Category Archives: New Media

The Future of Journalism

Great piece from Nieman Reports by BusinessWeek editor John Byrne titled “The changing truths of journalism.” He talks about how context is as important as the content itself and explains why publishers need to become “editorial curators” – sifting through and organizing articles (regardless of the source) and serving them back to communities of readers. Skip the first few grafs and get into the meat of how magazines and newspapers need to evolve in order to survive – as evidenced by BusinessWeek’s recent launch of Business Exchange, a series of online microcommunities organized (by readers) around vertical topics. Worth the read.

The Decline and (Rapidly Approaching) Fall of the TV Empire

A new study from a research firm called Grunwald Associates indicates a significant shift in the media habits of children:

Sixty-four percent of kids go online while watching television, and nearly half of U.S. teens (49 percent) report that they do so frequently — anywhere from three times a week to several times a day. … The study reveals that 73 percent of TV-online multitasking kids are engaged in “active multitasking,” defined by Grunwald Associates as content in one medium influencing concurrent behavior in another. This trend represents a 33 percent increase in active multitasking since 2002. While kids are using more media, their attention primarily and overwhelmingly is focused on their online activities.

I don’t need stats to tell me about the decline of traditional TV among tomorrow’s generation; I see it daily in my own house, as my 17-year-old watches downloaded episodes of Degrassi on her iPod, as my 12-year-old focuses far more time IM’ing or fast-forwarding through DVR’d Celtic games than watching live TV, and as my 9-year-old runs around the house making videos and begging me to let him post something on YouTube, or as he surfs for PS2 cheats online, half-listening as Jimmy Neutron drones in the background.   

Sure, there are a few seminal TV events that the family feels obligated to watch live, like the Super Bowl or, to a lesser extent, American Idol. But today’s kids are edging – no, rushing – away from the passive TV experience. I do not envy network execs.
 

MySpace the Media Company

As traditional media companies attempt to turn their Web properties into social networking sites, it seems that MySpace is evolving into a media company. The New York Times makes that point in an article explaining how MySpace, though still operating independently under News Corp., is taking on many of the characteristics of traditional media companies as it builds out its own content. The site has “become very mainstream. It’s about consuming content and discovering pop culture,” co-founder Chris DeWolfe told the Times, which goes on to say:

As a result, the MySpace site resembles a portal like Yahoo or AOL as much as a social networking site. Peter F. Chernin, the president and chief operating officer of the News Corporation, called MySpace a “contemporary media platform” and said the site existed to “create content and connect people to one another.”

A quick view of the homepage shows that the portal comparison is correct. New sections devoted to news, politics and celebrities all feature original or licensed content (in addition to the site’s traditional user-generated content, including, for example, links to celebrity MySpace pages). It’s a pretty clear indication of where MySpace is going, since the new content is a way to attract advertisers – the lifeblood of any media company – without soiling the personal profile pages of MySpace’s gazillion members.

I don’t know if the “mediatization” of MySpace spells doom to the purists who just go there to connect with friends. And there are plenty of people pointing to MySpace’s slowing growth as a sign that the site’s appeal has peaked, but if I were AOL, MSN or Yahoo – or any other media company trying to reload to stay competitive – I’d be plenty worried.

Random Stuff That Caught My Eye Last Week

Facebook flip-flops on social ad platform. A firestorm of protest over the social networking site’s Beacon opt-out ad system resulted in a major mea culpa from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and changes that will allow users to turn off the feature. Ah, the perils of pioneering new online advertising models.

 

Coke launches island in virtual world There.com. Just what the real world needs – another Second Life competitor. I’m thinking of launching my own virtual world, called NotThere.com. You register, create an avatar and then … nothing.

 

Airlines, coming and going. I’m reading about JetBlue planning to add Internet access to their flights while I’m flying United, whose customer-facing employees are collectively joyless. Talk about going through the motions.

 

Newspaper filler. The New York Times had a story in its Travel section on Friday about people who name their vacation cottages. The Web won’t kill newspapers – bad content will.

The CNN-YouTube Gimmick, er Debates

I did not watch the CNN-YouTube debates last night, so I must rely on others to tell me how this experimental mash-up of traditional and new media layered on top of a presidential debate went. As with any political event, the reaction varies greatly depending on whom you ask.

