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April 16 2012

14:00

7 Ways to Be the Programmer No One Hates

After reading Sandra Ordonez's MediaShift post "7 Ways to Get Programmers to Stop Hating You," my first thought was: Wow, good advice. My second thought was: How can we programmers get people to stop hating us? After 13+ years of working as a technologist -- from a junior developer to the manager of a couple tech departments -- I've seen first-hand that "tech hating," to use Sandra's phrase, is sometimes justified. Put simply: Sometimes techs deserve to be hated.

And so, I offer this list to you, fellow techies, in the name of Office Peace. Let's show the world that the stereotype of the rude, uncommunicative programmer is as outdated as the 15" CRT monitor issued to me at my first job. Let's earn some love. (Note: Please don't think that I'm holding myself up as a perfect example here -- these aren't things that I do every day, although I try, but they are good reminders for all of us.)

1. Add a new language to your resume: Human

Chances are your resume has a list of programming languages you know. As important as they are to your job, the language you use when you communicate with your co-workers is every bit as important. Being able to discuss the ins and outs of tail call optimization or the pros and cons of statically typed languages with regard to metaprogramming might make you a great programmer, but if you're not able to communicate meaningfully and respectfully with non-technical people, you won't be a great co-worker. And you'll be doing yourself a disservice; how are you going to get recognized for the great work you do if you're not able to explain that work to anyone who's not a programmer? And how are you going to change anything about the place where you work if you're not able to turn a complaint into a constructive suggestion? The answer is: You aren't. So do yourself a favor and start boning up on your human-to-human interface communications.

2. Remember your operating context

Make it your business to learn more than just the technical specifications for your projects. The more you can get a sense of the big picture, the more you can understand the context within which you are expected to make your brilliant technical decisions -- and the more likely it will be that those decisions are the right ones for this unique situation. When you're able to keep the big picture in mind, you become more than just an implementer -- you become a problem-solver.

3. Think like a client

No, I don't mean change your deadlines for no reason, call yourself at 5:00 on a Friday for technical support, or forget your password to the CMS. What I do mean is to try to put yourself in your clients' (or co-workers') shoes. Maybe they don't know the right terminology for everything, but they still need help; maybe they're under time and budget constraints that you don't know about (and that affect their decision-making); maybe they have a million things going on right now and the code you're writing is just one of them. In short, try to remember that you may not know every variable, and that you're not the only one with a difficult job.

4. The power of positive thinking, or at least speaking

Here's a ripped-from-the-headlines-of-my-job (well, my old job) scenario: Say your company's client has already signed a contract with the vendor of a terrible CMS before your project starts. You can say "that was a stupid choice" and await further instructions. Or, you can say "OK, they've made a choice that we wouldn't have advised them to make; now here's how we can work within that constraint to build them a great site." Saying "no, we can't do that" is easy. Saying "yes, we have constraints, and here's what we can do" is harder -- and about a million times more useful.

5. Would you like a side of Value with that?

Let's face it: Most clients (and non-technical managers) don't care how elegant your code is as long as that code works. And while truly great programmers are a rare breed, there are plenty of "good enough" programmers who can get the job done -- maybe not as well as you can, but good enough that your client can't tell the difference. So how can you set yourself apart? Ask questions. Specifically, ask the right questions to help you figure out (and build) what your client/boss/teammates really want, as opposed to simply what they are asking for. You probably know about tools, solutions and approaches from your past work that a client (or a co-worker) has never even heard of -- here's your chance to fully leverage your technical knowledge and skills to help them meet their goals in ways they didn't know was possible. Delivering what someone really wants is a great way to add value and differentiate yourself in a marketplace where any college kid can bang out a Drupal site and call it "programming."

6. Get Involved

Raise issues and ask questions at the beginning of a project, not when it's too late. If technical staff aren't typically included early on in the project process at your company, start making the case for why they should be, because it will save time, money and frustration later on. The more you can involve yourself during the early stages of a project, the more you're setting yourself (and your co-workers) up to succeed by identifying pitfalls before you're staring up from the bottom of one. But pointing out danger is only half the battle; use the time at the onset of a project to make suggestions, add value (see above), and demonstrate your worth to your employer. Making that killer feature work right is part of your job; suggesting a way to make it better/cheaper/faster/reusable/etc. is what will make them love you.

Mind The Gap

7. Mind The Gap

Technical people and non-technical people often suffer from a "failure to communicate" due to the ineffable nature of many tech words and terms. When a non-technical person asks you a tech-related questions, simply coming back at him or her with a string of tech-speak doesn't actually make you look smart -- it makes you look like someone with no communication skills. It pigeonholes you. It reinforces the stereotype of the unhelpful technical person who can communicate well with computers but not with humans. It makes you look less useful, and less useful employees aren't the ones who get the best assignments -- they're the ones who get cut when times get tough. Albert Einstein said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." Explaining something in a non-technical way doesn't mean dumbing it down, it means proving that you're smart enough to do your programming job in reverse: Take a set of technical concepts or instructions and turn them into ideas a non-technical human can understand. Brilliant!

Conclusion: Try A Little Tenderness

This list is a good start, but in the end if you still have the attitude that all non-technical staff are idiots, you're never going to justify their love (and you're going to hurt your career prospects in the process). You didn't learn everything you know the first time you heard it, so be forgiving when your non-technical co-workers sometimes ask you the same question over and over again. It's OK to tell them where to find the answer that you already sent them, but if that doesn't work, look again: Maybe you're not explaining the issue well enough so that it sticks. Practice transparency. Provide detail. Put a friendly face on the big, scary technical stuff. Remember that you are an ambassador for techs everywhere. So give us all a good name -- and earn that love.

What do you think? If you're a techie, what do you do in your job to try to keep the haters at bay? Is this list useful? If you're non-technical, what would you add to this list? What you are you doing to help inter-office relations? Tell us in the comments.

"Mind the gap" photo by Flickr user asparagus_hunter and used with Creative Commons license.


Jordan Hirsch has spent the last 13+ years as a lovable technologist with a focus on content management. Currently, Jordan helps non-profits accomplish great things on the Internet as part of the team at Beaconfire Consulting. He's also a musician and improviser, and blogs about music and technology at Wired For Music. You can follow him on Twitter at @tfish77, where you can read his thoughts about living in Brooklyn with his pregnant wife and not-pregnant dog.

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April 12 2012

21:54

March 28 2012

14:00

'Reckless Adrian Grenier': Will Personal Apps be Key to Celebrity Branding?

March marked the launch of "Reckless Adrian Grenier," an app built for the iPad, iPhone and iPod and created by Mobovivo for its namesake, actor and filmmaker Adrian Grenier.

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Some of you are moaning, "why does he need an app?" but others of you are perhaps "Entourage" fans, and an opportunity to get reacquainted with Grenier, who played Vincent Chase, is an exciting prospect.

That latter group is just the one that app developers are looking to as they launch a new kind of application -- the personal brand app.

Trevor Doerksen, founder and CEO of Mobovivo, said he's pretty confident that this new kind of personality app "is the right next step for a film and television celebrity." 

It's clear as more and more celebrities flock to the app model, it will become harder to stand out from the crowd. Developers and creators of apps will have to push themselves to pinpoint what is unique about their celebrity, sports star, comedian, politician, etc., in order to translate "personalities" into "brands" and then into digital interactive experiences in fresh ways.

For Doerksen, that means getting beyond just "chat" as engagement:

"Adrian is an indie filmmaker, and as a former filmmaker myself, I recognized what he was trying to do to engage audiences and tell more stories. Twitter has already created a good app for celebrities to chat with fans, but we need to go deeper than chat. Don't get me wrong, the human desire for communication is fundamental and chat features prominently in our platform. However, we all seem to need to satisfy a fundamental sense of curiosity and play as well."

Grenier and Doerksen gave a special keynote address to close Digital Hollywood's Media Summit earlier this month in New York, and I had an opportunity to chat with both of them about the "whys" and 'hows" of planning "Reckless Adrian Grenier."

controlling your own brand

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There is an endgame to the personal app for celebrities. It offers a chance for them to control their own destiny in a way rarely seen with the Hollywood PR machine. With a movie star's box-office draw becoming about as predictable as blindly tossing chewed gum at a wall and hoping it sticks, building an audience base with a personal app is the equivalent of a politician getting out there to shake hands and hold babies to build his constituency -- the good old-fashioned grassroots way, albeit with digital handshaking and autograph signing.

Today social media and second screen experiences focus on making celebrities more accessible to their fan base. Grenier is already active on Twitter, with almost 227,000 followers, and Facebook with almost 114,00 fans, but by creating a personal app, he's not just further brand building "Adrian Grenier" -- he's also cross-branding with Reckless Productions, his production company. He's bringing the HBO Entourage audience into his antonymous world. Despite Grenier's personal fame, Reckless Productions, best known so far for "Teenage Paparazzo," fits into most indie film models. Indie film companies need funding, and investors like metrics and analytics. A dedicated and active audience of "Reckless Adrian Grenier" users can be directly marketed to with push notifications and other directives, a comfort to today's film investors with marketing budgets ballooning out of control.

(The "Reckless Adrian Grenier" app is free to download, but there are charges for certain features and items for purchase. Currently, all proceeds will go to the SHFT, an eco-conscious multimedia platform co-founded by Grenier. Focused on design, SHFT won the Best Green Website at the Webby Awards last year.)

q&a

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MediaShift: What made you decide to create an app?

Adrian Grenier: I'm a modern guy and just like anyone else I'm looking to explore the possibilities of storytelling and connecting with my audience independently, not always having to rely on the bigger production companies and distributors to control everything I do. It is a real blessing in this day and age to have that opportunity and to be on the cutting edge of technology; we are explorers in a lot of ways. I've had several app ideas over the years and not all of them this good. This is the one that really made sense and ultimately Mobovivo was able to create it.

When did you first realize the value of connecting with your fans as an artist?

Grenier: I always realized the value, but maybe I was a little lazy at first because it is a lot of work, at least to make that engagement authentic and real and true. I don't have a company doing my social media for me. It's all genuine.

How does the Reckless app assist you in making a unique and genuine connection with your fans?

Grenier: If you use a website, you always end up having to go to another program to connect. If you want to reach out to your fans, you have to send them an email or create a video and send it to them, and maybe they will comment, but that's on YouTube. This is a really direct connection; this is the bridge directly from me and Reckless to people who want that content. And it's beyond that -- it's leveraging casual encounters that I have with people every day and allowing them to become a very personal interaction. For example, I'm on tour with my film "Teenage Paparazzo." It's an educational tour, and we are going to colleges around the country. Every time I want to share something with them, I have to say, "Send me an email, sign up or whatever," but in this case, they can download the app and boom, we're already off to the races. In 2.0, (he laughs) I'm already excited for 2.0 ...

Trevor Doerksen interrupts: The Apple Store hasn't even released 1.0 yet.

Grenier: We have big ambitions and big ideas, and that's what I'm really excited about. This is really just the first breath.

Your existing fans will be interested in the app, but how do you anticipate the Reckless app will create or build a new fan base?

Grenier: The medium and the format are really just the tool. It is about the personal voice of the artist that makes it unique. Twitter is only 140 characters, but it is the unique voice of the individual that allows people to differentiate themselves. I can see the Reckless app being more than just a platform for me. I can see other people using it to connect with their audience, their fans and their friends. I don't know how much we need to reinvent our wheel; we need to spread it and share it.

How is this "sharing" done on a technical level?

Doerksen: I think how you do this is you get the market. That is what is wonderful from a technology point of view -- that there are so many things given to us today, from cloud computing to Apple SDK to the App Store to these new devices. (He holds up an iPhone.) This is a neat canvas to take advantage of. One of the things that will be an input to what we do next will be what we hear from what we do first. So I think getting the market is key to finding out what people like and what they would like to see in the future. That is going to happen with an app more than perhaps with another platform -- it's what's in your pocket.

We have a brand like "Reckless," a user experience where it is in your pocket, under your arm, on your desktop. To find a bookmark, you don't have to go searching; it is a click away. That engagement as we move forward is going to happen on television, maybe even on toasters. For now, we are excited to get feedback on 1.0.

I only saw the trailer for "Teenage Paparazzo" on the iPad version of the app. What other video content will be available for users?

Grenier: We have a lot of video content coming, but we feel like it's best to get out into the water and get our feet wet instead of waiting. It reminds me of surfing. I'm not a surfer, but I've been a couple times. You put the surfboard on the sand, and you practice jumping up. That's easy; anyone can do that. But you put it in the ocean and the waves are coming, and it's a whole other ball game. We wanted to get out there and get our sea legs.

Doerksen: You're like I am on these things, as are a lot of other people. It's an app put out by a film production company and people will ask, "Where's the film?" That's coming, too. Engaging content and entertainment is coming and, of course, more social.

How often can users expect new content to be added?

Grenier: Definitely every time we do an event at a school we will update the snapshots of the students. We have a ton of content -- especially with short form, the turnaround is much quicker. We are always creating short videos.

I see that as the most fascinating part of an app. It's almost a living, breathing entity. It isn't a film, which is finite. It grows and changes. How did you know the app was ready for release?

Grenier: That is something Trevor has been shepherding me through because I am a perfectionist but he's like, "Just relax." There's a learning process in release as well, in letting go.

