Thursday, December 18, 2008

Through a glass darkly

(Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly named the magazine that Ziff Davis Media said it would close. The correct name is PC Magazine.)

It's the end of the year, and time for Folio magazine to publish predictions about the industry.
Once again Folio has been kind enough to ask me for my predictions for the coming year. And as anyone who has read this blog in recent weeks could guess, I'm predicting that 2009 will mark the end of an era in B2B media.
Or, as I said a few days ago, "the B2B industry as we know it is about to collapse."

But before you check out what industry folks see for 2009, I think it's kind of instructive to read what we predicted for 2008.
Last year I told Folio that "print advertising will continue to shrink, and I think it’s going to be a tough year for online advertising too." I also predicted a continuation of the "ethical disasters" we'd seen the prior year in B2B. I also said "I don’t expect an increase in hiring" but did expect a rise in deals where freelancers work for a revenue share.
And as much as I wish I had not been right about much of what I predicted, I have to give myself a pretty good grade for that list.

Some of Folio's other prognosticators last year also saw correctly that things were taking a turn for the worse.
In particular, it's worth noting that Larry Grimes said private equity firms would look to sell their holdings, but they'd find few buyers and lower valuations. He also predicted that publishers looking to buy online properties would "find the pickings are very slim." And that "deal flow will be slow until the banks start lending again. "

On the other hand, some of last year's predictions look pretty far off the mark as we look back at 2008.
Reed Phillips predicted that by the end of the year, "valuations for newspapers, specifically, and print media, in general, will start to rebound." There were also two people who predicted a surprising rise in magazine advertising in 2008.
But the most poignantly incorrect prediction came from Lance Ulanoff, editor-in-chief of PC Magazine, who said that after another year of the Web vs. print war we'd see a situation in which "magazines recoup just enough advertising to find new life and live to fight another day." But by November, Ziff Davis Media had announced it was shutting down PC Magazine's print publication.

This year's collection of predictions is different. This year there's something like consensus. Most everyone, it seems, expects a tumultuous and difficult year.
Check out Folio's full list of predictions for 2009 here.
You should also check out coverage of a recent industry conference in which Folio's Tony Silber predicts that the bankruptcies will start any day.

For a look at some of my other predictions of year's past, click here or here.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Slipping into darkness

Just three days ago I published a post outlining why I thought the "B2B industry as we know it is about to collapse." Included in that post was a reference to predictions by Outsell that the industry would experience further layoffs, a reference by me to the impossibility of selling a B2B company in this market, and an outline of my growing concern that Web-only companies were in as much trouble as print-based companies.
Well, I hate to say I told you so, but here's what I've seen in the few days since that post ...
Crain Communications is shutting one magazine and firing 50 editorial workers.
UBM is reorganizing its New Jersey-based Commonwealth Business Media unit and laying off 350 workers across the globe.
The RBI sale, and perhaps the entire market for big M&A deals in B2B, has fallen apart.
And one of the best-known blogging networks in the world is cutting pay.

In other troubling news, I recently learned that two of the most promising young journalists I know -- both experts in multimedia reporting -- are leaving the business. I understand why they're heading for the exits. I even applaud the move. And I have tremendous faith that these two women will continue to do fantastic work. But I have great concerns when the world of journalism can't find a home for two of its most promising young people. Read about it here and here.

Please don't misread what I'm saying here. I believe in the future of journalism, particularly B2B journalism. But it's become increasingly apparent that before the next era begins, we're going to continue to experience a very difficult present.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Doom and gloom and rebirth

Last week I heard about a research report filled with the sort of bad news I've come to expect about B2B media.
As I read about the report, something inside me seemed to give way. I realized it was time for me to say something I have hesitated to say:
The B2B industry as we know it is about to collapse.

Allow me to explain:

In the research, Outsell, a firm that markets itself with the slogan "must-have intelligence and advice for publishers and information providers," predicts B2B publishers may soon slash another 1,250 jobs. That would come on top of the 925 jobs already cut in the second half of 2008, according to Outsell's estimates. (The full report, which is available here for $295, was a few weeks old by the time I came across it, so we can assume that some of those predicted cuts have already been accounted for in the most recent layoffs in the industry.)
Outsell also predicts "additional print ad revenue losses of 4.5% in 2009 and 3.2% in 2010, adding further pressure for reducing print-only staff for the next two years."
More troubling is that Outsell says B2B publishers are having little luck in converting successful print-sales staffers into successful online-sales staffers: "Unfortunately, the success rates of converting print ad salespeople to online ad sales, for example, have been low, with sources directly involved in this citing 25% conversions."
My experiences meeting with B2B journalists in recent years are even less encouraging. I'd put the number of successful "conversions" at around 20%.

It's worse than it appears
Nothing about any of that should be surprising. The seeming inability of most print-based companies to make the transition to the Web is well-documented.
But equally troubling, and far less obvious, is that most Web-only publishers have a similar "conversion" problem.
These Web-native companies are finding themselves unable to assume the core journalistic functions needed by the B2B world. They have mastered content aggregation, commentary and search-engine optimization But only a small percentage of them seem able to move beyond those areas. Original reporting, in-depth analysis, price discovery, data creation, etc. all remain beyond their capabilities.

What the future holds
If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know of my love affair with the world of B2B journalism.
And regular readers also know I've grown quite distressed about the state of the industry.
It was a year ago this month that I said B2B was being pushed into a "a new era of preposterousness" with "revenue targets that seem delusional." I predicted that 2008 would be an"awful"year.
It seems I was correct.
A few months later I said "things were awful and getting worse."
I was right then too.