CNN.com told me that “Questions, Not Answers, Highlight YouTube Debate” and that “YouTube questions were sometimes personal, heartfelt and comical.” Also:

One of the highlights came when a YouTuber asked the candidates to look to their left and say one thing about that person they liked and one thing they disliked.

I had to watch the candidates answer such a riveting question, so I clicked on the “See telling quotes from each candidate” link, sat through a 15-second preroll E-trade ad, and quickly dozed off as each candidate launched into the usual drivel. This was a highlight?

Anyway, here’s how others reacted:

  • The Guardian Unlimited in the U.K. proclaimed that YouTube is prompting a “revolution in televised debates,” though it didn’t provide much in the article to back up that headline.
  • TelevisionWeek blogger Daisy Whitney called the debates “unbelievably cool and completely emblematic of the times.” Like, you know, very tubular.  
  • A blogger for the Seattle Post Intelligencer hit the nail on the head, commenting that presidential debates are pretty lame regardless of the format.
  • The LA Times said the presidential hopefuls “embraced the Internet in all its brashness and irreverence,” while cross-town rival LA Weekly News had a different viewpoint, accurately calling the debates “a perversion of Web technology” and adding:

The Net really does provide a potentially formidable challenge to both establishment politics and mainstream media — but not when cheaply manipulated the way CNN engineered this farce. Authentic Web-driven power surfaces most dramatically when online communities exercise collective accountability over institutions and individuals that were once invulnerable to instantaneous public reaction and feedback. 

Uh-oh, not good. I’m sure the Republican version in September will be even more raucous!

Hey, here’s a progressive idea for the pols and those covering them: If you want real citizen-candidate interaction, why don’t you ask voters to submit questions, pick two dozen that represent a good cross-section of the country, and put them in a room with the candidates, so they can have a real conversation and voters can ask follow-ups to the non-answers they get to their initial questions. No time limit. Let them all bring their camcorders to record the event and post their individual perspectives on YouTube. Now that’s citizen journalism.

Ode to a Trade Pub that Gave Me Many Sleepless Nights

The news that IT trade pub InfoWorld is ending its nearly 30-year-old print publication (while continuing its online and events properties) is not a wet blanket over the entire print publishing world. It’s more of a long-overdue nod to the bloated state of the tech publishing industry. When dozens of IT publications – three within IDG alone targeting senior IT execs – are competing for ad dollars in an industry that has gone through massive vendor consolidation (meaning the ad pie is shrinking), you have a problem even before what’s left of your print revenues start flying over to the Web.

I haven’t read the print version of InfoWorld for years, but I have fond memories of the publication from my days at PC Week – InfoWorld’s bitter rival during the ’80s and ’90s, aka the tech journalism boom times. We competed fiercely for every piece of breaking news. Outside my office in the newsroom of PC Week (now eWeek), we kept a “Scoop Scoreboard” to track our wins vs. the competition. Our receptionist, the legendary Betty Edwards, would call me every Tuesday morning to let me know when the stack of InfoWorlds had arrived, and reporters held their breath as they scanned the front page to see if they’d been scooped (and would soon be answering questions from cranky editors as to why).

Both publications would both send massive news teams to Comdex – I once had an $11,000 bill from the Vegas hotel where we housed our newsroom – and, after we launched our respective Web sites (PC Week’s crude 1994 implementation, built by our lab rats, was one of the first news websites) our goal at PC Week was twofold: to post every bit of breaking news from the show ahead of InfoWorld, and to beat them with exclusives from the event in the following week’s print mag. 

Jim Forbes, a former colleague of mine who worked for both publications, has a great look back at InfoWorld‘s storied run. I will never have as much fun as I did in the PC Week newsroom during the late ’80s and early ’90s. It’s too bad that the leaders of great publications like PC Week and InfoWorld let new competition (CNet), new media (the Web) and a paryalyzing unwillingness to embrace new publishing models pull the rug out from underneath them. The writing was on the wall for print rags like InfoWorld long ago; look for others to follow.

