Monthly archive

April 2005 - page 2

Genesis

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Before I started thinking about reinventing local news, I started blogging, at the behest of my pal Dan Michalski.

After a while, I started seeing an alternate future for news, although the best way I knew to express it at the time was an idea for a Fletch-meets-Blade Runner novel about a future in which there were no traditional newspapers, but instead hordes of freelance independent journalists fighting for pennies in pageviews.

Chris Nolan has inadvertently saved the world from my not-so-great American novel.

Lunch with the man who eats (with) moguls for lunch

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Today was the aforementioned Michael Wolff luncheon put on by Thompson & Knight. Fortunately, even though I was invited while still at my former gig, the good folks at TKlaw didn’t hit me with a TKO. (If that groan-inducing pun put you in mind of a bad Sex in the City outro, than an afternoon Chimay has done its work well.)

Wolff is a candid and engaging speaker, coming across as much more genteel and friendly than the "Lester Bangs" image portrayed in his prose. He expressed genuine admiration for several of the moguls he skewers, and didn’t let himself off the hook either — a story about taking his dog and daughter on TV to claim (falsely) that the pooch had been found online to promote his internet startup, for instance.

I bristled briefly when, early in the talk, Wolff described Michael’s for us, very slowly and using intentionally small words. But, on later reflection, I realized that he was playing to his audience — I’m fairly certain I was the only media person in the room. (April confirmed that for me after I told her the story when I got home: "Were you the only one without a tie? Yup. You were the only media guy.")

That impression was bolstered by the Q&A session, which I restrained myself from monopolizing. My favorite question (paraphrased): "Does Dan Rather live in your neighborhood and are you glad that that pompous-ass got his comeuppance on the way out?" The polite Dallas crowd all murmured and looked at their neighbors right-left to show that they were appropriately appalled, even though I imagine that most agreed with the sentiment.

Wolff handled that, and other questions with aplomb. Mine, about whether we media fools ever actually learn anything, led to a story about the Google founders dreaming of branded underwear.

Afterwards, all the while cursing myself as a media whore of the highest order, I corralled the poor man and did the only thing that I could think of that would be worse than shilling Our Little Project — I led him into asking a question that meant that good manners required him to listen to my schpeal. To his credit, he seemed genuinely interested. To mine, I suppose that move places me one step further along my path as an MIT.

Collabortition

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My humble prediction is that when we look back on the aughties, they will be remembered as the decade when one’s collaboration skills became the hallmark of competitive ability.

When we talk about inefficiencies in media today, they often boil down to an unwillingness of a company to cede territory where it is inexpert, or expert but duplicative.

This gelled for me when reading James Surowiecki’s column on Sony in last week’s New Yorker:

The trend, in other words, is toward what Henry Chesbrough, a business
professor at Berkeley, has dubbed “open innovation.” With so many
companies investing so much money and energy in innovation, it’s hard
for any one of them to consistently outsmart the rest. And technologies
are so complex that it’s impractical for a company to gather all the
resources it needs under one roof. The spirit of collaboration extends
to customers, too. In the new book “Democratizing Innovation,” Eric von
Hippel, a management professor at M.I.T., shows that, in fields ranging
from surgical instruments and software to kite surfing, customers often
come up with new products or new ways of using old ones. Some companies
encourage their customers to modify their merchandise. Others, however,
do not: when a devoted user of the Aibo, Sony’s robot dog, wrote
applications that would allow the Aibo to dance to music, Sony
threatened the man with a lawsuit.

Another way to look at it comes from our friend Rand Stagen and the folks at the Stagen Leadership Institute. In their integral leadership model, each individual has certain things they’re no good at; things they’re competent at; things they’re great at; and things that they’re great at and passionate about. The idea is that the more of your individual attention that’s focused on that last catgegory (great and passionate) — the better off you are.

I’d argue that the same model applies to companies. Surowiecki talks about Sony’s "Not Invented Here" prejudice — that seems to be the mindet of most media organizations, too.

So, if a local news company were to drop "Not Invented Here" and collaborate with other players — even other local players who might be considered competitors, and spend most of its attention on the "great and passionate," wouldn’t everyone be better off? As readers gain control of how they receive news and information and care less about where it was "invented," shouldn’t that alter the old competitive (even monopolistic) behaviors? Doesn’t that argue for ceding nonlocal coverage to other outlets and redeploying those resources to create unique and useful local content that isn’t currently available?

I’ve had friendly debates with folks on our team about collaborating with folks who might traditionally be seen as our competitors. My old answer to that was "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

I think my new answer is: "Anyone who does something that isn’t what we both love and excel at should be my friend."


