Monthly archive

April 2005 - page 3

Why I'm not cut out for working from home

I’m now wrapping my second week of full-time (un)employment at Pegasus News. My state of mind can best be summed up in this little ditty from my personal poet laureate, Todd Snider:

Now the nights are long
The driving’s tough
Hotels stink, and the pay sucks
But I can’t dig what I do enough, so it never gets be down

Bsmall_1My great lesson of the first fortnight is that I’m not cut out for working from home. Why, you ask?

  • When I’m home during the day, dogs don’t understand that it’s not the weekend, which in our house means play, play, play.
  • Having the person you married — on purpose, because you wanted to be around her — in the "office" all day is not conducive to work. Even if she’s minding her own business.
  • "Attractive nuisance" is not often taken as a compliment, even when it is intended as such. (It’s all in the intonation. Emphasis on the first word.)
  • When one is working on a complex spreadsheet, the goings-on out on the street become absolutely fascinating, validating one’s belief that neighborhood news is the plastics of the aughties.

That’s not to say that there aren’t upsides — the dress code is pretty slack and I’ve lost five pounds simply due to the proximity of the pool and the lack of proximity of fast food and office noshing. (I seem to have temporarily thwarted Jeff Sinelli’s plot to kill me with his delicious crack-laden potato chips.)

However, it’s time to go gently back into that real world of officedom. And thanks to the good graces and generous negotiating of my true pal and once and future landlord Manny Ybarra, we take possession of our office space today.

Now, if we only had furniture to put in said office, that would be something.

Must-read of the week, part the second

Let’s just assume that the Pegasus week ended/started at noon today.

Jay Rosen Q&A with Bill Grueskin, Managing Editor of WSJ Online.

I was very interested to see the oft-misuse of the "Information wants to be free" quote:

Bill Grueskin:  Well, information wants to be free, as the saying goes. But the saying goes further than that, it turns out.

Here’s the whole quote, from Stewart Brand’s book, The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT :

Information wants to be free. Information also wants to be
expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap
to distribute, copy, and recombine—too cheap to meter. It wants to be
expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient.
That tension will not go away. It leads to endless wrenching debate
about price, copyright, ‘intellectual property’, the moral rightness of
casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the
tension worse, not better.

And support of one of our core beliefs:

Any newspaper Web site that limits itself to repurposing content from
the paper is in serious trouble. Any newspaper site that fails to
recognize the value of the paper’s brand and content is in serious
trouble. So there you have it. I’m firmly and unequivocally ambivalent
about this.

Some caution:

Now, though, the Internet is doing to print what TV
and radio threatened to do, but could never pull off. And journalists
who fail to see this ought to be writing their career obituaries rather
than their stories, because their readers are changing faster than
newspapers are.

Which gets back to the first point. What sort of readers do you
want? There are millions of people who will not and cannot replace
their print reading with an online news source. Supplement, yes;
replace, no.

Then there is the online audience that brings a different set of expectations. It is not entirely different; if so, the AIG
and Wal-Mart stories wouldn’t have been at or near the top of our
most-read list that Friday. But it’s different enough so you have to
understand their needs and anticipate their desires.

And on the lack of recognition of Craig?

Objects may be closer than they appear.

Email reading

Because I read almost everything through Bloglines, I’ve pretty much unsubscribed to every industry email newsletter I once read. Even if the newsletter publisher didn’t have its own RSS feed, most provided content I’d already picked up elsewhere.

The one exception is INMA’s Newspaper Industry E-Newsletter. It always links several good reads that I’d missed. This week:

A new model

Jeff Jarvis suggests a new model for local newspapers. I think our regular readers will find a lot of familiar ideas.

Note to new readers of The Daily Peg: We are not usually such a Jarvis-remora. He’s been heavy on topics near-n-dear this week.

ASNE update

Tim Porter has some good analysis from the ASNE convention. Much of it sounds stripped right our of our business plan.

I can validate the story about newspaper folks not knowing Craig. I had the same experience dropping in on a newspaper conference a couple months ago where less than a quarter of the newspaper execs in the room had hear of Craigslist and maybe ten percent had checked out the site.

