Bill Barron weighs in over from Hearst

Bill Barron from Hearst dropped me a email this morning about yesterday's post, because for some reason Typepad doesn't like it when he comments.  So I thought I'd reprint it here to see if we can continue the conversation.

"No matter what new buzz phrase we use to describe what is happening, perhaps the conversation is most interesting for readers when it comes from other readers or peers? We have seen tremendous growth of readership, engagement and membership signups on with this model. Although I may be mistaken, I believe this is partly the strategy EETimes is copying but with some traditional ‘editors’ shepherding the effort vs. just letting the readers go at it. In turn we’ve employed some of these tactics as well on our venerable brand Electronic Products and seen reader and traffic growth here too. There certainly is more than one way to skin this cat. At the end of the day there is room for many approaches as long as readers find something interesting and useful to chew on. Like it or not for the most part, advertisers still measure our value as media houses by the quantity of visits and unique visitors so we must continue to find ways to deliver. Engagement may be an indication of quality vs. quantity but I’m not completely sure about that just yet. What if a small number engage time and time again to drive the number up? Is that then a good indicator of an overall quality audience?  I do appreciate others perspective on this-thanks for the forum Lou!"

I'm not sure Bill intended this, but it is a validation of what I am saying: independent publications are not as important as they used to be.  There are fewer of them and they are not doing journalism, especially in the B2B world.  They are becoming the next generation of chat rooms with the most engaged audience members rising to "guru" status. 

"But why can't this be considered journalism?" I hear you cry.  Because each participant has a particular axe to grind, a limited perspective and operates with absolutely no transparency.  As publications turn their editors into community moderators or, in Hearst's case, a free-for-all, it is still up to the rest of the audience to filter the information.  That's not a step forward, that's status quo.

When Google made it possible for companies to put press releases on the 'net and make them searchable, they killed the need for media relations for a lot of companies.  Advertising took a drop next, which killed off 90 percent of the editorial staff. That didn't hurt the content flow because by then, companies found out they could get free advertising with contributed articles that were scanned for overt sales pitches, but not for plagiary (and there is a lot of that and it's called "repurposing content").  Today we have a situation where the audience is being bombarded with much less-than-independent content and they have to find a trusted source to help them sort it out.

Google and Facebook have jumped into the fray to filter the content by allowing engaging content to float to the top of the search effort, so when you find something you know that lots of people read, share and comment on it, so at least it is popular.  Doesn't mean it's right and helpful (for example, remember that twerking video where the woman fell over and caught fire? 5 million views.  Turned out it was put together by Jimmy Kimmel and was completely staged.  Wasn't real).

So you can join the millions of people (according to the media companies) and consume that content, or you can find an independent journalist who happens to be working for a branded by independent effort in a corporation, like Intel or Adobe, who creates stuff you trust.  Or you can do both.

But let me be clear: the companies that do this right; those that decide they want to tell the truth, those are the companies that will succeed in this century.  Do it wrong and you are screwed.

So get people on board that know what they are doing.