Saturday, May 16, 2009

Tucson Citizen down and out

From the Tucson Citizen's editorial about its own demise:

To all those bloggers and "citizen journalists" who, if you believe the Internet, are this close to reinventing the industry, here's your opportunity.

Now is your chance to cover never-ending board meetings, make Freedom of Information Act requests to dislodge facts from public officials, call sources - you have cultivated sources, right? - and otherwise do what we in our dying industry like to call "reporting."

To do it right, you'll have to work eight to 10 hours a day, five to six days a week.

If it sounds like a job, not a hobby, it is. But don't expect to get paid; apparently, that business model has been discredited.

We're rooting for you. Public officials need vigilant scrutiny if our dollars are to be wisely spent and public policies are to be sane and progressive. So good luck with that.

The Web's Dirty Little Secret: Flawed Measurement

Close readers of this space will recall that when I wrote about the decision by the Seattle Post Intelligencer to go web only, I reported widely different numbers for its monthly unique visitors. had only 30,000, but the PI itself said that Nielsen reported 1.8 million unique visitors, and its own internal numbers had 4 million uniques.

Big difference, huh.

Today's New York Times
tells a similar story for a much bigger site, hulu.

"Does Hulu, the Web’s most popular place for TV viewing, reach nine million people a month or 42 million? Millions of dollars in advertising revenue may hinge on the answer. But no one seems to know for sure how big the site’s audience is."

Nine million or 42 million????? That's like saying the circulation of the New York Times might be 800,000 or 4 million? You'd think you might pay a different price for advertising, depending on which one it was!

It's a problem that the industry has been wrestling with for some time. "The web has been around for more than 10 years as a medium, and it's been called the most measurable medium in history. Yet, web publishers at large media sites such as or have been dismayed to see that their direct counts of web visitors measured from their servers vary so wildly" from those reported by various measurement firms, says Mark Glaser.

It turns out that web measurement firms rely on two basic approaches, panel and census based. In simple english, the panel approach is similar to what has always been used for television or radio--track the habits of a supposedly random representative group and then extrapolate to the entire population. The census approach tries to track actual usage from the servers (but then has overstatement problems of its own because it might include counts for automated search spiders, spyware traffic and the like).

This may seem like inside baseball, but if I'm a media buyer and I can chose between a site that has 500,000 unique visitors or ten million, for the same price, it would be an easy decision, except that it's the same site.

The wildly divergent numbers demonstrate the nascency of the market for online video measurement. It’s “still the wild wild West,” said Rob Davis, a leader of the interactive video practice at OgilvyInteractive.

We are still at the infant stage for new media, still figuring out what the data means, how "efficient" it really is, and what it's worth. In the meantime, you can trust that the good sales people will be telling the best story--the difference from yesteryear is that instead of having to rely on the numbers brought in by the friendly radio ad sales person, you can go up to the web yourself and find whatever numbers you want.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Pass the Butter please

Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post, tells a Senate Subcommittee:

“There is something in our collective DNA that makes us want to sip our coffee, turn a page, look up from a story, say, ‘Can you believe this?’, and pass the paper across the table.”

“Sure, you could hand them your BlackBerry or laptop…but the instinct is different. And who wants to get butter or marmalade on your new MacBook Pro?”

Reminds me when I told an interviewer ten years ago that you couldn't bring your computer with you into the bathroom to read.

Maybe that's true for folks in our generation, but not for our kids.

They'll be sharing their new large-size Kindle across the breakfast table.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Warren Buffet on newspapers

From the Wall Street Journal:
...his view on the future of the newspaper industry is dismal. “For most newspapers in the United states, we would not buy them at any price,” he said in response to a question about whether he would consider investing in newspapers. “They have the possibility of going to just unending losses.”

He continued," They were essential to the public 20 years ago. Their pricing power was essential with customer. They lost the essential nature. The erosion has accelerated dramatically. They were only essential to advertiser as long as essential to reader. No one liked buying ads in the paper - it’s just that they worked. I don’t see anything on the horizon that causes that erosion to end."

Information Overload

I've been traveling a bit lately. On vacation in Newport Beach, without a computer. In Las Vegas for some meetings (really)and no time to read Twitter, or Facebook, or even my new Kindle2. Yes, I checked them a few times on my Gphone, but it's not worth the wait, usually.

So what did I miss? What happens if one misses all those tweets, those banal talking points on cable news shows, the posting of countless new photos?

When I used to work full time, and I'd leave on vacation, I'd stay until midnight the night before I left to empty my "in box," page through all those magazines and memos and spreadsheets. I would go through them (many that had been sitting there for weeks) and feel like I was leaving a clean desk. When I'd return two weeks later, the desk would be piled high with newspapers, magazines, reports. The email "in box" would be overloaded. And I'd start to wade through much of it, but never get very far.

That's OK, for a vacation. But how do you filter through all the excessive information we now have. Where are those old curmudgeonly filters, newspaper and magazine editors?

The amount of information we have at our fingertips is just too much. Way too much. If we miss a day, we can't come back and read the inbox, we can't catch up, or at least it feels that way.

Commentator and former newspaper reporter John Reinan captured the point:

"The volume of information is growing beyond our ability to process it.

All of the recent advances in information technology, it seems to me, have been aimed at increasing the amount of information available to us. I think we're reaching the point when we need some technology that helps us filter, sort and make sense of the river of data that we swim in every day.

There used to be something like that. It was called a newspaper.

I have, with great sadness, accepted the idea that newspapers as we've known them may not be with us much longer. I'd love to be proven wrong.

But I believe people still want what newspapers have provided: a sense of being presented with important, useful and enjoyable information, culled from many sources and thoughtfully organized.

Like Clay Shirky, I don't know what online form that might take. And given the economics of the Web, it may be that nobody can make a living producing it.

As is so often the case in a revolution, the only thing certain is that nothing is certain.

We now have all kinds of new filters on the web, Amazon tells us what books we might like, Netflix tells us what movies to watch, Twitter links to stories read by others whom we respect. And some of those enterprises have even figured out how to make a lot of money helping us decide.

But there are still days when I yearn for a big pile of paper on my desk.