Category Archives: Media Curricula

Proximate Remarks & Ultimate Causations

Previous webpage: The Greatest Change in the History of Media

Let’s be frank about the media industries. Most of its executives don’t care a hoot about exactly what is causing the tumultuous changes in their business environment. What they want, almost regardless of the problems, are solutions that can propel their careers and businesses into profits. They’re like recreational surfers: they just want someone to tell them where the good waves are rather than them spending time learning ocean hydrodynamics. Indeed, if the majority of media executives care at all about what’s causing the gargantuan changes in their business environment, they’ll look at the proximate, not the ultimate, causes of those changes.

Yet champion surfers know to look beyond the proximate and understand the ultimate causes of waves. Although they know that finding great waves is the most practical and proximate of their needs, they can reliably find those waves only if they understand the ultimate causation. I’ll thus detail some webpages from here the proximate and practical causes of the gargantuan change underway in the media environment, but first let’s examine what ultimately are causing all of it to happen.

When differentiating between the proximate and ultimate, I ask my graduate students what caused the destruction during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or the 2010 Japanese tsunami. Most answer a great wave of water. That indeed is the proximate causation of the destruction. However, the ultimate causation was the undersea earthquake that causes the great wave.


At various times in human history, scientific or technological breakthroughs have caused seismic changes in civilizations and humans’ lives. Discovery of how to make fire was the first. Discovery of agriculture was the second. A third discovery, metallurgy, immeasurably increased the power of humanity’s tools and weapons. The invention of writing allowed knowledge to be recorded beyond what could be passed down through oral history. The invention of the telescope 400 years ago led to knowledge that humanity isn’t the center of the universe, a discovery which had huge repercussions on religion, philosophy, and polity. In 1776, mechanical engineer James Watt’s invention of the motor fomented the Industrial Revolution, transforming civilization in ways still occurring. Most people today know that an invention several decades ago is now reshaping people’s lives, livelihoods, societies, politics, knowledge, and all else that preceded it. During the late 1950s, electrical engineers Jack Kilby and Philip Noyce invented the integrated circuit (commonly known now as the ‘semiconductor’ or ‘microchip’) upon which technology all of today’s computers and microelectronics is based.

Hardly anyone who works in media today doesn’t know that offices, homes, vehicles, phones, and myriad other devices and even appliances are being revolutionized or ‘disrupted’ by computerization. Many have notice or heard that these changes are accelerating. Some hope it will stop. Yet few truly understand that whatever they might have so far seen will pale by comparison to what are going to occur or just how quickly.

This chapter is a primer about that, aimed at people who work in the media industries. The chapter outlines the three dynamics whose combined effects are ‘disrupting’, revolutionizing, and transforming the media environment in ways that are only starting to show. It looks at each of those three ultimate causes of the changes underway and briefly examines the three causes’ combined effects.

The ultimate formulation is simple: the ever-accelerating interactions of Moore’s Law, Cooper’s Law, and Butters’ Law ultimately cause the gargantuan changes underway in the media environment. Moreover, changes in the media environment are merely side effects of those principles’ more comprehensive effects on the world.

Despite their nomenclature, Moore’s, Cooper’s, and Butters’ laws aren’t llegislations but principles based upon empirical observations about advanced technologies.  Moore’s Law concerns the advancements and expense of computer processing power; Cooper’s Law describes the advancements and capabilities of wireless communications; and Butter’s Law focuses on photonics, the communication of information through optical fiber cables.  These three principles are similar (indeed, the latter two were prompted by the first). The laws’ rippling interactions are transfiguring most of the world’s other industries, and even governments, societies, and civilization itself.

Next webpage: Moore’s Law Acting on Media

Index of the Rise of Individuated Media webpages

 © 2014

The First Innovative Thing I’ve Posted in Seven Years


My reputation as a New Media consultant to the news industry, including my appointment since 2007 to teach postgraduate New Media Business at Syracuse’s Newhouse School, largely result from work I did long ago.

For ten years beginning in 1993, I helped guide the strategies of major news organizations’ websites and their other online services. But by the turn of the century I realized that those strategies (known as ‘convergence’, ‘analog-to-digital’, and ‘digital first’, etc.) would ultimately fail and those news organizations’ websites, as well as their traditional products, would unavoidably become irrelevant and unsustainable in the near future. I then spent seven years sounding probably like the prophet of doom to the traditional media industries in post-industrial countries. The doom I predicted has since become apparent.

Since 2007, I haven’t done any innovative work—except that which is done in a room filled with some of the best postgraduate students and doctoral candidates from America, Europe, and Asia, who study the media business. They’ve an advantage over the middle-aged white executives who run most traditional media companies; they’ve grown up online, know New Media as natives, and so aren’t mired in media theories, doctrines, and practices that might have been valid in the 1960’s or 1980’s or even early 1990’s, ideas and concepts that are already obsolete.

Good teaching is a continuous experiment.  Bad teachers teach the same way every semester; like bad actors, they perform by rote. By contrast, good teachers use their classrooms not only to teach established concepts, but to teach themselves when and how established concepts have changed and are no longer relevant or true. In other words, the classroom is where good teachers refine their own understandings of what to teach. If a teacher’s own understanding of what he teaches doesn’t withstand the questionings and skepticism of hundred postgraduate students and doctoral candidates, then his understanding is merely an illusion.

