Category Archives: books

Newspapers emerging into digital reality?

I was very encouraged to read this story about the editor in chief of the Tampa Tribune, Janet Coats, announcing to a full newsroom that she was about to embark on a brand new business model for the paper. “Hyper local” is the catch phrase. And the online sibling to the printed paper is no longer just along for the ride, but driving the new model. It’s a realization that in an age where news is EXTREMELY perishable, the best way to be timely is to not wait for things to roll off a press or for “film at 11”.

Most of all, in spite of the post just previous to this one, she says the reorg and accompanying layoffs aren’t about profit margin. It seems Janet and the powers that be at the Tampa Tribune are coming to realize, as has always been the case, there are few experts when it comes to local more local than those at the “newspaper” or whatever term will come along to displace that notion of a thing printed on paper that focused on stories relevant to the immediate area.

Also encouraging and hopefully a preview of things to come, the whole thing was broken by an intern at the paper on her blog. Perhaps the kids are alright and we’re not about to be overtaken by The Dumbest Generation

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Filed under books, digital distribution, future of media, local, media on media, monetizing media, newspapers

Echo Chambers

One of the largest critiques against most forms of conversational – blogs, social networks, twitter, etc. – media is it leads to people being stuck in echo chambers that continually reverberate and reinforce strong opinions shared by a like-minded group. I find this a cop out on a couple different levels.

I could spew forth an extended list of media properties that explicitly or implicitly lean towards the left or right, but let’s just use the most obvious comparison in the “traditional” media space – Fox News vs. CNN. And increasingly MSNBC (some would say NBC in general) added to the left lean of CNN. Anyone see the cover story on the New Yorker (lean to the left…) a couple week’s back w/ that stalwart of political journalism Keith Olberman’s quote asking the president to shut up? For fans of SportsCenter from ~10 years ago, you may be like me and pine for the days of Dan Patrick and Keith Olberman anchoring the 10p show. Thus, I have a hard time buying him as a hard-hitting political pundit – especially when NBC still pulls him back into the Sunday night football studio. It seems he’s taking the reverse trajectory of Dennis Miller’s Monday Night Football experiment. Every time he tries to holler down a new echo chamber, it bounces it’s way back to the original one. But I digress…kind of…anyway…

Considering human behavior and the history of media in general this analogy of conversational media as echo chamber is also a cop out. Before fair and balanced journalism appeared on stone tablets or papyrus scrolls, people had a tendency to gravitate towards people who are like them and to avoid, or at least be politely – or not so politely – standoffish to, those who aren’t like them (see: Bible). Since time could be recorded on a mass scale – i.e. when the printing press came into existence – media has been used as a means to join like-minded communities together (see: Luther’s 95 Theses and that whole Protestant Reformation deal). We live in a country that has been sited as the first “paper democracy”. I’ll stop there, but needless to say, I could make many similar analogies for each break through in media delivery and communication technology in history (telegraph, telephone, radio, TV, cable, Internet, etc).

Media history lesson aside, it is important in our professional lives as marketers to step outside of our echo chambers and take a look and listen into a few, sometimes many, others. Brands are bouncing off the walls of any number of echo chambers at any given point in time. Sometimes they come out like Tigger – bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, Fun! Fun! Fun! Fun! Fun! – and other times they thud against the wall and roll out. Having insights and understanding about your bizarro-target audience and competition can be as important and beneficial as fully knowing those who most effectively and efficiently drive your business. Just ask Superman.

My professional echo chamber loudly reverberates with the benefits of digital media and the evolution of all media towards the wonders of digitization. However, I’m becoming more and more keen to a backlash against digital technology, especially as it pertains to the perceived negative effects of the Internet on society, that is gaining momentum. The Atlantic’s July/August issue featured an article by author Nicholas Carr called “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” A very interesting read and very much contrary to my views, and his book – The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google – is now on my reading list. A further perusal of the bookstore (a digital one…) led me to realize there is an enlarging echo chamber for these topics, including claims that the Internet has led to the Dumbest Generation that could very well bring down the aforementioned paper democracy (it’s coming w/ that Amazon shipment of The Big Switch). And there are more where those came from – and mostly from intelligent intellectuals well-versed in communication theory. It’s not a backlash confined to TV networks, as it turns out (an echo chamber I feel pretty comfortable avoiding).

