Series A Crunch? Can’t We Call It The Seed-Investment Glut?

Let’s start with what the Series A crunch is.*

For that, turn to how CB Insights defines it in its Seed Investing Report from December: “[The] Series A crunch is nothing more than excessive demand for a limited supply of Series A financings.”

Precisely. Lest we’re confused from the get-go, it’s important to know that the Series A crunch does not refer to any sort of contraction in the overall number of Series A investors doling out stacks of Benjy Franklins to cash-hungry startups.

Rather, the “crunch” represents what will happen as hordes of startups—those that have received seed rounds of financing from angel investors—find themselves chasing too few Series A dollars. Again, turn to CB Insights’ Seed Investing Report: 1,000 startups will be “orphaned” as they’re unable to raise successive rounds of investment capital following their initial seed raises.

Admittedly, this point about what “Series A crunch” means was muddled in the piece I wrote for Technically Baltimore, especially where I scoffed openly at even calling this phenomenon a Series A crunch:

“Series A crunch? Meh. What appears to be happening, rather, is that startups are starting to feel the effects of an excessive amount of poorly executed seed deals undertaken by inexperienced angel investors.”

I promise you I’m not operating under a misapprehension of what the tech world means when it says Series A crunch.

I am, however, being a curmudgeonly fuck. Let me explain.

In financial terms, a crunch is a shortage of cash or credit. We’ve already established that “Series A crunch” is a phrase that does not represent any shrinking in the overall capacity of Series A dollars. It’s not as if Thurston Howell Barnaby the Deuces is dropping dead, and therefore his $50 million in what could have been Series A funding is suddenly gone (with the appropriate amount extracted by the federal government in the form of estate taxes).

So why are we calling this phenomenon the Series A crunch instead of the Seed-Investment Glut? Or, you know, the Angel-Seed Glut? (Don’t laugh.) Or: “EXPLOSION!”

Forgive me for engaging in nothing more than a game of semantics, but I majored in English literature in college. Dissecting words, their meanings, and why certain diction is used in describing specific situations is more appealing to me than a jungle juice-soaked weekend in Vegas.

What I tried doing in my piece for Technically Baltimore was reframe the conversation. If a crunch is a shortage, then I don’t want to call this a Series A crunch. (Insert refutations by reporters/tech big-wigs—with far more experience/talent than a 24-year-old—asserting that all I’m doing is whining.)

Let’s call this something that focuses on the problem, namely: the deleterious effect had on startups when too many angel investors engage in seed deals, inflating companies’ relative worth, and, perhaps, founders’ dreams and aspirations.

Over the last four years or so, we’ve seen the volume of seed deals balloon. This “crunch” is now happening thanks to “pesky angel investors flinging dollar bills harder than Rick Ross out of a Maybach’s front, driver-side window, #LIKEABOSS.”

What that has created is an issue of supply and demand. With so many startups having received smaller rounds of seed financing, that means there are now more startups shooting for a limited amount of Series A funding. A portion of those startups are crappy startups that don’t deserve money, period.

Others, however—ones perhaps worthy of, and in need of, more investment dollars—will garner no attention from Series A investors. Which means those startups will receive no more funding. Which means those startups become subject to fortune (as well as a caffeine drip and the relative worth of whatever they’re selling). Will they make enough money to keep operating, or will they be forced to close shop? (Remember when unemployment was below 7 percent?)

CB Insights’ latest report shows that the volume of Series A deals in Q4 of 2012 increased.** So why the crunch?

Let’s pick a word that shines the spotlight on the problem: far, far too many seed deals.

*Rick Ross GIF unrelated to aforementioned crunch.

**Yes, yes, I KNOW even the smallest increase in Series A deals won’t alleviate the painful money-strapped smackdown many a startup will face as 2013 continues.

Double Your Money and Make a Stack

Why do journalists hate money?

This is an alternate interpretation of the part-facetious, part-disgustingly true question Michael Rosenblum poses in this month’s Carnival of Journalism: Can a good journalist also be a good capitalist?

I think the question itself—and this is not meant as a knock on Mr. Rosenblum—is a farce to begin with.* We need to explode the premise, so to speak, because what it belies is the central nature of journalism itself: the sale of a product.

