Category Archives: Uncategorized – It’s Cultural

Innovating in a mature company is hard.

That’s certainly not news to anyone who’s tried to do. It’s not the technology or the intricacies of business models that make it hard, it’s the real financial limitations of legacy products that still contribute and a process that has been ingrained for years. Clay Christiansen’s limitations on incumbents certainly applied at ALM. Technology or the laws of supply and demand don’t care about the internal workings of your company. When we sought to build a better platform for ALM’s readers, our advertisers and our journalists we tackled the culture and process first. The first output from this change is does not use revolutionary technology to accomplish its goals. It uses the basic building blocks of the web to bring a fresh and modern experience to legal professionals – the kind of experience they have come to expect in their personal technology use. It’s fast, it’s clean and it just works. This new platform gives each of our readers the brands and news they need and expect. It exposes them to other content they value in a way that makes sense. It gives marketers access to communities of common interest in a way that matches their needs. is, importantly, not done. We have a slate of improvements to the functionality, the UI and the content that will roll out over the next few months. We’ll test stuff, some will work some won’t. Seems simple but getting there was hard.

What is revolutionary is the change that took place inside ALM in order to build this. Our product development team had been relegated to an order-taking operation. It sat at the bottom of the organization; tech requirements fell out of the sky and the team responded. When a project was completed we moved on to the next. People didn’t feel an ownership for products because when the next ticket fell they could be working on a different one.

But the revolution was not started by moving it to the top and dictating product features to the organization. That structure has largely failed in media. Rather it was moved to the center – it connects the related but at times opposing goals of readers and marketers. It listens around the organization for the problems our customers face and recommends innovative solutions. It recognizes that our team members have real specialities that can be can solve complicated problems when we leverage the deep market knowledge in our newsroom and sales teams. Over the next few months the first output from this change will come to market. The continuous improvements we make will be seen by all of our customers and employees.

Nobody grew up dreaming of the day they could build digital products for lawyers. But an environment where talented developers can tackle critical problems in big industries is an exciting place to be as a company and it’s exactly where ALM is heading.

Here’s to the Disrupted Ones

How Professional Publishers Need to Improve The Way They Serve Their Readers

Disruptors have been American business heroes since Henry Ford. They frequently appear to be crazy right up until the moment they are shown to be brilliant. Historically, they faced push back from entrenched interests in their own industries, the government and the media. In recent years the media portion of this equation has changed with Disruptors being celebrated by TechCrunch, Re/Code and CNBC to name just a few. Marketers jump to be seen near them and celebrities from Ashton Kutcher to Steph Curry want the label as well.

But in the face of competition from these massive success stories in innovation are other professionals that are succeeding and even thriving by adapting to change around them. Its this second group most of the trade press has let down. The vast majority of professional publishers are covering industries and companies threatened by technological and regulatory changes. Too often these publishers report as passive observers, pointing out changes and reacting to news rather than proactively identifying trends and delving into implications. The true irony here is that publishers’ own industry is among the most threatened in the economy.
Publishers that dig deeper stand out. They not only understand the challenges faced but point out the winners and look for themes in those that are adapting or even leading the change. Jason Hirschorn’s Media ReDef, Skift and Poynter stand out for celebrating the adaptors and calling out the laggards.

More of us in professional publishing need to move our coverage in this direction to truly be part of the ecosystems we cover. We are not observers like journalists covering city hall. In some ways we are closer to sports columnists who strive to let their readers be better informed about the team they are passionate about. To truly fulfill our missions we need to give professionals the information and tools they need to succeed. That does not mean we need to give only fawning coverage for the industries we follow. In fact it means the opposite. We need to provide the hard truths about their changing environment, call industry players on failing to change with it and applaud them for adapting successfully.

The most common mistake made by those on the other end of the change is believing or pretending that the changes will stop or won’t impact their business because of something that protects them or their industry. The best professional publishers will help their readers by not allowing this to happen and giving them a roadmap to succeed through all the noise.

