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    Russell Viers is a Transition Expert in the publishing world. Since 1997 he has helped newspapers and magazines adapt to changes in the industry. Read more...

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  • Archive for the ‘Trends’ Category

    Just the facts, ma’am

    Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

    “Printed newspapers will thrive for decades to come,” I hear publishers say. Kevin Slimp writes in his columns that this newspaper crisis is just like Y2K…nothing to worry about…just keep doing what your doing.

    I want to believe it…I really do. But the data says something else. The data shows we need to begin now to adapt to a changing business model.

    It’s my view that the majority of today’s community newspaper publishers are making ten year plans based on emotion, not facts. This view was supported recently at a state newspaper convention.

    I sat in on a “mock trial” session where the future of print was to be decided by a “jury” of newspaper people in the audience. The “defendant” was By the year 2020, the majority of community newspapers will be electronic only and the “plaintiff” was Print will live on!

    The attorney for both sides was Ken Blum, playing different characters, and arguing, as objectively as possible, for each side. After his arguments for and against, he left the room while the Jury debated.

    From where I was sitting, both Blum and members of the jury used facts when presenting a case that print is on it’s way out, but when it came to reasons print will live on, the arguments were based on opinions. The final vote was 28 to 12…print will live on after 2020.

    We have an exciting ten years ahead of us, and things are changing quickly. We can’t rely exclusively on what’s worked for us in the past and we can’t judge the industry by what we see out our windows. We need to look at trends in our industry, as well as other industries, to try to plan a course that will not only keep us in business, but allow us to thrive.

    For example, I wrote a blog article recently, Let Your Fingers Do The Googling, talking about the death of printed Yellow Pages. In that article I mention how the city of San Francisco is not allowing the free distribution of Yellow Pages to residents unless they sign an opt-in card. How would that same ordinance in your city for your shopper or other TMC product, like special tabs, etc. affect you? It’s important we look cross media, as well as what’s going on nationally with papers, to make hard decisions.

    The good news is we’re not alone. There are many resources out there to give us the information we need, and today’s publisher should be following them regularly.

    A good example is Pew Research Center. They have a lot of stuff on there you can gloss over, but there is good research on the trends in our industry and the people who are our readers. Recently they published some very useful information, with nice pretty charts, showing how various age groups get their news today, compared with the past ten years.

    When I saw the following graphs I flashed back to my advertising sales days, remembering the importance of the prime consuming demographic to local advertisers. These days I would set that age at about ages 20-60.

    With this age group in mind, look at these figures:

    According to Pew Research, 18 to 29-year-olds get most of their news online now, even beyond television and WAY beyond printed newspapers…um…21 to 65 percent.

    For the 30 to 49-year-olds market, what I would consider the prime market for most advertisers, the internet hasn’t passed TV, yet, but it’s on it’s way…and fast. But what matters more is how many more people in this key demographic get their news today from internet vs. printed newspapers. I’m in this group (barely) and I find it interesting how many people my age, who didn’t grow up with computers, are really connected with iPods, smart phones and tablets. Most even play Angry Birds on one device or another.

    For 50 to 64-year-olds print is still the primary source of news, but look at the angle of that jump from ’09 to 2010…how long will it stay that way?

    And now we get to your subscribers. Yes, I said YOUR subscribers. Most weekly and small daily papers I meet today tell me their average subscriber is over the age of 65.

    There you go…if this trend holds, and the subscribers in this demographic stay alive, you should be able to keep these subscribers for a long time. There doesn’t seem to be much threat of the internet taking over this group any time soon. But if you were to tell your advertisers that the majority of your subscribers are over the age of 65, would they still advertise?

    If you saw these exact same figures for the population of our county, and they showed this type of growth in the Hispanic community, would you start a Spanish edition or pages of your paper? If you knew that 65 percent of the people in your county were over the age of 55, would you start a Senior page in your paper? If you knew that 65 percent of the people in your community were hunters, would you start a hunting page…or whatever? Point is, these are important numbers and shouldn’t be ignored.

    The majority of the people in your community are getting their news online! What are you doing to reach them?