What journalists sell is information. Acting as arbiters between the public and various worlds to which the public either doesn’t have access or doesn’t have adequate time to access, journalists’ main responsibility is to fight myriad forces aligned for preventing our getting the information, and then packaging that information—articles, photos, videos, tweets—for wide-scale dissemination.

Many journalists, then, are already capitalists. I receive a paycheck for my work at Urbanite. I control the means to my own production. If I don’t write, I don’t get paid.

Really, then, this month’s question is another, slightly revised iteration of the problematic issue plaguing twenty-first century journalism since the stock market crashed in 2008: In a digital-first world, where information is created and transmitted almost instantaneously, how does journalism remain relevant to the point of commanding readers’ respect in the form of payment?

To quote Dave Chappelle: I want them greenbacks.

Firstly, we should note that “traditional” journalism (quotation marks used because, well, what the hell is traditional journalism—print journalism?) isn’t going away. In 2010, The Atlantic turned a profit for the first time in a number of years; Esquire magazine, which many in the publishing world had left for dead in 2009, is doing well. Traditional journalism is recalibrating and reconfiguring—paywalls, digital-first, expansion of the business model into festivals and events—but it isn’t evaporating.

Secondly, we should note that Mr. Rosenblum’s initial question seems to be asking how journalists can get a bigger cut for what we do. There have been models of entrepreneurial journalism, to be sure: Spot.Us and CoPress, now defunct, are two that come to my mind readily. The Baltimore Brew is another, although I can’t speak to their money-making model outside of a Kickstarter campaign they completed recently.

But entrepreneurship is hard, and always has been. Noticing that entrepreneurial journalism is difficult—Hard work? At a start-up?! Bunk!—isn’t all that compelling a revelation.

No, what I think we’re really talking about is how journalists can sufficiently leverage their collective power to create economies of scale that are similarly powerful to the big guys. You know: Hearst, Gannett, Tribune, Conde Nast.

I don’t really have an answer. Mr. Rosenblum gets at one, and upon cursory inspection, it appears quite clever. But I don’t think we’ll arrive at any semblance of an answer if we’re fooling ourselves about the original premise.

Journalists, of course, can be good capitalists. We always have been.**

*Michael Rosenblum’s post came off a tad satirical. I could be wrong—my 23 years might be showing—but I think Mr. Rosenblum is aware of the tenuous nature of his own question.

**I should note that what we’re not debating is the value of journalism on some esoteric or intrinsic scale. I could talk until I’m blue in the face about why I think journalism is necessary for any successful democratic republic. But seeing as how WE’RE ALL A BUNCH OF DAMN LEFTIES, I don’t know how many people would listen.

http://www.copress.org/

Twitter Me This

The AP’s new Twitter “retweeting” policy gets one thing right and one thing wrong.

The new policy updates the guidelines set by AP in July, which said that reporters could retweet material from “AP-branded accounts.” Now, reporters retweeting material without making it abundantly clear that they’re not in agreement with the original tweet—especially if that tweet offers some sort of opinion—will presumably get in some sort of trouble. (For examples of how to retweet under the new AP policy, head to Mallory Jean Tenore’s post over at Poynter.) The one new element of this that everyone (read: people in comments boards) seems to be railing against is the placement of the “RT” in any retweet. (The AP suggests placing it before a staffer’s written material, and not before the “@[TwitterName].”) This is what’s wrong with the new policy—but insofar as shuffling the placement of the RT is anything wrong, it’s a minor gripe.

But what is revolutionary about the policy, in a weird, kowtowing to traditional authority type of way, is the fact that the AP is attempting to impose some type of editorial judgment—albeit self-judgment—on the content its reporters choose to retweet. And while there is an argument to be made for such a policy stifling the flow of information or preventing staffers from tweeting pertinent information effortlessly, I think those arguments are mostly theoretical attempts at finding some avenue through which a criticism of the AP’s new policy is valid. By asking its reporting staff on Twitter to make it plainly evident when they are retweeting someone else’s opinion as opposed to someone else’s news isn’t some sign of journalistic muzzling/bucking tweeting conventions/apocalyptic downfall of the Interwebs.* (And it sure as hell isn’t the AP saying that its reporters aren’t allowed to have opinions, as some have suggested.)

