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More bad news for news.

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The hometown newspaper in the city I work in just announced it will cut home delivery to just three days per week. The reason, of course, is that it just isn’t making money off the print editions and must focus time and resources on its online product, along with mobile and tablet platforms.

It’s a sad state of affairs, when you consider the historic nature of the announcement: After nearly 200 years, this city no longer has a true daily newspaper.

Even sadder, in my estimation, is the fact that the leadership at the paper’s parent company continues to point fingers at the Internet for the demise of the printed product. And rather than figure out how to survive, they continue to hasten to rush toward extinction. To wit:

Readers have long clamored for a better news product. This particular newspaper cut its newsroom staff in half a few years back — from about 200 to about 100 — which, no matter how you slice it, means less news. I’ve never done a story count, but the decrease in quality over the past several years has been evident. I spent a dozen years competing against journalists from this newspaper, and always found them on top of the game. Recently, the paper is clearly scrambling just to put news on pages — and it’s often not compelling, important news, but news the paper believes will sell more papers.

Of course, the paper had to cut positions. It was bleeding money, both from wages and from a multi-million-dollar printing press installed to allow the paper the ability to print color on almost every page. The idea behind the press, of course, was to talk more advertisers into buying color ads. Color ads mean more expensive ads, which means more money for the paper. Didn’t work out that way.

So here we are.

The paper couldn’t afford the journalists, so it offered buyouts to get rid of as many as possible. The product suffered. Readers noticed. In response, the decision is to eliminate even more jobs, but concentrate on the electronic product.

Here’s the deal: The product is still crappy, whether it’s in print or online. Cutting costs by cutting journalists will never never never never never fix your dwindling readership.

Know what? I’m not sad.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as journalists eulogize the industry. And of course the claim is without proper, trained journalists, the nation will fall apart. Sure, bloggers are telling the news too. But they aren’t real journalists, are they?

This is hogwash.

Our notion of professional journalism and journalism ethics is relatively new, considering the age of newspapers themselves. One of America’s first newspapers, the New England Courant, was published by Ben Franklin’s older brother, James, and was filled with fictitious accounts from fictitious correspondents — satire and opinion pieces. The year was 1721, and until that time, news sheets were filled with news from overseas.

But “journalism” in America became something much different. It became a way to criticize, to needle the establishment, to raise awareness and whip up discontent. It was meant to inform and entertain. It was political, biting, and sometimes dangerous. It was the life’s blood of each community.

That didn’t change much through the 1900s — even through the 1950s. Newspapers were largely a reflection of their editors. But they’d lost something, even by then: They’d already become an industry, and men had already become very, very rich, just by selling information.

Over the past hundred years, the problem has only increased, to the point where huge corporations have dominated the news industry for decades, and they made a lot of money.

But information wants to be free. And we want it to be free.

The news industry has dumbed the news down, just to sell newspapers, to catch audiences. It is rarely the bastion of truth and justice it once was, yet it masquerades behind the ideals of objectivity. There is no objectivity in the news; the object is to make money.

The truth is, the common man is taking the news back. In our local communities, local bloggers are telling the news — with their own spin. And that spin leads others to tell the news from their side. There are debates online. There is conversation. There is, truly, a freedom to print anything. A real freedom of a real press.

The news industry will eventually die — at least in terms of being the leading information source. But the news itself will live on. Wherever there is injustice, there will be a voice to speak out against it. Wherever there is need, there will be a pen. Because this new breed of journalists realizes what the old guard forgot long ago: It’s not about money. It’s about doing what’s right.

Readers (not journalists) decide what news is.

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To be honest, I don’t know much about The Day, or theday.com. Until today, I’d never heard of James H. Smith, who is, allegedly, a 42-year veteran of the news industry and member of the New England Newspaper Hall of Fame.

TheDay.com ran an excerpt from Mr. Smith’s induction into the Hall of Fame the other day — a forceful, though desperate, attempt to defend his former industry against the bloggers who’ve attempted to unseat true journalists from their position atop the summit of the Mount of Truth:

It is undeniable that new information technology, which is bestowing on us amazing communication tools like Twitter and Facebook, can promote democracy. But when cyberspace starts buzzing pejoratively about how a free and open society no longer needs a news media to tell it what the news is, democracy is endangered.

The bloggers who disparage Brian Williams or Diane Sawyerfor choosing what fits in a half hour of news or who say editors shouldn’t be the arbiters of what news is, can happily join the marketplace of ideas; but they can’t pretend to know the tenets of journalism as they blithely opine into a computer screen.

