When the Last Pillars Fall

Two distinct news stories last week indicate that two of the last pillars of traditional journalism are caving to the new media era. The first was the firing of Jill Abramson at the NY Times over her opposition to native advertising (hat tip: Scott Monty). The second was a leaked Reuters memo from Americas editor Dayan Candappa directing journalists to write all of the news service’s stories to be no more than 500 words in length with the exception of exclusives.

In both cases, traditional notions of quality are at stake. Driving the two changes — one a firing, the second an editorial shift — is the need to remain competitive in a dynamically shifting media world.

In the case of Reuters, an old argument about short copy and quality seemed to be at play in Candappa’s words. Spending inordinate amounts of time writing longer repetitive stories isn’t helping the wire service.

Yet, how much competition does the wire service experience? Certainly, it faces fewer and weaker traditional competitors.

No, its current competition is the TMZs and Huffington Posts of the world who publish a quick blog story or publish a racist Donald Sterling audiotape. An old school rendering of these new media first stories doesn’t help Reuters, which for all intents and purposes is a cut and paste service for many news organizations that don’t have national or topic specific reporters.

Still no one likes to see an editor tell reporters to invest less time and copy in their stories. One cannot help but think that quality will suffer. Perhaps this is just another indicator of TL; DR syndrome caused in part by the move towards visual media discussed here last week.

What is more disturbing is the move to oust Abramson at the New York Times. Several issues joined together to cause her ouster, including her rightful complaint about unequal wages, and what will surely trigger some strong debates, her bossiness. But a core issue remained Abramson’s editorial integrity and an unwillingness to completely compromise the boundary between stories and advertisements.

Almost every publication offers a form of digital native advertising today, including the NY Times. Some publications hold tighter control over their properties, even insisting that their staff produce all sponsored content. Yet they still write and release bought stories denoted by a cute moniker and a different boundary color.

Now we know that everyone is for sale, even the NY Times.

As Power Weakens, New Properties Develop

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No one really knows what the disintegration of traditional media quality really means. POLITICO, Mashable, AllThingsD (sold to the WSJ), the Huffington Post, and The Verge and many other new properties have arisen already.

As traditional properties continue weakening in quality — both from lesser reporting methods and untrustworthy sponsored content — we will see more niche upstarts and strong corporate content providers. There will be less trust for media brands and more disruption.

How many people really trust Forbes and all of its blogs and sponsored content properties as much as they did five years ago? I know I don’t! Let’s not even discuss the tabloid mess called CNN.

Media upstarts will come faster and faster now. There is little to hold them back as more mastheads succumb to untraditional methods of monetizing online content. Upstart mastheads will not only displace the old, but the new will eat the new. Every new Internet technology offers another opportunity for a media disruptor to change the rules.

I look at Buzzfeed as an example of a weak new media brand. It’s a gimmick. How long until their formula is replicated? How long until another brand offers righteous silliness in a more mobile and/or engaging format? It’s inevitable.

With each new year we see another series of brands that provide news or entertainment content in a better fashion. In the end, those that don’t evolve story quality will find themselves in a weakened position. Gimicks and poor quality can only last so long.

What do you think?

Featured image by Yersinua pestis.

Murky Mastheads

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Image by Marion Doss

There’s an old saying in politics that perception is reality (attributed to Lee Atwater). If you want an example, look no further than blogs written under the guise of venerable mastheads like Forbes, Fast Company and Harvard Business Review.

Consider the perception of journalistic excellence these mastheads possess — and yes, even new media outlets like Techcrunch, Mashable, and others. What these branded blogs deliver often strays from the greatness they promise. Yet people consider these blogs authoritative for some reason.

With so much chum and hubris floated to succeed in the attention economy, what we get is not what is perceived.
Continue reading

All Polls and Surveys Are Not Equal

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Image by renaissancechambara

In Washington, polls and surveys drive policy decisions, particularly around campaign season. For a presidential election, Gallup polls are considered accurate within four points, and this has yet to be proven wrong. However, several online polls and surveys last week did produce highly questionable results, and in once case, was outed as a hoax tarnishing the Microsoft Explorer brand.

This degradation in quality is indicative of a larger trend on the social web, the erosion of expertise (and professionalism) caused by social media content. Launching a poll or a test on a web site is so easy now that anyone can claim to execute research. Indeed, they are. The quality and value of their data is another story. Mind you, this erosion has not only impacted the new media content producer, but also the traditional journalism field as both our Microsoft and Google+ examples will show.

Interactive firm AptiQuant ran a test on its site purportedly measuring the IQ of visitors and correlating that data with IQ. Explorer users were deemed least intelligent.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, the browser IQ test was widely reported by the media, which did not verify the data. Finally, the BBC determined the research was a hoax, but not before the media had popularized Explorer as a low IQ tool. AptiQuant is defending its study, and says it will battle any lawsuits.

But does it matter? The damage has been done to an already lagging brand. Publications that may print retractions won’t push them to the top of their sites with the same zeal they did in their original reporting. A successful lawsuit would only provide a consolation prize for being a called stupid Internet Explorer user.

Google+ Polls

Several polls came out surveying Google+ users about abandoning Facebook for the new circle based social network. Of all the polls only the Christian Post labeled their effort as an unofficial poll, and their numbers were the lowest with 7% moving solely to Google+.

The Brian Solis, Mashable and PC Magazine posts ranged from 23% to 50%. However, all of their readers are extremely tech or social media centric, in essence polling the early adopters. They do not represent the general population, and as such their polls can be pretty much dismissed as industry and demographic specific.

