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Entries in NY Times (17)


Discovery of News is Good for Journalism and Twitter

Twitter might be blamed for disrupting the reach of newspapers by diverting readers to other news outlets, but it would be difficult to say that Twitter is hurting journalism.  News readership has declined somewhat over the past decade.  But still, Scarborough Research reports that between 71% and 78% of adults read the newspaper in print or online every week.   Given the news industry’s lack of comprehensive measures for old media and new media — it is not impossible to believe that the overall audience for print plus online is actually growing.  And Twitter should be credited for some of that increase.  

The story about technology and journalism has recently been dominated by how technology has taken away the money. The blamers cannot help but warn about how dark our future will be without adequate funding to pay for quality journalism and the blame is thick on those taking away the revenue.  

The most notorious takers are those that killed the biggest cash machine for the newspapers - the classifieds.  Craigslist and eBay and the help wanted sites (; diverted classified advertising revenue away from news organizations some time ago.   Twitter shouldn't be blamed for stealing the advertising money because it has only been very recently that Twitter has been getting any of it (about $900 million in the last 4 quarters), and it is hard to say specifically how the traditional news media is losing ad revenue to Twitter.  The Newspaper Association of America reports US advertising revenues of $25 Billion for 2012 (last year reported), which is down from its peak of $46 Billion in 2003 and more or less equal to the run rate in the early ‘80s.  But any causal link between Twitter and the decline is just too fuzzy to make a big deal about.  

Twitter does require journalists to exercise some new muscles.  Not everyone likes concrete measures or immediate feedback, particularly the unfavorable kind.  Last week David Carr wrote a good piece about this in the NY Times: Risks Abound As Reporters Play in Traffic.  

When Jack Doresy and Evan Williams founded Twitter in 2006 they did not set out to disrupt anything. They were hanging by their fingernails at their company Odeo and seemingly on a whim built a status update system patterned after AOL’s status updates - but for mobile users.  Twitter had its Cinderella moment at the South by Southwest conference in 2007 and the rest as they say is well known by everyone.  

Six years after its launch Twitter is an essential tool for journalists.  Sean Evins (@evins) of the Twitter Government & Politics Team and Simon Rogers (@smfrogers), Twitter's Data Editor, declined to comment for this article, but the fact that Twitter has capable people in those roles is a leading indicator that Twitter is investing in making journalism better.  In addition, the media section of the Twitter website has a good list of best practices for journalists that range from promoting content, to collecting feedback, and maximizing the impact of photos and videos. 

Discovery of breaking news is certainly the killer app for Twitter and news junkies and casual readers alike know to turn to Twitter first when a plane be lost in the Indian Ocean or an earthquake hits Los Angeles.


Yes, But Does The Advertising Work?

The front page of the SundayBusiness section in the NY Times carries a piece by Natasha Singer about Frank Addante's Rubicon Project, a real time trading market for internet adds.  This feature length article dutifully talks about the size of the industry ($2B in display ads bought by auction in the US this year), and other players in the business (BlueKai), the mechanics of the business (cookies), and consumer response (mostly they don't care but the advocates think they should), and advertiser response (apparently they like it a lot).  The author then wheels through a number of anecdotes that illustrate how the auction system can be used.  Anyone dedicated enough to make it to the end of the article is not rewarded with a conclusion but the now tired trope that the customer is the product.  

I am on this rant about the article not because I think it shouldn't have been written or placed prominently in the Sunday edition but because it could have been so much more.  No wonder newspapers are threatened!  So much of the content is disappointing.  Newspapers say that their advantage over bloggers is the interplay between the reporter and the editor that results in better content.  Where was the editor on this one?  

Here are some questions that I would have wanted to see surface in the article: 

  1. Does the targeted advertising featured in the article work?
  2. Is there a causal link between these auctions increased consumer tracking?
  3. Have there been any actual cases where people  have been harmed by the tracking?

 Those seem like pretty basic questions if you ask me.

Here are some other things a reader might like if interested in this subject:

 Anyone want to guess how this article got into the NY Times?  Answer:  The PR firm from Rubicon wrote it.


