Category Archives: Media trends

3 Senators plus Obama rip media mergers

media mergers

Merging Media, a collage by Douglas Millison

Here’s a story that Corporate Media would rather you didn’t read, hear or see. Three U.S. senators have asked the General Accountability Office, the research arm of Congress, to investigate how media mergers affect public discourse.

The letter from Democrator senators Dorgan, Leahy and Kohl is in reaction to a decision by the five-member Federal Commission which voted 3-2 in December to allow media companies to own television stations and newspapers in the same town. Until now federal rules designed to promote open access to “the public airwaves” have limited so-called cross-ownership of broadcast media by print news empires.

The FCC tried to lift the same rule in 2003 but its decision was reversed by a series of congressional and finally court actions. Now Corporate Media is back. It has convinced the FCC that competition from the Internet puts plenty of voices into the public domain. The FCC majority has accepted the Corporate Media argument that merging print and broadcast is the best way to protect the news-gathering muscle that is being lost as newspapers lays off staff to compensate for declining advertising revenues.

Presidential candidate Barak Obama criticized media consolidation in response to a question at a campaign stop in Oregon last week — but I only learned of his unreported remarks by finding a letter critical of the media blackout on the topic.

Actually blackout is the wrong term. I have reported on this. Now so do you. So has MediaPost, Broadcast & Cable, FMQB, TVTechnology and other trade publications aimed at media folks.

It’s just that nobody has told the public.

Blogged on my (your-product-here) PC

I must be a bit bonkers over product placement. The term describes how broadcasters drop branded items, as if serendipitously, in entertainment media. Of course this is advertising in disguise and I have been an aficionado of this guerrilla marketing tactic ever since I saw the thoroughly silly movie called, “And God Spoke,” in which the makers of a Biblical epic inject a soft-drink commercial into the movie because that was the only sponsor willing to fund the project.

The film is fun if you have the time to watch it. Meanwhile, the Center for Media Research reposted Nielsen data showing that product placements rose 39 percent in network television in Q1 2008 but fell in cable television. As I noted yesterday network advertising has been off sharply while cable ads have risen. So the hard-up networks are pimping whatever they can. “There were 117,976 brand occurrences on cable and broadcast networks in the first three months of the year,” the Center reported.

Here is the Center for Media Research report on 2006 product placement which was even then growing 40 percent. So the current gains continue a trend. That report said:

“product placement spending surged 42.2% to $2.21 billion in 2005 with double-digit growth expected to continue in 2006 and beyond. Product placement spending in TV, film and other media is expected to climb another 38.8% to $3.07 billion in 2006.”

Finally here below please find my summary of aesthete and critic David Hadju‘s remarks on product placement. One thing in my notes from his talk (at a Columbia University J-school alumni event) was this: circus owner P.T. Barnum used products in his big tent shows and found that circus goers were amused that he had done so. Apparently, Hadju said, the public is tickled that entertainers pluck items out of their lives and drop them into media. Here are Hadju’s previously-published remarks taken from a lengthy blog posting mocking the “religion” of journalism:

I decided to expand my horizons at a lecture from aesthete and critic David Hadju. And I’ll be damned if he didn’t deliver some news I could use. Hajdu talked about the notion of product placement throughout history. Seems like ever since Homer entertainers sucked up to the rich and powerful, a practice that continued up through the Renaissance when painters PhotoShopped their patrons’ faces into artworks. Hadju said this practice stopped during the modern industrial era ((which corresponds with the rise of democracy, n’est-pas?) during which time the “starving artist” made integrity the cornerstone of art. Nowadays, Hajdu said, culture is going to back to this suck-up future, as evidenced by the placement of Tequila references in a Broadway remake of Sweet Charity. So I’m thinking, is this Aristocracy 2.0?, so I ask Hadju something like: Does this mean we’re returning to a he-who-pays-the-piper-calls-the-tune paradigm? And he says something like: Yes. Which I find very useful because it dovetails with an essay from techno-seer Kevin Kelly who recently wrote the New Age Guide to Sucking Up As a Business Model. (Memo to self: work on this ingratiating thing.)

