MPA Digital Conference: LOLCats Ease Pain of Pushing Mag Content Online

LOLCats take the MPA by storm

Much like Magazine Publishers of America’s Magabrand confab in Florida last October, the morning program at today’s MPA Digital Conference was heavy on the “you should be doing this already, you entrenched print industry.” Only this time, it was social networking and user-generated content freaking out the magazine folk: You’ve got to be making widgets to disseminate your content on all the social networking sites — Facebook, MySpace and infinite others. You should be shooting Web video everywhere your outlet goes, making producers of your reporters, editors, and other content pros whose under-the-radar days are numbered. You ought to let actual programming professionals, rather than your big mag brand’s inferior IT team build your apps quicker, for a cut of what little money widgets’ll make you, all so you can fan content out further than ever — and, by the way, for free. What does it take to ease the pain of all this about-face from older models of producing and publishing magazine matter? Why, LOLCats, of course!

Even though most mag execs in the room likely didn’t know what they were looking at when the first image of the popular online meme fusing strange pet pics with preposterous POV-cat captions hit the magnum-sized screen at Manhattan’s New World Stages, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian‘s slides of the infectious online felines in his presentation within the “Letting Go of Your Brand” panel hopefully helped some attendees take the bitter pill of unmonetizing and better distributing magazine content online in better humor. His was easily the morning’s most engaging presentation, making life a bit more difficult for co-panelists Adam Sherk of Define Search Strategies, Appssavvy CEO Chris Cunningham, and NetVibes founder and CEO Tariq Krim, though they all sounded a similar message about freeing up content to all, putting it where users would find it (read: Facebook, people, not your magazine’s home page), and letting the real programmers be the ones to develop your mags’ widgets and apps. As Cunningham explained, “traditional media (i.e. old-line print products) is a push mechanism, as in you’re putting your content out on to readers, while widgets and apps are part of a pull mechanism, making users say ‘I’m going to take this and put it other places, and share it with my friends,'” doing the work of disseminating content better than magazine companies themselves.

Beating the “get into online video already” drum hardest today was Tammy Haddad, currently putting Newsweek‘s video front and center as its consulting executive producer. Brandishing what she [UPDATE: Tammy writes in to tell us the TamCam handle originated with The Politico’s Mike Allen] dubbed the “TamCam” — a wee handheld video camera recommended to her by Greta Van Susteren, whom Haddad referred to as her “Net tech guru” — Haddad sang the praises of arming reporters and editors with video cameras to take anywhere they went to cover news, advising mag execs to eschew editing and packaging in the interest of getting content up quickly. “You want it to look and feel Webby,” she urged, rhetorically asking the raptly attentive audience, “When a news story breaks, do you turn on the TV, or do you go to the computer and search for video on it?”

Haddad’s co-panelists within the “Must-See Magazine TV Session” also extolled the virtues of real-looking, rawer video. Seventeen EIC Ann Shoket once again proved why her brand leads the way (on the newsstand, the mag’s No. 1 teen mag with a bullet, since she took the reins from Atoosa Rubinstein just over a year ago) both in print and online, expressing confidence in letting the reader drive video content published online, and explaining how user-generated content shot and submitted by teens helps her readers connect. “These kids have so absorbed the constructs of The Hills, and the ‘confession cam,'” she said, illustrating why it’s advantageous to let user-generated content dominate in her market. She did cop to the in-house production burden of posting video, detailing that staffers cut and edited the girl-submitted tapes to yield the glossy reality TV look and feel. So, too, goes it at Essence Communications according to its digital development director and co-panelist Leslie Pinckney, who underscored the low costs of generating online video. “There are more 20- to 25-year-olds out there who know how to use a video camera and edit in Final Cut Pro than you would believe,” she said, confessing that her team dubs them “predators,” as in producer/editors. “It’s okay for them to be in charge of your Web video.” We couldn’t agree more a mere hour later, when our own resident tech-savvy 25 year-old arrived for his half of the conference coverage, and promptly put our digital camera cord into the right laptop plug on the first try, enabling us to quit wrestling with it and return to more prosaic pursuits like, say, squeezing six hours of conference coverage into one crazy-long blog post.