Doerksen: One of the nice things is not just being about content, which is kinda a broadcast medium. We had to make it engaging. That's what we talk about constantly. If we had 85 films to put in the app -- what would the app be about? You'd be watching 85 films eventually? We've created a true fan engagement set of tools; that part is exciting -- and marrying the viewing experience to that, whether it's in front of the television as a second screen model or in a theater or with Adrian at the airport. Now that I have the app, I see the Twitter scroll and I know where you are all the time. (He points to Grenier.)

******

It will be interesting in the coming months and years to see how app creators push personal apps to new frontiers, finding out what celebrities, not only from the entertainment industry, but sports and beyond, can do with the new tools to harness and connect with their audiences. Let the branding race begin.

Amanda Lin Costa is a writer and producer in the film and television industry. She writes a series called "Truth in Documentary Filmmaking" and is currently producing the documentary, "The Art of Memories."

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March 27 2012

14:00

FTC: If It's Your Computer, You Should Own Your Data

If you own your computer, you should own the data that's on it. That's the message from Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

At a Washington press conference -- also broadcast -- the FTC issued a new report on Internet privacy. Leibowitz praised how far the nation's come in protecting data, even from this time last year. But he also shared that consumers still need more clarity and control over their personal information.

The event opened with this animated primer about how information is collected, and where it goes.




































The FTC made three main recommendations:

  • Social media sites, apps, browsers, retailers and Internet service providers among others should adopt "privacy by design." In other words, privacy should come first.
  • Companies should work towards better transparency. The average privacy policy, Leibowitz said, is longer than the Declaration of Independence.
  • Consumers and businesses should receive simple choices to decide what information is shared. This should include a "Do Not Track" option.

"'Do Not Track' from our perspective means do not collect," Leibowitz said. "We need to have a 'Do Not Track' option that is persistent, easy to use and effective. "

In the past year, he said, large platforms and marketers made a lot of progress toward protecting privacy, partly because it's the right thing to do, and partly because they want to keep consumers' trust.

"It's amazing how far these companies have come," Leibowitz said. "I think we're all pulling in the right direction. People just get it -- it's the right thing to do ... It's better for your business."

'Best practices'

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Overall, the report falls more into the category of "best practices" than regulations. The point, he said, was "not to erect a stoplight, but to take a look at the traffic patterns." Yet he urged Congress to enact tougher privacy protection laws, and noted that the FTC's power is based in its ability to enforce the law.

For example, last spring Google settled FTC charges that it violated user privacy when it launched Google Buzz. Then last fall Facebook settled an FTC lawsuit alleging it repeatedly deceived users about their privacy.

The lengthy report certainly sets the stage for more debate. It ends with a dissenting statement from FTC Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch. His concerns include that the report had no limiting principles, and could be seen as a mandate.

"It would install 'Big Brother' as the watchdog over these practices, not only in the online world but in the offline world," he wrote. He also added that there's no universally accepted definition of what "Do Not Track" means.

"I still worry about the constitutionality of banning take-it-or-leave-it choice (in circumstances where the consumer has few alternatives)," Rosch opined. "As a practical matter, that prohibition may chill information collection, and thus impact innovation, regardless whether one's privacy policy is deceptive or not."

Terri Thornton, a former reporter and TV news producer, owns Thornton Communications, an award-winning PR and social media firm. She is also a freelance editor for Strategic Finance and Management Accounting Quarterly.

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February 28 2012

14:00

How Social Media, E-Books, Self-Publishing Change Writers Conferences

At first, you came to the San Francisco Writers Conference to learn the craft of writing, to hear famous writers describe how they became famous, to learn the secrets of how to create a winning book proposal, to become enlightened by publishers about what they want and, most of all, to pitch literary agents, those elusive creatures who seem always to be heading the other direction.

Today, it's a different story. Today's conference is about all the traditional basics, but also about topics from blogging and tweeting to e-books and self-publishing. I asked four longtime participants in the 2012 San Francisco Writers Conference earlier this month to describe how this and other writers conferences have morphed to include technical content relevant to today's writers.

You can listen to their takes below.

I started with San Francisco Writers Conference co-organizer Laurie McLean, who told me that the core teachings are still there, but two entirely new tracks have been added to handle tech topics relevant to writers today, and the previously unmentionable option, self-publishing.

Laurie McLean
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For more than 20 years Laurie ran a public relations agency in California's Silicon Valley. Then she became an agent at Larsen Pomada Literary Agents representing adult genre fiction and children's middle grade and young adult books. As Agent Savant, she works with authors to create their author brand, then develop a digital marketing plan to help them promote that brand online via social media, blogs, websites and more. Laurie is dean of the new San Francisco Writers University and on the management team of the San Francisco Writers Conference. In 2012, Laurie started two e-publishing companies: Joyride Books (for out-of-print vintage romance novels) and Ambush Books (for out-of-print children's books).

Listen to McLean on adding two new tracks to the conference offerings here.

Listen to McLean on still sticking with the basics here.

Kevin Smokler
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In 2007, Kevin Smokler founded, with Chris Anderson (editor in chief of Wired Magazine), BookTour.com, the world's largest online directory of author and literary events. Kevin now serves as the company's CEO, regularly speaking at industry conferences and book festivals throughout North America on the future of publishing, books, reading and legacy media in the 21st century. His regular topics include print and digital publishing, legacy media, social media and the web for writers, and business skills for artists and creatives. In April of 2008, Amazon purchased a minority stake in BookTour.com.

From Smokler's vantage, despite all the changes, there are some things that are still, and always will be, basic to publishing -- namely, the need for a quality book and connecting that book to readers.

Listen to Kevin Smokler talk about that here.

Patrick von Wiegandt
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Patrick von Wiegandt is a musician and sound engineer in charge of making each session at the San Francisco Writers Conference available in audio formats for sale immediately at the conference and online after the event.

He's seen big changes "backstage," as in the transition from tape to CD to MP3, but because he also hears all the sessions, he has some interesting insights about how the content of the conference has changed since the Internet came to be important to writers.

Listen here to Patrick von Wiegandt talk about the changes he's seen.

Joel Friedlander

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Joel Friedlander is a self-published author and a book designer who blogs about book design, self-publishing and the indie publishing life at TheBookDesigner.com. He's also the proprietor of Marin Bookworks, where he helps publishers and authors who decide to publish get to market on time and on budget with books that are both properly constructed and beautiful to read.

One of the biggest changes Friedlander sees is the massive shift in how books are being publicized (authors now being asked to do promotions themselves) and how writers conferences are adapting to reflect that change.

Hear Friedlander talk about that change and others he's seeing here.

Carla King is an author, a publishing consultant, and founder of the Self-Publishing Boot Camp program providing books, lectures and workshops for prospective self-publishers. She has self-published non-fiction travel and how-to books since 1994 and has worked in multimedia since 1996. Her series of dispatches from motorcycle misadventures around the world are available as print books, e-books and as diaries on her website. The newest version of her e-book, The Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors, was released in August 2011 and is available on Smashwords, Amazon Kindle, and for the B&N Nook.

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February 10 2012

14:00

Mediatwits #37: Merger Mania: CIR-Bay Citizen; GigaOM-PaidContent; Twitter Censorship

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Welcome to the 37th episode of "The Mediatwits," the weekly audio podcast from MediaShift. The co-hosts are MediaShift's Mark Glaser and Jillian York, who is filling in for Rafat Ali. It's been a crazy week in media + tech, with important mergers abounding! First up is the Center for Investigative Reporting announcing that it will try to merge with another non-profit, the Bay Citizen, making a powerhouse investigative team to cover local, state and national issues. We get all the key players in that deal as guests on the show: CIR chairman Phil Bronstein, CIR executive director Robert Rosenthal and Bay Citizen interim CEO Brian Kelley.

Next up, there's a merger of key tech sites, both started by Indian-born bloggers who turned them into startup businesses. GigaOM announced it was buying PaidContent from the Guardian for an undisclosed sum. The Guardian will get stock in GigaOM's parent company and get a seat on the board. Special guests OM Malik, founder of GigaOM and Staci Kramer, SVP at ContentNext (and sometimes co-host of Mediatwits), talked about the deal and how the "synergy" in this case didn't mean layoffs. And finally, we discussed the recent move by Twitter to censor some tweets in countries that had more stringent free speech controls. Was Twitter right to implement these rules?

Check it out!

mediatwits37.mp3

Subscribe to the podcast here

Subscribe to Mediatwits via iTunes

Follow @TheMediatwits on Twitter here

Intro and outro music by 3 Feet Up; mid-podcast music by Autumn Eyes via Mevio's Music Alley.

Here are some highlighted topics from the show:

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Intro

1:00: Jillian York explains her work at the EFF

2:20: Blogs, online forums, social media only places for free expression in many countries

3:35: Rundown of topics for the podcast

CIR and Bay Citizen

4:30: Special guests Phil Bronstein, Robert Rosenthal, Brian Kelley

8:00: Rosenthal: Want to create engaged audience in Bay Area and globally

11:10: Kelley: Should be excellent synergy between organizations

12:45: Kelley: Striking about timing of executive departures, but not connected

17:20: Bronstein: Sustainability is something we talk about every day

GigaOM buys PaidContent

20:00: Special guests Om Malik and Staci Kramer

22:30: Malik: We can now cover a broader spectrum of topics

22:40: Kramer: In this case, synergy won't mean layoffs, cost-cutting

26:30: Kramer: We're not new media, we're media

28:50: How is Om any different than Michael Arrington as VC?

Twitter censoring tweets

32:30: Micro-blog service will comply with rules in other countries

33:45: Is the #TwitterBlackout a good idea?

35:50: York: The laws in the countries are the problem, not the companies' policies

38:10: York: I don't think these companies should be in China

More Reading

Bay Citizen, Center for Investigative Reporting Plan to Merge. Now What? at MediaShift

Bay Citizen in Merger Talks With Another Nonprofit at Wall Street Journal

The Bay Citizen's short, strange saga in nonprofit news could be coming to an end at SF Business Times

Bay Citizen, Center for Investigative Reporting Announce Intent to Merge at Bay Citizen

GigaOM + PaidContent = Perfect Sense at MediaShift

Is GigaOM Buying paidContent? at AllThingsD

Why We Are Buying PaidContent at GigaOM

GigaOM And paidContent Join Forces at PaidContent

Twitter Censorship Move Sparks Backlash: Is It Justified? at Wired

Twitter's censorship is a gray box of shame, but not for Twitter at Reuters

Twitter Censorship: Outkast's Big Boi Involved In Beyonce Tweet Takedown at Huffington Post

South Korean Indicted Over Twitter Posts From North at NY Times

Weekly Poll

Don't forget to vote in our weekly poll, this time about Twitter censoring tweets:


What do you think about Twitter censoring tweets?

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit. and Circle him on Google+

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February 09 2012

22:10

GigaOM + PaidContent = Perfect Sense

When the U.K.-based Guardian Media Group bought PaidContent in 2008, it was portrayed as an attempt to expand into the U.S. market. The Guardian newspaper was a forerunner in its use of the web, and already got a large portion of its traffic from North America.

But I had trouble seeing why a general interest news organization, even a forward-looking one, would buy what was a essentially network of niche sites geared toward media and technology executives.

Now, a company that's steeped in the businesses of Silicon Valley, GigaOM, has a acquired "the best chronicler of the media industry," founder Om Malik wrote on his blog yesterday. "The ethos of PaidContent and our company are in sync."

The founder of ContentNext Media (PaidContent's parent company), Rafat Ali, who is co-host of this site's Mediatwits podcast, seemed equally pleased.

"Just married the woman of my dreams & the company I founded got the best owner possible. Both after false starts," he tweeted from New Delhi.

When news of the acquisition spread this week, it wasn't a particular surprise to anyone who'd been watching either company over the last several years. It made perfect sense -- and actually, a lot more than the Guardian purchase in 2008.

So, the news signals two things: 1) the formation of a tech media super-group and 2) a shift in strategy for the Guardian.

The Players

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New York-based PaidContent has since its founding in 2002 been one of the leading properties covering the business of media, especially digital. It expanded into coverage of mobile with MocoNews, Indian tech media with ContentSutra, and launched PaidContent:U.K. The sites in January received more than 700,000 unique visitors, according to reports.

The GigaOM network, founded by Malik in 2006, is based in Silicon Valley and covers tech industry verticals such as clean tech, broadband and Apple. It says it receives 4.5 million unique visitors monthly.

Both networks were founded by Indian-born journalists who'd worked in the heady 1990s of New York's Silicon Alley, Ali for Silicon Alley Reporter, Malik for Red Herring and Forbes. Malik moved to Silicon Valley in 2000 to work for Business 2.0.

Ali and Malik are also good friends, and Ali is on GigaOm's board of advisers.

Malik has talked of wanting to try his hand in business after covering it for so long. He worked tirelessly to build his company from a blog covering technology to a network, a research subscription service, and an events company.

Standing with Ali and Malik in the fall of 2007, I heard Ali quietly caution his friend to take care of his health. "Blogging can kill you," I remember him saying. Eerily, a couple months later, Malik suffered a heart attack. He has recovered but is said to be more careful about his work habits today.

