Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage

Oct 06

Replacing Newspapers: A Cocktail Approach

Posted: under advertising, Blogs, Design, Digital Migration, journalism, Multimedia, new media, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers, Online Video, Web Tech.
Tags: , , , , ,

I hate like hell to keep doing quick, off-the-cuff bites at such big topics, but maybe I should just resign myself to accepting the web ethos of not trying to do all things at once.  Yeah, yeah, I know – “Eat the elephant one bite at a time.”So here’s an interesting coinkydink: two items I bookmarked to read later – and actually got around to reading (pause here for an astonished gasp) – struck me as having a stronger relationship than was initially apparent.

First was this bit from the Economist, about how professionals are starting to really flock to online social networks:

On LinkedIn, the market leader, members have been updating their profiles in record numbers in recent weeks, apparently to position themselves in case they lose their jobs. The two most popular sites, LinkedIn and Xing, have been growing at breakneck speed and boast 29m and 6.5m members respectively. And, in contrast to mass-market social networks such as Facebook and MySpace, both firms have worked out how to make money.

The article goes on to raise two interesting points 1) if Facebook can start becoming friendlier to business users it might start actually making money, and 2) professionals are shit-scared about the economy and looking at social networks as great “Career Insurance” places to schmooze people you met once at a conference, snarfed their biz card and never had a use for.old friends.

Next to this was a piece from BusinessWeek, another in the seemingly endless series of kidney punches from the biz community about how newspapers are doomed, done for, goners, forks stuck into them and vultures already descending.

So who would profit from a disappearing newspaper? Local TV and cable, for starters. The city daily is still the biggest single media entity in virtually any market. Its main pitch to advertisers is brutally simple: We have more craniums to dent with your message than anyone else.


Which brings me to a disquieting conclusion. The obvious venues for all this displaced journalistic energy are a gazillion new independent online endeavors, be they individual blogs or bigger efforts like They will make for fascinating media ecosystems within individual cities, and some will become hits. It is much less certain whether ad dollars will follow. Ultracheap classifieds site craigslist has simply “destroyed revenue,” [emph. mine – dlf] says Dave Morgan, a former newspaper executive who founded behavioral targeting firm Tacoda, and revenue that no longer exists won’t shift to new ventures. Others point out that key newspaper advertisers—local auto dealers and realtors, say—already have many outlets for ads online, not least of which are their own Web sites or national sites such as that serve up targeted ads.

For those sensing untapped riches in ads from pizzerias and dry cleaners, well, good luck, says Borrell. “Local is a very unorganized and dirty business,” he says. “People look at local as this one-ton gorilla, but in fact it’s 2,000 one-pound monkeys.” And no publisher can afford to sit down with a city’s 2,000 small fry to sell each a $50 ad. The bitterest pill of all for newspaper denizens is that, while nature abhors a vacuum and all that, in this case there may not even be one left to fill.

Yowch. So newspapers will all just die, and by this point in time, they’ve become so irrelevant and useless that nobody will even really notice that they’re gone?  Sheesh.  Start passing out the pistols & hemlock in America’s newsrooms, eh?

El Tiempo's DIY interface. This is for their very profitable "Portafolio" spin-off site.

El Tiempo

I’m going to have to disagree with this nihilistic conclusion.  Yeah, I know the local online niche ad market is impossibly fragmented, and it would cost a publisher more to pay an ad sales rep than that person would produce in revenue.  Solution: don’t pay the ad rep.  Do what El Tiempo in Bogota calls “auto-pauta,” or DIY ads.  BTW, I really do recommend you click through on that link to El Tiempo.  They are one of the smartest operations out there, they are making piles of cash off internet ads, and they are constantly (ruthlessly, relentlessly) refining their approach.

Moreover. When you look at what the social networking sites are really selling their users, you start to come to the conclusion that what a local newspaper – correction: what the local newspaper of the future – offers can be a lot more compelling.

Think about what the users really want from these social net sites.  Chatting with friends, yeah sure. Blowing your own horn in a socially acceptable way, yessiree. Looking for the next step up on the ladder? Well, yeah … but the problem with a lot of the listings on the social net services is that they are from all over the place. Yeah, you can filter them. But we all know that most of the really good jobs are never spamadvertised like this.  We find them through referrals – which is where recruiters/headhunters come in. And local friends & business acquaintances.

