What no one is telling you about the media.

We see rumors and conspiracy theories popping up every day and some people believe them because they fit in a particular world view. Just because it sounds true doesn't mean it is true.

There is a phrase that pops up in a lot of blogs, social media posts and general conversation that really annoys me.

"The media is not covering this."

It doesn't matter what the socio-religio-political position of the person making the statement because it is a universal belief among all stripes that something they consider crucial is being ignored by the news media. This article is to describe why your crucial information is being ignored.

  1. You don't actually read general news media so you have no idea if it is being covered or how it is being covered if it is. Few people actually read legitimate news sources anymore. More people get their news from click-bait sites or gossip shows like TMZ; partisan blogs and news commentaries; and social media posts than they do actual news organizations. Those people also don't know how news and opinion are two different forms of information. Part of that problem is there is more media investment in the low-information content because there is a greater return on investment. Stating an uninformed opinion takes a lot less work and cost than digging out a news story.

  2. What you consider news is actually not true.  We see rumors and conspiracy theories popping up every day and some people believe them because they fit in a particular world view. Just because it sounds true doesn't mean it is true. News professionals are supposed to take their time and research information to report truth. It is the first tenet of the professional journalist code of ethics: Seek truth and report it. Now it is also a truth that many professionals don't do a very good job of the seeking part, especially lately. That doesn't necessarily mean they are lazy, but that they don't actually have time to do their jobs well, which brings us to point three.

  3. The news media you think exists died out a decade ago. I've been a media professional for 40 years. I started out as a reporter and branched out into marketing communications, PR, and communication strategy, so I have been intently watching the contraction of the news industry. In the Electronics Industry media alone, less than a third of the publications I used to work for and with still exist and 95 percent of the professional journalists have been replaced by marketing executives and low-level engineers who hated to do engineering. Hundreds of newspapers and broadcast news organizations have disappeared in the past decade. We have more access to media channels than ever before and less than half the personnel to cover actual news. Jobs that used to go to professional journalists at one time are now going to people who can be entertaining rather than good at finding truth. I recently saw a "news" story by a freelancer on a cable news network who I had seen previously doing standup on the Comedy Channel. So if the media is, in reality, not covering a particular bit of news you consider important, it probably because they do not have a human being available to cover it.

So what can we do about this?

  • First, maybe you can pick up a newspaper once in a while and actually read the news. Several times a week I read two local newspapers, I subscribe online to Al Jazeera, The Economist, Foreign Policy, The Washington Post and Politico. I also have in my bookmark bar so I can quickly review if what I’m reading is accurate.

  • Second, on Facebook, rather than follow pages like Huffington Post, and TMZ you could start following the really boring stuff that may or may not coincide with your theological and political views. Instead of watching MSNBC or Fox and Friends, watch the news programs on ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS... and NOT THE COMMENTARY sections.  Instead of reading opinion pieces on what was said on Meet the Press and Face the Nation, I actually watch them to see what was really discussed. Online sources of information are not all bad. is a great source of information about Supreme Court news, for example. 

  • Third, a good filter for any online source is any that does NOT use the phrases, "What they are not telling you...", "A little-known fact...", and "what the media isn't covering." 

  • Fourth, stop listening to people that tell you what you want to hear. Step out of your comfort zone.

  • Fifth, don't trust anyone under 30 with an opinion (OK, just kidding about the last one... sort of).

If you follow these guidelines you will not only find out just what is actually being covered, but you will hone your BS meter’s ability to make you properly skeptical.

Are ethics and integrity arising in web journalism?

The answer these four sites have determined is not business as usual. They have to do something about the lack of integrity and conscience in their work. People are less entertained by the salacious and are hungering for believable information.

We are interrupting our series about Linkedin to day to take a look at a new trend in journalism that’s arisen in the past few weeks: A concern about journalistic integrity.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Everyone talks about that in the field, but where it’s come up as a trend is what is fascinating. In the past month, four popular click-bait sites that claim some sort of journalistic value have pulled back a bit and said, “maybe we are going too far with this content thing.”

First, Upworthy made an announcement that they are moving away from curating content and focusing on original material. This is more of a business decision than an editorial one. Upworthy became the fastest growing media company on the internet by merely grabbing interesting videos from the web, adding a breathless, over-the-top headline and getting people to click on it to grab their data. Google and Facebook algorithm changes, however, are killing their numbers because original content gets better search and display.  That means they will have to answer for their poorly crafted, inaccurate stories rather than point out that they had nothing to do with them.

Then the Huffington Post announced that they would no longer cover Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in their political section. Instead their coverage will go to the entertainment section. They believe doing that changes their responsibility for covering a grandstander. It’s a pretty piss-poor way of standing up for principle, but it is a start.

Prior to both announcements was the dust-up between activist, volunteer editors on Reddit over Ellen Pao’s staff decisions. I am not getting into any discussion here about whether Pao or the editors were right (I think it was all a great cock-up), but lost in the discussion was the reason for the changes instituted by Pao: the lack of integrity and honesty among a significant group of Reddit contributors. The intention was very good even if the execution was horrible. 

Finally, and the one I have been really enjoying, is the controversy at Gawker. In short, the epitome of online “yellow journalism” published a story about the CFO of a publishing company paying a gay porn star for a night in a Chicago hotel. Then, the CEO of Gawker, founder Nick Denton (who is also gay) wanted to pull the story, to the objections of the editorial staff. Instead of unilateral action, he took it to the board of directors, who by majority vote chose to take it down. The executive editors and several reporters resigned because the felt the action breached editorial discretion. 

