It lives!! mediaShepherd.com is now live!

ItLivesAfter many weeks of planning and work, our website, www.mediashepherd.com, is live as of this morning. Noelle and I are very excited and eager to share all we have to offer with the world. Henceforth, this blog will be dormant and we will be blogging on the new website. (All content from this blog has been carried over to a “blog” section on the home page. Keep checking back for our observations and commentary on anything and everything publishing.)

Thanks to all those who have followed us up to this point as we achieve liftoff! Come along with us to meet experts, find vendors offering what you need and catch up on the latest news with a unique spin. Be sure to offer any and all feedback—we will be working diligently to make the site better and more responsive to the needs of publishing professionals. Send comments and questions to info@mediashepherd.com or share your thoughts on the comments section of the site.

Have You ‘Herd’? mediaShepherd Launch Date Set

Industry’s new source for information, ideas and connections will go live Sept. 23

mediaShepherd, a new B2B media company offering information and resources to help publishing industry professionals network and do their jobs better, will launch Monday, Sept. 23 at www.mediaShepherd.com. With a focus on facilitating connections among industry professionals and giving users the tools they need to make better decisions, mediaShepherd is a comprehensive resource unlike any other on the market today. The company is being launched by well-known industry veterans Noelle Skodzinski and Jim Sturdivant.

Connections. mediaShepherd’s “Ask the Expert” service connects you with publishing industry thought leaders to find the answers to challenging questions on a range of topics, from audience development and marketing to digital editions, print production, business strategy and finance, and much more. Its “Find a Mentor/Be a Mentor” platform is a go-to resource for those looking for more in-depth help. For those seeking goods and services tailored to their strategies and budgets, mediaShepherd’s vendorMatch service connects pre-screened and qualified companies with purchasers actively seeking what they offer.

Information. Industry updates, tailored to those who need strategic information, are a daily part of mediaShepherd’s website and e-newsletters. mediaShepherd steers clear of gossip, dross and the generic trend pieces you’ve read elsewhere to offer news and perspectives relevant to how you do your job—and how your job and the industry will look one, three and five years from now. Proprietary research will offer exclusive insights into data and trends important to publishers.

Services. mediaShepherd offers a range of services for publishers, including consultation, editorial direction and development, design, video, event planning and research. The founders’ combined three decades of experience in media and rich connections in the industry offer an unparalleled “brain trust” helping industry professionals achieve growth and profits.

So on Monday, be sure to hoof it on over to mediashepherd.com to check out all this valuable resource has to offer. For more information, including editorial and sales inquiries, contact info@mediashepherd.com.

Maintaining a “Work-Life” Balance On Social Media

In 2011, John Paton of the Journal Register Co. posted three simple rules for using social media—they were so simple, in fact, that they were blank. His point was that JRC was not inclined to dictate social media behavior, trusting in employee’s instincts for propriety and decorum.

Must of us know how we are expected to behave when wearing our professional hats, and do a good job of sticking to those standards when on the job. The difficulty with social media is the inevitable blurring of personal and professional lives that occurs online. While journalists’ getting in trouble for things said and done in their spare time is nothing new, social media presents unprecedented opportunity for embarrassment and brand damage. Consider former New York Times reporter Andrew Goldman’s offensive comments about author Jennifer Weiner posted on his Twitter account. Or the links posted last year on the personal Facebook page of then-Essence editor Michael Bullerdick, construed by many as racist. Just last week, Business Insider CTO Pax Dickinson was fired for remarks made in Twitter.

“The ubiquity and rapid evolution of social networks can make it difficult to define the line between personal and professional expression,” reads a social media policy for Bloomberg journos leaked in 2011. “To be clear, as a journalist at Bloomberg anything we publish is considered a professional act. This doesn’t preclude keeping a personal profile. It simply means that we are responsible for the content of that profile, and that anything we communicate must meet the company’s guidelines and standards.”

