Twitter as News. Seriously

I met an ad exec at a dinner I attended last week (thrown by Pepsi as a "thank you" for a I and others had worked on for Internet Week) who told me he followed the Tour de France via the racers' Twitter feeds and that by the time he got traditional news reports, they seemed stale, old and less immediate. Why, he said, would he need regular news reports distilling the riders' feelings and thoughts when they'd already shared them in Tweets.

Likewise, he followed an astronaut who had Twittered from space, and, he said, learned a lot he'd never known -- such as the fact that the astronaut was not allowed to drive for three days after coming back to earth -- by reading traditional news reports.

Something to think about if you're in the news business. If your sources don't need you as an intermediary to reach the people who are interested in what you have to say, what does that do to the news biz?

Twitter as News. Seriously

Entrepreneurial Journalism Tips

From RJI Collaboratory, where I'm contributing: Ads are not so good for cashflow (a finance term that basically means real money you receive and spend) because of a few factors: You get paid AFTER you’ve spent money to deliver the service, the money can be hard to collect and campaigns are easy to cancel. In sum, ad revenue comes in late and can be unreliable. You’ll want to explore other ways of bringing in income.

Direct selling such as subscriptions and e-commerce can help, beyond being an additional bit of money. Selling directly, subscriptions, products, and so on, can be a more reliable source of income over time. You often control more of the process, and have broader leverage in determining what to charge. Your products and services can be rare or unique -- something someone can get only through you. From a financial perspective, people pay upfront, before you deliver the good or service, so you have the cash to finance your operations.

Bullet points are in the piece linked above.

NPR's Demographic Split?

Rafat Ali, on PaidContent, points out that the new iPhone app to listen to public radio could be a game changer, transforming the model of local public radio listening to a more national, a la carte one. There's also some back and forth about whether the app -- which will eventually allow contributions from the phone, and may be available on other phones, too -- will hurt radio stations by removing local loyalties, or help by encouraging more contributions.

I see another issue: will the new app cause a split in the public radio audience, between the have-mores and have-lesses? As I wrote in a comment:

Those who use smartphones will tend to be of a higher socioeconomic status, and probably be younger, than those who listen only over the air. Phone listeners will get a richer, more diverse set of programming, and at some point may be more highly valued than those who listen only over the air. It’s analogous to cable vs. broadcast, and how the broadcast-only audience is less valued, commercially, per viewer.

Public radio may find some dissonance between its mission to serve all and its desire to target higher revenues. The public radio listener demo tends to be a higher educated and desirable economic group than radio listeners overall, but what happens if that public radio group gets split into the have mores and the have-lesses?

Ads in Blogger

After publishing previous post got this ad. Something new, it seems.

Thoughts on the Call for WashPost and Times to Charge

Here's a roundup of David Simon's essay in the Columbia Journalism Review, calling for the New York Times and Washington Post to put up a pay wall on Sept 1, in context, and what it means for someone trying to be an entrepreneurial journalist.

For the Business Assessment Area of the Reynolds Journalism Institute's "Collaboratory" project.

Hulu's Blocking is Not a Strategy

Just posted on Bob Garfield's

By Dorian Benkoil

It’s odd that Hulu doesn’t let Boxee easily put up its material. Boxee, if you’re not one of the swelling ranks of digerati, is a venture capital-backed open-source software project formed by an Israeli former military computer coder and his friends to let folks listen to, watch and tell each other online about all the videos, music, and photos they’re consuming. Boxee, which is in its early “alpha” testing stage and already claims 500,000 members, wants to create a “lean-back” experience for those who want to use a remote to easily click on whatever they want -- Netflix on Demand, iTunes music, YouTube, family photos from the laptop -- in a seamless interface that looks nice and avoids tons of mouse clicks and typing. And to do it on a TV, if they want, by hooking up the computer to the TV. Boxee, which by Fall plans to emerge in “Beta”, has been working on deals with various TV-connected device makers (like Roku and AppleTV) to bring their software to even more of the masses.

Hulu, of course, is the joint venture of three major TV networks to put their programming online, and, in the process, serve lots of high-priced ads in a format that can’t be skipped or TiVO’d or otherwise avoided. (Word is, that at least some Hulu ads, on a per-viewer basis, as of last month started costing more than similar ones on TV.) But for some reason, Hulu doesn’t want Boxee to make Hulu programming (everything from movies to popular shows like The Simpsons, Desperate Housewives and The Daily Show) available on Boxee. Apparently, the masters of Hulu don’t want to make the site readily available on Boxee because not only do they lose some control, but also because people might then be more inclined to watch TV programming via Hulu rather than over their cable, on-air or satellite boxes, for which the TV network folks spend tons of time and money negotiating rights, deals and so on. Boxee does have a workaround -- you can put Hulu’s RSS feed in your Boxee profile and get at least some of the programs that way. It’s more cumbersome than the Boxee grid that shows little expandable squares amalgamated on a screen.