But even as things have gotten bad and the economy has deteriorated, I've been confident that the future of B2B media was in the right hands.
I'd believed that a new group of journalists -- most of them much younger than I -- was emerging to lead the industry forward. More importantly, I'd been hopeful that a new type of company was emerging -- native to the Web, free of the debt burdens of Wall Street and the cost burdens of print, privately held and without a single angry, that's-not-my-job type of editor anywhere in the enterprise.
But I've come to believe that my faith in these next-generation companies has been misplaced.
As far back as April 2007 I was expressing my concern that "even the newest, Web-based content companies are structured" in such a way that they cannot adjust to disruptive events (new technologies, economic crisis, declines in advertising, etc.) I said then that everywhere I looked, including Web-only start-ups, I was running into the "exact same attitudes, beliefs, work rules, chains of command and silos that I saw in the print-only companies that failed to respond to the Web."
Or, to put it another way, the problem I see at Web-only B2B journalism companies is the same problem I saw at print-based B2B companies in the early days of the Web: a fundamental misunderstanding of one's power in the market. There seems to be something about all of B2B that makes it impossible for people to see what should be obvious -- the formula that brought you success when things were easy will not necessarily work when times are tough.

The other guy is stupid
Here are some of the things I saw at the start of the Web era and their counterparts in today's era.
  • Print publishers greatly overestimated the weight of their brands. They looked down their noses at upstarts without a history or a "recognized" brand. Print publishers assumed that their previous success would translate easily to the Web.
  • Web-only publishers are overestimating the implications of their recent success. They look down their noses at the dinosaurs who failed to adjust to the Web. Web-only publishers assume that their early successes can be scaled.
  • Print publishers put their faith in volume and expertise. They produced great amounts of "must-have" content at high costs, hired large editorial staffs, emphasized reporting over writing and dismissed the potential of one-man operations and bloggers. They assumed that "quality" was what the market wanted.
  • Web publishers put their faith in brevity and insight. They aggregated content rather than produced it, using part-timers and contractors to keep costs low. They emphasized writing over reporting and dismissed the ability of large operations to keep up. They assumed that the market wanted "speed."
  • Print folks underestimated the difficulty of working on the Web. They assumed that, if the time came, they could create blogs, aggregate content and run online communities as well as any Web native. But when the time came, they found they could not.
  • Web-only folks underestimate the difficulty of creating content. They assumed that, if the time came, they could do original reporting, create data and run trade shows as well as any old-time B2B executive. Now the time is here, and they are finding they cannot.
  • Print guys think Web guys are lazy (aggregating content rather than creating it), unprofessional (prone to snarky writing) and stupid. Print guys are breathtakingly arrogant -- and they are most arrogant about their superiority to Web guys.
  • Web guys think print guys are lazy (unwilling to work in the 24/7 world of the Web), unprofessional (prone to hiding bias behind "objectivity") and stupid. Web guys are breathtakingly arrogant -- and they are most arrogant about their superiority to print guys.
The End Game
Both sides of the print vs. Web debate in B2B are wrong. But neither side can see that. And because of this, the B2B journalism world as we know it is about to collapse.
I don't mean that print is going away.
I don't mean the Web is going away.
I don't meant that the print brands that went Web-only are going back to print or vice versa.
I mean this:
1. The B2B publishing industry -- which is now dominated by giant print companies and smaller Web-only companies -- is about to collapse.
2. When the dust settles, B2B journalism will still be here -- but many of the companies that make up the industry will be gone.
3. The dominant business models of both the past and present will fail.

Some of this should be painfully obvious.
Print-based B2B is dominated by companies that are choking on debt. Most of those companies won't make it into 2010. It seems that every company in B2B publishing is for sale, but there are few buyers. There's no credit available for troubled holdings. I expect the bankruptcies to begin any day.
The Web-only companies won't fare much better. Online advertising is in trouble. And I don't see Web companies handling that revenue decline any better than the print companies have handled the fall in print revenue.
The valuations of Web-only companies have fallen, just as the valuations of their print counterparts have. The Wall Street folks I know have grown decidedly uninterested in Web-only publishers ... particularly content aggregators and blog networks. The two most compelling B2B brands of the Web-only world -- FierceMarkets and ContentNext -- were sold earlier this year. But an expected surge in Web deals never materialized. Other Web-only properties are gathering dust on the merger and acquisitions shelf.

Another new era
When the economy recovers we'll see a new landscape in which many of the established players of the print and early Web eras are gone.
B2B journalism will be dominated by the following five types of companies, all of which exist today, but as much smaller players in the industry:

1. Content marketers -- corporations and others with no history in publishing and with no need to monetize content. This has to be the most exciting part of the B2B world today. And I expect much more from it. Content marketers won't just create journalism products, they'll start buying them. Look for sophisticated corporations to purchase established B2B journalism brands and use them as the basis of their content-marketing efforts. (For more on content marketers, see this earlier post.)
2. Data and technology companies -- companies that revolve around a tech tool, database or application. They'll offer journalism products as a value-add to the core product and/or as a brand builder. This is the Bloomberg model. And Bloomberg, which emerged prior to the Web, remains the most successful electronic journalism venture on earth. (For more on Bloomberg, see this earlier post. To follow developments in this field, follow Russell Perkin's work at InfoCommerce.)
3. Small, privately held print publishers -- that handful of traditional B2B players who avoided the lure of Wall Street's leverage. Without the debt burdens of their larger rivals, these smaller companies will be able to acquire troubled brands, hire key people and operate profitably on smaller margins. They may also be able to leap past the Web era and seize market share in some post-Web/mobile/AI/whatever era. It's also likely that they can offer content-creation services to the other types of players.
4. Price-benchmark publishers -- those companies that determine commodity prices in a market. Without these companies, entire industries would need to reconstruct their core pricing and distribution functions. That won't happen. So the benchmark publishers will continue on. (Among the better players in this space is Platts. You can read about the president of that company, who will be honored by ABM next month, here.)
5. Networks for entrepreneurs -- alternatives to publishing companies. We've already seen the rise of ad networks for bloggers that have allowed journalists to strike out on their own with something more than Google text ads to support them. I expect that industry to morph and grow. Eventually I expect to see "matching services" that unite standalone journalists with standalone publishers, as well as a surge in B2B-only, revenue-share publishing networks for entrepreneurial journalists (the biggest of these so far is BNET Industries. Look for more in the next few months.)

That's what I see on the other side of 2009.
What do you see?

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Longtime readers of this blog, and many of the folks who have heard me speak at industry conferences, know of my interest in psychology, personality types and the insight that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator can provide newsroom managers.
And anyone who knows me knows that on the MBTI test I'm an ENFJ -- the "teacher" type personality that is overrepresented in the fields of media, nonprofits and religion.
(You can find three earlier posts in which I talk about being an ENFJ here. Or if you want to learn more about this personality type, you can check out profiles here and here.