Taken individually, each scenario is rather insignificant, but taken together and because they all happened within a matter of days, shows me something more is going on.

Back in the days of broadcast and print news, there were time and space constraints on the news. You only had so many seconds of time to do broadcast news band only so many column inches of space each issue inn print. Journalists spent considerable time personally and collectively deciding what was going to go into that days news budget and that required figuring out which stories were the most important to tell that day. Not everything got in. Even the motto of the New York Times was built around that process: “All the News that is Fit to Print.”

The advent of the Web 2.0 changed all of that. There are no time or space considerations in web content. You crank out as much as you want/can and then see who reads it. It doesn’t matter if it has value. That reality sent the quality of journalism into the toilet because there was so much indiscriminate crap on the web, and it created a journalist fringe that believed that it didn’t matter if it was important as long as it was true and the people would consume the content. 

As H.L. Mencken once observed, “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” People did eat up the crap from Gawker, Huffpo, Reddit and Upworthy for a long time making those companies worth a lot of money. But the changes in the search algorithms boosting content that was original and reliable have cut into those money machines. Readers have gotten tired of the click-bait techniques and trust of the web mills is at an all time low. That has not gone unnoticed by the websites’ bean counters.

The answer these four sites have determined is not business as usual. They have to do something about the lack of integrity and conscience in their work. People are less entertained by the salacious and are hungering for believable information.

It was inevitable and it is a welcome change… as long as it catches on. 

State of CORPORATE media

When I started this blog it was dedicated to following the movements of journalists from one publication to another in the electronics world. That was over a decade ago. Now I cover a lot more than that but I think it is fascinating that the movement of journalists is noteworthy not because they are moving to a new publication, not that they are moving to an corporate job, but that they are now moving from one corporation to another.
At the 52nd DAC (where exhibitors appear to be down 15 percent from last year) the news of the acquisition of Atrenta by Synopsys was eclipsed by word that Brian Fuller, editor in chief at Cadence Design was moving to take over content strategy at ARM ltd, and Richard Goering, dean of EDA journalism, was officially retiring.

When I started this blog it was dedicated to following the movements of journalists from one publication to another in the electronics world. That was over a decade ago. Now I cover a lot more than that but I think it is fascinating that the movement of journalists is noteworthy not because they are moving to a new publication, not that they are moving to an corporate job, but that they are now moving from one corporation to another.

On the show floor was all kinds of rumors about who will fill the gaps at Cadence, which has become something of a model for content strategy under Fuller's direction. Early favorites appear to be John Blyler, recently "liberated" from Extension Media and Dylan McGrath, currently blocking the newsroom exit at EE Times (Yes, I'm being snarky. Tepid apologies).

ARM's decision to hire Fuller is momentous as it may herald an era that they will actually invest in staffing rather than just technology, but it will be an uphill climb, and more than it was at Cadence where some of the trailblazing had been done by Goering and then by the late Anna del Rosario who brought a real vision for modern communications strategy to the company. The foundation she and Fuller laid will serve whoever comes in well.

ARM has a greater depth of subject matter to draw from than Cadence, however, which draws 90 percent of it's revenue from tools (OK, maybe less, but still a lot). So that depth may help Fuller breakthrough the bureaucratic logjam there. It's definitely a challenge that Fuller can take at least two out of three falls.

Don Tuite (that's "toot") retires and the changes in journalism continue

Don Tuite formally announced his retirement on April 17 in Electronic Design magazine and it is a bitter sweet moment. Don and I converse regularly on social media and we both live in Redwood City so he's not leaving my life at the moment, but I remember when he first came to Electronic Design after many years as a working engineer. 

We had a couple of phone conversations about clients and stories he was working on when we both discovered that we were in the same town. From then on, Don had an open invitation to come down, have coffee, walk in our nearby park, and even take one of our team on a flight in his private plane (which she called the thrill of a lifetime since she had always wanted to become a private pilot).

The conversations about technology, politics and social change is what I really enjoyed about Don's visits and calls. We never stayed on the subject very long. Once we got the business done it was on to other topics. It was the discussion of how media was changing, however, that got me thinking about my own public relations business and what value it had, and eventually brought me to the place that I knew I had to shut it down, fire all the clients and start focusing on what was needed to be said, not what a corporate committee wanted to say.

Most of the other marketers journalists I talked to during that time didn't have a lot of good things to say about me and what was forming in my head, but Don was one of the few who were not judgmental or dismissive. As a true scientific mind he response was always "you might be right."

His final column rightly reviews the changes he saw in the past decade and reminds me of the discussion we had a decade ago about Marshal McLuhan and adds the work of a mathematician that fed into McLuhan's work... something I never knew. It was a good justification of my decision.

So I get what the rest of you don't, the opportunity to continue my relationship with smart man and a good guy. Congratulations Don. Looking forward to what you're are going to do with your time.

Dr. Dobb's closes ?! Say it ain't so.

Yesterday came the news that UBM is shuttering the venerable Dr. Dobb's Journal as the Brit-based corporation continues its inexorable exit from technology journalism. I know it shouldn't be surprising but this one hits close to home... literally.

