Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Dead animals, large and small

With objective data in short supply as to the efficacy of the new media initiatives undertaken by the old media companies, the following is sure to depress mainstream publishers. But they need to hear it anyway.

Three weeks ago, Newsosaur’s admittedly modest traffic spiked to an all-time daily high of more than 1,000 visits as the result of this link from a blog called, I kid you not, Small Dead Animals.

Two weeks ago, by contrast, Forbes and Business Week each quoted Newsosaur on their websites, and those links resulted in a single, solitary hit from a Business Week reader.

So, there you have it: Small Dead Animals top Large Ones by 1,000 to 1.

One event, of course, doesn’t prove much. But here’s what happened next:

Newsosaur’s comments last week on the silliness of news helicopters and the likelihood of Rupert Murdoch behaving himself attracted not only a new link from Small Dead Animals but also links from such Large Ones as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Philadelphia Daily News.

Once again, the traffic generated by Small Dead Animals overwhelmed by a substantial margin the combined (but still gratefully appreciated) referrals from the Large Ones.

By me, this is a trend. And here’s what’s behind it:

Small Dead Animals is a creature of the web, by the web and for the web. Unlike the blogs grafted as an afterthought onto the sites of Forbes, Business Week, the WSJ and the rest, Small Dead Animals is a primary destination for readers hooked on what, in this case, is the bracing point of view of Catherine McMillan, an airbrush artist and schnauzer breeder who resides in a small town in Saskatchewan.

Although the Large Ones deserve a C+ for making an effort to add blogs and a few other modern touches to the print content they recycle at their staid and static sites, the banal results please neither their traditional readers nor the connoisseurs of such sites as YouTube, Gawker or the Huffington Post.

As a result, readers of the traditional media have been conditioned over the years not to look to the Large Ones for the quirky news, dorky videos and (knee) jerky opinions that, for the most part, saturate the blogosphere. And Kos-inistas largely view the mainstream media, when they view them at all, as fodder for future potshots.

With the formidable creative talent, market reach, commercial relationships and financial capability they possess, the Large Ones ought to have an enormous edge over Canadian schnauzer breeders in creating editorially compelling and commercially successful online content. But they are failing, because they try to confine their new media ventures to the tightly edited and carefully modulated conventions of their existing brands.

If they want to be serious about the new media businesses, the Large Ones are going to have to establish skunkworks where people who really get the new media are given the resources and support necessary to develop original, independently branded fare. And the Large Ones will have to restrain themselves from over-managing these necessarily alien efforts.

The coolest blog ever produced by someone at one of the traditional media companies is The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, a stealth spoof penned by Daniel Lyons, a senior Forbes editor whose efforts evidently were unknown to the magazine until the New York Times unmasked him last weekend.

Playing catch-up, Forbes.Com, to its credit, acted quickly to promote the Fake Steve diary on its site, where it now appears incongruously amid the buttoned-down coverage of fed rates, hedge funds and, ironically, the authentic Apple CEO.

The question is whether Real Forbes can sustain the magic of Fake Steve. Or will Fake Steve fans flake when they realize their secret pleasure has been hopelessly co-opted?

12 Comments:

Anonymous Skip said...

"But they are failing, because they try to confine their new media ventures to the tightly edited and carefully modulated conventions of their existing brands."

I would submit that they are failing because their "tightly edited and carefully modulated conventions" have squeezed their core product right out of their business. What freelance "skunkworks" do, and do so well, is what the MSMs have abandoned: fact checking, validating sources, protecting credibility. Time and time again, the independent blogs have blown huge holes in the credibility of MSM media reports, to the point where a growing number of readers no longer trust the news media to offer accurate reporting. So much of mainstream has become so politically aligned, that its position as a balanced reporter of news is no longer seen as a given.
Blogs tend to wear their political leanings like a badge. There is no mistaking the perspective of the blog owner and readers. The intelligent reader knows this up front - there is no blindsiding. Too many MSMs persist in maintaining the cloak of false neutrality, when in fact, their editorial positions are loaded with the personal biases of celebrity editors and reporters.
Blogs like SDA have earned their stripes by doing the things that the MSM has abandoned.
Its a bit disingenuous to refer to Kate McMillan as the "Canadian Schnauzer breeder", as if to suggest that MSMs can be toppled by "mere" mortals. It is certainly true, but what is being missed, is that many bloggers like Kate are not simple folk who have just bought a computer and are now "News R Us". Kate can make a living as a commercial artist, and she can breed champion Schnauzers, and she can run a blog that has the ability to shape MSM news reporting. The skills have always been there.