It is the job of journalists to decide what is news. It’s not the job of anyone else. Editors cannot let those who would denigrate the fundamental role of a free press in a democracy get away with such demagoguery. A professional press, printed, broadcast or cyberspaced, means a staff of dedicated news men and women with ethics codes, standards, education and training.

This is an interesting, but misguided, argument.

First, the lie: Journalists love to tell readers/viewers/listeners that bloggers are just pajama-clad whiners, gleefully hammering away at their keyboards without regard for the truth — all while popping pimples in the mirror and not showering. Bloggers are untrained, unethical, incapable of deciding what is interesting or necessary for the rest of us to read.

The truth is, many bloggers started blogs out of frustration, because the news media has lost its way. Many bloggers are, in fact, former journalists who have been displaced (thanks to newspapers and television programs that have done such a great job of retaining their audiences that they’re barely staying in business). Sure, there are bad apples. But there are plenty of those in “real” journalism, too.

And let’s look at the other part of the argument — the one where journalists decide “what’s news.”

Journalists don’t decide that at all. What they actually decide is what they’ll write about, and what they’ll print. But it is the READERS who decide what’s news — because only the READER can decide what they read.

Mr. Smith has managed to prove so eloquently why newspaper circulation is bleeding. Our newspapers and journalists are so far out of touch with readers that they can’t even see the readers’ value anymore. It isn’t new for the reader’s sake, but for the journalist’s sake. I’d argue that if journalists continue the path they’re on, they’ll be left talking only to themselves.

How to ruin your business by not knowing when to shut up.

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You know who Ken Evoy is, right? Of course you don’t. I didn’t either.

Basically, Ken is the online equivalent of one of those “make money from home” guys you see on TV — the infomercial guys with offers that sound too good to be true. He offers a service called Site Build It, which promises a simple solution to help folks with great ideas build and monetize websites in a snap. Sounds great, right?

Well, Ken’s been on a rampage for a couple years now, complaining about Google and the existence of “the Googlebomb” — a threat so heinous that it threatens us all. In a nutshell, a Googlebomb is the use of nefarious tactics to get a page ranked high in Google search results for a particular term. Ken claims he was a victim of a Googlebomb (in fact, he likely was). The short story is that a blogger named Lis Sowerbutts wrote a scathing review of SBI!, calling it a scam. Then a few folks helped jack her post up in Google rankings by using backlinks. To this day, Sowerbutts’ post ranks no. 1 in Google for “site build it scam.”

Evoy has made it a personal quest to eliminate Googlebombs. Or maybe just his. Or maybe just to get Google to admit they still exist. Frankly, I’m not sure. What I am sure about is that he is all over the Internet, posting long-winded comments on every blog without a word limit in the comments section.

I first heard of SBI! when a client of mine read about it and asked my opinion. Like any decent consultant, I cased the service for him. My impression? Meh. To Ken’s credit, the site doesn’t promise overnight success. In some respects, it follows the mantra I’ve repeated for years: Work hard. In order to make money on a website through SBI!, you still have to pay for hosting, still have to create content, still need to advertise. It’s not a magic bullet, by any means. My recommendation to my client was the service may be worth a try, but I didn’t see it offering anything more than he could get cheaper and better by using a WordPress install.

What troubled me, however, were Ken’s rants, which I started seeing all over the Internet. And the more I saw, the less I trusted him. The more I read, the less I believed he was doing right by his clients. In fact, Ken’s own success isn’t based on his own system — it’s based on selling his system. And sure, Ken has lots of testimonials from clients on his website and around the Internet, but many of those are affiliates — folks who make money selling his system to others.

Recently a friend of mine wrote his own blog post about the Googlebomb, citing Ken’s problems. Ken, of course, couldn’t resist commenting. Frankly, I couldn’t either. And I let my own opinion fly:

You know what would be awesome? If Mr. Evoy spent more time running his business and less time running around the web, commenting (at length) about this issue. Do Googlebombs exist? Sure. Fine. You’ve proved it. The best thing you can do now is to concentrate on getting positive reviews of your business online. Make your customers happy. If there are 100 positive reviews for every bad one, well, you’re doing just fine.

Interestingly, what Ken has managed to do is draw more and more attention to Ms. Sowerbutts’s post. The more attention he draws there, the more Google believes it’s a legit post.

To be honest, it sounds like Ken doesn’t like the content of the post, and doesn’t want people to read it. Whatever the case, he’s made himself look maniacal with the number and length of comments he’s made regarding the topic — not someone I’d want to give my money to.

Admittedly, my comment was not good-natured. What followed was a mind-boggling exchange with Mr. Evoy in which he attacked my work, ridiculed the Alexa ranking of sites I’ve built, and insinuated my clients would be better off with his service than mine.