So imagine my surprise when, just moments ago, I played with a new online tool that is supposed to determine the MBTI personality type of a blog and found that my blog appears to be written by an ISTJ -- the "duty fulfiller" type personality common among cops and soldiers.
Now putting aside my brief military career, I'd be hard-pressed to think of a personality type that seemed less like me than the ISTJ.
Yet the Typealyzer tool says that this blog is written by an ISTJ, a "responsible and hardworking type" who is "conservative by nature."
Even stranger -- the ENFJ and ISTJ personalities are wildly different at the most basic of levels. ENFJs are "people people." Whereas ISTJs are "not naturally in-tune with other people's feelings."

So what gives?
One possible explanation, of course, is that the Typealyzer tool doesn't work.
Another possibility is that I actually am an ISTJ. But I reject that. I've taken the MBTI and related tests a few dozen times in my life and I always come out as ENFJ. (Also, other MBTI geeks always correctly guess that I'm an ENFJ after just a few minutes of interaction.)
But what fascinates me is the possibility that although I am an ENFJ, I adopt the voice of an ISTJ when blogging. Or, to put it another way, perhaps when I started blogging some four years ago, I used a writing style that was marked by the "serious, dutiful and reserved" voice of an ISTJ as a way to not sound like the stereotypical, "snarky" blogger.

Whatever the answer, I do know this for sure: if I actually were an ISTJ personality, then I wouldn't have let a month pass without updating this blog!

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Monday, November 03, 2008

The best among college journalists

I spent much of last week feeling sorry for myself because I had to miss the College Media Advisers Convention.

And today I find one more reason to wish I had been there. The American Collegiate Press announced the winners of its annual Pacer awards at the show. And the list of winners for the best Web-based journalism was filled with folks I know and admire.

I would have liked to have offered my congratulations in person to those winners who attended the show. But I'll have to be satisfied with offering a virtual pat on the back to Bryan Murley, Kelly Wolff, Sean Blanda, Whitney Rhodes and the other winners of the Online Pacer.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My sky isn't falling

I'm in New York this week, as I am most days. But I'm finding this a particularly annoying place to be this morning.
Because I'd really like to be in Kansas City as several hundred young journalists converge at the College Media Advisers convention. But I had too much work to do, so I decided to cancel my appearance at this year' show.
Now I'm sitting here in Manhattan thinking that was a really bad move.
Here's why:
Those kids are arriving at the convention in the midst of a print death spiral. And that's likely to cause an unnecessary panic.

Consider the news of just the past few days!
Time is cutting 600 jobs. Gannett, which has been a big supporter of CMA, is cutting 3,000 jobs. The L.A. Times is cutting another 10% of its editorial staff. McGraw-Hill is cutting 270 jobs. The RBI sale is faltering. The Washington Post had its credit outlook lowered to "negative." Radar and 02138 both folded. Even more disconcerting -- Masthead, the magazine about Canada's magazine industry, also shut down.

Now that is all awful news. It's sad. It's depressing. But it is not a sign of the apocalypse.
But if past is prologue, the students at CMA will be briefed on all that bad news and then hear:
a) a lot of doom and gloom from professionals longing for the past; and
b) a lot of terrible advice about competing in the tough new world by building skills that are valuable only at print publications.
And what they won't hear is anyone like me, a guy who:
a) is actually recruiting to fill some great jobs, and
b) feels fantastic about the future of journalism.

Late last year I predicted that 2008 was going to be an "awful year" for B2B publishing.
As it turns out, I was right.
Several months later, I said things were "awful and getting worse."
I was right then too.
And as bad as things have become in B2B, things are worse in some other parts of the journalism world, particularly newspapers.
But I'm not panicking. I'm not telling journalism students to change majors. I'm not telling people to head for the exits.
Rather, what I'm telling people are these three things:
1) Expect things to get worse at most publishers. This is a bloodbath. And it has just started.
2) Brace yourself for the end game. Sometime very soon we'll some of the giants of publishing collapse under the weight of outrageous debt levels, falling ad revenue and rising print costs.
3) Print is under siege. Overleveraged corporations are under siege. But journalism is not under siege. Because of the Web, journalism is in one of the most exciting periods in its history. If you see that, you see clearly. If not, you shouldn't be in this industry any longer.

I just wish I was telling people those things in Kansas City.

(Note: Coincidentally, while those college kids were heading to the Kansas City, their future bosses were gathering here in New York at the Future of Business Media conference.
I didn't attend that show either.
But I don't regret that decision.
I think I learned all I needed to learn from one of Rex's live posts from the conference. )

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Why would you use that thing? It's stupid

I spent much of the past few weeks on the road -- meeting with journalists, executives and others to talk about the changing nature of media.
I do a lot of that stuff. And I've found that meetings with publishing companies, with few exceptions, take a predictable path.

The folks at Web-only firms are enthusiastic, delightful, smart and engaged. They're thinking several steps ahead of the competition. They're focused on life in 2010 and beyond.
People at these companies are most interested in hearing my opinions on their ideas for the future.

The folks at the trendsetting companies in B2B -- home to those print-based brands that have made the transition to Web-first publishing -- are equally bright. But there's a slight undercurrent of resentment about the ways in which we work today. People are behaving well and talking positively. Yet it's clear that much of the staff longs for the past. People at these companies are most interested in asking me questions about the future.

The folks at other B2B companies are, to be honest, just depressing to be around. Workers at B2B brands that haven't figured out how to adapt are just miserable. Their anger is palatable. Their nervousness is pervasive. No one seems to have a single good idea about anything. Senior management is focused on the next quarter; older workers are wondering if they can hang on until retirement; everyone else seems to think no further than the next paycheck.
People at these companies are most getting interested in trying to get me to reduce my rates.