Another consideration for employers is whether social media policies infringe on protected employee speech as defined by the National Labor Relations Board. Under these rules, as noted by Poynter this week, admonitions such as “Avoid harming the image and integrity of the company” could run afowl of the NLRB, though the board has ruled in favor of employers when posts are not about work-related matters.

Doing it Right

Most often, good social media practice attempts to protect the image of a company while not infringing too much on an individual’s freedom to express personal views. A common strategy is to include a simple disclaimer in one’s personal Twitter account stating that the opinion’s expressed are one’s own.

“It seems simple, but there is actually a lot of weight behind the idea,” says Meredith Chapman, social media director at the University of Delaware. “If you are a reporter who has amassed a large social media following, it allows you to stay neutral for the story in the Twitter-verse’s eyes if you can use that disclaimer to create some distance.”

On Facebook, a common mistake Chapman sees is people creating multiple Facebook profiles. In addition to being against Facebook’s rules, multiple profiles can create confusion and do little to solve the “work-life” conundrum. Better, Chapman says, is to use Facebook lists to designate certain posts as for family and friends only, or use Facebook + Journalists to maintain a professional profile.

For more from Chapman on best practices in social media, be sure to check out our Q&A with her, which will be posted on our website when we launch Sept. 23. Check back with this blog and follow us on Twitter for updates and more information.

How Jeff Bezos Just Might Save Newspapers

D. Eadward Tree is not impressed. The pseudonymous publishing industry pundit, known for his wit and wisdom as Chief Arborist of the Dead Tree Edition blog, is put off by comments from Amazon CEO and soon-to-be Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos regarding his philosophy for running a newspaper.

Bezos said in an interview this week that he intends to put the Post‘s readers first, and stated his skepticism for “any mission that has advertisers at its centerpiece.”

“The last time I looked, the vast majority of American newspapers’ revenue came not from readers but from another type of customer – advertisers,” Tree writes.

As a former newspaperman myself, my instinct is to agree with Tree. Advertisers pay the bills—therefore, on the business side, they’re the ones who need to be catered to (assuming that Church and State wall is strictly policed). That’s why publishers from The New York Times Co. to Atlantic Media are introducing innovative new ad strategies, such as the Times’ Ricochet project, which guarantees an advertiser’s display ad appears with linked content.

But what if Tree is wrong, and Bezos is right? At some point, we in media have to face the music—or in this case, the hard evidence at hand. Conventional wisdom states that newspapers must focus on advertisers, but in the digital era, focusing one’s business plan around advertising has proved to be a disaster. Ad revenue has plummeted, even at the most innovative of media outfits—the New York Times reported late last year that its parent company’s print and digital advertising revenues were shrinking. The only positive trend on the balance sheet was revenue growth from digital subscriptions—those pesky readers Bezos talks about.

At Amazon, Bezos has proven a master of building customer loyalty and brand affection. People trust Amazon and its pledge to make things right for consumers in the face of problems. As newspapers increasingly turn to digital subscriptions to make up for lost ad revenue, this is exactly what is needed to build and maintain loyalty. Smart digital tools, customization, product bundling, a variety of purchase options (by the article, by the day, by the month, etc.)—these are kind of things Bezos knows about, and the kind of thing that could save newspapers.

Relying on advertisers sure aint it. For newspapers, focusing on advertisers is a dead end. It’s not that ads will not continue to be important, but it just might be a better strategy to build the readership first, and then sell ads to that coveted base of paying readers. I don’t know if this is what Bezos has in mind, but I do know the newspaper industry is in desperate need of a new plan. It may be time to ditch the conventional wisdom.

Pile-On the Editors: A Tale From the Trenches

pylon2bIn my days in the trenches as a managing editor, first in newspapers and then in magazines, I occasionally (usually after a long meeting introducing a new task for us word wranglers couched as an “opportunity”) would consider starting an anonymous blog called “The Editor Pile-On.” The home page would feature an orange highway pylon—maybe placed on an office chair sporting a hat, on its side covered in memos, or squashed on the pavement with tire treads—meant to symbolize the ever-increasing responsibilities of the editor amid ever-shrinking manpower and resources.

