Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Tipping Point for Online Journalism?

The task of determining precisely who is a journalist is getting murkier. Mainstream media (MSM) are looking more like social media in their online editions. Teens are using texting to make or break movies on their opening weekends. Corporations are becoming publishers by encouraging employees to blog. Public relations firms are pitching influential bloggers for exclusive stories. And the jobs of marketing and communications strategists get tougher as we sort through our influentials and how best to reach them.

It’s my theory though that, with a few exceptions (predominantly in the technology and consumer marketing sectors), most public relations professionals are still conducting media relations much the way they always did.

As a sign of the times, in a recent RFP, a sales prospect from a London-based technology firm whose targets are chief marketing officers asked, "Has the shift online in U.S. media meant that most of your work is online?"

We responded that there is no question that the importance of online media in the U.S. is accelerating, a trend more pronounced in the consumer category than the business category, although the latter is changing fast. The recent announcement by the Wall Street Journal surrounding the roles of its print and online editions will give more impetus to that shift in the business press.

That said, a majority of business-to-business clients, particularly in industries such as financial services, professional services, health and investor relations, still say that their companies’ senior management value MSM over online media and prefer to be seen there. It’s time to reconsider.

It’s our job as communicators to be strong and knowledgeable in both print and online modalities and to help our clients and peers to understand the coming trends. In a recently released report, Surveying the Digital Future – The World Internet Project, the University of Southern California Annenberg School found that today’s 25- to 54-year-olds are far more likely to read offline newspapers and magazines, while those aged 12-24 prefer to read publications online. The 12-24s who get their news online often find consumer-generated media and MSM-generated sources just as trustworthy (although they apparently become more discriminating as they get older).

If you doubt the blending of social networking and journalism, check out digg.com , a user-driven social content site in which readers play editor and decide the value of a news story. The stories that get the most "Diggs" make the front page; alternatively users can "bury" stories that they don’t like, as well as post comments. The stories can come from anywhere and users don’t always differentiate whether the story is journalistically sourced or from elsewhere. As CNET reported , from time to time users plant phony stories and the site tries to crack down on such instances when discovered – just as Wikipedia has experienced more than once. Come to think if it, sometimes the MSM doesn’t get it right either…

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Monday, December 11, 2006

A Patently Good Idea

For corporate execs who are skeptical about the credibility of blogs, wikis and social networking in general, a pilot program sponsored by IBM should help to change their minds. This past summer, as reported by Fortune Magazine, the program — which adapts a wiki approach to the patent-approval process — has been endorsed by a growing list of companies (e.g., Microsoft, Red Hat). Using a collaborative platform, select outside experts share their observations and comments during the patent-review process.

Patent applications have tripled in the last two decades, but examiners have only 20 hours on average to review and research applications, a reason why so many questionable patents are being granted for ideas that aren’t new. In her blog, Professor Beth Noveck , Director of the Institute for Information Law & Policy at New York Law School, proposed the wiki approach to peer review of patent applications, and the idea is taking off.

It’s not surprising that IBM helped move the idea forward, as for 13 consecutive years it has received more patents than any other company in the world. In September, in fact, IBM formalized a corporate policy stating patent applications should be available for public examination and issued a report, Building a New IP Marketplace.

This effort though doesn’t just stand to benefit IBM. A start-up, Out-of-the-Box Computing, became the smallest company to allow some of its published patent applications to be peer reviewed this way.

This is great news and a step forward in demonstrating the credibility and value of community to corporations. The 2006 Makovsky State of Corporate Blogging study, conducted by Harris Interactive, reported that only 5% of Fortune 1000 senior executives believe "to a great extent" that corporate blogging is growing in credibility as a communications medium for corporations; 27% believed it was growing in credibility to a "moderate" extent, and 62% said "somewhat or not or not all." While the study, sponsored by my employer, didn’t specifically ask about online communities, it wouldn’t have been surprising to have received a similar response on the credibility of corporate social networks. We’ll ask next year and I invite your suggestions for questions to pose.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Whither Goest “Yesterday’s News?”

You may have heard earlier this year about the Wall Street Journal’s plans to shrink the size of the print edition in Jan. of 2007.

Today the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) revealed its plans in a Letter from the Publisher L. Gordon Crovitz, and the New York Times (subscription required) also gave its interpretation. The impact of the change transcends mere size reduction and extends to the nature of what will be reported in the print edition versus what will go online.

I hope this development — combined with the New York Times’ announced intent to shrink its size from 13.5 inches to 12 inches in August 2007 — will be major ammunition for corporate communications directors to finally persuade senior management that online media are important and they should participate.

But beyond that, these changes are undoubtedly going to further change the competitive dynamic within traditional and social media. With a smaller news hole, and "yesterday’s news" relegated to snippets, the spotlight will shine more on bloggers and social networks.

Here are the highlights of the Journal’s changes:

1. In paring the size of the paper by 3 inches, it will reduce the news content of the print edition by 10 percent.

2. In the print edition, there will be a greater emphasis on analysis and insights, and what is expected to happen later in the day.

3. "Yesterday’s news" will be shrunk into multiple news briefs columns in the inside pages, for each industry sector, called "In Brief," and will constitute approximately 20 percent of the content of the daily paper. The paper also plans to use more "infographics" to make it easier to access more information.

4. The print edition is working towards making 80 percent of its print content based on exclusives. Obviously, this is going to have a major impact on how companies release major news developments.

5. "Breaking news" will be covered on wsj.com.

6. Stories that start on page 1 and continue will be jumped to the two pages before the editorial page, to make them easier to find.

7. The paper will double the number of leisure and arts stories in "Personal Journal."

There’s an old Wall Street proverb — "Buy on the rumor, sell on the news" — that makes a clear distinction between that information which passes almost instantly from person to person and that which is officially sanctioned by the media. The distinction is fading fast. With the WSJ printing what Crovitz describes as "what the news means, not just what happened the day before" and "more forward-leaning coverage, with headlines featuring predictive and explanatory words like 'will' and 'means' and 'why'," it is clear that the key characteristics of the social media (i.e., urgency, timeliness, passion and a clear and distinctive point-of-view) are increasingly being embraced by the mainstream media as they work to ensure their relevance in today’s wired world.

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