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

“I saw things getting out of hand; I guess they always will”

Posted on | September 20, 2007 | No Comments

I was taken aback by Ed Sperling’s call today and didn’t have a chance to noodle on the impact until tonight and a glass or two of wine. Brian Santo, ex-Electronic News, ex-EE Times, posted to the Sperling item very eloquently.
There are two main points I chew on this evening in candlelight: the presumed death of Electronic News and the potential death of electronics news. No apparent word today from Reed on whether, indeed, it’s pulling the plug on the venerable E-News brand, which may be 50 this year if memory serves. But the Sperling layoff effectively puts the pillow on the face. You can aggregate all the other EDN content you want into “Electronic News” online, but it ain’t Electronic News. Ed had a hard enough time keeping the candle lit with one hand tied behind his back.
Electronic News helped build the semiconductor industry. It was the New York Times (some thought the New York Post) of electronics. So many of its editors went on to EE Times and other pursuits and in the case of Times helped it turn the corner into respectability in the 1980s. Most of these editors have left Times, either voluntarily or involuntarily, but their experience with E-News built them in many ways. I never worked there and worked like a dog in the 1990s to crush them as news competitors, but I’ve always respected the publication because I started my career at a similar venerable news operation that has since fallen by the boards: United Press International. I joined Times 15 years ago and learned the electronics business at the right hand of Richard Wallace, who learned the electronics business at E-News.
The second issue is much graver, the possible mortality of electronics news. I had long believed that because of the maturation and consolidation of the semiconductor and EDA industries that the publishing side of the business had to coalesce around a single design book, a single products book and a single news book. And tonight I have the sickening feeling that the wild fire will burn at least all the way through the news publications (E News and EE Times) and will be hard to contain at that point. The wind just doesn’t seem to abate (Dylan called it an Idiot Wind). And in my back and forth today after the E News story broke, it’s clear I’m not alone in this fear.

For now, amid the dread, I’m left with my wine and the words of the Grateful Dead, from 40 years ago:

I spent a little time on the mountain, I spent a little time on the hill

Things went down we don’t understand, but I think in time we will.

Now, I don’t know but I was told in the heat of the sun a man died of cold.

Keep on coming or stand and wait, with the sun so dark and the hour so late.

You can’t overlook the lack, jack, of any other highway to ride.

It’s got no signs or dividing lines and very few rules to guide.

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Comments

No Responses to ““I saw things getting out of hand; I guess they always will””

  1. Loring Wirbel
    September 21st, 2007 @ 7:34 am

    You quoted the Dead, but might have been better quoting at length from the referenced Idiot Wind. I feel that conflagration every time I read a gossip blog these days. There’s a companion song to that Dylan piece, sung by the forgotten Los Angeles cowboy band Walking Wounded, called “Saddled by Idiots.” Feels like the village idiots have already set the blaze that consumes everything in its path (in journalism in general, not just in the tech trades), the time for total immolation will be measured in weeks or months rather than years, and there is very little we can do but sit and watch on the sidelines. Burning too hot to call in the jumpers.

  2. Lou Covey
    September 21st, 2007 @ 8:39 am

    There’s something else to be considered here, and that’s the historic progress of media. At one point, when the first scribes were establishing themselves in Mesopotamia, the storytellers and minstrels that made their living keeping people informed started sweating. Moveable type sent the scribes into dry heaves a few hundred years later. And so on and so on…
    What we are experiencing now with the blogosphere is not unlike when the penny-dreadful newspapers started popping up. they were undisciplined, libelous wads of birdcage lining. But they also encouraged literacy. And they changed the way people were informed.
    The net is in the penny-dreadful stage right now, filled with legit newspeople but mostly scoundrels. What make them different from all media before is that these new journalists are forced to accept feedback from formerly anonymous readers.
    What is going to happen is that the blogging phenomenon is going to eventually develop some rules of etiquette and become more civilized, more reliable and more corporate. We’re in the wilding time, but that will eventually winde down…until the next medium takes its place.

  3. Ry Schwark
    September 21st, 2007 @ 12:19 pm

    I think Lou has a point, but I think the problem is more about the business model than how people want to consume content.

    With the rise of the internet and the corresponding genesis of the holy grail of real “one-to-one” marketing, we’ve lost faith in old school advertising. Direct mail/marketing rises while mass marketing falls.

    I think the collapse of general books will probably continue, unfortunately. Advertisers want very focused spend that reaches a clear target customer.

    We used to be able to take on faith the value of advertising (or maybe we just had to). Now, when you can measure first click to first purchase, managers don’t want faith-based marketing. They want measurable marketing.

    I don’t see that changing.

    I think that means that publishers need to de-aggregate their content and build more vertical publications to create lists that appeal to the new model. If a list doesn’t draw advertisers, that news segment doesn’t get served. And part of that model must be a tighter feedback loop with the reader.

    If I can’t touch and interact with the reader as an advertiser, I’ll look elsewhere.

  4. Loring Wirbel
    September 21st, 2007 @ 12:32 pm

    Well, Ry, CMP tried that online in BTG with the Pipeline model and in Electronics Group with the DesignLine model. They both get a lot of traffic, a lot of article contributions, but the problem with stovepiping and verticalizing to death is that publishers try to do it with zero editorial staff (understandably), the small staff goes crazy trying to maintain separate sites for IP, security, wireless, digital TV, etc. and the momentum can’t be sustained. And if you’re even slightly late to the party, say with Light Reading’s effort to create Contentinople for digital content, it gets very tough to get heard through the noise. Micro-segmentation can be implemented for blogs with no true staff, but it’s a bitch for any model requiring a certain level of advertising for paid staff.

  5. Ry Schwark
    September 24th, 2007 @ 9:49 am

    Loring,

    I imagine the temptation when you “micro-segment” is to skip editorial, and just rely on the community to feed your content needs. They know the material best, right?

    But it strikes me as rudderless. Someone needs to turn the noise into a symphony.

    I hadn’t thought about it, but you must be right about it making competition hard. Who wants two news portals in some niche? Readers will pick one and the other will die.

    Tough business to be in.

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