Ali, whom I have worked for and with and who is also a friend, has told me of running the business off his laptop both in London and from his apartment in Santa Monica, Calif., where he lived before coming to New York a few years ago.

He, too, worked tirelessly and because of that, PaidContent developed a reputation for never missing a beat. He formed the company almost by accident, having launched it as a way to get a job after Silicon Alley Reporter, and was able to sustain himself with speaking engagements and a few sponsorships.

He hired noted journalist Staci Kramer, who helped him build the site and the staff and became senior vice president at the parent company ContentNext.

staci_d._kramer-s.jpg

"This is a great outcome of an intense process," Kramer wrote me last night in an email. "Guardian News & Media gave us a great vote of confidence with the initial acquisition and again now by making sure we were matched with the right company, then staying as minority shareholders."

GigaOm Gets Quality Staffers

Malik wrote that the "first and perhaps most important reason" for the deal was "people. I have been an admirer of PaidContent's editorial team from the very beginning of its journey. Rafat Ali and Staci Kramer were two of my favorite writers in the early days of professional blogging."

He also cited others on the team, including Ernie Sander (whom I worked with at the AP), who he said would become "executive editor of our sprawling online editorial operations."

ernie_sander-o.jpg

Together, Ali, Kramer and others built an event business and launched ContentNext Dex, a financial index of media-related sites and a research arm, neither of which seemed to take hold. Ali told an M.B.A. class of mine he visited last year that ContentNext, which he left in 2010, made a significant share of its revenue from events.

After 2008, New York media types sometimes marveled how Ali & Co., and Mediabistro.com founder Laurel Touby, my former boss, both sold just before the "nuclear winter," as a friend from Mediabistro called the subsequent economic collapse.

Mediabistro was paid $23 million by what's now WebMediaBrands, $3 million of that in longer-term "payout" bonuses should the company hit certain performance markers. The Guardian paid 4 million pounds (about $6.3 million at today's exchange rate) for PaidContent in 2008, the Guardian reported yesterday.

The guardian as PaidContent's guardian

It's not surprising that in the recent environment and focused on other areas, the Guardian couldn't quite make its new venture thrive.

One of the smaller of leading U.K. media organizations, and solely owned by a trust to keep it independent, the Guardian Media Group has struggled financially in recent years, reporting a before-tax profit for 2011 of 9 million pounds (about $14.24 million) after losses of 96.7 million and 171 million pounds, respectively, in the previous two years.

It has, meanwhile, pushed to get more of its operations into digital, an area where it could be innovative and expand its footprint to new markets.

It has launched blogs headed by aggressive reporters, had "hack days" that invited developers to figure out new ways to cover and present news, developed multiple feeds that allowed seamless intake and display of news and information, even given rather open access to its wider database via APIs (application programmer interfaces) that let others build applications on its proprietary data.

In the annual report, the company said its re-version-ed iPhone app had 322,000 downloads in less than its first three months. It last month ended a three-month free trial of its iPad app, opting to charge 9.99 pounds (about $16) after a week.

Guardian News & Media, the division that bought ContentNext, announced last November that "following a strategic review" it was looking for a buyer for ContentNext while it turned its U.S. focus to "building the Guardian." Guardian Media Group's 2011 annual report said the company was "looking ahead to further digital launches ... most importantly a major expansion in the U.S. with a new digital-only operation based in New York."

It recently launched the U.S.-focused GuardianNews.com.

Under terms of the deal, Guardian News & Media gets a minority stake in GigaOM alongside venture investors such as Reed Elsevier, Alloy Ventures and True Ventures. It also gets an observer seat on GigaOM's board, Malik said.

'A Fraction' of the Original Price

Neither Malik, the Guardian nor ContentNext named a price. Ad Age reported it was a "fraction" of the original deal. Guardian representatives pointed me to their statement online.

By taking a seat on GigaOM's board, the Guardian perhaps hopes to learn more about how the digital world works at the cutting edge. In turn, GigaOM gets more knowledge of media and the international sphere.

GigaOM, in acquiring ContentNext, gets a presence in covering the New York-centric media world, a crowded arena in which it has made forays but never solidified its hold.

They will turn the New York offices of ContentNext into GigaOM East, just blocks from where Ali and Malik used to work.

A GigaOM representative told Ad Age the company would keep PaidContent at its current web address and hadn't decided whether to fold it into GigaOM.com.

"By blending [PaidContent's] coverage with ours, we hope to watch this fast-changing industry ever more closely," Malik wrote.

The GigaOM purchase is hardly an "OMG" -- it just makes good sense.

An award-winning former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA (with honors), Dorian Benkoil handles marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift, and is the business columnist for the site. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, and activating communities through digital media. He tweets at @dbenk and you can Circle him on Google+.

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18:26

$1 million to build a data platform

Sometimes the easiest way of being authentic is to just post an email that was written to be private…

Date: Fri, 27 Jan 2012 14:29:57 +0000
From: Francis Irving <francis@scraperwiki.com>
To: team@scraperwiki.com
Subject: Capital!

Today we closed our round of investment from Enterprise Ventures and Blue Fountain.

In total, provided we hit certain milestones next August, and with the Knight Foundation money, this means we have a cool $1,000,000 of capital.

Many many thanks to Aidan who has done most of the work, and now has no hair left to keep him warm in his old age (it generally takes, and took, total one person full time for 6 months to get investment).

And to everyone else for making a company that someone would want to invest in.

Short FAQ

1. What’s this money for? It’s for us to create a viable business, by helping coders make data do things across the web. To do that, we have to reach clear product/market fit, with paying developers, and/or with corporations. So please continue to ask of everything you/we do “is this testing, in as lean a way as possible, how we can get to product/market fit?”.

2. How long will it last for? If we hit the revenue in our business plan, in theory until August 2014. Even in worst cases, it’ll last a year.

3. Can I tell the world? Not just yet. We’re not press releasing it immediately, it’s embargoed for writing about, blogging about or tweeting about. But feel free to tell friends and family.

4. When’s the party? Not sure, but Monday night in Liverpool looks best to me. Who isn’t free then? (At least for an early evening drink. Now the hard (and fun) part starts! Francis

For full details, read the press release. As you can see, we also have a new board member – I’ll write about her in a separate blog post. Any questions? Please ask in the comments!


Tags: business

February 03 2012

14:00

Mediatwits #36: Facebook IPO Fever; Dive into Media; $30 Million to Columbia/Stanford

Welcome to the 36th episode of "The Mediatwits," the weekly audio podcast from MediaShift. The co-hosts are MediaShift's Mark Glaser and Dorian Benkoil, who is filling in for Rafat Ali. It's been a crazy week in media + tech, with Google privacy concerns, Amazon falling short in earnings, and much more. But the dominant news was Facebook filing for an IPO, with demand to read its S-1 crashing the SEC's servers. The startup had $3.7 billion in revenues, with $1 billion in profits last year, and showed tremendous growth in users and advertising. Can anything slow down the juggernaut on the way to raising $5 billion in a public offering? We talked to special guest Nick O'Neill, founder of AllFacebook.com, who was impressed with the user engagement on the social networking site.

This week was also the "Dive into Media" conference put on by AllThingsD in Laguna Niguel, Calif. Special guest Peter Kafka programmed the show and interviewed many of the top execs on stage. He told us about the challenge of interviewing Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, a former improv comedian, as well as the mix of old and new media at the show. Finally, Columbia University's Journalism School and Stanford University's Engineering School received a $30 million gift from Helen Gurley Brown to create a new Institute for Media Innovation, marking the largest gift in the history of Columbia's J-School. Has digital media now arrived? Has the revolution been institutionalized?

Check it out!

mediatwits36.mp3

Subscribe to the podcast here

Subscribe to Mediatwits via iTunes

Follow @TheMediatwits on Twitter here

Intro and outro music by 3 Feet Up; mid-podcast music by Autumn Eyes via Mevio's Music Alley.

Here are some highlighted topics from the show:

Intro and roundup

1:30: Questions about Google combining privacy policies

4:00: Google, Amazon fall short in earnings

5:50: Rundown of topics on the podcast

nick o'neill.jpg

Facebook IPO fever

7:00: Special guest Nick O'Neill of AllFacebook.com

10:00: Dorian: Each Facebook employee bringing in $1 million in revenues

11:35: O'Neill: Probably more than 60% of ad revenues from self-serving ad system

14:00: 12% of Facebook's revenues coming from Zynga

16:00: Special guest Peter Kafka

18:20: Advertisers still not sure about ROI on Facebook

D: Dive into Media

21:00: D conference tries out a niche conference for media + tech

22:45: Kafka: Twitter CEO Dick Costolo can zing you if you're not careful

peter kafka dive into media.jpg

23:45: Great insights from Hulu, YouTube execs

$30 million gift to Columbia/Stanford

28:10: Attempt to bring data and journalism worlds together

31:00: Bill Campbell, "The Coach," is an adviser on the project

32:45: Dorian: Era of digital media is here

More Reading

Microsoft Attacks Google Privacy Policy With Ads, Gmail Man at TPMIdeaLab

Facebook's IPO Filing is Here at Business Insider

Sean Parker, Chris Hughes And Eduardo Saverin Dumped Their Facebook Shares at AllFacebook

Well, Now We Know What Facebook's Worth--And It's Not $100 Billion at Business Insider

Facebook's Ad Business Is a $3 Billion Mystery at AllThingsD

Reminder: The $5 Billion Facebook IPO Won't Make You Rich at Gizmodo

Facebook's $5 Billion IPO, By The Numbers [CHARTS] at MarketingLand

The Facebook IPO: billion-user ambition at a $1bn price at Comment Is Free

Facebook and Don Graham Have Been Very Good to Each Other at Forbes

Dive into Media coverage at AllThingsD

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo: We're Not a Media Company. We're in the Media Business. at AllThingsD

Hulu Boss Jason Kilar: Who You Callin' Clown Co.? at AllThingsD

Columbia J-School and Stanford Eng Nab $30M Joint Gift for Media Innovation From Helen Gurley Brown at AllThingsD

Weekly Poll

Don't forget to vote in our weekly poll, this time prognosticating what you think Facebook will be worth:


What do you think Facebook's value will be in 5 years?

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit. and Circle him on Google+

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January 23 2012

14:20

Breakthrough Websites for Young Women, by Young Women

A new generation of young women has begun to make their mark online, combining entrepreneurial energy with the hardwired digital fluency that typifies the so-called digital natives.

Here are two stories of such women, both 26 years old, who jettisoned their office jobs to create online media outlets designed for young women like them. For these women and others like them, the decision to embark upon these web-based ventures was not revolutionary. To them, the "digital media revolution" has receded and they're simply operating in the only media environment they've ever known.

The Daily Muse: Work, Inspired

Kathryn Minshew hadn't been interested in starting a website for young professional women. As an undergraduate at Duke, she had no particular predilection for women's issues, and she didn't belong to any women's groups. So when, last month, Forbes featured Kathryn in its "30 Under 30" article for her leadership of The Daily Muse, the wildly successful career- and lifestyle-focused online magazine, it was an accolade that was unforeseen by her former self.

Kathryn, who's moved her publication (and herself) out to San Francisco to participate in an incubator program, recently told me that her passion for female-oriented career advice developed gradually. "I was surprised when I applied to a position at [management consulting firm] McKinsey, and they had a separate information session for women." After she landed the job, however, she began to observe the complex gender politics amid the corporate environment. She noticed how uncomfortable women were when asking for salary increases, foregoing a bonus check for $10,000 herself simply because it didn't occur to her to ask for it.

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She scoured the web for sites that offered professional guidance to young women like her, but her search was fruitless. So she partnered with friends Alex Cavoulacos and Melissa McCreery to create their own. Today, The Daily Muse has a formidable readership, with a staff of five and more than 140 writers contributing content nationwide. The site's articles are syndicated on Forbes and the Huffington Post, and Kathryn's modest ambition of targeting an otherwise underserved demographic has been regarded in media circles as prescient. She herself explains that investors are "shocked to learn that there are no other sites" that are designed and deployed for professional women.

"Kathryn saw a need and filled it," said Rachel Sklar, media entrepreneur and adviser to The Daily Muse. "She recognized that not only was there a huge market of young professional women being pumped out of colleges every year -- but that there was key information that they weren't getting. Fixing those information asymmetries is extremely powerful -- and damn good business. And it's their niche, because they made it."

Big Girls, Small Kitchen: A Guide for Quarter-Life Cooking

Phoebe Lapine was bored by her first office job after graduating from Brown. She remembers sitting down at a Thanksgiving dinner when her cousin interrupted her workaday complaints by asking her, point-blank, what she'd rather be doing. She thought about it a moment and then replied, "writing a cookbook."

Knowing, instinctively, that the boundaries between media were becoming increasingly porous, Phoebe called Cara Eisenpress, a cooking friend of hers since high school and, together, they started a cooking blog. They knew that they wanted to focus on young women who, like them, were facing the challenges of limited resources. So they came up with the title, Big Girls, Small Kitchen as an online "guide to quarter-life cooking."