One of the fastest-growing areas on LinkedIn is the “Question” section, where pros reach out to other pros in their groups, and ask something that’s on their mind.  They’re trying to have conversations.

That should be taking place at a newspaper site.  Sooner or later, it will.  Either the papers will replicate it and include it in their future selves, or they will do a Borg takeover.  The paper is a much more logical place for this kind of activity – it includes access to the reference materials from the past, a panel of trained experts to step in and help moderate the discussions, or kick new discussions off with provocative questions, and a huge archive of relevants facts and materials that can be used to make the conversations that much more valuable.

Example: One of the questions I’m participating in on LinkedIn is where to put your money now that the market is tanking so badly. There are some very smart market analysts chiming in here. But it would be nice to be able to have a window/panel open on the screen showing the various stock tables, and perhaps links to content locally that makes the point that some foreign markets are going to be able to ride out this storm, while others just get crushed.

The fact that biz users, those who have education & disposable income, have had to range far afield in search of information that they need to use in their careers, is an indictment of the lack of creative thinking at newspapers.   It will take time and effort to reverse the momentum … because the very users that papers covet most are abandoning papers.

Comments (0)

Sep 11

Yahoo’s Blueprint, PointRoll Dances on the iPhone, and Millennial Media Targets Everyone

Posted: under advertising, Community, Design, Digital Migration, google, Mobile advertising technology, monetizing mobile content, new media, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers, Online Video, visual storytelling, Web Tech, Yahoo oneConnect.

Packing up for the trip back down to LA, but couldn’t let these little tidbits from the CTIA pass without at least acknowledging them.

1.  Yahoo is trying to drum up some support for its Blueprint mobile platform.  They claim that it’s going to allow users to achieve the Holy Grail of mobile/web content – tying together all our virtual identities with its oneConnect application. It’s been said, over and over (AND OVER) again that the first company to figure out how to provide the one-stop platform for social media interactivity over cellphones, is going to be the next Google (if Google itself doesn’t snarf up that space as well).  The dream is that oneConnect (or whatever) becomes the way to keep up with what your friends on Facebook, Flickr, Bebo, MySpace, YouTube, etc. etc. are doing, and a way to post constant updates on where/what/why/with whom/teh awesum!1!/go away now/overload to all the places where you share your life’s experiences with the world.

Leaving aside for the moment the sneaking suspicion that aggregating all our identities through one company’s pipe may not turn out to be such a bright idea, the software is apparently generating the skepticism already.

Yahoo has been trying to hype this app since, oh, Barcelone in February, and to my knowledge, they really haven’t gotten that much traction with it, despite the best efforts of their developers.

I’d like to see Yahoo manage to pull this off; like many others, I’m starting to get more & more uneasy about Google’s unchallenged dominance, and I’d just as soon they not have complete control over what I do, see, say & hear, as well as knowing who I’m doing said communicating with/near/for/against.

Moving on.

2. Pointroll is wowing the attendees at the CTIA, offering easy(ier?) ways of taking rich media ads and porting them over to the mobile platform.  Their demo of interactive ads on the iPhone, done through and with USA Today, has publishers and advertisers pondering if the time has actually come to start migrating the TV ad spending over to the phones that the 14-24s are actually using, paying attention to, and carrying with them everywhere.

The bad news for Yahoo is that PointRoll is hyping that using their platform will allow ads to run across the entire Google content network. Viz:

The Google content network encompasses hundreds of thousands of
websites, including premium publishers and long-tail niche sites.
Google and PointRoll worked together to ensure that the ads served to
the Google content network meet Google’s policies and specifications.
After completing Google’s certification process, PointRoll’s
sophisticated targeting technologies can now optimize the breadth of
Google’s sites and categories, matching advertisers’ messages to the
users who find them most relevant.

Again, nice hype.  But in light of the struggles that Google has had with Android, I remain skeptical that they have managed to so quickly solve all the problems with serving mobile ads in anything like a timely manner.  I just think that there’s still too much market fragmentation to be able to claim that this One Size Fits All app will reach a mass audience.

