state of the media

A word on competition in the media industry

Wow.  The past few weeks have been pretty intense as I complete a white paper on Media in the 21st Century (gotta get it done because lots of people are aksing for it.) But in the past week, the conversation, from my audio interview with Kevin Morris of EE Journal has started to get a little heated.  It sort of reminds me of a scene from the movie "The Man Who Would Be King."  As Michael Caine and Sean Connery are recruiting followers, every tribe has the same thing to say about the tribe that harrasses them. ""We don't like the people who live upstream; they keep pissing down the river on us."

Nobody likes their closest competitor and it seems to be required that you blame them for serious moral turpitude.  Only the guy on top has the requirement to be magnanimous.

I'm not really a competitive guy.  I have a basic moral code that makes me try to see the good in everyone and everything.  Most of the time it works (except in politics and soccer) and in the world of media evolution it is mandatory.  Footwasher Media has taken a middle ground, which make people on both sides uneasy and sometimes angry.  I was right with one side for a long time.  In fact, I kinda blazed the trail to it back in 2001 demanding that everyone see that it was about to fall apart.  Some of the people who don't like what we are saying and doing now were the same ones who said I was delusional more than a decade ago.

But I do understand the need to be competitive.  The pie has gotten much smaller in traditional media than it was at the turn of the century and conventional business wisdom requires that you establish a moral high ground for yourself over the rest of the field that is still offering much the same thing you are.  It's called differentiation.

But it's all so tiring because there will always be someone pissing into the river upstream from you.  Sometimes you just have to dig a 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.

SCDSource follows the trend. Goes away.

SCDSource, a grand experiment launched in reaction to the layoff of Richard Goering at EETimes, closed operations officially today.  The site was launched shortly after I launched New Tech Press a couple of year ago at an EDAC meeting where Paul Miller of EETimes explained why the magazine was de-emphasizing EDA coverage.  Paul took a lot of heat at that meeting, but his reasoning proved to be prophetic.  The industry was just not interested in supporting coverage in any form.  The publication was supported by some advertising and catalog revenue, but mostly by private investment from very hopeful people.

New Tech Press, BTW, is still around, still producing content, but still not focused on EDA alone.

Media. It's back. And you aren't ready.

I was sitting at my desk this weekend sifting through a bunch of material on social media and it came to me like a flash. Media isn't dying, disappearing or shrinking. It's fracturing.

I was sitting at my desk this weekend sifting through a bunch of material on social media and it came to me like a flash.  Media isn't dying, disappearing or shrinking. It's fracturing.

Marketers are being besieged by new media concepts and offers that go against pretty much everything they are used to doing.  And they are coming so fast that no one know what to do with them all.  In the past week I reviewed presentations from the well known media houses (Techinsights, Reed, Hearst) media hybrids (Extension Media, Tech Focus Media, RTC Group), new media (Techbites, IBSystems) and a host of social media consultants offering to set up Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and blog sites.

 I've seen a lot of interesting concepts, most of them badly presented.  Out of all of it is only one sure thing.

There are more choices, good and bad, than ever before.  And very few people are equipped to know the good from the bad.

In the 1980s and 1990s print and online media exploded along with marketing budgets.  That was a good thing because you could spend a lot on a lot of things and it all seemed to work.  In 2000 media started to contract along with budgets, which was a good thing because when you have a limited budget and nothing is really working like it used to, you don't need all those choices.

But this year the debate whether social media is going to be a serious contender for budget is over and the answer is, yes it is.  It only leaves the question: how much will it cost and how will I know if it is working.

Communications is no longer a magic toy for marketers.  They days are gone when you could throw out a press release, set up a few meetings and BAM! instant market penetration.  And the days are also gone when you could sit a bunch of engineers down around a conference table, come up with a clever company name, a set of messages and a basic website that would drive business to you.  Now marketers are being told, they actually have to listen to what customers are really saying; they have to say something interesting that's not directly tied to their messages; they have to be concerned what one single engineer with a popular blog actually thinks about their company and technology.  And in the past 20 years, none of them have been trained, prepared or even understand how to do any of that.

But as I said, the media is fracturing into a galaxy of bits and there are people out there right now who do understand how to do it and have been training for two decades on how to do it.  You know who they are.  Go find them. There are no more guarantees only ideas.  It's time to go exploring.  You can ask for directions, but be prepared to pay for them.

