What newspapers can learn from radio

Tribune’s hiring of executives from Clear Channel is an interesting idea, but hiring programming executives seems like a mistake.
The competitive instincts of radio might do the newspaper industry some good. But no media industry treats its audience with more contempt than does commercial radio. Then there’s this:

Meanwhile, at Tribune, the hirings suggest that Mr. Zell, who himself owned a radio broadcaster for a time in the 1990s, may put more emphasis on the broadcasting side of Tribune, a side of the business that generates higher profit margins and doesn’t face the same rapid falloff in advertising as the newspaper business.

Yes, and oranges are juicier than apples.
Not to mention the fact that broadcasting is being teed up for its own day of reckoning.
Where could radio’s cutthroat competitive instincts do newspapers the most good? Radio advertising executives understand how to sell locally and competitively in ways that newspaper ad teams only talk about in PowerPoint charts.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

Thinking hard about social media

Bloggers already have access to some excellent tools for content management, but are falling behind in community-building. That’s why I’m excited by Chris Pirillo’s announcement that he wants to build an installation of Drupal that is optimized for social media. Even if you’re a big media company, or never use Drupal, this project could affect the way you run your site.

I donít want a social network, I want a socially *RELEVANT* network (both on-site and beyond). I donít want a community platform, I want a participation platform where members are rewarded and ranked appropriately. I donít want a place where people can just blog, because Iím going well beyond the blog. Itís not just about hosting videos, audio files, or any piece of random media – itís the discovery mechanisms between them that make them more relevant.
Itís discovery – no matter the community, no matter the type of content. Imagine coming to a site and not just reading about what other people are interested in, but what interests they SHARE with you! Imagine coming to a site and seeing how someone ranks in answers pertaining to your own questions! Oh, Iím confident you may have seen these features elsewhere – but what about for your own site, what about for your own community, what about for your own ideas?

Media are becoming social and many bloggers know they will be left behind by the revolution they started if their tools don’t get better. But competition is making everybody’s tools sharper. The last time I was in the market for a content management system, I was intrigued by Drupal, but I knew that I didn’t have the time or resources to build on its deep capabilities. There’s a reason most Drupal sites look alike. It’s difficult for the average site builder to transcend Drupal’s profound dorkiness.
Chris’s intense, well-thought-out description of the content management system he’d like to build is loaded with good ideas that every media company should consider for their sites and possibly demand from their vendors.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

A commonsense approach to moderation

Our research shows that the people who post in online appreciate good moderation. I also know from personal experience that writing and enforcing a moderation policy is a thankless job. But it’s one that your users will appreciate, even if they don’t know why.
Boing Boing’s new Q&A-style moderation policy is a fascinating document. It ranges from straightforward to cranky and idiosyncratic.

Q. All the vowels have disappeared from a paragraph I wrote! What’s going on?
A. We did it. Someone (a moderator, one of the Boingers) was expressing displeasure at your remarks. The technique is called disemvowelling. It deprecates but does not delete the remark. With work, the disemvowelled text should still be readable.

But it’s also plainspoken and utterly appropriate to the tone of the site. At some point, we’ll come to appreciate moderation as any other editorial function, and one that is essential to the site’s editorial voice.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

No "Wire" spoilers here

I’m not going to tell you how “The Wire” — arguably the best TV show ever — ends. Not till next year: I’m watching it on DVD via Netflix. I think it’s the best way to follow such a densely-layered, character-driven show.
I’m using Netflix to follow a number of HBO series on a Mac Mini with a 17″ monitor in our bedroom. And we’re using El Gato’s Eye TV hooked up to the cable for regular TV. That’s how I recorded and watched enough of “Mad Men” to decide to buy it from iTunes.
My wife got addicted to “The Office” buying it on iTunes. She has watched these episodes enough to have a disturbing command of the dialog. We were not happy with NBC’s iTunes boycott, but it did give us an opportunity to try it on Hulu.
Meanwhile, our 15-year-old daughter buys “Gray’s Anatomy” and “Lost” on iTunes and watches them in a window when she’s on the computer or on her iPod when she’s killing time.
The only person in our household who’s watching much regular old TV (ROT?) these days is our five year old.
These new distribution media aren’t going to eliminate ROT, but they can’t help but have a profound effect on its business model. And it’s already showing in the direction of network TV.
In the meantime, we’re living in both a new (and improved) Golden Age of television, and its Dark Ages.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

Getting TV all of out of proportion

Television is in some kind of weird middle-aged adolescence. Everywhere you look, it’s awkwardly proportioned.
I’ve become used to widescreen TV’s electronics stores and public places showing regular old TV broadcasts stretched horizontally to fill the space. We wouldn’t want to waste all those pixels we paid for — or look like we’re just showing plain old TV — after all.
On a recent cross-country flight I enjoyed Virgin America’s new in-flight entertainment system. It’s very nice, except it insists on showing, say, The Office, in widescreen format — making the entire cast look a little chubby.
And no one seems to notice. One can only imagine in how many homes expensive, high-resolution home theaters are showing TV as it was never meant to be shown. And America is left wondering whether Obama has put on weight.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

Think locally, act Googley

Google has announced that they plan to provide news by geography.
So far, what I’ve seen doesn’t work very well. For example, Google only seems to find the zips that are actually in the text of the story and doesn’t seem to reflect any actual geocoding on the part of the news organization. However, this is a clear signal to everyone in the news business to get their metadata in order.
All stories (or at least their database entries) should include all relevant location information, including all government districts, zip codes, latitude/longitude, etc. Publishers should begin the process of setting up their systems so that they can deliver this metadata with the story.
This leads me to two other big trends affecting the news business in 2008.
First, content producers should begin thinking of their content and systems as platforms for new applications. They will need to create new kinds of products and services on those platforms and open themselves up so that intermediaries like Google News can bring them into contact with new audiences.
Second, local content producers must now recognize that Google’s main search bar (not local.google.com) is now a big player in their local market and that their customers are already adding zip codes to their Google searches. They must have a strategy for dealing with the coming impact of Google in their markets.
I’ve got two reports in production on these trends already, and I will continue to explore them in 2008.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

MicroYahoo's surprising beneficiary

The Microsoft/Yahoo mashup is a bad deal for consumers and advertisers, because it’s ultimately about eliminating a competitor. But the big winner isn’t Microsoft, it’s Google.
Online audience growth in the US has been flattening for some time, and it’s only going to get flatter. Couple that with a surprising lack of curiosity about new sites among online users, and you have a world where nearly everyone will have to acquire to order to grow.
But the twist is that Google has not had to grow through acquisitions. Their acquisitions have involved technology, not audiences. No matter how many pointlessly geeky lab projects come out of Google, they’re also delivering great, successful products to their users. Even the unpolished Google apps have the sharp, bracing scent of morning about them.
Meanwhile, this deal smells a little desperate.
Does anyone believe that the combination of Microsoft’s and Yahoo’s online grab-bags will be bigger than the sum of its parts? Microsoft may be able to justify this deal if the combined position is significantly larger than their current position, even after the inevitable user and advertiser flight. But there’s no way Google won’t win customers from MicroYahoo.
If this deal happens, look for a period of stagnation, not progress, as Microsoft tries to rationalize and corporatize and synergize the resulting hodgepodge of assets–and liabilities. And look to Google for continued innovation in online services and advertising.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

What problem is the FCC trying to solve?

Remember the eighties, the decade when pop killed off punk, and when Jerry Bruckheimer got rich making loud and lame movies? OK, so some things never change.
Another loud and lame idea from the eighties has come back to haunt us. The Federal Communications Commission has loosened the rules preventing companies from owning television stations and newspapers in the same market.
What problem is the FCC trying to solve?
Allowing companies to get merge in order to increase the level of competition in a market always ends in oligopoly.
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, one company (Comcast) owns all the cable systems and another (Media News) owns all the newspapers, with the exception of the increasingly Finlandized San Francisco Chronicle.
You don’t need to be Marshall McLuhan to know that television, radio, and newspapers are such different media that there are no meaningful synergies among them. I’ve said it here before: The pursuit of false synergies has destroyed more shareholder value in the media business than any other boardroom fad of the last twenty years.
And you don’t need to be Dean Singleton to know that there is only one way to make more money by merging two companies in a mature business.
You can either decrease costs, which means laying off staff, including in the newsroom.
Or you can increase revenue, by raising your advertising rates.
The FCC is serving the demands of its licensees here, and not the needs of the communities where they operate.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

One more way bloggers are like journalists

The other day I keynoted at a meeting of PR professionals. I threw around a lot of big ideas about how the Web is turning the media inside out in profound ways. But I received the most pushback on my suggestion that PR folks treat bloggers with the same respect they treat journalists. The objections were of two types:

  • Bloggers don’t deserve respect because they’re, well, bloggers.
  • “What makes you think we treat journalists with respect?”

Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

The dangers of sharpening blunt instruments

“Leading news organizations” are looking at updating the robots.txt file format so they can place new limits on what the search engines can index and how long they can keep the information. Good idea: robots.txt is a pretty blunt instrument.
However, there is no question that search engine referrals are more of an opportunity than a threat for “leading news organizations”. I’m working on a report right now that will demonstrate how big that opportunity is and how badly it has been missed so far.
Take a deep breath. Now perform a thorough exploration of that bath water for hidden babies before you toss it out.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.