To backup my point, allow me to quote a piece in the paper today: one of the problems many sites are running into is that about 25% of web users are still limping along with Internet Explorer 6.0.

(Pause to allow veteran web developers to spit, vomit, scream, make the two-fingered “sign of the devil’s horns” to ward off evil.)

IE 6.0 is widely recognized as the shittiest web browser ever inflicted on the public. It was launched in 2001.  Since then, Microsoft has bugged users to upgrade, remove, kill, quash, forget, shred, this browser.  The fact that a quarter of users in the U.S. still view the web through its Funhouse Mirror interface shows that 1) A large proportion of the public continues to employ legacy technology no matter how Christawful it is, 2) these folks ignore new technology, no matter how much better it is, for fear that upgrading will somehow cause them a problem, and 3) any tech solution based on the assumption that people will be running the latest&greatest hardware and software is doomed to die like like a possum wandering onto the Indy 500 speedway.

3.  Millennial Media is competing with PointRoll to serve multimedia ads to the mobile market.  And we’re going to have to stop here, because it’s time to load up the Conestoga wagon and head back to LA.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Comments (2)

Jul 18

Curmudgeon: It’s What’s For Dinner

Posted: under Digital Migration, journalism, Lemmings, new media, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers, Web Tech.

More articles about the noxious effect of curmudgeons on the newspaper industry. This meme has really taken off in the last couple of weeks; I sense a great deal of pent-up frustration on both sides of this ideological debate. If this were an ABC Afterschool Special, the solution would come when both sides reach a crisis point where they realize that the other side isn’t all wrong, and at about minute :58, we’d have a wide-angle of the warring camps laughing and hugging it out.

I’m not sure that kind of cliched happy ending is possible, or even desireable here.

Vickey Williams of the Readership Institute tries to come up with the “Can’t we all just get along?” moment
in a recent blog post, first defending the Millennials:

The bad press turned nasty with the recent release of a book by Emory
Professor Mark Bauerlein speculating that this could be the Dumbest Generation.

I think there’s much more to this generation, and that they can offer
traditional news organizations invaluable help as they try, in chaotic
times, to invent the future. The question is, will existing newspaper
culture let them?

And then, to be even-handed, wags a finger in the Millennials’ direction, basically advising them to work with the clueless old coots in the newsroom, in some Digital-to-Deadtree intellectual barter system, wherein the plugged-in 1337 kidz teach gramps how to use Twitter in exchange for the key to bribing Sgt. Schulz with some strudel to bring in the big story that blows the lid off this here town…

Partner with a younger staffer for mutual benefit: In every newsroom
I’ve been in, veterans said they have certain skills knowledge that
goes untapped – often in topics where younger staff, when polled, said
they want help. Tips on storytelling in trade for a Twitter orientation? It could work.


Maybe my early career experiences have too strongly soured me on the toxic effects of the newsroom sourpusses. But I spent way too long a time at the mercy of some deeply damaged individuals who had inhuman drive and persistence – but used it to claw their way to a position where they could drain their radiators all over everyone and everything they came into contact with. I’ve walked dogs with weak bladders & overactive territorial imperatives that peed on less landscape than those curmudgeons. Every new idea of expression of belief in New Media … splat. Mocked, run down, soaked in cynicism and discarded as being not worth the time, and doomed to fail.

Jeff Jarvis over at Buzzmachine points out
that not all salty old newshounds are clueless about technology (I sense a harrumph from the greybearded pundit), nor are all apple-cheeked interns free from the instinct to protect tradition at all costs. OK, fine, perhaps the blanket generalizations are not warranted, and yeah, I’m sure there are always exceptions to the rules everywhere. But Christ, can’t we just try to get away from the Old Media thinking that we have to try to do a he-said she-said on every contentious issue? Isn’t that one of the things that’s brought us to this situation in the first place – wishy-washiness?

I have to agree with both of them on their core premise, though – they both point out how the time is past that the newspaper industry could afford to coddle the voices crying out against real, core, fundamental, daring changes. Of insisting on the half-hearted half-measures as a means of mollifying the curmudgeons. Of reflexive caution, playing it safe, trying to be prudent.

