New E-Voter Institute Book Explores the Internet’s Impact on Politics and Advocacy E-Voter Institute recently published About Face: The Dramatic Impact of the Internet on Politics and Advocacy. The book brings together the contributions of 20 industry insiders, including me, who cover best practices, case studies, and research that can help political strategists more clearly see the Internet options for reaching and persuading voters. I had the pleasure of contributing the chapter on the Flow of Information.

The presidential campaign of 2008 broke new ground in the candidates’ use of the Internet and social media for message delivery, organizing, and fundraising, and this book explores not only how it was done then, but how it will be done in the future. As Michael Bassik of Air America says on the cover, it’s the “…de facto bible for candidates, consultants and just about anyone interested in the Internet-driven, citizen-powered politics…”

The book is available online at Powell’s Books.

The Real Mother Jones Crowdsourcing News is the Rise of Advocacy Journalism

Crowdsourcing news from citizen journalists is so old-hat now that talking about it is boring. It’s still not easy to do, or efficiently done, but it’s been discussed so often that it’s become a cliche. Mother Jones, though, is crowdsourcing with a twist – the publication is using professional journalists. MoJo has decided that “climate change is the most important story of our time,” but is being covered “piecemeal” and therefore ineffectively. To rectify that problem, it’s “forging a collaboration with a range of news organizations—magazines, online news sites, nonprofit reporting shops, multimedia operations—because we each have different strengths, but working together we can cover this story better than any of us could on our own.” This initiative has resulted in some good press about this new kind of crowdsourcing. But I think focusing on professional crowdsourcing misses the really interesting aspect of the move – it’s more evidence of the rise of advocacy journalism.

Mother Jones is known for advocacy journalism, but it’s partners in this effort (with more, presumably, to come) really aren’t. Editor Clara Jeffery stated in the Ad Age story that participants “will likely include Slate, Grist, The Atlantic, Wired, Pro Publica, the Center for Investigative Reporting, MoJo of course, and maybe one or two others.” The audience for news seems to be clamoring for this kind of journalism, as evidenced by high viewership for Fox News and MSNBC, while ratings for CNN and the broadcast nets, the ostensibly unbiased networks, decline. It’s beginning to look more and more like this notion of an unbiased press, foisted on the public in the 1920’s, is crumbling. The press treats this as a bad thing, but why? A press with a mission isn’t the problem, as long as it has integrity. The problem is a press that lies about or omits facts. I’ll take a news organization that’s honest and tells me it’s political philosophy over an “unbiased” one any day.

Should You Put Your CEO in Your Ad Campaign?

Today I came across a story in Slate by Seth Stevenson wondering if it’s smart to put your CEO in your ad campaign. An earnest Stevenson gets quite analytical over the question, but I could’ve saved him some time. The answer is, For the love of God, no!

So maybe this is one of my pet peeves, but unless you’re Frank Perdue, your CEO starring spot is awful. What these ads do is remind people how soft and flabby, and country club looking, corporate CEOs are. And how if they’re not wearing suits, they’re wearing suits with no ties (a truly ridiculous look if there ever was one). They’re usually horrible actors giving you the feeling you’re driving by a wreck on the side of the road that you just can’t look away from. When I see these ads, I can’t help but act out the marketing meeting in which it was decided that the CEO should star: “Yeah boss, that’s a great idea! You’d be great in that ad!”

One of the CEO ads Stevenson analyzes is the GM spot starring CEO Ed Whitacre. While admitting that Whitacre is “plainspoken, unapologetically uncharismatic,” he decides that “The ad is akin to a calm retail manager emerging from the back of the store to soothe a frustrated customer.” I guess, if the retail store is the Lansing Country Club gift shop. I have no idea what he’s saying because I can’t take my eyes off every little tick and eccentricity that Whitacre exhibits. The way his lips move when he talks, the way he carries his arms when he walks, and those odd glasses. Why does he snap his fingers once during his walk through the set? He can’t possibly be so strange in real life, can he?

