Old Media Gets the Vapors (CORRECTED)*

(via howardowens.com)

In addition to the LA Observed suite, another great Web 2.0-from-the-ground-up site is Pegasus News, which delivers content mostly of interest to Dallas-Ft. Worth area users. On Monday, Pegasus’ Mike Owens Orren posted a story on his ill-fated partnership with the local Fox 4 News outlet — a relationship that started very promisingly, but was killed by someone he doesn’t name in Fox’s corporate headquarters for what can only be described as whimsical reasons.  

At first, Owens Orren writes, it seemed like a great match:

They had the reach; we had the depth. We had the search engine rankings; they had video people wanted to find. We had the indie cred; they had the network cred. They could promote us to a million people at a pop; we could promote them a million times a month in little increments.

The downfall began when Pegasus got Fox to agree the partnership was newsworthy and should be announced in a press release.   At first, an enthusiastic “yes.” But then, “no,” with a request for what seemed to be a slight change in the copy that would introduce the Fox 4 content. (The copy was boilerplate stuff; Fox’s requested edit was the kind of thing only PR people would notice.)  

Pegasus’ web developers needed a few days to make the change (not an unusual frustration in this world), which Owens Orren hadn’t understood to be an urgent matter anyway. However, two days after the request, in a scene that reads like a bad break-up:

Late Wednesday afternoon, my phone rang with Saunders and Mahaney (from Fox 4) on the other end. A vigorously unnamed FOX exec, who it was now admitted had been against the deal happening at all on the conference call about the press release had visited our site and seen that the requested text change had not yet gone into effect and unilaterally called off the whole deal. Yes, no one told us that the request was critical. No, there was no explaining that. No, there was no chance of reasoning, discussing or even learning who had cut the deal off at the nub. No, no part of the partnership could be salvaged. Everything Fox needed to come off our site and we wouldn’t be working together on hyperlocal news.

The best that could be offered was “maybe give it a time interval and try again.” How long? “I have no idea … a long time.”

Given the amount of precious time Pegasus invested in the tech side of this marriage, Owens Orren is understandably a little bitter.  His meta-conclusion rings true, however:

You can wait for corporate media to “get it.” You can think they have. But, in the end, corporations aren’t inherently smart, even if people inside of them are. And corporations aren’t inherently honorable, even if people inside them are. And those who can’t see past their nose and who don’t have regard for their partners will pull stunts like we just saw from Fox.

(snip)

This Little Company is at its best when it is flying the jolly roger. We work and play well with others, but apparently mainly those others that, like us, are on the outside. This episode thoroughly re-taught me that lesson, one that I won’t soon forget. That’s not to say that we can’t work with big corporations — we just can’t until we look the people who pull the pursestrings in the eye and they tell us that they, too, believe. And probably even then, we wouldn’t be safe unless they had a financial stake in our success.

One other thing is clear to me: We will, sooner rather than later, eat these larger media corporations for lunch, unless they learn how to behave in a world of distributed media. Granted, that’s the larger “we.” I can’t guarantee that Pegasus News will be The One, or one of the ones to pull it off. We’ve grown more quickly than you could have ever imagined with fewer resources than you waste in an afternoon. The “people formerly known as the audience” are mobile and transient and will abandon their old media habits without prejudice — perhaps worse, without even realizing they have done so. Blogs, Wikipedia, Digg, YouTube, RSS, Flickr: how many had you heard of a few years ago? These and others have disrupted the hell out of media in general, but have had less of an impact on local media. That’s changing, and fast.

The unnamed Fox executive who got the vapors about protecting the corporate image, brand, name or whatever from contamination by upstarts will probably have some explaining to do down the road.   

*(Note: In an earlier version of this post, I misidentified Mike Orren as Mike Owens, leaving the impression that I was quoting Howard Owens.  My apologies to both Owens and Orren)

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3 thoughts on “Old Media Gets the Vapors (CORRECTED)*

  1. Howard (and Mike), my apologies.

    I looked at Pegasus’ post and where it said “Orren” I saw “Owens.” I will have my eyes checked.

    The quotes are all from Mike Orren of Pegasus. Howard Owens’ site is where I first saw the item to which this post refers. Meanwhile, I believe I have corrected all the references in the post now.

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