Well that didn't take long... Bloggers eschew press releases

A few weeks ago I wrote a post wondering how long it would take for bloggers, now being recognized as legitimate media in -- of all places -- Electronic Design Automation, to crumple in a disgusted heap under the weight of bad marketing techniques from EDA companies.  The answer to that question is: almost immediately.

Brian Bailey posted in his Verification Vertigo on Chip Design August 5 that press releases and marketing practices he is being subjected to are crap and admitted to ash-canning everything he got for DAC.  He stated that only on one FAQ was he able to find anything of real interest and it had nothing to do with the announcement.  He bemoaned to requirement to sign NDAs on information that companies wanted to make public, He gagged on repetitive, unimaginative presentations.  And Harry the ASIC guy agreed with him.

Let me quote Brian directly:

"I don’t care if so-and-so just landed a new customer, or that the latest release of the tool runs 20% faster or has an extra feature that was already available in the competitors tool offering. I don’t care that two tools that were obtained through acquisitions have just been integrated or that the company big-wig will be presenting somewhere. This is all irrelevant information to the blogosphere. Keep giving that to the tradition press – they know what to do with it!"

This is the same issue I've been hearing from the press for 10 years, and what I have been telling clients as well, but to deaf ears.  The only contention I have with Brian's position is the last sentence.  A lot of bloggers without a journalism background believe that the traditional press wants to see all that dreck.  It's not important to them either, Brian.  Nor is it important to the market.  The only people it is important to are the people announcing it.  Most of the time, the "partners" would prefer that nothing was said at all.

So with that in mind, I'd like to welcome the blogosphere to the real world of journalism.  The kind of investigation necessary to sift through the dreck has to be done for free at present. But that is going to change...real soon

Day one at DAC and the myth of the conversant engineer

Real interesting first day at DAC.  Free Monday seemed to bring people out of the woodwork in the morning  and traffic seemed to die out after lunch, but it wasn't for lack of trying on the DAC committee's part.  The DAC Pavilion was generally filled whenever I wandered by and the organization is trying mightily to deal with the issue of what to call bloggers.  Essentially the philosophy is a work in progress but there are some cutbacks.  John Cooley was "upset" that there was no food in the press room, but other than Paul Dempsey and John Donovan it looked like we could all cut back on the pastries.

I could have had a full access pass if I asked for one, but I only needed to get interview rooms so I saw no need... even though the bag would have matched my orange tie as Georgian Marzsalek pointed out.  Some members of the press were upset that the default access was exhibits only, but as I have said, we all have to be flexible in these times.

But all that is trivial compared to the disjointed conversations I had regarding to conventional wisdom of "engineers talk to each other."

It started out with a comment one engineer blogger made when we bumped into each other in the press room.  He's one of those guys that believes that the conversation between engineers in the EDA industry is vibrant enough that having a healthy press isn't really necessary to get information around.  "Hey, just because the financial paradigm is changing doesn't mean journalism is going away."  OK, I'll be a glass half-full guy.

A couple hours later, Georgia buttonholed me about an idea for a session.  Her idea was to put together a panel of EDA customers, traditional press and bloggers, and PR people to talk about how to engage the user directly to the media.  "We wouldn't have anyone from an EDA company, just those people."  Her idea came out when she was crossing the 4th Street and saw all the DAC badges, most of whom she didn't know.  "I know the high-level people we always get for panels, but not the mid-level managers, and those are the guys that have to buy the tools for EDA companies to survive... and for me to have a business."

So I brought her into the press room and sat her down with a couple of established, traditional journalists with the idea.  "Sounds great, except that engineers don't want to engage."

Wait a minute, I said, I keep hearing that engineers DO talk to each other and we don't REALLY need the press to spread the information about tools and technologies.

"You're right," one replied.  "They do talk to each other, but only within their own companies.  Never outside." He pointed out that on the show floor, there were maybe 200 design engineers and they are not hanging out together.

I chalked that up to sour grapes.  After all, traditional journalists still think they are the keepers of all wisdom, right?  Of course they aren't going to buy into the wisdom that "engineers talk to each other."