If anything, it’s simply pointing out to staff members that their actions as AP reporters have ramifications that reflect both upon themselves and the organization, which is trying to be a credible news organization each day. Approaching social media with a level of decorum, both in speech and how you’re disseminating information, is a logical extension of that.

*I’m well aware that my own Twitter page says that retweets are not endorsements, with a “Duh” appended. (These damn kids!) There’s an entire argument to be had about whether retweets on Twitter constitute endorsements (some would say no, which would make any disclaimer such as my own completely pointless; but some journalists seem to think that retweets do constitute endorsements.) The argument here is whether the AP’s new policy is really stifling its reporters. I’m sure no AP staffers will get in trouble for retweeting that the Eagles are the best team in the NFL, for instance.

Down on The Corner: The First Trip to Occupy Baltimore

“They say we don’t know what we want, but here we are making our decisions without bankers or politicians intervening in our lives. This is what we want.”

That is the statement printed on the back page of the “Occupy!” resource guide, which itself is a nine-page printable zine chronicling the “international occupation movement of 2011.” The guide is found on the OccupyBaltimore website, and the protest itself—located at the corner of Pratt and Light Streets near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor—was where Joe Soriero and I were Tuesday night beginning around 8:30.

I went seeking some semblance of an answer as to why roughly 150 people (by my unofficial count on Tuesday) are protesting. (I won’t speak for Joe, whom I wrangled into this because of his skill with video editing.) OccupyBaltimore’s Facebook page says they’re working to fight social inequality and economic injustice; I’m told that to ask for any sort of end goal is to betray my inability to understand a 21st-century protest, regardless of how many voices out there define this movement as being for one thing while consistently insisting that no definable objectives exist.

I didn’t find that answer. I found various—and sometimes competing—interpretations of an answer, but if I had to give a 30-second elevator pitch on the matter, I wouldn’t be able to. (Granted, I’m probably not supposed to be able to: after all, I’m not down in McKeldin Park every night.) The video clip below compiles some of that information together. It forms the first part of a weekly series Joe and I plan to host here until further notice. (As of Tuesday night, the protestors in McKeldin Park have had roughly $4,000 donated to them, of which $1,500 has been earmarked for food and about $400 has been set aside for weatherproofing their makeshift encampment.) This is just the introduction. Some of the pieces here will be more journalistic, while others will take an academic tone.

What I do have, for now, are some thoughts. These aren’t well developed or comprehensive in the least bit. As I continue to go down every week, I hope to gain a better understanding of not only what is going on in the Inner Harbor, but also how what is going on relates to the U.S. economy as a whole—why now are people suddenly so enraged about the economy, when it has been in a state of relative disarray since 2008?; have people protesting given up any hope of finding work, or is the idea of finding work tacit approval of an economic order they apparently abhor?; why protest corporate America on the streets instead of delivering the message at the polling booths? The video comes first. My thoughts follow.


Video by Joe Soriero

Thought One: If the movement can be summarized as a clash between distinct world orders, it’s identifying Globalization versus Localization as the battle of our time.

To condense the idea of globalization into a simplistic critique—it can be overwhelmingly destabilizing. As national economies become more complex, individuals who don’t have a direct say in the shaping of economic policy can feel like they have no control over the larger (mostly unnoticeable) forces that govern their daily lives. It’s detachment that wasn’t asked for. Asking to be able to make decisions without “politicians or bankers interfering with our lives” is essentially asking to be living in hyper-local cities—all of Baltimore’s food comes from Baltimore, and not from California; all of Baltimore’s energy comes from Baltimore, and not from oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico; and so on.

Insofar as this unsettling feeling of detachment is connected to any broader complaint regarding the state of the nation’s economy, protestors have reasonable, genuine, not unfounded qualms. (Take a look at Henry Blodget’s charts on Business Insider. He does far more justice to this than I ever could in a few pithy lines.) Moreover, in a nation where unemploymentreal unemployment, which includes those who are underemployed and those who have stopped looking for work—is trending toward 20 percent, people feel devalued. It’s an employer’s market, so to speak. For those with college degrees, your prospects look good (September’s unemployment rate was just 4.2 percent). But for others with no degree, or those who are older or have been unemployed for a long period of time, the outlook is bleak.