I worked for a paper in Northern New Jersey in the early aughts which, not too many years previous, had an editor and two reporters on its masthead, all working exclusively for that publication. By the time I arrived, there was one full-time reporter, and I was expected to put out three papers, as well as (unlike in the old days) take care of proofreading, calendar listings, layout, most aspects of production, and some reporting. In recent years, editors have taken on even more duties: social media, html, photo editing, marketing, webinars, events, etc. While needless fat has surely been culled along the way, an editor’s job today often feels like a constant balancing act between quality, quantity, quantity, quantity, more quantity, brevity… and sanity.

On the other hand, the new media landscape has created myriad new opportunities for editors. Down in the trenches, they gain the skills needed to carry them through changes and adjust to this industry’s evolution in a way that their hidebound forebears could not have imagined. Skills in social media, marketing and content management are no longer nice-to-haves, they are essential. The editor’s job, it can be argued, is more critical than ever, and the skills gained can carry individuals through a long career in publishing or other fields.

Where do you stand on this issue? As an editor, do you feel put-upon, on the fast track, or something in between? Take our editor’s survey and let us know. It only takes a couple of minutes. We’ll publish the results on this blog and our website, which launches in just a few weeks, along with helpful ideas and insights.

Editors! Make your voice heard! Take our survey here.

What We Can Learn From the GQ Social Media ‘War’

Yesterday, Fashionista.com reported “One Direction Fans Wage Twitter War Against GQ Magazine.”

The quick story: Fans of the band One Direction didn’t like how GQ promoted the fact that the band members would be on GQ covers, so they bashed (and threatened) GQ on Twitter. GQ took the bashing with a good sense of humor (its responses made me and likely many others laugh), but the somewhat surreal Twitter “war” brings up a serious question about how best to handle sensitive (even seemingly irrational) social media situations.

The ever-so-slightly more in-depth story: 

According to the article:
Yesterday, British GQ announced that each member of One Direction would score his own cover of the September issue. You would think their fans would be excited to see their idols looking like scruffed-up #menswear hotties–but you would be wrong. You see, fans took offense to the quotes used to tease the feature story. So they did what any irrational teen-based fandom would do: They took to Twitter to hurl threats–lots of inanimate objects ‘up the butthole’–at the magazine.”

Fans mistakingly targeted the U.S. GQ magazine first, but then refocused their bashing efforts on the British version.

As cited on Fashionista, GQ’s social media manager Nate Erickson, was attacked personally, with Tweets such as: “@NATELY You should run for your f*!#ing life cause you messed with the wrong people. Please f*!# off and take your magazine with you.” (The f-bombs were omitted here—but not in the Tweets, just to clarify.)

What I found interesting was GQs’ (both the British and the U.S. editions) response to the Twitter war, or Twar, as I like to call it. As Fashionista explained, “GQ is taking these threats VERY seriously.” (I smelled sarcasm immediately.) It then quoted one of Erickson’s Tweets: “We’re working actively to identify the suspects, and we’ve got two of our best detectives on the case,” linking to this photo of Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen in detective gear.”

Fashionista also reported that “British GQ also has posted a list of some of their scariest tweets received.”

The U.S. and British magazines even Tweeted back and forth making light of the situation, joking that their magazines were both horrible and that’s “what makes them beautiful.”

I admit I laughed. I am one of the first to appreciate humor and sarcasm, and to wish people would get a life instead of lashing out over what seems flat-out ridiculous. Many, many people seem to jump at the chance to just be angry and attack someone. Anyone. Anything. And threats involving shoving a doll up someone’s “bumhole”? Really? Really? (Yes, I meant to write that twice.)

Personally, I would like to say, “Good for you,” to the GQ staff, and “thank you for making me laugh.”

But, professionally, it brought up an important question for media brands. When, if ever, is it appropriate to make fun of and even insult a fan base or potential fan base? Is minimizing the voices of and poking fun at critics, even harsh and threatening ones, a good idea?