My 18 Month Newspaper Industry Education

For the past 18 months I’ve been treated to a masterclass in the news industry from some of the smartest people around. Thank you to Jim Friedlich, Ken Herts, Gordon Crovitz, Jason Klein, Rick Stein and all the industry leaders I met or spoke to.

From 2007 until 2015 I ran digital news and information businesses. I was exposed to print through my M&A experience and my time running Imaginova but for the most part I was a digital media guy. That sector has its own issues for sure with 85% of all new digital dollars going to just 2 media companies and the largest player in digital video seemingly not caring if they turn a profit. The issues facing “heritage media companies” as they are now known are well established. I won’t rehash them or how the industry got here. But as a newcomer to these companies and cultures I did see some things with fresh eyes.

Here’s a few of the things I learned in no particular order.

Tremendous Value Lies In Great But Trapped Content

The data, relationships and focused vertical knowledge inside the walls of heritage media companies are massive content assets. They need to be mined and applied to the right mix of new platforms, products and business models. Voting histories of city councils, image libraries, restaurant reviews all sit within boarded up gold mines because UI/ UX is not a core competency. Users want and need the service that this data can provide them, building a UX that gives it to them at the time and place they want it is next.

Sports Sections Are Always the Furthest Ahead

Somehow the knucklehead jock reporters figured out the interwebs before everyone else and its stayed that way. But if you look at the nature of sports fans’ relationships to teams and beat sports writers’ relationships to each other you see what gave them an edge. Sports fans have a passionate, interactive relationship with sports media unlike that consumers have with political, business or cultural coverage. They want to consume every ounce of coverage and every replay. Sports writers spend time with writers from other cities and other teams far more than do journalists from the metro desk, for example. From the start this gave them an edge on sharing best practices from across the country. Check any newspaper and the biggest social followings are always for the sports writers.

That’s why 10 years ago the biggest opportunities were for The Huffington Post and Business Insider that built personality and modern UI/UX into their political and business coverage from the start. In fact, natively digital sports media like Bleacher Report and SB Nation borrowed their aggregation model from print, simply doing online what Peter Gammons’ did for his Sunday baseball column in the Boston Globe.

There Are 2 Newspaper Industries; Know Which One You’re In

The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and now The Washington Post are playing a different game than everyone else. They are addressing national or international markets and get the benefits of the scale for the markets in which they play. Other large metro newspapers can perhaps borrow some best practices and maybe some technology but should certainly not say, “hey, the Post is doing it, we should too.”

Leadership Matters

I have not met a single person in any company that did not honestly want their company to succeed digitally. For sure, some folks are still on auto pilot for a print paradigm that hasn’t existed in many years.  There are clearly different levels of preparedness and myriad approaches to the challenges. What’s needed is for great leaders need to step up and get people to follow them into battle.

Invest in World Class Talent

Sell the mission of journalism, pay more than you should, do acqui-hires, etc. But, do what it takes to get world class talent into your company. “World Class” does not mean the best talent who worked at another newspaper, it means the best talent.

There are very talented people in these companies for sure but the skill set is uneven and too much load falls on the very best, pushing them out the door eventually. This change will be painful but necessary.

Some Big Swings are Needed

Large companies have notoriously fell victim to the innovator’s dilemma but the problem is acute in this industry. Where is the Hail Mary pass? Is anyone willing to make a “bet the company” play to save a business? Since it will likely take a couple to figure it out they need to happen frequently. Just doing what is working in another city is not the transformative change needed.

These risks need to be taken not just on the business and product side but by journalists as well. Many people are calling what we are in now the “Golden Age of Television” despite the fact that linear television business models are just as challenged as print. But when writers, directors and actors were given freedom to test new formats they responded with such amazing content that we are all glued to our screens to watch House of Cards, Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones. Someone at a metro newspaper has to step up and do things in a fundamentally different and better way. Create awesome content for people and they will be loyal customers. 

The Competition is Not Who You Say it is, It’s Who Your Readers Say It is

Not much to add here. Stop using just the other newspapers in town and the radio station websites as your list of competition. Ten minutes with the right data will show you were your readers are getting information about their city and the world.

