Posted on | September 6, 2013 | 14 Comments
By now, you’ve probably heard: Two cornerstone editors are leaving EE Times. Peter Clarke (London) and Dylan McGrath (San Francisco) are headed off to different pastures to ply their trade, McGrath to IHS and Peter to parts unknown.
Those two guys represent half the core staff of EE Times, with Junko Yoshida and Rick Merritt remaining on board (at least for now). Since January, Times has also has lost Sylvie Barak, George Leopold, Alex Wolfe and Nic Mokhoff. I don’t count myself because I was running EBN when I decided to leave.
These moves raise two important questions:
- Does it matter?
- What’s the future of EE Times?
An editor’s relevancy
The first question is probably more directly phrased “Do editors matter any more?” From the standpoint of UBM and CEO Paul Miller, I think the answer is “sure but in a different way.” Editors-as-gatekeepers and interpreters of marketing fodder? No. Editors as community leaders? Absolutely.
UBM gets a lot of grief for what’s gone down in the last decade, especially in electronics. There, we began overhauling how we do business 13 years ago, showered as we were in the radioactive rain of dot-com bomb.
The company’s hand was forced by industry spending trends (own-website investment at first and later by starvation-ration marketing budgets). Paul & Co. reacted in ways that at first cemented the company’s go-to spot for electronics readers and marketers. Everyone else at first poo-poohed the digital transformation; UBM got out front.
Today, the state of affairs is even tougher, and the body language out of UBM’s London HQ is that media is radioactive. That’s business: If it ain’t growing, it’s time to consider Plan B.
Today, electronics companies are picking up the editorial diaspora and slotting them into content-creation and content-marketing roles with success. So companies control more of the story-telling and messaging. These companies are getting a completely new marketing capability in house, and it’s just beginning to take root.
But there’s a sense of unhappiness in our ranks. We can crank out that content all day long, but if there’s no one to validate it or call B.S., then we become an industry of echo chambers.
That serves no one. We’re missing a vital voice in the conversation.
What’s the future of EE Times?
And that’s why publications like EE Times matter. Still. But the shift this year of nearly all UBM publications to the Deus M platform and model fundamentally changes the relationship with the reader. The platform itself is great for sponsors (at the moment): It’s a very effective way to create content, drive conversation and deliver metrics and leads to advertisers. For editors, it’s as healthy as a pit bull is around a toddler.
Sure, you can recruit new editors (well maybe not in electronics), but the community approach will last only as long as advertisers don’t get distracted by some new shiny digital marketing object. And there will be a shiny new object, I guarantee you.
In the community model, an editor shepherds a flock of contributors, each telling a piece of the story. But most of those contributors are paid to do something else. Just a small fraction of editors today put food on their table trying to understand how technology and the industry is changing and then communicating that the engineering audience in the old, quaint “objective” observer model.
A number of smaller publications are emerging to fill the vacuum but they don’t yet have the audience, the momentum or, more worryingly, the brand and trust in engineers’ eyes.
What matters anymore?
Meanwhile, publications likes Times and EDN (the latter really strong since its excellent redesign) still have the biggest website numbers in the business.
But for how long? For how long with guys like Clarke and McGrath leaving? For how long with a content mix that leans on endless “top 10 whatever” stories and page-view pimping slideshows? Miller should sell the electronics group so it can have focus outside a huge organization like UBM–we had this conversation as I was leaving. It would be quite profitable. But he’s not in a position to do that right now.
That’s life but it’s too bad, because as currently constituted, EE Times is telling us less and less about what’s going on in the industry, what connected dots are going to influence how we design circuits, boards and embedded systems next year. (Junko and Rick can only break so much news every day before they keel over from exhaustion).
The community model–the conversation model–is, right now, the brand’s IV drip, a way to keep its heart beating within a bony chest. But the model only really encourages conversation among people on the site (it’s supposed to). But it doesn’t really encourage conversation within the industry, where it matters. We don’t gather around the office coffee station any more and marvel at what EE Times reported.
There’s no blame to assign; we’re all involved here. It just is. It’s the evolution of a business. The editorial diaspora is already revolutionizing electronics marketing and communications, but that’s just one answer to our challenges.
We’re realizing we need back that town square we just bulldozed and we need vibrant publications to tell an industry story consistently, to nurture debates and arbitrate them; to be an extra set of eyes and ears for the engineer; and, yes, to call B.S. on our own carefully crafted product and technology stories–or to validate them.
I’m not just talking to myself. Gary Smith is writing about it as is Dan Nenni at SemiWiki. And of course Lou Covey is always hovering and hectoring and rightly so. Gary was so concerned about the state of affairs he called and said we needed to foment a revolution and lunch in the Valley was a good place to start. He and Lori-Kate and I ate well, laughed a lot and came away with no brilliant ideas.
What are yours?