Fashionista’s Tyler McCall, who wrote the article, thinks GQ handled the Twar well: “All social media hate aside: We suspect most of these #Directioners (like, uh, me) will still be buying all five covers. Social media: GQ Magazine is doing it right.”

And again, while I’d “like to agree, I wonder: Is it a good idea to prod an angry bear—a sizable group of bears, nonetheless—in a day and age where readers are not exactly easy to come by? Or in any day and age? Is this a case of any publicity is good publicity?

Internationally known social media and marketing guru Sundeep Kapur applauds the use of humor. “I like the way the ‘wrong’ GQ magazine handled the interaction,” he says.

And, while in this case, humor may risk making some enemies among the One Direction fandom, Kapur stresses that it can be an effective tactic for use in social media. “A few lessons for brands,” he says. “First, make your social media profile easily available on all your sites and messages. Next, make sure you monitor the conversation so you can respond. Third, think about leveraging some of your key fans into the conversation to speak on your behalf. Fourth, leverage the following and interaction from the other side. Fifth, maintain calm—and, yes, humor and charm goes a long way in making friends.”

What do you think?

Why does the Tsarnaev cover still matter?

It’s a fair question. And I don’t just mean the fact that, nearly two weeks after it was announced, Rolling Stone‘s decision to put Boston bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of its Aug. 1 issue is still making headlines (Senator John McCain said this week that it was “stupid” and “inappropriate”). Why, in an age when few people buy physical magazines at retail, or even see them for sale outside the checkout line, does our culture still react so strongly to what Rolling Stone chooses to display on the front of its print edition?

The easy answer is that Rolling Stone has long been a symbol of celebrity, hipness and youth. Getting your picture on the cover of Rolling Stone is a storied mark of rock celebrity, of making it big and, of course, buying five copies for your mother. There is even a Wikipedia page dedicated to Rolling Stone cover celebs. This speaks to the enduring power of the magazine as a pop culture brand.

But there’s something else at work here. Vanity Fair tagged July 13-21 “The Greatest Week For Magazine Covers In Recent Memory.” Search “magazine covers” on Google, and there are dozens and dozens of recent news articles dedicated to who is appearing on what magazine cover and what (if anything) they are wearing. I’ll bet fewer than 10 percent of the people reading these articles will ever hold the print edition of those magazines in their hands. Yet there is an almost mystical quality attached to the idea of the cover. It matters little that it’s about as relevant as hot type to the search and social media-driven Web.

The media still needs self-generated symbols to help drive stories. We all still need benchmarks—the idea that somewhere, “out there,” is a fixed edition, a reference point around which we can focus emotion and mark change. Oddly, digital bits and bytes—what we once called virtual—is now the “real,” while actual print objects increasingly fill the role of a Platonic ideal. Yet another reason why print will never completely go away—and why the idea of the magazine will continue to hold power.

The Digital Media Kit: Are You ‘Making It Easy’?

Last week I wrote about the importance of designing Web-friendly media kits, which is one of the more pressing issues to consider today. (See below) But there is another practice I want to address—a pet peeve of mine: requiring someone to fill out his/her name and e-mail address, sometimes along with a good deal of additional information, in order to be able to download or access the kit.

I see this as a potential hindrance to sales. While publishers might like to know who is downloading their media kits, and in theory* using those as potential leads, it is not user-friendly. Who wants to provide her name for something today when it is suggests that doing so may result in unwanted calls or e-mails from salespeople? It is an additional step, an additional possible hurdle to getting someone information that can sell them on your products. Why not just give it to them?

What happens to someone who stumbles upon your site and thinks, “Hmm. This might be a good place to advertise. Let me look into it further.” And when prompted to provide his/her name, they forego downloading the media kit. They don’t know enough about you at that point to necessarily want to engage directly with you.

You might think this isn’t likely to happen, but do you know for sure?

Does anyone check out the number of “abandons” at this point on the site in their web statistics? It might be worth taking a look. If it’s not a problem, great. If it is, it may be worth changing your ways.

*Part of the other concern I have is that some publishers don’t even use the information that is collected. It is dumped into a black hole. So if you are requiring people to give you their names, are you at least using the information?

