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.

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.

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.

mediaShepherd: Our pasture, your future

Welcome to Holding Pen: the mediaShepherd blog. We are a brand-new company offering information and services to those looking to guide their own publishing concern a bit better. Our website will be up later this summer, but we want to begin making connections and sharing insights now. Please share your thoughts, needs, concerns and successes with us as we begin the journey.