Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

Evolution

Posted on | September 4, 2007 | No Comments

Ed Sperling, editor in chief of Electronic News and Electronic Business, was this week’s guest on Sam Whitmore’s conference call to the PR industry. Ed said technical newsweeklies are dead as print publications. That’s the lede.
“The economics are not there to sustain a newsweekly in print. It’s a very tough market. There just isn’t the advertising coming in as there used to be.”Ed’s publications, E-News and EB, went online some time ago. So, as the kids like to say, “OOOOOHHHHKaaaaaaayyyyy….”

Who can argue that the environment is tough? No one. It’s acid rain in the publishing forest. But somewhere between advertiser intransigence, industry consolidation/maturation and reader loyalty lies the future. The readers in North America, in the electronics-press space, are not going anywhere. These guys (mostly) like ink. They like it smudging their fingers the same way they like dripping solder on their pants legs; it’s a badge of honor, a link to a creative process that a digital world cannot replicate. Digital has many things going for it, but a sense of sense is not one of them. You can’t touch it, taste it or smell it.
Now Ed means, specifically, EE Times is dead as a print publication. Perhaps. Maybe that’s just the way it goes. With the recent cuts there, it makes it difficult to continue to deliver the high level of journalistic quality that the industry has come to know and admire. But the death of a newsweekly assumes that that it fails to evolve, fails to learn new dance moves with its audience. Electronic News failed to adapt, and this happened well before Ed’s time. It began failing to adapt in the 1980s. If EE Times fails to adapt, then it too will become completely online and this will be a sad commentary on the electronics industry.
The opportunity for EE Times is to take its core techno-business coverage and move it into the mainstream, edge it toward the VC-oriented pubs and even make some sort of a run at Wired. Chris Anderson has done a fantastic job at helping evolve a magazine that was sniffing glue in the Web 1.0 heyday, but there’s no reason that a publication with a solid technical baseline can’t move into a mainstream audience and rub elbows with a Wired.
Unless it listens too much to its core advertisers. And when that happens, the inky stickiness of the La Brea Tar Pits begins its suffocations.

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No Responses to “Evolution”

  1. Mike santarini
    September 5th, 2007 @ 10:54 am

    With all due respect to both you and Ed, I believe the first time I heard something along the lines of the “the news weekly is dead” was uttered by Steve Weitzner, CMP’s (publisher of EE Times) CEO, via coverage in a Folio Magazine column last year, when you were acting as both publisher and editor in chief at EE Times. I remember thinking “poor Brian. It isn’t a good thing when your own CEO, former publisher, former editor in chief, former managing editor, former copy editor doesn’t seem to believe in your future in print.”

    http://www.foliomag.com/viewmedia.asp?prmMID=6076

    Specifically check out the last bullet point.

    • Print remains a good branding vehicle, but the industry is witnessing “the end of print where CMP has been: As a weekly news vehicle. You have to do something different now,” Weitzner said. “Analysis, or opinion, and you’d better have a reason for being in print.”

    So, the big question is with losing veteran reporters over the last few years and with the latest round of cuts, the most recent being EETimes’ print field Marshall Greg Lupion, who you once described “as the man behind the curtain at EE Times,” does EE Times today “have a reason for being in print”?

    If EET is going to stay alive in print seemingly a lot of change has to happen. Perhaps, they’ll get it that firing their best reporters didn’t do the trick and regurgitating press releases didn’t work. I think step one has to start with answering the following: What made EE Times great? (Hint, Richard M. Smith and Alex Wolf probably know http://www.computerbytesman.com/dl/journey.txt)

  2. Greeley's Ghost
    September 5th, 2007 @ 3:34 pm

    Very good points, Mike, as usual. Steve claims of course that he was misquoted, but the fact that he even put himself remotely in a situation to be misconstrued on such an important point (being the ex-editor he is) was mind-numbingly stupid.
    But it’s not CMP or Reed that is abandoning news; it’s their customers. They ain’t valuing it anymore. They did when they needed branding. Now that it’s all about products and business process, they could give shit.
    I think you’ll see news in your industy disintegrate a lot faster that people would ever imagine.
    So what’s next? A constellation of individual news sites, santarini.com, wilson.com, yoshida.com, et al. Editors who have journalistic skills and business savvy will be fine. And the industry can support that.
    I could go on and on…

  3. Island Mike
    September 6th, 2007 @ 11:28 am

    News will never disintegrate. Things happen every day and people want to know about them. Planes crash, wars break out, senators misbehave in bathrooms, new place-and-route tools get launched.

