Monday, August 1, 2011

What I want from the Media: A little ass-kicking.

There are two types of media. One I'm willing to pay for. One I'm not.

The kind of media I'm NOT willing to pay for: Fluff. This includes:

  • Sports News

  • Entertainment News

  • Product Reviews

  • Press Releases

  • TV Listings

  • Etc

There is so much information out there that I'm interested in knowing about, and the people who have that information want me to know about it. But I'm not going to pay to be marketed to.

I'm ultimately a customer of the sports and entertainment and gadget industries, and it's in the interests of those industries that I be as informed about them as possible. This type of information is facilitated by press releases and public relations departments and marketing budgets. Getting this information to me is not journalism.

Example: I read The Road a couple weeks ago. I don't know how I found out about the book and the movie. It just washed over me in the stream of information that I'm immersed in and I plucked out that nugget. I also paid money for the book -- not used and not online, but new and from an actual brick and mortar bookstore. How quaint. But that purchase, and others like it, is all the fee I should have have to pay to have that information come to me. It's your job, on your dime, to get information to me.

I'm not going to pay for information that marketers and public relations hacks are trying to get into my head. Ultimately I could live without it and the various industries would suffer because of my ignorance.

A "journalistic" endeavor focused on this type of information better be free to me -- even though I, after a fashion, still want it. I ain't payin.

The kind of media I AM willing to pay for: Ass Kicking.

  • Investigative journalism

  • Exposing corruption and hypocracy

  • Telling me how I'm getting screwed over.

There's a whole class of information that I want to know about, and the people who have that information desperately DON'T want me to know about it. This includes, but it not limited to, politicians and corporations. My assumption is that, with rare exception, they are corrupt, greedy, dishonest slime balls that want to poison me and steal my wallet.

I want to know about the cover-ups, the kickbacks, the backroom deals, the collusion, the illegal dumping, the lying and intimidation, the crimes, the drugs, the exploitation.

I want to know about the dark secrets that are not included in the marketing department's glossy brochure.

I want to know about the creative budgeting that the government report used to fake up a result.

If you promise to focus on keeping informed with that type of information, I'll gladly pay you for it.

I'm not really looking for 'objectivity' here, either. This information is not given freely. This information has to pulled from the sources like rotten teeth.

For this type of reporting, I want you to view the objects of your investigation as The Enemy. They are not the good guys. There should be no professional partnerships or revolving doors. Your targets should *hate* you, because you are exposing them for the lying corrupt bastards they are.

People in the echelons of power should dread reading the news every morning, for fear of having their secrets splashed across the home page of your site.

This, I would pay for.

Friday, November 19, 2010

An abrupt and drastic change is needed

Note: I originally wrote this on July 7 or 8, 2008. The original url is: I am posting it here so I'll have my own copy...

I'm afraid the newspaper industry will keep falling apart if it doesn't do an abrupt and drastic change very soon. Something different. I don't mean better, faster or cheaper. I don't mean harnessing new technologies to improve the way we do things. I mean substantively, fundamentally different.

But different how?

Assume universal and ubiquitous Internet access

This is where the the world is going. We need to be ready for it. Start dropping print editions.

If you can read the news on your iPod or some other wireless device while sitting on the toilet, waiting in a doctor's office or on the bus, you will not read the print edition. Make plans now for online-only news operations. Not where the print and online editions fit hand-in-glove, but where the print side does not exist.

Don't wait for this to happen and react, be proactive and take steps to make it happen. We need some creative destruction.

Don't try to keep print alive. If it's still bringing in money, fine, but don't try to "re-invent the newspaper". Use the print world to underwrite the building of the online world while you can. But at some point, it's not going to be worth all the paper, ink, gas, trucks and bodies to haul the news around every 24 hours. At some point, the printing press will cost too much.

Stop repackaging content we don't own

The time when the local newspaper was a person's primary window into the wider world beyond the community is gone.

Unless you are one of the top three or four newsapers in the country and you have dedicated staff writing original content on the subject, realize that people aren't reading your local newspaper site to learn about what's going on in the Middle East. You are not the original sources. Stories you get from the wire are the same stories everyone else gets from the wire.

The exact same story will show up 100 or 1000 times on a Google News search at roughly the same time. There is no added value here. Do not waste print or revenue or editorial resources schlepping around content that does not add some unique value to our sites for users.

This includes all content, not just news: Movies, stocks, weather, etc. If someone else owns the data and is selling it to you, they are selling it as a commodity on the Internet.

I can go to dozens of sites on the Internet to get my weather. In fact, I don't even know who gives me my weather information. I have a little weather applet on my desktop that has current conditions. If I click on it, I get the forecast. 99% of the time, that's all I need. I have a bookmark for my zipcode if I need anything more detailed. Why Because that's what they do. They own that data. They are focused on that data. I searched and clicked around and liked their page best. I almost never look anywhere else for weather.