Next stop was the Synopsys Conversation Central Tweetup for a roast beef sandwich and some dishing among bloggers.  So I put the question directly to Rick Jamison, the Synopsys online community manager.  He said, essentially, that engineers inside Synopsys rarely talk to each other.  Synopsys maintains a social network behind the firewall with several blogs, but Rick said there is not much discussion even there.  "Most of the conversation is still in email form and that is impossible to coordinate."  

OK, so the engineers don't talk to each other at trade shows.  They don't talk to each other on external blogs.  They don't talk to each other on internal blogs.  They listen to presentations and papers presented at conferences but they don't discuss it among themselves at the conferences.  They talk among themselves in their own "hermetically sealed" work groups. 

Yep, the industry really doesn't need a vibrant media, does it?

Getting back to basics

Covering the Design Automation Conference without limitation.

The Design Automation Conference kicks off tonight with the EDAC reception.  I'm going to the conference this year for the first time as a registered member of the press.  How this happened has been well documented and discussed over the past few weeks and will continue to be, but I've said enough about that.  What I haven't talked about is the why.

When I began my career as a professional communicator, it was in the form of a print journalists for weekly and daily newspapers.  The biggest difference I've seen between then and now, is the reliance on news releases as the beginning of news stories.  30 years ago, news releases were only for filler.  When you were laying out the paper, and you had three inches of space, you through in a rewritten news release.  You NEVER EVER printed a news release verbatim in any form.  EVER!

What made up the core of coverage was finding issues, taking them apart, and writing about them in the most objective way possible.  Sometimes it required rewriting what staff reporters wrote about until it made sense.  For a couple of years early in my career, I worked the copy desk for a significant daily newspaper on the SF peninsula and my primary job was rewriting articles by one particular reporter who was really bad at writing.  I had to take his copy, figure out what he was trying to say, look up stuff, call people, and then redo the story in a comprehensible report.  I didn't get the reporter's job because I was still in journalism school and the reporter had 10 years experience with the Associated Press, so he had better "qualifications," but that didn't stop the city editor from making me redo everything he did.

Today, however, news releases, especially in the tech trades, make up a significant portion of the content, either through direct feeds from places like Business Wire or PR Newswire, rewritten by staff editors with all the hyperbole edited out, and in some publications, reprinted verbatim.

I've never had a real problem with the wire feeds, and I really don't have a problem with editing news releases and publishing them.  What I have a problem with is relying on them as a source of content... especially at no charge to the companies sending them.  I have a similar problem with the free advertisements that masquerade as opinion pieces and technical articles, which really make up the lion's share of content in many publications.  The reason I have a problem is that the content doesn't make the publication any better, and it lowers the value of the publication to the point that no one thinks it should be financially supported.

And that's why I'm going to DAC as a journalist this year.  I have several meetings to do podcasts for EDA Cafe, SoC Central and some for New Tech Press.  I'm not getting paid for any of this effort.  This is gratis. But there is a price to be paid.  I've told all the subjects that I am not going to cover their "news."  I'm not going to talk about their technology or products.  I'm not going to listen to pitches.  I have questions.  Questions I've heard many people ask about the industry on important issues, but have never seen adequately covered in any publication.  At least, what was covered didn't answer the questions.  I've asked the interview subjects to send me an issue they think is important, and I would devise questions, based on research I've been doing the past few weeks, about those issues.  And that is what the podcasts will be about.  In other words, I'm going back my roots.  I'm going to figure out real stories from the mess generally presented to the press.

And because I have absolutely even less financial stake than traditional journalists covering DAC, I have absolutely no hindrance on what I can report.  Let the games begin.

My turn for being pissy

A comment on an earlier post today stated that there were few journalists sitting in the technical sessions of ISSCC because the "lacked the technical depth" to be able to competently report on the subject matter.  Frankly, that kind of attitude really honks me off.  So just for the heck of it, I took 5 minutes looking up the bios of a handful of journalists that cover EDA and semiconductors.

Nic Mokhoff of EE Times has a BSEE and has been covering computer technology and research since 1985.

Paul Dempsey of EDA Tech Forum has twenty years as a technology and financial journalist and is the main US correspondent for for UK’s Institution of Engineering & Technology 

Ronald Wilson of EDN was a design engineer for Tektronix, Inc. developing bus interfaces and participating in processor- and graphics-engine architecture and design, as well as evaluation engineering and software-driver development. He's been covering technology for more than 20 years.