We’ve come to the part of the movie where the hero is pointing out to the frightened civilians that there is no alternative to crossing the rickety rope bridge over the crevasse, because everything on that side of the gorge is on fire/blown up/overrun by bloodthirsty Martians. In the next year, papers will either start to invest in really radical re-inventions of themselves, or they will gutter out into messy puddles like a bunch of burnt-out candles. Candles that once proudly provided illumination to their communities … existing only as twice-weekly direct-mail supermarket flyers and loose agglomerations of desperately underpaid semi-pro bloggers.

In my consulting work, I’ve seen newsrooms completely at war with each other. Newsrooms where the mossbacked conservatives hold up their years of service holding others accountable for their actions – as reasons that they should be exempt from the changes sweeping the industry. I’ve tried to control meetings where the New and Old Media stood on either side of the room, hurling insults at each other, screaming and shouting out charges and counter-charges, trying to pin the blame for failures on the other faction(s).

Such newsrooms are not happy places. And yeah, given the options available to content producers with multimedia expertise, this kind of warring over very basic concepts is indeed chasing away the very people that the industry needs most if it is to survive.

Convergence is no longer optional.

The curmudgeons – and maybe we should come up with some other appropriate terminology – cannot be allowed to take this entire industry down with them – no “Media empire makes a good shroud.”

Comments (0)

Jul 16

What Automakers (and Newspapers?) Can Learn from the iPhone

Posted: under Catching a Falling Knife, Digital Migration, journalism, Lemmings, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers, Web Tech.

This is going to have to be another “quick hit” because I’m struggling with Premiere Pro’s shakiness on the Mac platform – and yeah, I know, I should be using Final Cut Pro, but I’m trying to once again use myself as a guinea pig to see what problems crop up when you try to migrate footage from one platform to another. Which is not without its little surprises.

Anyway, I like to keep an eye on what advertisers are saying, and this little article in AdAge caught my eye: it’s ostensibly about what the auto industry can learn from how Apple has revitalized its brand with the iPhone and other portable gadgets in recent years. Check out these grafs:

Functionality: Auto execs pondering how to replicate the iPhone’s commercial and cultural success would be wise to note that the iPhone is not simply a marketing phenomenon. The iPhone is a breakthrough product. It revolutionized the mobile phone business through design, features and functionality.

One way for auto companies to create breakthrough products may be to begin thinking like a consumer-electronics brand. Technology brands are the new car. Throughout the last century, the automobile stood for freedom, mobility and joy. Cars represented modern life at its best. Today that role is served by each new smart phone, gaming system, wafer-thin laptop or home theater that joyfully proclaims that the present is better than the past. An automaker should commit to creating a truly modern car, a car that democratizes the latest technologies; a car that liberates us from tired compromises by proving that design and performance go hand in hand with safety and environmental responsibility; a car that is an extension of the personal technologies we use to make our lives more efficient, organized and entertaining. Create a car that joyfully proclaims that today is better than yesterday.

I think you see where I’m going with this already. Both the auto industry and the newspaper industry are in dire straits these days because they stubbornly cling to the products and business models that made them so much money for so long. And instead of really re-tooling to confront the threats that they’ve long been warned were coming, both industries still seem mired in pointing fingers at the competition – the Big 3 automakers and their fans once again bitching about competition from Japan, and newspapers having hissy fits about Google and blaming Craigslist for the imminent collapse of Western Civilization As We Know It.

The article goes on to tout Apple’s limiting supply and thus creating demand – the way that the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii did – which really doesn’t apply to newspapers. But the bit on coming up with new distribution models … now THAT is a fat pitch right down the strike zone.

And I especially like the recognition that the iPhone is a product that looks towards the future; that rejects “tired compromises.” I think that a lot of the pessimism and anger in the newsrooms has leaked over and tainted the news coverage. One of the places where this might be happening is in the news about the economy. I’m not saying that everything is wine & roses out there – I’ll leave that to Phil Gramm – but perhaps when you look around the newsroom and see nothing but empty desks and sad, echoing offices full of junked-out computer equipment, it becomes easier to believe that the entire economy is in in rock-bottom shitsville.

Apple was in similar straits about 10 years ago. They had to take money from Microsoft (i.e. The Evil Empire) just to survive. They were irrelevant, except to a hard core of graphic designers and photographers, and their notebooks kept catching on fire. They came up with the iPod and the entire music business was changed forever.

