Tuesday, March 06, 2007

"Heaven never helps the man who will not act." Sophocles

"There is nothing in life so irrational, that good sense and chance may not set it to rights; nothing so rational, that folly and chance may not utterly confound it." Goethe

What is News Worth?
From pigeons to online profits. Michael Rosenblum is asking us to think about the value of news. In the process he tells us a story. The story of Napoleon, Rothschild and a cutting edge technology, a pigeon. Read all about it here. Bravo Michael! Very well done.

Congrats & cheers: Eric Schmidt, Larry Page
, and Sergey Brin top the list - The 50 Most Important People on the Web. The list by PC World's Christopher Null here. Others in the top ten include Steve Jobs, Bram Cohen, Mike Morhaime, Jimmy Wales, John Doerr, Craig Newmark, Peter Levinsohn, Marissa Mayer, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen. Good to see that Shana Fisher, Matt Mullenweg, Ray Ozzie, Robert Scoble, Larry Lessig, Kevin Rose, Gabe Rivera, Dave Winer and Nick Denton all made the list.

Not a big fan of "lists" but they are not insignificant. In fact, lists are everywhere. Rankings, nothing more than an r word list seem all the rage today (e.g., digg, et al). It was the legendary genius Bill Kaland who first gave me some understanding on lists. In my salad days as a manager at WBZ one of my mentors, the brilliant researcher Jim Yergin, took me to see Bill Kaland. Bill, then retired, took an audience with the "kid" and said the world was ordered, so-called taste and popular culture nothing more than ranked zeitgeist. Dynamic never static, a changing motion picture not a snap shot. Yergin, his assistant Roy Shapiro and I listened as Bill held forth. This was the gentleman, along with Bill Heacock, and other thinkers that had changed the broadcast media in north America. Kaland was part of those Group W, Westinghouse guys. The people that put "contemporary" music on their big 50kws, the very same gang that put all news on 1010 WINS. The guys that first defined the news cycle by asking for "22 minutes." "A hit list, there is always a hit list whether or not you wish to concur" so said the great Mr. Kaland. Of course, he was correct. There is always a hit list, always.

You did read Michael Rosenblum's story about the pigeon, didn't you? You really should, it's here. And be sure to catch his Why TV News Sucks, Pt. 3 here. Bandwidth well spent.

Couric & Company: Clearly, the CBS Evening News needs work. At six months since debut Katie is stuck in third place. The solution might be more about pov, style, content and substance than about the star talent catching the now daily incoming. While Katie may not be the answer she may not, in fact, be the real problem. Before I start getting emails from my AWRT pals please allow me to explain. Breaking out of third place by getting better at the same approach is not likely. What's needed here is differentiation. Breaking away from the pack and putting on offer a very real alternative deserves a candid hearing. Having a woman reading and presenting basically the same stories is not different enough to gain share nor, apparently, loyalty. What is needed here is radical game-changing innovation. Give the Couric team another six months to find their way and during that interval begin developing some original plan B scenarios. Perhaps the best return on the Katie investment is the most obvious, have her lead development of the failed CBS morning franchise. Let Katie play to her strengths, let that perky gal give NBC a run for their money and stop wasting time coaching her on giving better "serious news face." Katie's smile, laugh, giggle and engaging attitude are golden, give them back to America. Chase the NBC strategy and add more hours, earlier and later. Let her do some prime specials and contribute on 60. What to do with the evening news? Michael Rosenblum's suggestion deserves consideration: "For the price of Katie Couric’s salary, CBS Evening News could field the most powerful and dynamic television reporting team in the world. They could enter the new world of non-linear, web driven, online, VOD news and conquer it. Own it! They could, in a stroke, become the Digital Tiffany Network (so to speak), and set a global standard for video reporting and journalism." Reinventing the evening news will not be easy but my sense is Les Moonves is enough of a maverick to make it happen. Getting better and better at a game that's no longer being played or, in the least, played less and less might not yield the best future ROI. Might not be the best allocation of resources. Let's be honest enough to admit the evening news business, as it is now practiced, may be an anachronism, the preservation of which might well be fraught with peril. It's not about winning one half-hour of weeknight news, it's all about creating a 21st century news and information service. Courage.