There is, however, one thing that unites all these companies:
Everywhere I go, there's always someone who hates Twitter.
Now like my friend Rex, I'd like to give up on trying to explain Twitter. But it seems that I cannot. Everywhere I go someone wants to make a snide remark or to engage in a lengthy conversation about how ill-suited a 140-character tweet is for many forms of journalism (My response to those people, by the way, is "Yes. It is.")
And things have only gotten worse since I became a big fan of Yammer -- the Twitter-like application that can be used for internal communications. Obsessive followers of all things new media know that Yammer won the top prize at this year's TechCrunch50. And I'll admit that my first reaction to that win was similar to that of lots of other folks -- a sort of weirded-out disbelief that a Twitter knockoff could win TechCrunch50.
But when one of those Web-only companies I mentioned above launched Yammer for its workforce, I gave it a try.
And quickly became an addict/fan.
And as word got out that I liked both Twitter and Yammer, it seemed no one wanted to talk about anything else. I found myself spending far too much of my time trying to explain to journalists why I think both Twitter and Yammer are cool.

And then, this morning, I heard about something that may change everything.
Take a look at IvyLees, a social networking site that aims to connect journalists with public-relations folks. IvyLees is also a Twitter knockoff -- limiting P.R. pitches to 140 characters and a link.
I have no idea if this thing will catch on. And I don't much care. I'm just thrilled by the concept behind IvyLees.
Because I doubt that there's a single journalist anywhere in the world who doesn't believe that a press release can, and should, be reduced to 140 characters.
Which means the next time I run into a journalist who is cynical about the whole microblogging phenomenon, I can point to something that will make sense to even the angriest journalist -- a really, really short press release.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

The tipping point's tipping point

The B2B industry has spent much of the past year or so obsessing over the "tipping point" -- that point in time when a brand's absolute growth in online dollars surpasses the decline in print revenue.
Predictably, it happened first in the world of tech publishing. And it shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone that the first company to get there was IDG, which is clearly the leader in Web-based journalism among traditional companies. (Note: just for laughs, take a look at the work done on any IDG site and then compare it to what's done on rivals' sites. Or, if you're rushed for time, take a quick look at this post blasting Ziff Davis Media for its offensive practices. For more on Ziff Davis and the company's inability to behave responsibly, read this earlier post of mine.)

But today may mark a new point in the tipping-point conversation. A recent survey by Ad Age suggests that the gain in online revenue at consumer magazines may be surpassing the gains made at the average B2B brand.
You can read Ad Age's piece here. Or, even better, go straight to David Kaplan's piece on PaidContent. Pay particular attention to the section about Time Warner, which says that Money, Fortune and Fortune Small Business generated 24.5% of their 2007 revenue from That's nearly double the 12.5% of a year earlier.

I find numbers like that a bit disconcerting. And here's why:
I think it's safe to say that the number of traditional B2B brands that generate a quarter of their revenue online is pretty small. In fact, it's probably safe to say that much of the B2B world has yet to reach even 10%, and there are still brands out there where online is less than 5% of overall revenue.
Second, We can talk all day about the differences between the specialized world of B2B and the broader consumer-focused world of business and personal-finance publishing. But there are some crucial similarities -- particularly that both are seeing a steady rise in print costs, a shift of readers to online, and the growing dominance of the Web by online-only competitors.
Or, to put it another way, both B2B and consumer-finance magazines have to get to the tipping point quickly if the brands are to survive.
So when I see what's happening not just at cutting-edge, technology focused brands like Network World but at old, wounded, print-based brands like Fortune, I can't help but wonder:
why does so much of B2B continue to lag?

Note: It's been almost a year to the day since I suggested that the time had come for B2B journalists to begin planning for the individual tipping points in their own careers. I think that is even more important in October 2008 than it was in October 2007. More importantly, it may be too late now for many print-based journalists and advertising-sales staff.

(Disclosures: 1. IDG is a client of mine. And my next assignment there will involve meeting with the staff of Network World later this month. 2. I was once a producer at, the predecessor of

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

What's in a name? Circulation Management rebrands

Circulation Management, the magazine and Web site that has covered the circulation end of the magazine-publishing business, is changing its name to reflect changes in the industry.
Starting in November, the product will be rebranded as Audience Development.

I applaud the move. There can be no doubt that the jobs and tasks of what we once called the circulation department have morphed into something more complex, more challenging and more exciting in today's multi-platform world.

But the change at Circulation Management raises a question.
Circulation Management is owned by Red 7 Media, which is also the parent company of Folio magazine.
And I cannot think of a word that is more closely tied to the print past than "folio."
So can we expect a rebranding of that title as well?

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

ASBPE offers new Ethics Advisory service

I just got some great news in my email in-box.
The American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) has launched an Ethics Advisory program to offer answers to journalists seeking guidance on ethical practices.
Under the program, journalists can send their "is this ethical" questions to the group and get an answer in fewer than 10 days. (Details are available through a link on the ASBPE homepage.)

The news comes at what is likely the perfect time.
As the economy deteriorates and traditional publishers continue to suffer, I've noted a surge in editors reaching out to me for help with ethical issues.
It seems that I was right when I predicted that 2008 would be a tough year that would lead to an increase in unethical behavior.

For more on my predictions for 2008, search for my name in this Folio article.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Change of seasons

If you've read this blog with some regularity during the past few years, you've probably learned more about me than any reasonable person would wish. For example, regular readers know that I am probably the only salsa-dancing, U.S. Army veteran in history to have worked as a roadie for Alvin and the Chipmunks and to have received an Eskimo kiss from Natassia Kinski.
Regular readers also know, that for reasons I cannot fully explain, I tend to live my life on an academic calendar -- seeking fresh starts and new challenges every September.

Well September is here again.
And once again my life seems to be in flux -- filling with new people, places and things, as others disappear.
I've added two clients this month, while I have completed my projects with two others.
I've agreed to help a friend launch his new businesses, while another old friend has suspended his plans to create a new publication.
And as the children of many old friends begin their college years, I'm mourning the death of the woman I loved during my own undergraduate days. Furthermore I'm pondering the strangeness of learning about her death in a phone call from her daughter, who is now roughly the same age her mother was when we met some thirty Septembers ago.

Life, it seems, is both horribly short and strangely and touchingly long.