What has changed, is the death grip of mainstream media on the dissemination of news and fact (and bias), and in the process, the MSM has been shown to be the emperor without a wardrobe. "Shallow, insincere, bereft of moral principle, unsophisticated and ignorant", have replaced adjectives like "honest, forthright, precise, literate, intelligent, balanced, adventuresome" in describing both the organizations and their product. Like Kate says on her blog: "Why this blog? Until this moment I have been forced to listen while media and politicians alike have told me "what Canadians think". In all that time they never once asked. This is just the voice of an ordinary Canadian yelling back at the radio - "You don't speak for me."

Mainstream no longer speaks for most of us, nor even for the subjects they pretend to cover in their reports.

4:56 AM  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

If they want to be serious about the new media businesses, the Large Ones are going to have to establish skunkworks where people who really get the new media are given the resources and support necessary to develop original, independently branded fare. And the Large Ones will have to restrain themselves from over-managing these necessarily alien efforts.

James Lileks' efforts for the Star Tribune at Buzz.mn seem like a good effort at just what you're talking about.

6:34 AM  
Blogger genslub3 said...

I only got 300 when kate linked to me.

:)

My lame lil blogs best day!

But I've seen the same thing when you use trackbacks etc some sites you think are well visited give 1 or 0 hits.

Some links come for a month or longer, some you find out about and never get one hit.

6:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 'get real' factor draws me to Kate's blog.

8:10 AM  
Blogger PGP said...

As a long time reader and supporter of Kate's SDA I'd say the Skips comment sums it up very well.

I particularly like her "warts and all" take it or leave it approach.

I've found SDA to be more often than not a source that points to the interesting and the incongruous and some regular commentors who bring still more to the plate most days!

The MSM can't and won't allow that organic nature of a successful blog to thrive.

8:33 AM  
Blogger kenneyb210 said...

SDA fan...What Skip said...well done

8:43 AM  
Anonymous bwriley said...

SDA, the Globe and Mail; day and night; oil and water, need i say more?

9:07 AM  
Anonymous Jus ad bellum said...

As an old newspaper editor did you find that the commentary/editorial section generated more responses then the average article?

9:27 AM  
Blogger digiteyesed said...

"...of Catherine McMillan, an airbrush artist and schnauzer breeder who resides in a small town in Saskatchewan."

She's also a member of Mensa, for what it's worth.

9:28 AM  
Anonymous Joe Molnar said...

In my view Kate McMillan at SDA blog has much greater things to accomplish than those of which she already excels.
Since Canadian MSM is leftist to the core, Kate is probably exactly whom Rupert Murdoch needs to invade Canadian media.

Canadians of conservative and Libertarian persuasion are essentially shut out of Canadian MSM.
Kate would be the perfect woman to break the stranglehold of the leftists.
Now if only Rupert could wrap his mind around Canada for a wee while since the WSJ deal seems to be in the bag in the USA.
The Mensa link on Kate site says a whole lot, No?dtscdu

9:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't comment on TV, radio and print media elsewhere. Up here in Canada the MSM is usually undiluted Marxist propaganda, much of it willfully misleading if not verifiably false.

There are only a handful of companies involved in Canadian media, each with protected monopolies and strict government control through the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Fail to toe the party line and see how fast they kill your profitable monopoly (if not pull your license).

The AP, BBC and Reuters feeds we get are similarly unreliable.

Blogs have become as adept at quickly providing news verified by multiple sources as they have at exposing the outright lies promoted by the MSM. Those who want to stay informed only read the MSM after they have their news from reliable sources, and then only to see what the government spin on any story is, or whether a major news item gets carried at all.

I rarely read Businessweek or Forbes in print and I have never visited either web site. Why would I when they both ignore the bubble, the Fed, and the fact that our unbacked paper money and central banks are called for in the Communist Manifesto as a method of destroying capitalist economies? Either publication compares unfavourably to The Daily Reckoning or The Mogambo or Mises.org, all of which predict market trends and events months if not years ahead of the MSM. Businessweek is especially slow. By the time Businessweek notices a market you're in is hot it is time to sell. lol. Yeah. It's funny because it's true.

9:49 AM  
Anonymous saskboy said...

Even with my decidedly non-conservative writings, Kate's links to me tend to bring in over 700 hits each time, easily.

12:07 PM  

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