There are proposals out there for what newspapers could do. What they could become.

The U.S. is not yet ready to adopt some of the things that I’ve seen working elsewhere. Things that could cause the kind of “buzz” and speculation here about what newspapers are doing. That would bring back that “give ‘em hell” sense of daring that is sadly missing from Big Corporate America.

In about a year, after the election-year ad spike really bottoms out, newspapers may just be desperate enough to try these radical re-thinkings of their core products and business methods. I just hope by that time, it is still possible to turn this industry around.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Comments (1)

Jul 09

Many Eyes Word Tree: What Went Wrong in Iraq

Posted: under Design, Digital Migration, infographic, Iraq, journalism, Multimedia, new media, Newspapers, visual storytelling, Web Tech.

A brief respite from the yammering about curmudgeons, interns, naivete vs. nihilism and all the rest of the debate over whether or not newspapers will be considered a curiosity in less than 2 years’ time…

I got to this thru a post on the Poynter site, and man, is this ever addicting.

I’m a big fan of any tool that helps the user filter, organize and digest data according to his/her needs, and this one definitely shows promise. It’s an IBM tool called “many eyes” and what it does is form graphic representations of complex data in ways that allow you to click through and follow from a central starting point thread, where it leads… The visualization of the salmonella outbreak does what a great infographic should do – it presents complex data in an easily grasped visual way, and shows the relationships between various data streams.

I typed in my own search string to the tool – check out the results:

Comments (0)

Jul 07

NBC Throws Audience Measurement Methodologies at Olympics to See What Sticks

Posted: under adsense clickfraud, advertising, Digital Migration, google, journalism, new media, Newspapers, Online Video, television, Web Tech.

Meanwhile, Google whistles nervously, hoping nobody thinks to raise the issue of AdSense clickfraud again…

There’s a yawning gulf in New Media. It stretches from the pittance that most media creators get for their ad space to the other side, where the results of those ads sit, filing their nails. In between are the bleached bones of media tracking companies that have tried to draw a connection between the two.

From the LA Times story:

NBC has created TAMI — the Total Audience Measurement Index — to better understand how viewers are consuming Olympic content. The system, which Wurtzel has spent the last year assembling, will use technology and old-fashioned focus groups to closely monitor this.

For example, Wurtzel will be able to tell with greater certainty whether viewers are surfing the Web in search of Olympic content. He will be able to determine whether live alerts delivered via cellphones drive fans to television sets or computer screens to catch a record-breaking performance. And he will see how fans use online and VOD replays.

The system also will attempt for the first time to track Olympic watching outside the home via mobile devices created by San Mateo, Calif.-based Integrated Media Measurement Inc. A limited number of people will have the cellphone-like devices designed to monitor every bit of media consumed — whether in a bar, a movie theater or someone else’s house.

NBC Universal also is assembling focus groups to find out how consumers are interacting with what Wurtzel described as “the first 360-degrees Olympics.”

This is refreshing. I’d like to see more major media outlets doing this. Why? Because it’s pretty much the only way to break Google’s stranglehold on ad dollars. See, the problem is that everybody has fallen in love with search advertising, because it seems to offer such great results. Someone clicks on the link, they come to your site, and then it’s up to you to get them to convert to sales, right?

But see, that kinda ignores one little point: howinhell did the user know what to search for in the first place? Clairvoyance? Come on.

I think if NBC can start connecting the two sides of the results gulf, they can start showing that ads on TV (and display ads in newspapers, and morning drive-time shout-athons) have a lot bigger effect than what Google has claimed. And that will mean that advertisers will start realizing that buying search ads is not the end-all, be-all of advertising.

Which could be a very, very good thing for all the Old Media giants who are stuck in midair over that yawning gulf, their feet doing the Wile E. Coyote mid-air invisible bicycle pedal…

Comments (0)

Jun 11

Tiny Sips: The 60-Second Steve Jobs and On-Demand Jon Stewart

Posted: under Design, Digital Migration, Multimedia, Online Video, Web Tech.

Still struggling with assessing, organizing and condensing all the information I’ve been taking in, so my posts here and at Hard News have been sporadic, at best. This situation looks like it will persist for at least another week, so in the meantime, I’m resorting to the old faithful “aggregate and snark” model of blogging.