With all that is happening, I've had to pull back from a few commitments.
1. First and foremost, I will not be attending the Folio Show in Chicago next week. I apologize to all my friends who had hoped to chat in person during the show and to anyone who had hoped to attend my presentation or to read my opinions on the show.
I am, however, still planning to attend the College Media Advisers convention in Kansas City next month (I'll be hosting a session) and the Health Content 08 Show in Philadelphia in November (I'm sure to be blogging about that.) I hope to see many of you at both places.
2. A handful of readers also know I had planned to debut a news and information site of my own this month that would serve a tiny, specialized audience in a B2B vertical. But taking care of my paying clients and helping my friends has taken priority (as it should.) I hope to find the time to launch that site within a few more weeks.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

A valuable additon to the media blogosphere

Just a quick note to make note of the addition of Harry McCracken to the world of media blogging.

Anyone who pays attention to B2B publishing knows Harry and knows he recently left PC World to start Technologizer, a tech blog backed by Federated Media.

Now Harry has launched a second blog -- this one covering his adventures as a media entrepreneur. Add it to your RSS reader.

Read this earlier post for more on Harry.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cygnus defaults on debt; Moody's cuts ratings

I'm swamped today with business tasks and a family emergency. So I can't do much more than point to the news that Cygnus has defaulted on a portion of its debt. Credit-rating agency Moody's responded by cutting its rating on the B2B publisher.

I expect we'll see a lot more of this from those companies that are in similar trouble -- choking on debt, tied to expensive print production and dependent on a staff that has lost faith.

Click here to see an earlier post on Cygnus' financial woes.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

ASBPE and the next generation of journalists

Anyone who knows me knows how much time I put into working with college journalists. It's the part of my career that I enjoy the most.
And although it's true, as my wife likes to joke, that there's something fundamentally wrong with putting lots of effort into the part of my career that I don't get paid for, I don't care. I think the work is both important and fun. And there's just not enough of that in the rest of my working life.

But one of the troubling things I've noted is how little involvement the rest of the B2B world has with college journalism. When I attend conventions, visit campuses, etc., I'm often the only B2B professional for miles around.
So I'm thrilled by the news that the American Society of Business Publication Editors is deepening its involvement with the next generation of journalists.
ASBPE yesterday announced the details of a new, nonprofit organization called the ASBPE Foundation. (The Foundation was first announced at the ASBPE conference in July -- where I had the good fortune to be the keynote speaker.)
According to the foundation's Web site, the organization will "fund travel of ASBPE leaders to journalism schools" to give presentations on careers in B2B media. Even more exciting is that the Foundation plans to endow a universtity chair -- the ASBPE Professor of Business-to-Business Journalism.
I'm so happy about this -- and so proud of ASBPE for taking this step -- that I can't stop smiling.

If you'd like to help the next generation of journalists understand the opportunities in B2B, there are three things you can do.
First, consider a donation to the Foundation.
Second, make plans to visit the College Media Advisers Conference in Kansas City next month. I plan to be there. Stop on by my presentation and meet some of the bright young folks you'll be working with soon.
Three, follow developments in journalism education through the Innovation in College Media blog.

If you'd like to learn more about what I've learned in my recent visits with college journalists, check out my four-part series from earlier this year.

For a look at how journalism students look at journalism education in 2008, check out this post by a student at NYU or this related post by a student at Penn State. (Hat tip to Mindy McAdams for pointing me to those students.)

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Harry McCracken's Guide to Self-Employment

Longtime readers of this blog know I began predicting years ago that low-cost Web technologies and open-source software would lead many B2B journalists to quit their jobs and strike on out on their own.
And regular readers know that the highest-profile editor to make the leap to standalone journalist is Harry McCracken, formerly of PC World.

Now Harry has published a sort of how-to guide for anyone interested in following in his entrepreneurial footsteps. If you've been thinking it might be time to work for yourself, check it out.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

B2B blogger scoops world on Biden pick

I'm feeling a wee bit proud today. Heck, I think everyone in B2B journalism should be feeling a little proud today. Particularly those of us who live and work in the B2B blogosphere.
As Adam Tinworth has pointed out, perhaps the biggest news story on earth last week was broken by a B2B blogger.
According to Adam, Reed Business Information's Flightblogger was the first with the news that Barak Obama had chosen Joe Biden as his running mate. And he broke the news through Twitter and with the help of his readers. If that's not an example of how to report in 2008 -- fast, first, connected, Web-first and employing tweets and crowdsourcing -- I don't know what is.

Now according to Adam, others in the blogosphere picked up the story and ran with it. And, according to Flightblogger Jon Ostrower, other bloggers, as well as the news networks, failed to credit him for the scoop.

It's worth noting that if, in fact, Jon was the first with the news (on 8/22 at 5:33 pm and 8:03 pm), then he only has himself to blame for not getting more attention. His posts are, well, sort of vague. Even he uses the word "speculation" to describe his findings. More importantly, he buries the lede. The "news" is at the bottom of continually updated post. And you have to read pretty closely to see that he's actually on to something important. Even the headline is lackluster -- "Presidential Picks and Planes." His tweets are no better. At 8:22 pm he writes that he "may" have the story: "NetJets 863 MDW-ILG may point to Biden as Obama VP. Look for a return flight."

But I don't want to get all nitpicky here. It looks like Jon broke the news. And that's worth celebrating if you care about news and B2B.

Jon's scoop is particularly good news if you're me.
Because several years ago I had the pleasure of speaking to a bunch of RBI journalists about "becoming more blog-like" -- by adopting some of the practices of the blogosphere in their work. I think it's safe to say that the reaction I received from some of the staff was a wee bit short of love and adulation. In particular, I remember one guy who promised me "we will never do that s*#t here."
And today I can say for sure that I was right when I responded, "Yes you will."

For a different take on this subject, check out the strange coverage from L.A. Times, which missed Jon's work, fails to credit anyone in the blogosphere, and instead seems gleeful that Obama's text-notification system failed. Or check out this piece from a student journalist who is positively disgusted by CNN's apparent lack of original reporting on the Biden pick.

(Note: B2B blog historians, if there are such people, may be amused to see that the first time I wrote about B2B blogs and the airline industry was three years ago this summer. I guess that means its probably time to drop the modifier "new" from the phrase "new media.")