I’ve been luckier than that. The academic freedom to teach what I think is true, no matter how unwanted those truths may be among hidebound executives or how heretical the truths are to traditional media academics, has been a godsend to my thinking. The easiest environment in which to shuck the encrusted dogma of 20th Century media thinking is to be surrounded at any time by dozens of smart young scholars who owe nothing to such dogma except that after their graduations they as media executives will inter it once and for all.

Ten years ago, after realizing that traditional media industries’ strategies of ‘convergence’, ‘analog-to-digital’, and ‘digital first’ will ineluctably fail and will never generate enough revenues to compensate for the revenue declines from the evaporation of those industries’ traditional products (printed periodicals, over-the-air and cable broadcasts, etc.), I turned my attention and that of my students to solving the problem of why. Why won’t ‘convergence’, ‘analog-to-digital’, and ‘digital first’ ever generate enough revenues to compensate for the revenue declines from the evaporation of media industries’ traditional products? Why are indeed those industries’ traditional products evaporating? The solution necessarily involves both questions.

My purpose in asking isn’t to save those industries’ traditional products or websites, but to establish what those industries should have done instead and what the successful new media of the 21st Century will do or are doing now. It’s now too late for most of those industries in the post-industrial countries, but there may still be time for media companies in developing or industrial countries to learn and adapt.

This then is a hyperlink to the first innovative work I’ve posted in nearly a decade, the result of my work with students at Syracuse’s Newhouse School, at South Africa’s Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership, and at several other institutes where I’ve taught or co-taught seminars. It encompasses my thinking about media for the 21st Century.

It starts by examining the misguided beliefs by most media executives and most media academicians today that the greatest change underway in the media environment is simply that consumers have changed their consumption habits from ‘analog’ to ‘digital’ or have mere become ‘wired’ or ‘hooked up’ to electronic devices; that websites or streaming media are electronic multimedia (‘converged’) versions of printed periodicals or broadcasts; and that the future of Mass Media domination will be in online and mobile platforms.

It then describes what is obvious about the changes actually underway in the media environment, which are far different than what the executives and academicians who are trained in the theories, doctrines, and practices of Industrial Era media, namely Mass Media, hope. It categorically states how and why Mass Media are artifacts of that waning era and already are no longer the predominant ways in which most the world’s people now obtain news and information and soon entertainment.  It is about Individuated Media, the new media engendered by the Informational Era, which we can see across the panorama of the media environment once we remove the blinders of Mass Media theory.

I had planned to publish this work online early in 2015, after my classes this semester end.  When seven years ago I’d conceived the core of this work and established its syllabus, I had hoped that what it states would now be obvious. It’s indeed obvious now not only to my students but to those of other media schools who I’ve queried. Nevertheless, dust and debris from the collapse of traditional Mass Media still obscures the sight of far too many media company executives and academicians who, trained in Mass Media, attempt to sustain those Industrial Era forms of media. So, even though I’m still writing the final sections of this work from drafts, I’m going to begin publishing it online now, in hope of guide some of their ways.

I call it The Rise of Individuated Media. Thirty short (three to eight typewritten pages) chapters of this work are now online (starting with a version of this posting). A further 40 are in final draft stages and will go online at a pace of one chapter every two or three days (an easy pace for me to post.) I welcome comments or corrections to this work. Because an aggregate of its many chapters is hard to read solely online, an electronic book version of the whole will in follow sometime in January.

Those chapters already online deal with:

  • Identifying what is the greatest change underway. The answer isn’t consumers switching their media consumption from ‘analog’ to ‘digital’. Or ‘multimedia’ or media industry ‘convergence’. Or ‘smartphones’, tablet computers, or even the Internet.
  • Focusing on what are the ultimate, not proximate, causes of all the changes underway. Knowing what ultimately causes the changes allows a person to identify and rather accurately predict what and how fast future changes will be, an invaluable skill for anyone formulating media company strategies or designing media products and services.
  • Seeing the complete spectrum of changes underway and not being blinded by just those glaringly obvious. There is an ideal ‘prism’ through which to view the entire spectrum. And in this work I divide the spectrum of change into three ‘color’ categories, each of which has its own hues:
    • The ‘greens’ which affect how people gravitate towards and around media contents.
    • The ‘reds’ which affect how media contents are transacted (and even when no monies are exchanged).
    • The ‘blues’ which affect how the very definitions of media contents, as well as production and delivery of those contents, have changed.
  • Why and when traditional Mass Media companies failed to foresee the real changes underway. And what the few traditional media companies that do survive will need to do to adapt, which also means what ‘pure-play’ media start-up companies in the 21st Century should already be doing.

Media academies that have excelled at Mass Media have been flummoxed by the changes underway, few of which conform to their theories and doctrines. These academies have reacted in either or both of two ways. They’ve created institutes or centers of ‘innovation’ in which Mass Media practices are simply continued in whatever is the latest devices. Or else they’ve created ‘entrepreneurial’ programs that involve students learning how to operate without corporate support or to start-up their own corporations.