My Version of Big Data

There is an article in the NY Times today about big data by Steve Lohr.  It has all of the parts of a newspaper article including a headline, quotes from experts, references to other articles... butI have read it twice and I can't find any actual description of what big data is.  And the headline says it is "How Big Data Became So Big".

Yes, everyone is into Big Data these days and it is getting bigger every day -- but what is it?

Wikipedia says:  "a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes awkward to work with using on-hand database management tools. Difficulties include capture, storage,[4] search, sharing, analysis,[5] and visualization."

No so very helpful.  Aren't definitions not supposed to reference themselves? Yes indeed, big data is, well big data.

Network World quotes AWS:  "Any amount of data that's too big to be handled by one computer."


Here is my definition: Big Data is the complete set of all information associated with a topic or subject.

Here is why I think this is interesting:  the data world is a completely different place when you have all of the information.  When I say ALL I mean every single thing you have ever purchased at a grocery store, every single trade on the stock market, every single temperature reading at a weather station... you know:  ALL.

Until very recently, it has not been possible to put all of the data into one database and analyze it, so we have always sampled data.  Sampled is like polling.  A small amount of data is captured and then broad generalizations are made.  In some cases the broad generalizations turn out to be somewhat accurate.  People who buy butter also buy bread.  

People buying butter is completely different than when you are going to next buy butter.  And that is why big data is a big deal.

We know that 100,000 cars per day drive over the HWY 520 bridge, but that does not say when you are going to drive over it next.

The thing that I find so amazing about the article in today's paper is that the reference to artificial intelligence really waters down the whole movement.  It sounds like these awesome computer scientists have figure out how to take data sets that used to be too big to analyze and have figured out how to generalize things about them.  Why would you ever want to do that?  The benefit in building a space ship is in the going to space, not in building a better space ride at the park!  We already generalize -- by polling.

Here are a few cool things I think could happen with big data:

  1. My personal dataset:  An ever growing database of everything I do, that I can analyze however I want.  All of my friends, activities, purchases, pictures, work output, healthcare, even my emotions... all in a format that I can use to figure things out.  I could figure out what activities lead me to do healthy things.  Sounds goofy I know, but my happiness could be mapped against the things I did or the stuff I bought.  Who knows what I could learn.
  2. My next hire:  What if LinkedIn could give me a list of the top 10 people I should hire.  Not people that matched job descriptions I posted, but analyze all of my employees, my competition, and all of the millions of people in LinkedIn -- and help me target the people that will change my business the most.
  3. My next vacation:  Take all of my travel history, every book I have read, my business travel schedule, my kids interests (their books and experiences), and put that all together and give me a top ten list of places to go and maybe even which of my friends to invite.

Here are a few not so cool things that could happen with big data:

  1. My insurance gets cancelled right before I get diagnosed with something terrible.
  2. I get audited every year by a fully automated IRS.
  3. Telemarketers figure out what to say to keep me on the phone longer.

All up, I am a believer in big data -- no matter how everyone else defines it --  and I think it is going to be a great next ten years.  


Doctors Paid to Make You Sick

The 800,000 physicians in the US comprise a large and intensely managed partner program for the drug companies.  We are about to find out how intensely managed as the Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA aka Obamacare) now requires the drug companies to disclose how much they pay your doctor to prescribe drugs to you.  It should not be a surprise that the drug companies pay doctors quite a bit, and those payments change doctor behavior.  So it should be no surprise to find that some people may be diagnosed with ailments they don’t actually have -- so the doctor can prescribe the pills and get the money.

Sales managers know that salespeople are “coin operated”.  Better performance from salespeople is purchased with commission plans that compensate for more sales, more upsells, more referrals, more attached sales, more anything.  Since our business is technology sales, and specifically channel partner programs, we think a lot about how to properly incent our client’s partners to sell more.  We have seen this produce intended (improved sales) and unintended (systemic cheating) outcomes.  Broadly speaking, generalized incentives are better than highly specific incentives when it comes to getting a constructive result.  Sure if you have to move one product by the end of the quarter and you don’t care about the long term effects – a specific incentive will do the job.  But if you want customers satisfied and loyal for the long term, working with partners to grow their business for the long term is better than quick hits.