    Take these graphs and a box of crayons…draw the lines out further. Assuming there is NO CHANGE in the trend, what does the next nine years look like. Also take into account the attrition in the 65+ graph and it starts staring you in the face. Oh, by the way, these charts are pre-tablet, so throw that in the mix. Now all of a sudden, 2020 comes into perspective.

    Someone in the “jury” commented that “nine years is a blink of an eye…I don’t see it happening that fast.” Brian Steffens, Director of Communications at Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, retorted “Nine years to us is the blink of an eye, but in the technology world it’s an eternity.” Good point. The iPad has been out barely more than a year. The iPhone has been out only since ’07.

    So what do we do about it? Get serious about your website. Get as serious about your website as you are about your Back to School tab, or County Fair tab, or Progress Edition. Get as serious about your website as you were when you launched your shopper.

    I have a customer using my Atomic News Tools product who had empty ad spaces on her website. I asked her if she would ever publish an edition of the paper with empty spots or if she would fill them with house ads and PSAs. She immediately filled the site.

    I have other Atomic customers who I’ve asked “Did you do a story on your new website in your paper? Are you promoting it? Are you getting the word out?” Many said “we never thought of it.”

    It’s important we recognize the threat and potential of the internet and get busy making it work for us.

    This isn’t my opinion…there is a mountain of evidence to support that print will be dead by the year 2020 (read my article Viva la Print)

    But what if I’m wrong? What if you put all this energy into a website and it’s making you a additional income…and your print product is still strong. Wow. You now have an edition that’s making money, targeting one demographic, while still making money from your established print product.

    The jury vote determined that print is alive and well and will thrive for decades to come. I would like that to be true, too. I would like the businesses that have prospered for years on newspapers to continue to do so, as well. I love print. I love helping newspapers improve their print product while working faster…it’s my business, too. But if I step away from my wants and look at the facts, I have to be ready to adapt in the direction of the trends…and that starts today.

    This doesnt have to be seen as a negative – it’s an opportunity.  If I could offer news as it happens, without the cost and hassle of printing and dealing with the Post Office…at a profit…I would do it in a heartbeat. But just because internet news hasn’t proven profitable by itself, yet, doesn’t mean it won’t. And if you wait until it IS profitable to get into the game, I’m afraid you’ll find someone else has beat you to it.

    Writer’s Note: Click here for the complete Pew Research report.

    Viva la Print?

    Friday, July 29th, 2011

    A few months ago I was on a train to Brussels, Belgium, leafing through the International Herald Tribune and a story caught my eye. It was a story about a newspaper that refused to have a website…they only had a print edition.

    I have heard this line too many times: “If we put our stories up on the Internet, who would buy the paper on Wednesday?” the publisher, Claude Angeli, asked. “We believe in print.”

    What made it different this time was that it was a publisher of a newspaper in Paris, France saying it.

    The newspaper, Le Canard Enchainé, is a satirical weekly that targets politicians, entertainers and the elite with great success. In a climate where France’s other papers are beginning to struggle, Angeli is succeeding. His readership is up. His subscriptions are up. Profits are up.

    “Well if he can do it, why can’t everyone else? Let’s just stop with this website experiment we’ve been doing and go back to print?” Is that what you were thinking?

    Before you buy into Claude’s thinking, there are some important questions to answer:

    • What’s the future of print?
    • How will you distribute it?
    • Will your competitors fill the online void?
    • How unique is your content?
    • Does your community REALLY want print?

    The Future of Print

    When you look at all the newspapers that are, at best, just getting thinner, it raises the question about supply and demand of newsprint and other print supplies in the future. Taking just the Detroit Free Press, which has recently become a weekly paper, as an example, how much newsprint is no longer needed to stay in business? Using numbers from last year, the paper had a weekday circulation of just under 300,000 copies and Sunday was as high as 580,000. Even though they are still printing and distributing to newsstands, the elimination of print editions to households six days of the week is a substantial decrease in the amount of newsprint being used in Detroit.

    As this trend continues among large dailies, how is this going to impact the cost of print supplies and the availability of suppliers in rural areas?

    Some questions you should be prepared to answer today are: “How much of an increase in printing cost can I sustain under my current pricing structure?” and “What would I do if my printer closed his doors?”

