I was amused to see Salon magazine harden-up my views on the slick marketing of engagement rings and call the sparkly things "barbaric." That's not quite what I said.
I love sparkly things, and just to be clear here: I will turn down no gifts of jewellery, as long as the terms under which the baubles are given are entirely clear.
And that's the rub, as Shakespeare would say. He also suggested that there's nothing in a name, and that's where he and I part company. Call a diamond ring an "engagement ring" and it comes with decades of social and legal baggage, courtesy of its social origins and the twaddle marketers are peddling. That just turns us all into potential litigants. - Read more
There's no way for the current crop of mismanaged newspapers to change how they do business unless someone new buys them, which is why my Salon piece is cheering on Amazon's Jeff Bezos snagging the Washington Post.
The people currently running newspapers don't seem to have the skills to profit outside of the monopoly environment they once enjoyed, which until recently was giving them 20 to 40 per cent profit margins. All they know how to do is cut the quality of the product, which is absolutely the wrong strategy in a competitive market. Even worse they're erecting paywalls while reducing the quality of their newspapers, trying to squeeze a few more pennies out of their ever-dwindling pool of loyal customers. That's just cheating them. In a monopoly market that kind of thinking is safe and in some circles might even be advisable. But exploiting and abusing customers who have options outside of such cynical environs isn't just stupid -- it's suicide.
Bezos, on the other hand, knows how to compete. So I think he will do what I would do if I had $250 million to spend on a journalism experiment. I'm betting he will launch a variation on the old-fashioned newspaper model of selling eyeballs-to-advertisers, using good journalism as the bait. Only he'll replace display ads with online shopping, which Amazon does so well.- Read more
I was gobsmacked earlier this month to see the British papers all trumpeting the fact that Andy Murray was the first Brit to win Wimbledon in 77 years. And I was even more astounded to see other media merely repeating them. As a New York-based blogger Chloe Angyal noted on Twitter, “Murray is indeed the first Brit to win Wimbledon in 77 years, unless you think women are people.”
Virginia Wade took the prize in 1977, which ought to have been general knowledge for sports reporters. But it speaks to a sort of contempt they show for their readers (and their craft) all the while trying to persuade us that we really want to pay for what’s behind their digital walls.
As I point out in Salon, this is why the readers that advertisers want most – well-educated women – have been running, screaming for the last 30 years.
So the next time some corporate CEO blames the Internet for killing newspapers, someone might just want to point that it looks more like a case of suicide. - Read more
Well who knew that a piece in praise of philosophy would be such a hit?
Salon magazine just picked up my Tyee piece, "Be Employable, Study Philosophy." It’s my warning to would-be journos to stay out of the J-skools and get themselves a proper education in a real discipline.
It’s a highly contrarian view in this age of universities selling credentials in all sorts of trendy subjects. And philosophy is often dismissed as a useless degree by the sort of people who think the business of education is to train tomorrow’s workers for yesterday’s jobs. But as one of my former instructors noted, if you teach people to think first they can do whatever else they want.
The piece has had great pick-up in Facebook and Twitter. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find it hugely reassuring that so many people seem to be in favour of our universities delivering real education instead of certificates in nonsense.
Only one thing surprises me: the philosophy departments have had remarkably little to say.
I’ve been keeping vigil by the phone – all social media alerts primed -- since it was published Thursday, breathlessly awaiting the lunch invitations that I felt were sure to come from grateful philosophy schools… Alas, nothing.
Perhaps they’re waiting until they see the enrolment spike that will undoubtedly follow in the wake of this piece?- Read more
About two years ago, I was trying to explain a humble-brag -- and how to avoid it -- to a friend making her first foray into social media. That's when it dawned on me that Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice was the perfect example.
We’re both Jane Austen fans, and we’ve often discussed what an astute judge of people she was. Her books are populated with characters we all know. Reading her I’ve often been struck by how technology changes while humanity doesn't. She shows us everything from psychopaths to fools and her comic romps are nothing but snapshots of villages behaving badly.
So I'm drawing on Austen's insights to teach generations of city dwellers about the etiquette and social skills necessary for getting along in a village. Which is really what social media platforms have done – turned us into a huge village.
Social media novices often ask how to avoid putting a digital-foot-in-mouth, so now I tell nervous tweeters that before they post they should pause and ask themselves, “What would Jane say to that?”
I expanded the idea into a think piece for Calgary’s Swerve magazine: "Jane Austen’s Guide to Social Media." Which published on time, Thursday, despite the flood.- Read more
Don’t be lame is probably the best motto I’ve ever heard for doing any sort of communications aimed at a general audience, from journalism to PR to a TV series.