But there’s another really easy way to watch Hulu on your TV: plug the laptop into your TV without worrying about Boxee. I bought a $24 connector (Boxee CEO Avner Ronen quipped that I’d “overpaid”), and my children and I have watched tons of programs through the computer on our large-screen TV over our wireless home Internet network. I set up a mouse and speakers and everything, and many’s the time my children lie on the couch watching their favorite shows without going through our digital cable box. It took me a little time to rig up, but it was worth it to give them the access they wanted (which, by the way, is often commercial-free), whether over Hulu, Netflix-on-Demand, YouTube or whatever.

So, while I do understand the possible business rationales for Hulu telling Boxee to not put them in their easy-to-use grid -- they want to control the user interface, they want to be compensated, they don’t want cable TV providers like Time Warner and Comcast to think of them as facilitating an “end-run” -- it’s a short-term protective game for which there’s an easy workaround. It’s more a blocking maneuver to preserve an existing model than a real, long-term strategy that could succeed over time to get loyal Hulu viewers.

Ronen, who’s very plain spoken and always willing to say things that will cause heartburn to traditional media execs, talked about some of this on my show Naked Media last week, appearing with former HuffingtonPost CEO Betsy Morgan. He said he’s talking to everyone he can at whatever network but gets tied up in a lot of wrangles over rights and such. His ultimate goal, he said, is to be the software that drives any and all connected video devices, whether the Roku box or a set-top cable box. And, he says, Hulu should be glad to be in the Boxee system, because his users will send them more traffic, and get more viewers for their programming and ads. He’s agnostic as to the model of the provider -- if someone can only access programming via subscription, he’s happy to provide it that way. He says that by early next year Boxee hopes to even have a payment system in place. The episode of Naked Media will be available on demand soon, and in iTunes.

My Visit With Walter Cronkite

I was sitting with my dad in Walter Cronkite’s basement office, with a slat of a window above Walter’s head that seemed to show the feet of passersby on the sidewalk of, I think, west 57th Street in Manhattan. We were chatting about this and that -- I don’t remember what, really, except that it was a quieter version of the Cronkite voice we knew from TV. But his posture was slumped back in his desk chair, relaxed and very far from the lean forward erect posture of the newsman who’d anchored the news. (Someone once pointed out to me, as have many publicly, that there’s more than a little performer in anchormen, and the trick is to make it look natural.) It was, perhaps, the early 1980s. I don’t think Cronkite was still anchoring, but he still had a position at CBS. I don’t know how my dad befriended Cronkite -- probably when dad was working for CBS radio in the 1960s, producing stories about space launches at Cape Canaveral.

It was a sunny, warm day in New York, and suddenly, Cronkite looked at his watch, startled, grabbed a metal briefcase, stood quickly, and told us us to follow him onto the street. At the nearby intersection, 10th Avenue, I believe, he opened the briefcase, pulled out what looked like film negative strips -- they were in fact light filters -- handed some to my dad and me, and proceeded to hold his own up and look at the sun. There was that day a partial solar eclipse, which one could look at through the filters safely, and that no one but an enthusiast would have known about let alone bothered to see. As people passed us on the street, a couple seemed to realize it was Cronkite and do a double-take. But it is New York, and people often leave the famous alone here. He was eager and excited, almost boyishly so, to see the sun with a slither blocked by the moon. When it was over -- just a minute or two -- he took back the filters, put them in his case, and walked briskly back to the CBS studios building.

I’m told I met Cronkite a number of times, as a little boy at one of the space launches, and elsewhere. I think he might have come to our apartment in Greenwich Village once. But watching the eclipse is the one I really remember, and one I thought I’d share because it’s a small view into the man distinct from the other obit coverage we’ve been reading, and a story that I don’t think others, besides my dad, could tell.

Coming Soon to The Chaos Scenario

Starting soon, I’ll be contributing to Ad Age columnist, On the Media host and industry gadfly commentator Bob Garfield’s new “Chaos Scenario” Web project, More than an attempt to sell his book of the same title (which it is), it’s an attempt to do something important, at the very least chronicle the severe disruption that’s wracking media across disciplines. There are no safe corners I can think of. Even once-protected pockets like paid cable TV are trying new models, such as TV Everywhere (a significant part of the discussion yesterday with Avner Ronen, CEO of Boxee and Betsy Morgan ex- of HuffPost, on Naked Media -- on demand version will be live soon).

