Archive for October, 2008

Fri 31 Oct 2008 8:45 am   //   Posted in: Failure, Media

Violin players on the Titanic

I am scared. Amid all the media layoffs we’ve seen this quarter, the two most troubling ones happened in the last week: Radar magazine folded and sold its Web domain to AMI (to be re-branded as a celebrity site), and Portfolio scaled back and basically gutted its Web staff.

Why do I single out these two smallish, New York-centric publications? Because Radar and Portfolio had kick-ass Web sites. Good writers, smart design, lots of breaking exclusives, and a trustworthy reputation that led other sites to link to them and drive in quality traffic. They did everything right. And from what I understand, they drew big numbers from demographics that ought to have appealed to advertisers. The fact that neither Radar Online nor was sustainable totally crushes the idea that media companies can succeed by publishing content for free online.

But online journalism makes so much sense! It’s cheap and easy to do! There’s an obvious, and growing, demand for it! And even if it loses money now, online advertising will save us! It just needs a couple of years to catch up.

That was my die-hard belief until I read a very persuasive post by Henry Boldget on Silicon Alley Insider: Let’s Be Serious: Online Display Ads Will Fall Sharply In 2009.

I have been chewing on that idea over the last few days as I’ve watched one publisher after another slash their editorial staffs. While print staffs are getting hit hardest, online staffs are not protected by some halo of future projections. They’re getting axed, too.

What if everything we think we know about online advertising is wrong? What if we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking that just because something is fun and useful, it also must be a good business? What if this is as good as it gets?

Happy Halloween!

Wed 29 Oct 2008 5:07 pm   //   Posted in: It's a trap!, Music

Wilco are the good guys

I am on the e-mail newsletter list for the band Wilco. Today I got a message that included this “CONSUMER ALERT”:

“Without consulting us, the DVD company (not WB/Nonesuch) that released “I am trying to break your heart” is about to issue a Blu-Ray Edition which, no surprise, costs considerably more (nearly 2x) than the standard DVD. We’re unsure as to the rationale for the release, given that the film was shot in beautiful grainy B&W and has a stereo-only audio track… there is, in our opinion, not much to be gained by spending the extra cash. It’s your money… and in this case you should probably hang onto it.”

Tue 28 Oct 2008 11:44 am   //   Posted in: In the news, Media

The worst opinion column of the election so far

Check out this opinion column on Media’s Presidential Bias and Decline. Which of the following do you suppose is true?

– Michael Malone has just discovered – gee whiz! – this thing called media bias, somehow having never read any serious critique of political journalism. As such, he’s reduced to borrowing tired ideas from right-wing blogs.

– Michael Malone lives in a place where the only newspaper he can get is The New York Times and the only TV network he can receive is CNN International. He has no access to The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, AM radio, Lou Dobbs, or The Drudge Report.

– Michael Malone (“one of the nation’s best-known technology writers”) doesn’t know the names of any other journalists, or for some reason is afraid to name them.

– Michael Malone is a time-traveler from some film-noir version of the 1950s… When journalists were journalists their whole lives, working for one newspaper their entire career, praying the wouldn’t be dispatched to the dreaded Omaha bureau… When mysterious and all-powerful editors pulled the puppet-strings and never answered to publishers, corporate chains, or budget constraints… When everyone who used cocaine obtained it from a drug dealer… When the expression “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable” wasn’t so clichéd (as it is now) that even the laziest journalism professors consider it trite and shallow.

– The hundreds of people who have posted supportive comments of Malone’s column on are free of bias.

Mon 27 Oct 2008 8:43 am   //   Posted in: Technology

Computer says yes

Earlier this year, motivated by a desire to post news faster from the field, I asked my company to switch me from a desktop to a laptop. A few days later an IT guy came to take away my iMac and replace it with an Apple MacBook. That’s the one with the shiny, white plastic case – an update to the indestructible iBook which I bought in 2001 and that I still use to get Internet in my kitchen and to watch DVDs on the Amtrak.

This new MacBook – I have no idea the model number or even the processor speed – just passed a big test. It survived three days of intensive use at my magazine’s annual trade show. During the show, I downloaded hundreds of photos off CD-ROMs and USB drives brought to me by several different people. I edited images in Photoshop. I typed and posted several stories. I used the computer to make two presentations that involved connecting it to unfamiliar video projectors. I connected it to a digital camcorder and edited 12 short videos, which I then uploaded to the Internet. I lugged the computer to and from the office, my apartment, and the convention center, using different Internet connections in each place.

At no point did this computer fail to do what I needed it to do. It never crashed, not once. I don’t usually sing the praises of computer hardware, but this is the first time in my career a laptop has enabled me do my job exactly the way I want to do it.

Sat 25 Oct 2008 7:10 am   //   Posted in: Videos

It’s trade show week at work

(For more PDN videos shot and edited by me, go here.)

Thu 23 Oct 2008 6:05 am   //   Posted in: In the news, Right now, Stray data

Facts! Figures! Charts!

Right now I am a little obsessed with this graphic:

Link to more…

Wed 22 Oct 2008 9:00 am   //   Posted in: Music

Elton John is not a good songwriter

Exhibit A: “If I was a sculptor. But then again, no.”

Exhibit B: “Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids. In fact, it’s cold as hell. And there’s no one around to raise them if you did.”

Exhibit C: “The years went by and the rock just died. Suzie went and left us for some foreign guy.”

A good singer, yes. A good performer, unquestionably. Songwriting? Iffy.

Tue 21 Oct 2008 10:32 am   //   Posted in: In the news

“A lie can travel halfway around the world…

…while the truth is putting on its shoes.” – attributed to Mark Twain.

On Page Six today:

“The source who told us last week about Michelle Obama getting lobster and caviar delivered to her room at the Waldorf-Astoria must have been under the influence of a mind-altering drug. She was not even staying at the Waldorf. We regret the mistake, and our former source is going to regret it, too. Bread and water would be too good for such disinformation.”

More context in The Observer.

Tue 21 Oct 2008 7:29 am   //   Posted in: Transit

This ad will be running on the local track

Starting last week, I started noticing subway trains with long, horizontal ad stickers on the outside – The History Channel is the first advertiser. So far the ads are only on the IRT lines… I saw one adver-train on the 7 line last week, and on the 1 line yesterday.

Hey, why not? Until the 1980s, the New York City subway was the canvas of graffiti artists. These days, people think fondly of street art (and collect it in galleries!) but I understand that back then it wasn’t so. The vandalized subway was a symbol of the disorder and crime that plagued the city. The victory against subway graffiti – a war fought with manpower and chemistry, in the form of paint remover – is now considered a watershed moment. The city is safer now. The trains cruise unadorned, just cars of stainless steel with minimal decals on the outside (American flag, MTA logo, car number).

So why mess with a good thing? We need the money, that’s why. The subway system is already a commercial zone – there are ad posters in practically every station and inside every car. (Remy cognac just plastered the whole Broadway-Lafayette station with a particularly tasteless campaign.) The 42nd Street Shuttle (a short train that only makes 2 stops) has been getting occasional inside-out ad wraps for a couple of years.

Other railroads, including the Washington Metro and Amtrak, sell ad wraps on the outside of trains, and it seems like a logical step. The Times has a story about all the new ad techniques the MTA is trying to help make up for a budget shortfall.

Sun 19 Oct 2008 3:46 pm   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, Food & drink

Damn good pizza

The best place to order delivery pizza in Park Slope is Pizza Plus. Today I ordered two pies for the church youth group and accidentally gave the delivery guy $10 too much. He left, then came back to return the extra money. That kind of service that wins repeat business.