The state of native advertising in 45 words

Native advertising is all the rage, but there’s still so much work to do, so many lessons to learn, and so many mistakes to make. That’s why I love this line from Adweek’s Charlie Warzel:

For native advertising to succeed, its practitioners need to be mindful that it’s not yet universally accepted, and traditionalists need to unmoor themselves from the idea that native is a corrosive practice that undermines great journalism and see that it could even be its savior.

Even with mass closings, Blockbuster will still have more than 500 stores

The decline of AOL’s dial-up business was marked by the annual surprise that AOL still had XX million (then X million) subscribers.

The modern-day equivalent is Blockbuster. The chain has 850 stores in the U.S. It’s going to close 300 of them. That means there will still be more than 500 Blockbusters in the United States.

Also notable: Redbox has more than 35,000 kiosks in the U.S. and Puerto Rico (PDF).

Specific disruption: A reporter screwed up on social media. What are you going to do about it?

Here’s the situation: A reporter with a high-profile position in the Jerusalem bureau has been a little too free with her thoughts on Twitter, Facebook, etc.

What do you do?

A. Tell her to knock off the social media stuff.

B. Have a colleague read and critique all of her social media updates before they’re published.

C. Allow this reporter — and others — to post what they want, when they want. Professionals don’t need babysitters.

The New York Times is going with Option B.

From NYT public editor Margaret Sullivan:

… The Times is taking steps to make sure that Ms. [Jodi] Rudoren’s further social media efforts go more smoothly. The foreign editor, Joseph Kahn, is assigning an editor on the foreign desk in New York to work closely with Ms. Rudoren on her social media posts.

The idea is to capitalize on the promise of social media’s engagement with readers while not exposing The Times to a reporter’s unfiltered and unedited thoughts.

Given the spotlight that the Jerusalem bureau chief is bound to attract, and Ms. Rudoren’s self-acknowledged missteps, this was a necessary step.

The alternative would be to say, “Let’s forget about social media and just write stories.” As The Times fights for survival in the digital age, that alternative was not a good one.

My initial reaction was to rake the Times over the coals for its perpetuation of the “objectivity myth” (this perspective is shared by others). And what’s this nonsense about “not exposing The Times to a reporter’s unfiltered and unedited thoughts”? That’s naive.

But then I re-read this part:

“The alternative would be to say, ‘Let’s forget about social media and just write stories.’ As The Times fights for survival in the digital age, that alternative was not a good one.”

The Times is in a tough spot — and it’s a spot that people outside the Times (like me) don’t immediately understand.

The Times can’t give up on objectivity. Objectivity is its lifeblood.

The Times can’t give up on social media. Social media is the attention generator.

So if you can’t turn your back on the past (objectivity) or the future (social media), what do you do?

What you do is institue an editorial filter that seems ridiculous to anyone outside the organization.

And it is ridiculous. Investing someone else’s time into the social media wanderings of a colleague suggests the Times’ profit margins aren’t as narrow as we’ve been led to believe.

But what choice do they have? Think about it. If you’re not going to fire her or silence her social media efforts, what’s your recourse?

This is why knee-jerk reactions don’t work when you’re discussing real and particular moments of disruption. It’s easy for those unencumbered by the unique pressures of a specific organization (like me, again) to tell that organization how it should handle its business. “Fire her!” “Delete her Twitter account!”

Easy, right? But it’s not. Not when you inject the context of a business and a person into the conversation. This isn’t theoretical. This happened. And what are you going to do about it?

Real conversations about disruption — conversations catalyzed by specific events — are far more important and instructive than the theoretical babble that spews out of journalism conferences. These real examples show just how complicated this stuff is.

To be clear, I’m not saying the Times did the right thing here (I’d take the reporter off of social media altogether and suffer the consequences). What I’m saying is that I understand why they did what they did.

To me, that understanding is an essential part of a post-disruption mindset. I’m done with the theories and the reports and the “future of X” stuff. The real future of our media industries will be formed collectively through specific and tough decisions. This is how we learn.

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…

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:

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…

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.

Fear = Epic Fail

The disruption sweeping across the content industries tends to whip the fear up in media folks. Newspapers are dead! Newfangled gadgets are killing predecessors! Free is locked in bloody conflict with pay! “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…

The Science of Fear, by Daniel Gardner The disruption sweeping across the content industries tends to whip the fear up in media folks. Newspapers are dead! Newfangled gadgets are killing predecessors! Free is locked in bloody conflict with pay! “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together … mass hysteria!

It’s all a bit much.

That’s why I find the reasoned perspective in Daniel Gardner’s excellent book “The Science of Fear” so refreshing. For example, the following excerpt objectively traces the genesis of fear in just a few dead-simple sentences. Entire fields of rigorous academic inquiry have failed to define fear’s pathways so aptly:

But how do people choose which risks to worry about and which to ignore? Our friends, neighbors, and coworkers constantly supply us with judgments that are a major influence. The media provide us with the examples — or not — that Gut feeds into the Example Rule to estimate the likelihood of a bad thing happening. Experience and culture color hazards with emotions that Gut runs through the Good-Bad Rule. The mechanism known as habituation causes us to play down the risks of familiar things and play up the novel and unknown. If we connect with others who share our views about risks, group polarization can be expected — causing our views to become more entrenched and extreme.

Seems easy, doesn’t it? If we acknowledge bias and our own reactionary triggers, we can elevate analysis above the muck of fear. No more killing gadgets or dying industries. With a little reflection, we can view the issues at play within the context of what’s actually happening.