I think the important thing here is that you don’t immediately dismiss noise from echo chambers you don’t inhabit as being outright wrong. Always remember your Art of War – “So it is said if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will fight without danger in battles. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.”

I enjoy stepping out of my echo chamber because I enjoy figuring out why people do what they do because, more times than not, they do what they do for reasons that are all together different than mine. If we get stuck in preconceived notions about why people do what they do or how we should do what we do, we could go deaf in our echo chamber. Our enemies will overtake us, and our friends will think us irrelevant for not listening to them.

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Filed under books, digital distribution, the career

American Dreams, Multicultural Realities & America in the World at Large

While scanning RSS feeds early this morning, I came across some information for a new documentary releasing in November called American Dreams. The film will focus on understanding the consumer culture in early 21st century America, especially on the “prosumer“, i.e. consumers who are especially socially and environmentally aware. Obviously interesting fare for those of us in the retail industry – and fans of St. Elsewhere wondering what Dr. Ehrlich has been up to.

Then when I picked up my USA Today a bit later this morning, I noticed a cover story on births fueling Hispanic population growth in the US. Interesting in light of immigration’s status as a hot – and apparently somewhat moot – campaign topic the past few elections, but with the marketing hat on, understanding the dynamics of “acculturated” Hispanics and a move to more rural areas becomes enlightening. What does that mean for the previously mentioned American Dream (the general construct, not the documentary)? Many times in marketing when we think Hispanic, we assume “urban”. Sounds like demographic shifts may make that an obsolete assumption in the not-so-distant future.

Very much related on the multicultural front was Friday’s release (also front page billing on USAT yet not cross-referenced in today’s story about Hispanics – a media miss if I’ve ever seen one) by Yankelovich and Radio One of research on the diversity and optimism that exists with in the African-American/Black (the research actually asks for preference on these two labels, thus I use them both) community – not to mention the close of the Digital Divide. It seems the “fragmentation” of the Black community is leading that community to more fully achieve the American Dream, or at least feel more positively disposed about the opportunity to achieve it. A step further, this helps obliterate another pre-conceived marketing notion – that “African-Americans” or “The Black Community” think and act in simple buckets of behaviors.

And to put a nice bow on this line of thinking on The American Dream, a trip to Barnes & Noble yesterday so my son could redeem a gift card led me to purchase The Post-American World. This best seller delves into how the concept of a flat world and globalization is allowing other nations to rise closer to the US’s financial prowess. While many pundits and media outlets have spun this to negative affect, Fareed Zakaria takes a positive view on America’s role in a world where we may no longer be #1 in everything.

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Radio Unfree USA

The RIAA and their various associates (musicFIRST? whatever…) would have us believe AM-FM radio is piracy. This quote from the post on Wired’s blog sums it up nicely:

“The argument boils down to this: Radio is making billions off the backs of recording artists and their labels; and the recording artists gain invaluable exposure because they’re on the radio, so royalties should not have to be paid.”

Been awhile since I was in a biology class, but I’m pretty sure that’s close to the definition of symbiosis.

A note on radio station ownership in the US for those not aware. I don’t know the exact stats but something like 4 companies control most of the stations in the country (ever noticed on long drives that there’s always a “MIX”, “X” and some station with a one syllable dude’s name? The fruits of too few owners of media outlets, my friends). And in case you haven’t noticed, that’s done a lot in terms of limited genres and artists now heard over the airwaves (Thank God for The Current here in MSP, though I do still pine for REV105 on occassion and still drop in online to good ol’ KGSR down in Austin, TX).

So we’re talking about whether or not the relatively limited number of artists – and the labels that represent them – that receive the majority of airplay on commercial radio are compensated enough for their music. What do you think?

Separate but related – just finished a book called “The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Youth Culture is Reinventing Capitalism.” It’s an interesting look at how “punk capitalism” and “the hip hop generation” are making major corporations (and industry groups for that matter) determine if piracy empowered by digital technology is just a new form of competition. Good and fast read.

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Filed under books, digital distribution, entertainment industry, monetizing media, RIAA