According to Phoebe, they "started off slow, meeting at coffee shops after work or sneaking out to plan recipes on [their] lunch breaks." They didn't get a lot of traffic but were seen by the right people. Before long, a literary agent who had taken notice of the site approached them, and they had their deal for a cookbook. "In the Small Kitchen" was published in May and is currently available on Amazon.

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While Phoebe had pretty swiftly accomplished her goal to write the cookbook, she and Cara decided to reinvest a significant portion of their advance into the website, transforming it to a more thorough resource for the community of young chefs that had begun to follow them. Phoebe recounted her literary agent's advice: "A book is something that goes on the shelf. It could be hidden discontinued, and you have much less control. It's more static. The site is something you have more control over. It lives on beyond the book and gives a rich opportunity for interaction with your audience."

What she didn't expect, however, is that the development of a more polished and attractive site actually decreased the amount of user-generated comments and contributions. She and Cara speculate that it may have been difficult for her audience, which was used to a shabby-chic site, to be greeted by something that had a more professional design. Cara observed, "When we did our first redesign, we were so sick of having an ugly old blog that we over-corrected and wound up with a homepage that was beautiful but static, even boring. It took a few months, but we were just able to go into another design phase and play with the elements until they felt vibrant."

Now, as they embark on their new venture, Small Kitchen College, they're applying their learned lessons to create community for the culinarily curious college student. With nearly 40 student contributors, they are harnessing the collective contributions of people with shared interests, much in the way The Daily Muse has done.

These are just two examples of young media-minded entrepreneurs who are noticing barren spots in the media landscape. They understand that people with similar interests to their own are being underserved by the the current catalog of media offerings, and so they're deciding to insert their own voices into this otherwise vacuous lull. As more and more digital natives come of age and instinctively exploit online opportunities in the way that Kathryn and Phoebe have done, the digital media landscape will become more verdant and variegated for it.

Mark Hannah is the director of academic communications at Parsons The New School for Design. Coming out of the public relations world, he has conducted sensitive public affairs campaigns for well-known multinational corporations, major industry organizations and influential non-profits. Mark worked for the Kerry-Edwards presidential campaign as a member of the national advance staff. He's more recently worked as an advance associate for the Obama-Biden campaign and Presidential Inaugural Committee. He serves on the board of directors of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, is a member of the Public Relations Society of America and was a 2008 research fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. He holds a B.A. from the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania and a master's degree from Columbia University. He can be reached at markphannah[at]gmail.com

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January 20 2012

15:20

Mediatwits #34: SOPA Protests Make a Difference; Yang Out at Yahoo

danny telegram.jpg

Welcome to the 34th episode of "The Mediatwits," the weekly audio podcast from MediaShift. The co-hosts are MediaShift's Mark Glaser and Rafat Ali. This week the show is mainly focused on the huge day of protest online Wednesday against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) before the U.S. Congress. After Wikipedia, Reddit and other sites went black, and millions signed petitions and called lawmakers, at least 40 representatives and Senators said they wouldn't support the bills in their current form. It was a breathtaking display of online organization that got results.

Special guest Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Watch discussed the role that Google played in educating people and helping them take action. Plus, Sullivan created one of the more creative memes by sending a telegram to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) because she didn't have an active Twitter or Facebook page. (Click the image above-left to see the telegram at full size.) In other news, Chief Yahoo and company co-founder Jerry Yang announced he was stepping down as Yahoo tries again to turn the tanker around. Special guest Eric Jackson, an activist investor in Yahoo, talks about the brightened prospects for the web giant now that Yang has departed.

Check it out!

mediatwits34.mp3

Subscribe to the podcast here

Subscribe to Mediatwits via iTunes

Follow @TheMediatwits on Twitter here

Intro and outro music by 3 Feet Up; mid-podcast music by Autumn Eyes via Mevio's Music Alley.

Here are some highlighted topics from the show:

danny_sullivan headshot.jpg

Intro

1:10: Rafat is going away to get married and to take a long honeymoon trip

3:00: There are more serious issues that should get this much attention

5:00: A clear explanation of the SOPA and PIPA bills before Congress

7:15: Rundown of topics on the podcast

Huge day of protesting SOPA online

8:00: Special guest Danny Sullivan

11:10: Sullivan: Big media companies should make content easier to find, buy

13:00: Should be an easier way to pull down infringing sites

15:10: Sullivan explains why he did the telegram for Sen. Feinstein

19:00: Obama comes out against the bills in their current form

Yang out at Yahoo

Eric Jackson head.jpg

20:20: Special guest Eric Jackson

22:40: Jackson: Investors have shied away from Yahoo stock

25:40: Jackson is heartened by new CEO Scott Thompson

28:00: Jackson: Shareholders could get a special dividend

More Reading

SOPA protest by the numbers: 162M pageviews, 7 million signatures at Ars Technica

Your Guide to the Anti-SOPA Protests at MediaShift

Put Down the Pitchforks on SOPA at NY Times

Where Do Your Members of Congress Stand on SOPA and PIPA? at ProPublica

Protect IP Act Senate whip count at OpenCongress

Senator Ron Wyden To The Internet: Thank You For Speaking Up... But We're Not Done Yet at TechDirt

With Twitter, Blackouts and Demonstrations, Web Flexes Its Muscle at NY Times

Google Blackens Its Logo To Protest SOPA/PIPA, While Bing & Yahoo Carry On As Usual at Search Engine Land

Protests lead to weakening support for Protect IP, SOPA at CNET

Jerry Yang's Departure Means Major Transformations for Yahoo! at Forbes.com

Yahoo's Yang is gone. That was the easy part at CNET

With Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang departed from board, Yahoo seeks a new course at Mercury News

Weekly Poll

Don't forget to vote in our weekly poll, this time about the anti-SOPA protests:


What do you think about the anti-SOPA protests?

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit. and Circle him on Google+

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January 13 2012

15:20

Mediatwits #33: CES Jumped the Shark?; SOPA Battles; Google+ in Search

Welcome to the 33rd episode of "The Mediatwits," the weekly audio podcast from MediaShift. The co-hosts are MediaShift's Mark Glaser and Rafat Ali. This week we have a special show focused on the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) happening in Las Vegas all week. Apple isn't there and Microsoft did its last keynote presentation there. Is the show losing momentum? Are we all burned out on gadgets and flatter TVs? We talk to two tech journalists on the CES floor, Rob Pegoraro and TechDirt's Mike Masnick, about the various new TV sets, tablets and smartphones. Plus, Masnick gives us an update about how the CEA and many folks at the show are overwhelmingly opposed to the two anti-piracy bills, SOPA and PIPA, before Congress.

Meanwhile, search giant Google caused a stir by integrating Google+ much more deeply into its search results. The new "Search Plus Your World" has been criticized as unfairly giving Google+ an advantage over Twitter and Facebook in search results. Google responded by saying that it was upset that Twitter didn't renew its contract to be included in search results. Will this move bring more trouble to Google, with the Feds already investigating the company over privacy issues?

Check it out!

mediatwits33.mp3

Subscribe to the podcast here

Subscribe to Mediatwits via iTunes

Follow @TheMediatwits on Twitter here

Intro and outro music by 3 Feet Up; mid-podcast music by Autumn Eyes via Mevio's Music Alley.

Here are some highlighted topics from the show:

Intro

1:00: Background on the CES show

3:00: Journalists weary and tired of CES now?

4:00: The pain of CES

4:45: Rundown of topics on the show

Report from CES

portrait-with-cables.jpeg

5:15: Special guests from CES: Rob Pegoraro and Mike Masnick

6:10: How is this show different than previous shows?

7:50: Masnick: Thin TVs are impressive

10:40: Pegoraro: Color e-ink readers might boost e-readers

13:30: Masnick: Hard to see disruptive technology at first

CEA opposing SOPA

16:10: Many people at CES are opposing Stop Online Piracy Act, including Consumer Electronics Association

19:20: Why SOPA went too far

20:00: Pegoraro: History of greedy, restrictive bills put forward by entertainment industry

22:05: Masnick: When entertainment biz loses fights, they often still win

mike masnick hands.jpg

Google integrates Google+ in search

24:00: Mark gives background on move by Google

26:40: Why can't Google put social, private search in a new tab?

29:10: Facebook, Twitter are feeling left out of Google search

More Reading

CNET's Best of CES at CNET

CES XV at RobPegoraro.com

Tech Charms: Flying Cameras, Musical Purses at WSJ

Desperation Of SOPA/PIPA Supporters On Display At CES at TechDirt

Boo-Freaking-Hoo: RIAA Complains That 'The Deck Is Stacked' Against Them On CES Panels at TechDirt

Author of Controversial Piracy Bill Now Says 'More Study' Needed at WSJ Digits

Google's Results Get More Personal With Search Plus Your World at Search Engine Land

Is adding Google+ to search a red flag for regulators? at GigaOm

Search Plus Your World -- As Long As Its Our World at SearchBlog

Compete to Death or Cooperate to Compete? at SearchBlog

Weekly Poll

Don't forget to vote in our weekly poll, this time about the CES show:


The Consumer Electronics Show is...

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit. and Circle him on Google+

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January 06 2012

15:20

Mediatwits #32: Yahoo's Mr. Wrong?; Steve Rubel's Clip Book; Fake @Wendi_Deng

steve rubel headshot small.jpg

Welcome to the 32nd episode of "The Mediatwits," the weekly audio podcast from MediaShift. The co-hosts are MediaShift's Mark Glaser and Rafat Ali. We're back from our holiday break and ready to tackle more media news. The big news of the new year is a new CEO (again) at Yahoo, this time PayPal president Scott Thompson will try his hand at turning around the Net pioneer. But most pundits say the odds are long on Thompson being successful because he has little discernible experience running a media or advertising company.

Our special guest this week is Edelman PR exec/pundit Steve Rubel, who is working on a new e-book via Tumblr called "The Clip Book," where he will give visual takes on the future of media in scrapbook-style. And finally, we turn to one new prominent Twitter user, @rupertmurdoch, and what appeared to be a new verified account for his wife, @wendi_deng, that ended up being a fake. What does that mean for the credibility of the Twitter platform and its lack of transparency in verifying accounts?

Check it out!

Subscribe to the podcast here

Subscribe to Mediatwits via iTunes

Follow @TheMediatwits on Twitter here

Intro and outro music by 3 Feet Up; mid-podcast music by Autumn Eyes via Mevio's Music Alley.

Here are some highlighted topics from the show:

Intro

1:00: Mark's visit to Disneyland and the MouseWait app

2:10: Rafat is all work and no play over holidays

3:05: Rundown of topics on the show

Yahoo's new CEO

4:00: Yahoo hires Scott Thompson from PayPal; is he the right guy?

6:10: Could Thompson secretly be a media genius?

7:50: Rafat: Why should we care about Yahoo?

Steve Rubel's Clip Book

10:10: Special guest Steve Rubel

12:45: Rubel: I share some intelligence publicly and some internally at Edelman

15:50: Rubel will look at 5 companies that control content online

18:20: People are relying more on visual information, infographics

20:50: Rubel: Two tiers of content: quick-bite snacks and in-depth long-form

25:45: Richard Sambrook's role at Edelman PR teaching companies to run newsrooms

Fake @Wendi_Deng

28:15: Rupert Murdoch joins Twitter, but his wife's verified account was fake

29:10: Does this hurt Twitter's credibility?

30:10: Twitter has a bad track record on being transparent

More Reading

Yahoo Stakes Future on Accountant-Engineer Who Is Unproven in Media at Bloomberg

New Yahoo CEO (And BoSox Fanboy) Scott Thompson Speaks: It's Still Early Innings at AllThingsD

Yahoo Finds New CEO at PayPal at Wall Street Journal

The Key to Yahoo's Long-Term Health? Data, Says New CEO at AdAge

Steve Rubel's Clip Report

Trash your old media eulogies, The Clip Report details its future at the Next Web

Why Twitter's verified account failure matters at GigaOm

The Case of the Unfortunate Underscore: How Twitter Verified the Fake Wendi Over the Real Wendi at AllThingsD

How did fake Wendi Deng slip through the Twitter net? at the Guardian

Weekly Poll

Don't forget to vote in our weekly poll, this time about how Scott Thompson will do as Yahoo CEO:


How will Scott Thompson fare as CEO of Yahoo?

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit. and Circle him on Google+

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January 04 2012

15:20

2012: Why the Web Is Not Dead and Other Flashpoints

First the easy predictions for the new year: In 2012 we'll see a rise of politics in the digisphere, along with reporting as if the phenomenon is a surprise; more strum over the Murdochs' drum; and a snazzy new iPad 3.

But, there are bigger rumblings afoot in the year ahead, too. Here's my second annual round of predictions for the digital world.

The Return of the Web

Far from the web being dead, we're going to see more and more media organizations figure out how to use it well.

Publishers have started to realize that putting their stock in proprietary apps for Apple devices reaches only a subset of the potential universe, making it hard to "monetize" the investment, not to mention support an entire operation.

Costly to develop, the apps also give Apple more control of customers and their data than the publishers like. To make it worse, attempts to make money through Apple's iAds have been lackluster.

Publishers have started to understand, too, that the latest web applications can, via a browser, handle a lot of the latest whiz-bang interactivity and nifty tools. HTML5, the latest web coding language, can help take advantage of tablet and browser functions such as location, swiping, screen size, portrait and landscape orientation, shaking, tilting and more.