Over incenting salespeople in technology might result in a consumer or company with an overly large hard disk or a bigger video card or a router with enough capacity for 10 years of growth.  Over incenting doctors might result in a generation of kids on Ritalin, parents on anti depressants, and in the worst case, deaths.  Here is more reading on the subject should you be interested:



Update one week later:  Great article in the NY Times today about the 3 million children on Ritalin -- and how there is not evidence that it helps!


China Buys the New York Times

Even though I am a conservative at heart, my favorite newspaper is the New York Times.  They have always been the one newspaper that is actually trying to do a good job – until now. 

I recently converted my digital only subscription to digital plus Sunday delivery and I have been surprised to see twice in the last month that the China Daily has purchased two page advertising spreads in the Sunday edition (these advertisements do not appear in the digital editions).  China followers are quick to dismiss this a as a cheap trick, but those who are less likely to realize the extent the Chinese government (who prints the China Daily) will go to deceive its readers will not. I am surprised that there has not been more of an outcry from the protectors of Journalism.  Is this old news or something?  Here is the only article I could find.

Just as Goldman Sachs will likely be successful with its new philanthropy campaign, the Chinese government will likely win over many readers with its New York Times partnership.  Until now I had hoped there would be customers who the New York Times would actually not take money from.  We should all brace ourselves for what comes next, because if the precarious state of the newspaper industry has brought us this, next we will get something even worse.

If there is a newspaper with a “Chinese wall” (ha ha) between advertising sales and editorial decision making, it should be the New York Times.  Recently, this article appeared.  I wonder what kind of phone calls it generated. 

Michael Lewis recently pointed out in Boomerang that Germans by their nature believe in order and process and cannot escape the idea that everyone else does too.  When Moody’s said that the bonds were AAA – the Germans actually believed it.  When they turned out to be toxic junk – the Germans were actually surprised.

The Chinese believe that their paper is full of lies, and when they find out that Americans actually believe what is printed in their paper – they will be surprised.  The Chinese also believe that when you pay someone money, they do what you ask them to do.  So when the China Daily calls up the New York times and asks that they no longer print negative articles about China – they will actually be surprised when the New York Times says they will not.

Well, I am still a subscriber.  But I will be getting my China news somewhere else.  Anyone have any suggestions?  Al Jezerra English?

Update:  Post from the Nieman Lab at Harvard on the subject.


My New Newspaper Route

Readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of the NY Times.  Some people would say that I am more of a Wall Street Journal guy, and in fact I started reading the NY Times some 25 years ago because I wanted to understand the more liberal perspective.  Over the years the NY Times has gotten better and I might pick up the Wall Street Journal every couple of weeks.  In short, the opinion pieces in the NY Times are well written and thought provoking, those in the WSJ just sound like screaming.  I am not sure if it is the owner coming through or if it was always like that but now I rarely read the WSJ Opinion pages.  I suppose they would be a good source for humor if it didn’t make me feel just plain depressed about our country.

Anyway, back to the NY Times and its pay-wall.  Hard to tell I know but that is what I am writing about in this post.  Like I said, I am a big fan of the Paper of Record and would give them money just because I appreciate them.  Dave Winer and Jay Rosen had an interesting point in their Rebooting the News podcast last week about putting shortened links in Twitter that go to the NY Times.  It seems that some people do not like to be surprised by shortened links in Twitter to the NY Times because it tricks them into using up one of their 20 free articles per month.  This could produce a trend in Twitter etiquette to indicate NYT before the shortened link so people could decide in advance if they wanted to spend one of their 20 articles per month before clicking.  I know I used to send out dozens of links to the NY Times before the paywall and have not sent out any since.  I also never link to the WSJ – because I don’t want my readers to link to a subscription screen.

Dave Winer goes on in the podcast to say that NYT Columnist Paul Krugman negotiated that his column would not be hidden behind any paywall ever.  Krugman posted on his NYT blog on 3/18 that his readers can always link to his column through twitter without “spending” one of the 20 free articles per month.  I do think the columnists are the most important factor in this debate.  About a year ago I predicted that the paywall would hasten the decline of the NY Times and I still think so.  I also still think we will know the NY Times is in big trouble when the columnists leave for more visibility elsewhere.  Again, I love the NY Times so I don’t want to see this happen. 