    But we all know that the channel by which news is delivered most certainly will continue to change. Has to – too much info, too many ADD people, too many new ways to get the news.
    Headlines.
    Sound bites.
    Fast. Short.
    Push ’em at me.
    I’ll Google the things that matter most to me.

    As a news conduit, print has been dying for years and there’s nothing so unique about the the technology industry that should makes its death any less imminent here than it is in other walks of life where it once dominated. Will print ever go away? Probably not. The subway riders need something to do. But frankly I could give a rat’s ass how I get my news, all I really care about is where it’s coming from. I read the NY Times and my hometown newspaper every day, but I haven’t gotten ink on my hands for years. I’m not missing a thing – and I’m newspaper guy. Yesterday I picked it up off my doorstep. Today I read it on my PC. Tomorrow, maybe on my iPhone. Next year on my sunglasses.

    But the point is I still go first to the NY Times, not http://www.joe.schmoe‘s.take.on.the.news.com. (although, being from Boston, I must confess to enjoying an occasional peek at http://www.theguyfromboston.com, but I digress). I like the familiarity of The Times, even if it is on line. I trust it, even though there are a thousand other places I can go for pretty much the same information. There’s value in that, just as in our world there’s value in the trust and comfort people have with the likes of EE Times and EDN. But that trust and comfort is based on the editorial product they produce. Which makes the recent thrashing at EE Times’ all the more confusing – it ain’t the hacks who are costing you dough, it’s the frigging forests you’ve been wiping out to publish their work on. People actually went to EET.com to read what those cats had to say, not to look at the colorful banner ads (entertaining as they may be).

    Sadly (for us newspaper fans), today, and more so in the future, ‘news’ can and will be delivered directly and unfiltered by suppliers of goods and services to their customers, particularly in the relatively low volume, very finite B2B industries in which this crowd exists. And those are the guys who keep our publications afloat. So from their perspective, where then is the need – the value – of an independent publication? If I can sell my widget without having to pay the publishers for advertising space to promote it or cajole their editors into covering it, does the notion of a ‘publication’ (print or on-line) become obsolete in certain industries?

    We Greeley Groupies hope not, but the handwriting may be too firmly etched on the wall. We can hold out hope that guys like Mike Santarini can continue to make a living as a filter, an analyst, a trusted source and interpreter of the news. If he does that under the Reed banners (which assumes they can make money doing it), great – there is a real value and trust in a corporate brand on top of Mike’s own rep. Or maybe the PR agency takes on a different role, as this blog seems to suggest in the post about VitalCom’s new initiative (not to mention what the recent career move by our fearless leader implies). But isn’t that called advertising?

    I believe our erstwhile blogger is on to something when he suggests the new world order in our space may be comprised of an infinite galaxy of individual ‘publishers’ who will be differentiated by their degree of credibility, trustworthiness, and reliability. It’s a nice, nirvana-like thought. I just wonder how these dudes will be able to pay their rent?

  4. Loring
    September 6th, 2007 @ 1:02 pm

    Mike, I wish I could buy that, but there is a free-lunch assumption built in. Take the point of general-news blogs and the data points they pick up from NYT, AP, Reuters — if all traditional wire services are put out of business in the name of disintermediation, where do blogs first learn that Putin has secretly cut a deal with Belarus even as he’s saying he hasn’t?

    Actual case in point from yesterday: Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders warned of an imminent starvation crisis in the Eastern Ogaden Desert, due to the fact that Ethiopia has kicked out all aid agencies and is conducting a war of attrition against Ogaden separatists. Excuse me? Why am I just hearing about this now? We are lucky that liberal human-rights groups and conservative evangelicals have joined forces to remind us of Darfur every time we turn around, but who is telling us about the massacre in Ogaden? No one, because no one is paying for international news coverage any more. If a society is trained not to care about other nations unless Angelina Jolie visits other nations, then the only link they will click on is one about a celebrity. America returns to its isolationism, and its relative illiteracy.

    Of course we can’t force the public to pay attention to things that truly matter, but there must be some way to fund basic information-gathering as we do other utilities. The 21st century view of journalism reminds me of the 1996-era promise of “free DSL”. Of course no communication service is free, because someone has to pay for physical network upkeep. And the more people are convinced that something can “simply appear,” the more they devalue the resource. Maybe independent news-gathering and value-based analysis has to completely disappear before a lot of people realize what’s missing, but I hope that doesn’t have to happen.