But to rail against globalization without any finesse or nuance is to ignore how specialization and consolidation have made products cheaper and standard of living better. Again, turn to Henry Blodget on Business Insider, whose line-by-line commentary on the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City, while snarky, is spot on. Which brings me to my second thought…

Thought Two: Some of these protestor demands are solved with greater voter turnout, not with more people sleeping on concrete.

Since the protests began, I have seen cardboard signs making a variety of demands. Some of these demands—repeal the Patriot Act; end the Federal Reserve; no more bailouts for banks—are items linked directly to those we elect to our local, state, and national legislatures. The government implemented the Patriot Act and the Federal Reserve and the bank bailouts. Not corporate America. So why aren’t people marching on D.C.? Or, better yet, turning out to vote? In 2008, youth voter turnout rose to 51 percent. But read the fine print. That was in the presidential elections. In the 2010 mid-term elections—two years since the housing bubble burst and the subsequent economic downturn—just 24 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds voted. Which takes us to…

Thought Three: Good intentions do not always a good policy make. (Or, monetarily subsidizing ideas can actually create perverse incentives that engineer an undesirable end result.)

It’s time for this country to ask itself some uncomfortable questions. The first one we can tackle relates directly to the housing crisis of the past few years: can everybody in this country afford a home? If not, do we need to make it so that everybody in this country can afford a home? (We’re not talking about shelter, which we could all debate at length; we’re talking about a house with a mortgage.) This is not meant to absolve Wall Street and banks from dealing in mortgage-backed securities, effectively turning local banks into investment banking firms and pushing them to deviate from their role of advising to one of selling. But—and this relates back to Thought Two—if we don’t want the government picking winners and losers (i.e. we have to bail out banks that are “too big to fail”), then we need to have a conversation about what we think, precisely, the government is supposed to do for the people. (To all you libertarian-types out there: Yes, I know it’s called the Constitution.) Which means that, whether this movement is about that or not, specific ideas and solutions need to be discussed, since tearing down something without building something in its place probably isn’t the best option.

Thought Four: There are elements of the Occupy movement I can’t give any credence to, and that’s because of circular logic.

Douglas Rushkoff, if he were reading any of this blog, would tell me that I don’t get it. In an article for CNN, he says:

“Occupy Wall Street is meant more as a way of life that spreads through contagion, creates as many questions as it answers, aims to force a reconsideration of the way the nation does business and offers hope to those of us who previously felt alone in our belief that the current economic system is broken.”

And, from what I observed Tuesday night, he’s quite right. But there are individual arguments within the Occupy movement that don’t seem to make much sense. For starters, the idea of bringing together small communities of people to have conversations about what works for individual communities—and then taking that information to create a system that works for everyone. Doesn’t that run counter to any idea of having isolated conversations to come up with specific, community-based solutions? (And doesn’t that directly contradict the reason for some of this protesting—arguing against a purported cabal of corporate big-wigs who have decided upon the rules and imposed them upon everybody?)

Moreover—and since I’m a recent college graduate, this is something that made me scratch my head—students discussing the injustice of expensive student loans ought to take a step back, for a moment. If you’re a college undergraduate or graduate student protesting at these rallies, those loans you took out to attend school are now doing you no good: As you cut classes to protest the fact that you have to take out loans, you’re criticizing the very thing now financing your ability to cut classes and protest the fact that you have to take out loans. As one of my friends put it, “They’re protesting the people who are financing their protest for financing their protest.” While the movement itself isn’t as jejune as one-sentence zingers—Hey! Funny you’re protesting corporations while using your iPhones and MacBooks to tweet a revolution and stream it to your Facebook!—circular arguments devalue what could be integral parts of this movement’s aims (like searching for a way to come up with a more affordable system of higher education).

Thought Five: Real change comes from speaking to people with whom you disagree the most.