Journalism ‘Pro Am’

Cool experiment taking place at Assignment Zero, in which professional journalists are teaming up with the “crowd” (aka everyone else) to report and write articles on popular topics. The founders call it an open-source approach to journalism. One of the assignments is “crowdsourced journalism” – a look at the trend on which Assignment Zero itself is based. From Executive Editor Jay Rosen:

assignment-zero.gif

The investigation takes place in the open, not behind newsroom walls. Participation is voluntary; contributors are welcomed from across the Web. The people getting, telling and vetting the story are a mix of professional journalists and members of the public — also known as citizen journalists. This is a model I describe as “pro-am.”

The “ams” are simply people getting together on their own time to contribute to a project in journalism that for their own reasons they support. The “pros” are journalists guiding and editing the story, setting standards, overseeing fact-checking, and publishing a final version.

In this project, we’re trying to crowdsource a single story, and debut a site that makes other such reports possible down the road. But we don’t know yet how well our site and our methods work. Our ideas are crude because they are untested. By participating, you can help us figure this puzzle out.

Seems like a worthy exploration of next-generation journalism. I think I’ll sign up.

The Future of Web Video

Nice juxtaposition yesterday: Viacom sues GooTube for a cool $1 billion the day after Michael Eisner launches his new online studio, called Vuguru, and unveils its first programming, an 80-webisode series called Prom Queen. Other than its name, which sounds like something I used to mutter around last call, Vuguru may be the best example yet of the future of Web video.

On the surface at least, the Prom Queen site offers provides a nice blend of high-end production quality and modern Web packaging. The target audience (the YouTube generation), the format (90-second episodes), the viral enablers (“embed,” “send” and “download” buttons at the end of the teaser video), a handful of sponsors (including Ellegirl.com and Fiji Water),  and the backing of a Hollywood heavyweight like Eisner all bode well for the venture. Of course, the content could suck, which would make the buzz moot (“Snakes on a Plane” syndrome). But this could be a milestone in the evolution of broadband video.  

The Branded Journalist

Once upon a time, the only celebrity journalists were network news anchors and the 60 Minutes gang. Newspaper and magazine editors would bludgeon any reporter who tried to become bigger than the story he was reporting, or to somehow personally benefit from it. As a cub reporter in the 1980s, I certainly learned my place from a variety of hardscrabble editors who wanted their news staffs hunting down stories, not building their personal brands (which at the time would have been a laughable concept). I was an impartial observer, a chronicler of events and a storyteller, not a participant.

In the mid-1990s, when PC Week launched one of the first technology news websites, the editors struggled with the line that was beginning to blur between news reporter and columnist. Reporters wrote facts; columnists wrote opinions, and never the twain shall meet. We wanted the Microsoft beat reporter to talk to sources, interview users, and write painfully balanced stories about Windows and Office and IE, but we prohibited him to share his own informed opinions in print or online about the company – that would be a conflict of interest. (God knows many of our reader thought we were biased enough in our coverage without fueling their conspiracy theories by letting reporters write opinion pieces.)

Even then, however, the Web was forcing change. We needed personality on the site, so reporters were asked to start contributing weekly commentaries. Some refused. Others embraced the concept. And the lines between impartial news and opinion became blurrier.

Now, every journalist is encouraged to develop his or her own brand. If you’re not promoting yourself through TV appearances or your own blog, you’re a dinosaur. I’m reminded of this after reading today’s New York Times story about a Web-based political news startup called The Politico. Part of the article focuses on how a few mainstream journalists are making the jump to the new Web venture. The publication’s editor in chief, John Harris, is the former political editor at The Washington Post, and he posits about the unrelenting transition toward self-promotion:

“The most successful journalists these days have a promotional ethic that would be uncomfortable for a traditional journalist. I admire those people who say, ‘I don’t want to go on TV; my work speaks for itself.’ But I don’t think that’s realistic for people who want to have an impact.”

Jim VandeHei, the Politico’s executive editor and former national political correspondent for The Post, puts it even more succinctly:

“Reporters here will transcend the organization.”

So there you have it. We have reached the journalist’s equivalent of the NFL or the NBA, where players pound their chests after even the most basic plays and preen endlessly for the cameras. The team becomes secondary to the individual brand and the SportsCenter highlight.

I think that’s a shame. Does that make me a dinosaur?