Creativity amidst the destruction?

While camping by the Santa Barbara coast I played hookey for a while at a wirless hot spot and picked up a copy of the local six-day-a-week paper, the Daily Sound. The Sound is a 2-year-old rival to the self-wounded Santa Barbara News-Press. To summarize that story, Wendy McCaw, owner of the News-Press precipitated a rash of resignations and firings of the paper’s former journalistic staff.  I blogged about this a time or two in the past because one of my former editors, Jerry Roberts, has been an unfair casualty of McCaw’s capriciousness. (See the Ametrcan Journalism Review article on that saga.)

So it was with that knowledge that I picked up a copy of the Tusday, May 13th, edition of the Sound to read a page three story honoring two newly laid-off News-Press staffers being honored by the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table. This local body was saying thanks to sports editor Barry Punzal and reporter Kyle Jahner who were laid off May 1. “It’s so hard to understand why this happened,” Punzal is quoted as telling the  local sports community he had heretofore covered.

That quote was captured by Peter Dugre, sports reporter for the Sound, which I decided to subjct to a cursory curiosity check.

The Sound’s  primitive blog says the paper was founded in March 2006 by Jeramy Gordon who operates the paper/blog through Nodrog Publications. I found a funny, informative and generally flattering report on the Sound’s first 18-months at Blogabarba, which appears to be an anonymous but semi-filtered local discussion place (guidelines).

That reports concludes by saying:

“this Blogabarbara posting is about local political news coverage, not the maturity of Daily Sound Publisher/Trust-Fund-Baby Jeramy Gordon.”

And who is this anonymously maligned benfactor of local news? For that I reached into a long but fascinating Wikipedia entry on free newspapers (pioneered in 1947 in Walnut Creek, California, by Dean Lesher!) to learn that:

In March of 2006 former Palo Alto Daily News managing editor Jeramy Gordon launched the Santa Barbara Daily Sound in Santa Barbara, California.

But not a word about the trust fund! But fascinating to me nevertheless to see continuity in the turmoil that is local news coverage. Good luck to Gordon and his crew who have had their legal battles with the News-Press and local law enforcement (see Sound Wikipedia entry for details).



Friday errata (not erotica, silly!)

I have been feeling not so well and less energetic than usual but have not forgotten that I left unfinished last week the essay, “Learning to think like a molecule.” I don’t quite muster the enthusiasm to finish it today but I do want to share a few squibs to get my fingers and brain cells working in unison.

Want more clicks, provide more headlines: This tip from an online publisher who runs a series big branded sites. There is 0.65 correlation between the number of headlines posted and the average click through rates to revenue-producing advertisements. That means there is a two out of three chance that more items per page will increase the click-through rate. But don’t expect Google AdSense to be a money-maker this publisher said. The allure of its tiny ads has greatly faded on this person’s site, from the $20,000 per month range in the 2004 time frame to mere hundreds per month now! That reminds me that I have seen mentions that interspersing the AdSense into the body of the text versus on the side increases click-through but if a rate of increase was mentioned I have forgotten. One last tip: travel ads offer good payouts, in the tens of dollars versus the tens of cents, this publisher says.

Strength in weeklies says chief: Richard Anderson runs, a web site joined to community weeklies in Maine. Anderson has created an open source content management system for running an online website. You’ll find a good peek behind the scenes of his operation in a posting by Amy Gahran of the Poynter Institute (Gahran mentioned other content management sites in a prior item). At the conference last week Anderson presented what amounts to a sales pitch for adoption of the VillageSoup system and I am not sure if there are recurring charges for support or whether a Knight Grant that he won is supposed to underwrite the proliferation of his system. But he mede a few interesting assertions — notably a comment to the effect that there is the potential for a weekly news outlet for every 30,000 people. He thinks the weekly is the best bet in terms of periodicity for a print product and his online software seems to be geared toward gathering easy advertising support plus easy user-generated input. These are combined with staff-written and edited copy to produce the weekly print fodder – or so I gleaned. Do visit the site and if you have a weekly or an unserved population of 30,000 demanding attention, perhaps VillageSoup is for you.