The newer web applications are getting better at integrating with payment systems, preventing unauthorized copying, controlling font size, typeface and other aspects that preserve the look and feel of "the brand."

By using the web, publishers can more easily create something that works across screens, offers similar functionality to a native app built specially for Apple or Android, and gives them access to data and control of revenue.

It also means a lot of the same stuff that hooks into a plain old website (POW?) -- web analytics, certain types of javascript and more -- can be used without having to do a lot of difficult recoding and workarounds.

Look, for example, at the Google Chrome web store (you may need the Chrome browser) to see just a few web-based apps, including NPR's for news and Sports Illustrated's for photos -- some of which require a fee.

Filipe Fortes

The Kindle Cloud Reader, the Financial Times and WalMart's Vudu all went the web route, eschewing native iPad/Phone/Pod apps in favor of the browser to get consumers to buy and consume books, news and video, respectively.

The experience on a computer, tablet or phone can be quite similar to the one on a native app. App companies, too, are gearing up for more web-based functionality.

Flipboard, the iPad app Steve Jobs called a favorite, hired HTML5 expert Filipe Fortes away from Treesaver (a former client of my company). Apple, too, has been listing multiple jobs for those skilled in HTML5.

I'm not saying that native apps will go away -- just that we'll see more development of snazzy new media via the web, which itself is entering a more structured, app-like phase. (See last year's predictions for a discussion of Open vs. Closed philosophies.)

A Year of Legal Wrangling, Wheeling and Dealing

Last year brought a wave of patent acquisitions, including Google's $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola.

This year, we'll see deals done and court cases launched in which holders of various patents, especially in mobile, either sue each other or reach agreement to allow cross-usage. Apple will continue to pursue Google via phone makers over Android.

We'll see legislative and regulatory pushes on privacy and piracy, egged on by powerful lobbyists. (See Mark Glaser's previous piece for a rundown.)

I don't believe that any law will keep people from getting the media they want, though. People will find a way around it, without paying if need be.

Big Four Coop-etition

Just because others have predicted the clash of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple doesn't mean it's not worth mention here, too. But, it also doesn't mean it's absolute: They often help each other, as well.

In my media management class, we recently drew a representation of Amazon as a multi-faceted behemoth, and it dawned on me how formidable the company is as a media distributor.

Not only has Amazon created a proprietary portable platform in the Kindle Fire, but Amazon Prime now includes music, video and borrowed e-books, along with free shipping, all for the same $79 yearly fee.

Amazon is also a content producer through its IMDb movie and TV site and its new book publishing imprint. In the past, it has produced at least one movie and a show hosted by Bill Maher.

Its financial position makes it stronger than many others. For Amazon, advertising is supplementary revenue, unlike for most media companies, like Google or Facebook. It makes its real money through e-commerce, web hosting and as a Content Distribution Network (CDN) that even competitors such as Netflix use.

Is there any company with big ambitions that Google doesn't compete with in some way? From Google Offers in coupons, to Places in location, to Google+, to its suite of document and email products, Google Reader, iGoogle, Google Voice, Analytics and on and on, the company is spread through nearly every digital media and interactive sphere.

Like many a media company, Google makes most of its money from ads, on search and through YouTube. Google's share dwarfs all others in digital, and will continue to generate serious cash flow in 2012.

Meanwhile, it's chipping away at Apple's perceived dominance in smartphones with its Android operating system, which is on more smartphones than any other. Its mobile ad company, AdMob, is getting accolades and market share.

Android's feature set challenges Apple's iOS (see legal wrangling, above) and its newer versions seamlessly hook into Google applications like Places, Picasa photos, Maps, Books, Music, Gmail, Docs and more.

The Kindle Fire, based on a "branched" version of Android, is the first tablet to come close to denting the iPad's market share.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says everything -- search, media, commerce -- is better when your friends help you find, evaluate and understand it.

He and COO Sheryl Sandberg told broadcast journalist Charlie Rose in November that Facebook cooperates rather than competes with the rest of the digital universe.

That is, unless you notice that the social network competes head-on with Google for ad dollars in targeted cost-per-click advertising.

Facebook has also beefed up search, is gathering tons of data via the "like" and Facebook Connect APIs, and is grabbing some of the best Silicon Valley talent that used to work at Google, including Sandberg. It has incorporated some of Google+'s favorite features.

You could build the case for cooperation by noting that Facebook now works well on Android and iOS apps. Amazon includes Facebook's "like" button on its pages, and allows sending of gift cards through Facebook Connect.

Mainly, though, Facebook competes for attention, often called the currency of the digital age. Every hour someone spends socially networking or consuming media through its pages is time they don't spend on YouTube, Amazon, Kindle or iTunes.

Apple is, well, Apple -- one of the great brands of all time. Though we'll see a little bit of concern over Jobs' absence -- maybe a little stumble or two -- the company should continue to rack up oohs, ahhs, and sales as it turns out new devices.

Even if its focus slips a tad, the company can use its billions of dollars of cash to try just about anything, and even fail a few times.

No one tops Apple's ability to charge for digital content via iTunes and Apps, and content distributors will have to play along even as they beef up their web app offerings.

If the rumored Apple television comes to pass, we'll see more frisson in the media sphere, and more pull from Apple against Amazon's efforts to wrest away sales of music and video -- a battle that's continued for years.

Relative to the big four, traditional media companies are playing on the weaker side of an uneven field. They are masters of content production, but that content is expensive and doesn't scale and acquire new customers as cheaply as an engineer's algorithm can.

Honorable Mentions

A few other trends merit some mention. There will be continued froth among ad networks and exchanges, and those buying and selling data around them, with consolidation and some shakeouts.

I see a continued push and pull among human- vs. machine-driven solutions. As Facebook tweaks its Edge Rank algorithm, companies like Demand Media will try to regain ground in search results and companies like Trada will introduce humans to the ad-optimization equation. (I hope to write more about this human-vs.-machine issue at a later date.)

At least one of the big six book publishers may have to fold or merge at some point, though that may not happen just yet. It's a truism that in the digital age, middlemen with decreased marketing, distribution and production muscle get squeezed. Amazon, Google Books and iBooks are helping apply the pincers.

There's likely to be activity in the hyperlocal space. Local news services such as Patch and many more localized efforts such as New York's DNAInfo will need to show investors they're gaining ground.

Location-based services like Foursquare, Gowalla (now owned by Facebook), and Google Places will increasingly hook into and compete with the hyperlocals. "Location-based marketing" is already a buzz word.

Where Does This Leave You?

Like last year, I'll say this to media operators: Don't bet on just one horse. Pay attention to who has access to and shares the data you help generate. Offer your media on as many popular platforms as is feasible, and make some level of it easy to share.

Make sure your business model accounts for sharing of your content, including sharing you may not appreciate. No regulation will protect your content completely.

If you're a consumer, don't expect Apple or Android to do everything you need or want, but you may want to weave your media tech life around one or the other for simplicity's sake. Do expect to be delighted and infuriated as you upgrade your computer only to discover some of your favorite old stuff doesn't work as well. (And by old, I mean from like two years ago.)

Me, I'll play with my new Android phone, my new MacBook Pro, consider the new iPad and any new Kindle, keep hacking my Windows computers, getting media any way I can (I still use a VCR sometimes!), and learning with great enjoyment.

Happy New Year!

An award-winning former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA (with honors), Dorian Benkoil handles marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift, and is the business columnist for the site. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, and activating communities through digital media. He tweets at @dbenk and you can Circle him on Google+.

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December 29 2011

15:20

How Did My Predictions for 2011 Turn Out?

It's not too hard to make predictions. What's harder is to honestly evaluate how you did. In that spirit, I'd like to ask your help.

Early this year, I predicted how 2011 would go in digital media. I'd love it if you gave me a letter grade with a Tweet to @dbenk (#gradeDBenk), message to Dorian Benkoil on Google+, or a comment below.

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Meanwhile, I'm assigning myself as judge, jury, executioner and palanquin bearer. I'll try to be as tough as I am for the business school graduate students I teach in media and entertainment technology management.

The Battle of Open Vs. Closed: B+

For 2011, I foresaw a battle of "Open vs. Closed" orientations from media companies in the digital sphere, positing that all the year's trends could be squeezed into this one.

I think I got the basic issue right. Yet, rather than a "battle," it looked more like a scramble. Media production and distribution companies tried to both charge for content and give it away.

The New York Times, Hulu and others tried to finesse both open and closed models, sometimes adjusting as they went.

The New York Times instituted a pay fence and kept trying to thread the needle between keeping traffic up by giving its work away, while making its most avid fans pay.

The Financial Times eschewed Apple's restrictive iPad policies and put its efforts instead into an HTML5 app that lives on the web but lets only subscribers get the full content offering. Walmart launched a web-based video service, Vudu.

Amazon, too, went the web app route with its Cloud Reader that, unlike its iPad app, lets consumers order directly from Amazon, something Apple doesn't allow through apps it approves for the App Store.

Hulu solidified premium offerings, saying you could get its content on the iPad or iPhone only if you paid for the app, and integrated its paid service into other devices such as the Roku box. Fox delayed its offerings on the free Hulu service by eight days. Hulu claims to be closing in on 1 million paid subscribers for the year.

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Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet is on the open-source Android platform but has "branched" the operating system to make it friendly with the device and the Amazon store and app market. That's both open and closed.

I had also predicted continued "open" vs. "closed" battles in Washington. Sure enough, prosecutors are finally making their case against the soldier who allegedly sent protected information to WikiLeaks.

On the policy front, the Federal Communications Commission instituted rules that protect the concept of Net neutrality, saying Internet service providers can't block or slow traffic. The FCC is now facing lawsuits from Verizon and others, as well as attempts in the Senate to block the regulations.

I didn't predict legal wrangling over copyright. To combat those who are illicitly providing content for which its producers want to charge, law makers (and nearly all media companies) are pushing SOPA, the Stop Online Privacy Act.

Opponents said SOPA would choke much of the creativity and sharing that has made the Internet so rich, and industry lobbyists fanned the flames on both sides.

Boycotts were called for SOPA supporters like GoDaddy and 3M, and opponents are discussing a counter bill, which The Atlantic has nicknamed OPEN. We'll see more of these battles next year.

The Battle Over Privacy: A-

There were, as predicted, intense discussions in Congress and federal agencies over whether to tamp down on the current open Internet practices in the name of protecting people's private information.

Industry groups, the Interactive Advertising Bureau a leader among them, fought a rear-guard action that appears to have held up the most draconian measures, such as ones that would have required advertising on the web to always ask a user's permission to institute even basic measurement. (Disclosure: My company has done work for the IAB.)

IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg said industry efforts at self-regulation, under which publishers and advertisers agree to uphold best practices and disclose what information they are collecting and sharing, means the effort at strict regulation "seems to be on the wane."

Still, if Congress ever gets over its gridlock on bigger matters, it may come back to the privacy issue especially after the November elections.

Google vs. Apple: A

Anyone who's paid attention can probably agree that these two Goliaths are fighting tooth, nail, finger, leg, foot and gun.

Google's Android operating system has overtaken Apple's iOS in phones, and is making inroads in tablets, with a big leg up from Amazon's Fire.

But Apple says core features of Android, such as certain finger gestures and internal coding, were stolen by its rival up the road in Silicon Valley.

Steve Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson he'd "spend my last dying breath if I need to" and all of Apple's $40 billion in cash "to destroy Android," which Jobs said was "stolen" from the company he founded. "I'm willing to go to thermonuclear war on this," he said.

Apple won parts of a lawsuit against HTC this month over infringement of iPhone-related patents, though not at the deep coding level, and suits are continuing against other makers of Android phones such as Samsung. (Apple can't easily go after Google because it doesn't actually make the devices and it provides Android openly, for free.)

Google's Chrome browser installs have overtaken both Apple's Safari and the open-source Firefox, according to StatCounter. That gives Google a leg up in desktop browsing, and offerings such as its web apps, which compete with iOS apps.

Google's Chromebook computer, meanwhile, failed to make a dent even as Apple reached a 15-year high, with 5.2 percent of the world PC market.

Social Media Will Not See a Dip: A

It's hard now to believe that some were predicting a slowdown in social media this year.

Comscore found that social networking by this fall took up one of every five minutes spent online globally and reached 82 percent of Internet users over age 15 at home and work, according to eWeek.

Facebook reaches more than 55 percent of the world's user base, Comscore said. Founder Mark Zuckerberg told public TV interviewer Charlie Rose a few weeks ago that the company could reach 1 billion users in the near future.

Twitter, running second, well behind Facebook, also continues to grow, and LinkedIn has seen an increased presence as a professional network and a traffic referrer to media websites.

While some greeted the advent of Google+ with a beleaguered sigh, the site is said to be gaining on LinkedIn's 94 million visits with 66 million last month, according to Comscore.

Meanwhile, platforms and applications with heavy social elements, such as Tumblr, Foursquare, Instagram, News.me and Flipboard, picked up users and interest; Facebook acquired Gowalla; and it's rare to see a consumer-facing web product without a strong social element.

Social is still the rage, and a big buzz machine. Columbia University Journalism School's Social Media Weekend, in which I'm participating, has dozens of signups days after opening up seats at $200 each.