There is more technical depth in that group alone than in a lot of startups.  Maybe most startups.  If they are not sitting in a particular session at a trade show, it's because it either has no importance, or they cannot be in more than one place at a time.  I sure ain't because they lack "technical depth." That's all I have to say about that.   For now...

Rewrite = Edit = Improve

OK, so my last post kicked up a lot of dust over my comment about rewriting press releases.  See the above headline.

When I rewrite something for a client, I intend to make it better, clearer, less fluffy.  I learned to do that kind of writing/editing from 10 years as a daily journalist.  When a traditional journalist rewrites a press release, he screens out as much crap as he can before publishing it in a very abbreviated form.  Usually that includes erasing the quote from a CEO saying how "pleased" he is.  When a blogger rewrites a press release, he does the same editing as a traditional journalist, and then adds perspective, which is what traditional journalists used to be able to do.

Then there are traditional journalists and bloggers who don't even look at press releases before the write a story.  They do research and interviews to get a broad picture and write in-depth articles for major national publications.  We call those journalists, "unemployed."

Sorry if that offends anyone.

Definitions and pontifications in the blogosphere

Gabe Moretti chimed into the discussion on whether bloggers are journalists this week and made some valid statements, although I don't entirely agree with him.  Essentially he says that the only people who should get press credentials at a trade show should be people from the traditional press and that all others should be given a secondary level of access that is no more than exhibitor level.  I don't necessarily disagree with that, because the only reason I'm going to DAC to do interviews for EDA Cafe, SoC Central and New Tech Press is because I don't have to pay to get in.  I would have been happy with an exhibitor badge, but I will make use of the press pass to dig stuff up and get a quiet place to record interviews.

However, I'm not real happy with the idea of keeping a hard and fast definition for who gets a press pass.

I'm not sure Gabe realizes it, but by his definition, he should not get a press pass.  Gabe doesn't work for the traditional press any more.  His job is to promote DAC.  He gets paid to put together the DAC newsletter with the express purpose of getting more people to come to DAC as exhibitors and attendees.  I'm of the opinion, however, that Gabe does provide valuable information to the industry and is therefore a journalist.  Gabe's definition also excludes people like Richard Goering, Steve Leibson, Brian Fuller,and Mike Santarini, because they are either getting a corporate paycheck or are consulting to companies about communication strategy.  It also makes participation questionable by Paul Dempsey at EDA Tech Forum, and Ed Sperling from Extension Media (Chip Design) because both publications' content is heavily influenced by corporate sponsorship.  (That position, BTW, is not mine.  Those guys deserve to be considered journalists still).

By Gabe's definition, on the other hand, I should receive a press pass because I am not there to represent a client (I have none in EDA).  I am there looking for information to post on the various blogs I write on.  What's more, I am not being paid by anyone to cover anything at DAC.  This is all on my dime.  But I know there are a few of traditional journalists who think I should not get the recognition because I've been a PR dude in EDA for a while.

So here''s the thing about bloggers and why they should get the same access as journalists (whether you want to call them journalists is moot).  By limiting the definition to only those from the traditional press, you severely limit the number of people who might actually cover the news of the industry.  There just aren't many left, folks.  But most of the bloggers in EDA are doing exactly what traditional journalists have been doing for the past 5 years when it comes to news coverage -- rewriting company press releases.  They are just doing it from an insiders perspective if they are corporate-paid, and from a customer perspective (like Harry Gries).  That makes their input even more valuable to the traditional journalist because they don't have to ferret out sources anymore. They can get the input they need on company products from what the bloggers write about and quote them.  In essence, thanks to the blogosphere, traditional journalists don't really have to go to trade shows like DAC.  They can ignore press releases, not take meetings, just go to the technical sessions and blow off the trade show altogether.

I think it's a paradigm worth considering.  And we should all keep an open mind for the time being.

Lack of publications is filling up email boxes

Here's something to think about.  Suzanne Deffree at EDN tweeted yesterday that she took a couple of days off and came home to fine over 800 valid emails waiting for her (not viagra spam).  She first wondered if she was "super popular" but then realized that the missives were from PR people desperately searching for journalists to write about their latest widget update (note, Semicon is going this week and DAC in two weeks).

So what happens when the journalists still employed find their inboxes tripling in volume?  You probably start getting lost, even if you have a good relationship with them.