However, true innovation isn’t the usage of new devices or new technologies, but how theories and doctrines change due to new technologies and new devices; it is the difference between carpentry and architecture. Moreover, planting entrepreneurial seeds in hopes that some might bloom is hardly a sound practice of agriculture.  As the innovative genius Nikolai Tesla said about his fellow inventor Thomas Edison, “I was almost a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.” I herein offer a bit of theory about the New Media.

Journalism Schools’ Myopia When ‘Testing’ Google Glasses

Google Glasses
Google Glasses

How will journalists could use Google Glasses ? It’s the wrong question.

The right question for journalists to ask is how and why will people who consume media use Google Glasses (or similarly wearable optic interfaces)?

Whenever I encounter media professors or media researchers testing how journalists could use Google Glasses, I ask them this simple question: what proportion of Google Goggles users will be consumer and what proportion will be journalists? My guess is the ratio 20,000 to one. Thus, which of the following two topics is more important for journalism schools to research:

  • How will and why people use Google Goggles to consume news, entertainment, and information?
  • How will and why journalists use Google Goggles to produce news?

The first question is clearly more important than the latter.

Journalists, particularly when they have a new toy, too often ‘put the cart in front of the horse’. When examining a new device or a new process, they think, ‘How can I use this to do what I do?’ rather than asking ,”How will people want to use this?” Imagine a chef who sees a new kitchen appliance and thinks, “Is there any way I can use this new device to make Chicken Marengo?” when his restaurant’s customers might instead be hungry for something other than that dish. Any industry that continues producing what it wants to produce when instead that product is not what people want or how people want to use that product, will fail. Ask the tens of thousands of newspaper reporters in the U.S. who’ve become unemployed during the past seven years before they and their bosses lost touch with what people want from them.

When journalism schools study what impact Google Glasses might have on their profession, the schools need to focus on: which topics, types, and modes of news will people want to consume while wearing such devices?

There are at least five possible topics of study about Google Glasses, and three of those also are what schools also need to study about the effects smartphones will have journalism:

1. Geolocation – What topics, types, and modes of news will people want to consume based upon their exact location as they roam?
2. Recognition – What topics, types, and modes of news will people want to consume based upon what they see as they roam?
3. Augmented-Reality – How best to provide, display, and explain news visually so that it overlays what they see?

Google Glasses add at least two more topics journalism schools need to study:

4. Hands-Free ContextWhat multimedia interfaces can be used so that people can interact hands-free with news provided in Augmented-Reality? (Unlike smartphones with touchpad interfaces, Google Glasses rely largely upon voice commands and simple scrolling motions; all of which somewhat restrict, compared to other computerized devices, how people interact with the device.)
5. Kinesthetic Context – Because Google Glasses are literally looking at whatever the wearer is looking at that moment (unlike a Smartphone or camera, which must be aimed), an unwavering gaze, how should the topics, types, mode, and displays of news or other information be automatically changed according to not only where the wearer is but what the wearing is doing? For example, a stationary person might want different news than someone who is moving at 30 kilometers per hour through the same spot and different than someone who is moving 150 kilometers per hour though that spot. Detailed texts might be fine for a stationary person, but not someone biking or driving past.

Google Goggles were invented as ways for people to access access information in the context of their lives, not the journalists’ lives.

Unfortunately, most of the research being done about Google Glasses in journalism school focuses on how journalists might use these devices for recording audio or video (most specifically, reporter’s point-of-view videos). Much of that research is well-meant but misguided. By almost all standards, Google Glasses are inferior to hand-held video cameras or even clip-on video recording devices. No surprises there. So, why research how to use an inferior device just because among the many things it can do is reproduce badly the capabilities of better usable devices?. The five research topics I’ve mentioned are more pertinent.

Google Glasses are novel to use, but many journalism schools are using the devices merely as new toys in the labs or excuses for ‘research’ which will likely be inconsequential. Journalism professors and instructors should remove their prototypes these spectacles and directly eyeball how consumers will use the devices. The answers to that are key.

New Media Business Course Syllabi

For the past four years, I’ve been teaching a New Media Business for media course at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. It was originally open just to postgraduate students, but a few years ago we opened it to select upperclassmen, too.

Some 250 students have taken the course. Approximately half were from the Newhouse School’s Media Management masters degree program, in which taking the course is a requirement. However the rest of the students have been from the school’s Arts Journalism, Broadcast Journalism, Communications, Graphic Design, Magazine, Newspaper, Photography, Public Diplomacy, Public Relations, and Television/Radio/Film departments. Students and staff from the university’s Whitman School of Business, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, School of Information Studies, University College, and the College of Law also have taken the course. In any semester, between a quarter and a third of the students who take the course are foreign, mainly from China, India, the Middle East, or European Union.

Because New Media technologies, business models, and practices are continually changing, I have to update the course syllabus every semester. Here is the current version, minus university boilerplate:

New Media Business syllabus

ICC625-M001 (55764) & ICC300-M001 (60544)

Spring 2012

Course Goals: Learn the dynamics, economics, and technologies that are reshaping the media industries worldwide during the 21st Century. Learn how these differ from those of 20th Century media. Learn how to adapt to these changing times.