Here in San Diego, my old employer, the Union-Tribune, is using the new publisher in radio ads. Yup, I’m holding my breath for the TV version!

(In case you missed it, here’s the GM spot.)

With In-App Purchases in Free iPhone Apps, Tools Continue to Fall in Place for Paid Content Attempts

Apple today announced that in-app purchases are now allowed in free iPhone apps. This is great news for developers of all kinds of applications, from games to news, because it means the freemium model is alive on the iPhone.

If news organizations have any chance at charging for content it’s with a freemium model, and they now have the means to launch it on the leading mobile platform. While I’m skeptical of the viability of the paid model and the magnitude of the impact even if it’s successful, mobile must be a key component of any attempt.

(So I say again, isn’t it time to stop threatening and just go paid? We’ve been hearing all year about how News Corp is poised to begin charging for content – just do it already! If the industry really believes it’s the future, launching paid content is the only way to prove it.)

Also, doesn’t this make e-readers less attractive to news organizations? Why would a content consumer want to buy a separate device to consume that content on the go? E-readers may be the better choice for long-form content such as text books, but for news, I don’t see it. I can hear the “small screen” complaints now, but get over it, this isn’t newspaper delivery, it’s news delivery.

Just another reason for Hearst to rethink that e-reader launch.

Net Neutrality is in Danger of Being Sanctified

Have you ever tried suggesting, in a group setting, that you’re not sure all of those doomsday climate models are precisely accurate? Let me give you a tip – don’t! You’ll be viewed as a doubter, a naysayer, a heretic. People will wonder if you’re an oil company employee or if you’re just stupid, because you must be one or the other. Global Warming has become a religion, a religion which does not allow questions, discussion, or inquiry. To question one aspect is to question everything. And now, Net Neutrality is in danger of becoming one too.

Dylan F. Tweney just published an article on suggesting that Net Neutrality may not be all it’s cracked up to be and will likely result in the end of all-you-can-eat Internet access. I’ll leave it to you to read his arguments (and they are persuasive), and will instead point out the comments following the article. Some quotes:

  • “What world are you living in?”
  • “I’m starting to wonder if Wired has a telecom shill here..”
  • “So which ISP paid you to write it?”
  • “So was it Comcast or Verizon who paid you to post this article? Maybe both?”
  • “Nice snow job.”
  • “This is such a great example of a paid article! I love it!”
  • “ROTFL!! this article is biased…. right winger…”
  • “Thou hast beshamed thy family name and homeland; begone from us henceforth and dwindle in the land of Cowardly Poopybutts whence thou dost belong-ed! Sink me!”

You get the idea. While not true of every hostile commenter, many start with the assumption that Tweney couldn’t possibly actually believe what he wrote, or that he did some research and came to his conclusions, but that he must be in the pay of some nefarious non-believing forces.

My aim here isn’t to argue against government imposed “net neutrality,” but rather to point out that we are verging on religion. Once we have a religion, discussion, analysis, and inquiry stop, and are replaced with blind obedience. For people who are advocating a “free and open Internet,” their minds are closing rapidly.

Stop Pretending To Be Unbiased

It seems to me that lately, the prescriptions for the future of news issued frequently by Internet celebrity (and not so celebrated) journalists and pundits have been including items on “truth.” Most recently, Dan Gillmor, in “Eleven Things I’d Do If I Ran a News Organization,” said,

6. We would refuse to do stenography and call it journalism. If one faction or party to a dispute is lying, we would say so, with the accompanying evidence. If we learned that a significant number of people in our community believed a lie about an important person or issue, we would make it part of an ongoing mission to help them understand the truth.

Truth has been part of journalism’s code of ethics since the beginnings of “scientific journalism” in 1923, when the American Society of Newspaper Editors issued its Canons of Journalism which included the statement, “News reports should be free from opinion or bias of any kind.” The ethics code of the Society of Professional Journalists begins with, “Seek Truth and Report It.”

The reality, however, is stated in a post on 10,000 Words called “10 Ugly Truths About Journalism“:

5. Journalists are biased
There is no such thing as unbiased…it is humanly impossible. While journalists often strive to make sure their stories are as unbiased as possible, many cover particular subjects or issues because they feel particularly strong about them.