Another tweet from JL Gray was asking what to do with PR meeting requests, so the age of Blogolism is finally getting traction in the EDA world, and just in time.  Hardly any press left.  That should take some of the burden off the press, but maybe engineers will start finding out just how bad engineers are as communicators.

Murray Slovick leaves Electronic Products

It's been a while since I reported a major loss to the electronics industry journalism ranks, but I got an email from Murray Slovick, Editorial Director of Electronic Products today.  He caught the second wave of layoffs out the door from Hearst Business Publications.

Murray had been at Hearst since getting his leaving United Business Media where he ran the EE Times Product Center.  He was one of the few guys left still interested in covering product announcements, which is going to put a world of hurt on some PR folks.

I've had no word on who else got the axe so I'm doing some digging.

Wrapping up this history of mass media and journalism

On June 3 I said I would wrap up this series within a week.  Well here it is a month later.  Best laid plans and all that.

The last entry focused on whether there was actually a tradition of media objectivity and the answer was, pretty much, no.  We are all in a lather about losing an objective media but in truth, we got to where we are today without one.  What we are facing today is not the loss of an objective media, but a vibrant media the provides information and opinion by which we make decisions.  And we are losing it because the financing model is broken.  So how did we get here?

There are hardly any news agencies (print or broadcast) that were founded as for-profit organizations.  Joseph Pulitzer made his fortune in law and business before owning any newspapers. William Randolph Hearst made his money in mining.  Frederick Bonfils bought the Denver Post with his real estate fortune.  Every single historic newspaper was founded with one thing in mind: to promote the political and business goals of it's owner.  It was run, secondarily as a "public service."  Profit was not part of the picture. Broadcast networks began running news programs because the federal government, controlling the airwaves through the FCC, require public service as a condition of leasing those frequencies, but they were run on a shoe string because they didn't make any money.

It was with the explosion of advertising in all media in the 1950s that the media industry started seeing profit in running media.  The standard of journalistic ethics grew out of that period because there was enormous pressure from the audience to maintain that objectivity.  What also grew out of that was the massive media corporations we know today, including Viacom, Time Warner, The Tribune company and Fox.  Today, supporting a particular political or social position is not nearly as important as making money (You think Fox News does what it does because of a political position?  You are naive.)
But because the advertising revenue has dropped so dramatically over the past 10 years (with no end to the drop in sight) the corporations are looking for ways to stem the revenue hemorrhage.  Part of that is changing the emphasis from news coverage, which is no longer required by the government, to low cost productions like reality shows and talent contests... because that's where people are advertising.
While everyone is "concerned" about the death of our 50-year-old experiment with unbiased reporting, they only want it unbiased if it agrees with their opinion and world view.  People watch Fox and MSNBC because it agrees with what they already think.  
It's sad that people think the media has abandoned them, but the reverse is true.  Like government, people get the kind of media they deserve.  And if you feel a sense of loss there's only one person that can make a difference.  Go into the bathroom, look at a mirror and you will find that person.

There are ethics and then there are ethics.

There's an interesting interchange between John Cooley and Gayatri Japa of the India Times on John's Wiretap today.  Seems Mr. Japa takes exception to the implied independence of Apache's is a violation of "honour" since the site is dedicated to pushing Apache's products and technology.  He points out that while companies like Synopsys, Mentor and Cadence have their own blog sites, they clearly identify themselves as being financed and promoted by their host companies.

I'd like to agree with Mr. Japa because it does make my skin crawl a bit to see a blatant lack of transparency, but then I am reminded of something that happened to me in the past year with New Tech Press.  
A company I was talking to about the program, when they learned that at the bottom of each article is a statement that says who the sponsor of the article is, said they didn't want that statement in their article.  "Just say that it was sponsored by New Tech Press."  When I explained that would be a violation of our ethical code; that we must maintain transparency not only because we agreed to do that with out media partners, but because journalistic standards require it, they said, 'Your ethics are not our ethics."
And that pretty much wraps it up.  Everyone ascribes to a cetain ethical code, but those codes are in no way equivalent.  Apache is not a journalistic organization.  It has no employees or contractors that have training or experience in journalism.  It has no one in the organization that even knows an established code of ethics exists for journalism, public relations and marketing communications, much less what is in that code.  And even if they did know what it was they would not agree to abide by it.
So with that knowledge in mind, I think we can all admit that Apache has not violated anyone's honor, because they don't agree with an established honor code.
This is what you get when you have an industry that refuses to support a vibrant, independent media; when amateurs run the show.  If you need brain surgery, don't go to the hospital janitor.  Go to a real doctor.  If you want journalism, don't go to an engineer.  If you want an ethical story, don't go to a company website.