Disclosures: There aren’t sufficient hours in this single course to provide in-depth assessments of all New Media technologies which are constantly evolving.

Moreover, the syllabus you’re reading is subject to change. Each semester a different mix of students from Newhouse departments attends this course. For example, last semester’s course was taken by 18 Media Management, two Broadcast Journalism, one Public Relations, one Advertising, one Newspaper student, and a Whitman staffer. In contrast, this semester’s course currently has five Advertising, one Broadcast Journalism, and one Newspaper student enrolled. So, after the first week of classes each semester, the instructor revises this syllabus to focus on the specific needs of the students in that semester.
Dates, Hours, and Location: Twenty-nine (29) eighty-minute classes will be held between 11:00 a.m. and 12:20 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays from January 17 to May 1, 2012, in the Larry Kramer War Room (#252 in Newhouse 3, geo-coordinates on request).

Agenda & Topics: The following agenda of class topics is tentative. The actual agenda may vary due to availability of speakers or additional topics added during the semester either by the instructor or the requests of students.

The first four weeks of the course surveys the current state of the world’s media; how that situation cannot be explained by classical Mass Media theory, and examines the new theories which fit that situation.

January 17 – Ritual Reading of the Syllabus. Plus, discussion of class goals and policies. Handout: Student questionnaire.

January 19 – Embracing Change. The elasticity of time. The Confederate widow and the World War One Flying Ace anachronisms. How long do you plan to live? People you’ll meet who will in the the 22nd Century. How to adapt to change, and why knowing how to embrace change and adapt to is the paramount skill for 21st Century media people to have.

January 31 and February 2 – Apocalypse. What challenges do the advertising, newspaper, magazine, radio, television, cinema, public relations, photography industries now face? How the ancient Greek word apokálypsis actually means ‘lifting of the veil’, ‘revelation’, and ‘disclosing something hidden in an era dominated by falsehood and misconception’ and not (contrary to popular belief) ‘chaos’ or ‘end of the world’.

February 2 – Creative Disruption. How an Austrian economist strove to become the greatest economist in the world, the best horseman in his nation, and the greatest lover in all of Vienna. How his work in one of those endeavors helps us understand the situation the media industries face.

February 7 – What Ultimately Are Causing the Media Change? Meet Gordon Moore, Martin Cooper, and Gerald Butters. The interactions of what they observed. Will change stop in your lifetime? The clockwork towards technological singularity.

February 9 – What Has Been the Greatest Change in Media History? Are New Media merely traditional forms of media put online or manifestations of something much larger underway? What has been the greatest change in media to occur in human history?

February 14 – Across the Spectrum of Change. How the greatest change in media history affects the practices and businesses models of journalism, entertainment, and information, and even the content of those fields. Why Social Media are manifestations of this change and the ‘tidal shift’ resulting.

February 16 – The Economics of Content and the Contents of Surplus. Why traditional media business models are failing. How supply & demand specifically affects value and attention and value. Why fewer and fewer people will pay for traditional content, and use it less frequently and less thoroughly—no matter if the content is delivered via traditional forms or online. How content must change. How, where, and when to charge for what content?

The next five weeks provide practical information about how to prosper and adapt to changes in various fields and formats of media during the 21st Century.

February 21 – Web 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and the Internet Timeline. How you only have to remember two things about the geologic timescale of New Media. How a host of people, almost all of them in their twenties, had the courage of their ideas and have changed the world.

February 23 – How Does Digital Work? What Does Interactive Actually Mean? Do TurboTax® or the Intel Turbo Boost® really use turbochargers? Do the words digital and interactive actually have real meanings? Why knowing these meanings can lead media to success.

February 28 –Alphabet Soup: HTTP, CSS, SEO, SEM, XML, and ROI. How the Worldwide Web works. How to measure and improve your use of the Web and other interactive technologies. And why the refrigerator you buy five years after your graduation will know some good recipe for what it contains.

March 1 – What are Individuated Media? Should You Be Permissive or Intrusive? Will Mass Media continue to be the primary way people obtain news, entertainment, and information or will something else replace it?

March 6 & 8 – The Practices and Effectiveness of Online Advertising. Why something with such relatively small response rates is becoming the world’s primary form of advertising. Practices and problems.

March 14 & 16 – Spring Break Week.

 March 20 – How New Media Differs Legally from Traditional Media. Technology outrunning the law and governments. COPA, CAN-SPAM, Safe Harbors, Personal Jurisdiction, SOPA, and Net Neutrality

March 22 – The Blogosphere. Does anyone actually earn money blogging? Should you or your company blog? What if everyone else is doing it? The revenge of ‘the people formerly known as the audience.’

March 27 – Going Mobile. Will mobile really change the media industries? What are the ‘G’s, Geolocation, Augmented Reality, and Goggling?

March 29 – Tweets, Check-Ins, Virtual Realities, and Loquacious Devices. The incipient deaths of keyboarding and handwriting. Meet the new intermediaries: Dragons, Siris, and HALs.