    I’m not trying to scare anyone. Okay, I am. I talk with so many publishers of papers who are convinced newspapers will survive in printed form forever. I don’t see it that way. The trends are showing otherwise.

    Can you rely on the post office for distribution?

    The United States Postal Service has been in the news a lot lately. It’s already begun closing branches and has 3600 more in its sights. The numbers in various articles jump around, but no matter what you read, it’s not an optimistic future for small papers that rely on the local post office to distribute the paper each week.

    I’m not a postal expert, but I would guess having to work with a post office in a different town would have some impact on price. If not, at the very least that paper would have the added expense and time of delivering it further.

    Last week there was an article in USA Today about the USPS anticipating an $8.38 billion loss this year. How are these loses going to impact the price per piece for newspaper distribution?

    Back to an earlier question: “How much on an increase on postage rates and delivery can I sustain with my current pricing structure?”

    Who will fill the online void?

    This may be my biggest concern for publishers who only want to do print editions. What impact will it have on your paper when the local Chamber of Commerce starts putting up feature stories of local businesses and events on a website they name, or whatever fits. What will happen when the school booster club starts a website with hundreds of color pictures of all the school activities, including sports, and you only have a couple of black and whites on the sports page each week.

    I would like to say that I’m spit-balling here, but it’s happening.

    And what about the various “suck” sites in your community already, like topix or And then there’s, which AOL started to compete with papers with an online edition right in their communities.

    Is your content unique enough?

    So how does the future fare for Claude in Paris? Provided he can get the paper printed and distributed in a cost-effective manner, he might continue to do well. He is the only one in his country with the staff and connections to deliver the type of investigative, satirical content his readers crave. It would be very difficult for someone to start an online version of his paper with the same content. As long as he remains unique in that niche with his print product he may do fine.

    Provided his readers continue to want print…

    Does your community really want print?

    Statistics are starting to show otherwise. Publishers are often so protective of their paid circulation and the risk of losing it to online, they don’t take a hard look at just who the paid subscribers are. An attendee at one of my seminars recently told me the average age of his subscribers was 65. That’s 65. A sixty and a five. If you look at the consuming public that the advertisers are trying to reach, they’re not in the demographic. So this paper is protecting 2000 paid seniors at the risk of a larger public that is younger, web savvy, mobile device savvy and has money to spend on what your advertisers are selling: tires, cars, furniture, groceries, etc.

    I suggest newspapers take a hard look at the community as a whole, as well as the subscribers, and really find out what they want and what they are willing to pay for. And as fast as the trends are changing, this is a question that needs to be asked often. What they wanted yesterday isn’t what they may want today.

    I’ve speculated that we won’t be printing newspapers in seven years. It’s an educated guess, but I’ll put it in writing and hope I’m wrong.

    Seven years, think about that…that’s like the day after tomorrow in dog years (or something like that).

    To make this prediction I’m looking back seven years at how things have changed. To name a few milestones and how they have changed the way we communicate.

    • Facebook launched in 2004
    • iPhone released June 2007
    • Twitter launched March 2007
    • iPad released 2010

    So now what?

    Be prepared. Put together a five year plan and take a hard, honest look at what’s happening in the media today and don’t hide behind a hope.

    I’m a print guy. My background is print. I want to be wrong. I’ve made a living teaching people how to produce a better newspaper faster…in print. I still do. But I also spend a lot of time these days helping newspapers and magazines embrace electronic media and enjoy the many benefits. For now, there is room for both.

    In this plan focus on two things:

    1. Improving the Print product
    2. Developing an electronic edition

    We must work now to make our print editions the best they can be. It’s important we show our community we are the news providers they can rely on, not the Chamber of Commerce or PTA. We can do this through better design, better photos, better ads and better writing. All of these add up to the ONLY product like it in most communities…and we need to take advantage of that.

    At the same time, we need to develop a plan to offer online editions to our readers. This allows us to get new readers who don’t read print, offer more photos and other content in color and enjoy an additional revenue stream as we sell ads on the website.

