The End Of Civilization As We Know It

When my father was drafted during World War II and dumped in Belgium just in time for the Battle of the Bulge, my mother and his first two kids (I wasn’t a glimmer in his eye yet) waited days for even a hint of news about the war… and waited months for letters from Pop himself.

The news came in painfully slow trickles. First rumors, then snatches of broadcast bulletins on the radio, then a newspaper story that may or not have been accurate… and in none of this was even a prayer for specific news from or about Pop.

That kind of no-news existence is just hard to imagine now. Online, I can watch stories develop just by refreshing my Google homepage — really hot news is updated constantly, within minutes of dramatic fresh input.

Heck, I can see minutes-old footage of events on YouTube, and read real-time blogs from every corner of the English-speaking world.

The delivery, consumption, and digesting of news has done changed in radical ways.

We all knew the Web was gonna morph our reality into something new… but even a year or so ago, most prognosticators believed we had some inkling of what the brave new world might look like.

Forget about it, now. All bets are off, all predictions inoperable.

No one knows what’s in store.

Least of all the news organizations we call “mainstream media”.

The fate of newspapers is interesting to me… both because I grew up loving my daily dose of whatever local rag served the town I was living in… and because the culture of the news junkie was well-defined. (And I have been a news junkie since I was old enough to read.)

We knew what was going on in the world, and we read enough varied takes on events to form an independent opinion.

It’s one thing to embrace the world and enjoy adventures… but it’s another thing to seek to also “know” the world while you plow through the decades.

Like the guys selling horse-drawn buggies 100 years ago, refusing to realize the exploding market share the automobile was gobbling up… mainstream newspapers have been slow to give the Internet credibility for news disperal.

I think local papers will survive in some form (probably mostly online, though)… because communities need a central clearing house for local news.

But it’s gonna be a painful transition. Because newspapers are owned by techno-phobes who regard online existence as some unknowable alien universe… and they just cannot, for the life of them, figure out how to make it profitable.

Please. The shake-out will produce a good alternative to the daily tree-killing newspaper… but not until the old diehard newsmen wander away, and news-dispensing organizations learn how to incorporate what entrepreneurs already know about making money online. (Right now, most newspapers see their online versions as “newspapers without paper”… but the old model of selling classifieds and department store inserts for profit don’t work online. The guy selling his 1998 Honda Accord is now on eBay and Craigslist, and the department stores that are surviving have gotten hip to email blasts and list building. Oops.)

The local paper here in Reno actually has a pretty damn good Website — and I now go there first when I need accurate weather news (important when you live in the bosom of the Sierras in winter), and also whenever I see a fresh plume of smoke wafting up from the valley floor, or hear sirens close by. (Every once in a while, I’ll sip my nightly beer while watching traffic cams around the city — real-time views of mostly routine intersections, with the occasion reward of getting to watch a three-car pile-up as it happens. Voyeur heaven.)

However, no one knows exactly what the newspaper will look like in the very near future.

This matters to marketers, very much. As the affiliate world grows ever more incestuous, and competition for pay-per-click gets nasty (not to mention the gruesome, unpredictable and never-ending rule-changes by the Google Gods), the “old” ways of reaching prospects (by finding out where the eyeballs gather) will start to look attractive again.

Soon, too.

I know of several top marketers who aren’t using PPC at all anymore. They use banner ads on sites that attract the kind of prospect they desire, as well as Hartunian-style PR releases and the cultivation of “go to guy” status in online communities that thrive on — yes — breaking news.

So it’s probably time for savvy entrepreneurs to start paying closer attention to where people-with-money are going for decent-length visits and multiple page-views. (Not ADD surfers bouncing off sites like a pinball.) (You young-uns know what a pinball game is, right? They still have those, down at the arcade? Jeez, I haven’t played a game that wasn’t virtual in years…)

Anyway…

One of the strongest players in the “new” news game was also one of the first on the scene. I don’t think much of Drudge, the man (his radio show is incoherent, and his obsession with Walter Winchell is creepy)… but his newsy “bulletin board” site, www.drudgereport.com, has ruled the roost for years.

With the same college-dorm quickie design format he pioneered in the late 90s. It looks awful. But it gets the hits.

As a news junkie, I visit Drudge everyday… mostly to get the right-wing spin on developing stories. I’m an independent who likes to watch the wingnut fights… I get my left-wing spin from www.huffingtonpost.com, and then check the somewhat middle-of-the-road Wall Street Journal subscription site (one publication that seems to have discovered how to be profitable online), the MSN daily e-mag Slate.com, and then a bunch of newspapers across the world.

But Drudge is always the first stop.

He doesn’t write ANYTHING for the site… except to rehash the headlines of certain stories he’s pitching. He has a staff who combs the world’s media centers for print and broadcast news, and offers up simple links to those sites.

That’s it. He’s a bulletin board.

And yet he has earned frontpage stories in the Washington Post and New York Times, and been called “the future of journalism”. Why? Because, as simple as his site is, he gets something like 15million visits a day. While the Post sells 5 million tree-killing newspapers a day, and pretty much has no clue how many people really read its Website.

So it’s more likely that mainstream media will begin to look more like Drudge, than the other way around.

Never visited the site?

This is why I’m writing about it: I don’t care if you visit it, or if you like it or hate it.