The whole point can be summed up in what I see as an effective motto to follow regarding providing access to content of any kind, whether in print or online, mobile or otherwise: “Make it easy.” Make it easy to access your content. Make it easy to buy what you’re selling.

An Often-Overlooked Sales Concern: Today’s Options for Media Kits

The concept of “today’s media kit” was one I explored when preparing the media kit for mediaShepherd —our new business that will be launching its website soon. Traditionally, media kits were obviously a print concept—the heavy paper stock and multipage, catalog-style format. Over the years, many publishers have scaled back on print media kits to cut costs and adapt to the digital era, as visitors to a publication’s website now expect to be able to simply access the media kit online.

Most publishers put their media kits up in .pdf format, as a replica of the print version. Slightly more advanced have been digital editions of media kits, and kits such as Atlanta Magazine’s, where pages have been designed to fit the Web screen vs. a printed page.  This has been a positive step in providing user-friendly design.

Some publishers have taken the digital media kit a step further and integrated it directly into the website. And why not? It makes it easier for site visitors. It’s content. And it’s online. Why would it retain its print “body”?

A good example is Inc. magazine’s media kit. It’s an entirely web-based experience with pull-down menus and different content sections. I love it.

For mediaShepherd, our solution was to create an online-friendly design in .pdf format, like Atlanta magazine, since our website isn’t launched yet. It also was designed to be “print-friendly” for when we need print copies. When our website is launched, we plan to integrate the kit into the website, similar to Inc.’s approach.

Both types of kits have value. The main point is that if something is being presented digitally, why is it retaining a design that was created for print and requires the viewer to scroll down and across, and zoom in and out? It’s a bit sheepish … I mean, sluggish. You want to make it as easy as possible for viewers, as with any content you are providing.

Two Media Kits?
Some publishers, like Atlanta Magazine, also have moved to an approach where they separate their media kits into two or more, one for the print magazine demographics and opportunities, and another for digital properties.

In my humble opinion, this isn’t the best idea, as it forces the potential advertiser to choose which kit to view. Why not give them all the opportunities, including for integrated campaigns, in one place? I’d love to hear opinions on this from others. 

Check back soon for Part II of this media kit exploration where I talk about one of my media-kit pet peeves. 

Old vs. New Media: An Outdated Argument?

FioreLaptopA friend sent me a funny video: Mark Fiore’s “Old vs. New” is a debate between a crusty old newspaper and a too-perky laptop over what best constitutes news gathering in the age of Twitter. Newspaper stresses its historic role in uncovering and combating corruption; Laptop, the wired world’s flexibility and freedom of information access.

“I know how to monetize, and collect micro-payments,” Laptop says.

“I need macro-payments!!” Newspaper cries. “I’m laying off good journalists here!”

“And have been for years while trying to satisfy corporate’s hunger for double-digit profits,” Laptop retorts. Touché.

It’s true that newspapers’ former monopoly on the news made them bloated cash cows just waiting for technology to knock them off their slippery perch. It’s also true that this very same monopoly allowed them to shine a light on abuses of power—public or private, local, state or national—far more effectively than any digital publication can today. While the Texas Tribune does great work, it is necessarily niche in a way that the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, in its heyday, was not. Plus, as a 501(c)3, the Tribune does not enjoy the resources of traditional newspapers. It’s hoping it can just break even.

As I’ve written before, one answer for traditional media is to stop looking down on micro-payments. As the music industry learned the hard way, if you want people to pay, you need to make it easy for them. This means offering paid daily access on NYTimes.com, not just expensive digital subscriptions. It means selling articles, e-books and archives, and figuring out how to capitalize on print in creative new ways.

As Newspaper and Laptop reveal at the end of the video, both often find themselves running a little low on cash. The failure of any one digital news site to corner the market on anything is traditional media’s great opportunity. Unlike the old days, one business behemoth has not been replaced by another; the playing field is even, and, as terms like “traditional” and “new” begin to lose their meaning, the spoils will go to any player who can master the multiplatform marketplace.