The final month of course examines the futures of various industries and provides practical information about how to prosper and adapt to changes in various fields and formats of media during the 21st Century.

April 3 – The Revenge of Paper. How tablet devices are just one of many primordial steps to something that replaces paper. A dress of OLED. Everything becomes a display. What will the book in the future do?

April 5 – The Revenge of Radio. How a medium once thought to be dying has become one of the most popular mobile app. Have you seen the radio station’s video? Individuation in radio. How Pandora teach Individuation, not Mass Media.

April 10 – The Future of Television. Brought to you by Ethernet television and a host of pretenders. The coming implosion of the U.S. television affiliate model. Can your local station survive? No borders except language and culture. Rights, Royalties, and Revanchism.

April 12 – The Future of Cinema. Digital projection to the home big screen versus the bigger screen with strangers at the mall? Had 3D gone flat? A holographic shell game: which of the ‘Peas’ is really there?

April 17 – A Tale of Two Parochial Countries. Who are the largest groups of nationals online? Why you should go abroad virtually before seeing all of the 50 United States. How a country that once led the world in interactive is now ranked in the teens. What you can learn from other nation’s New Media.

April 19 –Business Formation, Partners, and Practices. A primer about how to form a business legally and to deal with partners, investors, co-workers, or employees. How new technologies affect ownership.

April 24 & 26 – A Week of Best Practices from Worldwide. Who said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal”?

May 1 – Course Summary & Evaluations.

Textbooks: There are no required textbooks for this course. No printed textbook is able to keep current with the changes radical underway in the media industry. Besides, this is a New Media course, so the instructor will assign online readings. The instructor can recommend specific books about New Media which students in those specific majors should read.


The Greatest Change in Media Made Newspapers Obsolete

I’ve overwhelmingly tempted to quote words written for the Michael Corleone character by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola in their 1990 movie and novel The Godfather III:

“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”

Except that I’m no gangster, and I’ve somehow always expected to get back into blogging.

During 2008, however, I’d come to the conclusion that my time spent blogging, twittering, or interacting in other casual and small ways with people online was counterproductive to solving the serious and huge problems nowadays facing the news industries — the focus of my professional consulting and teaching work.  I reasoned that, like anyone else, my waking hours each day are limited, so blogging or twittering about la question de jour, and responding to blog comments, and getting involved in the casually chattering echosphere that much of Social Media has become, erodes my time to work on full solutions to the huge problems.

Many aficianados of blogging and twitter will assert that those practices are, are becoming, or will be, integral to solving the world’s great problems. Ask why, and most of those aficionados will be at a loss to tell you (except that it must be true because they do it?) More probative digerati will raise the premise of the Wisdom of Crowds. I’ve other friends who think that  major problems can be solved through Samoan Circles and other novel or New Age means. I understand all the threads of promise in those premises, but I think that in everyday practice they tend to unweave and distract more than they sew.

Whether online or in person, if people from the problemmed industry assemble and talk, they’ll almost certainly progress no further than the latent conventional wisdoms that led and keep their industry in the problems. I teach my university students that the Wisdom of Crowds can help reveal truth but it can just as easy sustain falsity ((go ask the bloggers who still maintain that Elvis lives, that extraterrestials live among us, or that Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq had something to do with the September 11 Attacks). The ball & chain of Groupthink is just as prevalent, if not more, in Samoan Circle exercises than in corporate boardrooms. History clearly shows that breakthrough solutions arise from one or— at most— a remarkably small number of people who aren’t in power delving very deeply into the problems, rather than any large groups of people throwing ideas onto their chalkboards and seeing which proposed solutions might stick (hint: what sticks most often isn’t a solution) or any assemblies of the people under whose managements the problems occurred.

What block formulation of solutions at industry and academic conferences, Samoan Circle exercises, and on most of the blogosphere and twittersphere, are latent conventional wisdoms. Conventional wisdoms are generally defined as concepts and ideas that are generally accepted as true by the public or by experts in a field. Conventional wisdoms are difficult enough obstacles to overcome, but even more intransigent are latent conventional wisdoms — concepts and ideas to which people don’t realize they adhere. (For example, ‘Newspapers aren’t working in print, so how can we create newspapers online?’ in which the concept that the package of information known as a newspaper must be transplanted and maintained is the latent convention wisdom. Likewise, many newspaper journalists fear that the demise of newspapers may mean the end of journalism. Their latent conventional wisdom is that newspapers — journalistic vehicles that have evolved over centuries — are the best of any possibly means for journalism.)  The solutions to any serious, huge problem requires thorough analyses that delve to any root of the problem and doesn’t become seduced by either la question du jour or latent conventional wisdoms.

Moreover, most of my waking hours nowadays are devoted to teaching. I believe that I can have more affect solving the news media industry’s problems if I teach tomorrow’s leaders, rather than spend time casually blogging, tweeting, and otherwise interacting with the industry’s current leaders (very many of who are contributors to the problems). Call me cynical but, based on my experiences, I place more hope in the future than the present. Provided that tomorrow’s leaders aren’t taught today’s leaders’ latent conventional wisdoms, hope abounds.

