JCL Blog

Do We Dare Say that Journalism Has Hit the Bottom?

Last week the Pew Center released its State of the News Media report for 2014.  While the report reinforces the headwinds faced by traditional media outlets (ad revenues down 52% from 2003), it also illuminates growth in digital only news outlets that now number over 500 and employ about 5,000 full time professionals. Could it be time for the journalists to stop blaming technologists for depriving them of the means to pay for the essential service they provide?

Jeff Jarvis anointed Johannes Gutenberg as the original technologist in his 2012 book Gutenberg the Geek.  Whether or not Gutenberg needed Jarvis’ endorsement, journalism and technology have certainly been dance partners for hundreds of years.  Gutenberg’s movable type printing press brought about revolutions in business, religion, and politics and gave story tellers the ability to reach a larger audience than ever thought possible at open mic night in 1439 Strasbourg.

The advertising industry traces its roots to the very same 15th century when the practice of paying artists including Michelangelo to produce art that contained certain messages.  Many of these new visual advertisements were religious in nature. Soon politicians and business people were the fast followers of this new technology; commissioning works that were clearly promotional.  In early renaissance Italy, everybody who was anybody had a portrait with a 3D background showing off the Filippo Brunelleschi’s new technology of perspective drawing.

About a hundred years later the Gutenbergers and the Brunelleschis joined their ability to print things cheaply and their desire to encourage readers to buy things and gave birth in 1525 to advertisements as we know them today.  In fact the New York Times Book Review was not an original idea, because those early ads were mostly for books and were found in the precursor to newspapers, the broadsheet.

All of this is to make the simple case that technology is just doing what it does.  Yes, Craigslist, Yahoo!, Google, Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the techies have stolen away the revenue the newsrooms needed to survive.  However, their geek ancestors created the technology that enabled advertising and newspapers some 500 years ago for the same reason the newsroom is in the emergency room today.  The geeks are still just doing what they do.

Technology people don’t under-appreciate Ed Murrow.  23 generations after Gutenberg, they are still in the business of delivering as much information as possible to as many people as possible as cheaply as possible.  The argument that we are replacing the system that brought us back from the brink of McCarthyism with a system that serves up the best grumpy cat videos has been used to cling tightly to the way that it was for long enough.  We have now seen how new media actors like Julian Assange, Ed Snowden, and Glenn Greenwald, have worked with the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Der Spiegel to revive the fourth estate.

Certainly, there is much work to be done.  A flood of technology energy is being applied to this industry, and not just the high profile purchase of the Washington Post by Jeff Bezos, or the founding of First Look Media by Pierre Omidyar.  New media organizations are everywhere, both succeeding and failing fast in their pursuit of good journalism.  We know that 5,000 jobs created in the new digital world do not fill the hole created by the tens of thousands of jobs lost in traditional newsrooms, but it does seem possible that the bottom has been reached and working together journalism and technology are building something we should be watching.


Make It Foundational

This is the final post in a series that started with Big Pain Equals Big Gain that outlined how HP (and surely other companies) is in the position to capitalize on the changes it is going through, and that the technology industry is facing.  Since then we have outlined how to Make it Unbelievably Easy, setting a New Transparency Standard, and putting HP at the Center of the Ecosystem, will contribute to a new competitive advantage for HP.  In this post we address how all of this effort can Be Foundational.  Change is hard work and we want this change to stick.  Here are four cornerstone elements of a plan to do just that:


In this the age of big data, we have the ability to capture and keep every interaction and every transaction with every partner.  This information can be used in the aggregate to inform decisions about policy -- but that is just the start.  Pattern matching and other analysis techniques can help identify the power partners of the future.  From the partner’s perspective, a large company that speaks in one voice is not only a pleasant surprise, but the obvious choice for the next transaction.  So the cornerstone of the foundation is to capture and retain all information about a partner.


Jeff Bezos challenged everyone in Amazon.com to expose their internal services as APIs to the rest of the company, and be prepared to do so to the outside world too.  This mandate changed the culture at Amazon.com and the same can be said for any other company.  Building on the first cornerstone of capturing and retaining all information, a functional API will ensure that the data gets used.  Data that gets used - lives.  So the second cornerstone is to share with defined APIs.


The value of information is dramatically enhanced when related to other information.  Viewing sales volume in the context of a promotion deadline is much more valuable than the sum of the sales transactions.  The relationship between captured data is almost as valuable as the underlying data.


No one can own all of the data.  The desire to build a system that displaces other systems is incredible and has driven the launch of many all encompassing systems.  The fourth cornerstone goes the other direction and federates data management -- therefore contributing to the health and success of many systems. 

The beauty of this approach is that it can just be started one day.  It does not require an outsized investment before any of the benefits can be realized.  By adopting these cornerstones, a partner program can be completely re-imagined -- while underway -- and the benefits expand each day moving forward.

Sales Incentives, Can't Seem to Live With or Without Them

Steve Jobs talked about the balance between product design and sales/marketing (as recounted in the Walter Isaacson biography) where he describes the arc of company evolution from great product creation to an over dependence on sales and marketing.  The latter being the death of great technology companies like IBM and Xerox.  Jeff Bezos is famous for saying that advertising is for companies that don't have good products.  Of course neither sentiment is completely true.  Great products still need sales and marketing and advertising is often a necessary tool employed to drive demand for a great product. 

In my post Market Like an Engineer I proposed that people running marketing departments should encourage the virtues often found in an engineering culture in their marketing departments.  The desire to create something truly new, the open sharing of knowledge, and the pursuit of critical customer feedback is often missing in the sales and marketing culture.  These virtues suffer when the prevailing mindset is that salespeople are coin operated. 

Over compensating on revenue drives out collaboration and the pursuit of the truth.  Executives are forever tweaking compensation models to discourage these behaviors.  Nevertheless, we regularly see glowing departmental revenue reports that merely chronicle a shift in revenue recognition from one department to another, or the quarterly selection of the "good" numbers cherry picked from pools of mediocre performance.  It is just as common for the company to pay big bonuses the next quarter when this phantom revenue shows up in yet another department -- even though overall sales have not increased at all.  It is no wonder leaders like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos want to spend as little as possible on sales and marketing.  Those crazy incentives seem like they always produce unintended consequences, but at the same time seem essential for creating action.