I was out of J-school for about a year, working part time for a local daily newspaper and desperate for a full time gig.  I heard about this new publication started by some Stanford geeks that was just a short walk from my parents house, so I decided to go down and put my resume in. Of course, I had no idea what computer programming wa so there wasn't a chance in hell of getting a job there, but I walked my resume through the door anyway.  I never did get a call.

But through the years, DDJ grew up with me in the world.  I learned alot about technology through its pages, both in print until 2009 and then only online.  When they were acquired by UBM, though, I knew it was only a matter of time.

As Andrew Binstock, the last EiC, stated, UBM isn't in the business of running publications for the sake of informing the world anymore.  Publications are for supporting events and tradeshows in the UBMirverse.  DDJ becomes obsolete in that world.  Sorry to see it go.

Trustworthy content is in the best interests of corporations... and good for professional journalists

Media houses assume they are still trusted and that their move to “communities” filled with sponsor-developed content has not hurt that position. That assumption is misplaced.

It’s time to wrap up this series on truth and trust in content.  Over the past few posts I’ve talked about how truth appears differently to people, based on their personal perspective, and to report truth you need to view it from multiple angles.  I’ve also showed how modern media lacks the resources to gather that information adequately and how corporations, once dedicated to limiting that access through their marketing, now find it in their best interest to increase the flow of trusted information.  

Let me set the table.

Content marketing is not SEO. Tara Meehan’s post in iMedia Connection demonstrated how companies measure social on SEO metrics of clicks and unique visitors in the form of likes and followers, neither of which has the value they did 5 years ago.  This decreased value in SEO metrics is exacerbated by companies buying fake followers and B2B publishers paying people to comment and like content to boost their engagement.  This approach ultimately fails after a certain period of growth because those companies don’t provide anything worth reading.

Trust thrives in social media Brian Solis wrote recently that trust is the the most important issue in Brian-soliscontent development but corporations that focus on search to bring people to websites, fail to engender trust because people don’t trust corporate website content.  People trust people they know so that’s who they go to first.  Search comes after social now and social is all about content.

Tech journalism isn’t what it used to be.  Tom Foremski wrote that tech journalism has devolved to be a practice of product announcements rather than why those products exist and how native advertising is destroying the level of trust for third-party media. He stops short of pointing out that tech publications are so short of writers that they can do little else and native advertising is paying the bills, but his point is that the current paradigm has reduced the value of tech journalism.

That’s why this is a great time to be a journalist.

Media houses assume they are still trusted and that their move to “communities” filled with sponsor-developed content has not hurt that position.  That assumption is misplaced. Few people trust journalists in general and B2B corporate sales staff are learning that what shows up in the press is much less believable because native advertising is becoming harder to differentiate from independent reporting.  Rather than wonder what the media will do to reverse that trend, corporations are learning they can do the job better by hiring or contracting with experienced journalists to do what they do best: find the news and report it accurately. Corporations have more relevant sources of content than the media.  All they need is the personnel to turn that content into trustworthy media.

Some technology companies have started putting journalists on retainer to develop engaging content that builds relationship and trust for the corporation.  Others are hiring them outright to run content programs.  They don’t need million-reader circulations because they know who they want to reach and it’s much lower than a million. 

That is great news for all the journalists who want a position that gives them the time and resources to do what they’ve been trained to do and be paid what they are worth.  As I’ve said, corporations are already finding the value in independent, in-house and consultant journalists and they are paying top dollar for them.  Working with this new breed of journalism requires accepting a level of ethics and independence of thought not normally found in marketing departments but is absolutely necessary for a successful outcome.  If we can’t be independent, what we create has no value to the sponsor or the reader.

 Traditional third-party media businesses are becoming the training ground for new journalists.  There will be an ongoing market demand for product-announcement venues that reach thousands of users so the online and print pubs won’t be going away, but corporations don’t need those venues to establish relationships and trust within their customer base.  They need people who know how to find truth wherever it is and report it, be transparent, and act independently for the benefit of the community.

Trustworthy content is the core of Footwasher Media’s business.  If you are interested in moving your business communications into the 21st century, contact us today.


UBM Tech aims at agency business now

Been up to my eyeballs developing content and conversation over at the new launched ARM Connected Community (check it out, lots of cool stuff) so I've been negligent on posting the past couple of weeks.  Then UBM Tech goes and starts blowing up the PR Agency industry earlier this week and it's probably time to do a spot analysis.

 As reported in BtoB Media this week, UBM Tech's Create unit is designed to cut out the middle man in marketing services (meaning agencies and third party creative services) and provide soup-to-nuts communication chains between the companies that pay them and the customers of those companies.  In other words, you want to guarantee you will show up in a UBM Tech publication news story? Then talk to one of their sales agents.  And be prepared to pay through the nose because you will be buying event services, graphic and video services, content creation services and a bunch of other stuff.

 “Historically our customers thought of us as merely a media company,” said Scott Mozarsky, president of UBM Tech. “They bought events or some form of display advertising from us. [Now] more customers are recognizing that we can do things that they didn't realize. We're able to offer our customers programs that run across paid, owned and earned media,” 

UBM Tech has said they are not bypassing agencies, only creating a new way for agencies to work with them, but agencies primarily coordinate multiple sources of content and creative to find the best price for the client.  If UBM wants all of that work for themselves, what's the point in having an agency.