Yes, it is humanly impossible to be unbiased. Journalists, by what they cover, how they report what they do cover, and what they include and ignore, bring bias into their reporting. That’s just the way it is. Most of those who today clamor for “truth in reporting,” really mean “my truth in reporting.” Perhaps the most obvious example of this is a post by Mark Adams on American Street which includes the statement:

From my view the FOXization of the media is destroying its credibility and function as a true check on government power, the role that earns the press the moniker Fourth Estate.

Fox’s claim to be “Fair and Balanced” may be over the top, but Adams destroys his own credibility when he blames Fox for destroying the media’s ability to act as a check on government power. If Fox doesn’t challenge this administration, who does?

All of which should make one wonder if a media that tries, or claims, to be unbiased is even desirable? When an editor wishes his reporter hadn’t donated to a political candidate because it affects his credibility, isn’t that just a tad disingenuous? Whether or not he donates, his beliefs are unchanged. The transparency of the donation actually improves his credibility because now his readers know from what philosophical base he writes.

Journalists will never regain their lost credibility until they stop trying to convince the public that reporting can be unbiased. The public knows better. Honest reporting, though, is possible and journalists need to stop pretending they’re unbiased and start convincing us of their honesty.

Entertainment Media Companies are in Danger of Following Newspapers Over the Cliff

As networks and studios put more content online, media analysts, Wall Street, and the companies themselves are grappling with the nasty reality that is killing newspapers – you can’t make as much money online as you could from your legacy distribution channels. Credit Suisse’s Spencer Wang says that “a broadcast show makes at least 64% less online than it does on TV and a cable show about 36% less.” (Ratios, by the way, that newspapers would die for.) The solution looks simple – charge viewers or show more ads – but it never really is. As is often the case, the networks biggest obstacle to embracing the future is their biggest partner from the past – cable operators.

As long as people are paying cable operators for entertainment on their TVs, they’re not going to “double-pay” for it online. Although I don’t have the research, my guess is that a large segment of the online audience goes online to time-shift. If that’s the case, if those people were charged to view online they would pay twice for the content – once to their cable operator and once to the online site. That’s not going to happen. Movies may be a different story since viewing them online is less about time-shifting and more about access, but payment there will require the ability to view the content on a larger screen, a process already in motion.

Networks should be partnering with companies working to bring a high quality video experience from the Internet to TV screens. These companies should be the large cable MSOs but, like newspapers before them, they no doubt fear the cannibalization of their legacy business from the Internet.  When consumers can see the shows they want online, output to their TV screens, with a variety that rivals cable, they will be ready to drop cable and pay for online content. That means the networks new best friends should be the phone companies or, better yet, the power companies – anyone who can provide Internet access as a cheap utility.

Of course, even when viewers are paying for online entertainment, the problem isn’t solved. This subscription revenue (if it even is subscription) will be less than what networks currently earn since the audience will no longer be forced to pay for set network lineups. The market will be brutal on marginal shows and networks as viewers only pay for what they want to see. Advertising will continue to be a critical component, but it’s hard to imagine it looking like it does today.

Yahoo! Will Benefit From the Bing Deal

I just don’t understand why Yahoo! is taking so much criticism for it’s search deal with Microsoft. OK, so there were no “boatloads of money,” but does the share price decline mean that Yahoo!’s price had those boatloads baked into it? I guess so, which means that investors actually believed that money would appear – a pretty lonely position.

Moving beyond the upfront payment issue, let’s think about the wisdom of the rest of the deal. In the minds of consumers at least, Yahoo! had long since stopped being a player in search. Yahoo! search is used by people who are on one of the company’s content sites and happen to have the need to search. They’re already there, so why not use the easy to reach search box? But the point is, users are on Yahoo!’s site for the content, not the search. We may want to look back to Yahoo!’s start as a search engine and lament the loss of one of the industry’s former leaders, but that was then, this is now. And now Yahoo! is a content company that aggregates audiences for advertisers.