  5. Mike Santarini
    September 6th, 2007 @ 1:41 pm

    I agree with Loring, I think, if I undestand you correctly (Loring you are crazy smart). But to take a quote from Zoolander…”I feel like I’m taking crazy pills: What the ‘eff happened to all you former “journalist” cats. I know the Jesuits were a bit crazy at my university but I’m glad they made “ethics” courses mandatory. I think a couple of these publishing houses should make it mandatory that their edit staffs (and their sales staffs) take an “ethics in journalism” refresher. What Lou’s proposing is insidious. It’s bad enough some of you cats sat by and didn’t complain when the sales force took over during the downturn and made once honorable journalists regurgitate press releases but to praising attempts for “pay-to-play journalism?” Common…you can’t be that far gone?

  6. Loring
    September 6th, 2007 @ 2:04 pm

    Hey, Mike, did you follow the link John Busco provided in his comment on the Lou Covey item, to the article Russell Baker wrote on “Goodbye to Newspapers”? It’s quite good, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/20471. Baker points out that all these corporate-level publishers who newspapers have hired in recent years do not understand what editorial types are talking about when they say “public service.” As far as the owners of media are concerned now, the editorial community’s only purpose in life is to maximize value to the shareholder. Period. End of story. Or as Gavin Bourne used to say, “Ethics? Isn’t that a county in England?”

  7. Island Mike
    September 6th, 2007 @ 3:28 pm

    Fellas – wasn’t defending the current situation, just laying the cards out on the table. Couldn’t agree more with Mike on the whole ‘pay-for-play’ trend – as I said that’s called advertising and has nothing to do with journalism, or PR for that matter. But in a small B2B niche, it seems to be the way we’re heading. Bad situation, no doubt.

    Agree with Loring, too – In fact, we’re making a similar if not the same argument: there is no question the world needs responsible, credible journalism for oh so many reasons. But there has to be an economic engine behind it, or at least some source of funding to make it viable. That was my point – where is that gonna come from? As you point out, it’s hard enough in the real world to cover truly life altering issues if no one in the traditional funding space (read: advertisers) thinks it’s important. It seems nearly impossible in our space, where the economic engine has other channels to reach its audience. At least the blogs-sphere reduces the need to rely on advertising to set up a soapbox, but I’m wondering how the economic model will work.

  8. Brian
    September 11th, 2007 @ 5:13 pm

    B2B companies understand the usefulness of a neutral forum such as a print/web magazine (though maybe not its value). The only way to support print/web mags is through advertising, and there aren’t many companies who want to spend money on advertising any more.

    I don’t think there are any flaws inherent in B2B publishing. I think the flaw is in B2B management. There is value in good B2B journalism; there is value in weekly, daily, and monthly news; there is value in advertising — and many readers agree.

    The problem is that the readers are irrelevant. The key is whether or not the people controlling ad budgets agree, and they don’t.

    From my experience in both journalism and marcom (I did a stint at a shop that did advertising, marketing and PR) very very few managers churned out of the B-schools in the last 30 years understand the value of advertising. Few understand the distinctions among marketing, advertising, and PR.

    Among those managers who do understand the distinctions among them, and the value of those three endeavors, few have adequate budgets.

    It all ends up the same: the deaths of B2B titles. But again, I don’t think the issue is print v. electronic, or daily v. weekly, or established press v. blogs — these are important issues — I just think not the fundamental issue.

    I think the fundamental problem — and several people here have touched on it — is that the advertising model is broken, and by the time advertisers realize their killing their own forums (the B2B titles), it’ll be too late.

    Here’s what I think is needed (I’ve had this idea shot down over and over again over the last 10 years, I’m inured to the likelihood it will happen again, so fire away):

    A forum that gets full buy-in from its members. Whenever a member is ready to buy something specific, the member tells the forum organizer, and the organizer delivers a qualified lead to the advertiser, for which the organizer gets paid.

    I truly believe that’s the only way for a middle man to get paid. Can a B2B mag do that effectively — take the role of forum organizer delivering fully qualified leads? I don’t know. But I’m convinced it’s the only option that’s viable in the long term.

  9. Anonymous
    July 17th, 2008 @ 10:39 pm
  10. Anonymous
    July 17th, 2008 @ 10:55 pm
  11. Anonymous
    December 23rd, 2008 @ 8:46 pm

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