    For those who might accuse me of preaching doom and gloom I’ll conclude with “I would buy a paper today.” I still believe in community journalism. I still believe there is a future for small newspapers. I just don’t have a lot of faith, long term, in the United States Postal Service or the printing industry as it is today.

    Let your fingers do the Googling

    Friday, July 8th, 2011

    When your dryer is no longer capable of drying clothes, it suddenly becomes a worthless appliance. Time to call the Maytag Repairman!

    My dryer is an old Maytag that was already in this house I bought and it looks like it’s from the set of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Old. With a stack of Yellow Pages RIGHT NEXT TO ME I launched Safari on my computer and searched for “Maytag Repair.” I may have even moved them out of the way to open my computer (but that might be exaggerating a bit).

    I got a couple of hits and called…they couldn’t come out until next week.

    I widened my search with “appliance repair” and found a guy near my house with FIVE STARS and a couple of good reviews. This dude was willing to come to my house for $9.95 to review the problem before doing the rapair…SOLD!

    The ability to quickly find what I’m looking for, see the location on a map and read feedback from previous customers is far better than what a printed Yellow Pages has EVER offered me.

    How many times have you heard me say (or read me type) “If it can be digitized, it will be.”

    One of the important ingredients to something becoming a viable digital alternative to it’s printed counterpart is benefit. Is the print version still the best option or does the digital version offer something better?

    What defines better? That can mean different things to different consumers. In the case of Yellow Pages, let’s look at how a printed book fails compared to a digital alternative.

    • Portability. I remember stores selling small versions of the thick book to keep in your car…who wants to lug that around, eh?
    • Search ability. How many times have to looked under Pizza and it says “See Restaurants” or vice versa.
    • Immediacy. How often have you picked up a phone book and tried to call a business, only to realize you’re using an outdated book and the company isn’t there anymore?
    • Green. There’s no question that printing a book that size, plus distribution, takes a lot of paper, chemicals and fuel.
    • Customer feedback. The closest the Yellow Pages can come to this is testimonials in ads…and those are only positive and selected by the advertiser. Online alternatives allow you, the consumer, to give your feedback for others to benefit from.
    • Immediate links to more information. Once you find a business that interests you, you’re just a hyperlink away from as much information as that customer wants to throw at you. Full menus, video, online ordering and more.
    • Social media. Some sites are not integrated with Facebook, Twitter and more so your comments are posted for your friends and followers. Say you eat at a great Turkish restaurant and want to comment…your comment isn’t just feedback, it’s an advertisement for your friends to find out about a place they’ve never been.
    • Mapping. When I travel I often call out for a pizza or need to locate a store nearby. I have wasted too many days of my life reading area codes, guessing at addresses and even calling locations to ask which one is close to me.
    • Directions. Okay, it’s a sub-benefit to mapping, but being able to quickly plan a route to the location is a huge benefit for me.

    So why are Yellow Pages still being printed and distributed if they aren’t as good as the digital alternative? Two reasons: there is still a large enough consumer base that uses them and advertisers are used to buying it.

    What happens when more people stop using Yellow Pages in favor of digital alternatives?

    Several things start happening at once that can cause a very quick demise of the printed product.

    • A demographic shift. Whereas historically a general audience has used the Yellow Pages, you’ll see a shift to a specific demographic, like a specific age, income bracket or geographic area. When this happens advertisers start looking at who, specifically, the Pages reaches and will choose to continue advertising, or not, based on who their target customer is.
    • Cost of doing business. Yellow Pages, just like any other business, relies on X amount of advertising to match sales, production and distribution costs. As advertisers dwindle, the cost of ads would need to increase to compensate, which means advertisers start thinking harder about continuing with that ad they’ve run for years.
    • Printing costs. San Fransisco just passed an ordinance banning delivery of Yellow Pages unless they receiver has signed an opt-in agreeing to receive it. Think about that for a second. Let’s just say that 25 percent of the people in SF didn’t sign it, how does that affect the printing and distribution cost per copy for the remaining 75 percent (I would guess it’s more like 50 percent). As the cost goes up per book, if advertising rates can’t go up to compensate, they’re out of business. If one publisher goes out of business, then another, how is that going to impact the cost of materials and manufacturing? It’s a row of dominoes that, once tipped, is irreversible.
    • Digital alternatives. Need a restaurant, get the Urban Spoon app or just go to I have used Yelp. I found a great little Italian restaurant in Clearwater Beach, FL. I liked it so well I commented on it. I like having a voice in my purchasing experience and holding businesses accountable for the quality of business they offer.