Hat tip to Kristine Lowe, the newest B2B blogger on my radar screen. Although I subscribe to Adam's feed, and although I look at Flightblogger from time to time, I'm days behind in my reading and was unaware of Jon's scoop until I read about it on Kristine's blog. (Anyone who knows me and my enormous ego will guess correctly that I stumbled upon Kristine's blog because she linked to me and mentioned me by name. That triggered a Google alert in my in-box this morning.)

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Wall Street finances and B2B publishing explained

Borrow cash. Buy a publishing company. Choke on debt. Borrow more. Buy another publisher. Choke on debt. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

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Talking to ourselves and making little sense

One of my many journalism obsessions is watching the internal communications processes at publishing companies.
I follow this stuff pretty closely. I read the memos (when I can get them.) I check out Intranets and wikis (when they're available to me.) I read executives' blogs, publishers' sales reports and I attend in-house meetings at client sites whenever possible.
So allow me to share this important bit of info:
As a general rule, for reasons that escape me, companies that are in the business of communicating information to readers do a terrible job of communicating information to their employees.

Today, for example, I had the chance to read the internal memo that Source Media's CEO Jim Malkin sent to employees earlier this week to announce a large-scale reorganization.
And it's awful.
If you read my initial post about Source Media's plans on Tuesday, you'd have seen that I was supportive. You'd also have seen that my support was based largely on a quote that Malkin gave to Folio.
But today as I struggled to read the memo, my support simply drained away.
Am I being too harsh?
Check it out yourself.
I'm sure you'll agree that the memo is simply unreadable.
First, it's 1,830 words long. And I have this picture of every poor soul at Source trying to "speed read" through the thing to get to something important.
Second, the memo doesn't answer the one question that probably every single reader had: Is anyone getting laid off?
Third, the memo is full of dense paragraphs of "who reports to whom" nonsense that should have been in a graphic (or even in a separate memo.)
The result of all this, I'm sure, is that the employees of Source Media reacted to the memo in a way that the company would not have wanted. Some employees likely felt manipulated or misled (as they read through line after line of spin only to find that there was no "news" there about the layoffs.) Others, particularly the journalists, likely spent a good bit of time chuckling at the writing and complaining that the boss had "buried the lede." And it's pretty unlikely that the clerical and support staff was filled with team spirit after reading seemingly endless descriptions of which executive would be reporting to which other executive.

There's simply no reason for this sort of thing at any company. There are loads of very talented people working in the internal communications field. Any decent size company can hire someone to manage employee communications. Even the smallest company can get a consultant to help with major messages.
But at a journalism company, failing to master internal communications is just unforgivable. For god's sake, a publishing company is filled with people who communicate for a living!
So please, whether you're the CEO, a publisher or anyone else at a media company -- the next time you have something important to say, walk down the hall and ask someone for help.

To see some other examples of simply awful internal communications in publishing, check out Tony Silber's critique of John French's memo to Penton earlier this year, check out my post on the fury at Cygnus, and don't miss the now-famous video of Sam Zell cursing one of his journalists.

Also, if you're interested in following developments in internal communications (a field that is struggling with many of the same issues as B2B publishing), I'd suggest you start by reading two of the best blogs in the space: Talking Internal Communications and H&K's Change and Internal Communications.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Source Media throws editors into the pool

Source Media, publisher of a number of Wall Street-focused brands such as The Bond Buyer and Securities Industry News, is reorganizing into a team-based system.
Under the plan, every title at Source will have an editor-in-chief, but won't have a dedicated staff. Instead, Source editors will be organized into four different "pools." And the EICs will pull editors from those pools as needed.

It's possible that the reorganization is nothing more than an attempt to reduce costs by lowering head count. And, according to Folio, 20 jobs will be cut.
But I'm willing to entertain the possibility that this is actually a more nuanced -- and more sensible -- move than it might appear.
Because I'm heartened by the words of Source CEO Jim Malkin, who explained the restructuring to Folio by saying: "Essentially, we are shifting from a group of publications into an information company."

(As an aside, some longtime observers of B2B media may chuckle at Source Media's ambition to become an "information company." That's because Source Media is the former Thomson Media unit of Canada's Thomson Corp., which Thomson sold in 2004. Some four years later, Thomson merged with Reuters to form Thomson Reuters, giving it control of roughly one-third of the market in financial information services. Or, to put it another way, it's probably not too much of a stretch to say that when Thomson set its sites on becoming an information company -- and competing against Bloomberg for the big money on Wall Street -- the first thing it did was to start dumping print magazines. We'll have to wait a bit to see if Source follows suit.)

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

What We Know Now

We're in a strange position in B2B journalism in 2008.
As the Web has grown, altering forever the business and art of publishing, B2B has sometimes taken the lead.
We are far ahead of our peers in the newspaper, TV and consumer magazine world in some areas. Other times we languish far behind.

In two areas in particular, B2B has shown the way to the future:
1. No other area of journalism does a better job of producing (and selling) data on the Web.
2. No other area of journalism is doing a better job of moving to Web-only -- eliminating inefficient print pubs to cut costs while preserving brands online.

But it would be misleading to suggest that all of B2B has taken to the Web faster than the rest of journalism. We have publications (and entire companies) that trail the overall journalism industry. And these slower moving publications are filled with publishers, editors and salespeople who cannot or will not see that the fundamentals of the business model have changed. These folks are often hardworking, bright and ambitious, but they nonetheless remain delusional about the level of change that is needed.
You can tell them that adding some online bells and whistles isn't enough. You can tell them that offering a digital edition isn't enough. You can tell them that running a newsroom on a print-publishing schedule, while claiming you "get" the Web isn't enough. You can tell them that selling banner ads and buttons isn't enough when new online-only competitors offer advanced metrics, behavioral tracking and lead-gen campaigns.
But they will look at you blankly and say "our readers aren't there yet" or "we don't have the budget" or "we need more training" or one of a thousand other excuses.