Obsess About Design and User Experience

You don’t have to have the best UX among other newspapers, you have to be better than all the natively digital sources for news and information. You readers experience many digital products every day on their phone, car, office desktop and tv. Does yours measure up to all of those?

 Understanding Comparative Advantage is Critical

Markets are not all created equal. Each has industries, people, teams, companies or histories that make them unique in terms of the content they generate. Regional media companies need to discover where they have these advantages and build moats around them with additional investment in best-in-class coverage.

Revenue Forecasts Are Uniformly Unrealistic

Operators are not blind to the declines of print advertising and subscription revenue. To the contrary, most adopt nearly the same 5-7% annual decline forecast out for several years. However, the far more likely scenario is annual low single digit declines followed by a cliff of a 15%+ decline during the next ad recession. Are they planning their balance sheets accordingly?

For God’s Sake, Stop Calling it a Paywall

Would you say there is a paywall at the Mercedes dealer, McDonald’s, the movie theater or the grocery store? Consumers are used to paying for things they value, but a wall is an obstacle, a blocking mechanism. Consumers are not used to be being actively blocked from purchasing things they want. In short, the message matters.

Fake It Till You Make It Is Not a Strategy

Apologies but adding Online or Digital to your company name doesn’t change your business model any more than me changing my name to Mookie gives me a spot in the Sox lineup.

Build Defensible New Revenue Streams

Digital strategies of reselling reach extension or SEM don’t scale, have declining margins and will likely be automated away by Google and Facebook. They are not the answer. Print strategies built around “bonus days” are simply pulling accrual but not cash-based revenue into the present while being disingenuous to readers and forcing them to renew early.

Revenue growth has to come from real, defensible, high margin businesses that leverage a news brands’ own unique selling proposition, data and relationships. Those opportunities exist in the event space, commerce, digital subscriptions, and news-as-a-service. Most importantly though they exist in even bigger ideas that have not been thought of yet.

It’s Not Going Away, But it Sure as Hell Has to Change

Two of the world’s most effective communicators today are the street artist Banksy and Pope Francis. One uses an ancient communication tool to tell a modern story, the other uses a modern communication tool to tell an ancient story. A great medium and or a great story can each adapt to the times.

Twitter & The Facebook Tax

For some time now, the tech and Wall Street punditry have pounded on Twitter to be more innovative in its product development. “You need to make it less geeky!” “Nobody outside of tech and Hollywood knows what a RT is!”

Yes, certainly the company needs to grow its user base. And certainly one way to do that is through engaging with an audience in more intuitive ways. But innovation in product development is table stakes for any company in Twitter’s sector and for any company that hopes to justify the multiple of revenue the company enjoys even today. “Great, you’re upgrading your product, well, of course you are..what else?”

We’ve come to expect Facebook to frequently amaze us with a new development. Instant articles is an incredible engineering feat. When they grew tired of publishers building crappy experiences they built a better one in what is really not their core business. Twitter’s progress has been more incremental and less noticeable to the non-TechCrunch-reading user. Perhaps Moments will be the change in that and set the company on a faster cycle of innovation. Maybe Vine or Periscope products build in more toll booths that add value to Twitter as they grow but they have not appeared yet.

But Twitter’s far larger deficit to Facebook can be seen in the ecosystem that has been built around them. This is where Wall St should be focused in their critique of the company.

One could argue, as Twitter CFO Anthony Noto recently did, that Twitter’s total audience is larger than Facebook’s. On most news programs in sports, entertainment and politics you will find multiple posts pulled directly from high-profile accounts. These mentions reach hundreds of millions of people with the Twitter name. But, that’s it. The only value Twitter receives from the vast majority of its ecosystem is free press. In some cases, brands and other publishers use the platform for their own revenue completely free of charge. The new polling tool is at least a step in that direction because it requires users to be logged in to vote.