Social Media chicanery

There was an interesting post in PC World recently, by Robert Strohmeyer about social media charlatans who try to sell companies on the magic of social media.  He has a point.  A lot of consultants and experts make it sound like all you have to do is learn the technology of social media and it will do all the rest of the work for you.  And that's simply not true.

A lot of the experts have dome out of my field of public relations and advertising who spent most of their careers force feeding the dreck posing as communication from their clients into the mechanism of the media.  Magically it seemed that the offal was turned into trusted information. These same people have learned how to shove that stuff into social media engines and the clients see that now they can read exactly what they put in.  There is no more filter.  Of course everyone thinks that's better.

It's not really.

What social media really does is put the medium directly into the hands of a lot of communication amateurs.  Unfortunately, I have to put a lot of my own into that group because most publicists, advertising experts and marketers have had virtually no training or experience in authentic communication -- just basic writing -- and are really horrible at putting out anything that isn't incomprehensible gunk.

But it is the world we happen to live in right now.  The media that we were used to; the one that fixed and filtered all our crap, has gone away for the most part.  We are now left with the responsibility of doing the work they did.  The good news is that social media has given us much easier and cheaper access to media.  The bad news is, we are all going to have to learn how to communicate properly, or at least start hiring people who can.  And by people, I mean experienced communicators that will cry "bullshit" when the clients start spewing it.

The thing I love about social media is that it takes away any excuse.  You can't blame the media for bias, or misquoting and ignorance of the problem... because you are the media.  And if what you are putting out is not getting results, then it isn't the media's fault, it's yours.

Of course, there's always the economy to blame.  Obviously it couldn't be your message.

Uncomfortable conversations is what we need

Reading a story in the SF Chron about the ongoing battle over Gay rights I saw a phrase from the late Harvey Milk that really caught my imagination.  

Uncomfortable conversations.

My dust-up over the fate of DATE last week is finally petering out, but what I ended up getting out of it is that we are still trying to avoid the truly uncomfortable conversation in the semiconductor industry.  We still want to pursue a philosophical discussion about how important our technologies are but we don't want to talk about what our fiscal responsibility is to expand that discussion beyond our little coffee klatch. 

10 years ago we didn't want to discuss the fact that our media was dying from lack of proper investment from the industry.  Now we don't want to discuss the fact that lack of investment will probably kill the last form of industry forum (trade shows and technical conferences) for the same reason.  We are still holding on to the false belief that the existence of our technologies is enough for them to succeed.

I've said it before and I'll keep saying it:  If you do not understand, invest in and execute effective communications efforts it doesn't matter how effective, exciting or important your technology is.  Until we start putting serious effort into that, we will continue in this recession.  The only survivors will be those who are making that kind of investment and effort.  This is true for start-ups, established private and public companies, industry forums and, maybe more importantly, the investment community.

This is the uncomfortable conversation that needs to begin and begin in earnest.

All we know we owe to the Irish

Part three of paradigm shifts in mass communication

Last week, I stopped talking about the development and control of mass  with a cryptic reference to Ireland.  To explain that, I need to back up a bit and talk about the Fall of the Roman Empire.

By the time the Roman expansion had reached the British Isles, Christianity had not yet become the state religion but was pretty much the norm.  Christian priests accompanied  the Roman legions to the farthest reaches of the Empire and were busily converting pagan natives.  While Rome did not get as far as Ireland, Irish pirates made regular raids of Roman settlements and one of those raids to the Strathclyde area resulted in the capture of a young boy from a priest's family who had just begun his education in his family's religion.  That boy escaped from Irish slavery about a dozen years later and went home to complete his education ... and immediately went back to Ireland to begin converting the natives.  We know him today as St. Patrick.

