I think Quartz’s Gideon Lichfield has given us by far the most insightful analysis yet of media mistakes during coverage of the recent Boston bombing. Offhand, it brought two things to mind for me that I’ve been meaning to write about here for some time anyway.
First, situations like the Boston coverage give the lie to legacy media organizations’ frequent posturing during non-crisis times as the great defenders of editorial standards versus the rampant irresponsibility of the Internet. The reality is much more nuanced than that. Any means of transmission of information — ink on a page, television, the Web, whatever — is neither inherently good nor bad. There’s good stuff and there’s crap to be found in any medium. The technology itself, old or new, is never inherently good or bad; it’s just there. It is what creative people make of it.
Second, transparency needs to be a core value within news organizations on par with old standbys like objectivity, accuracy, et cetera. Legacy media orgs simply don’t “get” that people are now inherently mistrustful of institutions to some degree, and that includes the media orgs themselves. I don’t think that’s an insurmountable problem, but I do think it has to be acknowledged and dealt with in much more consistent, robust way, including a lot more openness about how news orgs work internally.
Though this is unspoken, transparency is one of the obvious premises — and thus a great strength — of Gideon’s post. He critiques Quartz right along with everyone else, knowing this adds to his credibility. Bravo.
The major business story today is causing a small trip down memory lane for me. In March 2000, I broke a story for the Wall Street Journal about the creation of a little online upstart called IntercontinentalExchange.
Today they bought the venerable New York Stock Exchange for just over $8 billion.
Now it can be told: I remember back in 2000 their PR guy approached me at an industry conference in Boca Raton to offer me the scoop. Specifically — I’m not making this up — he called me over to the stern of a rented yacht while we were on a tour down the Intracoastal Waterway sponsored by another company as a promotional event.
I distinctly remember thinking, as have beat reporters since time immemorial: “Cool, at least I’ll get a good exclusive here to show the bosses back in New York that my whole trip wasn’t a boondoggle.”
Beyond that, as the record shows, it did strike me at the time that ICE had a shot at disrupting certain market niches on Wall Street. To reach a real piece of history like this, though… Wow. I’d be lying if I said I had the slightest inkling of anything like that.
On a typical day, I’m sure Michael Bloomberg encounters plenty of people with opinions about how he should spend his money. Even more so following yesterday’s scoop by the New York Times, which reported that Bloomberg might buy the Financial Times.
For what it’s worth, I’d side with the people who think he should pass on this one, considering the declining popularity of print. Even more to the point, every print-based business-news organization like the FT or my ex-employer Dow Jones essentially needs to become more like Bloomberg LP to survive these days. If you’ve already found one of the holy grails of the media industry — a lucrative revenue stream that’s not based on ads or subscriptions to news content — why acquire a competitor who hasn’t, with an organizational culture that may not take well to the changes you’ll inevitably need to make, and so on?
To put it a different way: When the Model T started selling well, Henry Ford didn’t go out and acquire a buggy manufacturer, did he?
The NYT story mentions LinkedIn as a company that some in Bloomberg’s inner circle think might be a better acquisition. I’d add another candidate that no one seems to be mentioning — Research in Motion.
Of course, RIM famously has a lot of problems of its own and would certainly be a turnaround project for Bloomberg. But here’s why it might work:
The two companies’ user bases overlap very nicely. If you could integrate Bloomberg data and news services more tightly into Blackberry handhelds, those devices would get new life as a must-have for financial-industry types.
Bloomberg has experience integrating data and hardware closely. That’s what they originally did with terminals on traders’ desktops. In essence, they have a chance to do the same now in traders’ pockets. Even after a few years of exploding mobile usage, this opportunity is still sitting out there unanswered because…
Android and Apple’s iOS don’t integrate well with Wall Street’s data networks. Of course, the main knock on RIM is that they’re getting their butts kicked by the two 800-pound gorillas of the mobile market, with no clear end in sight. But that’s assuming all these companies are competing for the average Joe consumer. Enterprise users in general — and Wall Street users in particular — are a little different.
The main rub is that a lot of the key services that finance pros use in a typical work day run on proprietary data networks, not the Worldwide Web that the average Joe uses. The current Bloomberg terminals are a great example of one of these proprietary networks, as are the trading engines at the major stock exchanges, as are some of the trading systems that big brokerages have set up for their staff and customers.
