local media insider

Association of Alternative Newsweeklies takes on digital issues

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It seems every media convention today invites some industry iconoclast to give a key note address that portrays an apocalyptic vision and incites executives to fire up their digital strategy.

That role at the Association of Alternative Weeklies 2011 Web Conference last week fell to Leon Brody, who works for but apparently did not want to officially speak for, the sports and media conglomerate owned by Denver billionaire Phillip Anschutz.  (Besides the Lakers basketball team, Anchultz owns  the Examiner.com sites.  Oddly, Brody's employer was not identified in the conference brochure and he asked a roomful of editors not to Twitter his remarks, due  to the "very private" nature of his company).

Brody argues  "human behavior has been fundamentally transformed" by social media and outgrown institutions developed during the industrial revolution. Trying to fit our behavior into our lives is like trying on a twenty year old prom dress. He identified a  broad swatch of affected (outdated?) institutions raning from education (36% of high school students will drop out) to government, media, global politics, dating and marriage. 

The many-to-many communication platforms represented by Facebook and Twitter (he noted 3000 Tweets per second as the Lakers played in the NCAA championship) is not only replacing  many-to-one media but also altering our very brain chemistry (he showed some neat heat maps of brains "on technology"). The resulting 'bad fit' between human behavior, and, essentially, everything else, is eroding three hundred years of societal fabric and is merely expressed by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt ("the very institutions came into question and crumbled from the inside out") as well as declining ad sales.

You get the drift.

This apocalyptic vision dove-tailed nicely into Brody's presentation on the Examiner.com (the company we're not supposed to Tweet about) which he says is the virtual replacement of the townsquare, and now has 75,000 bloggers, 30 million uniques and 80 million page views. (I checked on Compete.com, which shows examiner.com at roughly 8 million uniques, compared to 15.7 million for the Nytimes.com.) 

He also touted a business model in which when IAM pet food wanted to be "adjacent to" Pet Adoption Week material, 800 bloggers obligingly cranked out 4000 stories. Not sure what would happen if IAM wanted to brand itself next to pet euthanasia material, but let's not go there right now.

Other Brody ideations:

•In response to questions about whether anyone edits the enormous amateur blogger news network: "We don't edit our content. We edit by vetting (the bloggers) and catching poeple who are infringing on the back end. The reality is that for last five years, there were more errors in traditional media than amateur-produced media. Why? Because  they don't get caught. 98% of errors in American newspapers go unreported."

•The Millennial generation "are functionally  superior to the rest of us" because they are the first generation to grow-up using technology  - hence the "heat map" of their superior brain, in a Stanford research study that compared boomer- with Millenial- brains. Ouch.

*Stilll more evidence of fundamentally changing human behavior is the social acceptance of online dating in the last five years. Brody says (where does he get his data?) 45% of people who got married in 2010 met online, a number that will rise  to 65% by 2012.

*People's selves have split into two identities: physical and virtual.  Paradoxically, our virtual selves still react like children.  "It's counter-intuitive, but your virtual identity is about ten years old and much more trusting"  and vulnerable. Brody advocates that when communicating with online audiences to keep in mind,  "you are speaking to children," which is why, he said, there is so much  "emotional scarring" from misleading brands and concern about "authenticity."  This is not just a Millennial attribute, he argues, but affects everyone the same way. Essentially, we are all the same age, emotionally, online.

*In the next few years the "larger rooms" of Facebook, Twitter will be replaced by smaller, more exclusive rooms. "As the size of the party gets bigger and bigger people will be looking for smaller, one of a kind places."

*The size of an individual's "social graph" on Facebook and other networks will become the single largest determinant of career success, based on their greater ability to filter better opportunties.

*How to prepare? "I have no idea. But we are no longer the same people who we were 20 years ago." 

Other discussions at the conference centered around the behavior of Millennials, an important group for  local media which we discuss here.  Weeklies are also getting into the deal space, with the largest chains looking at group deals, and smaller companies exploring apps and stores.  Two stores developed by alt weeklies, StrangerMart and Koztiki, resell trade certificates, and are offering affliate programs. They will be reviewed on this site next week. 

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