As a content company, Yahoo! had no business trying to match technology with Google and Microsoft, and knew that it would lose at that game, so this deal allows it to simply buy off-the-shelf technology for a non-core piece of it’s business. Selling advertising into that piece, however, is core and Yahoo! has retained that ability. The resources that Yahoo! had to devote to search can now be redeployed to areas where it can really ad value – content and advertising innovations.

Most of the reporting on this deal has viewed it as Yahoo! selling its search business to Microsoft. As someone who has run content web sites, I view it as Yahoo! hiring Microsoft to take over the burden of managing and developing a technology important, but not core, to its sites. In that respect, I think Yahoo! got a pretty good deal. And all of this worry about whether Yahoo! can succeed without search? If it kept using its own search technology that was never going to make it a success, so the question was always there. If Yahoo! fails, it won’t be because of this deal, but if it succeeds, this deal will have helped.

The King is Dead, Long Live the … Wait a Minute…

Walter Cronkite’s death brought a flood of admiring quotes from journalists around the country and offered more evidence of why legacy media organizations have such a hard time with change. As the journalists wish for the days of an “authoritative voice,” most of their audience has long been celebrating the loss of those voices. Cronkite’s most famous and self-proclaimed “proudest” moment, when he declared in 1968 that the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive was “a draw” and that “it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could,” was based on a misreading of the outcome of the battle. While not as egregious as Dan Rather’s reliance on forged documents during the presidential campaign of 2004, had it been uttered today, Cronkite’s statement would surely have been refuted immediately by citizens and journalists alike, as was Rather, deepening the discussion and bringing more clarity to the issue.

Cronkite had a great impact on the media landscape, but that was yesterday, and let us not wish for it today, because it will not and should not be duplicated.

The NCAA is Killing Rowing

Sports have such an enormous impact on our society that what happens in sports is often reflected in business and our broader culture. And often, when sports becomes a business, what happens in business is reflected in sports.

The NCAA is a business, a big business, and big businesses often acquire smaller companies and products that they hope will provide growth for the larger entity. Sometimes those acquisitions end well, other times they result in the suffocation of whatever life the smaller company had. The NCAA’s “acquisition” of women’s heavyweight rowing is leading to the suffocation of the sport.

Purely by the numbers, the growth of women’s heavyweight rowing in recent years has been phenomenal. Since athletic directors realized the sport could act as a Title IX offset for large male sports such as football, they began turning previous club programs varsity and starting brand new varsity programs where clubs didn’t exist. All of these varsity programs, however, needed women to fill out their ranks, so high school girls who never took a stroke with an oar found themselves receiving scholarships. The gold rush was on and heavyweight women’s rowing became the sport of choice for families looking for scholarships and admissions preference. Although this growth resulted in too few qualified coaches and women claiming to be varsity athletes who had no business pulling on a uni, it got lots of women on teams. And it was NCAA recognition, giving the sport instant credibility as a Title IX offset, that enabled it.

Once women’s heavyweight rowing became an NCAA sport, that category was required to have its own, separate, championship. Previously all four categories of rowing (men, women, heavyweight, and lightweight) joined together in a national championship that was a true festival of the sport. Men and women competing at the same event in equal numbers, celebrating one of the few truly amateur sports left. The NCAA tore that apart. Heavyweight women have their championship, while on another date in another part of the country the heavy men, light men, and light women, together have their own.

Even more pernicious, however, is the fact that the NCAA made rowing a team sport. This meant that the NCAA women’s heavyweight champion was determined by points awarded for finishes in the first varsity eight race, the second varsity eight race, and the third varsity four race. Here’s the thing though – no one other than the competitors and their families gives a damn about anything but the first varsity eight. It’s like deciding the national football champion by who wins the first string game, the second string game, and the scout team game. We’ve many times had “national champions” who didn’t win the first varsity eight race. Absurd.