As a marketer, you’ve GOT to pay attention to the way it’s morphing the Zeitgeist of our culture.

You can get links to the top stories there… and when, for example, Hurricane Katrina hit, you could read what local Louisiana media outlets (both print and broadcast) were saying. And compare that with linked stories from the Los Angeles Times and the International Herald-Tribune.

If you went to the Washingtom Post site, all you’d get was their reporter’s version, and maybe another view from the AP wire service.

But Drudge covers “newsy” stories almost reluctantly. Like most of the talking-head cable TV shows, he really got a boost from the OJ Simpson trial, the Monica-all-the-time-Lewinski scandal, and the never-ending trials and tribulations of the current political fiascos.

The site is like 3 completely different people sitting across from you at the family dinner table –your serious-minded friend, earnestly talking about famine, war and economic theory… trying to outtalk the gossipy aunt who has never heard a secret she isn’t eager to share and elaborate on… both vying against the weird cousin who follows all UFO conspiracies as steadfastly as he does the latest box office battles of Hollywood studios.

It’s the New York Times meets the Hollywood Reporter meets the National Enquirer.

And you know what? It’s friggin’ fascinating.

Here’s a sample of the headlines for stories Drudge had up a couple of days ago (while the Washington Post was thick with more serious news on more serious subjects):

“Probation For Man Who Had Sex With Dead Deer.”

“Private Rocket Lost Shortly After Launch.”

“Dating Site Courts Only The Good Looking.”

“McCain Warns Of Spreading Socialism.’

“Judge Pulls Gun In Florida Courtroom.”

“Dog Performs Heimlich Maneuver On Owner.”

“Wolfgang Puck Bans Foie Gras.”

“Mystery Rash Closes Ohio School.”

And yeah, I read ‘em all.

Me, a busy, busy, busy professional (and hot prospect for many online marketers) with not much spare time to surf the Net.

And I will wait two minutes for the podunk Florida news site to download the video of the probation hearing of the guy who did the nasty with a dead deer.

We’ve all got to start exploring new ways to find our target audiences online, in situations where they aren’t zipping by in a panic.

Drudge doesn’t take much advertising (not sure why), and I’m not convinced his banner ads are efficient (because they change so frequently).

Still… the ancient desire of humans to want to hear more than rumors on breaking news (and gossip) will never fade.

Just tuck this fact away somewhere as you ponder future marketing moves (and while your email delivery rates continue to slide)…

Dead deer, indeed.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton
www.carltoncoaching.com

8 Responses to The End Of Civilization As We Know It

  1. Funny how well your posting adds to the story I read (and commented upon in my blog) just an hour ago. It’s about a fellow who started a junky weekly newspaper filled with nothing but the unflattering thumbnails. As they say, “Page after page, with only a few ads in between.”

    It covers three-county distribution area and the stars are the readers’ neighbors, charged with everything from drug possession to prostitution to murder – now your mention of that guy who did the nasty with a dead deer comes handy. And that newspaper sells out each week – like, 8,000 copies weekly. I sure would be curious to see that JAIL newspaper – anybody willing to send me a copy :)?

    And that Drudge Report site – it sure looks, uhm, cluttered, but I’ll force myself to get thru. it’d be a little bit tough for us foreigners though :) – I’m Russian – but the chance to see many points of view at one place is worth inconvinience the interface causes. Besides, it might be a good source of content – I’m going go test that “Any word(s) in article” feature.

  2. That Drudge guy, he does what Ad networks (like AsSense) explicitely prohibit – he asks visitors “Support The DrudgeReport; Visit Our Advertisers”. Hmm…my guess is that he might do as he please having 15 Mln visitors/day onboard?

    Havent seen such a circa 1996 looking site for a long long time, but you’re right – it does deliver the real value.

  3. Hi John,
    we met at Gary Halbert’s Miami conference two summers ago. I have bunches of your stuff.

    if you like Drudge, you would probably love Jeff Rense’s site.
    Like Drudge, Rense doesn’t write much, just gathers alternate information, articles, etc. from around the world. It’s the biggest altnews site on the web.

    He is the BEST. A real American hero, striving every day to wake up the sleeping populace before it is too late.

    www,rense,com

  4. Yes John one thing we can count on is change. We have to keep our ear to the ground, watch for the handwriting on the wall, keep downwind from things and follow our bliss to a sanctuary of our creation.

  5. HI John,

    This reminds me of a guy who is a very well known journalist in my country (Slovenia) and he is also an editor of the national ISP’s blog community which was launched some year ago (yes we did live in the stone age as far as our ISP was concerned). He “rules” that blogosphere as a censor, and does everything he was thaught in his “clasical media”. And his posts are geared towards dimminishing the relevance of the “new newsmedia” as Blogs, forums, social networks, etc.
    If this guy woud once observe his blogs stats, he would see, that every day his blog is read by more people than the newspaper he is working at, has sales (per piece, not in terms of money) and subscribers per person per day………And then mock at all the non proffesionals, who have even more visits per day than him, and they are completely “freelanced”

    Some time ago, i lissened to Brad Fallon saying how much opportunity is there on the web because the “big ones” just don’t get the hype, and so they always stay behind.
    So true.

    best wishes,
    Aleš

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