A side thought in all the hoopla over the new AP fee structure this week — read against the backdrop of the commentary above. I’m starting to take a view on the AP different from Adrian’s. It seems to me that if the AP aggregated local, and even hyperlocal content, it might be the newspapers that become obsolete. With local mojo, the child of the industry could lay its parents to rest.

Busy bullets

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Too much going on right now to do serious blogging justice. In the meantime, some things to chew on:

Contact

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A heads up for those who’ve taken to contacting us via the address "publisher -at- pegasusnews -dot- com" — because of various technical issues beyond my ken, that address has been out of service for the last 24 hours and may remain so for another 24. So, in the meantime, use my personal address.


UPDATE: All addresses again funtional as of 9:15 AM 4/19. But if you sent any email to the publisher address between Saturday and now, ’tis lost to the ether.

Commemoration

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Lynn Ashby eulogizes The Houston Post on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of its demise:

Ever since the paper’s folding in 1995, there has been the rumor The Post
had gone bankrupt. Wrong. Each Tuesday afternoon at 3 p.m., I attended
an executive meeting where we would go over the paper’s finances.
Unless our owner, Dean Singleton, was cooking the books, we had made
$10 million the year before and had posted a profit 12 of the 15
preceding months. So Hearst, the
Chronicle’s New York-based owner, has always been careful to say it bought the "assets" of The Post.
To have purchased the competition and closed it might have raised
questions with the Justice Department, which issued a statement saying
the deal was just fine. We are supposed to believe that on the very day
The Post ceased operation, Hearst whipped out a pen and signed a
check for $120 million to Singleton, who promptly got on his private
plane and left for his home in Denver. A lot of newspapers run a last
edition, their own obit, when they cease operations whereby the staff
bids farewell to its readers. Singleton said such a gesture would be
"useless."

Today we have the sound of one hand clapping. This
should still be a two-newspaper town, but if any good came from the
closure of
The Post, it is that all those businesses which had
refused to advertise in my paper were suddenly – like the next week –
hit with a huge increase in ad rates. Hey, when you’ve got a monopoly,
you name your fee.

Home

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Like most people I meet in Dallas, I’m a transplant. I moved here on a whim in 1993; left in 1999 and came back (on purpose, this time) in 2001.

Ever since moving back, buying a home and now starting a Dallas-based business, I’ve begun really thinking of Dallas as home. Home.

That’s why I get so riled when I see Our City look bad. That’s why I was apopleptic this week while watching Sheer Dallas. I won’t dignify it with a description, but suffice to say that it is not representative of the culture or mores of the Dallas I know and love.

And, that’s probably why I was a bit o’er-snarky in my advice (fourth bullet) to the good folks at Oodle in reference to their cowboy hat logo. To their credit, they’re watching their press and reached out to me for suggestions for a better icon. Started to suggest the red Pegasus, but thought better of it.

Sad news for people who sit

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Our blog is generally about the state of media and our efforts to launch a new media product. That product will eventually cover goings-on great and small in our fair burg. In the meantime we’ll start occasionally dropping in tidbits in the blog as we run across them.

In our search for cheap value-priced office furniture today, we went to one of our favorite spots, the Gabberts Outlet Store, only to learn that it is closing in the next 60-90 days. There weren’t any going out of business signs yet — the folks working the floor alerted us. They didn’t have m(any) details save that the store would close Tuesday-Wednesday next week and then open in closeout mode on Thursday.

The press release
is a little more illuminating:

“We made the decision to close our Furniture
Outlet based on customer trends,” said Jim Gabbert, chief executive
officer, Gabberts Furniture and Design Studio. “Research is telling us
that many of our current Outlet customers are also customers of our
retail showrooms. That means we’re actually transferring merchandise
from our showrooms to a second location only to have it bought by
essentially the same customer. That doesn’t make sense from a business
or customer service standpoint.”

That may be, but for a lot of younger families, like us, who want to start furnishing a home with nice pieces of fine furniture without going into hock, the Gabberts Outlet was a godsend. I’d reckon half or more of the furniture in our home came from there.

An outlet-like area, called
Gabberts Odds & Ends, will be incorporated into the Dallas retail
showroom, located at 13342 Midway Road, just two blocks south of the
Outlet store. “We’ve had very strong customer response to this concept
in Minnesota, and we expect it to be well received in the Metroplex,”
Gabbert said.

The Odds & Ends area in the Minnesota store
is approximately 2,500 square feet or about 1.5 percent of the total
retail floor space. Floor plans are still in development for the Dallas
showroom…

Hard to tell exactly, because the building has multiple tenants, but by my math that’s easily less than 10% the size of the current outlet, which was generally packed tight with overstock inventory.


UPDATE: An industry rag says the store was "unprofitable" and was 45,000 square feet.

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