Social media are still being integrated into ads, measurement platforms, apps and more.

= = = = =

So, I think I did well enough to pass. If I weight my average so the top is worth more, and you believe my ratings, I'm somewhere around an A-.

I'd love to know your thoughts, and it helps if you #gradeDBenk. I'll give more of my thoughts, looking ahead to 2012, in my next column.

An award-winning former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA (with honors), Dorian Benkoil handles marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift, and is the business columnist for the site. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, and activating communities through digital media. He tweets at @dbenk and you can Circle him on Google+.

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December 28 2011

15:20

Top 10 Media Stories of 2011: Arab Spring; R.I.P. Steve Jobs; Phone Hacking

Yes, 2011 was another year of massive change in the American media landscape, with newspapers struggling, radio and TV trying to sharpen digital strategies, and magazines prettying themselves for tablets. But more often than expected, we turned our eyes overseas, to the role of social media in organizing protests and revolutions in the Arab world. To the spread of Facebook and freer speech in places like Egypt and Libya. And to the shocking phone-hacking scandal that brought the News Corp. empire to its knees, shuttering its most popular tabloid, the News of the World (published since 1843).

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As smartphones and tablets proliferated, the reality of mobile news (and advertising) finally came into focus after years of failed promises. News orgs big and small tried to cash in on mobile editions, with mixed success. While Apple and its dominant iPad platform demanded a 30% cut of digital subscriptions -- and the customer data -- publishers fought back with "web apps" that went around the App Store and its restrictions. As more Android tablets, including the popular Kindle Fire, got into the hands of consumers, the chance that more people would ditch print editions for digital grew.

So here's our annual list of the Top 10 media stories that mattered most in 2011, and some predictions of where those stories are headed in 2012.

Top 10 Media Stories of 2011

1. The Arab Spring and the "Facebook revolutions."

What started as protests in December 2010 in Tunisia, after a college graduate set himself on fire, turned into a Middle East-wide revolution of people rising up against totalitarian regimes. In Tunisia and Egypt, the ruling governments fell, and in Libya a long civil war led to a rebel victory (aided by NATO). What many of these revolutions had in common was organizing done with social networks, especially Facebook, and news spreading virally over Twitter and YouTube. And that formula was repeated in protest movements outside of the Middle East, including in the Occupy Wall Street protests here in the U.S.

While social media played a crucial role in organizing protests and spreading the word to people in the outside world, the revolutions were not dependent upon them. When the Egyptian authorities shut down Internet access, that didn't stop people from human networking and organizing person-to-person to keep protests alive. As Miller-McCune's Philip Howard wrote:

Overemphasizing the role of information technology diminishes the personal risks that individual protesters took in heading out onto the streets to face tear gas and rubber bullets. While it is true that the dynamics of collective action are different in a digital world, we need to move beyond punditry about digital media, simple claims that technology is good or bad for democracy, and a few favored examples of how this can be so.

Prediction: Social media will continue to be vital cogs in any protest movement around the world, even as the targets of those protests learn to become more savvy in using social media in response to them. The days of closing off society to the outside world are numbered as more people use online platforms to communicate with the rest of the world.

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2. Steve Jobs dies, and the tech world mourns.

Love him or hate him, Apple co-founder and visionary Steve Jobs did make a dent in the universe. He was there at the birth of so many innovations, from the personal computer, desktop publishing, the iPod, iPhone and iPad (the holy trinity of gadgets). But one thing he couldn't conquer was cancer, and he finally succumbed and died in October at the age of 56. Not long after that, an in-depth biography of Jobs was published, written by Walter Isaacson, detailing his many triumphs as well as his hard-driving, caustic personality.

While Jobs made a huge contribution to helping salvage the music business with iTunes (while taking his cut), he has had mixed success in helping the news business with mobile subscriptions. And his take on revolutionizing the TV business had yet to be realized at his death. One quote that stands out from Jobs is this one from his Stanford commencement address in 2005:

"Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

Prediction: The legend of Steve Jobs and what he accomplished will only grow bigger over the coming years, as his legacy as a media visionary is cemented and the rougher parts of his personality are downplayed.

3. The phone-hacking scandal shutters the News of the World.

Tabloid journalists have always gone to great lengths to get scoops, but nothing compares to the breathtaking deceit at the U.K.'s News of the World, which hacked into the voice-mail messages of celebrities, politicians and even a murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler. What was originally deemed to be a few bad apples turned out to be widespread misdeeds that led to numerous arrests, resignations and firings at News International, the parent company of the tabloid. Even more surprising was the decision by News Corp. honcho Rupert Murdoch to close down the News of the World after 168 years of publication.

The "hackgate" scandal has led to resignations in the British government, at Scotland Yard and at various News Corp. publications (including Dow Jones publisher Les Hinton). Here's how MediaShift correspondent Tristan Stewart-Robertson summed it up:

Ultimately, we have a clash of what my retired philosophy professor father refers to as the "social duty to provide as much information as possible," and the duty of "non-injury to others." So which trumps which? ... The conflicting appetites for information and privacy are not going anywhere anytime soon.

Prediction: The scandal will continue to unearth more villains as government inquiries and lawsuits continue into the new year. More people will use stronger passwords for their voice-mail, and tabloid journalists will need to ratchet back their "black ops" to get scoops.

4. Bubbly IPOs return for a few startups.

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No one would mistake 2011 for 1999, the last year of the dot-com bubble, when IPOs were popping like champagne corks. The initial public offering was the most conspicuous way that investors and startup employees with stock options could cash in on their around-the-clock hard work. But still, some echoes of the late '90s seeped in this year, with successful IPOs for startups such as LinkedIn, Groupon and Zynga. In May, LinkedIn was priced at $45 per share, and jumped 109% to close at $94.25. As a Reuters story explained, the IPO was "evoking memories of the investor love affair with Internet stocks during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s."

The hottest startups of 2011 fell into the SoLoMo category: social, local and mobile. And Groupon was right at the sweet spot of SoLoMo, as the biggest player in the hot "daily deals" market. Despite the fact that Groupon was not profitable and its growth was slowing down, the company's IPO raised $700 million, the biggest public offering since Google. While social gaming startup Zynga raised even more money, $1 billion, its IPO actually ended its first day of trading below its initial price of $10 per share. While a few Internet companies did well going public, most are still waiting in the wings. As USA Today put it, overall IPOs have had a dismal 2011.

Prediction: With so much stock market instability, it will be tough for many companies to go public in the coming months. More likely, the exit for startups will be to get acquired, except for the big fish like Facebook and Twitter, which could have huge IPOs next year.

5. New York Times finds success with metered pay wall; others try their luck.

Why won't people pay a fair price for news content online? So many news orgs simply put up their content for free online that this is what most people expect to pay: nothing. But some exceptions like WSJ.com (leaky wall) and FT.com (metered wall) found success with a mix of free and paid content. Then came the biggest experiment of them all, the metered pay wall at NYTimes.com, where you get 20 free articles per month (or via Google search or social media) and then you have to pay anywhere from $15 per month to $35 per month for full access on the web and with mobile apps. The price seemed steep and the Times was targeting the people who use its content the most. And yet there were exceptions: Car maker Lincoln subsidized free access for many users, and a recent "special offer" gave full digital access for just 99 cents for 8 weeks.

The metered wall has been a smashing success so far for NYTimes.com, garnering 324,000 paying subscribers by the end of the third quarter, just six months after the start of the wall. Plus, the Times has 1.2 million users with full digital access. (Many have print subscriptions that give them digital access.) But where does that leave the other, smaller papers that are trying out pay walls? Gannett newspapers, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Boston Globe all have begun testing pay strategies and it's unclear if they will be as successful as the Times. But as PaidContent's Staci Kramer wrote in a year-end review, "2011 is the hands-down winner when it comes to people paying for digital content. The numbers aren't all in yet and some of it will be hard to quantify given the lack of complete transparency but it's clear that more people are willing to pay for digital access to music, news, movies, TV, games, books and magazines."

Prediction: More online newspapers will try to charge for their content with mixed success. Not everyone has the strong brand (and followers) of the New York Times, and many folks are happy to try out other free sites for news if they are forced to pay too much.

6. The battle over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in Congress.

No one likes piracy, but the two bills in Congress to fight online piracy, SOPA and PIPA, are seen as flawed and overreaching by various tech companies and online pundits. The two bills are supported by most big media companies, music publishers and Hollywood, and are opposed by big tech and online companies and organizations.

While Congress expected to pass some version of these two bills into law with little friction, online organizers have wreaked havoc with political protests that haven't been seen at this depth before. Tumblr created a slick "Call Congress" tool that popped up on its home page, and 6,000 websites participated in an online protest against what they considered to be possible censorship under the new law, with 1 million emails sent to members of Congress. As Congress adjourns for its holiday recess, the fight continues, with so many people pulling their domains from Go Daddy (a supporter of SOPA), that the domain company changed course and withdrew support for the bill.

Prediction: The bills will still likely make it through Congress in some form, but if the online protests continue apace, there might well be amendments to make the bills less overreaching when it comes to piracy enforcement.

7. Kindle Fire tablet is an affordable alternative to iPad.

Here come the low-cost Android tablets. While Apple has done such a good job with its iPad tablet in dominating the market, there was still an opening for a lower-cost, smaller tablet to steal away market share. And this Christmas season, Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet ($199) and to a lesser extent the Nook Tablet ($250) have stolen Apple's thunder with cheaper alternatives. Some leaked data to Cult of Android showed that the Fire was racking up 50,000 pre-orders per day, which could mean 2.5 million sales before it even went on sale Nov. 15!

Those are impressive numbers for Amazon, which has created quite the backlash for its bullying in the book industry, becoming a book publisher on its own and sending people as spies into bookstores to compare prices. And yet, Apple will still continue to dominate tablet sales this holiday season, according to researchers at IDC, with the Kindle and Nook tablet sales coming at the expense of higher-priced Android tablets. "I fully expect Apple to have its best-ever quarter in 4Q11," IDC's Tom Mainelli told the Washington Post, "and in 2012 I think we'll see Apple's product begin to gain more traction outside of the consumer market, specifically with enterprise and education markets."

Prediction: Apple will have to work harder at keeping its dominant lead in tablets, and will need to consider selling a cheaper, smaller tablet to compete on the low end. While the Kindle Fire will be popular as a cheap alternative, it will need to offer more than a closed Amazon environment to satisfy gadget geeks.

8. Netflix stumbles with huge price hike, poor Qwikster idea.

2011 was another strong year for people cutting the cord to cable and satellite TV. The cable industry finally acknowledged there was a slight drop-off in subscriptions, and for the first time U.S. households with TV sets declined. But one reason people were willing to cut the cord was the proliferation of "over the top" streaming TV services such as Netflix and Hulu. But after years of growth and profits, Netflix stumbled badly in 2011. The company announced it was unbundling its DVD-by-mail service and charging higher rates for DVDs and for streaming, with a spin-off company for DVDs called Qwikster.

Those moves were largely panned by pundits, and Netflix started bleeding customers, with 800,000 of them leaving the service by the end of the third quarter. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had to apologize to customers in a blog post and in a video address:

Prediction: Netflix will need a two-pronged strategy to gain back customers: aggressive pricing and promotions; better selection of streaming content. It might be tough to pull it off, but without doing anything, Netflix will find a very difficult road ahead.

9. Publishers rebel against Apple with HTML5 web apps.

Apple could only push publishers so far. While the tech giant came hat in hand to media companies promising to prop up the news business with digital subscriptions for the iPad, its terms were onerous: a 30% cut of all revenues; Apple keeps the data on customers; no links to subscriptions outside of Apple's App Store from within apps. Some publishers decided that enough was enough, and created "web apps" that worked on the iPad without going through Apple and its App Store. The most prominent web app came from FT.com, which decided to create its own HTML5 app to go around Apple's control.

When I spoke to FT.com's managing director, Rob Grimshaw, he shared these figures about their success:

> 20% of all page views for FT.com come from mobile devices
> 30% of all page views seen by paid subscribers to FT.com are on mobile devices

> More than 1 million downloads for the FT apps for iPhone and iPad

> More than 500,000 visits to the web app over the past 3 months

> 15% to 20% of new paid subscribers come from mobile devices

Apple eventually blinked and set better terms for publishers, allowing them to sell subscriptions at discounted prices. However, Apple still gets a huge 30% cut and keeps the customer data.

Prediction: More publishers will watch FT.com and others' web apps very closely, and will consider ways to get around Apple's walled garden.

10. Rise of Google+ as an alternative to Facebook, Twitter.

After several false starts (including Google Buzz, Orkut, Wave), Google finally got social networking right with its Google+ network launch in 2011. While the service quickly brought on millions of new users and was integrated tightly into Google search results and Gmail, some folks were unimpressed and felt like it was a ghost town because their friends remained entrenched on Facebook.

So what was the big deal with Google+? The service let people set up "Circles" so that status updates could be sent to discrete groups, and the "Hangouts" let you do group video chat like never before. One enterprising TV station in Columbia, Mo., even started putting Google+ Hangouts on the air. My experience was typical for the more plugged-in tech media crowd: Within a couple months on Google+, I had more people following me there than on Twitter, where I'd been active since 2008.

