Tweets on the Times: “Getting” Social Media, or Not?

While I generally don’t like the dismissive attitude embodied in the assertion that a person or organization doesn’t “get” something, a couple of recent tweets relating to the New York Times and social media make me at least ask the question.

As I was checking my Tweetdeck on the bus this morning, I noted this tweet from Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang):

…which linked to this article about the NY Times hiring 12 techies and a social media whiz. That was encouraging to read, but as I scrolled down a bit through last night’s #Oscars tweets I came across this one from Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_NYU):

…which linked to this post about the reasons behind a plagiarism problem at the Times, and how the culture there and at the Wall Street Journal is antithetical to the world of social media. Felix Salmon’s (@felixsalmon) post (to which I have added emphasis) begins as follows:

Clark Hoyt, the NYT’s public editor, has a good post-mortem on l’affaire Zachary Kouwe, and asks whether “the culture of DealBook, the hyper-competitive news blog on which Kouwe worked” was partly to blame for his plagiarism.

It’s a good question, but also a dangerous one, because I fear it will help to keep blogs marginalized at the NYT and elsewhere: is there something inherent to the culture of blogging which breeds a degree of carelessness ill suited to a venerable newspaper?

The answer, in truth, is not that the NYT has gone too far down the bloggish rabbit hole, but rather that it hasn’t gone far enough. Kouwe was a reporter for the newspaper as well as for Dealbook, and as far as I know he has never had a blog of his own before or since. Big mainstream-media publications, when they hire people to write their blogs, generally hire people with no blogging experience at all — something which is both ill-conceived and dangerous. Some journalists make good bloggers; most don’t. So rather than gamble that you’ve found one of the rare exceptions, why not make prior blogging experience a prerequisite for such positions?

The fundamental problem with Kouwe was that when he saw good stories elsewhere, he felt the need to re-report them himself, rather than simply linking to what he had found, as any real blogger would do as a matter of course.

I hope the actions highlighted in Jeremiah’s tweet mean that the Times will begin to change its approach and will start linking externally. Bringing in some fresh people who don’t have the print reporter mindset may help. But if the paper’s policy against linking externally remains, it will hasten the Times‘ decline, for two reasons:

  1. There will inevitably be additional plagiarism incidents, as print culture tries (and fails) to keep up with the speed of the Web. This will lead to further embarrassment and reduced respect for the Times.
  2. By trying to re-write everything (to avoid linking), the Times will be wasting effort to be later with its reports than it would be if it immediately linked. So people will go elsewhere for timely news.

This post took less than half an hour on the bus. I could have tried to rewrite arguments, but what good would that have done? Excerpting and linking is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. It’s wasteful for print media to expend so much energy to avoid giving other people credit.

Hopefully the new social media whiz the Times is hiring will help management understand that.

Book Review: What Would Google Do?

I’m almost done listening to the Audible version of Jeff Jarvis’ new book, What Would Google Do?  I’ve long been a reader of Jeff’s Buzzmachine blog, and so had eagerly anticipated his book. 

I wasn’t disappointed.

As a former media critic for People and the founding publisher of Entertainment Weekly, Jeff knows “old media” and has been thinking in public on his blog for several years about newspapers and other mainstream media can adapt to the realities of the Internet age. In WWGD?, he applies the new rules he’s observed to various other industries as well. I haven’t gotten to his recommendations for health care yet. That might deserve a separate post.

(As an aside, check out Jeff’s post on Buzzmachine today, in which he estimates that today’s print edition of the New York Times is $2.6 million short of the paper’s target for display ad revenue. That’s for a single day! And the Times reports today that the Boston Globe is losing $85 million a year.)
Continue reading “Book Review: What Would Google Do?

Signs of Mainstream Media Demise

I know that MSNBC has 168 hours of program time to fill each week, and with its blogs the New York Times editorial board no longer needs to limit itself to commenting on all the news that’s worth printing (because blogs are essentially free), but their hyperventilation yesterday over Sarah Palin more than two weeks after the election is amusing and instructive.

It seems the carnage of a couple of turkeys being slaughtered in the background (after she had issued the traditional gubernatorial pardon of one of their next of kin) was just too much for these scribes’ sensitive souls. MSNBC thought the video needed to be sanitized (for the kids, at least):


Here’s the unedited version, linking directly to the point where MSNBC averted its (and our) eyes. Pretty gruesome, huh? I’m sure MSNBC has never had anything quite so awful on its programs.

I hope they enjoy their berries and nuts for Thanksgiving.

Tim Blair has a good overview of the reactions (the LA Times’ Elizabeth Snead, with her condescension toward Gov. Palin “making little to no sense (as usual),” while Snead herself uses the profound phrase “slaughtered alive” in the next paragraph, is another highlight) and John Hinderaker at Powerline has more good analysis.