We at Footwasher Media think it's a great idea for UBM Tech because now it will capture every marketing budget dollar and cut out every potential competition ... in the short term.  However, we think this will prove disastrous in the long term for UBM.

Doing a buy at UBM has been, for some time, the most expensive proposition around, and they could demand that kind of money because they have been the top dog for some time.  But there was still some competition among journalism operations.  UBM Tech has already said it has, in essence, left the journalism game (although still pointing to the fact that they have well respected journalists on staff). But they are a "marketing services" company now and, therefore, a lot of what they do doesn't fall under the traditional term of journalism, and the pesky ethics that come with it.  The UBM Tech journalists are, effectively, insulated from the money making side of the business, but they are given marching orders regarding where they need to be and when to gather information.  And that is primarily wrapped around UBM events.

In the meantime, there are lots of respected journalists that have left UBM and traditional media and are now working directly for the companies that UBM is courting, because their marketing budgets are the only ones big enough to afford the Create unit's services.  This is where the disaster is brewing.

As more companies find they can create the same or even better content, and then deliver it on their own media, they are going to wonder why they ever needed UBM. 

Guess what? That's already happening.  I've talked to marketing decision makers at several companies with big budgets using UBM Tech services and they are making plans to dump UBM in favor of in-house programs.  That's where on the long run, this decision is not going to be good for UBM.

UBM Tech management isn't to be castigated for these decisions.  They are giving their sponsors/clients exactly what they have been asking for a decade... complete control over the message, and a little fudging on the ethics of real content engagement.  The old warning, "be careful what you wish for because you might get it," is playing out right now.  The sponsors financing these changes are discovering that it might not be giving them what they want, which is real sales growth from marketing.

Why that growth isn't happening derives from Google's "Zero Point of Truth" concept, and we will get to that in a near-future post.  But I've told you what we are thinking at Footwasher, now. Let's hear from you, especially you in the agency world.  What do you think about UBM Tech's encroachment on your business?  How would you play ball with them?  Have you found getting into UBM media harder or have you just given up?  And maybe we should hear from the UBM media competitors who might be likely to gain from this decision: how are you going to change your model to deal with this?

Independent publications not as important anymore

Cadence Design's Brian Fuller dusted off his personal blog on Journalism last week and asked a question he's asked before: Are journalists/editors necessary?

The question comes on word of two major personnel losses at EE Times -- Dylan McGrath and Peter Clarke -- and is one that I answered in the affirmative several months ago.  But as I read his piece I was struck by one particular graf.

"But there’s a sense of unhappiness in our ranks. We can crank out that content all day long, but if there’s no one to validate it or call B.S., then we become an industry of echo chambers."

If that's the way veteran journalists respond to the changes in the industry, then we should despair.  But I think, now, that Brian's asking the wrong question.  Are independent publications necessary?  My answer is, not as much as in the past.

This is something I've said in other ways in the past, but I think journalists have lost a bit of spine in the past half century, relying on the illusion of independence provided by their employment. That corporate shield is going away, but the need for an independent voice has not. As corporate journalism, especially in the B2B sectors continues to contract the vacuum is, in fact, being replaced by a more egalitarian, though inelegant solution -- the voice of the audience. (watch our video discussion of this)

And it is going to take trained journalists, acting truly independently although under the employ of another industry's corporations, to help give them a platform.

Something I've learned in the past year is that customers generally have a better understanding of a corporation's products than anyone in the corporation does.  But there are myriad barriers to getting that perspective out in the sunlight where it can do some good. Not the least of those barriers is the belief in a corporation that the customer is stupid and needs to be led.  Journalists in corporate employ, like Brian, have a unique opportunity, as well as skill, to get that information into the hands of current and prospective customers.  They could not do it when they worked in a publication for fear of not being "objective" but within a corporation they can find that nugget that completely avoids the engineering, marketing, sales and C-suite minions.  That is an incredible value to everyone.

That does not mean that the independent publication is useless. Not every company can afford to hire an in-house journalist full time, nor can they all run their own publications.  Small, niche publishing houses like Tech Focus Media and publishing behemoths like UBM fill the need of a platform for those companies (who should be paying for the benefit, BTW), but the days of an independent media adequately covering an entire industry disappeared in 1999.

This is the age of the truly ethical and independent journalist and it doesn't matter who we work for.  Our ethical standards belong to us, not a corporate master.  The truly ethical corporation will see the benefit in this and will bury their less ethical competition.

Speaking of ethics in sponsored content...

An article today in Forbes on ethics in sponsored content brought back memories of our recent discussions regarding UBM Tech's methodology changes and the larger discussion about whether corporations can be expected to deliver ethical content.

The article points out that Edelman has posted their own set of ethics regarding sponsored content that remarkably mirrors Footwasher Media's position:  That it isn't PR or advertising.  It's something different from what most corporate advocates practice and it must be, by nature, ethical or it loses all value.

Many people in the news business have taken ethical standards for granted.  They seem to believe that they are intertwined with the genesis of journalism itself.  It isn't true.  The news business, supported by advertising began in the 1700s with Benjamin Franklin's founding of the Pennsylvania Gazette, but the separation of advertising from editorial did not appear until the mid 20th century, and the codified standard of ethics for journalists did not appear until 1973 (I know because I helped write them).  Even today, however, you would be hard pressed to find a journalist who knows what those standards are or even applies them in full.