In contrast, look at the network Facebook has built. There is nowhere that Facebook touches a person, company or content that value does not come back in a very tangible way. Building a brand page, your users need to come to Facebook. Publish an article, your readers need a Facebook account to share with their friends and probably got to the article through Facebook anyway. There is a tax to pay at every step along the way that always lets the company build value in a concrete way.

Until Twitter can build a similar toll into their network they will remain far behind their larger competitor financially regardless of their ability to build new products.


Waiting ‘Til Next Year Looks Good This Time

Its been a weird few years as a Sox fan for sure. 3 last place finishes with a completely magical and unexpected World Series stuck in the middle.Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 9.36.09 AM

The 2015 Sox have been the most fun to watch last place team I’ve ever seen. That’s mainly because the young core of the team looks like it is poised to explode in 2016. Checking out the post-All Star game stats of this group makes me long for Opening Day 2016

Are You Johnny Carson or SNL?

Twitter is abuzz this morning as news hit of Bill Simmons departure from ESPN. What happens over the next few months will go a long way to determine if ESPN built Saturday Night Live or was content to employ Johnny Carson. In a quick survey, sentiment is leaning heavily toward Simmons being the brand, not Grantland.

In the fall of 2011 TechCrunch’s founder, editor and most recognizable name, Michael Arrington, left.  Soon after the blog lost other prominent writers and then, in a larger blow, lost its COO Heather Harde. Way, way too much has already been written about this period. The media consensus was that TC was screwed. AOL had screwed up a great business and the value would soon be absorbed by new entrants like TheVerge and PandoDaily.

But that’s not what happened. The team rallied, new leaders like Alexia Tsotsis, Eric Eldon, and Leena Rao stepped up as writers. Leslie Hitchcock and Jesse Chambers did the same on the business side. Ned Desmond came aboard and provided the leadership needed to first bring about calm and then growth. TechCrunch had a huge year in terms of quality, traffic and revenue on the heels of having last rites delivered. Consensus that TechCrunch was all about Michael Arrington and Sarah Lacy was wrong. We discovered the business had real legs as a brand. It was about the format, the market, and the right leadership and it was a hue launching pad for tech writers’ careers.

TechCrunch was not the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson or other weekly late night talk shows. Those have been proven to be a product that works with the right personality (Carson, Letterman, Leno, Fallon) but can falter quickly with the wrong one (Craig Kilborn, Arsenio Hall). It was Saturday Night Live. As long as you keep the format and culture, you can continue to bring in new casts and do great work and continue to launch careers after Gilda Radner and Will Ferrell are gone. Martha Stewart Living and Oprah appear to be very tied to their founder. The Huffington Post and Business Insider have built businesses that could now withstand the departure of its founder. Which category does Grantland fall into?

John Skipper seems to think he’s Lorne Michaels building SNL with Simmons in the role of Chevy Chase or Eddie Murphy. I’m not so sure but I clearly remember seeing bets pile up against us 3 years ago. Writers at Grantland will have the chance to step up and take over. Executives at ESPN can show they’ve built a real brand that attracts real talent. Simmons will get the chance to show he is more than just a great writer but a savvy digital business person as well. As long as the podcasts and mailbags continue the fan base will be satisfied but if a business is created along the way will take longer to discover.

And Not Or

I love Twitter. Really, I do. I use it as my primary news source for most topics. I use it to keep in touch with people and I use it to promote my business. But what Twitter does not do well is nuance. It’s really difficult to convey complex ideas in 140 characters. The modern media model in general does not support nuance. Blunt force carries more impact drives more traffic and creates more revenue. This model is present on tv and radio as well but is at its most obvious online.

To have a real discussion about complex issues you need nuance. The most important subjects are not black and white. Too often end up in discussions that only allow for “or”. When we are stuck in “Or” mode, we lose the ability to learn from multiple aspects of a story. We end up conflating ideas that are connected in the news cycle but while related are not actually dependent on each other.

The danger of this thinking was evident in Ted Cruz’s comments on Net Neutrality. He didn’t understand the topic but because Obama was for it, he was against it. Had the president come out in favor of pizza he would have been suddenly anti pizza.