You Know What John Waters Says

I’m plugging with no shame right now. For several months, I’ve been writing book reviews for Primer online magazine. The mag, started by Andrew Snavely, is all about “self-development for the everyday 20-something man.” Andrew (that guy’s got a great name) was gracious enough to believe me when I pitched him the idea of a monthly book review. If I recall correctly, I mentioned something about how 20-something men are illiterate troglodytes. Anyway, this month’s Damn Good Read is Eager Street: A Life on the Corner and Behind Bars. It’s the memoir of Tray Jones in which he retells his life as a teenage cocaine dealer in 1980s East Baltimore. Read the review. More importantly, read the book.

If you enjoy that review, consider checking out the following:

The best damn biography out there on John Adams, our nation’s second president.
The boldest sonuvabitch to ever take an ill-equipped group of men down an uncharted tributary of the Amazon River.

And if you really enjoyed those reviews, you might be interested in hearing about how to make yourself irreplaceable, no matter what you do.

Go forth and read the world into a better place. After all, you know what John Waters says:

20 Minutes? Let’s Try That Again.

A good friend of mine posted the below image to my Facebook wall this morning:

His prompt, to me, was whether I thought the differences between the two stories amounted to any sort of censorship, or if the New York Times had merely edited the updated article (the one on the right) by rewriting the lead.

Of course, the superimposed text—especially the “shift the blame” part—suggests something different entirely.

Notice that in the piece on the left, the manner in which the lead is written suggests entrapment* on the part of New York City’s police forces. The police allowed protestors onto the bridge, knowing full well that obstructing a roadway is a legitimate charge,** and therefore lured protestors into their being arrested.

In the piece on the right, the lead … well, it doesn’t place any blame whatsoever. It merely states what happened (“a tense showdown”) and, for all intents and purposes, allows the reader to assume how that “showdown” might have gone down. Now, the superimposed text seems to suggest that in those “20 minutes” the New York Times effectively made the protestors, instead of the police, the wrongdoers.

But, quite frankly, all this is—as I interpret it—is shoddy initial reporting, the sort of work you’ll get in the digital age when a reporter is expected to file quickly, before any editing happens. Here’s why:

1. For starters, notice the time discrepancy. Yes, we know—20 minutes. But have a look next to the bylines of each article. I doubt the New York Times organizes stories in their online content management system according to when a reporter saved a draft of a story; it seems perfectly plausible for anyone not working at the Times to assume that the initial iteration of this story was published “47 minutes ago,” with a newer version appearing “9 minutes ago.” So, whoever took this screen shot appears to have grabbed a story 56 minutes after the fact.

2. And that 56 minutes is important, because in the new version, not only do we have a rewritten lead, but we also have another reporter contributing to the story. That reporter probably brought with him more quotes, more anecdotes, and more information, all of which more than likely helped flesh out the original piece. This means—and we’ll never really know***—that the new lead was probably just edited. Any lead that implicates a party involved off of flimsy evidence (in this case, the reporter’s observations****) is dubious at best. Recognizing that, once there was time to edit the piece, the reporter/editor/editors at the New York Times rewrote the lead. That’s my guess.

I’m not necessarily condoning the action. A lead like the one on the left is potentially libelous, insofar as the statement is a potential untruth about the New York City police department (though, proving libel against an organization is exceedingly difficult, since one must prove, in addition to the three other proofs, that the writer or publication made a statement with a “reckless” disregard for the truth). And in reporting, if you’re not entirely sure something happened (in this case, police allowing protestors onto a bridge only to cut them off and arrest them), then you shouldn’t report it.

But with these two stories? It seems to be just a little bit of editing.

*Entrapment, according to a law school-attending friend of mine, Sean Gallagher, requires a police officer to do something that wouldn’t happen in a reasonable situation. (Note: that statement is not legal advice.) If a police officer tells you it’s OK to speed, he can still arrest you for speeding; the same goes with crossing that bridge in New York City, which is something the protestors were going to do regardless of cop presence. Now entrapment, he says, would be more like a cop soliciting sex from a prostitute, and then arresting her for prostitution. (I’ll spare you his phrasing…)

**A quick Google search will turn up New York City’s traffic and pedestrian laws. One such statute—§ 1152 Pedestrians right-of-way when crossing a roadway outside a crosswalk—I found particularly enjoyable. (“Give us our crosswalks BACK! And keep your government hands off my Medicare!”)