We are entering a new age in journalism and communications.  It is different from what it was 50 years previous.  I imagine it will look different from now in another 50 years.  Ethics will arise from the practice as an evolutionary process, no matter what anyone else thinks.

Custom content and complaining about the weather

Wow.  I've been getting an earful for several weeks about the changes in B2B media,especially in the embedded, semi and electronics industry.  One might think it's Armegeddon.

One PR maven just came out and said that the efforts of companies like Cadence, Intel and Altera to produced independent content is a smoke screen and that they are "clearly" not objective.  And yet when I've heard the same thing from others, no one can produce any CLEAR evidence that the content is anything but objective... at least as objective as a human being can be.

Like climate change, humans have had a significant hand in creating the current environment and, like climate change scientists, there are those who say it needs to be reversed and those (like me) who say we need to adapt.  Why do I take that position?  Because no one knows how to reverse it.

Let me be very clear, here: unless advertisers decide to quadruple their ad buys, like, tomorrow, nothing is going to go back to the way it was.  Why quadruple? Because that's how much the advertising budgets have been cut since 1999.  To make up for that loss, media companies have had to identify new forms of revenue.  Sometimes it's in the form of selling placement of news releases in a box on the online page.  Sometimes it's in the form of selling space for "contributed" articles.  Sometimes it's in events.  Sometimes it's in custom content.

And here's the thing: Marcom and PR folks are MORE than willing to promote companies that way.  They are NOT willing, however, to quit working for companies that prefer NOT to by ad space.

Make no mistake, display advertising is what made journalism, PR and marcom effective for several decades.  But when it became possible to get news releases distributed "for free" on the internet and media companies started accepting brochures in the form of "contributed articles" in pay-for-play programs, the effectiveness of it all became questionable.

So we are faced with two possibilities: either force corporations to start advertising again and let other people be concerned about ethics, or learn how to adapt to the current environment that REQUIRES individual commitment to ethics.

What constitutes journalistic independence?

This post is likely to piss off  a lot of people, but here goes.

 The discussion regarding credibility and ethics related to sponsored-content as been civil and illuminating, and has generally reaffirmed my belief that there are now many forms of valid B2B communication, even if one believes one is morally superior to all others.  The one uncomfortable part of the discussion has been the veiled accusations of moral failure for certain individuals and organizations.

 So last night I did a quick content snapshot of several publications. On one side I looked at sponsored-content sites, including New Tech Press in that category.  On the other side I looked at three sites that identify themselves as independent journalism. This is what I found.

 On the independent sites, there were 40 to 50 pieces of content.  On one site, eight pieces were original and the other 42 were press releases, articles paid for by sponsors, and ads.  On the second site there were five rewritten press releases, a video interview of an executive from an advertising company, 20 verbatim press releases, seven ads and two pieces of original reporting. On the third site there were 8 ads, 15 pieces of original content feature representatives of site advertisers, and 10 verbatim press releases, and three pieces of original content not featuring advertisers.

 Over on the sponsored sites, all content was original, New Tech Press had three pieces that mentioned sponsors, but were primarily about applications that included several companies' technologies, and 10 non-sponsored pieces.   Spark and Intel Free Press, on the other hand, did not mention the sponsoring companies in the content at all, except to point out that the content had been subsidized.  There were no ads, press releases (rewritten or verbatim), no contributed opinion pieces from corporations.  Moreover, the links in the text directed readers away from the sites 9 times out of 10, and always to other independent sources.

 What can we assume from this?  Does true journalistic independence mean that multiple sponsors pay the freight in exchange for 80 percent of the real estate on the site... or is it based on personal intent? 

The wall has disappeared

 The argument that a medium is independent, ethical and credible simply because it accepts advertising from multiple sources does not hold water.  The esteemed "wall" between advertising and editorial in the B2B world was obliterated decades ago when publications started accepting contributed articles.  Every time a journalist sits down with an advertiser to discuss his latest product announcement, and then writes a story about it, the wall does not exist.  Every time a journalist picks up a print edition a thumbs through it... and sees who is advertising... the wall does not exist.

 A medium is independent because the people operating it have decided to be independent and ethical.  Only they know the real truth. In the end, it is up to the medium's audience to decide what is credible. If the journalist is intentionally acting independently, or is acting in collusion with the corporation to delude customers, the audience will figure it out.

 Not to get religious on you, but this guy named Jesus said it this way: Don't condemn the intentions of others, unless you want to be condemned as well.

The final word on UBM Tech... for now

My posts on the changes at UBM Tech have been the most popular on this blog since I started it.  Lots of people have weighed in on whether it is good or bad (most say bad) but I've tried to remain neutral.  I'm maintaining that neutrality, especially after talking to UBM Tech CEO Paul Miller last week.

Miller has said to me several times in the past couple of years that UBM is a marketing company, not a media company.  In last week's chat he took it to another level.  "UBM Tech is, effectively, out of the magazine business.  We are now running online communities."

There have been several comments from people still in the media business expressing doubt that UBM properties can be considered ethical, reliable, trustworthy "real journalism," etc.  But the answer to all of those concerns is... it's not a media company anymore.  Trying to measure the UBM business model against traditional journalism is like determining distance with a measuring cup.