Movies? I use a google bookmark for "movies + " That links to theaters, show times and reviews. The reviews are links from dozens of different sources. That's just when I'm about to go to the movies. For movies in general, I go to Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB. Why? They own the space. They create the original data.

For any given type of content, there are a few sites that have cornered the market for it, because they specialize in that content. It will be increasingly difficult for newspapers to compete in those areas. We don't specialize in, say, movies, and we don't have enough of our own movie-related content to beat those who do specialize in it.

Most of the newspaper industry has partially conceded this point when it comes to daily stock listings. We know it's a waste of ink and money to put it in print.

If you don't own the content, you can't own the eyeballs that want to see that content. You may have some eyeballs now, but that's not a sustainable model. In the online world, wire services and redistribution of content are obsolete, and that model won't last.

This means the Associated Press will eventually go away, or change significantly.

Don't lean on classifieds for revenue

It's gone and it's not coming back. Ever. The sub-prime debacle accelerated the decline (over a cliff), but don't fool yourself into thinking it's coming back. It might tick up a bit, but that world is gone. Why? Two reasons.

I'll let Robert Cringely tell the first reason, from his recent (online!) column:

My young and lovely wife, showing what might be overoptimism or maybe artful timing given the economy but more likely just general disappointment with me, has decided to embark on a career in real estate sales. She has taken classes and passed tests, joined one of the very best local firms, and hurled herself into the business of selling historic Charleston homes while they still have some value and the termites haven't finished their work. And along the way, while mastering the Multiple Listing Service, she learned an important fact that was news to us both: people no longer find houses for sale by looking in the local newspaper. They use the Internet, instead.

The irony here is that -- at least in these parts -- the local paper seems chock-full of real estate ads. But according to her teachers down at the MLS university, those listings are simply vestigial, like little toes we all have but probably don't need for balance or, indeed, for anything at all. Real estate brokers put ads in local newspapers because their customers expect them to do so, not because they actually help sell houses.

I'm sure there are exceptions to this rule, but if 80 percent of all houses for sale in the U.S. are eventually sold NOT because of any newspaper listing, tradition or professional pride aside, at some point we can expect real estate newspaper advertising to eventually disappear.

The toothpaste is out of the tube.

The second reason is that in the online world, anyone can compete is the classifieds space. And of course, the competition is out in force, which is something the newspaper industry hasn't had to deal with for a while. In the classifieds space, we are at a distinct disadvantage.

There is a lot of money here so there are lots of competitors. Most of them won't have to carve out a signifant portion of their revenue to underwrite an unrelated news operation, and they will out-compete those that do. In a sense, "news" is a parasite on the classifieds revenue machine.

How much money does autotrader get to reinvest in their core competency, where has to send the money to its media corporation owers to subsidize their interactive divisions?

This imbalance is not sustainable over the long-term.

Don't think web 2.0 / social networking / user generated content / multimedia will save us

It's a failure on our part that we don't already have all these things. But adding them won't fundamentally change our conditions. We will get a few more page views from the extra content, but there will be no drastic change.

Why? Because digg and reddit and newsvine and delicous already exist. Youtube and hulu already exist. They are focused exclusively on the developing communities around user generated content. Can we successfully compete with them? Unlikely.

Most experienced users are starting to expect comments and tags and ratings on content sites. When we finally get them integrated into all of our sites, it's not going to be revolutionary.

Just because it's new to us doesn't mean it's new.

Learn how to make money on our content

Not our sites -- our *content.* The stuff we create and own. You know: the news. However it gets delivered to users.

This is the crux of the problem. And I don't think we know how to do it.

But let's not fool ourselves -- if we can't make money on news reporting and journalistic endeavors *directly,* then none of this really matters. If news operations can't make money then it'll eventually and officially become a non-profit or philanthropic activity, not a business. The money will have to come from somewhere else. "Somewhere else," if it comes to that, can be anything at all, or any combination of things. But if we can't make money with news, then let's not expect to, and go non-profit.

News will continue to get created either way, of course, but it would be good if we can answer this question sooner rather than later. Is news, by itself, a for-profit or non-profit activity? Let's hope good journalism really *is* good business.

(Note that by "news operations" I don't mean that editors and reporters will be selling the ads. News operations will have sales and marketing arms).

I know there are only a few ways to make money online: ads, sponsorships, subscriptions, e-commerce. It must be possible to find some combination of these revenue models that can pay for an office full of editors, designers, reporters and photographers.

We are going to be smaller

All that classifieds money is going away. All that wire content used to fill up the news hole is uneeded. And the "news hole" is either gone or infinitely large, depending on how you look at it. There are no more printing presses. That means we are going to be much, much smaller. This will not be an easy transition to make.

What now?

This post focused mainly on what *not* to do, or what I think we're doing wrong. But what are we supposed to actually *do*? I have ideas, but that'll have to be the subject of another post,

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Curse you, USA Networks -- Too much violence just before a PG-rated show.