First, over at Mahalo, here’s a really neat condensation of Steve Jobs’ iPhone 2.0 speech into 60 seconds containing the most relevant bits of information. I know that for the walleyed Apple “f@nb01s” this may be heresy … but I kinda dig the way this was edited.  The quick hits at the end of the vid were definitely a hoot – they really show how much of a “hurry hurry hurry step right up” carnival barker Jobs is…

And now, here’s the link to Hulu having The Daily Show and Colbert streaming from their site.

The article describes what they see as a possible conflict between cable operators and Comedy Central – that having content providers putting their best stuff online is generating that “giant sucking sound” of viewers abandoning the increasingly less-broad “broadcast” offerings.  Viz:

Eventually, if this is not already the case in a small number of instances, it may lead to what’s known as “cable bypass”–individuals may opt to cancel their cable subscriptions.

Nonetheless, it is remarkable just how many TV shows’ full episodes are available on the Internet (with a relatively low commercial load), including most of the top network scripted series and many in cable. Arguably, the only premium broadcast content not available in full online are certain sports events and “American Idol.”

The background image for the Hulu internal page on The Daily Show.

The Daily Show’s page on Hulu looks spectacular. Someone really paid attention to not only eye-pleasingdesign, but to quick & painless navigability.  In fact, the whole front page and user experience of Hulu is worlds better than when I first encountered it back in January.

Man, I love, love LOVE the controls that Hulu has built into its video player.  The pop-out control especially comes in handy for a multi-monitor, multi-tasker like me.  Also, the 5-second pre-roll and associated ad from Honda are absolutely perfect … non-instrusive, not annoying, and I dig the way that they respect me. Can’t believe how much better this is than before.  So far there’s only 76 episodes up of this, but I can see where this is headed.  I wonder if the ad presence there is enough to capitalize all this development right now (I’m guessing NOT at the moment), but if they’re operating under the theory of aggregating the audience/eyeballs right now so that things pay off down the road, this is certainly a strong step in the right direction.

Comments (0)

May 26

Welcome to the Artesian Media blog

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs, Community, Design, Digital Migration, journalism, Multimedia, Newspapers, Online Video, Uncategorized, Web Tech.

I’ve been blogging for more than three years now on the Typepad platform, and have finally taken the leap to WordPress.  It’s not because Typepad was bad – although it was a little clunky at first, and I haven’t ever really been happy with their recommendations on how to deal with video – but more a case of me wanting to start exerting more control over the design of the blog, and its location.  Basically, I’ve outgrown Hard News, Inc. So, rather than try to make the old “brand” learn some new dance steps, I’ve decided to start afresh over here at Artesian Media.

I feel a little sad at leaving the Hard News blog behind – it was my first foray into blogging on my own, although by that point, I had been a web editor and publisher for 10 years.  I remember feeling euphoric at first – I was able to publish on my own, any time I wanted, about anything I felt like, without having to spend hours on the phone to coders in Bangalore!  When I wanted to move items in a list around, add or change photos, change the number, size and location of the text columns, I just clicked on a few radio buttons, and zammo! Hit F5 and everything’s changed.

Since that time, I’ve seen the blogosphere really start to codify and fall into predictable patterns.  Flame wars have their own cartoon graphics explaining their life cycle. Everyone gripes the same about trackback spam and script kiddies haxxoring your database and putting “U R Pwned” up in place of all your precious bits of Joycean stream-of-consciousness wisdom.

I kinda want to take the best bits of Hard News and migrate them over here – not only because some of them are (at least in my opinion) damn good, but also to multitask. I’ve always adopted the Army ethos of “Never ask your men to do something you wouldn’t or couldn’t do yourself.”  Well, now that a great deal of my professional life revolves around taking traditional print journalists (as I was for the greater part of my career) and guiding them on their first steps on the multimedia path, one of the things that I try to do is to look at the technologies and knowledge that content producers are going to have to master, and then to force myself into their shoes for a stroll.

So yeah, part of what I’m doing here is using myself as a guinea pig, to see how difficult it’s going to be to try to migrate over about 3 years’ worth of content from Typepad.

Stay tuned, watch this space, and thanks for checking in.

Comments (1)