Since the paywall started on 3/28 I have done a little experiment on one subject – myself.  I have tried to go without my favorite new source for a while.  Well, not completely cold turkey, but not subscribing.  I wanted to see what it would be like for someone who was an occasional reader of the paper, but not a subscriber.  I learned that there are a bunch of great news sources out there that I never had taken the time to visit.  I put the Reuters and AP apps on my iPad – so anytime I wanted to make sure I was not missing something big I could scan the headlines.  I started going to Al Jazeera English more often.  The Washington Post and the Guardian web sites all got more regular visits from me.  I spent more time looking at my RSS feeds.  None of these captured my attention like the NY Times used to.  In fact, I think I have a better sense for the news without the NY Times.  My newspaper route changed.  Before I went to the NY Times, and ran out of time before I went anywhere else.  Now I take in a number of sources – sometimes including the NY Times, and sometimes not.  I also spent more time with one of my other favorite publications, The Economist.  When it comes to thoughtful essays it is hard to beat the Economist.  I can never get all of the way through one issue before the next one hits – so more time with this publication is a good thing for me.

So to sum it up, I can absolutely live without the NY Times.  So here is My New Newspaper Route:

  • Scan the headlines at Reuters and AP for headlines – only rarely do I read beyond the first paragraph
  • Scan The Guardian, and sometimes the Washington Post – again for headlines
  • Scan Al Jazeera English and maybe read something
  • Go to my RSS feeds and read a few things
  • Go to The Economist and read a few things – every few days
  • Go to the NY Times and read the columns – every few days; also I have returned to buying the NY Times Sunday edition in printed form at the store and reading it all week – like I used to 5 years ago.

It is interesting to note that my perception of the NY Times paywall impacted my behavior more than the reality.  I was never actually able to hit my 20 article limit.  One time I got the warning that I only had 5 left and I tried like crazy to get it to stop me at 20 and could not.  Maybe it is because I have multiple machines, stopped signing into the web page (as part of my experiment), or who knows what.  Either way, the paywall never actually stopped me from reading, I stopped me from reading.

After all of this, today I signed up for the full digital subscription.  Like I said, I really value the NY Times and I want them to be successful and according the the NY Times, over 100,000 new digital subscribers have signed up.  The special deal gives me full access for a month for 99 cents.  So I am not helping them very much!  After that it goes to $35 per month.  I don’t know how long I will last at over $400 per year unless my paper route changes back to the NY Times at the top of the list and I stop getting all of my news from those other places.


The Phone is Dead... Again

Last month there was this interesting article in the New York Times about how we are using the telephone differently now.  For those of us in the business to business marketing industry there are several choice one liners in the article including "The telephone has a very rude propensity to interrupt people." and “I remember when I was growing up, the rule was, ‘Don’t call anyone after 10 p.m.,’ ” Mr. Adler said. “Now the rule is, ‘Don’t call anyone. Ever.’ ”

This is particularly interesting to us at CSG because a very big part of what we do is talk to our client's channel partners: on the phone.  As the article points out, people are more sensitive to the interrupting nature of the phone call, so we do this with ever increasing number of our calls scheduled in advance through other means.

Now in our 14th year of doing a majority of our business over the telephone, we have seen the predictions of the end of the telephone before.  Here are a few of them:

  • The email killed the phone
  • The web killed the phone
  • Cell Phones killed the phone (AT&T’s service is so bad that people just stopped calling)
  • Skype killed the phone (Skype is pretty cool and will continue to take over)
  • Social Media killed the phone (Really? I don't buy it)

The way we use the phone is indeed changing. However, I spend more time on the phone now than ever before.  Just about all of the calls are scheduled on my calendar as meetings for a specific time and duration. In many cases the phone calls include more than one other party, and often are aided by shared online workspaces or presentations.  These calls are much more productive than the old calls, and even when all of the participants live in my city they consume much less time than in person meetings.  

