I don't want to get all nitpicky here. It looks like Jon broke the news. And that's worth celebrating if you care about news and B2B.

Jon's scoop is particularly good news if you're me.
Because several years ago I had the pleasure of speaking to a bunch of RBI journalists about "becoming more blog-like" -- by adopting some of the practices of the blogosphere in their work. I think it's safe to say that the reaction I received from some of the staff was a wee bit short of love and adulation. In particular, I remember one guy who promised me "we will never do that s*#t here."
And today I can say for sure that I was right when I responded, "Yes you will."

For a different take on this subject, check out the strange coverage from L.A. Times, which missed Jon's work, fails to credit anyone in the blogosphere, and instead seems gleeful that Obama's text-notification system failed. Or check out this piece from a student journalist who is positively disgusted by CNN's apparent lack of original reporting on the Biden pick.

(Note: B2B blog historians, if there are such people, may be amused to see that the first time I wrote about B2B blogs and the airline industry was three years ago this summer. I guess that means its probably time to drop the modifier "new" from the phrase "new media.")

Hat tip to Kristine Lowe, the newest B2B blogger on my radar screen. Although I subscribe to Adam's feed, and although I look at Flightblogger from time to time, I'm days behind in my reading and was unaware of Jon's scoop until I read about it on Kristine's blog. (Anyone who knows me and my enormous ego will guess correctly that I stumbled upon Kristine's blog because she linked to me and mentioned me by name. That triggered a Google alert in my in-box this morning.)

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Wall Street finances and B2B publishing explained

Borrow cash. Buy a publishing company. Choke on debt. Borrow more. Buy another publisher. Choke on debt. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

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Talking to ourselves and making little sense

One of my many journalism obsessions is watching the internal communications processes at publishing companies.
I follow this stuff pretty closely. I read the memos (when I can get them.) I check out Intranets and wikis (when they're available to me.) I read executives' blogs, publishers' sales reports and I attend in-house meetings at client sites whenever possible.
So allow me to share this important bit of info:
As a general rule, for reasons that escape me, companies that are in the business of communicating information to readers do a terrible job of communicating information to their employees.

Today, for example, I had the chance to read the internal memo that Source Media's CEO Jim Malkin sent to employees earlier this week to announce a large-scale reorganization.
And it's awful.
If you read my initial post about Source Media's plans on Tuesday, you'd have seen that I was supportive. You'd also have seen that my support was based largely on a quote that Malkin gave to Folio.
But today as I struggled to read the memo, my support simply drained away.
Am I being too harsh?
Check it out yourself.
I'm sure you'll agree that the memo is simply unreadable.
First, it's 1,830 words long. And I have this picture of every poor soul at Source trying to "speed read" through the thing to get to something important.
Second, the memo doesn't answer the one question that probably every single reader had: Is anyone getting laid off?
Third, the memo is full of dense paragraphs of "who reports to whom" nonsense that should have been in a graphic (or even in a separate memo.)
The result of all this, I'm sure, is that the employees of Source Media reacted to the memo in a way that the company would not have wanted. Some employees likely felt manipulated or misled (as they read through line after line of spin only to find that there was no "news" there about the layoffs.) Others, particularly the journalists, likely spent a good bit of time chuckling at the writing and complaining that the boss had "buried the lede." And it's pretty unlikely that the clerical and support staff was filled with team spirit after reading seemingly endless descriptions of which executive would be reporting to which other executive.

There's simply no reason for this sort of thing at any company. There are loads of very talented people working in the internal communications field. Any decent size company can hire someone to manage employee communications. Even the smallest company can get a consultant to help with major messages.
But at a journalism company, failing to master internal communications is just unforgivable. For god's sake, a publishing company is filled with people who communicate for a living!
So please, whether you're the CEO, a publisher or anyone else at a media company -- the next time you have something important to say, walk down the hall and ask someone for help.

To see some other examples of simply awful internal communications in publishing, check out Tony Silber's critique of John French's memo to Penton earlier this year, check out my post on the fury at Cygnus, and don't miss the now-famous video of Sam Zell cursing one of his journalists.