***Down, conspiracy theorists! Down!

****Reporting, as its most base level, is a trade of observation. This is why e-mailing or aggregation will never suffice. Even over the phone, a reporter can learn of a subject’s ticks, peculiarities, tone, and the like. It is perfectly reasonable to use one’s observations while reporting, assuming there are no doubts about the veracity of said observations. But if your work tends to invite incredulity, give John Buchan a call, and ask him how he got so good at making shit up.

Content Creators! …All Hail?

Alissa Walker writes in the latest issue of GOOD magazine of her one-time frustration with the tendency of publishing outlets—magazines, newspapers, and blogs online—to rejigger and rewrite headlines, opening sentences, and even entire paragraphs of articles and essays so that more readers would click into a specific story, thereby sending a website’s pageviews skyrocketing. I say one-time because, over time, Walker’s frustration ebbed as she discovered how the most minor tweaks to her headlines could reel in readers—pardon me, users. She writes, “Now, instead of organizing my thoughts into pithy paragraphs for readers, I engineer my words so they’re algorithmically attractive. I rewrite my headlines to make them more enticing to Google. I tag them with dozens of relevant phrases to boost my authority on specific topics. I add search terms to my text to further optimize my SEO ranking.”

Her initial revelation and subsequent recalibration isn’t anything new for those of us involved in the online world of journalism—the legions of content managers, content production managers, digital editors, digital media editors (of which I am one), and the like who are poised daily to dutifully open our Google Analytics reports to see how our respective sites are doing in terms of pageviews, unique visitors, average time on site, and so on.

But the question Walker ultimately poses is one, I think, deserving of attention, especially as we mire ourselves further in the morass of digital journalism: are today’s journalists writers or content creators? Some might argue it’s a subtle distinction—a mere semantics game—but the two distinct interpretations of the term journalist mean entirely different things for journalism’s endgame in an online world.

Walker argues that she wanted to become a writer out of a fascination with journalists’ “ability to shape public opinion. Yet, the more information I have about who actually reads my words, the further removed I feel from the field of journalism. Sometimes my writerly self takes a back seat to my other personality, the one that’s obsessed with getting strangers to like me for something I wrote.” Her point is well said. For those who got into journalism to write and report first, and do everything else second, it’s difficult and sometimes confounding to have to work backwards: think about what readers might want to know more about, and then tailor an article—or rewrite headlines and sections of it—to reflect that.

In theory, it’s a great idea, and it’s something drastically different from peppering articles online with a surfeit of keywords or “tags” just to ensure a (slightly better) chance at beating Google’s algorithm gods so as to pull in any eyeballs you can, even if they’re eyeballs belonging to people who aren’t loyal fans of your magazine/newspaper/blog. Walker says as much: “The more you know about what your audience wants, the better you can create stories and infographics and art for them. If writing a certain headline … means that the most people will get access, shouldn’t you do it?”

But back to the question—are we writers or content creators? The inquiry itself betrays an atavistic aversion to redefining ourselves as producers of something, because in the news business, that isn’t always a good idea. Consumers, invariably, purchase that which enhances their lives—a cheaper vacuum, a better cheeseburger, a more flattering dress. But if we’re writing about, say, reforming the juvenile justice system or the limitations of the death penalty, how do we continue to push out content that people—consciously or unknowingly—might not want created?

In other words, we’re now grappling with a new means of measuring journalistic success, one that is seemingly less focused on reporting and writing good stories and more beholden to figuring out how many people click on what sort of headline. (I’m guilty of this myself—when I check analytics numbers in my own job, I measure a story’s worth in terms of how many people clicked on said story, how many minutes on average were spent with that story, and how many unique pageviews that story generated for the site.) This in itself has flipped the process of journalism, in many ways, on its head.

Journalism, by nature, is hierarchical, with teams of editors and reporters determining what deserves space—what shapes public opinion—in a magazine or on a front page. But in the digital age, when news is democratized, anyone can own a blog, and the front page/front cover has become irrelevant, journalistic importance gets redefined in terms of traffic numbers. Or, to borrow a term from the Twitterverse, whatever is “trending” right now.