The average reader of these stories would not be able to discern that three tech/social media polls are in essence, “inside baseball.” Mashable did add a little conjecture: “Users may be reacting to the novelty of a new social network. Facebook.”

What is most notable about these four polls is the 40+ point spread between them in response. In the case of the three social media and tech polls, there was still a 27 point spread. Such wild variations should be a clear indicator that the data is inaccurate or compromised in some way.

Keep in mind on line polls — particularly those on social media — often suffer from fan based flash mobbing towards a favored outcome. Also, given the subject matter a survey of the non-indoctrinated general public’s opinion about Google+ would have offered an interesting context to the data.

Conclusion

Without stronger open methodology and wider population samplings, polls cannot be considered representative of likely trends. Polls that deserve respect like Gallup and Pew Internet research are painstaking about their methodology.

In the information age are readers and the media — as the Internet Explorer hoax revealed — savvy enough to discern quality information? Yet another series of examples why we need to teach children and adults alike how to mindfully accept information, and question sources.

What do you think of the polling trend?

Nine Guest Posts on Social Media

Geoff Livingston & The Fifth Estate

Due to the late release of Welcome to the Fifth Estate, the opportunity to coincide the book with last Spring’s speaking engagements was lost. In lieu of a book tour, it seemed appropriate to go on a blog tour.

The following nine blog posts are Fifth Estate themed social media pieces about different subject threads in the book. Thank you Adam, Jason, Jesse, Danny, Allyson, Gini, Frank, Team Mashable and Brian for the opportunities.

This ends the guest blog tour, though there is more great Fifth Estate stuff coming!

Mashable Editor In Chief Adam Ostrow on the Future of Media

Welcome to the Fifth Estate is officially available for purchase today. What better way to kick things off than a video from Mashable Editor in Chief and author of the book’s introduction Adam Ostrow?

In this short two minute video Adam expands on a couple of trends discussed in the introduction:

  • What the rise of Netflix and other online video players means to the traditional broadcast and cable marketplace
  • How portable identity differentiated Facebook and Twitter, and whether there’s any room for competition
  • Why tablets (and smartphones) have changed everything

Some of the themes that resounded from Adam’s introduction (listen to it via podcast) and interview included the rapidly moving media marketplace we are living in. Seeing independent and upstart video content replace traditional channels is amazing. We are experiencing a sea change in distribution. One has to wonder if any of the major video brands from the broadcast and cable eras will succumb to the new wave. Certainly the NBC/Comcast consolidation is a great example of this.

Further, as Adam mentioned (in response to a question about the Flip cameras and iPhones) the smartphone revolution has really produced convergence. As multifunction continues to evolve and more content is not only possible but enjoyable on converged portable devices, social media is falling behind other forms of entertainment like gaming and video. It is in essence, as Adam said, becoming a layer on top other media forms.

If you are interested in the book, some early reviews have been posted. So far people are giving the Fifth Estate a strong thumbs up. Please be advised that there have been some supply and demand issues, and that the Kindle edition should be available in the next couple of weeks.

Anatomy of a Great PR Pitch

Stephen Strasburg Delivers

When I woke up this morning the following pitch was waiting for me in my email…

Hi Geoff –

I hope all is well. I’m a fan of your writing and share the same area of focus. I started Pinkdingo.com, which we launched in Beta form in March and are now overhauling with a very specific focus that will differentiate us (and our value-add for charities) quite substantially in a pretty crowded field (online fundraising).

Also, it looks like we have the same taste in motorcycles (see below)….

Anyway, I’d love to chat with you sometime soon about what we’re up to and planning, and online giving in general, if you’re game to do so. I am particularly interested because of this point from your post yesterday:

“It’s time for the popularity-based charity craze to evolve into a much more productive form of crowdsourcing that can better benefit society sans social network spam.”

I think you’ll like where we’re headed and I’d love to just talk about online giving / fundraising / charity and behaviors anyway, I could talk all day on these and I imagine you’re in the same boat, so I think it’d be fun to catch up. I will actually be in DC in the next few weeks, if you’d be up for a beer (always better than the phone….).

Let me know, thanks!

Scott Arneill

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Why I Loved This Pitch

Let me just state I almost never ever follow-up on cold pitches via email. I love my readers, but I am a free spirit and tend to blog about what I want. But Scott got his meeting (we’re getting together at the Mashable Social Good Summit on the 20th in New York City). Here’s why:

1) Did his homework and knows what I tend to write about, and even cited a point a recent blog post.

2) Went beyond the norm and researched my personal interests, and even included a motorcycle pic. Aside from Scott’s fabulous taste in motorcycles, even if he had mentioned the Ducati I would have known about the extra effort. I have not actively talked about my GT1000 in roughly 6 months online.

3) The soft sell works. I hate being asked to do something specific. I love being informed of something that may be interesting. Instead of asking for a blog post, spamming me with a press release, or asking me to RT, badge, or anything else specific, he just wanted to chat briefly.

4) Scott offered me value via intelligence about the sector. Given his current role with Pinkdingo, I believe he has insights that I can learn from. The time will be well spent, in my opinion. It seems like quid pro quo to me.

I almost never expose bad pitches as I see them as a by-product of being a successful blogger. Really, I am honored to be spammed. At the same, time I use the delete key liberally. If more people pitched like Scott I think success ratios would go up dramatically. I look forward to learning more about Pinkdingo!