Prediction: Google+ will continue to be an attractive option for interactivity and higher level conversations among the more tech-insider crowd, but most people will continue their presence on Twitter and Facebook.

Honorable Mentions

Here are some other stories that didn't quite make the cut but are worth mentioning:

> Digital First takes over newspapers at the Journal Register Co. and Media News, and launches an investment company for digital news innovation.

> AOL buys Huffington Post and TechCrunch, and TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington is eventually pushed out after trying to run both TechCrunch and a new VC fund.

> #OccupyWallStreet organizes hundreds of protests around the U.S. and world to demand that money is removed from politics.

> News aggregators proliferate, with the rise of Flipboard, Zite (bought by CNN), Trove, Livestand, News.me and many more.

What do you think? What media stories were the biggest ones this year? Did we miss any key ones? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit. and Circle him on Google+

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December 27 2011

15:20

Public Media: A Wish List for 2012

What's the No. 1 innovation that's needed in public media in 2012?

I posed that question to the public media group on Facebook, as well as to some additional colleagues via email. The responses ranged from a focus on cultivating a culture of innovation, to calls for more innovative content approaches, to the need to grow public media's audience to provide greater support for our existing innovations. And according to some, what's needed more than anything -- more than any individual innovative approach -- is a shared, collective vision of where public media needs to go next.

Here's a selection of the responses I received:

"I think what's still needed most is a change in the culture so that innovation and risk-taking are supported and encouraged." - Ian Hill, community manager, KQED

Several people agreed with Ian, only some of whom were comfortable being quoted in this piece. Adam Schweigert, who recently departed public media (a temporary hiatus, he insists!) after 7-plus years in the system, said creating a culture of innovation "will do a lot to help recruit and retain new voices, increase diversity, (and) lead to further innovation in content and technology ..."

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Need for Resources

Veteran journalist Max Cacas, currently defense editor at Signal Magazine, but with long ties to public media, argued that a culture of innovation is well and good, but we first need the resources to support such a culture. He offered a specific recommendation:

"I think what is needed is an 'innovation seed bank' that public radio/TV/media outlets in smaller markets can tap into so that they can make efforts to serve new audiences without compromising their existing and ongoing services."

Which raises a great question (one that was still being debated on Facebook, last I checked): Does building a culture of innovation create resources to support said innovation ... or do the resources indeed need to come first?

Kelsey Proud, online producer at St. Louis Public Radio, noted, "Some things can be done without money, but others, like equipment purchases, simply cannot."

Yoonhyung Lee, director of Digital Media Fundraising at KQED, feels that we have plenty of innovation in the system ... What's needed are bigger audiences to help translate innovation into sustainability:

"(Innovations) don't necessarily pay the bills. And they don't necessarily garner the kind of audiences that ONE prime-time program, ONE hour of drive-time listening would. Innovations are great, but if we can't find the audiences to support them ... well, does that falling tree make a sound if no one is listening?"

Tech Not Always the Driver

Of course, when you ask a question about innovation, people tend to respond with their own definitions of the admittedly broad term. Some emphasized that while "innovation" often connotes "technology" in this day and age, technology should not necessarily be the driver:

"While it is a significant driver of change, technology for technology's sake has little meaning. Our imaginations must lead technology. Media makers must first decide what difference they want to make, and for whom -- then figure out the tools to get them where they want to go." - Sue Schardt, executive director, AIR

On Facebook, producer Stacy Bond agreed, voicing her opinion that we should be using technology "to innovate on-air (and in ways that are truly cross-platform, not just safe ways of paying lip-service to cross-platform)." Scott Finn, news director at WUSF in Florida, wants to see expanded digital reporting and original investigative reporting at the state and local level; "then," he said, "we need to develop the digital infrastructure to share stories across stations and with NPR."

Public media veteran Michael Marcotte agreed that sharing was key, but wants to see it on an even broader scale. While he agrees resources and culture change are key issues, he thinks the main innovation needed in 2012 is a shared vision, and a plan to go with it:

"We share the mission of public media, but we don't act in coordinated fashion for the long-term success of the entire system. I think 2012's innovation should be a national, collective, shared effort to define and refine the vision that drives strategy, policy and investment approaching 2020."

In a recent piece for Current, Melinda Wittstock -- founder of Capitol News Connection, a startup that recently closed its doors -- called public media a "cozy, clubby world," where "risk is a four-letter word." What do you think? Is public media risk-averse? Do we need to begin taking more risks in 2012? If so, which risks should we take?

What risks will you be taking in the new year?

Amanda Hirsch is a writer, online media consultant and performer who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. The former editorial director of PBS.org, she blogs at amandahirsch.com and spends way too much time on Twitter.

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This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on the Integrated Media Association's Public Media Innovators Project, a weekly blog series about the people and projects that are helping make public media a relevant and viable media enterprise for the 21st century.

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December 20 2011

15:20

7 Ways Salespeople Can Better Understand the Editorial Side of News

There was quite a reaction to my previous column, suggesting editors learn more about, and cooperate with, the business sides of their organizations.

This time, I'd like to talk to people on the business side about how they can cooperate with the editorial side to work effectively to keep a news organization solid while also increasing revenues and ensuring the organization's survival.

First, though, let me respond a bit to the critics. A lot of the comments, on Facebook, Google+, blogs and elsewhere indicated people had read the provocative headline, "Tear Down the Wall Between Business and Editorial," perhaps a subhed or two, but not the piece in full, or even half. Some were nasty, political or ad hominem attacks (one called me Mr. "Bank Oil," the kind of play on my name I hadn't heard since elementary school), others were amusing, and a fair number were supportive and thoughtful.

One careful and considered rebuttal came from the liberal Common Dreams site, which called me "oblivious to the dangers of basing your business model on giving the sponsors what they want."

I'm not. But I have seen multiple news sites struggle to survive, including ones where I've had to cut staff.

Common Dreams asks for donations, and I hope they get enough to support their operation. Most news organizations, though, cannot survive on charity. Many are in deep trouble and have gone out of business or are struggling to survive.

News media executives and entrepreneurs -- including one who praised the previous column -- have told me how pained they were at their inability to financially sustain sites they considered superior editorially.

Overcoming Skepticism from Editors

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"With many news publishers, the online brands haven't had the revenue to support the reporting and editorial operations, let alone the rest of the staff and infrastructure that's needed for a modern news organization," Tim Ruder, chief revenue officer of ad optimization company Perfect Market, told me last week.

Ruder has often faced skepticism and even the ire of editors at major news companies when offering his company's technology, which optimizes page layout and links to get more readers in and serve them higher-value ads. The editors, understandably, don't want their pages changed in any way.

But, Ruder continued, "If these type of revenue opportunities can support the newsroom without compromising reporting, that's not to be ignored."

The news is not all glum, either. I have seen entrepreneurs make a business out of news while cultivating their ability to do great work.

Part of the reason is their keen focus on what matters most. Which leads me back to the point of this column: How the business side can intelligently do its work to sustain and enhance the organization over time.

1. Remember, It's the News Business

Your product is news. News is nothing without credibility -- and that credibility can be damaged by the wrong kind of ads or sponsorship. I spent a lot of my time at ABC News explaining to the sales side why we couldn't do one thing or another while trying to suss out the advertisers' goals to reach them within the bounds of editorial tenets.

After all, the credibility and association with your site is a good part of the reason advertisers want to be on it. Without that credibility, they'll lose the venue to get the word out about their products.

If something you're proposing calls the reliability of the organization -- its credibility or trustworthiness -- into question, that damage is very hard to recover from.

2. Know and Advocate For the "Product"

I've worked with salespeople who seem to see a news page as an array of ads, with the text and pictures simply filling up the space in between.

Even if you think of the business as only a business, not a special public trust, you have to respect the product and not bastardize it in the name of making quick money. Part of your job should be to help sustain the business over the long-term.

You can't really sell the news unless you have a powerful, abiding respect for what it is and can do, the ways it serves, informs, motivates and even impassions a community. You'll be much better able to intelligently sell the advertiser on that community if you understand what motivates the people in that community, in addition to their demographic profile.

3. Get At The Client's Real Goals

Sponsors will sometimes try to push the envelope, or get something they've envisioned that's not on your site. They'll ask if they can put this extra doodad here, get that ad size or flashy thing there.

When it's not possible, any intelligent sponsor or media buyer should be able to tell you something of what the goals are. Maybe you can offer that special something in another way, or achieve their aim with an offering you already have in your arsenal.

Sponsors who are considering your organization are doing so not only because you offer them exposure to a certain user base or group, but also because of the environment they get to be in.

It can be a bit of work, especially when you're dealing with media buyers who are trying to fit you into a spreadsheet model as part of a larger buy. But I've found that more often than not, there's a way to help them understand, then reach an accommodation.

4. Understand the Line, Then Help Hold It

It's very tempting when there's money on the table to say "yes," then run to try to get the request fulfilled. Cultivate and listen to the voice in the back of your head that will tell you when something goes a little, or a lot, too far.

A sponsor may request something you are pretty sure won't fly. First you have to understand why. It's not enough just to know the rules. You have to grasp the reason you can't do something a sponsor is asking.

I give a flat "no" when asked if sponsorship would guarantee news coverage of a given client and am ready with very clear reasons for giving that answer. I also then work to get at the client's underlying goals to find a way to reach them within the strictures. (See the previous point.)

To salespeople, editors can seem like "no" machines. If an editor objects to something you're proposing to offer, he or she may seem obstructionist, but there may be a legitimate reason.

Just as I called on editors to work with the sales side, the sales side has to understand the editorial imperatives and try to work within them. It helps, too, if the business side works with the editorial side to devise the strictures.

5. Work With the Editors, and Let Them Help You

Having a strong relationship with editors can beget other benefits. Mike Orren, founder of Pegasus News, a site that serves the Dallas-Fort Worth area, put the newsroom and sales teams in the same room.

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"Our ex-newspaper restaurant critic was yelling across the room saying there was a review coming, and the sales team might want to pitch them," he said, noting that the critic didn't say whether the review was good or bad. Either way, the sponsor might want to be there -- if the article is negative, the sponsor may want the opportunity to counter that perception. But "never was she [the critic] going to let somebody tell her how to review a restaurant," Orren said.

The sales team also helped the editorial side. "Sales would tip the editorial team that someone wasn't paying bills and maybe were going to go out of business," Orren told me at the Street Fight Summit earlier this fall. "We got more scoops out of our sales team than probably anywhere else."

6. Don't Underestimate How Hard It Is To ...

  • Get a story. The text and video you see that magically appears day after day takes a lot of time and effort to gather, edit and produce -- especially in a reliable and trustworthy way. A lot of reporters work all hours and sacrifice health, sleep and social life to get a story. Understand and respect that dedication. It can be a lot harder than it looks.
  • Get people to look at it. A lot of the work of getting people to discover a story once it's been produced falls on the editorial team, especially in the digital realm. That, too, takes time, effort and understanding of the community.

7. Now, More than Ever

For a few decades, news in America had a heyday of nearly unsurpassed profitability brought about by advantages such as high barriers to entry, limited distribution channels, and advertisers with few other ways to reach consumers. Salespeople could literally sit and wait for the phone to ring.

"It's like printing money!" one publisher gleefully exclaimed to me, holding up a classified page on which every column inch represented more dollars.

Those reliable and hefty profits supported all kinds of editorial efforts that, unfortunately, can no longer be sustained in the same way.

As the industry restructures, I have suggested editors learn how the business works and how far they can go to help it without compromising the operation. Sales needs to understand that "money talks" but the people making "the product" are ultimately responsible for whether it's worthwhile for those who consume it.

I want to see news organizations survive and do great work, and I believe that today, the only way to ensure that is to take a more holistic approach to the business of news.

An award-winning former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA (with honors), Dorian Benkoil handles marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift, and is the business columnist for the site. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, and activating communities through digital media. He tweets at @dbenk and you can Circle him on Google+.

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December 08 2011

15:20

Why Our Startup Decided Not To Target the Newspaper Industry

Are there opportunities for technology startups which target the media business?

Fred Wilson -- a venture capitalist who has made investments in Twitter, Zynga, Tumblr, Etsy, and FourSquare, among others -- apparently thinks not. As reported on MediaShift on November 15, Wilson told an audience of CUNY students with interests in business and journalism that better opportunities could be found in industries that aren't as "picked over" and have problems that aren't being solved.

As the co-founder of a technology startup that once considered the news industry as a source of partnerships and revenue, I agree with Wilson that startups should look elsewhere.

However, the reason they should do so is not because the media industry lacks problems that need to be solved. If anything, the media industry has problems that span every sector of the industry and every segment of the value chain. Rather, the reason why startups should look for other opportunities is many industry problems are so intractable, and the chance for making a successful business is so slim, that it simply doesn't make sense to target it.

The case of Invantory

Right now, we're developing Invantory, a mobile software platform that targets the local classifieds marketplace that is currently dominated by Craigslist. We're going to make the Invantory experience one that is defined by an easy-to-use interface and great-looking photographs that are now possible with most smartphones. Further, we're attacking a problem that has vexed users of Craigslist and newspaper classifieds for years -- the lack of a system to vet who you're dealing with. Our reputation system, which is built on proprietary algorithms and other safeguards, will help users better evaluate the other parties before they make contact.