Jeff Jarvis is horrified by the cluelessness. I’ve said it a million times (at least): I fervently believe in church/state; newsroom/business separation, BUT until the editors get engaged in understanding the business at a macro level AND the businessfolk take a serious interest in the conversations about the changing newsroom, the industry has an intractable problem.

Life imitates my life's art

So just as I’m getting through the part in Autumn of the Moguls about Wolff’s interview with Rupert Murdoch, comes today’s Murdoch speech to the ASNE.

See analysis from Jeff Jarvis, who also indirectly helped to write the speech.

A few favorite passages (links and emphasis mine):

The peculiar challenge then, is for us digital immigrants – many of
whom are in positions to determine how news is assembled and
disseminated — to apply a digital mindset to a set of challenges that
we unfortunately have limited to no first-hand experience dealing with.

We need to realize that the next generation of people accessing news
and information, whether from newspapers or any other source, have a
different set of expectations about the kind of news they will get,
including when and how they will get it, where they will get it from,
and who they will get it from.

The challenge, however, is to deliver that news in ways consumers want
to receive it. Before we can apply our competitive advantages, we have
to free our minds of our prejudices and predispositions, and start
thinking like our newest consumers. In short, we have to answer this
fundamental question: What do we – a bunch of digital immigrants —
need to do to be relevant to the digital natives?

The punchline?

And the data support this unpleasant truth. Studies show we’re in an
odd position: We’re more trusted by the people who aren’t reading us.
And when you ask journalists what they think about their readers, the
picture grows darker. According to one recent study, the percentage of
national journalists who have a great deal of confidence in the ability
of the American public to make good decisions has declined by more than
20 points since 1999. Perhaps this reflects their personal politics and
personal prejudices more than anything else, but it is disturbing.

This is a polite way of saying that reporters and editors think their readers are stupid. …

Newspapers whose employees look down on their readers can have no hope of ever succeeding as a business…

I do not underestimate the tests before us. We may never
become true digital natives, but we can and must begin to
assimilate to their culture and way of thinking. It is a
monumental, once-in-a-generation opportunity, but it is also
an exciting one, because if we’re successful, our industry
has the potential to reshape itself, and to be healthier
than ever before.

I wonder what Rupert would think of Our Little Enterprise?

Hump-day bullets

How different is too different?

Kimberly Reeves wonders what we think about recent press on citizen journalism and the rollout of sites like GetLocalNews and YourHub.

First, all press for this movement is good press. The mediati and a select few communities touched by these efforts know about them, but broader awareness is still a’ comin’.

As far as the efforts themselves, I continue to be pleased to see that there are so many different models. If we all attack this differently and learn from each other, it’s much more likely that we’ll find a sustainable model.

GetLocal is the inverse of our concept: They’re about planting a flag in as many markets as possible. That means that until they build traction, they’ve got a broad, but shallow content platform.We’re going to try and gain more traction in one market and then only build sites in markets where we think we can be content-rich on day beta.

It’s too early to tell how YourHub will work, but it seems a good idea. The one concern I have about it, as well as many other CJ efforts is this: How different (in format) from traditional MSM local news sites can you be and still attract substantial sustained readership?

Many CJ sites are in a single-blog format. That may serve the true believers, but will the average Joe Reader adapt to that format in time for a business model to arrive? Further, does such a format effortlessly deliver sustained relevance to the reader? (To succeed, it must.)

One other issue I’m seeing, as exhibited with YourHub, is the temptation to segment by neighborhoods. I’m not sure that’s the right level of precision, and it’s certainly not effortless. I live on the edge of Lake Highlands and Lakewood — I’m interested in both. Furthermore, while I’m interested in restaurants in those areas, I’m interested in tapas restaurants all over town. Even further– we don’t have kids, so my interest in schools and youth sports (wherever they are) is minimal. Most importantly, I don’t know that I want to make the effort to look at three "sections" of news every day (ie: Dallas, Lakewood and Lake Highlands).

We think the future is customized relevant news delivery based on implicit and explicit preferences. It still navigates like a traditional news site and has individual stories in a database as opposed to broadly-specific blogs. That site delivers headlines based on interests both geographic and not– and the user doesn’t ever think "I’m going to go look at the Lakewood section and then the High School Football within the Sports."