Also, if you're interested in following developments in internal communications (a field that is struggling with many of the same issues as B2B publishing), I'd suggest you start by reading two of the best blogs in the space: Talking Internal Communications and H&K's Change and Internal Communications.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Source Media throws editors into the pool

Source Media, publisher of a number of Wall Street-focused brands such as The Bond Buyer and Securities Industry News, is reorganizing into a team-based system.
Under the plan, every title at Source will have an editor-in-chief, but won't have a dedicated staff. Instead, Source editors will be organized into four different "pools." And the EICs will pull editors from those pools as needed.

It's possible that the reorganization is nothing more than an attempt to reduce costs by lowering head count. And, according to Folio, 20 jobs will be cut.
But I'm willing to entertain the possibility that this is actually a more nuanced -- and more sensible -- move than it might appear.
Because I'm heartened by the words of Source CEO Jim Malkin, who explained the restructuring to Folio by saying: "Essentially, we are shifting from a group of publications into an information company."

(As an aside, some longtime observers of B2B media may chuckle at Source Media's ambition to become an "information company." That's because Source Media is the former Thomson Media unit of Canada's Thomson Corp., which Thomson sold in 2004. Some four years later, Thomson merged with Reuters to form Thomson Reuters, giving it control of roughly one-third of the market in financial information services. Or, to put it another way, it's probably not too much of a stretch to say that when Thomson set its sites on becoming an information company -- and competing against Bloomberg for the big money on Wall Street -- the first thing it did was to start dumping print magazines. We'll have to wait a bit to see if Source follows suit.)

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

What We Know Now

We're in a strange position in B2B journalism in 2008.
As the Web has grown, altering forever the business and art of publishing, B2B has sometimes taken the lead.
We are far ahead of our peers in the newspaper, TV and consumer magazine world in some areas. Other times we languish far behind.

In two areas in particular, B2B has shown the way to the future:
1. No other area of journalism does a better job of producing (and selling) data on the Web.
2. No other area of journalism is doing a better job of moving to Web-only -- eliminating inefficient print pubs to cut costs while preserving brands online.

But it would be misleading to suggest that all of B2B has taken to the Web faster than the rest of journalism. We have publications (and entire companies) that trail the overall journalism industry. And these slower moving publications are filled with publishers, editors and salespeople who cannot or will not see that the fundamentals of the business model have changed. These folks are often hardworking, bright and ambitious, but they nonetheless remain delusional about the level of change that is needed.
You can tell them that adding some online bells and whistles isn't enough. You can tell them that offering a digital edition isn't enough. You can tell them that running a newsroom on a print-publishing schedule, while claiming you "get" the Web isn't enough. You can tell them that selling banner ads and buttons isn't enough when new online-only competitors offer advanced metrics, behavioral tracking and lead-gen campaigns.
But they will look at you blankly and say "our readers aren't there yet" or "we don't have the budget" or "we need more training" or one of a thousand other excuses.

I think about the laggards in B2B journalism whenever I read about the extraordinary problems facing the U.S. newspaper industry. I think it's safe to say that daily newspapers have done a worse job than any other media sector in adjusting to the changes of the past few years.
And while every mistake that daily newspapers made has also been made by B2B publications, I would be hard-pressed to name a B2B company that has made as many mistakes as the average daily newspaper.

There's a wonderful piece online today that I would urge everyone in B2B to read. It's by William Lobdell, who left the Los Angeles Times last week after 18 years with the company. Lobdell has published a piece called "42 Things I Know" in which he outlines the mistakes made by the Times.
The Times is the poster boy for how not to adjust to the Web. It seems less likely every day that the thing can even survive. And there are lessons to be learned in studying what went wrong.
Take a look at Lobdell's piece (tip of the hat to Ryan for pointing me to Lobdell with his tweet of this morning.) Then ask yourself some hard questions about your publication, your company and your career. And if you're with a print-first, or -- God forbid -- a print-only B2B publication, ask yourself, as Lobdell did, if it has "become riskier to stay than to go."

