Post 61:08 The other way user-generated content is killing quality journalism

This is NOT a rant about bloggers being sloppy journalists.

But I think user-generated content has a lot to do with the problems publishers like Fairfax are experiencing.

Here’s why.

In the good old days of journalism, publishers effectively operated three business. One was a journalism business, which kind of broke even from display ads. One was production/distribution business, that was essential to operate business number three, a directory services operation.

Directory services? WTF?

Well … I argue that classified advertising was basically a directory services business. Back before the Net and before other advances in publishing technology and distribution made niche publishing possible or profitable, large publishers had the means of production to collect and distribute information on a scale few could match.

Their ability to do so turned classified ads into a de-facto directory. If you wanted to buy or sell, there was one place to go.

Classified ads are, basically, user-generated content – AND THE USER PAID to have their content distributed.

Over the last ten years, we have seen classified revenue disperse into many different sorts of directory services. One, Google, has even taken its role as a directory and done radical things with it. Users still generate their content. But they pay different people for it and newspapers have lost their share.

This is why, IMHO, user-generated content is killing journalism. Blogs etc are eroding audiences, no doubt. But the proflieration of directory services and the production/distribution mechanisms that enable their rise is the thing that is really killing newspaper revenues and therefore putting pressure on journo headcounts.

Okay … amatuer economics session over!

Post 60:08 Speaking in a human voice

I’ve bene thinking a lot, lately, about how to put a human voice on PR so that it works better on me.

The thinking comes from a recent bout of PR from a major vendor that has decided everything they do is epoch-making. A .3 release is a revolution. A .4 release has become a remaking of an industry. Throw in the fact that one of their spokesfolk could not even define AJAX for me the other day, and all of a sudden I have an image of this vendor as hideously out of touch, self-obsessed and naff. I’ve also been watching more corporate YouTube and falling asleep inside 120 seconds most of the time, as the talent learns that a job in marketing, the gift of the gab and a decent salary that buys some nice new on-camera clothes does not translate into an entertaining or engaging presence. I do not claim the latter two traits for myself, by the way.

Anyway, Jason Calcanis’ post on the subject resonates with me. If you don’t feel like clicking on it, he basically advocates going anywhere it might be sensible for you to go in order to promote your self/client/cause and networking like mad while somehow not coming across as a publicity whore. This is an egregious simplification but was fun to write.

Thing is, this kind of behavior works. I’ve seen PRs (nearly always in-house) who do appear anywhere it could be advantageous for them to appear. It takes a certain type of PR to pull it off (Generally youngish, no kids-ish, ambitious, very gregarious) but it can be done. When it works, you get a wonderfully genuine and human voice for a company.

But the average agency person … fuggedaboutit. In my experience as a PR, they don’t want to work on half their accounts, which they’ve been dumped into for various reasons. In my experience as a journo, more than half don’t understand their accounts. Both of these disqualify them from speaking with a human voice on behalf of their clients.

So what’s needed is someone very close to the organisation that wishes to reach the public and is willing to do so, with some actual charisma. Then all they have to do is figure out how to be human, or let their organisations let them be human. And then, hopefully, be good at being human, because not everyone is good at that.

Better stop now. I think it is too late for this to be insightful, readable or  … human!

Post 59:08 Why the Olympics matter to Australia

With the Olympics over, Australia is experiencing a paroxysm of disappointment that we did not win as many medals as last time, a situation somehow considered a failure in light of two things:

  1. The “fact” that Australia is “good at sport”
  2. The amount of money we spend on sport

Many are arguing that if we could increase the sums involved at (2) we could prove (1).

Others are calling for restraint, saying we spend more than on sport.

I fall into the second camp. It costs about $100 million a year to rn elite sport in Australia. I’d like to see $100 mllion spent on achieving elite performance in every field of endeavor. For example, I am a journo: where’s my National Institute of Journalism. Where’s the chance for talented young writers to spend years in subsidised accomodation, being tutored by experts and assisted to realise their potential. If the nation gets so much pride from watching our athletes scoop up some disks coated in metal sourced from our nation’s mines, how good would it be to watch us pick up a Pulitzer or two?

The answer to the last question is: not proud at all. Australia generally cares not for intellectual achievement.

And that, I think, explains our obsession with the the Olympics as a leading indicator of national success.

Here’s why.