And that means, more than likely, that the Facebook “Like” is the new letter to the editor, and that content creators are the new journalists.

Do-Overs

Amanda Nachman and the College magazine crew* are at it again. Nachman started the magazine in 2007 while in her senior year at the University of Maryland, College Park. Since then, the publication has expanded tremendously, its print edition reaching more than a dozen campuses in the Maryland, D.C., and Pennsylvania, and it’s website reaching . . . well, whatever number of viewers she tracks on her own analytics feeds.

College just unveiled its #WishIHadKnown campaign, a series of (soon-to-be) 100 postcards each carrying a different response from 100 different college students at universities nationwide to the question, “What do you wish you had known as a freshman?” The cards themselves are “honest, helpful, and even a little ridiculous.”

From what I’ve surveyed of the postcards, these aren’t sophomoric exercises in empty platitudinous responses feigning as significant pieces of wisdom. Indeed, some of the cards will undoubtedly work to allay fears that develop during the interstice of high school graduation and freshman orientation. I particularly enjoyed reading Emily Borden’s advice:

“Homework and grades are important, but they aren’t everything. College is about finding out who you are, what you want out of life and learning life skills to be an adult. My grades didn’t get me my job for next year—my leadership in clubs and people skills did.”

What’s important to note, I think, is that the sentiments shared are not—or, rather, should not be—intended as regrets or wishes to repeat freshmen year ad nauseum (as the title of the campaign, and this post, would suggest). But the advice given, and garnered, while pithy, is nonetheless important.

It brings me back to something one of my freshman-year professors once told me, which is a slice of wisdom that, I think, has engendered a forbearance from viewing my college years through the comfortable but paralyzing lens of nostalgia. He said, “Never look at college as the best four years of your life. The best four years of your life are always the next four years.”

To all college freshmen: here’s to the next four years.

*From August 2009 through December 2010, I was one of that crew. And, despite Amanda’s persistent e-mailing, calling, demanding to know when e-mail newsletters were coming out, and seemingly non-stop requests for cover story re-writes, the years I spent working and writing for College magazine not only honed my skills as a writer and editor behind anything I could have imagined at the time, but also provided me with valuable journalistic experience and companionship. If you’re looking to contribute to a worthwhile publication driven and propelled by a motivated publisher, College magazine is it.

March to Your Own Beat

Lame excuses notwithstanding—like, “The dog ate my computer”—today will be a double-post day, something I must do to get myself back on track after a week’s time of neglect.*

Interesting story from Gigaom on the service Chartbeat, which provides real-time analytics of a webpage’s click statistics (among other nuggets of information). Real-time is the differentiating factor here, as Google Analytics already provides users with statistics referring to pageviews, unique visitors, content clicks, referring sites, and the like; Chartbeat provides a minute-by-minute analysis of how viewers of a website interact with the content: where they click, precisely when they do click, how long they remain on certain pages, and whether they’re commenting or not (provided commenting is a feature provided by said website).

Newsbeat is the newsroom equivalent employed by several reputable publications and television outlets, including Fast Company, The New York Times, and Al Jazeera.**

The service, for those organizations that can afford it—I would add, as an aside, that for smaller media outfits, the monthly cost of Newsbeat probably will not ever justify its overall value, unless online revenues rose in proportion—seems to be the worthwhile alternative to Google Analytics, or at least an additional layer of reader information to garner more precise thoughts about a website’s content that extrapolation from day-to-day data offered by Google’s service can’t always offer (unless you’re a psychic, or that boy wizard who stopped making movies and has now left countless teenagers without a purpose in life).

Of particular note, though, is what Chartbeat general manager Tony Haile called attention to with respect to one news outlet’s experience with Newsbeat. From Gigaom:

“And not only will this data not accelerate a “race to the bottom” with respect to content, Haile says it can actually help do the opposite: the Chartbeat GM says that one of the major publishers the company was working with looked at the data from Newsbeat and saw that two stories were getting large amounts of traffic: one about a case of infanticide in France and the other about Iraq. The number one story on the front page of the site was about season two of The Jersey Shore, and it was getting hardly any traffic at all — and neither of the two most-read stories were above the fold on the home page.”