We don't watch a lot of TV, but we get USA Network on our Basic Cable package, and the family likes to watch Monk.

I have a 5 and a 9 year old. Monk is rated TV-PG. Fine, we can watch it as a family..

I know NCIS comes on right before Monk, and it's rated TV-14. I don't watch the show, so I don't know no much about it other than it stars Mark Harmon and it's pretty violent. As we gather to watch the show in the living room, I have the TV on the public access channel one channel up.

But USA doesn't have any commercial breaks between shows. They cut right from NCIS to Monk. They even have a little countdown ticker ("Monk starts in 28 seconds... 27... 26...") at the bottom of the screen while NCIS is still on. They are *expecting* families to do what we are doing.

Within 30 seconds of Monk starting, I switch to USA, so we could watch the show come on. Mark Harmon and other people were on the roof of some building. My five year old was watching the Monk countdown in the corner of the screen.

Then, on NCIS, a woman got shot by sniper right in the forehead, blood spattering. She fell to the ground -- dead -- in a pool of blood spreading from their head. I couldn't get to the remote fast enough.

I'm no prude. I like zombie and horror movies. But come on, USA. That was just wrong.

How am I supposed to tune in to a PG show like Monk, when it's scheduled immediately after a violent TV-14 show, with absolutely no buffer in between?

So I don't think I'll be watching Monk on Friday nights anymore. I'll have to watch them on Hulu.

Disappointing. :-(

Sunday, February 15, 2009

On the R-Line in downtown Raleigh

Went downtown and rode the R-Line with the wife. It still had that new bus smell.

Ate a late lunch at Hard Times Cafe in Glenwood South. The "Cincinnati" Chile, with onions and jalapeƱos, was delicious. It went great with the Highland Gaelic Ale, which I hadn't tried before.

I chilled out on a comfy sofa while Jen shopped at Ornamentea.

We had fun walking around. The time went too fast.

Too many places are closed on Sundays, though. Bummer.

I'm looking forward to spending an afternoon downtown with the kids soon, checking out Glenwood South and Fayetteville Street and City Market by way of the R-Line. We'll have to make sure to do it on a Saturday, though.

Congrats to Raleigh for getting the R-Line up and running!

The R-Line is R-Some!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Metallic Pocket Lint

This is the "give a penny, take a penny" tray sitting on the counter of the chinese place where I ate lunch yesterday:

I saw it and thought to myself, "That's a lot of pennies."

But it's the guy the who ordered after me that did something interesting. He placed his order, got his drink and sat down at a table to wait for his order. Then, he took the trouble to go through his pockets collect all the pennies he had, walk back up to the counter and dumped them in the penny tray.

With that many pennies in the tray, I had to guess other people are doing the same thing.

Pennies are junk now, like metallic pocket lint.

What do you do with your pennies?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

24 hours of Reddit: 597 stories! I gotta cut back.

I didn't go to reddit for a full 24 hours. from 11pm EST Jan 7 - 11pm EST Jan 7. But I did have a blog reader set up to track the stories. Here's a screen shot at the end of the self-imposed reddit denial:

Five hundred ninety seven stories in about 24 hours. In real-time during waking hours, that's about one every two minutes, but they come batches.

There's no way I could look at even 10% of that content. There's no way I could even evaluate which 10% I should look at. I doubt anyone could, except qgyh2.

This explains why I had the frequent compulsion to switch to a reddit tab and reload the page to see what was new, because every couple minutes something was new. And I clicked on it not because it was interesting or informative, but only because it was new. Fellow redditors, this takes up more of your time than you think it does.

That's going to stop. I need a better way to keep up with the intertubes and the world. Something that makes better use of my limited time.

I haven't yet decided whether or not to abandon reddit.

Why did I track reddit in Reader? I felt that reddit was taking up too much of my time, and wanted to free up some of that time without giving up my "reddit fix." I thought that if I used a reader to track the stories, I could skip the comments and just read the submitted content. (Yes, I know comments are the best part of reddit)

When setting this up, I realized I was subscribed to a lot of rubreddits. I unsubbed from many of them and kept the ones I decided I wanted. There are others not shown in the screenshot. The 'scifi' subreddit, for example, didn't have any new posts on its front page that day.

I did all that setup on Sunday. On Monday, my reader was busy, busy, busy. It always had "new unread messages" I kept marking them as read without even reading them -- there were just so many and I was busy doing, well, work.

On Tuesday, I just let the reddit folders fill up with unread messages, and at the end of that is where I took the screenshot.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Halloween cards are supposed to be scary

Tara, my seven year old daughter, made a Halloween card for her grandmother. On the back of the card, she drew a pretty butterfly. The butterfly was happy. Tara added glitter to the card to make the butterfly nice and sparkly. Then, she remembered that Halloween cards are "supposed to be scary." So she changed the card a bit....