Furthermore, this team sport designation is already strangling lightweight women’s rowing. Heavyweight coaches fight against the existence of lightweight programs in their boathouses because they need those women to fill out 2V and 3V four boats. Women who could be national champions as lightweights are relegated to 2V eights because the NCAA says rowing is a team sport.

Now we have word that the Division I Rowing Committee recommended “eliminating awards for individual boats at the championships. If the Championships/Sport Management Cabinet accepts the recommendation, only the top four teams overall will be recognized, unlike in previous years when the overall team champion was honored in addition to individual champions in the I Eights, II Eights and Fours.” Yes, that’s right, the winners of the race, the varsity eight, will not get an award. Who are these people? This is not rowing, this is NCAA bullshit. And to think there are coaches, led by Stanford’s Craig Amerkhanian, who want men’s heavyweight rowing to be an NCAA sport too! These coaches claim to be “forward thinking.” Forward thinking is no varsity eight medal? Ridiculous. Why don’t we just use motors instead of our bodies – that’s forward thinking isn’t it? Know too, that the heavyweight men as an NCAA sport would kill all lightweight rowing. At some point it becomes another sport, and the NCAA is getting us closer every day. Turns out, if you didn’t know already, that the NCAA is just another big business taking over a smaller organization with a vibrant, growing product, and strangling the life out of it. It doesn’t understand the product but “knows” the right way to do things is the NCAA way. But it’s not. Rowing is about individual boat-to-boat battles down the course. It’s about looking across the lanes at the finish and knowing that you just won or lost, not about wondering how your finish figures into the team points total.

Your Newest Competitor May be a Media Company

It’s been apparent for some time now, that brands are becoming direct competitors with media companies. Brands are bypassing the media altogether by creating content which they distribute directly to their customers. A recent example is Nestea’s upcoming foray into webisodes. Now, however, we see media companies getting set to turn the tables.

On Junta42, Joe Pulizzi discusses a recent talk given by a Guardian executive in which he says that the company believes “the key to their growth is in creating new, unique and valuable products and services by leveraging the Guardian brand.” It seems the Guardian has been working with over 850 companies to develop products and applications based on its brand. The Guardian isn’t necessarily funding these efforts, but is lending its name. As further evidence of the product trend, one of the commenters to the post notes that the Wall Street Journal sells wine “hand-selected by their wine columnists,” but true to the notion that business models cycle, another commenter notes that the Sunday Times in the UK has been doing this sort of thing for 35 years.

Hearst made headlines a few months ago when it announced that it would be selling an e-reader that would compete with Amazon’s Kindle and similar devices from Sony. This is a bit different, however, since Hearst is launching this reader in an effort to preserve a legacy business model, not create a new one.

TechCrunch is also moving into the world of products with its CrunchPad which it plans to launch later this year. The CrunchPad, a touch screen tablet for Web surfing, is not meant to preserve a business model, however, but is a brand extension. One could argue that TechCrunch doesn’t have a whole lot of expertise in hardware development, but from a consumer perspective it just may work. It’s also meant to fill a consumer need, not a media company need which the e-readers seem to be doing.

As the media company scramble for revenue continues, we’ll see more and more products being developed both as brand extensions and as new brands. Tired of being everyone’s punching bag, the smart companies will want to throw a few punches of their own.

Technology For Freedom (And I’m Not Talking About Iran)

We’ve been inundated with stories on how Twitter enabled the protests in Iran. Around the same time we were reading about China’s proposed requirement that all computers sold in China come with the “GreenDam-Youth Escort” Internet filtering software. On the one hand technology seemed to help the cause of freedom, while on the other it harmed it. Now China has backed down from the Green Dam requirement, saying it decided to postpone the mandate.

But this too was a victory for technology. If access to the Internet were not available in China (even though not totally open), and if technology companies didn’t see the huge potential in the growing (both in people and in wealth) Chinese market, opposition to the plan would’ve been muted. Instead, the Chinese people were against this rule and, as Dan Harris says on the China Law Blog, “…Beijing does NOT want to go against the people on something like this. Since there is absolutely no reason to believe the people will ever start liking something like this, there is absolutely no reason to believe the software will return.” (Despite Ministry statements to the contrary.) Dan also links to a Sky Canaves post in WSJ’s China Journal that discusses China’s “Politics of Consent.”