This is noteworthy for several reasons.  One reason is that Patrick was very successful in his mission in spite of the fact that he did it without military support or physical coersion.  Irish monks and priests began a tradition of copying every piece of literature and information they couid get their hands on, including the Bible, the combined works of Aristotle, Plato and Socrates, theological treatises, history, Greek and Roman mythologies -- just about everything ever created and housed by Western Civilization

Christianity swept through Ireland so fast that before Patrick died, the Irish church was sending out missionaries to pagan Scotland.  By then, however, the Roman Empires was under assault from Northern European pagan tribes and Legions in the far reaches, like Britain were being recalled to fight what was to be a lost war.  Eventually, the Germanic tribes invaded Rome itself and burned everything they didn't find of value.  That included the Roman libraries.  Combined with the loss of the library at Alexandria, that meant that most of the written knowledge of the Western world was nothing but ashes.  Roman culture went into steep decline and the church found itself under siege.

But in Ireland, the church kept growing and copying books like crazy.  This went on for several centuries and Christian communities in Ireland became healthy, peaceful and well fed.  Perfect targets for Vikings.

Viking raids became the norm.  They needed food and it was plentiful in Ireland.  So was lumber for ships (Ireland used to be heavily forested.)  The southern Ireland port city of Waterford was founded by Vikings and became a boat building center.  Under King John's Castle in Limerick is an archeological dig of a major Viking settlement.  

The Viking's did not really care for Christianity so they made it tough for the priests and monks who eventually hopped in their coracles (skin boats with sails) and headed off for parts unknown.  The ones that didn't go west to find the North American continent (about 200 years before the first Vikings arrived on the west coast of Europe and started heading east... bring copies of all the literature they had been copying over centuries with them.  The kept heading toward Rome, but several stopped along the way to found communities that became well known cities in Europe today (like Lyon, France) and rebuilding the libraries that had been destroyed.

Before the Roman collapse, media was a partnership of the government and the church.  The priestly class had provided the labor, but the government housed and protected it.  With the return of what was lost, both in the content and the ability to create it, the control and stewardship of media was now completely under control of the church.  That's where it remained for several centuries until a german inventor realized that there was a way to do it without pen and ink.  

That's a story for next week.

Social impact of the written word

Part two on paradigm shifts in mass communication

Last week, I stopped on our history tour of mass communication at the introduction of the written word six millennia ago calling the paradigm shift from oral tradition to writing as incredibly significant.  Let's put that into context.

When we think of mass communications today, it used to be controlled by the mass media industry.  You could buy an ad, or hire a publicist and get a bunch of information out to a large number of people, most of whom you did not know.  With social media, you control not only the content, but largely the audience.  The impact of social media to our society today, is comparable to the development of writing in the ancient world.

With the oral tradition, you could pass information on to individuals or groups, but the interpretation of that information was in constant flux, depending on the memory of the communicators.  Writing made it possible to have a record of that information that was free of interpretation and recall.  Now, when you wanted to send birthday greetings to uncle Abraham in Mesopotamia, you didn't have to ask the guy heading there to say it for you, you could put it down on paper and send him your exact sentiments.  A deeper connection was made between you and your uncle.  What's more, that connection could be made public and saved for posterity.  What's more, you could do the same with massive numbers of people at one time: clear, accurate communication.

As I mentioned, when all this began, this new communication "technology" was owned by bean counters.  It was strictly a method for maintaining records and inventories, just as the Internet was created by the US Department of Defense to keep track of military research programs.  But something happened around 2,000 years later:  Someone realized you could start recording things other than lists.  You could start recording stories.  And what stories are we talking about?  Myth and history.

Thus was born organized religion.

Priests and shamans through most of history were the main storytellers of their communities and each one had his own interpretation of the spiritual content of society.  But when these guys figured out they could standardize that content, debates came into what that content should actually be.  Standards arose and heresy identified.  The knowledge of good and evil could be codified.  This was the time that the bean counters were brought into the priesthood, or burned at the stake.  Religion slowly began to take over control of mass communication and the phrase "it is written" became the end of all discussion.  

Is this a bad thing?  Not necessarily.  Many people learned how to read and write, mostly in the upper classes, but no one really wanted to job of laboriously copying every piece of written communication deemed to be important.  It was an important job, but it took away from eating, drinking and sex.  Since the priests weren't really supposed to be doing that, it became a a valuable skill and one that was profitable for all religion.  Eventually, the priestly class split out an entire group called scribes and also volunteered to handle the teaching of written language ... for a fee, of course. 