But you can see topics everywhere that could be more robust if not for the insistence on Or. We can have massive racial issues that lead to Freddie Gray tragedies and police departments are over armed in this country and citizens need to have more responsible and less violent responses at times like this.

There can be real problems within Islam that need to be fixed by Muslims and some Muslims are being needlessly persecuted.

Uber might very well have cultural problems at the management level and be an amazing product that transforms the economy and creates massive economic opportunity for its employees and knocks down entrenched special interests that only benefit a few.

Floyd Mayweather can be an amazing athlete who is thrilling to watch and be an abomination of a human being.

This trend extends into and severely limits our public discourse on topics across the spectrum. We limit our ability to solve the problems in all areas because we use language in a limiting way.

We need to get out of the realm of Or and back into discussions that allow for And. Or else.

Breaking – Traffic Soars

Top 8 Ebola-Related TechBlog Headline

TechCrunch – Marc Andreesen backs YC Alum with $42M Seed Round to Build the Uber of Ebola Vaccine Delivery

Engadget – Android Users Immune to Ebola

Business Insider – 13 Reasons Jeff Bezos Claims Ebla Virus Won’t Slow Holiday Slaes

Ars Technica – We Took Apart a Raspberry Pi Powered Laptop Used by Doctors in Liberia Without a HazMat Suit

Re/Code – What I Heard About Ebola Walking the Halls at Yahoo!

The Verge – Ebola Is Not Strong Enough To Take Down Our CMS

CNet – iOS Ebola Detector App: 5 Stars!

Techmeme – Check out our sister site – VirusMeme


Pedro’s Mustard Stain

Trips to Yankee Stadium were typically not much fun for me in the late 90’s. The Sox continued to trot out a roster that had only two players worth watching – Nomar and Pedro. Nomar was still in the phase of his career in which he was a hitting savant. He could seemingly hit any pitch on a line somewhere. Basically any game could be a 4 hit night for him. He definitely was one of the guys you did not leave the room for when his at bats were on tv.

But Pedro…, well, Pedro was on an other level.

Pedro was dominating hitters in the midst of the steroid era. His ERA+ from 1997-2003 was 215! That is, he had an ERA less than half the league average and was doing it when home runs were flying out of ballparks at crazy rates. So needless to say when Pedro was pitching in the Bronx on a warm September night I told Trish this was an event that could not be missed. That was 15 years ago today.

There was a section of the old Yankee Stadium in the first few rows of the upper deck that was great. You could see the entire field clearly, noting the movements of the defense as they anticipated a particular pitch. It was the best place to watch baseball outside of Fenway. When Trish and I arrived we climbed to the upper deck through the left field section. Arriving at the top level, we were directly over the Sox bullpen with Pedro warming up. I watched as the bullpen coach placed a 2 inch strip over sections of the plate or off the plate. He never missed a spot. It was truly amazing. Here was a guy throwing 96, hitting spots only 2 inches wide while the ball was also moving side to side and up and down. Never thought a bullpen session could be captivating.

Pedro’s second pitch hit Chuck Knoblauch. 2 pitches later Varitek threw him out stealing. Pedey knew what he had that night and was just toying with people. From there out it was a thing of beauty. 2 Strikeouts in the 2nd and 3rd, striking out the side in the 5th. From 7th inning on the Yankees did not hit a fair ball, 8 K’s and a week foul pop to first. At the end of the 8th inning, Ricky Ledee struck out swinging for the 3rd time.

Now I’d been going to Sox games in the Bronx since my freshman year at Fordham. I knew how to avoid the unsavory aspects of the crowd. But I finally let go, standing up and cheering for the Pedro’s 14th K. As I turned back to take a seat, an object was coming toward my head. I ducked but it was too late. Thud. I had been hit in the head with a hot dog. I looked back and saw other fans congratulating the hurler who threw his pitch as accurate as any Pedro threw that night. Hitting a man with a hot dog from 45 feet is hard to do. What’s more, as I looked down I could see that this was a nearly complete dog with relish and mustard. The guy had invested a good $5 on this chuck. I had to give him credit.

