Monday, November 26, 2007

How about making 'Adweek' a monthly?

Hi all. Got back from our week-long trip to Moscow last night at 5 (that's 1 a.m. Moscow time for you jet lag fans), so I'm a bit behind on the Monday morning picks. Thought I should get to first things first, however: the announcement on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week that Adweek will no longer, as the name implies, be a weekly that covers advertising, instead only publishing 36 issues a year as it builds out a better Web site. If you haven't heard this already, then at least one thing about the announcement worked—if the publication had something it wanted to shout from the rooftops, it wouldn't have buried the story by releasing it on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. In news terms, days like that exist for brushing distasteful matters under the rug. (UPDATE: Nat Ives at Ad Age broke this on Tuesday which forced the story. What can I say ... I was in Moscow.)

Truth is, I'd heard that this was happening some time ago, but hadn't had a chance to report it and feel a little bad about not sharing it with you awhile ago. (Yes, it's true, I'm an oxymoron of a blogger; I actually report things from time to time.) Knowing what I knew, I would've expected something, well, a lot less half-baked than the wimpy, weak-on-detail, so-called announcement that came out on Tuesday. From a publication that prides itself on carving through spin, it was embarrassing—a misleading headline that said, "Adweek to Expand on Digital Offering," on top of a "story" which left until the end of the third paragraph that little side-note about the powers-that-be cutting the weekly down to 36 issues a year. It got worse when, in a fit of jet-lag induced insomnia, I went to the Mediaweek site to see its write-up of the shift late one night last week, because the one thing I hadn't already heard was whether the cut-down in frequency applied to Brandweek and Mediaweek as well. The answer is no, it doesn't. But get this: a comment about how forward-looking Adweek is blah, blah, blah is attributed on the Adweek site to BBDO North America's Mark Goldstein. At Mediaweek.com, the exact same quote is attributed to Adweek editor Alison Fahey. Pitiful. (UPDATE: You kinda knew this was going to happen: as of late today, the Mediaweek quote is from Goldstein as well.)

But, of course, these are mostly semantic issues. The real question is whether Adweek can survive as a principally online publication, and the announcement was painfully weak on details about how this might happen, promising only "the most robust content in the industry 24/7 replete with exclusive Nielsen data," according to Nielsen Business Media's Sabrina Crow. Puh-leese! I can hardly wait! Why the publication didn't wait to make this announcement until they had an actual site to show people—beta would've been fine—to add some meat to the blather defies logic. (And there's no indication as to when this new site will launch.) The announcement was one of the most painfully inept attempts at spin I've ever seen. George Parker put it as only he can, "Oh please Sabrina, why can't you just say Ad Age is kicking your arse and you can't make any money?" Right on, George.

And what could a revamped Adweek site really offer that Ad Age doesn't already? (Oh, right, "exclusive Nielsen data", but that's hardly enough to save a business.) With the exception of AdFreak (yes, I founded it), there isn't one innovation in online in recent years that Ad Age hasn't done first, and Adweek, because it mostly operates separately from Brandweek and Mediaweek, probably will have neither the money, nor the staff to pull it off. To that extent, taking resources out of print should help, but the Adweek staff has been absolutely decimated in recent years in a slow drip, drip, drip that has made it barely noticeable to outsiders. Even several years ago, Adweek had a raft of reporters in New York covering agencies, and at least one staffer apiece in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Dallas, Atlanta and Washington, DC. The Dallas, Detroit and Atlanta staffers are long gone, and, as of the departure of Aaron Baar out of Chicago, Adweek has pulled out of that market as well. Let me repeat ... pulled out of Chicago! DC reporter Wendy Melillo, who occasionally still seems to file, left recently for American University's School of Communication. Long-time agency reporter Kathy Sampey wasn't replaced when she departed earlier this year for MRM Worldwide. The problem is that in the time the Adweek staff has shrunk to its current size, the news hasn't gone away; it's just that Adweek's ability to cover it has. Unless there are plans to beef up staff to meet that 24/7 demand for news, it's hard to picture how Adweek will pull off a great resurrection now. Addressing the staffing issue, if there's anything positive that can be said about it, is just the sort of thing that should have been in the announcement.