A few weeks ago, Joe Basques wrote that companies need to change their perspective to understand their market.  I submit that everyone looking at the new UBM model needs to change their perspective as well.  Paul Miller said, in essence that UBM was giving up the journalism field of competition to Hearst, Extension Media, EE Journal and all the others, not because they didn't think it was a good business to be in, but that it had become such a small part of the UBM business that it mattered less than the direction their communities were going did.

Paul even wished all his former competitors well and considered them a valued part of the information ecosystem that engineers needed.  But they are no longer what UBM considers competition.  Who are they competing against? Their old foes Reed Elsevier for one, who abandoned the journalism business for the event business as well a few years ago.  What UBM has that Reed doesn't however, is the online communities.

Another competitor you might consider is Google itself.  And here's why.

Google recently changed it's search algorithm to diminish keyword (the core of SEO practices) and focus on engagement: what people are reading, what people are commenting on and what people are sharing.  That means they are actively boosting what the users are interested in.  That is, essentially, the UBM model now.  What was known as the editorial staff are now community managers and brand managers whose primary job is curation.  Armed with a powerful new technology these managers can look at what content provider and content is getting the most play and their job is to feature that content in the community.  The managers will develop content, but that's not their primary job.  Readers who actively comment and make valuable input will be invited to become regular contributors.  Sometimes that will be paid, more often it will not.  The readers will make the ultimate decision as to what rises to the top of the medium, not journalists.

This is significantly different than what we know as traditional journalism.  It may fail spectactularly or it will succeed spectacularly.  Whatever you may think of it, Miller and UBM are taking a massive but calculated gamble.  "We're pretty positive about how this will turn out, but it is admittedly very different.  However, when you look at traditional media, the odds for success are not very good. We wish all who remain the best of luck, but something different has to be done.  We think this is one way to do it right."

I am currently working on a white paper that looks at the current state of the media in the 21st centur.  It will be available in a few weeks, but we aren't giving it away free this time.  If you want it, we need to know if you are the right person to get it, or if you can get it to the right person, If you aren't one of those, get your credit card out.  This one is too good to give away.

UBM Tech starting to show the strain

Don't get me wrong. The UBM sites produce good content ... right now. But you need people who know what good content is to produce it. I don't know, maybe that's the plan: force the content creators to go to the advertisers and then make them pay to put it on your titles. But what's to stop the advertisers from starting their own titles. Why should they pay?

We've been following a string of thought regarding the changes at UBM properties. I've personally avoided making any judgement on the philosophical approach the company has taken.  It is what it is. 

However, the recent round of layoffs really cut into the bone of their content development.  Calling Nic Mokhoff, Barbara Jorgenson and Bolaji Ojo redundant... even when you have all stars like Alex Wolfe, Patrick Mannion and Brian Fuller still on the team... is mindboggling to me.

UBM has had a habit of cutting back far too much and then having to rehire too fast.  (I remember when Dave Burskey was hired to replace Ron Wilson, after a gap of several months to cover semiconductors, and then laid Burskey off before a year was out) This time I think they may have gone too far and the opportunities for great journalists to work independently in corporations is going to thin the available talent very fast.

Recently Intel launched a site called the Intel Free Press. this is one of those efforts that is being called "branded but independent" journalism.  Yes, Intel is footing the bill, but they are leaving the editorial team alone in content development.  they don't have to worry about advertisers or revenue or even readership. They can concentrate on just making good content for the Intel ecosystem. What does Intel need with UBM publications and events now?

At Design West, the strain on UBM editors was palpable, and those former editors were exhulting in the freedom they had in the corporate walls.  That tells me UBM may have gone too far again.  Several years ago, I sat with Brian Fuller on a boat in San Diego and talked about his frustration with UBM's continual dismantling of staff.  A few months later he left the company and told me it was an issue of ethics.He just couldn't continue keep letting people go. After several years of checking the world out, he was lured back into UBM. Now he's in charge of a publication that has little resources.  He looks tired.  I'm wondering how long he's going to last this time.  At least now he won't be laying people off at EBN.  He's all there is of staff.  The rest are freelancers. We're going to see another significant personnel shift at UBM, but it won't be layoffs.  There are jobs out there for good journalists who are willing to think a little differently.

Don't get me wrong.  The UBM sites produce good content ... right now.  But you need people who know what good content is to produce it.  I don't know, maybe that's the plan: force the content creators to go to the advertisers and then make them pay to put it on your titles. But what's to stop the advertisers from starting their own titles.  Why should they pay?

Going to be an interesting year, for sure.  More to come.

You can't hold back the tide. Media is changing.

You are not going to attract customers to your in-house media by stuffing your marketing content into a new bag. You are going to have to invest in content producers that have a perspective outside of your marcom.

We've had some interesting interaction on this site the past couple of weeks about the future of b2b media. There is an old guard that publically espouses absolute separation of editorial and advertising but the reality is very much different.  And today comes news that Open Systems Publishing is taking the leap into custom electronic publishing. Not print, electronic.

From the press release:

ST. CLAIR SHORES, MI, April 19, 2013 - OpenSystems Media has announced the next generation in digital publishing - an all new, dynamic E-mag marketing program, giving clients the chance to create their own branded, lead-generating digital magazine - the Custom E-mag Initiative.