A decade ago my now-teenage daughters got first-hand experience with the origin of the phrase, “running around like chickens with their heads cut off” as we helped some farmer friends round up their poultry for slaughter. I guess my girls were more emotionally well-adjusted at 7 and 8 than MSNBC’s David Shuster is today.

It is instructive to see the inordinate attention to the turkeys’ holiday holocaust, especially in light of some “meatier” recent news about mainstream media, such as

Journalists often lament that the economic woes facing mainstream media have dire implications for our democratic republic, because no one will have resources for serious investigative reporting.

It seems the attention to the Palin poultry proceeding may be a sign that the mainstream media descent into triviality is already well advanced.

Meanwhile, I can’t help but embed this classic clip because of its association of turkeys and mainstream media:


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New York Times: “Junk” or Barely Above

This is an assessment of its creditworthiness, not the trustworthiness of its political campaign coverage, but note this report:

The New York Times Co. reported a steep drop in third-quarter profits on Thursday, the latest gloomy earnings report in an industry battered by online competition and falling print advertising revenue.
The New York Times Co. said net profit fell by 51.4 percent in the third quarter to 6.5 million dollars, or five cents per share, from 13.4 million dollars, or nine cents per share, in the same period a year ago.

The company, which owns, The Boston Globe, International Herald Tribune and 16 other daily newspapers besides the flagship The New York Times, said overall advertising revenue fell by 14.4 percent during the quarter.

Shortly after the release of its results, Standard & Poors said it was lowering the Times’s credit rating to “BB-,” or junk status, while Moody’s Investors Service said it was placing it on review for possible downgrade.

Moody’s changed the rating outlook for the company to negative from stable in July. A further downgrade would reduce it to junk status. Both companies said the moves were based on the uncertain outlook for newspaper advertising.

Clearly the current economic situation has potential advertisers conserving cash, which increases the pressure on traditional media companies like the Times Co. But this is just a flare-up in a chronic disease: as I’ve previously noted (here, here, here, here, here, here and here), the big story about big media for the last decade has been gradual decline.

Recessions in the general economy just make it less gradual.

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Yammer Time(s)

Yammer, which I have been featuring in a new curriculum offering, was featured significantly today in the New York Times and its Technology blog.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Successes like YouTube, the online video site sold to Google for $1.65 billion in 2006, convinced some venture investors that building a Web site with a large number of users could still be more valuable than making money from paying customers.

Now, as the global economy enters a severe downturn, the relative merits of these two philosophies will be tested again.

The two poles of the debate are apparent in the world of microblogging, where people use the Web or their cellphones to blast short updates on their activities to a group of virtual followers.

Yammer’s business model is compelling, Mr. Sacks said, because it spreads virally like a consumer service, but earns revenue like a business service. Anyone with a company e-mail address can use Yammer free. When that company officially joins — which gives the administrator more control over security and how employees use the service — it pays $1 a month for each user. In Yammer’s first six weeks, 10,000 companies with 60,000 users signed up, though only 200 companies with 4,000 users are paying so far.

The founders and backers of Twitter, which has reportedly raised $20 million from venture capitalists, are just as adamant about their decision to grow first and monetize second.

I love Twitter. In fact, a Tweet from Dennis McDonald is what alerted me to the blog post, which led me to the article. But I think the real strength of Yammer is precisely that it didn’t make a choice between growing and monetizing.

It has a business plan.

It can grow immensely (as it has) through viral, bottom-up adoption. It’s mode of adoption isn’t really much different from Twitter. Anyone can sign up for free using a company e-mail address, and can invite co-workers. The only limit is that people from outside your company can’t be part of your network.

But for most businesses, that’s actually a plus. I can talk with my co-workers about what I’m working on, or share links, without the whole world seeing.

And I’m betting that with this New York Times coverage, the growth is going to greatly accelerate. I recommend you check out both the article and the blog post.

Yet despite being positioned for strong growth, the Yammer leadership actually has a plan for how to make money from the service; a fee amounting to $12 per employee per year.

Some companies may try Yammer and then decide to go with their own microblogging networks, completely behind the corporate firewall. But at least through Yammer they can experiment with the concept for free instead of spending a bunch of money on a new software package and trying to get employees to use it.

This is a variation of how Microsoft has driven Sharepoint, except the Microsoft staff already has strong relationships with the corporate IT departments. Microsoft gives Sharepoint to companies for a free trial, and then charges a large fee if they end up deploying long-term.

Yammer doesn’t have those IT relationships, and so is using a bottom-up strategy.

I will still use Twitter for connecting with the world, but it’s going to be fun experimenting with Yammer to see how it can help workplace collaboration.

Do you use Twitter? Have you tried Yammer? What do you think of the two services and how you might apply them in your work?

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