To that extent, if anyone cares, I think pulling back on print is absolutely the right move, but, if it were me, I'd pull back even further. Hell, I'd make the print issue a monthly. Media consumption is a habit, and that alone makes the 36-issues-a-year gambit awkward. What is habit-forming about a magazine, that might—or might not—publish on a given week? The random nature of when these issues are coming out diminishes their value. A monthly might have the opposite effect, making the the print issue more of an event for subscribers and advertisers. It also would free up more resources for online, and would give the print issues a concerted focus on in-depth reporting, a real contrast to what the Adweek Web site—or Ad Agecurrently provides. Publishing kinda, sorta, whenever makes the print issue of Adweek neither a weekly nor a monthly nor a biweekly, and with print as troubled as it already is, that's a huge liability.

I could go on here, but I've gone on quite long enough. Maybe people who read this will think that I detest the place, after having worked there for years, but I don't. It's just frustrating to see a brand that I've loved mishandle the biggest challenge of its existence.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow CT. I'm glad you called that shit out. That headline last week was so Orwellian that I would have been sad if I hadn't been doubled over with laughter.

"Adweek to Expand Digital Offering" by publishing fewer issues. Double-un-good.

You raise many pertinent points, especially the one about not having a beta version of the site up to accompany the announcement, which itself raised so many more questions.

It's a shame to see a brand die a slow death. And the quote from that guy at BBDO was like a non sequiter it was so ridiculous. And it came from a dinosaur agency. Not even a Web shop. There are so many things wrong with how that publication is being run that it would take a long-form feature to cover it all.

Sad. Very sad.

antoinette said...

You are so right about the talent drain. But even more of an issue is that the publication has tried to shift gears in the last couple of months, moving away from covering the agency community - its bread and butter - to covering anything that moves. They have alienated their core reader and left many scratching their heads trying to figure out what they are trying to do.

Even more important, those reporters who are left - and some are not bad - will be hard pressed to make a case of any kind of exclusive story with merit when so many alternative exist. Including your blog among many others, that seem to have no trouble posting video, comments, links, etc. Has Alison been perched on a bar stool for too long to see through the smoke that the world has changed?

Look at what has happened at Adage - former editor/publisher Scott Donaton jumps ship to Entertainment Weekly. He leaves the magazine strong, with a wealth of young, aggressive reporters and an editor with personality and a point of view. Bring back Clay Felker!

Anonymous said...

you go, girl

Anonymous said...

As a former staffer, I couldn't have said this better myself.

The place is in disarray. More work for fewer people, and no real discernable difference between them and Ad Age.

Anonymous said...

No one could have put this better. The fact that Cathy Taylor is a "former" reporter at Adweek speaks volumes...sadly, the best and the brightest have been driven out. It's sad, very sad AND this industry needs the two trades...I'm sorry that Ad Age is "kicking Adweek's ass," that shouldn't be the case.

Anonymous said...

I take issue with the comment that some reporters at Adweek are "not bad."

The coverage of the media agencies and coverage of digital marketing issues is admirable. The creative newsletter is good. And the Nightly News is a good refresher for each day.

But, yes, the place seems to be sinking. At least it looks that way from the outside.

Don't know what can be done to help it at this stage. I guess that's for Nielsen to figure out. Or not...

Anonymous said...

I, too, take issue with the statement that some reporters are "not bad." At Adweek, they're all bad. Bitter, angry hacks who are petrified of going out into the real world and doing some real reporting. I Googled "Adweek" and "unnamed sources" and found over 1,240 references. That's one a day for four years. If I were the editor of Adweek, you wouldn't find my butt on a bar stool, you'd find it in the office firing every lazy reporter who ever uses "unnamed sources" to originate a story. If that had happened years ago, Adweek wouldn't be on life support. Please, someone, pull the plug and put them out of their misery.

Catharine P. Taylor said...

OK, I know I started this whole thing, but I feel it necessary to defend the honor of the reporters. They are not hacks--far from it--more like overworked. As for the use of sources, "unnamed sources" are completely necessary to the business of reporting at Adweek and anywhere else. Otherwise, what you'd be left with as "news" would be a bunch of PR people and their press releases, and trust me, any publication made of 100 percent flackery would not be one any of us would read. Where the problem with unnamed sources comes in is if reporters don't check out their information with the official sources. But Adweek does that. True, often those official sources don't comment ... but you can't let official sources dictate the news either by not commenting and thereby killing stories. Ultimately you have to trust your sources, and after a lot of time in the trenches, you get good at that. What if every story reported about the war in Iraq was originated by the White House press secretary? Much lesser important content in advertising, certainly, but the dynamic is no different. You surely can't mean that anyone who used an unnamed source to originate a story is a hack ... unless you never spent a day in a newsroom. In fact, having good sources is a lot of the game.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Cathy. I, too, am a former Adweek staffer, and while I have no loyalty to that place anymore, I cannot stress enough how hard working most of the reporters there are. They are simply abused and wildly overworked.