I think about the laggards in B2B journalism whenever I read about the extraordinary problems facing the U.S. newspaper industry. I think it's safe to say that daily newspapers have done a worse job than any other media sector in adjusting to the changes of the past few years.
And while every mistake that daily newspapers made has also been made by B2B publications, I would be hard-pressed to name a B2B company that has made as many mistakes as the average daily newspaper.

There's a wonderful piece online today that I would urge everyone in B2B to read. It's by William Lobdell, who left the Los Angeles Times last week after 18 years with the company. Lobdell has published a piece called "42 Things I Know" in which he outlines the mistakes made by the Times.
The Times is the poster boy for how not to adjust to the Web. It seems less likely every day that the thing can even survive. And there are lessons to be learned in studying what went wrong.
Take a look at Lobdell's piece (tip of the hat to Ryan for pointing me to Lobdell with his tweet of this morning.) Then ask yourself some hard questions about your publication, your company and your career. And if you're with a print-first, or -- God forbid -- a print-only B2B publication, ask yourself, as Lobdell did, if it has "become riskier to stay than to go."

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Monday, August 04, 2008

The voice of reason (on copyright) goes silent

The media blogosphere is a slightly less interesting place today.
William Patry is shutting down his blog on copyright law.
And given that no less an institution than the Associated Press has apparently forgotten the basics of "fair use," I can't think of a worse time for this to happen.

First, a little background on Patry. He is the author of a the definitive work on U.S. copyright law -- the seven-volume textbook series called "Patry on Copyright." And over a 26-year career Paltry has held a series of posts where he wielded tremendous influence over copyright law. He's the former copyright counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, the former Policy Planning Advisor to the Register of Copyrights, and was a professor of law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
But Patry is probably best known -- and often criticized for -- his most recent job: Senior Copyright Counsel for Google.

If you've ever heard me speak to a room full of journalists, odds are you've heard me say that a) traditional copyright law is dead; and b) journalists who are passionate defenders of traditional copyright law tend not to understand what it is they're defending.
But I'm not a copyright attorney. So I've tended not to push this point further in my presentations. Rather, I just urge the journalists in the audience (and the publishers that employ them) to consult with their attorneys and consider replacing copyright protections with the more open system known as Creative Commons. (Here's some more info if you're interested in the history behind Creative Commons.)
And if you've been at one of my presentations then you've also likely heard me end the section on copyright with a final suggestion that "you should read this guy William Patry." (Note: Don't read my endorsement of Patry's work as a suggestion that we see eye-to-eye on everything. Patry describes himself as a moderate on copyright. I'm probably more extreme in my desire to see copyright protections weakened. But the fact remains that he is thousands of times smarter than I about this subject, and thus worth reading.)

In his farewell post, Patry says he's giving up the blogging game for two reasons -- frustrations with the blogging life (anonymous comments from morons, etc.) and that the current state of copyright law "is too depressing."
I understand both reasons. And I don't begrudge him the decision to move on. Blogging is a time-consuming and often frustrating endeavor. And for people like Patry (and me) who choose not to run ads or otherwise make money from our blogs, blogging can often feel like a waste of time.

But I'm going to miss the guy.
I'd urge you to read Patry's final post. Feel free to ignore the first section. That's where Patry complains that people stopped seeing his blog as a "personal" blog once he accepted a position with Google. But that's just silly. Google is one of the most powerful forces in the media world. And taking a job there will influence how people see you. Complaining about that is as pointless as cursing the sun for rising in the East when your windows face the West.
But do pay attention to the second section. It's there that Patry says part of the reason he's stopping his blog is that "copyright law has abandoned its reason for being: to encourage learning and the creation of new works. Instead, its principal functions now are to preserve existing failed business models, to suppress new business models and technologies, and to obtain, if possible, enormous windfall profits from activity that not only causes no harm, but which is beneficial to copyright owners."

For other reactions to Patry's departure, check out Mathew Ingram, Robert Hyndman and Jack Schofield.

On a sort of related note, Harry McCracken has a piece on his new Technologizer site about Web sites that didn't deserve to die. As a New Yorker, I'll add my voice to that of the other residents of this town that miss Kozmo! Now that was service (Yea, sure, it was a terrible business. But I loved it so.)

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Getting caught up

I've been on the road for weeks ... and am just now settling back into my routine.
I'm in my apartment. The baby is asleep. And in the past 24 hours I've managed to get caught up on email, feeds, tweets, bills, invoices, voice mail, paper mail and neighborhood gossip.
But I'm still way behind on blogging.

How far behind?
It's been a week since ASBPE announced the winners of its annual Azbee Awards and I haven't even offered my congratulations to the winners. Heck, I was at the conference; I was the keynote speaker, and I still haven't been able to set aside the time to say "Well Done" until now.

So, here's a belated congratulations to all of this year's winners -- particularly RBI's Restaurants & Institutions and IDG's ComputerWorld, Network World, PC World CIO and CSO. (Disclosure: I've had the good luck to consult with both RBI and IDG.)

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Something in the air

I'm on the road this week and next. And as I sit in hotel rooms and read my feeds at the beginning and end of each day, I get the feeling that by the time I get back home, I won't even recognize the media industry -- particularly B2B.
Consider some of what is happening:
1. John French, Penton's CEO, has stepped down. And although the search for his replacement has barely begun, I'm already hearing some interesting theories about what the Wall Street whizzes that control the company are looking for in the new boss. It now seems likely that
Penton will soon be run by someone from a large, B2C online-only venture, i.e., AOL, Yahoo, etc.
2. McGraw-Hill is likely to be one of the bidders for Reed Business Information, according to U.K. newspaper The Telegraph. Given that RBI is the largest B2B publisher in the United States, such a purchase would catapult McGraw-Hill to the top of the B2B media universe. Of course it's always a distinct possibility that McGraw-Hill only wants RBI's construction division, but is willing to buy the entire company in order to get the financing that RBI is offering. In that case, much of RBI could be back on the market shortly after a McGraw-Hill purchase. (For more on this, check out coverage in Paidcontent and Business Media Blog.)
3. Cygnus has taken to suing ex-workers who abandoned the troubled company to start a competing publication. I don't have any inside information on the case. And I'm not a lawyer. But regardless of the legal implications, the case is likely to contribute to the toxic atmosphere that is Cygnus. And I couldn't help but laughing to see that news of the lawsuit broke exactly one month after Standard & Poor's lowered its outlook on Cygnus' bonds.

