Monday, September 11, 2006

Influence 2006: Stationa/ery Company

Second day into Influence 2006, the conference in the Hunter Valley designed by Phil Sim to bring journos, PR flacks, analysts, vendors and users together in an informal environment. Richard Giles likened the structure to an unconference format, but if Dave Winer were here he'd be loudly critical of the seating arrangements putting the panel members in front and the audience in the back - although because this is an invite-only event (unless you're a vendor) he would likely boycott it anyway, as he does FOO Camp.

Having not seen many of the assembled denizens of the Sydney IT media mafia for nigh on five years, it's interesting to see how little attitudes have changed. The same old concepts keep on getting pushed by the same vendors, year after year, and the journos are still implacably cynical. I'm not criticising Influence in particular, but it's easy to draw the conclusion that the underlying structure of the IT media is wrong. How can anything meaningful come out of PR-coached vendor performers spruiking at bored journos who have heard it all hundreds of times before?

Then again, are the newer methods any more informative for the casual reader? Would you get more out of a MSM opinion piece on any particular subject than if you watched two of the protagonists on either side of the debate duke it out in the comments of a blog post? I guess it depends on the communication skills of the MSM writer versus the commenters. IT media readerships are going down, while blog consumption is going up. Does that mean that readers are making the choice that reading first-hand accounts and opinions by amateur writers (who may or may not be professional-grade quality in their chosen field) are more compelling, more timely and more informative than MSM journos writing lengthy screeds in time-shifted newspaper copy or month-old magazine prose?

I had assumed that the editor of Australian Anthill magazine, who said in his session today that his publication had originally been positioned as a Red Herring or Fast Company clone, would know what TechCrunch was. I was wrong.

Are IT journos out of touch? Some vendors are out of touch, that much is clear from today's sessions. Do journos know how to ask the right question to expose those vendors? Or can they, given that their livelihoods depend on advertising dollars from those same vendors? Okay, maybe that's a cheap shot. It seems to me that journos' cynicism is in striking contrast with the cheerful boosterism of Michael Arrington at TechCrunch, and it seems Mike is winning, at least with some section of the audience. I get the feeling that the market is crying out for a new print publication which melds MSM professionalism with bloggish geek cred that would be as influential as Fast Company was back in the day. Maybe Mike should authorise a TechCrunch magazine? I'm sure I'm not the first person to suggest that.

Or perhaps that's the wrong attitude to take. Perhaps the business mags like MIS with fat ad rates and six-month lead times on articles will finally get swamped when someone figures out how to translate the TechCrunch blog model to enterprise IT. All I know for sure is that the old model is looking tired and past its use-by date.


Anonymous Renai LeMay said...

Well I didn't get to Influence so I'm not sure what's going on there Paul :)

But what do you think of enterprise IT sites like ZDNet that are (as I like to think of it) bridging the gap between the blog world and the mainstream media? We have a very participatory (is that a word?) audience.

You can hardly call CNET Networks old media, after all ;) But we are a global publishing giant. And we do apply professional journo standards to the new media world.



6:45 pm, September 11, 2006  
Blogger Paul Montgomery said...

It's a bit unfair of me to comment on ZDNet since I was employed by them recently. Suffice it to say that I think MSM sites like ZDNet still have a long way to go before they bridge that gap you're talking about. Perhaps when ZDNet embraces trackbacks and pingbacks, and allows more non-journalist bloggers onto their network to create conversations that are not mediated by professionals, then the bridge might look a bit more substantial.

9:37 am, September 12, 2006  
Anonymous James Tuckerman said...

I think that what most IT professionals fail to realise is that most IT journos have to be a "jack of all trades". Unfortunately, that means that most are also "master of none".

I started Anthill Magazine in 2003 from the spare bedroom of my parents house (at the age of 26). It was 'loosely' modelled on Fast Company and Redherring, because I liked their fresh attitudes (perhaps what you describe as "bloggish geek cred"). However, Anthill was never meant to be a technology magazine, and definitely not an IT magazine. Anthill is a business magazine - about rapid business growth. On this planet, most 'fast growth' companies operate in a technology space ('fast growth' businesses are generally scalable). But technology and IT related matter only accounts for only a small percentage of our content. I'd sooner talk about an innovative life sciences play than a hot new Web 2.0 site. Because that is where Australia's strength currently lies in the new technology space.

But back to my earlier point... very few IT journalists will be as passionate or hands-on as people living and breathing in the IT space. They are paid to research a topic when given that topic to research. For example, unlike a blog post, a journalist would never make a comment about a business, when that opinion is entirely based on a brief presentation and a fleeting discussion. This is not sour grapes about being criticised in a blog (it wasn't the first time and it won't be the last). And it is no criticism of blogging. I think blogging is fantastic, for many reasons. In particular... in the blogging world, subjects (even magazine editors) are afforded an instant right of reply.

As for your question... "Does that mean that readers are making the choice that reading first-hand accounts and opinions by amateur writers (who may or may not be professional-grade quality in their chosen field) are more compelling, more timely and more informative than MSM journos writing lengthy screeds in time-shifted newspaper copy or month-old magazine prose." You may be right. For some sources of information, I will seek the opinion of 'friends' online. But many blogs offer little more than uneducated, poorly researched, often poorly written, 'howls' from the abyss. Many encompass little more than personal opinion.

Fortunately, some opinions are more exciting than others and those opinions often have a value that significantly outweighs the benefits of newspaper or magazine publishers.

So, in short, don't be too hard on IT journalists. Many are highly experienced writers with limited experience in the IT world. And sometimes, these 'IT virgins' are the best people to write about IT, because they are unlikely to resort to techie language or complicated jargon.

At least, that's the case with one BUSINESS magazines that is particularly close to my heart.

James Tuckerman
Australian Anthill Magazine

11:09 am, September 15, 2006  

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