There are many reasons this is happening.  Here are a few examples:

  • People are more sensitive to interruptions 
  • People seem less likely to meet face to face
  • The conference bridge brings in multiple people
  • Desktop sharing creates a rich experience

In the middle of all of this is the phone.  I guess the reports of the phone's death have been somewhat exaggerated.


Who is Hiring the Black Hats?

Ever since David Segal wrote his great piece in the NY Times last month about JC Penney’s black hat antics of SEO, I have been thinking – really?  JC Penney intentionally gaming Google!  There has got to be more to this story.  Danny Sullivan followed up with an insider’s take on it – but I still thought – where is the rest of the story?  The web lit up with all kinds of commentary including this from SearchEngineWatch, and this from SearchMarketingWisdom, who also posted this response from JC Penney with an enthusiastic corporate speak counter argument to the New York Times. 

All of this has contributed immensely to the celebrity status of Matt Cutts, the guy at Google who fights search spam and swiftly pounded JC Penney’s search results into the ground.  The story continued with this good piece on NPR’s On the Media show with Bob Garfield last week.

I think we live in a country where the good guys, the white hats, win in the end.  Who knows, if Libya’s citizens prevail, maybe we live in a world where the bad guys, the black hats, are more readily punished.  In following this saga however, I have still not encountered what I have been looking for as the rest of the story;  who is hiring the black hats?  So I am going to propose this hypothesis:  the black hats exist because the white hats hire them.  It is the laundering of bad behavior through the presumed respectability of the good guys. After all, the US military hires Blackwater (now Xe Services because their reputation got so black they had to abandon their old brand) to do it’s black hat stuff.

We see this from time in our industry.  In the marketing services business we have encountered competitors who produce false reporting – and amazingly they don’t get fired by their clients.  They don’t get fired as long as the reports continue because the good people who hired them need the “results” to keep their budget or their jobs. 

It is a competitive world out there and marketing is getting more and more focussed on measurable results.  It is not hard to imagine a good, well intentioned, marketing services firm getting desperate and going to the bad guys -- just to boost the number -- just this one time.  Then, well, you know the rest of that story.

Maybe our industry needs a black hat amnesty day.  A day that all performance expectations can be re-set so our industry can purge the black hats and get back to doing the work of the good guys.


Sarah Palin vs Tina Fey for President

The New York Times is all about Sarah Palin today with a good post from Frank Rich and the cover story in the Magazine both proclaiming that not only could she run for the highest office, but she could be a contender!

Given the following she has on social media, and the fact that she is getting paid millions to campaign in her TV show where most competitors have to pay for TV ads -- she does seem formidable even if her competence makes it hard to think she could win.

What to do?  Let's get Tina Fey to run against her!  Tina has all of the same assets and she would probably be a better president.  Not only that, it could really confuse the electorate.  Imagine the 18% of voters that think Obama was not born in the US -- trying to remember which one was which.  The debates would be awesome.  Tina could employ spies to figure out what Sarah was going to wear, dress the same, and siphon off half of the Tea Party votes.

Next I have to figure out what country to move to should Sarah Palin actually win.  Any suggestions?



Our Standard of Living

We put a good deal of weight behind averages.  Whether it is GDP, GDP per capita, inflation rate, cost of living, or even the cost of gas -- these numbers are national averages that only tell part of the story.  There was a good opinion piece in the NY Times (from Reuters Breakingviews) yesterday about how Americans have gotten used to continual increases in living standards and how the wind has now turned against that trend.

Of course the article is citing the average living standard.  With the polarization of incomes becoming ever more dramatic, the average living standard does not tell the whole story.  Some people are doing better, the wealthiest 10 percent of households got 35% of income in 1980 and got 48% in 2008.  And the other end of the spectrum are the unemployed, now numbering 20 million.  Here is a good article on this subject in Businessweek if you want to read more.

The rising tide is not raising all of the ships.  Those in the knowledge economy that can compete on the world market will do well.  Anyone that wants to earn 10 times what someone offshore earns -- had better figure out how to contribute 10 times as much.