Well, I’ve seen Ken’s top performers, and of this I’m sure: Ken’s clients don’t make near as much as mine do. And they do it without gaudy web traffic. And you know who gets richest off Ken’s service? Ken. That’s what he’s selling.

How do my clients perform so well? They aren’t Internet marketers. They’re brick-and-mortar businesses. They aren’t making money off AdWords. They’re making money selling real goods and real services to real humans — humans they’ve met. My clients include a national cable installer, one of the nation’s top gift-basket companies, a company that sells network security solutions, the nation’s premier rifle barrel manufacturer. I’m building sites for municipalities, nonprofit organizations and small, local community shops. And I’m worried about Alexa rankings? Why?

I’ll tell you why I’m not. I’m not because a small-town health club owner doesn’t need fake traffic from Russia. She needs REAL traffic from the town she’s in. And that’s what I provide. A cable installer wouldn’t benefit in the least from thousands of visits per day — he needs one visit from a $25 million client. And that visit comes from a phone call — not a Google search. When that client hits the site, he’d better be grabbed by what he sees. It must be visually appealing, easy to read, and not be obviously created to pander to search engines. It had better be written FOR that visitor.

Ken and his ilk are so tied up worried about pagerank that they’ve forgotten business fundamentals: Find your niche. Treat your customers right. Provide exemplary service. That’s what I do for my clients. I work tirelessly to give them great service, websites they can be proud to show off, advice that’s based on real-world experience. Because of that, my clients’ websites have been very successful.

I have no doubt, however, that Ken is more successful than I am. Not only does SBI! seem to be bringing in clients, but Ken has made a big show of informing me that he needn’t run his business anymore; he has a “senior management team” that does it for him.

I put a call in to SBI! and I found out some interesting information. According to the gentleman I talked to, the company has 40,000 clients. Some 20,000 of them, he told me, are affiliates. He also told me the software used to create websites has been updated four times in the last eight years (for the sake of comparison, WordPress has been updated that many times this year alone). The man I talked to, who identified himself as working in the sales department, wouldn’t tell me how many employees the company has. But let’s do some math.

If 40,000 people are using SBI! for at least $300 apiece, that’s $12 million. How much are those site owners making? The salesman wouldn’t say.

Here’s the bottom line: I don’t care about Ken Evoy or SBI! But there’s a bigger point: When you’re in business, run your business. If you want to be the public face of your business, as Ken is, act like someone people want to do business with. And you’d better damned well know what you’re talking about before you open your mouth. In Ken’s case, opening his mouth only showed his ignorance and the weakness of his own product.

There really are no rock stars in social media.

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I’m about to break your heart, and I don’t even care. It’s for your own good.

I’m enthralled lately by all the discussion around Chris Brogan’s decision to unfollow all 131,000 people he was following on Twitter. It’s mind-numbing. Seriously. Just the comments on the blog post he wrote about it drive me crazy. And at this writing there are 415 comments — about 10 times what he normally gets per post.

A little about Chris: He’s a blogger, who’s amassed 190,000 Twitter followers. You can hire him to talk to your company about using social media. He’s even written a book. You can read a lot more about him on his blog. He’s basically one of those guys who has made a career of selling himself as a social media expert. He teaches people how to use the stuff. Supposedly.

When I started seeing little things pop up online about how he was unfollowing 131,000 people, I was amazed — not over what he was doing, but the reactions. Some people were angry. Some were understanding. Some were confused and hurt.

Me? I laughed.

I laughed because as Chris explained his rationale, I saw the man behind the curtain — the one you aren’t supposed to pay any attention to. The one pulling all the levers and twisting the nobs that create smoke and bluster. And that man wasn’t a wizard or rock star. In fact, he’s probably worse at social media than you or me.

See….I didn’t need to follow 131,000 people to realize you can’t follow 131,000 people. Sure, you can click that button, but you can’t pay attention to them. So Chris Brogan wasn’t following you. Not really. In fact, this guy who preaches engagement really wasn’t engaging those he followed at all. He put out his “content” and replied when people mentioned him. But unless you were talking to or about Chris Brogan, he wasn’t paying attention.

But Chris didn’t perpetrate the “Great Twitter Unfollow Experiment of 2011″ because he doesn’t know how to use Twitter. He did it, he says, because he’d “started receiving over 200 direct message spams a day.”

If you use Twitter, you know you can’t get direct messages from folks you aren’t following. So Chris Brogan was following enough spammers that he supposedly received 200 spam messages daily. Why was he following spammers?