Apple and Google have never really integrated their products well with these niche services. This is why, for instance, traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, who have been using specialized tablets for years, have never switched to iPads en masse.
Maybe the Silicon Valley types have simply overlooked this niche because they’ve been so busy fighting for consumers. Or it could be a matter of not having the right relationships, since integrating with the various financial-industry networks would require some cajoling of senior IT execs at the various banks, exchanges, etc.
Whatever their reason, the point is that Bloomberg clearly does have the expertise, the strategic interest, and the relationships. Those things would give it a fighting chance at reviving a business like RIM, whereas an ink-on-paper publisher like the FT is ultimately a hopeless case no matter how smart you are.
For me, this is one of those days when my social-media streams are really annoying. The basic problem is the coincidental timing of Hurricane Sandy with campaign season, which is inspiring some of the dumbest political commentary I’ve ever seen online. And that’s saying something, believe me.
Nine times out of ten, you have to let stuff like this go for the sake of politeness to people you might like personally but disagree with politically. You basically extend the old etiquette your mother taught you about discussing politics at the dinner table to the online world. But this strikes me as a special situation, one that cries out for a counter-rant. So here goes.
As a New Yorker, I’d really prefer that no one, of any party orientation, politicize the current disaster. Republicans, no equivocating a domestic natural disaster with man-made violence in Libya, which is about as apples and oranges as it gets. Democrats, no spiking the football in Chris Christie’s face when the Jersey Shore is just about wiped off the map.
This is all f^%$ing stupid on your part as supporters. It’s not even a matter of the politicians this time. Cut it out.
At some point, yes, it will of course be fair to have a conversation about job performance of this or that public official. But can we at least finish saving the lives of our neighbors who are still in danger first?
A text search of the full transcript of the first presidential debate turns up precisely one mention of the word “Internet,” and that came from the 78-year-old moderator. Within the first few minutes of the proceedings, Jim Lehrer mentioned that he’d reviewed questions submitted from the public via the Internet while doing his own preparation for the session. Thereafter, the candidates somehow managed to yammer for 90 minutes, most of it ostensibly devoted to ideas for fixing the U.S. economy, without a single mention of what is probably its most dynamic component.
In a post yesterday afternoon, I mentioned that I was concerned that the specific matter of poor Internet connectivity in the U.S. was getting short shrift in the campaign. Turns out these guys did me one better in the debate, not mentioning any aspect of the Internet economy or how to use it to spur overall growth.
Now, one word that did come up three times was “Clinton,” and none of those mentions were references to the current Secretary of State. Obama brought up the former president twice and Romney did it once, both of them using Bill Clinton’s name as a shorthand for an earlier period of relative prosperity and balanced budgets.
This seems to have become quite a meme in the last few years, encouraged not least of all by President Clinton himself, quite frankly. The idea that the economic boom of the ’90s was the result primarily of his wise policymaking is of course flattering to him. People also generally tend to ascribe a lot of blame or credit to presidents for economic peformance under their “watch” even though the reality of how the economy works is much more complex than that.
Which brings me back to this: Aside from President Clinton, do you know what else the U.S. economy had going for it between 1993 and 2001? That was roughly the period when the Internet went from being a research tool for a small niche of specialists to something that millions of average Joes use. The consumer Internet was born.
That transition, which had zip to do with any Clinton administration policy, created billions of dollars in wealth, new opportunities to sell goods in different ways, and so on. Yes, it all eventually ended in a stock-market bust. But certain key players like Amazon and Google survived, and the general role of the Internet as a disruptive influence in our economy was set in place for good in a way that we’re still very much dealing with.
If Obama and Romney really want to mine that era for lessons about spurring the economy, maybe they ought to remember the whole story.
I find it an interesting coincidence that there’s a big telecommunications merger in the news today as we’re also looking ahead to the first U.S. presidential debate of this election. The T-Mobile/MetroPCS merger points up a big problem facing the U.S. economy that both candidates have been pretty mum about, far as I can tell.
The issue is this: How do we get more people connected to the Internet at faster speeds and relatively low cost across more devices? Our economy actually does a pretty crappy job of this compared to other developed economies, and it’s largely because we have a stultifying telcom oligarchy that limits consumer choice.