Thus in 2008 I largely quit blogging. (I say largely because I’d occasionally post something about the death of colleagues, or twice a year post the syllabi for the university courses that I teach, so that professors at other universities can see those.) Indeed, I stopped blogging despite having posted the first parts of a series of essays in which I proposed the real root of the problems in the newspaper industry and was about to propose the solutions.

Because the newspaper industry’s huge problems require full explanations and detailed solutions, I refrained from blogging but continued writing towards the solutions. I intended to refrain from publishing until I was finished in full and detail. At nearly 20,000 words, in several sections, my work isn’t yet finished. I hope it will be this summer (Northern Hemisphere). I plan to publish it not in the form of a printed book but as either its own Web site or the major part of this site.

Yet I now realize that though my premise that blogging, twittering, and otherwise engaging in small interactions are huge distractions from solving huge problems is correct, my avoiding those small interactions helps only to make those problems worse, if even in small ways. There are things from my unfinished writing that I should be contributing to my industry’s discussions, even if my contributions are only in the forms of blog posts, short essays, or tweets. I should be contribute to prevent, wherever possible, my industry’s errors or drift.

Hence, I resume.

My unfinished writings focus on the one root cause of the media industries problems nowadays and how that root cause also contains the materials from which comprehensive solutions can be constructed.  My larger work will detail that root cause, but my semimonthly Digital Publishing column at on Friday briefly described it (I’d initially titled the column, The Greatest Change Made Newspapers Obsolete, but this root cause affects all media industries).

That ClickZ column begins:

Ask most people who think of themselves as new media experts what the greatest change in the media has been in the past 35 years, and you’ll hear such answers as ‘the Internet,’ ‘social media,’ ‘search engines,’ or ‘iPhones.’

They’re wrong.

The greatest change has been that people’s access to media has changed from scarcity to surfeit. It’s an even bigger change than Gutenberg’s invention of a practical printing press, the invention of writing, or even the first Neolithic cave paintings. It’s the greatest change in all of media history. And it occurred in only 35 years — half a human lifespan.

This unprecedented change (in effect, a reversal) in the balance of Supply & Demand for information is totally reshaping the media environment.  It’s why so many major daily newspapers in post-industrial countries are going out-of-business; why listenership and viewership of general-interest broadcast stations are eroding and their network affiliation structures are beginning to implode; why the numbers of sales of musical albums and of tickets at cinemas are declining; and why consumers, rather than publishers and broadcasters, are not only taking control of media but redefining how prices are set, what local and community mean, how news is packaged, and how advertising will be done.

None of that should create problems for industries that want to adapt to this change, and adapting to the change creates more efficient media for consumers and publishers and broadcasters and marketers. The problems arise because most components of the media industries don’t want to adapt. They don’t want to adapt because doing so requires systemic changes, rather than cosmetic changes (such as ‘convergence’ or repurposing of existing content), and also because these industries’ senior executives are either too myopic to see the change reshaping the media environment or else too fearful that their stockholders will begin to realize it was obviously these same senior executives’ lacks of foresight that led their companies into the problems (or, as Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”)

If the unprecedented change in the balance of Supply & Demand for information — from scarce supply to surfeit supply or even information overload — is the root cause of the problems that media industries now face, how does the root cause contain materials from which comprehensive solutions can be constructed?

The solutions lay in understanding how this change affects pricing, packaging, the power balance between content providers and consumers, and even subjects such as what is local or what is community.

For examples, anyone who’s ever shopped in a bazaar, a flea market, or a souk knows how Supply & Demand affects power balancepricing and packaging. When something is scarce but in demand, its seller has more power over the transaction than the buyer does. The seller controls the price and packaging (‘If you want that, you also have to accept this,’ etc.) of the transaction. But when something is in demand but is surplus, then the buyer has more power over the transaction than the seller does. The buyer controls the price and packaging. All this about Supply & Demand is just as true in the media industries’ markets as in souks, flea markets, and bazaars. Few executives in the media industries understand this. They fail to understand why consumers who online nowadays have access to the contents of every news organization in the world won’t pay for the package of information (much of which is international and national news) that those same consumers would pay in the past when its printed version was their only available source of that content.

Moreover, very few media executives understand how Supply & Demand affects the definition of local news. When daily changing information in text format was scarce, the sellers of that information — newspaper publishers and their editors — controlled how local was defined. For the convenience of their businesses and practices, they defined local to mean their town or city or metropolitan  or some similar single geo-demographic area. However, nowadays as consumers have gotten access to more sources of information — including local news via local bloggers and local news operations that are being started in those localities — the definition of local is beginning to shift out of the publishers’ and his editors’ hands and more into the hands of the consumers. (Control hasn’t passed the fulcrum point into primarily the consumers’ control, but it is becoming shared control rather than be unilaterally controlled by the publishers and editors.) Consumers have begun redefining local to mean something much more local than how the publishers and their editors defined the term. Consumers are refining local to mean something that those publishers and editors could understand by the terms hyperlocal or microlocal news.

