News Organ Gets a New Master

What do you get a 91-year-old billionaire who has everything but youth? How about a faded news organ to amplify his voice?

The nonagenarian is Sidney Harman, founder of Harman International and its stable of high-end audio brands. The periodical is Newsweek, owned for half a century by The Washington Post, which is increasingly positioning itself as an education company through its Kaplan division. [See http://yhoo.it/harmannewsweek]

What Harman is buying for a reported $1 is a media property that has posted an operating loss of more than $41 million in the last two years and must continue printing at a loss for a while if only because of the $40 million in subscription money it’s taken against the delivery of future magazine issues.

Reporting- and editing-intensive news weeklies are also expensive to produce, carrying expectations of instant analysis that more thoughtful monthlies don’t have to meet. Having “week” in your name probably doesn’t help either in a 24/7 mobile digital info ecoystem. Sounds more like “weak.”

If anyone doubts that no one buys the past, only the future and its alluring promises, consider the recent sale of Associated Content for a reported $90-100 million to Yahoo. Its asset base is basically an army of scribes who are willing to work for little to nothing, grinding out forgettable, keyword-laden advertiser bait. Hey, who needs the expense of thoughtful analysis and a stable of Pulitzer Prize winners?

In a rapidly changing age where web-based news aggregators and blog factories make moguls of the likes of Arianna Huffington, print news magazines seem like faded sirens from yesteryear. But Harman is not alone in seeing life in the old gals yet. After all, money-hemorrhaging Newsweek drew several bidders and multi-billionaire Michael Bloomberg parted with $5 million in pocket change to pick up BusinessWeek recently. (But the financial information empire had a clear strategic purpose for a business magazine and quickly redesigned the publication for that role.)

If long-time operators like the Post and McGraw-Hill are desperate to get out (and they were), why are others trying to get in? Harman and his wife, a longtime congresswoman from California, no doubt enjoy intellectual tussle and the satisfaction of influencing public policy. Perhaps they’ve jealously watched Bloomberg mount multiple peaks of business, media and politics, or Mort Zuckerman for that matter. And consider one of the toughest, shrewdest investors in the world, Carlos Slim of Mexico. He has accumulated a stake in the New York Times second only to the controlling family’s (in the form of lucrative bonds so he probably can’t lose).

What’s going on here? Business contrarianism? Far-sighted vision not available to us mortals who can’t see around corners? Vanity?

Whatever, Harman’s not worried about his new property’s waning fortunes. He said today he will give the magazine “years” to turn itself around. His determination to stay in the game is admirable, but honestly … years? We all know that only Sumner Redstone is immortal.

Necessarily Blind, Not Deaf

If history and our own lives teach us anything it’s that our species is remarkably inept at doing the things we KNOW we should do that involve short-term pain for long-term gain: dieting, quitting smoking, reducing carbon emissions, saving money. Individuals, families … entire countries can drown in debt, for instance, and go down the tubes because of a refusal to make this short term/long term tradeoff.

And then, shades of Don Rumsfeld, there are all the unknown pitfalls lying in wait because we don’t see what’s coming. Consider the plight of companies tripped up by their own success. Dominant players of the past such Digital Equipment Corp., General Motors, Sony, and virtually every newspaper company sat on their leads and didn’t innovate because they felt confident their successful business models that would carry forward into the future.

Lesson: Technology is disruptive, and it’s paradoxically necessary to depart from successful business plan before you’re left behind. Nimble transitions are necessary, like a clothing retailer responding to fashion changes. The saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has become “Break it before your competition does.”

Even if we don’t know exactly what changes are in store, we should know that there WILL be changes – and we should be prepared to adapt (quickly) to survive. For individuals, continual, life-long education is a must. For companies, finding, listening to, and learning from customers through social media are key. We can’t see the future, but we can keep our ear to the ground.

Half and Half

As of today, there are six months left in the year. Half of the year is gone, for those glass-not-quite-full types. Some say the glass is just too big. But however you see our worldly vessel, the question is what you do with what remains.

It feels sometimes like we’re in a worm hole, doesn’t it, whizzing into new dimensions without quite getting our bearings in the last one. We suddenly are expected to communicate almost constantly with emails, Tweets, blogs, texts, phone calls and even face-to-face conversations. How can we keep up — plus, you know, work and live real lives too.

Every innovation has always had a past-due date, but those dates are getting shorter and shorter. If you don’t replenish by improving your skills, increasing your reach, building your customer base or otherwise growing you go stale. Curdle up and die.

Businesses (including entrepreneurs who have come to see themselves as “brands”) need customers, which means they need marketing communications that put rapidly developing information technology to work for them. (PubArts of course can help you with that… just saying.)

Here’s the tricky thing with progress, though: the better we do, the bigger the problem we make for ourselves because expectations grow faster than the ability to deliver. As Nicholas Rescher wrote in Unpopular Essays on Technological Progress: “Progress produces dissatisfaction because it inflates expectations faster than it can actually meet them.”

It’s a phenomenon that extends to our personal lives and even to political order. Harvard scholar Samuel Huntington did groundbreaking work on the paradox of increased unrest in backward societies emerging out of poverty – the progress itself creates higher expectations that can scarcely be met, leading not infrequently to bloody revolution.

So welcome to the restless new world of 24/7 communications. The more that is technologically possible, the more that is expected of you, even though you were perfectly happy the way things were. And if you can’t or won’t get with the program, your competitors are more than happy to emerge from the encroaching darkness to help themselves to your lunch. Half full or half empty: just drink it up and pour yourself another.

More Google Search Tricks

Here are five more ways to use Google as an uncommonly helpful research assistant:

1. If you’re researching  topic and you don’t know what keywords will deliver the information you’re looking for, include OR in your search, in capital letters (this is a move called using the “OR operator”). Try combining it with the “site:” operator.

2. If you want to exclude a particular term in your search use the – (the minus sign operator). For instance searching the Tea Party political movement without mention of Glen Beck would be: “tea party” –glen beck

3. Search for types of files using the “filetype:” operator. For PowerPoint files about Patagonian glaciers try: Patagonian glaciers filetype:ppt

4. Search within numerical ranges using the .. operator (that’s two periods, not three as an ellipsis). So, to find out about Wimbledon tennis in the 1930s, try: Wimbledon 1930..1940

5. If you want to know the geographical area covered by a phone area code, just type it in to the Google search bar and Google will show you a map.

PubArts.com Says Hello

PubArts.com has hereby joined the worldwide web. Yes, it’s April 1, and no, it’s not a joke. Not intentionally anyway.

Still, it’s always nice to have a hook to hang your news on. So here are some other reasons why today makes sense for the launch. For one thing, it’s the first day of the year (on the Julian calendar, but still…). And honoring the Last Supper, it’s Maundy Thursday, “maundy” being an old English term involving the washing of other people’s feet.

We’re all for hygiene, but that’s really not a service we can provide. So we’re going to stick to what we do best: professional writing and communications. And we’ll just go with the season as our reason for today’s debut — springtime, birth and rebirth, darkness yielding to light. A little over the top maybe, but memorable.

So here we go. Join us as we blog on topics that strike us as noteworthy from a writing, marketing, or communications perspective. You’ll be in good company. And feel free to tug on our electronic sleeve anytime if you need what we provide unlike anyone else: professional writing and communication services.

(c) 2010 PubArts, All Rights Reserved

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