The mustard left a stain on my hat. It was a stain I wore with pride until it finally faded 10 years later. I wore that same mustard-stained hat on October 20th 2004 when the Sox completed their comeback in the Bronx and again on October 27th that year.

The hat still sits in my closet; too torn and weathered for me to wear regularly. But I took it out in October 2007 and again last year. I will wear it again next year in Cooperstown I suppose.

Hey Lebron, Get Off My Lawn!

Since the end of the NBA finals the refrain has been heard, “it is a travesty that NBA players are building super teams.” Several All-Time Greats will certainly come out and say they never would have left their team to join up with others to win championships.

This is a garbage argument.

Jordan, Russell, Wilt, Kareem, Bird, Kobe, Duncan, Magic, Jerry West and Lebron are the Top 10 Players of All Time according to Bill Simmons with a bit of editorializing from me to move Lebron into the group. These all time greats did not have to build super teams the way Lebron has because they were made for them. Together they have won 46 rings (including 5 that Kareem and Magic won together) representing 70% of modern NBA Championships.

I will gladly accept that a transcendent NBA player makes others on his team better. He can take a nice starter and make him an All-Star. But any player that ends up in Springfield was going to be an impact player regardless of who his teammates were. So to prove this point I’m going to use a higher bar.

So, how many of these rugged individualists bravely won multiple NBA Championships as the lone super star that carried their team. Umm, that would be zero.

That’s right, none (0, Zilch, Nada) of them have been won without at least one other Hall of Fame player on the roster. To find an NBA HOF’er who won multiple NBA Championships as the only HOF player on the team, you have to look to Isiah Thomas and the Bad Boy Pistons. I’ve had to make some assumptions on who will be elected to the Hall among active players but these are generally not close calls (Pao Gasol, Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker).

Here is the breakdown of the NBA’s Top 10 with the number of championships and the number of other Hall of Fame players on each championship team.

Player Rings 0 1 2 3 4
Jordan1 6 0 ‘91, ‘92, ‘93, ‘96, ‘97, ‘98 0 0 0
Russell2 11 0 0 ‘66, ‘68, ‘69 ‘62, ‘64, ‘65 ‘57, ‘59, ‘60, ‘61, ‘63
Kareem 6 0 ‘71, ‘80 ‘82, ‘87, ‘88 ‘85 0
Bird 3 0 0 ‘81 ‘84 ‘86
Kobe3 5 0 ‘00, ‘01, ‘02,  ‘08, ‘09 0 0 0
Duncan4 5 0 ‘99 ‘05 ,‘07, ‘14 ‘03, 0
Magic 5 0 ‘80 ‘82, ‘87, ‘88 ‘85 0
Lebron5 2 0 0 ‘12,’13 0 0
Wilt 2 0 ‘67 ‘72
Jerry West 1 0 ‘72

Given these numbers, any team’s chance of being truly dominant and creating a dynasty is clearly dependent on having multiple Hall of Fame players.The complexities of the salary cap are one driving force. The other is that the league has gone from 8 teams in 1957 (Bill Russell’s rookie year) to 22 in 1980 (Bird/ Magic) to 23 in ’84 (Jordan) and now 30.

Players, pundits, analysts and fans who claim this is not how it should be done are simply old cranks who don’t like that Lebron, Carmelo and others are intelligently adapting to an NBA with an ever increasing number of teams. It is now a league in which you cannot build a team with 4 or 5 Hall of Fame players through the draft, free agency and trades unless the players acquiesce to it.

Winners find a way to win, I agree. But why doesn’t this way count?


1) ‘96-’98 teams also included Dennis Rodman who was no slouch

2) Assumes KC Jones elected as a coach. These numbers increase if we assume as a player.

3) Assumes Pao Gasol is a HOF’er

4) Assumes Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli are HOF’ers. ‘99 Championship team also included Sean Elliot pre-Injury

5) Assumes Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen are HOF’ers