I told you awhile ago about my own little Twitter experiment, where I used some spam bait and gained 60 followers in a matter of a couple of days. If you want Twitter followers, there’s an easy trick I learned from my friend Freddy: Just use keywords that will draw the attention of bots. It’s true! And to keep those “followers” (who aren’t really real at all), you just need to follow them back. You know who ends up with a LOT of fake followers? People who tweet about social media. That’s because their tweets are loaded with phrases Twitter bots love.

Whether Chris Brogan knew it or not, he was padding his follower count with bots and zombies. Do your own little investigation and scroll through his list of followers. It’s not as impressive as you thought, is it? As we all know, nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd. After amassing a decent number of followers (and a reputation for following back), you can brag about how many Twitter followers you have…and then get more Twitter followers. And then write a book.

To save you the trouble, I’m not a social media rock star. I’ve got a few hundred followers — not a few thousand or several thousand. I’m just a guy who hates bullshit. Don’t author a book called “Trust Agents” and then be disingenuous about how many real Twitter followers you have and how you got them. Don’t tell me you had to unfollow everyone because you had too many direct messages. And don’t tell me you can’t manage to keep up with all the replies you get — that has nothing to do with the number of people you’re following.

At best, if you give him the benefit of the doubt, Brogan’s clueless when it comes to using Twitter. At worst, he’s no better than Newt Gingrich — padding his numbers to look more popular and more impressive than he really is. Honestly, now, would he impress you if he had 100 followers? 200? A social media expert with 200 followers isn’t much of an expert, is he? I mean, that’s like a rock star who’s never gone platinum…

Absolutely.

Nickelback is an inarguably terrible band. It is also the best-selling band of the past 10 years. The numbers don’t make them good at music; the numbers just make them rich. The record industry has done an excellent job marketing terrible crap. On the other hand, our garages are filled with amazing musicians who will never sell anything.

I’ve told you before, and I’ll tell you again: Beware social media experts. Especially those who seem to market themselves well. Because when your money’s gone, do you really want to tell people you spent it on Nickelback tickets?

Do you?

Why Old Media loves the iPad (and why you shouldn’t)

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With the big Apple iPad launch came a flood of reviews across the media. David Pogue loves the device. So does Walt Mossberg. Old Media are throwing themselves at the iPad as if it’s the promised savior.

For the New York Times and Popular Science, Conde Nast and the host of Old Media producers building apps, the iPad could very well be the last, best hope.

It’s no secret that newspapers and magazines are suffering from nosediving reader numbers. And nosediving reader numbers mean nosediving advertising dollars. Fewer ad dollars means less cash to pay stockholders, bloated management trees and, ultimately, journalists. And it’s less money to buy one thing these organizations have relied on since Gutenberg: paper.

Paper is a huge expense for newspapers, rivaling only salaries for the top expense at most print publications. Paper (and ink) costs can be downright crippling, but without paper, there’s no business. It’s like running a McDonald’s without frozen hamburger patties.

The iPad gives print publications the exact out they’ve been looking for: a device folks can use to flip through the pages of their favorite periodical — almost as if they’re holding the paper itself. It offers designers full control over the look of the thing, unlike the fairly typical newspaper website. It’s a wonderful way to print a newspaper or magazine without using paper. Brilliant. Newspapers could actually charge a whole lot less for their products and still make enough to pay the bills. And then some.

But the Internet is already an excellent platform for publishing. Heck, I do it myself whenever I get the chance. It’s cheap, reaches a vast audience, and publishing is immediate. So why are publishers so eager to put in the time and expense to join the iPad bandwagon?

Control.

Newspapers, by and large, hate the free Internet. Believe me on this. I’ve sat through the conferences and the seminars. Even now, publishers are confused and frightened about cannibalizing their print content, working too hard to generate added-value online content and how to handle the comment sections of their sites.

It’s that last one that really sticks in their craws.

In the pre-Internet days, it was easy to moderate public opinion. An editor just decided which letters to print and which to leave out. These days, it’s not so easy. Commenters and trolls say whatever they want, whenever they want. And thanks to the Safe Harbor rules, newspapers can’t do much about it, other than automatic filtering.

The iPad brings back  those halcyon days when the editor decided everything. That’s because the iPad is about consumption, not interaction. It’s a device for consuming media — not creating it.

I’m not saying that’s an entirely bad thing. I am saying it’s a potentially dangerous thing.

See, we count on our newspapers and magazines to be our watchdogs. But who watches the newspapers? Who calls these outlets out when there’s conflicts of interest, shoddy journalism or outright lies? For the past 10 years, bloggers and commenters have been serving that function. We’ve held journalism to a higher standard than journalists hold themselves to. And that’s a very good thing.

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