I lived in London in 1999, the year Australian teams came to England and won both the Rugby and Cricket World Cups. I celebrated both drunkenly and boorishly.

The Brits’ response, or at least those I worked with, was that Australia might be rather good at winning things, but the UK had produced Shakespeare. And Wordsworth. And Byron. Oh and there was the small matter of Empire, the modern banking system, the whole fragging age of enlightenment, the most globally-played sports …. and so on.

You get the drift. Britain has given the world and awful lot and, in the eyes of the world, stands for all those things and more.

Australia, I believe, stands for heat, funny and/or dangerous animals, beaches and vastness. None of which are products of our civilisation.

In fact the only products of our civilisation I can think of that people I have met around the world can readily cite are:

  • Fosters Lager
  • Paul Hogan
  • Russel Crowe
  • Sporting prowess

Let’s forget the first three. Especially Fosters. Because it seems to me that the main product of Australian civilisation most people can point to is our uncanny knack of producing successful athletes. We define ourselves by being able to do so.

Hence the national panic when our Olympians don’t prove we Still Have It.

Seems to me this is as good a reason as any to actually get serious about National Institutes of Everything Other Than Sport.

Post 58:08 Conferences vs. partial attention

I spent two days last week at a conference. It was generally interesting but a massive commitment of time and funds (nearly $1000 for accommodation and travel, although as a journo that’s not so much of an issue: people pay for us to attend!).

So of course as a self-employed person, I had to keep working on other stuff while at the conference. That meant some early morning starts and the modern ritual of trying to find free Wi-Fi wherever possible. When there was none of that around, I reverted to the Treo for email.

I suspect this behaviour was not what the conference organiser wanted. Oh no. Having subsised (I assume) the presence of lots of customers, prospects and suspects, I think the organiser wanted undivided attention. Is that why there was no  Wi-Fi (although an exhibitor came to the party)? And is that why the packed schedule made non-conference work very hard to get done.

Now I am wondering how long this model can sustain itself. It’s great to get a dense lot of information. But as someone who juggles multiple clients and projects – and who does not these days – it often feels like I simply have to be online for big slabs of almost every day lest I be perceived as less than optimally responsive. So giving up two days is a bit of an issue.

I’ll be interested to see how conference organisers tackle this issue in future. I think free Wi-Fi is a must. Perhaps tieing access to visits to sponsors booths is the way to do it, so that once attendees pass a designated attention threshold they are permitted to start offering the conference only partial attention.

What do you think?

Post 57:08 An old favorite returns and more social media musing

Twice in the last week PRs have sent me material in emails with several others cc’ed or included in the To field.

In one case more than 100 email addresses were there to be harvested.

To me this is the most basic breach of email etiquette (and privacy!) imaginable and quite astounding in this day and age, let alone for a company concerned with reputation.

Anyway, I’ve sent scorching emails to the folk concerned and now have my ‘what the hell does social media mean’ hat on again.

I’m no closer to the answer, although it does occurr to me that one of the reasons I keep asking the question is that, as a parent of two young kids, I do not really HAVE a social network to digitise. Everyone I know is so flat out any socialising is rare, comes in snatches and needs very little organisation. I do have good networks for the few social activities in which I participate, especially cycling. There are nice conversations there, but the tools on offer are not yet really functioning as social utilities. Now to figure out why!

Post 56:08 Can PR 2.0 and Web 2.0 co-exist?

I’ve just seen a deck of slides that represents Web 1.0 as companies controlling the message to the community and Web 2.0 is all about the community controlling the message.

So here’s my question: can PR and Web 2.0 co-exist?

My belief is that PR is all about helping companies control their message, the better to protect their reputation.

Journalists are pretty good at picking up when that message is BS and saying so. (Most of the time, anyway. There are distressingly high volumes of crap journalism that swallows and regurgitates corporate crap)

I wonder if communities won’t be even more hostile at attempts to have their collective outputs shaped.

In fact, I can imagine that some PR people could even prefer current media structures, because they offer easier, more-defined groups of influencers to target.

Either way, getting to a 2.0 state could be hard. Either communities get “infiltrated” by corporate messaging (which means the community message is contaminated and compromised) or PRs try to retard 2.0-style openness for their own protection.

This is very off the top of the head stuff here, obviously. But at this stage it is making scary sense to me!