News.com Chief Dan Farber Brings Lessons Of Blogger Media
I'm waiting for Dan Farber, the new head of CNET's News.com, in a large, sun-lit foyer. People are coming out for lunch and their mood seems relaxed and cheerful despite a 10 per cent cut in CNET staff numbers made just just a few days before.
Dan comes down and we walk out to have lunch. He chooses a restaurant that has real tablecloths. "I need to eat some real food," he says. I nod in agreement, the single, blogger lifestyle, doesn't encourage good eating habits.
It is always a pleasure speaking with Dan because we speak the same language. I'm not saying this in an elitist way, but there is something that happens to you through the experience of blogging, that does change your perception of the media industry, and provides an understanding of what is going on that cannot be attained by reading about it.
It doesn't matter if you've been a media professional for decades, or how young or old you are, understanding the changes going on in the media industry comes from experiencing it first hand. You can see what I like to call the "trajectory of ideas" in the mediasphere, how media is consumed and shared.
And it is that understanding that Dan Farber brings to his new job, as editor-in-chief of News.com, one of the first online news organizations.
Dan nods as I say that we speak the same language. "Things have changed a lot in this business. There is a velocity to news media and you can see it as a blogger," he says. "There is no end to your day."
Over at ZDNet, Dan set up a large blogger network (I write there too) and he was probably the most prolific of the entire group, often writing posts late at night and many times throughout the day.
"I have to restrain my blogging these days, because we have writers with beats," he says. "But everyone now blogs at News.com, it doesn't matter who you are, even if you are in production, you blog." (Dan's new blog at News.com is Outside the Lines.)
Dan has a team of about 35 people, most of them reporters and editors plus a few software engineers. And he is leading CNET's premiere brand: News.com.
Tom Waldrop, over at Intel (Intel is a sponsor of SVW) told me an interesting story about the launch of News.com. He said that the corporate communications team at Intel had an emergency meeting to discuss whether online journalists were real journalists and how they should work with them.
When I left the Financial Times in mid-2004 to become a journalist-blogger, about a decade after News.com launched, Intel had another emergency meeting. Tom Foremski has left the Financial Times to become a blogger. Are bloggers real journalists? How should we work with bloggers?
It wasn't just Intel asking those questions. Tens of thousands of corporations worldwide are still trying to figure out the changes in the media industry, and who is or isn't a journalist, and how they should respond...
News.com was once a leading light of the change in the media industry towards an online media world. For example, CNET's decision to drop print publications (except in China) was a bold one.
Lost the lead...
When I met with Shelby Bonnie, the former CEO of CNET, in mid-2004, he told me that the company had 5 different publishing systems, and two large data centers. It was trying to reduce the number of publishing systems.
CNET tried to create one publishing system, Project X. However, this was later abandoned, at a cost of about $60m according to one of my sources. This was not atypical, many media companies were trying to crete their own content management system. The Financial Times was shifting to a new, never before tried publishing system, when I was there. It broke down several times a day, it cost millions of dollars to develop. Some days it was a wonder that we managed to produce a newspaper.
All of this meant that News.com was not leading the next big change in the media industry: the adoption of the blogging platform as a two-way publishing platform linking journalists and readers.
Bloggers take the lead...
Upstarts such as Mike Arrington, publisher of the popular Techcrunch blog, are these days seen to be in the forefront of the new changes in the media industry, and are challenging even relatively new media companies such as CNET .
Mike Arrington recently revealed a plan to deliver a "crushing" blow to CNET by building a "dream team" of bloggers and rolling up prominent blogs into one organization.
Dan Farber smiles at the mention of Mike Arrington. "We are a better platform to roll up blog sites because we have the infrastructure, we have ad sales people, etc." I agree. I can't see the over-sized personalities of the blog world sharing the same planet let alone the same company.
CNET could potentially regain its lead in pioneering the new media world. And that's what Dan Farber can provide: the blogger publishing experience from the front lines of the business.
Among the changes Dan Farber has already made:
-Different CNET departments now publish using the same template.
- Publish a story as quickly as possible, edit it later.
- Stories are updated constantly.
- Adding the right keywords and tags to make stories discoverable by search engines. About 40 per cent of CNET traffic comes from search engines.
- Use Internet standards whenever possible.
- There is no end to the work day, you are always on call.
- Everybody blogs.
- Create synergies between news, reviews, analysis, and blogs.
- Getting journalists to put in web links to non-CNET publications. "It's about being part of the web and not separate from it," he says.
- Carrying a pad of paper and pencil is not enough. Journalists also take photos, videos, and make podcasts.
I know that some of my colleagues at large media companies are not too happy with all the extra work they now have to do: blogging, video, podcasts etc. Dan says that his team gets it and is happy with the changes.
You can certainly teach an old dog new tricks, Dan and I are living proof of that. I've got nearly 25 years under my belt as a journalist and Dan has a few more than that.
It just goes to show that this "new media" has nothing to do with age, there is no "generation gap" it is an "experience gap." And Dan is making sure that his News.com team gets that experience and is ready for this new, always on world. (I'm finishing this at 3 am Monday morning.)
Dan Farber can bring to CNET the best practices of the new media world, but as he says, he doesn't have control over everything. CNET still needs to sell ads and control costs within a challenging time for all media: a complete revamp of the media industry business model.
As I like to say: These are the best times to be a media professional because we will never ever be at such an amazing and disruptive change in our industry in our lifetime.
The trick is to make sure you are on the right side of the disruption, and not on the sharp pointy end of it. Can CNET become a disruptor? That's part of Dan's challenge, and that's what makes his new job one of the most interesting jobs in media.