Anyone who thinks anonymous sources just "drop a dime" and influence a story has clearly never worked in a newsroom. You need to spend hours romancing these people and earning their trust before they will even talk to you. And thank God they do, because otherwise the news would be a bunch of press releases and corporate B.S.

Adweek has a lot of problems--the greatest of which is the top editors' complete lack of appreciation for those who actually do the work-- but lazy reporters is NOT one of them. Hell, a lazy reporter wouldn't last 10 minutes at Adweek.

Anonymous said...

I'm the writer of the post Cathy and other ex-Adweek staffers find offensive. I spent the early part of my career in the newsroom of two major metropolitan dailies and one major news magazine as a reporter and and editor, so I know the drill. Adweek reporters are not trusted by the vast majority of advertising professionals because they rely on too many "unnamed sources" for news. They're often called by Adweek to find out what's happening not at their agency, but at competitive agencies, hence the "dime-dropping" monicker. Over time, this has resulted in a profound lack of trust by executives on the agency and client side of the business. Because of this lack of credibility, you will never, ever see the print edition of Adweek on a client's desk (I haven't seen one in 10 years), and you may see one or two in an agency, but it's usually on the desk of the Corporate Communications staffers. My personal experience is that the reporters are lazy, but that may because I live in a city with an Adweek reporter who hasn't left the office to visit an agency or client in well over a decade. No one's that overworked.

Catharine P. Taylor said...

Without belaboring this point too much, I stand by every word I said, and can only assume that you haven't worked there in quite some time. Editorial staffers there rack up plenty of 12 hour days; I certainly did when I was employed there full-time ... and I'm not talking about days filled with business lunches and dinners.

Anonymous said...

Okay, somebody has to go on the record here, and it may as well be me. I'm Kathy Sampey, a former reporter at Adweek. (I don't know how to identify myself by signage here so it may appear as "anonymous"). But I'm Kathy.

People here can say and think whatever they want about Adweek, but to impugn the work ethic and dedication of the reporters and editors there cannot go unanswered.

You may even call the reporters "lazy"--free speech and all. But that opinion has no basis in reality. I speak from experience.

In my eight years there, the people I worked with in New York and from the various Adweek offices around the country were among the most energetic, dedicated, hard-working team players I have ever seen in my 20-year journalism career.

I too worked as a reporter for several major news organizations--in the biggest metropolis of them all--New York.

And yes, the use of anonymous sources is generally shunned.

In my early days at Adweek, I was a bit unnerved by the use of anonymous sources but gradually learned from editors and colleagues there the art of this form of information gathering.

And not only is there an art to it, but "sources" are a necessity when covering a small industry in which many people know each other.

One poster here says "sources" undermine a publication's credibility. But in a perverse way, unnamed sources actually enhance the credibility of trade publications.

They enable journalists to report hard, useful, accurate news about a particular industry that would not be possible without cultivating and attributing information to "sources."

The statement from someone on this blog that "Nobody is that overworked" is also curious.

Everyone in every news organization has been overworked since the start of the 21st century as the proliferation of up-to-the-second news has become the norm.

How do news organizations of any stripe differentiate themselves? How can they justify hiring more and more reporters when ad dollars are dwindling?

The exact same situation is true of the advertising industry in which I now work. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is overworked in an effort to get the most sweat out of a client's marketing dollar. Even the clients.

As I said earlier, people are entitled to their opinions about Adweek. But they cannot apply monikers such as "lazy," and "they're all bad" to the staff.

Because those are not even opinions; they are falsehoods.

Jan said...

Bravo, Kathy. You're spot on in everything you've said. Another factor that a commentator mentioned on Adscam bears repeating: Trades pay more than the usual business consumer and more "glamorous" consumer publications and daily papers. And all those good reporters at Adweek most likely have to earn a living and perhaps even raise a family so working at a trade makes a great deal sense and the fact that they do so is in no way a mark of deficient capabilities on the part of the reporters...

Anonymous said...

Adweek should go monthly, as you say, and try to become the Portfolio of the ad biz. Age has dusted Adweek on adapting to the new advertising age....sorry.
But AA's writing is still crap for the most part.

Frida said...

I think ADWEEK will soon become a Bye-Weekly