The Custom E-mag Initiative, which launches today, is an interactive digital publication, featuring the clients own educational white papers, product and company video clips, display ads, topical articles, hyperlinks to additional resources, social media interfaces, and product announcements (demonstration available at Posted online in a web-browser-friendly format, the E-mag's content is gated, requiring interested readers to register. This provides the client a list of interested parties for follow-up.

This is the direction of pretty much every electronics industry media house now, and follows on the heels of more established firms like Forbes, The Washington Post and the New York Times.  Corporations are moving toward being their own publisher.

But here's the point Footwasher Media stands on: It doesn't matter what the vehicle is, what matters is whether your audience accepts it as valid and is willing to engage.

You are not going to attract customers to your in-house media by stuffing your marketing content into a new bag.  You are going to have to invest in content producers that have a perspective outside of your marcom.  Hell, I wish journalists could still get a paycheck by being an employee of a publication, but those that do have a real hard time making rent.  Yes there are a very few organizations that make money the old fashioned way, but they still sell a lot of space for corporate news releases and white papers and webinars.  In fact, it's getting harder and harder to find the independent content in any publication.

Should we sit around and grumble about the change, or should we, as independent journalists, try to adapt to it?  


Ethics is a very personal thing.

Last week we started a lively discussion about how media is evolving, what is right about it and what is wrong about it.  We also touched on the issue of reliability and ethics.

Today an article from crossed my screen and deals with the issue of ethics and content head on.  You may not agree with it, but it's a statement of what reality is for media today.

Let me say this about the issue of ethics: there is no organizational structure that can absolutely ensure content follows a particular ethical standard.  In fact, the reliance on traditional business models in media, rather than actually knowing what the professional standard is has helped hasten the demise of traditional journalism in the 21st Century. 

Ethics is a personal construct. You either are or are not ethical.  No one knows for sure where you stand or what you are doing.  Only you do.  Everyone else is just assuming where you stand.  Your organizational structure does not ensure your practice.


At UBM, the Times are a changin'

One last note about the changes at UBM... there will be more.

 I mentioned in the last post that the recent layoffs were due to redundancy more than finances, but one thing I left out was whether there was redundancy in the publications.

The question in my head was, “Is EE Times going to go away?”

Here's my reasoning.  EDN and EE Times were major competitors for years, now they are in the same family and covering much the same thing.  In fact, some of it seems to be covered in Design News.  EE Times was kept alive when EBN was shuttered and took over much of what EBN covered.  Now EBN is back.  The in depth coverage that EE Times was known for has been put into EE Times Confidential.  So with the reasoning that the layoffs were to eliminate redundancy, wouldn't it make sense to fold the remaining staff into EDN and EBN and just shutter EE Times online?

I put the question point blank to UBM CEO Paul Miller.

“I actually see this differently. EE Times is the community gathering place and we will move it increasingly towards a full on community model – it generates millions of monthly page views and thousands of registrations and it is the key brand in the industry. EDN is the place to go for engineers who need help doing their job – they want it from peers. EDN and EETimes are very complimentary.”

It makes sense from that perspective, however...

I’ve seen healthy rivalry in the past two years building between the various staffs of EDN, EBN, EE Times and even Design News for content.  I also remember what management said several years ago when I asked if EBN was going away.  They said, “No, of course not,” and then 6 months later it was gone.  They weren’t lying to me then and I don’t think they are now.  That is just how fast realities shift in the media world.  Everything is under constant evaluation and no one should get comfortable.

The dust hasn’t quite settled at UBM Electronics.  Fuller needs to beef up his own staff et EBN and I’m sure there will be some changes in the masthead at EE Times as well (have they ever updated that thing in a timely manner?). So pay attention.  The times, they are a’ changin’....

Death of Journalism Part 3: How it changes mar com


To sum up our series today on the death of journalism as we know it, there is less and less independent analysis from the free press due to budgetary constraints.  Consumers are relying more and more on online content, especially video, to make their decisions but they still want objective content.  Businesses that understand this are turning to ethical journalism and sponsoring it directly to establish themselves as trusted sources of content.  The tech world is taking baby steps in this direction.  Xilinx and Altera hired former print journalists to manage in-house publications sent to current customers.  Cadence Design took a step further hired a journalist to manage blog content specifically to promote the companies products and services, but the efforts focus only on current customers.

Larger companies, like Pepsi, offer a section of the website devoted only to pop culture, not products.  Digikey, in contrast, offers industry news by respected journalists, but they keep the content proprietary and littered with promotional material diluting the potential for building trust.  Pepsi, however demonstrates the viability of their approach showing data that their section is driving sales, engagement and consumer loyalty.  

 Steve Rubel of Edelman wrote recently in a Linkedin article that companies who want to succeed in the new paradigm of information need to adopt a “newsroom mentality.” That means creating content that your audience needs to hear/read rather than what you want to tell them.  That’s a tall order for most marketing-minded executives who cut their teeth on Web 1.0 and still can’t figure out Facebook, which is why finding communicators with deep journalism roots can be the key to success.

 In the next year, companies that stop navel gazing are going to be the next market leaders, and it all comes down to what they do with content.  The press won’t be there to help them do that.  Time for a reality check.


Truthiness won't set you free.

