Just An Online Minute... Is The Future F#cked -- Or Just Touched Inappropriately?

Is The Future F#cked, Hudson Terrace, New York
February 4, 2010

Clomp clomp clomp clomp, I heard my boots thumping into the street as I made my way from 42nd to 44th to 46th.  I breathed in the night air and second-hand smoked my way behind some arm-waving unfiltered cig puffer as I discovered I still had four more long blocks to clomp before reaching Hudson Terrace. That's where Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus; Nick Denton, CEO of Gawker Media; and Joe Marchese, President of SocialVibe, were about to tell us if we were indeed F#cked.  Moderator Rob Norman, CEO of GroupM, was on hand to keep the panel lubed.

The bar was full, not open, as some confused attendees discovered. Full. Open.  Different.  Warming up for the panel with some Cîroc vodka cocktails (or on the rocks) being passed by identically dressed liquor ambassadors were SocialVibe's Joe Marchese and Adam Yellin, as well as Ian Schafer.  Gawker's Nick Denton appeared after wrapping up a phone call.  Gawker's reputation for sharp-tongued sniping and jackassery-outing precedes it, so I was half expecting Denton to go all '80s Sean Penn on the camera, but it was quite the opposite.  Everyone posed, smiled, continued on.   

Rob Norman, in his head-to-toe blue plaid suit (with some lime green stripes running through it, of course), kicked things off by calling Nick "Ned Denton" and pointing out that on's homepage were two stories, "One was about Lady Gaga's vagina ...and also an article about Madonna's Brazillian," where the Brazillian turned out to be a water company investment or something, but still.  This rolled the journalistic integrity ball. 

Denton doesn't understand why anyone would think online media is so much more trustworthy than print. "We get it wrong so many more times," he said, quoting an 80% rate of accuracy.  He continued, "The web is less trustworthy piece by piece... as a whole, with the [addition of] commenters, the web gets to the truth sooner or later."  He also called Twitter the worst facet of online media because of its users' propagating false rumors.

Norman asked if the panel thought that now old media (which we had to assume he meant print or long standing houses like The New York Times, Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal) is lowering its standards and compromising itself to meet the new media.  This question sucks for many reasons.  I'll tell you one: it sucks that online practice is seen as having lower standards because those with lower standards are getting the most notoriety and views due to speed to Web (whether accurate or not) and entertainment quality (celeb snark, media snark, rumor-mongering).  

I've got a dead horse over here that I'm just going to leave alone -- because it doesn't matter how many times I beat it, credible sources, journalists, and media outlets are still not easily discernible by the average reader's eye.  I guess the upside is, online consumers of "news" are more trusting of their friends and Twitter pals, if they'll take a potentially inaccurate April Fool's post from TechCrunch and just pass it around.

I'm not sure anyone answered this question pitched by Norman, and it's a good one:  "Do you think brands are being held to a massively higher standard than the media is in which they're advertised?"  Well do you?

Later in the conversation, when the panel was burbling around the addition of commenters to content and how that affects advertising, Ian said, "Comments are like barnacles on the face of reporting, and journalism blogs," citing a situation at Engadget where they disabled commenting because it was degrading and vitriolic, and not relevant to what the site was trying to do.  And... wait for it... because it was unappealing to advertisers.

Norman reminded the panel that Joe Marchese had said earlier that impressions were dead and that engagement is the new impression.  Of course he asked Marchese to expand.

"Engagement is attention," explained Marchese, "Impressions are dead in digital because they're meaningless and fictional.  What's in limited supply? It's peoples' attention."  Marchese proposed that that attention is something valuable that you can trade.  

I'll leave you with the following questions, and I'd love to hear what you think in the comments section: Is 80% accuracy acceptable to you when you read the news (can be tech, celebrity, politics, etc)?  For example, a story first unconfirmed and then bulked up later? Does entertainment blur the lines of verified stories or, as Marchese said, "maybe the news has to be entertaining now ... and where does that leave us?" Have you written off a blog or site because of an ad served through it? Have you ever had a peanut butter and bacon sandwich?

Oh, I shouldn't forget - the hard working Paley Center folks were there, as well as Ryan Garner, director D2C Initiatives at Warner Music Group; Ryan Matzner, Communications Specialist at Blue Fountain Media; Ishmael Vasquez, New Media Strategist at Blue Fountain Media; Katy Kelley, VP of Communications at Carrot Creative; Andrea Rosen and Ellie Rountree, both of Rocketboom; Alan Wolk, Founder/Creative Strategist at The Toad Stool; AgencySpy's Matt Van Hoven; Peg Samuel, "the diva" at Social Diva, Inc.; and a lot more arranged around the room tapping away at laptops and mobiles.

Larger photos are on Flickr!

If you took shots during Social Media Week New York and you're on Flickr, join the group and share your experience!

* of course when I ask the question about accuracy, I had a word jumble moment and put "Morton" instead of "Norman". I edited this copy to reflect the accurate name of Rob Norman at 3:50pm *

2 comments about "Just An Online Minute... Is The Future F#cked -- Or Just Touched Inappropriately?".
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  1. Jenna Amelotte from Mr. Youth, February 5, 2010 at 3:27 p.m.

    I haven't decided on the others, but peanut butter and bacon sandwiches are delicious...

  2. The digital Hobo from, February 5, 2010 at 4:11 p.m.

    The line between editorial "church" and advertising "state" (or vice versa) couldn't be more blurry that it is online, and its only getting worse. The level of hypocrisy is mind blowing. Its another web driven race to the bottom.

    Just a few short months ago, commenting was THE thing. Its what made the web "2.0" and established this mysterious dialog between brands/outlets and users/fans/consumers. It WAS engagement. Now they are being turned off under pressure from advertisers? Surely Engadget wont be the last.

    Joe is absolutely right in theory -- attention is what is in short supply and advertisers want to buy. Good luck finding a currency to sell it that isn't a C.P.something or other.

    To your questions - 1) 80% accuracy should be an absolute minimum. Margin of error increases based on importance of the topic. Perez Hilton can be 50% right on Madonna's brazillian. The WSJ better be damn near 100% on their coverage of the financial crisis. Maybe we need to have tiers for editorial integrity. That way you know if the publication is aiming for speed over accuracy, and vice versa.

    2) There's room for entertaining news and serious news. There's room for premium advertising and bottom feeding. The problem is when one masquerades as the other. Look at how many people get their "news" from Stewart and Colbert!

    3) I've never stopped going to a site no matter how bad the ads were.

    4) haven't had the peanut butter and bacon......yet.

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