It was the official policy of Barack Obama’s digital campaign run by a low-key strategist named Teddy Goff, who does some of the best thinking around when it comes to online communications.
The folks over at Big Think got him to talk about how they persuaded 1.5 million people to read about Mitt Romney’s tax policy. And no, they didn’t insert porn videos. They combined a sense of humour with some chutzpah – they claimed the URL RomneyTaxPlan.com – and they spoke to their audience in a way that recognized them as real people concerned with how they are being governed.
“It was very kind of the Romney folks not to steal that domain before we got it,” he deadpans.
His primary point – that it doesn’t matter how important a message is if it’s dull – is one that any organization embarking on DIY communications should note.
“It’s funny: when you talk to corporate marketers, when you talk to people who have been doing PR for a long time, they will acknowledge that `not being lame’ has never been their M.O.,” Goff says. “They’re well versed in `risk mitigation’ or how not to annoy `stakeholders’ or create problems. But they’ve never had to actually deal with consumers who can click away as soon as they don’t like what they’re seeing.” - Read more
Tonight my old pal Mark Leiren-Young is opening the one-man show version of his memoir of a reporter’s life, Never Shoot a Stampede Queen and I’m in the curious position of actually rooting for a show.
I’ve spent my life as a critic – a professional watcher -- which means that as much as I love the arts and support them in the sense of taking them seriously and writing about them I am utterly indifferent to how well any show does in the marketplace. Well, outside of its story potential.
Not so this time. I want this show to succeed by every definition of the word. Mark is one of my oldest friends, so his show is giving me a little taste of what the people I’ve written about for decades must go through their entire lives. Not a bad thing for a critic and probably a little late in coming.
I first heard some of the Stampede Queen stories when Mark and I were both young arts writers and critics toiling at a newly renovated alt weekly that was in the process of being dragged back from the edge of bankruptcy. Like all reporters, we hung out and told war stories about where we’d worked, and who we’d covered, and discussed the general weirdness that used to be a feature of life in eccentric newsrooms. And they were all eccentric. - Read more
This month the world’s most celebrated paywall announced it is coming down slowly and discreetly. Now, the New York Times will tell you it is just the videos that will be available to hoi polloi, but anyone reading the research knows what they’re really admitting. Paywalls don’t work beyond squeezing a few more cents out of your existing print subscribers. Even worse, they kill your online traffic.
Last week, Digital First’s Steve Buttry made a persuasive case for how newspapers need to find new ways of generating revenue. He points out that using paywalls to squeeze more money out of print subscribers is a temporary solution at best. No one likes to put it so bluntly but just like theatre audiences, newspaper readers are greying and dying faster than millennials can replace them.
I take no pleasure in being Cassandra – okay, I take a little pleasure when my crystal ball proves right – but I wrote about Paywall Woes over at TheTyee.ca in March. NYT’s financial reports made it obvious that even though their existing print audience loves them enough to pay a little bit more, they’re not attracting new (and younger) readers – which is crucial to any enterprise. - Read more
Perhaps the most surprising thing to come out of last week’s delightful Deranged Sorority Girl episode of The Internet, was the students’ confusion over this whole web communications thing.
Gawker posted the hilarious email anonymously, and it might have all ended after a day or so of snickering and reposting, had the Delta Gammas not demanded their good name be cleared. Loudly. On their (open) Facebook page.
“Someone has to get this taken down,” they said, as if they’d never heard of the term gone viral. “It’s very embarrassing for us.”
Then they went on to publish many amusing details that Gawker was too discreet to run about the University of Maryland chapter, Becca’s role in it, and dozens of other things. All of which made it easy for the interwebs to track down Rebecca Martinson, her photos, and her Twitter account. Sadly, that has been deleted. As many readers have noticed, she really does have a way with words. A psychotic, potty-mouthed way, but still.- Read more
London’s National Theatre offers something more arts organizations should consider: art to do laundry by.
Although they don’t call it laundry theatre, the NT does wonderful podcasts, including interviews with actors and directors, discussions about theatre trends, and some performances. I just caught a short radio play featuring Dame Judi Dench, whose lovely comic timing makes doing housework a delight.
It’s part of the NT’s innovative digital programming campaign that includes broadcasting their plays to movie houses all over the world. Talk about extending your reach – the NT has turned itself into everyone’s local theatre and made the company a must-see for any traveller passing through London. That’s about 26 million people a year.
Given how cheap it is to make and distribute digital art, I wondered why more of Canada’s big city companies weren’t extending their own reach into small communities – not to mention the world. There’s some truth to the growing complaint that public funding for the arts serves only city dwellers.
Since theatre is the easiest art form to deliver in this fashion, I asked some artistic directors and playwrights why they hadn’t adopted the NT’s brilliant marketing strategy.- Read more