"I made money on articles in EETimes"

20 February 2008

PR man Lou Covey has an interview with venture capitalist Drew Lanza at his site that, although it was recorded before EDN laid off two senior journalists, is well-timed. Basically, Lanza is not happy with the way things are going in this particular corner of trade publishing and makes some points that publishers should bear in mind as they try to work out what to do about the separation of ad money from their business.

Lanza is not trying to make an argument on behalf of anyone: his interest in the content of magazines such as EETimes and EDN is selfish. In short: "I made money on articles in EETimes".

Of course, it is highly possible that the content we have all been producing has really only helped VCs. But I don't think that's the case as Lanza alighted on the things that can set a newspaper or a magazine apart from other sources.

Unfortunately, Lanza is only missing it because it seems to have gone: "I know there is something changing and it is impacting the way I do business. There used to be a crystal ball and it used to be in these pubs. I'm missing the in-depth technology articles...it's going to be harder to synthesise the future [without them]. We make money by taking those views of the future".

Lanza is sceptical of whether bloggers can fill that void. "It is not clear that bloggers are going to be capable of doing that synthetic activity – synthesise a view from multiple competing smart people."

In reality, there is nothing to stop one or more bloggers doing that. But Lanza doesn't make the point on the basis of bloggers being bad at it. Just lacking the motivation to make it happen: "How will they get paid?"

What's useful about Lanza's comments is that we have had these debates internally for many years. What do we deliver as journalists? The answer, at least from a trade perspective and, very often, in a consumer or newstand environment is: context. What's happening. How it's happening. Why it's happening. It's handy to this kind of thing from someone outside the publishing environment.

4 Comments

"The model... the model...."
I hear those words the way Marlon Brando said "the horrah... the horrah...." near the end of Apocalypse Now.

Thanks for the kind words. I was making a more direct point about the difference between bloggers and journalists. Guys like Brian Fuller (past Editor of EE Times) could get interviews with the CEOs of Intel and AMD and then compare notes and draw a conclusion. Can bloggers get interviews with people high enough up in those companies that they are able to synthesize something profound about the future from those interviews? I don't know. I hope so. Because if EE Times is gone and bloggers don't have the street cred to get those meetings, then all we're left with is the propaganda coming out of Intel and AMD and that is less than worthless to me as a Venture Capitalist desperately trying to figure out how the world will be different in 5 years.

Drew,

There is no structural reason why a blogger couldn't get an interview with Otellini or Ruiz. However, there are practical reasons why not, at least for the moment. To get a real interview with these people that isn't a roundtable or snatched moments after a keynote (assuming they are not spirited away politico-style afterwards) you need readership and plenty of it, or the illusion of readership. Some of the bigger IT blogs could probably get Otellini if Intel PR decided there was some cachet in courting the blogerati. Microsoft did that a year or two back in inviting a bunch of bloggers to Redmond to see Gates.

I also see no reason why a blogger should not be able to synthesise a trend or an idea from a series of interviews. But, here, we have to separate the ideas of the blog as a distribution medium from blogging as a set of rules devised by people who like to blog that way. I think the former is a lot more important than the latter and that colours the way I think about blogging.

We are in a transition phase at the moment and a lot of old ideas are getting tossed out in favour of the shock of the new. All that happens is that the old ideas get reintroduced under new names sometime later. Magazines and newspapers all separate their content into news, features and op-ed – possibly reviews as well, but those could be regarded as op-ed. Now, if you look a blogging, we have this weird hybrid of op-news and nothing else. Everything gets hammered into the op-news category whether it benefits from it or not. Those are just the informal rules of blogging as they stand today.

I think what will happen is that some blogs will evolve and become more like the traditional papers - and that the blogging bit will become less and less important. There is still quite a lot of experimentation that can be done with content and I doubt that blogging is the endpoint in media evolution. The bad news is that the next three to five years will be lean years from everybody's perspective.

Chris:

That is exceptionally well said. It's always hard to debate a journalist using a written medium. But I'll try.

It seems to me that sometimes two (or three) very different forces come together and they create a sustainable economic model.

Consumerism and the printed word came together through the glue of print advertising a hundred or two years ago.

What did Rockefeller have in mind when he pushed us into oil? Probably not the Model T Ford. But he and Henry transformed the face of civilization when they came together.

There's probably some strange concoction of Pharaoh, abundant grain, artisans and tons of beer that ends up creating the great pyramids.

These things sustain because they take on a life of their own and alter much, much more than could have been originally intended or forecast.

Can bloggers keep these fields, intended or not, fertile? I doubt it. Is that because they are off plowing new fields, or because they lack the stamina to pull the sledge? I don't know. I hope you're right that things will only be lean for the next three to five years. I truly do.

I wonder if it felt like this from the skyboxes in the Roman Colosseum right before the barbarians sauntered in and the lights went dim for a thousand years?

Nah. Probably not. I'm just an electrical engineer. History and politics are best left to the professionals, right?

Drew