I’ve compared usage logs from news sites that offer local news offered according to the publishers’ and editors’ definition and that being offered by hyperlocal/microlocal sites. The latter are much more popular among consumers than the wider geo-demographic definitions that the publishers and their editors had used. And why not? What occurs closest (i.e, on their street, in their neighborhood, along their commute)  to consumers’ life  is what interests them the most.

I’ll be blogging bits here and there about my larger thesis. I’m not resident at Syracuse or Rhodes universities (I’ve been teaching at Rhodes earlier this Spring and will again in late July and August, and teach at Syracuse the rest of the year).


Speaking of academia, during a faculty meeting last year at a media school I know, a question arose about whether or not to teach students a course in numeracy. Because media professors tend to possess more verbal than mathematical talents, it wasn’t surprising that the question was voted down. One veteran professor who teaches writing noted, “Our incoming freshmen already have high test scores for math, so we don’t need to teach them that.” I bit my tongue and decided not to respond by noting that those incoming freshmen also have high verbal test scores and thus, according to that professor’s logic, the school shouldn’t need to teach them to write. However, I showed the faculty a copy of John Allen Paulos’ 1997 book, A Mathematician Reads the Newspaperand mentioned that so many journalists are innumerate that there’s actually a book written about the problem.

I thought of that today when I today read an Editor & Publisher magazine story about how, despite salary freezes, the average salary at U.S. newspapers was actually rising and last week when I read a posting on the Newspaper Association of America’s Web site noting how subscription churn rates at those newspapers has markedly declined. Both those stories appear to be positive: salaries are rising at U.S. newspapers despite layoffs and salary freezes and subscription churn rates have declined a lot. However, do the math:

  1. As newspapers let go of their more marginal staffers and keep their more essential—presumably more veteran—staffers who are paid more than the marginal staffers, then mathematically the average wage at newspapers has to rise. The mathematical function is fairly obvious: as newspapers reduce all of their department staffs until only the most integral remain, the remaining staffers are likely to be those higher paid because they indeed were integral. Thus, staff reductions tend to increase the salary average. If the publisher were to let go of everyone but himself, you’d see a whopping increase in the average salary.
  2. Likewise, as newspapers’ circulations continue to decline, subscription churn will decline because those newspapers are losing so many marginal subscribers that only the most loyal are left

No surprises, except to the innumerate. Nevertheless, these types of stories get publicity because they superficially seem like good news amid all the bad. The industry associations’ public relations departments spin out press releases touting these ‘good’ things — one can’t blame the PR departments for that: it’s their jobs —and the journalists who report about the industry delve any further than that into what the numbers mean . Indeed, public relations departments often rely on overworked trade journalists not delving beyond and instead taking the ‘good’ spin verbatim. was where I first became aware of the story about the average wage rising at U.S. newspapers. It’s the site I use most to find news stories about the New Media business. It’s unusually competent because its staff of journalists most often does delve beyond the spin in press releases and reports issues by the public relations departments of media companies and trade associations.


Speaking of competency or its lack, in a backhanded remark one year ago May, I disparaged the Newspaper Association of America’s annual Connections conference about New Media. I was incompetent doing so. I was commenting on one of PBS’s Web blogs about why I’ve largely stopped attending the annual New Media conference that Editor & Publisher and MEDIAWEEK magazines hold, and I made a remark about NAA’s Connections conferences (now know as MediaXchange) being even worse. I soon received an e-mail from Randy Bennett, the senior vice president of business development at NAA, who wrote:

I read your comment on the Mediashift blog about NAA’s interactive conferences being worse than E&P’s event, and, presumably others.  I was dismayed by your evaluation given that you have not been to the NAA event, as far as I can tell, in several years.  At minimum, a guy like you who champions the truth should have disclosed that, in fact, you had not attended an NAA interactive event recently and that your judgment was based on, perhaps, previous experience from several years ago or from hearsay.

I certainly don’t begrudge any criticism (although your comment was not particularly constructive), but in a public forum I would expect that you would have been more forthcoming about your perspective.

He is entirely correct. I hadn’t been to the Connections conference in several years and so shouldn’t have been judging whether it was better or worse than another. I didn’t respond to Randy, instead meaning to post a correction (what I’m writing now) here that day or the next. However, by happenstance that May was when I basically stopped blogging for the 19 months .

Now that I resume blogging, it’s only right that I post that correction now, albeit unconscionable a year late!

Moreover, Bennett is one of the most competent executives in the U.S. newspaper industry. For some reason, he and I never really quite got along (perhaps it was my strong personality or because since 1995 I’ve been very critical of the U.S. newspaper industry’s path). But make no mistake: he’s done phenomenal work over the years, despite the titanic forces of change that have gone against his industry. While working in Africa earlier this season, I was dismayed to hear about the NAA cutting almost half of its staff, but I was glad to hear that he was not among those cut.


Reinventing Your Local Newspaper

I’m spending much of the Southern Hemisphere’s winter (Northern Hemisphere’s summer) in the Republic of South Africa where I’m helping that country’s leading journalism school in what I hope will be a notable advance in how journalism and news publishing are practiced in the 21st Century. I’ve not previously written about this project, and am a bit constrained doing so no simply because my Internet connectivity here 500 miles east of Capetown is severely limited (but if you want to bump into wild rhinos, I can help you). Nevertheless, my most recent digital publishing biweekly column at describes some of the project.