All this comes in the wake of the Guardian's purchase of PaidContent, Bloomberg's decision to restructure its news operations, the near collapse of America's publicly traded B2C newspaper companies and the loss of thousands of jobs among the ink-stained masses.

Something is happening. And I suspect that years from now we'll look back on the summer of 2008 as the time when the entire media profession entered a new era.
Are you ready?

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Friday, July 11, 2008

PaidContent is sold to the Guardian!

U.K.-based Guardian News & Media, publisher of the Guardian and the Observer newspapers, has purchased PaidContent.
In a nutshell that means that arguably the most Web-savvy newspaper company on earth has purchased what is arguably the most important Web-only B2B property on earth.

First, let me offer my congratulations to Rafat and his team.
They have built a truly remarkable series of products in less than six years -- largely by avoiding the cost and workflow problems of legacy print companies. As important, Rafat understood what so few people did understand six years ago -- the world of content was moving away from print. And there was need for news product that could cover use online and mobile media to cover developments in online and mobile media.

Second, let me suggest that this news has implications for all of us in the B2B space here in the United States. Here's why: although PaidContent is a global company, with sites dedicated to media news in India and the U.K., it's probably best-known for its U.S.-based parent site. And the purchase seems to represent the first major incursion into the U.S. market by Guardian News & Media's B2B unit, called Guardian Professional.
I happen to know that executives from Guardian spent a lot of time in the U.S. a few months ago, meeting with some of the smartest folks in the online world. They asked a lot of questions. And they impressed a lot of people. And my guess is that they spotted a number of opportunities (such as PaidContent) and a number of vulnerabilities in the B2B space.

The news about PaidContent comes just a day after Bloomberg announced a major reorganization that will separate its Web and multimedia news operations from the "text" news unit that writes for the Bloomberg terminals.
Clearly something is happening here.
And years from now we may look back and realize that this was the week that the B2B industry in the U.S. entered an all-new era.

For more on the deal, check out coverage from ReadWriteWeb, which offers some good background on the Guardian's recent progress online.
For some background on PaidContent, as well as a link to a video in which Rafat explains the journalism theories behind the company, check out this earlier post of mine.
If you're not already familiar with the Guardian, here's a good a place as any to start -- an article from earlier this week about U.S.-based B2B publisher IDG. (Disclosure: IDG is a client of mine.)

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bloomberg restructures. And I ask "why?"

Today is a day when all of us in B2B journalism should pause, look at the news in our industry, and ponder what it means for each of us.
Because it doesn't get any bigger than this: Bloomberg LP is restructuring.

Bloomberg is arguably the smartest and most profitable news operation in history. It is certainly the biggest money-making operation in the history of B2B. (Now that Reuters and Thomson have merged, Bloomberg may or may not be the biggest player in business journalism -- it depends on how you measure things.)
So what does it mean when the best of the best in our industry decides to restructure? Why would it do so? Can other companies extract a lesson?

First, let's look at what is happening.
In essence, Bloomberg News is separating its multimedia operation (which includes the Web, television and radio units) from its text operation (the news and data service that is delivered to Wall Street via dedicated terminals. This same unit will continue to rewrite terminal news for publication in client newspapers. The company's print magazine will also reside in the new text division.)
In addition, the parent company, Bloomberg LP, is splitting into three units -- news, data and financial products. (This part of the revamp is even more complicated than it would first appear. The financial products unit will include "data" products such as the trading systems and analytics tools. Whereas the data unit will house the company's databases and its law unit.)
It's also worth noting that the restructuring is not related to any financial difficulties at the company. No layoffs are planned. The company continues to be a cash-producing machine.

Second, let's look at the why.
My friend Rafat at PaidContent says the restructuring sounds like Bloomberg is planning a spinoff or sale of the multimedia unit.
I agree. Particularly since the restructuring comes amid rumors on Wall Street that Merrill Lynch, reeling from the credit crisis, is looking to sell its 20% stake in Bloomberg. (The most likely buyer is the trust of New York mayor and company founder Mike Bloomberg. Value of the stake is somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 billion.)
It's also worth noting that although Bloomberg continues to print money, the company's core audience of Wall Street bigwigs and traders is hurting. Sales are likely to have declined in recent months. And it would take a very optimistic person indeed to suggest sales will rise in the near term.

Third, let's look at other details.
Under the new structure, Matt Winkler, who has run Bloomberg's news operations since the beginning, will lose control of the multimedia operation. Winkler will maintain control of the text unit.
Bloomberg is also launching an incubator unit, dubbed Bloomberg Ventures, which will presumably look for new opportunities and acquisitions. It will be run by Lex Fenwick, the company's former CEO.
Portfolio suggests that the reorg may mean that Bloomberg's "famously bizarre corporate culture (is) being slowly dismantled." Certainly I hope that is true. Bloomberg is, by far, the least pleasant place I have ever worked. More importantly, it was a place where truly bizarre personalities tended to thrive. The Portfolio piece says that Bloomberg's new president, Dan Doctoroff, had come to realize that, in the words of a company insider, "Matt Winkler's reign of terror and crazy little rules" were hurting the organization.

But here's the part that intrigues me:
The restructuring will create two, distinct groups of journalists in the company.
One team will be dedicated to print and the terminals. It will report to Winkler.
The second team will be dedicated to multimedia and the Web. The company is searching for someone to run that team.
But I have to ask: why the split? and why now?

Bloomberg's move comes as the rest of the industry -- both B2B and B2C -- struggles to merge print, Web and television operations. Everyone from the Washington Post to Hanley-Wood is looking to create some form of Web-first publishing in which journalists are able to produce news for any medium.
But Bloomberg seems to be moving in a different direction.
Perhaps this is nothing more than a convoluted way to dilute Winkler's power without hurting the core product -- terminal sales.
Or perhaps it is nothing more than a way to create two, state-of-the-art news organizations in anticipation of selling one of them.
Or, perhaps, Bloomberg has a very different idea of what it will take to run a news company and make money in the future.

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