The technology to enable that is easy. The hard part of it is the amount of content you have to generate to fill all those sections in the database. And that’s where the hybrid of full-time journalists and citizen stringers comes in.

UPDATE: As if to prove my point about the problems with picking a neighborhood, a debate at Andrew Bowser’s


Without fail, the first question anyone asks when you’re talking about a new business concept is:

Is it scalable?

A couple of my favorite blogreads have been discussing this issue of late:

Jeff Jarvis says that scale doesn’t scale anymore. He applies that to several industries we know and love:

: News: As a producer, why depend on the 300 (expensive, snarky,
recalcitrant) reporters you pay for when you could have 3,000
aggregated reporters to get more news less expensively than ever

As a consumer, why depend on one or two sources of news a day when you can aggregate the best of 200?

: Media: As a distributor, when you can no longer use your
stranglehold on channels to guarantee you an audience, you will have to
aggregate audiences to reach scale.

As a creator, you’re going to have to establish your own direct
relationship with your audience: You have to do your own aggregating.

As a member of the audience, why adjust your schedule and taste to
the distributor when you can aggregate your own entertainment from
anywhere, anytime?

: Advertising: They simply won’t have the easy and inefficient
option to buy network soon; they will have to aggregate niches of
consumers to create a new and more efficient scale — with far better
targeting, better advertising, better service, better sales.

Fred Wilson agrees, and explains why the new world is more collaborative than competitive:

You cannot collect all the pieces of a marketplace in a centralized
way and control all of it.  The technology won’t allow that to happen.
You can’t "get to scale" that way.

You must be open to others owning pieces of the equation.  You must
let the users get the value of scale however the choose to create that
scale.  You must facilitate the creation of virtual scale.

Ravi Dronamraju thinks aggregation is dripping with Kool-Aid, and touches on how we plan to provide what aggregators can’t (yet).

All that aggregation solves is comprehensiveness problem. But the real factor that would distinguish one aggregator over the other is relevance. The concept of relevance can be extended really to Matching
in case of some verticals. The way i explain matching is that it’s two
way relevance. For a job, it’s not enough if the job is relevant to my
search criteria, the candidates applying for a job have to relevant to
the employer’s criteria.

I argue, that just simply aggregating
solves a minor component of the problem. The true winner will solve
relevance/matching problems in their space in a very
effective/protected manner. To be able to beat ebay or google, these
aggregators should have enough traffic of buyers (job seekers, partner
seekers) and enough sellers (ok, we crawl the web and identify sellers)
and have proper matching (two-way relevence).

Matching is really the killer problem to solve.

Tom Watson says that scale still scales:

Because this is a media verity: Tiger scales. Old media,
new media, slightly damp media, short tail media, long tail media.
Tiger scales big-time. Tiger doesn’t require aggregation, or citizens
media, or RSS feeds, or a new path. A simple network television
contract with the very old-school CBS Sports will do just fine.

The Masters final round this Sunday past was about the
best sports spectacle since the Red Sox made their amazing comeback.
(The Red Sox also scale, fellas). Stunning, mesmerizing, fascinating…

…And it wasn’t aggregated; it was a single buy. Sure, I’m a
fan of the widening landscape of digital media. This blog is proof of
that. But I reject the notion that the digital Bastille is anywhere in
sight, that Sumner Redstone’s head will be set on a pike on West 57th
Street. The big media boys aren’t going anywhere. We still love
spectacle, and celebrity, and the shared experience. And Tiger Woods
still scales – big-time.

This touches on a sticky wicket for media today — I would argue that far fewer things scale. Pre-cable, when there were only four things to watch, a championship event scaled. Heck, even a regular-season game scaled. But those truly common experiences are fewer and further between.

Remember Roots? Heck, remember The Day After? They were common media experiences that everyone shared. I doubt the same can be said of Revelations. Sure, a lot of people may watch, but you can’t be sure that everyone around the water cooler will even know it aired.

So you get scale three, maybe four times a year with championships and mega-stories. That reminds me of my early days in the city magazine business when we’d pull big, "scalable" special editions out of our hats to stay afloat. That’s a risky way to live. Sooner or later you have to make money day in and out.

Note also Fred’s posts on VC cliches traction and space.

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