This went on for centuries and involved every major religion that survives today and it was important to their survival.  For example, everyone likes to talk about the Druids and pagan beliefs prior to the advent of Christianity, but no one really knows that much about them.  Why? Because there is no written record about what they believed.  The Druids were the cultural glue of the Celtic nations all over Europe and when Rome wanted to take over those lands, they merely killed every Druid they could find.  Without the Druids' oral tradition, social cohesion broke down and the Celts were eventually defeated.  This was especially crucial to a small island off the west coast of Europe known as Ireland.  We'll pick up here next week.

With Free Content, you get what you pay for.

The news yesterday from Rupert Murdoch of News Corp about the end of free content has resulted in one of the biggest responses I've ever had for a post, with comments and (mostly emails) from readers who have never spoken up (as well as a raft of new readers and subscribers).  Apparently we are waking up.

CNN came out with a report today on the subject stating, for the most part, that their audience and some analysts refute the idea that readers would be willing to pay for content.  One said. "As long as there is internet, there will be free content. And as long as there is free content, sites trying to grow on a paid-content business model are not going to survive. It is as simple as that." 

It's an interesting thought, but what that reader doesn't know is that there is NO free content on the web.  Someone paid to put it there.  And if no one is willing to sponsor real journalism, it isn't going to exist.  

One of my commenters yesterday said the decline of media in his niche is moving companies to a vendor-as-publisher model adding what appears to be "real" news stories to their websites along with blogging and social media news releases.  That will be our free replacement of good journalism on the web.  Is that bad?  Yes and no, and I'll tell you why ... starting next week.

I've been pondering this idea for a while.  I thought it might be a single post, but it might get too long.  I'm going to look at mass communication through history.  What you will find is a cycle that has repeated itself since the establishment of writing itself.  We're coming around again.  Lots of people won;t like it, but when you don't put any effort or investment into a mechanism, you don't really get to say how it works.

Have a good weekend.

Paying the Freight of Content Development

Rupert Murdoch announced this morning that News Corp will be charging readers for internet content.

Now ain't that a surprise?  (That's sarcasm), BTW).

News Corp is the parent company of the Wall Street Journal, The New York Daily Post, The Times of London, MySpace, The Fox Broadcasting Network and media outlets around the world.  It is unique in that it is pretty much the only multimedia company still making a profit, although those profits are not as big as they once were.  Mr. Murdoch doesn't like not making as much money as he was a year ago, so he's doing something about it.

The Wall Street Journal has been charging for internet access for some time and they are making good money at it.  A few other publications have toyed with it, but people said bad things about them so they stopped.  Murdoch doesn't care what you think because he knows what he is producing is what people want and need.

This move is what the print media world has been waiting for: Someone to take the lead and find a new financial model.  No one has really wanted to be first out of the block, but now an 800-pound gorilla has taken then initiative and you can expect things to move fairly quickly.

Now you may wonder what this has to do with you.  After all, you get most of your information from Google, right?  Well, Google doesn't produce that information.  They channel it from places that do, like News Corp entities.  

You won't be able to find much for free on the internet, other than amateur video and corporate news releases (badly written ones) that give you no real information.  You are going to have to start paying for the real stuff now and that means you are going to start caring if that information is quality of corporate fluff.  You are going to start paying attention to positions and facts that may not line up with what you already believe.  And if you don't think you are getting it from that source of information, you're going to take your business elsewhere.  You are going to want your news straight and true.

Ah, but you say you are an engineer and don't really care about the Wall Street Journal.  Guess what,  EE Times has been mulling over this same concept.  Now that the gorilla has taken the plunge, expect Techinsights to be close behind.  And if they are the only one, they may end up to be the only game in town.  Portable Design closed down this week and from what I'm hearing on the street, we'll be losing a second publication by the end of July.

What this will mean for media companies following this model is their circulations will start to drop, but their revenue will start to climb... because they won't be dependent on advertising for revenue anymore.  And the people reading the publication will be motivated to consume the content.

What this will mean for the PR world, is that practitioners will have to go back to the ethics of their business and point out crap when they see it and their clients are going to have to accept the definition.  We're actually going to have to start delivering substance in our communications, not technical trivia.

People are going to scream bloody murder over this, but that's life, ain't it.