So again, another victory for technology. With the possible exception of North Korea (and even that can’t last much longer, can it?), technology has begun to bring freedom to closed and oppressed states around the world. In China’s case, we remember the country as scary therefore it remains scary, but the walls of oppression are crumbling and they can’t be rebuilt. For those worried about the effect of outsourcing to China on the US economy, there is only one answer – outsource as much as is profitable as soon as possible so we can turn them from hungry capitalists to satisfied capitalists. That’s when it becomes a consumer economy. And as Dan Harris says, “…I know movement has been slow, and I know it has been in fits and starts, but if we were to draw a straight line through the rises and falls, freedom is on a fairly inexorable march in China.”

Journalists as Stars

Google News now allows users to search by author. With the exception of columnists, I think this is a relatively new desire. Not too long ago, readers cared about the newspaper – the brand – not the reporter. If the reporter was good enough to publish in, for example, the New York Times, that was good enough for most people. And since journalism is unbiased, fact based reporting (you know, journalism as a science) one good reporter was as good as another good reporter. Well, that’s all changed now.

Does anyone remember these guys?We all recognize that unbiased reporting is impossible, as long as it’s done by humans, and with journalists blogging, guesting on TV and radio programs, and running their own web sites, we now get to see who they really are. The better we know a reporter, the better we can appreciate his reporting and the more we want to read his stories because they’re his. This is the rise of the journalist as celebrity. It began with TV (The McLaughlin Group was one of the early ones), where reporters blabbed to each other about current events and those with personalities became stars. But you really had to know someone to get those TV gigs. Now you can build your own following just like any other blogger (think about celebrity reporters Michael Arrington and Nick Denton).

Many newspapers are worried about giving their reporters too much play, afraid that the competition will go after them if they get popular in their own right. In the US there are probably only two destination papers – the New York Times and the Washington Post (and maybe the LA Times), so every other paper could have this worry if they wanted it. But it’s self-defeating. Think of good reporters like Moneyball suggested Billy Bean thinks of closers – not as irreplaceable as the industry thinks, with new ones coming up all the time. Why not have a strategy of creating celebrities out of your reporters, accepting a certain increased level of turnover, and backfilling with new potential stars when they leave? You’d get a great reputation among journalists as a star builder, voluntary turnover would lower overall salaries, and some of those stars would certainly stay anyway, building your reputation among readers. Give your reporters blogs, let them inject their own voice into stories, and make people want to read them. Will you dilute the company’s brand? I don’t think so – how can a better product dilute the brand?

One Thing is Clear

  • “‘All content consumed will be digital…'”
  • “…within 10 years all traditional content will be digital.”
  • “‘There are problems with digital advertising.'”
  • “The old approach of simply trying to replicate a print newspaper online is doomed to fail.”
  • “For media businesses to successfully evolve they must provide the right combination of context and relevance to make a compelling online proposition for consumers.”

All those quotes come from a Guardian article about Steve Ballmer, who was named the Media Person of the Year at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. How many times have we heard this stuff? One thing is pretty clear – the tech guys don’t have any answers. Oh right, I guess Ballmer is a media guy. But he doesn’t have any answers either. If the news industry maybe spent some more time thinking about the business model instead of how not to “replicate a print newspaper online” it might be better off today. All the gurus talked about the conversation and citizen journalists, but traditional news companies still get huge traffic. Compelling content doesn’t seem to be the problem right now, it’s how to make money.

Let’s take this idea of not replicating a print newspaper. True, that’s a bad thing, but didn’t Google just get all kinds of plaudits for trying to do just that with Flipper? Flipper, you know, like flipping through pages. Oh, I’m sorry, it’s not like print, it’s a visual representation.

The fact is, no one has any idea how media companies can make money online, although some people have ideas and experimentation has begun.  But the sooner we stop giving press to tech executives and pundits who simply burp out these bromides, the sooner we can all move on.