 A few weeks ago I started a discussion on Facebook on what goes into the creation of good content and that turned into the first in a series that ensued from the discussion.  Don Tuite of Electronic Design magazine asked an interesting question regarding what makes a piece of content "truthy," an adjective created by comedian Steven Colbert.  that question is a perfect example of what is wrong with content development today: the effort to make something seem true rather than try to make sure it is actually true.

 Tom Foremski wrote an interesting piece over on ZDNet on press-imposed censorship that fits in well as an example of what hampers the creation of good content. Foremski talks about the habit of B2B journalists to continually go to the well of what they consider "reliable" sources that invariably consist of the top players in a given industry.

 I've pointed out it past posts that every journalist has subjective filters when it comes to covering news.  A given subject can have as many as half a dozen legitimate sources for the news.  The journalist goes through the list of previous sources for the topic for the first round, consisting of PR and executives.  If need be a second round consisting of spokespeople from the top one or two players in the market will be contacted.  Rarely is there a second round where the journalist contacts low-level players.  That, however, may be exactly where the real information is.

 During my early days as a journalist I learned that the best stories usually came from the people no one notices:  A local Buddhist priest who turns out to be a Hiroshima survivor; the elderly man who raise parakeets and donates them to shut ins for company; the technologist who develops a new processor technology, once discarded by the industry, that actually resolves many of the problems with current processors.  These were all hidden stories that had been around for years until I stumbled across them.  That's what I was always taught was real news: something out of the ordinary.

 Journalists today are under paid and over worked.  They need to find ways to create as much content as they can with shrinking resources.  And the major players in the market are more than willing to make sure the unusual never makes the light of day by giving the harried reporters and editors "special access" to the corridors of power.  Those sources are dedicated to the concept of "truthiness."

 Good content is not "truthy."  It is true.  More often than not it has to come from the unusual suspects.  That's why at New Tech Press we impose a subjective filter of excluding the top players as often as possible (e.g. in our Semicon coverage we chose interviews with KLA Tencor, current number 4, as the lead interview...having been unable to get responses from Varian and Advantest).

 Can traditional journalists ignore the top players? Probably not.  There is too much pressure from publication management to keep the large potential advertisers happy and no pressure whatsoever from the lower-level companies who invest nothing in media buys.  But the lower-level companies can make an effort to use social media strategies to share good content (not necessarily about them) and help journalists get a broader view.

 More later.


Starting points

A few weeks ago I sat down with engineers over coffee and different times and talked with them about the issue of searching for information on the internet. I discovered that, universally, they were frustrated by the process but didn't really know what could be done.  What they said ties into things I've heard about engineers and how they process information and explains a lot.

They start with a question about a particular topic, so they type in a search term.  The term brings up hundreds of links, most of which are press releases or contributed articles trying to get them to buy a particular product and only tangentially addressing their question. They click on link after link; inputting new search terms and finding more links, until they finally find enough information to get started.  "It's time consuming and, more often than not, counter productive," one state emphatically.  It is also they only option they have.

The traditional media doesn't help, either.  An article in EE Times or Electronic Products may have a portion of what they are looking for, but it rarely drills down into the specific question or issue they are looking at.  And there are rarely any links contextualized within those articles to get them going in the right direction... or any direction.

The media could help with this.  They could do searches themselves and provide the links, but the journalists writing the articles barely have enough time to create the content.  They definitely don't have the time to find appropriate links.  If they did, they would run into another problem: Competition.

The engineers stated that they will, evenutally, find what they are looking for by searching multiple sites and publications, but those publications are just going to help them look because that might mean sending them to a different publication... and we can't have that, can we?

But what if we did do just that?  What if there were someone who would really take an objective position on information?  What if they were to just admit that information no longer has monetary value and that it only had value if it were applied to solving problems?

What if?


My take on Wikileaks and Assange

Thought I would end the year with my position on the Wikileak issue.  I think it stinks and find myself in the weird position of supporting the governments' opinions.

I've written rather extensively on the subject of journalistic ethics and Julian Assange violates everything I know to be journalistically ethical.  He is lower in my view that the National Enquirer and the paparazzi crowd.  Wikileaks is not even a decent whistle blowing entity. It is a self-important, self-righteous entity. There was no thought, research or consideration to the consequences in the action. 

What Aftenposten in Norway is doing with the Wikileak documents is journalism. They have their reporters going over the information to find what should be covered; what actually affects the reading public. That's what real journalists do.

I remember when I was a copy clerk in a daily paper and a reporter was looking for corruption in city government. He attained copies of city council phone records and was going through them a page at a time and after many weeks, he found the “smoking gun.” He could have just posted the material in the paper and let others do the work, but he was the journalist, not the source.

According the the SPJ code of ethics, A journalist is first to seek truth and report it. He is not to seek out opinion, which many of the documents leaked are, but facts. Assange did not seek out truth, he merely pushed a button without concern. And in that, he violated the second ethic of the code: Minimize Harm. Whole nations are now put at risk, not to mention thousands of individuals. Yes, some are just embarrassed, but many are going to die because of this and for no good reason other than to promote his own agenda. In that area he violates the third ethic:

Act independently and avoid conflicts of interest. Assange has stated he has an agenda, no less than any other idealogue. He is not objective.

Finally, he violates the fourth ethic: to be accountable. He is seeking immunity from everything, even his own personal indiscretions. He has no one he answers to. He is his own God.

So in the end, Assange and Wikileaks violates the very core of journalism and should not receive the same protections.