    Mr. Handyman said I needed a new motor in my old Maytag. I also asked him to replace the tray in my dish washer. The tray was expensive, I thought, but the fact that he wanted $50 to put it in was crazy. I said “Can’t I just put that in myself?”

    “Oh, no” he replied…”it’s tricky.”

    Fine. I gave him the go ahead and he said he would be out Saturday to fix it. I guess Saturday means Thursday and I had to call a couple of times to see what was up.

    When he finally arrived, he fixed the motor and I made some comment about the tray and he said “Oh that just takes a second…”

    Um…$50 for something that just takes a second? How tricky is THAT!

    When the owner of the company called the next day to ask how everything went I said “Well, to be blunt, I’m not totally satisfied. I chose your company because you had five stars on the Google search, but I can’t give you five stars.”

    She quickly asked me what she could do to keep me happy so I would be willing to give her five stars and a review…smart lady. She obviously knows people are turning to Google and other digital methods to find what they need.

    I just read the reviews on a bike shop I use near my house. I have to say that if I didn’t know this guy, I would NEVER do business with him based on the reviews…especially since a new bike shop opened around the corner from him.

    The reviews are bad, he has 2.5 stars and there is one bad review where two people have clicked “Yes, this review helped me” aka “I won’t do business here.”

    The new bike shop, just around the corner, has five stars.

    In my opinion he should save his money on Yellow Pages and spend it on a better store front and work to get better reviews for the next customer who needs a new bike or bike repair and Googles “Bikes Kansas City.”

    Freebird for Free

    Saturday, June 4th, 2011

    Last night I went to see Dale Watson in concert at Knucklehead’s Saloon in Kansas City with my son Parker…fun night.

    If you’ve never been to Knucklehead’s, it’s really an experience. It’s in a part of the city where real estate is about $37 per acre, with derelict homes and buildings all around. In keeping with the Neighborhood Association’s strict code, Knucklehead’s is also on the verge of falling apart…but it’s cool…way cool. If I were to say the place isn’t anything fancy, you still might not be able to visualize how basic this place is.

    The best part is that it’s right next to an active train track at a major crossing. So if you’ve never been there before, the first time the Union Pacific comes in, whistles at full blast, you might very well need to change your underwear.

    Dale was third to come on after two GREAT acts (Zoey Muth & Her Lost Highrollers and Outlaw Jim & the Whiskey Benders) and he was cranking out request after request as people shouted out the titles of their favorite songs. I think I shouted out “From the Cradle to the Grave” ten times, to no avail, convincing me he’d forgotten the song and refused to play it (I was sitting close enough to the stage I know he heard me!)

    He’s a funny guy…great musician…and what a voice, eh?

    During his second encore, he finally must have heard me as he blasted into “Cradle” and rocked the house. The highlight of the show for me was in the closing chords of Cradle as a train came rolling through full volume. Dale looks over at the train screaming through and asks the band “what key is that?” as he tries to match the whistle with his voice. Chris, the bassist, yells out “C” as they all, as if this was planned, cut into “Folsom Prison Blues” and Dale belts out “I hear that train a-comin’…” as if possessed by the ghost of The Man in Black himself!

    Great night.

    Generally after a concert like this I’m still wanting more. In the past I might have headed out to the CD shop to pick up something or get a CD from the stand at the show.Then I would import it into my iTunes and jam on my iPod for a week or two of non-stop [insert applicable artist name here].

    But times have changed.

    I could have gone on iTunes, emusic or Amazon and bought the digitized music…at my fingertips. But instead, all morning, I’ve been listening to I could have turned on Pandora or, which allow me to listen to some Dale Watson and then others in the same genre. This morning I only want Watson…so grooveshark it is.