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Monday, August 04, 2008

The voice of reason (on copyright) goes silent

The media blogosphere is a slightly less interesting place today.
William Patry is shutting down his blog on copyright law.
And given that no less an institution than the Associated Press has apparently forgotten the basics of "fair use," I can't think of a worse time for this to happen.

First, a little background on Patry. He is the author of a the definitive work on U.S. copyright law -- the seven-volume textbook series called "Patry on Copyright." And over a 26-year career Paltry has held a series of posts where he wielded tremendous influence over copyright law. He's the former copyright counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, the former Policy Planning Advisor to the Register of Copyrights, and was a professor of law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
But Patry is probably best known -- and often criticized for -- his most recent job: Senior Copyright Counsel for Google.

If you've ever heard me speak to a room full of journalists, odds are you've heard me say that a) traditional copyright law is dead; and b) journalists who are passionate defenders of traditional copyright law tend not to understand what it is they're defending.
But I'm not a copyright attorney. So I've tended not to push this point further in my presentations. Rather, I just urge the journalists in the audience (and the publishers that employ them) to consult with their attorneys and consider replacing copyright protections with the more open system known as Creative Commons. (Here's some more info if you're interested in the history behind Creative Commons.)
And if you've been at one of my presentations then you've also likely heard me end the section on copyright with a final suggestion that "you should read this guy William Patry." (Note: Don't read my endorsement of Patry's work as a suggestion that we see eye-to-eye on everything. Patry describes himself as a moderate on copyright. I'm probably more extreme in my desire to see copyright protections weakened. But the fact remains that he is thousands of times smarter than I about this subject, and thus worth reading.)

In his farewell post, Patry says he's giving up the blogging game for two reasons -- frustrations with the blogging life (anonymous comments from morons, etc.) and that the current state of copyright law "is too depressing."
I understand both reasons. And I don't begrudge him the decision to move on. Blogging is a time-consuming and often frustrating endeavor. And for people like Patry (and me) who choose not to run ads or otherwise make money from our blogs, blogging can often feel like a waste of time.

But I'm going to miss the guy.
I'd urge you to read Patry's final post. Feel free to ignore the first section. That's where Patry complains that people stopped seeing his blog as a "personal" blog once he accepted a position with Google. But that's just silly. Google is one of the most powerful forces in the media world. And taking a job there will influence how people see you. Complaining about that is as pointless as cursing the sun for rising in the East when your windows face the West.
But do pay attention to the second section. It's there that Patry says part of the reason he's stopping his blog is that "copyright law has abandoned its reason for being: to encourage learning and the creation of new works. Instead, its principal functions now are to preserve existing failed business models, to suppress new business models and technologies, and to obtain, if possible, enormous windfall profits from activity that not only causes no harm, but which is beneficial to copyright owners."

For other reactions to Patry's departure, check out Mathew Ingram, Robert Hyndman and Jack Schofield.

On a sort of related note, Harry McCracken has a piece on his new Technologizer site about Web sites that didn't deserve to die. As a New Yorker, I'll add my voice to that of the other residents of this town that miss Kozmo! Now that was service (Yea, sure, it was a terrible business. But I loved it so.)

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Getting caught up

I've been on the road for weeks ... and am just now settling back into my routine.
I'm in my apartment. The baby is asleep. And in the past 24 hours I've managed to get caught up on email, feeds, tweets, bills, invoices, voice mail, paper mail and neighborhood gossip.
But I'm still way behind on blogging.

How far behind?
It's been a week since ASBPE announced the winners of its annual Azbee Awards and I haven't even offered my congratulations to the winners. Heck, I was at the conference; I was the keynote speaker, and I still haven't been able to set aside the time to say "Well Done" until now.

So, here's a belated congratulations to all of this year's winners -- particularly RBI's Restaurants & Institutions and IDG's ComputerWorld, Network World, PC World CIO and CSO. (Disclosure: I've had the good luck to consult with both RBI and IDG.)

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