The fact that a story about the Jersey Shore is getting no traffic isn’t the remarkable thing here—necessarily. What the anecdote argues implicitly against is a crazed obsession with formatting headlines, story summaries, and even the first paragraphs of stories themselves so that they conform to Google’s SEO standards. Journalists decrying such a practice as something that dumbs down news or misleads readers is not new.

But consider, for a moment, how news organizations for a decade have tended to interpret their analytics information. A great emphasis was placed on unique visitors, or, in Google Analytics’ (now rather meaningless) jargon, absolute unique visitors, and rightly so. The thinking, it went, was any increase in unique visitors would enable a news outlet to charge more for their online advertising, since more eyeballs were hitting a site. Yes.

But also consider how such a philosophy could be drastically misleading. What an over-emphasis on SEO-friendly language and counting uniques could do is force a news organization to lose site of its audience (especially those aforementioned smaller news outlets, with limited audiences on the basis of where they publish and who the readership comprises). What becomes paramount is any large number of eyeballs on a site, irrespective of their relative number of pageviews (one million visitors could be looking at just one page) or their relative time spent on your site (one million visitors could be spending five seconds each just looking at the headline). It’s a trend the latest Tow Center for Digital Journalism’s digital media report calls “fly-bys.” From the report:

“[Seattle-based ScoutAnalytics' Matt] Shanahan points to a website for a 90,000-circulation newspaper that serves a medium-sized city on the East Coast. … This site gets around 450,000 unique visitors a month. … The most loyal are the ‘fans,’ who visit at least twice a week. … and finally, the ‘fly-bys,’ who come about once a month. … The most loyal visitors are a very small part of the overall audience: Fans make up about 4 percent of the total number of visitors. … [But] [f]ans, despite their small numbers, were responsible for more than 55 percent of the site’s traffic. Fly-bys—those people most likely to come from a search engine or blog—clicked on barely three pages a month. Overall, each fan generated about 50 times more traffic per person than a fly-by.

As Hamlet would say, there’s the rub. What Newsbeat could effectively do is allow news organizations to better target and tailor their content for their respective audiences—what their readers spend time reading and commenting on, and then work to provide expanded coverage, a weekly blog, several Web-only stories, etc. This is significant for two reasons: one, newsrooms will get away from (I believe is) the misguided practice of throwing keywords (“LADY GAGA!”; “HOT PICS!”; “RAW SEX!!!!”)*** on a story just because; and two, it forces advertisers looking to purchase space online to pay less attention to how many clicks their ads are getting and more attention to how many eyeballs of value see their advertisements. One million readers means nothing if your ad is embedded on a website’s “Food” page and those million readers all sit on one story on the website’s “Culture” page; I’ll take 50,000 loyal eyeballs over that, especially if each one of those pairs of eyeballs is spending upwards of four or five minutes on my webpages.

And if the advertisers don’t buy it, just ask them how many clicks they ever received on print advertisements. Or how many of those print advertisements translated directly into a sale.

*I was busy last week readying the Urbanite website for the online launch of our August print publication. While I’m biased, I recommend giving this issue a read: we have a rather humorous account of the origins of Defenders’ Day, as related by local comedian Jim Meyer; a thoughtful reconsideration of why Maryland still allows for the death penalty, by our Crime & Punishment series author Michael Corbin; and what joys accompany liveaboard life, by assistant editor Rebecca Messner. Oh, and I have a few small bylines as well.

**Yes, I did just call Al Jazeera reputable. Unlike Bill O’Reilly (whom, I should add, I watched regularly when I still chose to have a television), I don’t think they’re fighting a secret media jihad for control of my fanatical instincts. If anything, they, more than other people who profess to uphold it, still support a free marketplace of ideas, as well as the idea that shoddy or fanatical ideas will eventually be shouted down.

***Clearly, I’m being hyperbolic. Newsrooms don’t scream “RAW SEX!!!” They scream, “FIRE THE EDITING STAFF! WE NEED TO SAVE MONEY!!!”

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