I don’t claim here to be the first one to notice this — not by a long shot. In 2010, James Losey wrote a great anti-telcom rant in Slate, including this little factoid:
If you simply look at broadband “penetration”—a measure of broadband subscribers relative to the population—the U.S. is ranked 15th by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, with 27 broadband subscribers per 100 people (check out Table 1d). And another key organization, the International Telecommunications Union, ranks the United States 16th. Just one decade ago, the United States was at the top of the list.
As for the actual speeds that our relative few broadband users enjoy here in the U.S., that picture isn’t too pretty either. A study covered by the New York Times about a year ago had us at 26th in broadband speed, behind Moldova, Congo, and Hungary, among others.
In fairness, President Obama has talked about this issue a little bit in the past. But it’s hardly seemed to be a big priority for either side or a bone of contention during the recent campaigning.
(I should add, I can’t really find anything Romney has said about it at all. But if someone out there can find remarks from him somewhere on the Web, or if someone from the campaign wants to pass along something officially sanctioned, I’d be glad to update this post to reflect that information.)
As far as I can tell, the closest the candidates come to discussing this issue on the campaign trail is when they touch on education and improving the skills of the workforce to compete for high-tech jobs. No doubt, that is a real issue of its own. But what about this other part of the picture, our technical capacity to use the Internet?
A final disclaimer: For the sake of not getting into an unproductive partisan spat myself here, I’m purposefully not going to get into a lot of specific policy proposals that I personally favor. Let it suffice that one could envision a spending-based solution for the government to provide connectivity, as Obama proposed in the story I linked above. Or there could be a conservative solution like, say, deregulating certain things within the FCC’s purview.
My only point for now is that this is a very real economic problem, and our politicians aren’t having nearly a robust enough conversation about it. This matters a lot because the Internet has become a platform upon which all sorts of economic activity is built. It’s a massive bazaar where a lot of goods are sold, and sales would probably be better if we could get more people in to browse.
Think that would help the economy?
I just bought a paid ad on Craigslist for the first time — a job posting for my startup, which is looking for a VP of engineering.
This was a curious little milestone/experience for me as an Internet user and someone interested in digital business models for news. Of course, Craigslist has famously all but choked off old-school classified advertising in print, since people use the site as a substitute to newspapers. But what struck me going through the site’s ad-buying experience firsthand is how completely dissimilar it also is to anything that a legacy news organization now offers within its online product mix.
I don’t claim to be the first person to notice this. For example, E&P’s Alan Mutter has covered it in several recent blog posts, including this one from April that nicely points out the pitfalls of most news providers’ “run-of-site” ad strategy online.
That said… Damn. To see the difference in action is something else altogether.
To be specific, my ad buy on Craigslist was:
- Simple. The whole process was based on some straightforward Web forms and email, with no password or sign-in or paywall hassle at any point. You create the ad first, the Craigslist system generates a unique non-public link for verification, then it emails the link to you, then you just click through. On that page, you enter your payment info.
- Reasonably priced. It was $25 to post my ad on the New York Craiglist site, with no limit on length.
- Well-targeted. Aside from the fact that Craigslist has a subdomain dedicated to New York City, it also lets me target my ad by neighborhood. Good luck finding that feature on a newspaper website.
- Fully interactive, Craigslist generates a unique anonymized email address for people to respond to my ad directly, and I can edit my ad even after it’s been posted.
It’s also worth noting, my purchase was a logical extension of my free usage of Craigslist over the years. I bought something precisely because they let me kick the tires for free looking for other stuff previously. As a free customer, they clearly never viewed me as a “parasite,” or any of the other absurd terms that newspaper publishers have sometimes been known to use referring to their own online community members.
By the way, that free usage included an ad we did a few months back for a short-term “gig offered” looking for a contract developer for the startup. Even though that one was technically a business-to-business transaction as well, Craigslist didn’t overplay their hand, realizing that the bar would probably be higher to charge real money.
We got several dozen responses to that earlier ad, many of them viable options, so I was definitely willing to upgrade for the VP ad when the time came.
My news startup Roscoe Labs is entering a really important phase this week. Most important, we’re looking for our first handful of public users for a brief private beta test in New York and Oaklnad. This will be followed by a broader public release, hopefully sometime in the next couple months.
With that goal in mind, we’ve pulled together a little preview video:
On a personal note, I have to say this is all very exciting stuff, but somewhat nerve-wracking too. It’s like helping your child rehearse and rehearse for the school play, then the time finally comes to push her out on stage in front of the bright lights and a bunch of strangers. It’s sink or swim.