Upcoming keynote speaker warns editors to fight for Web ethics and explore multimedia

He would rather not fire his friends. Yet go to Paul Conley’s blog. The title to the Dec. 3, 2007, entry reads, “It’s time to fire my friends.”

Conley says it’s time to give up on journalists unwilling to explore multimedia or what he calls “Web-first publishing.”

Conley will talk about “Web-first publishing” and other business-to-business (B2B) publishing issues on July 24 in Kansas City as the keynote speaker at ASBPE’s National Editorial Conference. Perhaps the most well-known B2B blogger in the publishing industry and a consultant for B2B publishing organizations, Conley has worked for Bloomberg, CNN, and Primedia.

As a blogger, Conley has broken many important publishing stories, especially on Internet publication ethics, whose problems are more prevalent than ever.

While Conley often talks about how the Web is changing the game, he also believes that journalism ethics should remain the same for the Web as for print. For example, Conley gives his views on IntelliTXT links in his Jan. 29, 2007, blog entry titled, “eWeek crosses an ethical line.”

“Unethical people and people who don’t think seriously about ethics like to say that the rules have changed online,” he says. “The line I have repeated thousands of times — and this is what I tell B2B editors and reporters: ‘The rules of ethics have not changed online, and you should not let them.’

“There is nothing about publishing on a computer screen that exempts us from the ethical rules that we live by when we publish on paper. It is absurd and evil for people to suggest otherwise. And our industry is full of absurd and evil people, and they have pushed dozens of reputable magazines into disreputable activity online.”

A pet peeve for Conley is when journalists tell him they like how he stands up for ethics although their job security keeps them from doing the same thing. Conley says B2B journalism is also his job.

“I’m a consultant, and when I go to war with one of these companies, it costs me money,” he says. “Those are companies that will not do business with me. They become my enemies. They do everything they can to sabotage my business and my reputation.”

Today’s B2B journalists, Conley says, could learn from wire-service reporters and TV-broadcasting pioneers. The movement to place more emphasis on Web creations and less on print publications reminds Conley of the transition made last century from radio broadcasts to TV broadcasts.

“Radio in the 1940s was gorgeous, fantastic work, and people like my dad who were raised on it, loved that stuff,” he says. “… but then something else came along. Television came along. There was a period of time where people didn’t know how to tell stories on television.”

Reading from a script worked on radio, but television demanded more visuals. Likewise,Web-first publishing requires a different approach. Text serves a role, but not in the form of a long narrative.

Use service journalism for the Web

“Pull quotes, photos, many subheads, lists, bullet points—all that sort of stuff works well on the Web,” Conley says.

Reporters should learn how to write for two audiences: the human audience and “bots,” which is short for robots. Bots pick out keywords and phrases to decide what stories go on search engines, which leads to more page views.

“Page views are money,” Conley says. “With online ads, people generally pay for them on a CPM basis, which is a cost per thousand page views.”

Print reporters can learn how to write for the Web, he says, but not every print reporter will be good on video made for the Web. B2B journalists also can learn multimedia skills such as digital photography, and video and audio editing techniques.

“When there is big news … and [people] go to your Web site and there is nothing there, they don’t think, ‘Oh, I guess they’re holding it for the January issue.’ They think, ‘You suck.’ ”

 

When consulting for B2B publishers, Conley says he asks them whether they want to teach multimedia skills to the existing staff or to recruit a new class of younger journalists. Generally, it’s cheaper to train the existing staff, especially if staff members have learned some multimedia skills on their own.

‘Train yourself’

“I tell B2B editors and B2B reporters, ‘Go out and train yourself,’ ” Conley says.

“For reporters, for storytellers, for editors, stop expecting somebody to teach you to do this and go out and learn it. There are thousands of people every day on the Web talking about this stuff and sharing this information, and some of these people are just wonderfully brilliant people.”

Conley gives examples of how to do this in his May 7, 2007, blog entry, “Teach yourself.” (Also see sidebar, below right, for other places to look.)

Writing in the mode of Web-first publishing mainly involves getting a news story up on the Web site as soon as possible.

“The priority becomes the Web site and not the print product,” he says.

If a company’s resources allow it, a story might appear 15 times in updated versions on a Web site before it appears in print. The managing editor must decide if a story has enough importance to be updated throughout the day.

Web writing is like wire-service writing

“This is akin to wire-service reporting,” Conley says. “One thing I try to get across to B2B reporters, and newspaper reporters as well, is that in this environment, that is what all of us have become. We’re all wire service reporters now.

“So our workday has to be like the day of somebody at Bloomberg or at Reuters or at the Associated Press. It’s no longer like the workday of somebody at a monthly magazine. None of us is working at monthly magazines anymore. Anybody who thinks they are working at a monthly magazine is out of touch and perhaps delusional.”

Business readers no longer must wait for a weekly or a monthly publication, he says. “When there is big news happening in their industry, and they want to know about it, and they go to your Web site and there is nothing there, they don’t think, ‘ Oh, I guess they’re holding it for the January issue,’ ” Conley says. “They think, ‘You suck.’ And they go to your competitor.”

B2B journalists will have to accept the extra workload.

“There are no more cushy monthly B2B magazine jobs left,” Conley says.

Where to learn multimedia skills on the Web

Business-to-business publishing consultant Paul Conley says reporters and editors can learn multimedia skills on their own. Here are some Web sites he recommends:

Teaching Online Journalism Mindy McAdams, a university professor, provides observations and notes from the classroom.

J-learning Administered by J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism, J-learning is part of the New Voices project funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

News University An online journalism training program from the Poynter Institute.

News Videographer Provides critiques of online news videos and related multimedia content.

This story was written by Jeff Gelski, Associate Editor, Food Business News;
Secretary, ASBPE Kansas City Chapter