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Camera Phones, Blogs Bring Power to the People; AOL's a Bad Example, Says Online Ad Biz

And the meek shall inherit our bylines

It all sounds so familiar. "Hyped Technology X will revolutionize our lives, save us from the tedium of daily life, change how we consume media, bring world peace, and finally teach us how to program our VCRs." There was the promise of interactive TV and its 500 channels of something or other. There was the promise of push technology, with video pushed to our desktop computers. And even online journalism itself was supposed to be a revolution, finally taking away the power of Big Media. (Pray, don't look at the list of top news Web sites and who owns them.)

Now comes the scaled-back, less revolutionary talk of 2002, and how our latest fetishes will change the world, um, of journalism, at least sorta. Reuters' Adam Pasick says that weblogs, or blogs, "may carry the day" if there's a Gulf War II (hopefully with the catchy name GWII). Just like GWI brought CNN to the forefront, GWII could be the "blog watershed," Pasick says, because bloggers can cut through the fog of war with diverse opinions. The problem? Credibility. One prof says bloggers probably won't be given credentials by the U.S. military, and they'll likely be relegated to the "second-day story."

On a similar note, the San Jose Mercury News' Dan Gillmor predicts that picture-taking smart phones, now numbering 10 million in Japan, could create an armada of amateur journos, on the spot to shoot photos in case of fire, earthquake or police beating. But Gillmor quickly notes the downside of so many people with so many recording devices: "We're heading into a creepy era when it may be safest to assume that we're always being photographed or videotaped in public places."

Disintermediation has long been the promise of power-to-the-people technology, letting mom and/or pop set up a shop through eBay, or allowing Matt Drudge to help impeach the prez through his Web site. And perhaps blogs can help us cut out the middleman of middling journalists on the scene in GWII, who could be censored by the military or media bosses. And perhaps camera phones will bring glory to the lucky/unlucky amateur photog on the scene of a disaster. But will these revolutionize journalism and change the way we do our jobs? Oh, sure, kinda-sorta ... someday. Welcome to the world of lowered expectations.

 

Go sit in the corner, AOL

A quick follow-up on my epic roundup of biz press views of the AOL Day debacle. One interesting angle was quickly brought up by CNET's News.com and CBS MarketWatch -- AOL's online ad woes are unique (i.e. the rest of the industry isn't so bad). But what began as a peep turned into a full-blown whimper, as The New York Times and The Washington Post jumped on with similar stories about AOL being the exception to the rule of online advertising, which is really picking up at places like NYTimes.com, Washingtonpost.com, CBS.MarketWatch.com, etc. Weird.

Now, I don't mean to imply that these folks are massaging numbers to make themselves look good -- the research houses probably do a better job of that already. And it is important to note just how different big portals like AOL and Yahoo are than these more narrow news sites, chiefly because the portals made so much money on big dot-com deals that are now drying up. But did every single outlet have to have its own version of the same story? At least The Washington Post's Sabrina Jones, on the story about a week late, did talk to a variety of real-live advertisers and agencies -- that live near her workplace! (Her story also had the best headline: "Why AOL Gloom Won't Spell Online Doom.")

But other outlets apparently hadn't been given the new sheet music. New York Newsday's Monty Phan previewed advertising conferences in New York today by giving the upbeat forecasts coming for advertising spending overall. But for online advertising, he noted that "executives of AOL Time Warner's Internet division painted a dreary picture of online advertising." What, this guy doesn't read the Times or Post?

 

Quotable

"At this point, the benefits of a spinoff [of AOL from AOL Time Warner] are now greater than ever. The AOL management has finally recognized that it will take over a year before it can turn America Online around -- and that's with no certainty that it can turn it around. That is far too long for investors to wait."

-- Frederick Moran, an analyst with Jefferies & Co., told CBS MarketWatch in a story titled "It's time for Time Warner to drop AOL." A less charitable analyst called the AOL division "a freakin' mess."


Mark Glaser currently writes technology features for The New York Times, travel stories for the San Jose Mercury News, and a bi-weekly e-mail newsletter for the Online Publishers Association, whose membership includes most major media companies online. That won't stop him from taking cheap potshots at these outlets, when necessary. You can contact him with any juicy tidbits about online journalism at [email protected].

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