    I often say “if it can be digitized it will be” and this is a great example of how digital technology has changed the music industry. I’ve lived through vinyl albums, 8-track, cassette tape, even reel-to-reel, CDs, MP3s and now just free streaming music.

    The record stores don’t have to like it. They can deny this is happening and insist that “MP3s aren’t as clear as CDs.” They can get angry over the fact they can’t compete with free streaming radio. They can continue to sell CDs until they just go out of business…or they can watch the trend and find a way to adapt sooner. Adapting can mean finding new ways to compete or just find a new product line altogether.

    The point is, denial doesn’t change the trend. And it’s a fact that the consuming public is changing the way they acquire, purchase, use products and services.

    It’s the same with publishing. We can say “we’re not going to give our content away online” until we’re blue in the face…but how does that help us compete with the websites already in our community that aren’t charging? Of course they’re not as good as yours…but they’re free. And if they offer enough of what the public wants for free, why would they pay to subscribe to get what you’re offering?

    Well, it still comes down to content. Are you offering your community something they NEED and WANT that the other sites and papers aren’t? If so, how are you getting the word out that you have it?

    The newest Dale Watson album, Carrying On, isn’t available on, yet. Nor is From The Cradle To The Grave. If I want to hear them I have to buy them. The free content isn’t as good as I want it right now. So now I spend money.

    As I write this article, Truckstop in LaGrange comes on and the refrain is “They got a damn good cup of coffee…and a mighty, mighty good Kolache.” Some day I’ll tell you my Texas Kolache story, but for now suffice it to say I needed this song. I just hopped on iTunes and paid my .99¢.

    How are newspapers and magazines going to offer a similar service? One obvious suggestion is more and better photography. We have the cameras, the expertise and the access to get photos our competitors don’t.

    A couple of years ago I photographed the school play in the little town in Austria where I was living at the time. The project was simple, get at least one photograph of each of the hundred children in the play. I shot before the show of the kids getting on makeup and during performances, back stage and after the show. I did this for a couple of the performances just to make sure I had enough photos.

    From about 3000 photos, under difficult lighting, I ended up with about 350 (after removing duplicates, blurry, dark, closed eyes, etc.) and uploaded them to my online photo gallery. Now keep in mind that this school only had 110 students. The first month I had 47,000 hits on this gallery…the second month 54,000. I was the only photographer allowed in the theater and therefore was the “gatekeeper” for this information.

    With the stats I got from this school play, I could have easily gone out the next year and sold advertising around the photos the next year…that’s a lot of traffic. I could also have sold the photos, most likely, or put an advertisers logo in the bottom right corner of every photograph so when they downloaded it and made a print, the logo was right there “First State Bank of Anywhere.”

    At a workshop recently I asked to borrow a camera to demonstrate downloading through Bridge. One of the participants handed me her camera and said she had photos from the elementary concert the night before. I downloaded about 60 shots. They were from the stands and almost all group shots.

    I said “If I had shot this I would have taken about 1000 shots and tried to have every kid’s headshot, some two and three-group shots as well as the groups. I also would have had some shots of the audience as they watched their children sing.” That’s how I do it. I shoot from beginning to end, and work hard at it. I shot a parade in my little town last year and took 3200 shots in less than four hours. You can see the results in this online gallery.

    I’ll close with some questions…

    If you saw a photo of your child or grandchild in my online gallery from the school play or parade, would that make you download or purchase?

    If you saw a photo of your neighbor, friend from church, work, etc. or someone else you know, would you copy the link and send it to them?

    If you continued to see photos of people you know that are better quality than you could ever get yourself, would you continue to go to that website? Would you pay to gain access to that site?

    If you could monitor the traffic to your site’s photos and it was very strong, could you sell advertising to support it?

    Today I’ve spent $11 dollars on iTunes for Dale Watson tunes as well as listened to for several hours.

    Twister Twitter beats traditional media!

    Thursday, May 26th, 2011

    The text message from my daughter was only one word long: “Tornadoes!!”

    I read it as I left the stage from a morning presentation at the Print & ePublishing Conference in Washington, DC. During the lunch break I headed to my hotel room.

    I immediately called her and the lines weren’t connecting…text was all I had. I asked what was going on. After a stressful text exchange I learned my boys had ridden their bikes to school, which would let out at 11:30, during a Tornado Warning for that part of Kansas City. She was sitting in front of the school in her car to pick them up since it was raining…but they weren’t there.

    She was scared.

    I was scared.

    Between texts I was trying to get a handle on the situation through traditional media. I went to (the website of the Kansas City Star). They had a story about tornadoes in the area, but nothing recent enough. Tornadoes move quickly and in this situation I wanted to know what was happening “Now!”

    I went to the television station websites hoping for current information…nope.

    Just then I received a broadcast text from the school informing me the teachers and students were in the Tornado Shelter at the school. I texted my daughter of the boys’ status and told her to go inside and join them. She replied “idk. I have texted them a thousand times.”

    I replied “THEY ARE IN A TORNADO SHELTER IN THE SCHOOL. GO INSIDE NOW!!” I screamed at my daughter with my thumbs.

    This is where the shift in my brain happened. This is when, for the first time in my life, I realized I could not rely on traditional media. I turned to Twitter.

    Launching I did a search for kansas city tornado. Immediately I was seeing tweets of sightings and the neighborhoods. I learned how close these beasts were to three of my children. Every MINUTE I was getting new information. There were hundreds of reporters all over the city giving me the information I needed, while the traditional media’s stories were just getting older and more out of date.

    I’m not new to the concepts of Twitter and it’s impact on the world. I followed the peaceful revolution in Egypt, much of it reported through Twitter. I followed Tweets from Libya as reporters and citizens were risking their lives to get the word out. I thought it was fascinating how the attack on Osama Bin Laden’s compound was being reported through Tweets, even though the “reporter” didn’t know what was going on.

    What I’m writing here isn’t anything new…just the first time it got this personal and I truly felt the impact of this new media.

    A lot was going on in a short period of time…texts, following twitter, trying to find more on TV or websites. Through it all it was the texting and the Twitter that kept me up to date.

    In the end, all was fine. No harm to anyone or any property, but two lessons were learned: Social media CAN outperform what traditional media currently offers with immediate information, but it comes with a very high price tag: Nobody is filtering before it reaches the end user.


    So why is traditional media like television in a storm still relevant? Because not everyone has smart phones, or WIFI or laptops to take with them to a shelter. Today, we still need traditional media for a percentage of the audience…but that will change.

    Aside from the above instance, yesterday traditional media failed hugely meeting my needs as a member of it’s audience.

    Are we willing to pay the price? As I was reading the Tweets about the storm, there was one that popped up and read something like “Massive destruction in the storm’s path all across Kansas City” or something to that effect. It didn’t sound right. It didn’t fit. All of the other Tweets were mentioning where and what, but nothing quite as apocalyptic as this Tweet made it out to be. I had to filter it. Throw it away. Recognize it was just a bored Tweeter trying to, we’ll just say, play a prank.

    Can everyone do this? Remember the old story of War of the Worlds read by Orson Wells and supposedly there were people who believed it and starting packing up. It was radio. It was a book. But it was Orson Wells, and he really can spin a good yarn, but aside from that it was something that people couldn’t filter truth from fiction.

    Apply this logic to social media and you see how dangerous it can be.

    A good friend of mine, Kris Coppieters, was telling the story last night about how in Christ Church, New Zealand, after the recent earthquake, local police were verifying Tweets. According to him, police were following the Tweets and would act on the information. If it was true, they would reply with “verified.”

    Think about this for a second. The role of the media in the past has been to gather, filter and deliver the news…all the news that’s fit to print, anyway. How dramatically has that changed in some instances, like I’m describing here. The citizens are reporting the “news” and the police are filtering it. Wow! Exciting in this example, could be very scary in others.

    For two years I’ve been asking newspapers “who is going to reinvent the newspaper business?” The challenge is to us, as an industry, to reinvent ourselves. At least yesterday, however, the newspaper industry was reinvented by a social media tool.

    QUESTION: Do you have a personal example of where Social Media has served you in ways Traditional Media can’t? What was it and can you give an example of where you had to filter through the message and authenticate instead of trusting verbatim?