The creative work is harder and more crucial than ever, the barriers to entry lower, the opportunities to block competition or claim exclusive turf more challenged than ever. Anyone can come along and, with hard work, smarts and energy, launch a blog or VLOG or Facebook page or YouTube channel that picks off a choice portion of your audience. True, they may not have the brand or the distribution or the heft -- yet. And major media companies are acquisition engines as much as anything, these days. Just type in the name of any major player and variants on the word “acquire” to see how much news pops up. But the protected environments that let TV and newspaper and magazine salespeople demand high fees and continued business from marketers, as well as pricey subscriptions and per-use fees from consumers, are eroding fast.

Check out Bob’s video, from his site, for more.

Did Times Sell WQXR for Money or Strategic Reasons

Obviously, getting $45 million for its radio station WQXR can't help but help the New York Times' debt-laden bottom line. That seems to be the way the company is couching it if you believe PaidContenet's reporting, though a reporter from WNYC (which purchased WQXR, a classical music station) said Times CEO Janet Robinson told
him that interpreting the sale as being because the Times is in financial trouble “is the wrong way to interpret this news”. The Times he quoted Robinson as saying, wants to focus on its core missions of news and digital information. (It's at about 1:55 in the audio on this piece.)

The staff memo sent from Robinson and publisher Arthur Sulzberger explains the deal as "another step in the realignment of our portfolio of properties and our initiative to reduce our debt"

So, I guess it's both.

Next Naked Media: Betsy Morgan, Boxee CEO Avner Ronen

Naked Media: Avner Ronen, Betsy Morgan

Avner Ronen, CEO of fast-growing media aggregation and social networking startup Boxee, doesn’t shy from speaking his mind — even when it gets him in trouble with major TV networks. Betsy Morgan knows TV networks from the inside — she led CBS News digital — and how to bring a startup to the next level, as the CEO of Huffington Post.

We’ll ask Avner and Betsy your questions as well as things on our minds, such as: Can Boxee negotiate the TV network demands and ongoing disputes with Hulu? What’s up with their recently-announced redesign and new features? Can Comcast’s attempts to challenge Hulu possibly succeed? Why did Betsy leave (was she really booted?) the HuffPost and what’s next for her? Whither HuffPost now that a venture capital executive is in charge? And money money money: who’s making it, how to make it, and much much more.

Plus as, always, the innovative ideas and “aha” moments you can use, fun with Dorian’s “Shallow Thoughts,” and other recent coverage.

Register now to ask questions and get in on the discussion right away. You will also receive a reminder email to tune in for the live show the day before.

The Need to Generate One's Own Traffic

Today’s NYTimes story by former colleague Brian Stelter on the dismissal of WashPost columnist Dan Froomkin over, at least in part, the decline in traffic to his Web column got me thinking: Are we now in an era when newspaper columnists and maybe even regular journalists will be subjected to the same need to self-promote as book authors have labored under for years?

Book authors have long lamented that the only way to get a publisher to promote a book was if their name was already big enough that the promotion was a sure thing. It’s like the old joke about bank loans: The only way to get one is to prove you don’t need it. In effect, authors are forced to use their slim advances and boundless energy to try to push a book over the top, see if they can jack up sales, get enough interest and notice to get that second deal on better terms, and whatever other benefits the book may reap (speaking and consulting gigs, sales of T-shirts and coffee mugs...). The new tools authors have to promote -- free or cheap social media feeds, email blasts, Web tools and more -- gives them the ability to do it better than ever.

But newspaper columnists have not been used to the need for such self-promotion. Would Froomkin’s fate have been different, for example, had he garnered a bigger Twitter and Facebook followings (4,621 and 1,880 as of this moment), so that he could have driven more traffic to his WashPost columns online?

This logic is even trickling up to Hollywood stars. By pushing hard to break the million-follower level on Twitter, Ashton Kutcher surely has given himself some buffer against the whims of a Hollywood executive who might be able to let him go on allegations of a lack of fan base or similar excuse. In a system when the stars, not the studios and not even their agents, can “own” their public, they’re empowered -- but they also have to do the work to cultivate that following.

Shallow Thoughts: Comcast's Challenge to Hulu

From Naked Media: Comcast's confusing deal to try to challenge Hulu with a new paid service: