Category Archives: Media

Bill Simmons and Marc Maron discuss their early days with podcasting

Bill Simmons spoke with Marc Maron on a recent episode of “The Bill Simmons Podcast.” It was fascinating to hear these two long-time podcasters discuss the evolution of the format.

Of particular note: It took a long time for Simmons and Maron to figure out how their podcasts would work and how they’d approach them. They tinkered and pushed until they landed on the right combination. It’s a reminder that when you have a nagging sense you’re on to something, persist until you can’t persist anymore.

Listen for: The embedded ads during the episode (no, really). Companies like Stamps.com and Squarespace are ubiquitous podcast advertisers—so much so, Maron was able to finish Simmons’ ad copy on the fly (“click the microphone in the upper-right corner …”).

Heads up, traditional media! Pay very close attention to what OK Go just did

It’s rare when you see such a clear example of the Internet’s disruption: OK Go, the band best known for its clever music videos, has severed ties with its record label, EMI. The reason? The label is caught in old-think and wants to disable the embed function on the group’s web-based videos.

OK Go … God bless ’em … told EMI to politely bugger off. The band knows embedding is an absolute must-have if you want to harness the web’s power.

Speaking of which, here’s the group’s latest masterpiece:

What do you do with a writer’s work if they screw up?

TechCrunch terminated an intern who accepted compensation from an outside company in exchange for coverage. The announcement strikes an appropriate tone, but it also includes a passage that ties into a much bigger issue: when a writer goes rogue, what do you do with their published work? Here’s how TechCrunch responded:

This was not one of our full time writers, and so the frequency of posts was light. Nevertheless, we’ve also deleted all content created by this person on our blogs. We are fairly certain that most of the posts weren’t tainted in any way, but to be sure we’ve removed every word written by this person on the TechCrunch network.

One big caveat: the intern in question is a minor, so that certainly takes precedence in any reaction. But the intern posted his own follow up. Privacy implications are moot at this point.

And that brings me back to the bigger issue …

In situations like these, if we assume the wayward writer is an adult, and we assume there are no broader legal issues at play, should the writer’s past work be stricken from the record? Is that the right response?

I don’t think so. An enterprising snoop could mine caches and old RSS feeds for past copies, so deletion isn’t really the Draconian measure it’s intended to be. Beyond that, the cat’s already out of the bag. The writer screwed up. The publishing outlet looks bad. And any move to wipe the slate clean will leave lasting residue. So why wipe it clean at all?

In situations where the wrongdoing is already public — whether announced by the publisher or dug up by someone else — what I’d prefer to see is a prominent editor’s note placed at the very top of every piece the writer ever posted on the publisher’s site. It could be a simple link to the termination announcement. It doesn’t have to be dramatic. The New York Times used a similar tactic with Jayson Blair’s articles.

Advertising should be stripped from these pages and comments closed. That’s appropriate — this isn’t a revenue or publicity opportunity. But it’s important to keep the original material in place. The mistake happened in the public sphere. You can’t take that back, but you can be up front about it both in the near-term and down the road.

Hey, journalists, this is why you need a blog

A phenomenal post from Jason Fry at the National Sports Journalism Center:

When I started Faith and Fear in Flushing with my friend Greg Prince in the winter of 2005, I’d been at The Wall Street Journal Online for nearly 10 years. But despite all that time as a Web guy, I’d adopted some rather unhealthy attitudes. I was studiously uninterested in knowing how many readers read my columns, and only took a passing interest in their reactions to them. I thought that my job was to be a thinker and a writer. Worrying about traffic numbers? That was somebody else’s job – and a lesser calling.

This was arrogant and dumb, and a few weeks of writing Faith and Fear showed me that. On my own blog, the numbers were of immense interest to me. I pored over them every day in an effort to figure out what posts were connecting with readers and what posts weren’t. I was singing for my supper, and it made me a better columnist. If a column was well written but didn’t seem to connect, I wasn’t happy with it. I no longer dismissed Web traffic as not my job, complained about writing promos for my stuff, or gave reader comments and emails short shrift. And I realized those folks on the business side were critical to our collective success, and could teach me things. [Emphasis added.]

I’ll add this: journalism’s biggest mistake was allowing business apathy/hatred among the editorial ranks. That’s a far more egregious “sin” than publishing free Web content.

Journalism pet peeves [Ongoing]

An ongoing list of journalism habits that get stuck in my craw.

Audience hatred — You are not better than your readers. You are not smarter than your readers. You can hate readers all you want in your off time, but while you’re on the clock you need to serve them with everything you’ve got. Find value. Create value. Seek viewpoints. Respond to comments. Give a shit. Without an audience, you’ve got nothing.

Killing (tech) — Technologies do not kill other technologies. One might supplant another. The market might choose another. But gadgets do not have homicidal urges (yet).

Lists of pet peeves — That’s right. I’m violating my own pet peeve. No one cares! (And yet, I continue …)

Non-linking — Please. Seriously. Please. If you include a URL in a story, and that story is posted on the Web, you must take the three extra seconds required to link it in.

Stand-in opinions — Squeezing a quote out of a source that just happens to dovetail with the exact point you sought to make does not make you objective. At best, you’re being opaque. At worst, lame. Just say it. Put it out there. I’d appreciate the honesty. Maybe all the time you’ve spent researching and talking with folks has given you — hold on, this is gonna hurt — an opinion of your own.

Stealing and/or non-acknowledgement — I realize journalists are supposed to live for the exclusive. That’s fine. Competition is a good thing. But when you get scooped, give credit where it’s due. Cite the original source and link to the story, even if it’s a hated competitor. They won this battle, maybe you’ll get the next one.