Shame on MediaPost for the Pollyanna headline “smaller newspapers still thriving.” Really? Upon reading the story, however, we learn that:

“total Sunday circulation of newspapers with circulations less than 20,000 was down a modest 2.7% compared to 4.6% for newspapers overall, and . . . Many are also enjoying revenue growth . . . (in part because) . . . small markets present more barriers to entry to online competitors than big metro areas . . . from news aggregators and broadcast news outfits that post text stories on the Web.”

Please, this is not thriving so much as it is milking the local distribution monopoly by jacking up print ad rates and benefiting from the geographic isolation that makes them disinteresting to big Web brands. If there are 30,000 people in these areas maybe the local weekly should download the VillageSoup software and light a fire under their complacency.

Associated Press non-print news sales boss

William Dean Singleton, chief executive of the Media News Group is the publisher who controls the ink in the East and South Bay portions of the San Francisco metropolitan area. He is also apparently the chairman of the Associated Press, which is a producer cooperative formed about 160 years ago. The industry zine Paid Content excerpted from the published remarks Singleton delivered at the AP annual meeting in Washington D.C. Monday. Paid Content editor Staci Kramer writes:

“For a sense of the dramatic shift at the Associated Press in the digital age, consider this: by 2009, less than 25 percent of Associated Press revenues will come from member newspapers . . . This year, only 28 percent will come from member newspapers, he (Singleton) said: “Broadcasters, internet companies and international subscribers now provide the lion’s share of AP revenue.”

Elsewhere in Singleton’s universe of interests, the Newspaper Guild, of which I am a member, is attempting to organize the non-unionized staffs of the Contra Costa Times, Oakland Tribune, Hayward Daily Review and other papers in the Alameda Newspapers Group. Singleton also owns the San Jose Mercury-News, which is a union shop.

No fear among magazine editorial ranks?


“For the most part, magazine staffers are not personally worried about their own jobs,” reports Paid Content’s David Kaplan in summarizing a job survey by Folio managine.  For those in some other part of the job-losing communications industry who wonder whether the grass is greener in magazines, I posted the salary schedule from the Folio piece so you can see how green it might be. But any hiring in magazine land will more than likely occur on the online side.

It’s the interactivity, stupid!


“The internet is a copy machine,” Kevin Kelly says in “Better than Free“ an essay in which he paints the net as a “super-distribution system.” It churns out copies so “super abundant they become worthless.” Kelly advises creative people to invent new ways to make money because it is no longer possible to charge for content.

But Kelly is only half right. Sure the net is a copier. But he overlooks the more revolutionary trait that will work to our advantage as communicators — the net is interactive. It restores the feedback between audience and author that we used to enjoy back when stories were told around the camp fire.

That feedback loop went missing about six hundred years ago. Blame Gutenberg. He mass produced thought and packaged it in books. They diffused knowledge more efficiently than dispatching story tellers hither and yon.

But something was lost in the leap from oral to print. The oral story was interactive. If the audience seemed puzzled the story teller rephrased the tale. Print was practically set in stone. It never paused to look for comprehension. Print told only one version of the story and it always flowed one way. About a century ago broadcast untethered stories from literacy. Knowledge radiated even more widelybut it still flowed just one-way.

And that’s the way it was.

Looking at today’s internet you’d never guess interactivity had staged a comeback. Today’s internet has bolted-on some interactive features – viewers can comment on stories or vote in informal polls. These tactics seem reminicent of early television when announcers cupped one hand behind their ear for better acoustics — realizing how silly they looked.

What would an interactive publication look like? OhMyNews, the South Korea citizen journalism phenomenon, may be the best example. About 20 percent of its content is produced by professionals. The rest is citizen-generated. It was founded in 2000 and is thought to have swayed the 2006 South Korean presidential race. 

Yes, the Internet is a copying and distribution engine. It is destroying jobs and rewiring industries. But the more pregnant change has yet to be realized. For more than 600 years the author and the audience have been sundered. Now the audience is coming back into view. We can see them just beyond the circle of flames. How do we catch their eyes and entice them to stay? That the question will preoccupy the 21st Century publisher.