My partner, Sam Chow, is a former Microsoft engineer and an experienced programmer for Apple's iOS platform. My own background is online news, content and communities. In the 2000s, I was a technology journalist and online editor, and in the 1990s, I worked at a daily newspaper and on a daily television newscast.

My news roots run deep, and I thought there might be some alignment between our platform and the needs of local news publishers, which have seen their own classifieds revenue fall sharply in the last five years. In 2006, classified revenue in four categories (cars, jobs, real estate and "other") totaled $17 billion, according to the Newspaper Association of America. Last year, it totaled just $5.6 billion. Wouldn't it be great if our platform could somehow help the media industry, while building Invantory's user base?

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I began seeking out publishers, online news professionals and other experts to better understand the market and the possibilities for our platform to serve online news operations through white-label apps or other solutions. Very quickly I realized there would be a problem selling to publishers. Most people I talked with had reservations about dealing with software vendors, ranging from a reluctance to share revenue to outright mistrust.

"I've dealt with enough vendors to become very cynical," a publisher of a small newspaper told me. "Whether they extrapolate revenue based on bigger markets or outright lie, we have become very suspicious."

This sentiment, which was echoed by others I spoke with, made me realize that the sales cycles would be punishing. For many customers, it would be hard to get our foot in the door, let alone successfully close a deal.

Yet the same publisher was interested in a technology that could help once again make classifieds a draw -- as well as bring in revenue or improve efficiencies. He readily admitted that his own technology was complicated for users. "On Craigslist, it's easy to create an ad, upload a photo, and publish," he said. "We should be able to do that."

The barriers

I spent time studying how classified systems worked at various publishers. I found it very interesting that many smaller publishers still had a classifieds desk that took ads over the phone, often augmented by email with customers. Some larger publishers had online classifieds tools, but they were clunky. Part of the problem related to the fact that most attempted to serve both the print and online classifieds, and did neither job well. Others were poorly configured. The system used by my hometown newspaper didn't even let me post classifieds locally -- but did make it possible to create listings in markets more than 20 miles away. The system also tried to charge expensive rates for relatively small ads -- $15 to $20 was a typical base rate for a small text ad in print. (A simple online classified ad was included for free.) No wonder people were abandoning newspaper classifieds for Craigslist.

Beyond the clunky ad creation systems, one of the biggest technology problems I observed was the nonstandard online publishing platforms used across the industry. This is actually a huge, underappreciated issue for all news publishers, including broadcasters, news agencies, blog-based news and opinion sites. It leads to additional costs, complexities, and talent shortages that companies based on older media platforms -- including print, television and radio -- did not have to deal with.

Among newspaper websites, it's not hard to find home-grown hacks or heavily customized content management systems. Even at publishers which use the same CMS across their properties, variations are common -- a typical example might involve different versions of Drupal and Drupal modules, owing to staggered technology upgrades, different needs for various brands, and complications involving legacy applications and data. Throw different registration and online payment systems into the mix, and you can start to understand the problem new software platforms targeting this industry are faced with.

Related to the CMS mess was a lack of developers and other technical staff at media organizations. This is a problem that afflicts many industries, not just the news business. But it exacerbated the problem with nonstandard publishing systems. Not only would heavy programming work be required to get Invantory to work with a new customer's site, but integration would largely fall back on us. Systems integration is technology consulting that requires lots of time and specialized development staff. It was not a business that we wanted to get into.

The Final Nails in the Coffin

The final nails in the coffin came at the New England Newspaper & Press Association's fall conference in October. There, I heard more details about the pain being experienced by publishers, and received advice that helped us make our decision to abandon our original plan to target the media industry.

One of the speakers, Amy Mitchell of the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, laid out the grim financial outlook. She stated that while most newspapers are still managing a profit, they're surviving by managing costs. Mitchell was unable to identify any solution to the revenue crisis. "We are not recommending anything other than experimentation," she told the audience, adding that this was going to be tough at many publications whose corporate cultures are resistant to change and innovation. This signaled that publishers were not only less likely to invest in innovative technologies, they were also unable to afford more expensive third-party software.

News industry analyst, author and blogger Ken Doctor was even more skeptical of a turnaround. "It is impossible for anyone to keep up with the disruption," he stated. Doctor went on to predict that broadcasters would soon begin to feel the same pain as newspapers and magazines, as business models based on traditional advertising eroded further.

However, Doctor also saw opportunity in tablet platforms. "If you read, you're going to have a tablet," he said, adding that the price of Kindles and other devices will soon drop to $50. "Why wouldn't you buy one?" he asked the audience.

The final presentation of the afternoon was from Alan Mutter, a former newspaper editor turned Silicon Valley CEO. As a consultant, speaker and author of the Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, he has become a well-known pundit on the travails of the news industry. During his NENPA talk, he predicted more top-line pain for publishers, owing to a number of trends:

  • "The audience trend is you don't have audiences under the age of 40."
  • "The most important thing happening is brands are going directly to consumers."
  • "High-priced reach advertising is not defensible."
  • "Coca-Cola has 34 million friends on Facebook ... This is the future for marketing and advertising."

Later in the day, I spoke with Mutter, and described our vision for Invantory as a mobile classifieds platform that could potentially sell white-labelled apps and platform technology to the news industry. He was pessimistic, not only because of the problems I cited earlier, but also because of the climate for raising capital in this space. "VCs with any experience won't invest in you," he warned.

Nevertheless, Mutter seemed hopeful about the idea of doing something different with classifieds. "Think about a real way to reinvent the classifieds market," Mutter told me. "Because there isn't one now."

Moving on

That evening, I met my partner and told him that the idea of selling to the news industry wouldn't work. Doing so would require huge investments of time and staff expertise, for skeptical customers who generally couldn't afford expensive technology systems. Raising capital would be more difficult when investors heard who we were targeting. We are still going ahead with our plan to create a mobile classifieds platform, but will instead go direct to consumer based on a freemium business model.

We've already built out the cloud infrastructure and now have a demo application. Work has already started on our intellectual property -- the proprietary technologies that will drive our reputation system. Soon we will begin user testing. (If you're interested in signing up for product updates, or seeing an alternative to Craigslist in your town or city, please use the sign-up form on the front page of the Invantory website.)

We understand that we'll face a new set of challenges, especially in terms of developing a solid go-to-market strategy and revenue plan. But we believe the time is ripe for innovation in this space.

Ian Lamont is the former managing editor of The Industry Standard and a web media veteran with years of experience developing online news, community and content. He eventually left the news media to return to grad school, earning an MBA as an MIT Sloan Fellow. His startup, Invantory, is a mobile software platform for local classifieds. Follow him on Twitter at @invantory or @ilamont or email him at ian.lamont@invantory.com.

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December 07 2011

15:20

Tear Down the Wall Between Business and Editorial!

For too long, reporters and editors have been unaware, even hostile to the business sides of their organizations. Those attitudes have helped push the news industry into its current dire state.

And that's why I say: Tear down the wall between business and editorial.

Before you start sharpening your pitchforks, hear me out.

I'm not proposing a free-for-all money-grab that destroys journalistic imperatives. I am calling for those who make the "product" to learn how it's sold so they can better do their jobs and contribute to the bottom line.

If editorial staff is the first to be pared in news organizations, perhaps that's in part because they haven't known enough to make a strong business case for what they contribute.

Jim Brady, the former executive editor of WashingtonPost.com, and now the editor in chief of Journal Register Company, seems to agree that journalists need to learn the business ropes.

Jim Brady

"We don't want to see people sent out into the world slaughtered by the wolves because they don't know anything about the business side," he said at this year's Online News Association conference when I asked his thoughts on journalists learning business principles.

MediaShift managing editor Courtney Lowery Cowgill, co-founder and former editor in chief of the now-defunct New West, was also encouraging. She told me that while she and others were building their sites, they were stymied while trying to get advice on how to support the news businesses while maintaining proper standards.

"Friends in similar startup situations were struggling with how to blur the lines in an intelligent and ethical way," she said. "There was nobody to help us with that. They were all just saying, 'No, no. Don't do it.' We all need a roadmap for how to do it, a good guide on how to do that ethically, intelligently and efficiently."

Here, I hope, is a start.

Remember: It's a Business

One place to start is attitude.

Can you name another business in which the people who make the key product are allowed, even encouraged, to be ignorant of how they make money?

I've found many journalists to be uncomfortable with money. But money is lifeblood. As much as you might labor to get a story in before deadline, you'll sweat bullets when you're responsible for payroll and the money isn't there.

A for-profit business is just that. That profit is what lets you not only continue another day, but also gives you the freedom to determine your own mission.

Yes, the news business is special, and has a special trust. But many businesses are, and some of them -- such as health care and food -- deal much more literally with issues of life and death. They, too, must juggle ethical and commercial imperatives while doing their work.

Keeping the public trust, even one protected by the Constitution, is not contradictory with the the idea of making your enterprise financially self-sustaining.

The more revenue you have, the more creative ways you can use it to produce a better product, and the more diverse the revenue is, the less beholden you will be to any single source.

Know the Business

The more you know about the business workings, the better arguments you'll be able to make to gain resources to do good work. You can point out the profits one section you're handling brings in that can support another effort you believe in.

You may be able to make a case that something that seems like a cost center will, over time, create new efficiencies or revenue-enhancements. You can note that an investigative story may not bring in advertising, but it could bring in page views that you can show lead to new advertising or subscription revenues.

Even better is if you can back up your case in a way a business person can understand, by using data to make a cogent case that applies to the bottom line.

Understand the Finances

The more literate you are about the finances, not just income, assets and depreciation, but also cost of capital and market conditions, the better you'll understand the reasoning behind some decisions.

The better grounding you have in the finances, the more respect you'll have for the business on both the income and expense sides -- and the more you'll want to control costs, or spend appropriately to get the job done.

You'll be able to see the company through a business lens. You'll put yourself in a cooperative, collegial position, rather than going begging to the money people with hand out.

If you're running your own operation, the better you'll know how close you are to meeting payroll, or how creative you can be to raise some funds.

If Sales Influences Editorial, It's OK

Do you think newspapers run separate real estate, car or fashion sections for editorial reasons? Or could it be because those sections generate healthy profits?

It's fine if commercial reasoning influences editorial projects, as long as the projects fit into your overall mission. Let me give an example from MediaShift.

We have sometimes adjusted timing on stories or special series if there was no good reason not to in order to accommodate a client who wanted to sponsor them.

Sometimes we've even extended a series by a couple more stories than we might have without the added funds. Producing that extra content can be additive and contribute to the richness of the site.

If we can serve our community and earn revenue at the same time, that's a home run.

We are mindful of the danger of working so hard to serve sponsors that we neglect the needs of the larger community. That's very important.

Create Things That Make Money

Sometimes, you'll package material in a way that garners interest from viewers and sponsors. Packaging and repackaging can be a great device.

It's easy to demean "link bait" such as "Top 10" or "How To" lists, but if your users like and share them, and they generate profitable page views, is there really harm? If there's sponsor interest, all the better.

You can also launch efforts to make money in order to support other operations that don't. I'll later be writing a column about news companies that have done everything from sell web consulting services to hand out sponsor postcards at local gatherings.

Try to Get to 'Yes'

A former managing editor at Newsweek (where I used to work) once told me proudly of throwing a salesperson for the magazine out of his office with harsh words.

Perhaps, instead, he could have worked to help craft a solution that met the advertiser's needs without violating Newsweek's core principles.newsweek_headroom_max4aa.jpg

There were times at ABCNews.com, where I was a liaison between the sales and editorial sides after having been a managing editor, when I created products the editorial team accepted while explaining justifiable limits to the sales team.

I have, as a journalist doing business deals, sometimes had to fight the urge to give a sponsor an outright "no" to one of their ideas, and instead tried to glean their ultimate goals and worked together to find an acceptable way to meet them.

Be Willing to Say "No"

You also have to be willing for the long-term health of the business to say "no." You may be asked to do things you consider unsavory. You have to have the spine to make a sponsor uncomfortable, as MediaTwits podcast co-host Rafat Ali did at his former site, PaidContent, when he reported on a sponsor in a way they didn't appreciate.

Advertisers rooted in your community (whether that's a community of professionals, of like-minded individuals, or of geographic proximity) will usually understand if you explain that a request they're making could damage the operation's credibility. That damage will also damage their ability to have their message in front of a happily engaged community you've worked hard to amass.

You do need core principles that can't be bent -- even if that means the business doesn't meet payroll. Remember the point above about diversified revenue streams? The more there are, the less any one sponsor can damage you.

Be Prepared for Uncomfortable Conversations

In smaller communities, the people who sponsor a news operation can be the ones being reported on. They'll ask for favors. You and people you work with have to be able to explain, even in the midst of reporting, what can and can't be done on their behalf.

At the risk of repeating: The more profit your company makes, the more leeway it has to do its work, to remain independent of government or other interference, and the more freedom to do good work.

An award-winning former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA (with honors), Dorian Benkoil handles marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift, and is the business columnist for the site. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, and activating communities through digital media. He tweets at @dbenk and you can Circle him on Google+.

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