Got others? Please share them below.

Revealed! The true motivations behind survey data

Alan Mutter looks at the face-palm-inducing results from a recent newspaper publisher survey. Apparently, execs have high hopes for 2010. Very, very high hopes.

Ridiculousness aside (and these results are truly ridiculous), I found the end of Mutter’s piece quite interesting. I think most survey data is crap because it has no way of incorporating the qualitative, subconscious motivations of respondents. People are emotional creatures with wacky ideas. Yet, survey companies and analysts throw projections out there under the billowy banner of Truth.

That’s why I was heartened to see the underlying explanations/motivations laid out by one of the guys behind this newspaper survey. This is the type of honesty surveys need:

  • “Wishful thinking.”
  • “Print people over-estimating the potential of online (which is the sole factor contributing positive gain).”
  • “Corporate insistence to make the online look better.”
  • “If I don’t show better numbers, they’ll cut my budget.
  • “Optimism is better than slitting your wrists.”

Yes! A thousand times yes! This is the meaty, emotionally-honest stuff I want to see. It forces people to take surveys with a grain of salt. Surveys have some value, I’ll give you that, but they’re only a reference point. That’s it. The end-all-be-all, we’re-sure-this-will-happen authoritarian perspective is useless.

Social media doesn’t make money directly, but it still has enormous value

Perhaps it’s a function of the intricate tracking the Web provides, but I’m still amazed at media’s inability to grasp the secondary (and often, tertiary) value of community efforts.

So let’s make this as clear as clear can be: Twitter, Facebook, forums and other social media functions rarely make money directly. Their value comes from the attention they gather and the opportunities that attention creates. If you have a mass of people who have willingly opted-in to your messaging, you damn well better put useful, for-pay products in front of them. Otherwise, all you’ve got is a social club.

This recent piece from Forbes does a nice job tearing down the direct-revenue mindset.

My line between edit and sales blurred years ago. It’s not that big a deal

I was fortunate to have my ill-conceived notions about editorial/advertising segregation blown to bits early in my career. It hurt. No doubt about that. I came out of journalism school with all the requisite ethical boundaries and red flags intact. So it was tough to let that go.

But it was so useful to let that go. It made me see that most journalism organizations are businesses. That’s it. All that stuff about objectivity and watchdog roles and the Fourth Estate sounds good, and it feels good, but news companies must ultimately adhere to the same criteria as every other business: does it make money or does it lose money?

That’s why it’s interesting for me to watch others go through the same gyrations now that the Dallas Morning News is moving editorial and sales closer together. I get it. This is hard to swallow. It goes against everything journalists know, everything we’re taught in the vacuum of j-school. It seems dangerous.

But having lived through my own transition, and having traversed some tricky edit/ad terrain along the way, I can tell you the danger is minimal. Perhaps even non-existent.

First off, consumers don’t care. If the content is informative and entertaining and useful, if readers can justify the time and money spent, they’re good. Second, a smart news business understands that it cannot undermine the trust it’s established with the community. This has nothing to do with public interest or greater good. It’s about money. Trustworthy content builds an audience, and audience attracts advertisers. Kill the trust and you kill the audience; advertisers will take their business elsewhere. That’s all there is to it.

Blurring the edit/ad line within a newsroom isn’t a big deal. It’s what happens after the blurring that matters. If the Dallas Morning News cranks out great stuff and serves/educates/helps people, this can work for everyone involved. If they do something stupid — like violating trust by kowtowing to clients — they’re screwed. That’s just business, and bad businesses die.

The glory of a thought process, as illustrated by John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is leaving BusinessWeek to start a new business (not exactly a newsflash, I know). I generally don’t care much if a bigwig leaves a position to venture out on his or her own. That happens all the time. But Byrne is different. BusinessWeek, for all its financial trouble, has a phenomenal web presence, and much of that was built under Byrne’s watch. He’s also a guy who inherently understands the power of direct communication with the audience. Just take a look at his Twitter feed. How many editors engage like that?

And then there’s this …

In a blog post announcing his new venture, he articulates the beliefs that guide his thinking about digital content:

I have three fundamental beliefs that inform my thinking: 1) Print advertising will never come back. There are just too many options for advertisers today and too much pressure on rates. Sadly, success in print will be measured in single-digit declines, forever. 2) Online advertising will never offset those declines nor save print. There’s far too much competition online and far too much available inventory; and 3) Users will not pay for content, unless they’re convinced it has immediate and tangible value. Very little journalism meets that standard today. Do we really need 57 versions of a story on Bernie Madoff pleading guilty?

That’s a beautiful paragraph. Here’s why:

  1. He’s dead on.
  2. It illustrates the type of structural thinking that turns vague ideas into real businesses. We need more editors and publishers who work this way. Big ideas and grand plans cannot stand on their own. They have to be crammed into a structure — a mental furnace that burns away assumptions. Otherwise, all you’ve got is brain-based vaporware. That useless, fluffy business school nonsense that gets retweeted, and buzzed, and expanded into book form. We’ve got enough of that.

I speak from experience with this structure stuff. I used to wander aimlessly through the “future of content” world, distracted by shiny new things and influenced by flavor-of-the-week thinking (I once thought micropayments were totally going to happen … ugh.) But six months ago I decided to map out my own structure for all this digital disruption business. The result is this. I have no idea if it has any value as an actual business model, but the writing process forced me to hone and articulate the thousands of rants and opinions brewing in my head. Now, when I’m confronted with a new idea or perspective, I can feed it into this structure and quickly examine the various angles. It’s helped me tremendously. I’ve got my footing now.