I’ve been in the SA since mid-April and will return to the US on May 10th. I’ll then spend a week in Syracuse teaching the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication’s Social Media course in its Executive Education in Public Relations master’s degree program, then a week in Los Angeles, co-teaching the Knight Digital Media Center’s Digital Media Entrepreneurship Boot Camp. After a June vacation, I’ll then return to the SA and this main project in July.

Digital Media Management Syllabus

For the next three weeks, I’ll be lecturing on Digital Media Management at the Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership, at Rhodes University‘s School of Journalism and Media Studies, in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa. These lectures will be based upon the New Media Business graduate school course that I teach at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, in the United States.

Here is the syllabus for these lectures:

Continue reading Digital Media Management Syllabus

Training Journalists for the 21st Century

Ryan Sholin guest-lecturing in my New Media Business class at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications
Ryan Scholin guest-lecturing in my New Media Business class at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communicatinos

My biweekly Digital Publishing column at is about the skills that journalism schools need to teach their students to prepare them for this century. The advice in it is true for retraining professional journalists, too.

Life Aboard an Academic Supercarrier

In May, when after a year of teaching graduate school courses, I wrote a column lamenting how resistant to change many media schools are about New Media, I was amused when my friend Jeff Jarvis tried to hijack my column and turn it into an advertisement for his smaller and competing school.

“Reading Vin Crosbie’s piece about the resistance to change and general obstructionism he has found teaching at journalism school (he doesn’t say it, but he has spent the year at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University), it makes me triply glad I am teaching at CUNY [City University of New York] Graduate School of Journalism. This will come off as blatant self-promotion for the school but so be it….When I arrived at CUNY, I feared I would find what Vin did. But I haven’t, not at all. I thought I might be marginalized as the crazy guy. But that hasn’t happened….Instead, in the last few months, I’ve been teaching the faculty itself in all the tools of online: blogs, wikis, RSS, video, SEO, and on and on. The best part of this has not been my colleagues’ receptivity to, curiosity about, and eagerness to adapt the tools themselves in their classes but the discussion we have shared about the impact of these tools on journalism and education. We’ve had rich back and forth on the new architecture of media and news that the impact of this change on journalism education.”

Reading that, I felt like an American does when he reads a Hungarian or Malaysian write, ‘Look at all the trouble the U.S. economy is in! Come start your new business in my country, whose economy is growing.’

Well, much as I love Budapest and Kuala Lumpur and congratulate their countries about their economy’s growth, I’d much rather be working here in the United States. Indeed, when my one-year contract to teach graduate school courses at Syracuse University expired a week after I wrote my column and that university offered to renew it, I did so without hesitation, despite offers from other media schools.

There might be some old-fashioned professors, including a few obstructionists, in my school, as there are at most schools, but I’d rather help navigate a supercarrier with its awesome firepower, than serve in the navy of a smaller country of lesser prowess. When I recently read about Arizona State University receiving a $552,000 grant “to create an incubator where students will learn how to create and launch digital media products,” I had a similar feeling as I sat in my office within Syracuse University’s 72,000 square-foot, $32.5 million dollar Newhouse III building, which is devoted to New Media.

With all due respect to Jeff and his school, I was miffed about seeing my column hijacked into an ad for another school. I’ve been meaning to respond. Had I known someone would use what I wrote to tout another school, I would have balanced the disadvantages I mentioned by also mentioning my school’s overwhelming advantages.

Jeff is improving CUNY. As he has written, he’s teaching his school’s faculty how to use blogs, wikis, RSS, video, SEO, and Twitter. We’re doing that here at Syracuse, too. Moreover, the other New Media professors and I have begun cross-training Syracuse faculty, whose ranks number several times larger the size of those at other media school. We’ve begun teaching photography, audio, and video to the professors in the newspaper, magazine, advertising, and public relations departments, and also teaching all of the schools’ professors how to build and operate Web sites (including Dreamweaver and XML), nonetheless to use RSS, blogware, etc. Our efforts are helped by having all three Newhouse School buildings networked with 25 miles of 100-gigabyte Ethernet onto a 72-terabyte server array. Our supercarrier has nuclear propulsion.

At Syracuse, we’ve also been lucky to have some wonderful guest speakers in the school. Sports broadcaster Bob Costas was in today, as was ESPN’s Mike Turico last week. I want my New Media Business students to listen in particular to Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide CEO Kevin Roberts and Optimedia CEO Antony Young, who each will be here next month. Last semester, I had Rob Curley, Bob Cauthorn, and Rafat Ali each meet with my New Media Business class.

Those are only some of the reasons why I’m now in my second academic year of teaching at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications.

Last year, I taught New Media Business as two weekly classes over 15 weeks, a total of 28 classes not counting mid-term and final exams. This year, because of the school’s class scheduling and my classroom preference, I’m teaching it as 14 once per week classes. So, the course’s syllabus can vary semester by semester. However, here is what I’m teaching this semester:

Continue reading Life Aboard an Academic Supercarrier