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August 01, 2008

Rethinking Your Editorial/ Publishing Workflow

One of the problems I've encountered in working with our clients on digital strategy is that many try to impose the same old workflow patterns they're currently using for broadcast or print.

For example, once a story gets published in a newspaper, that's typically the end. There may be a follow-up, or some letters to the editor. Otherwise, the story - at least in print - gets retired.

In the digital world, things don't happen in such a confined, linear way. Stories online, once published, continue to live. That's partially because with each new link to the story, there's boundless possibility for commentary, feedback, and additional stories based on what originally appeared. It's also because the story becomes part of a broader discussion, whether it happens via Twitter or on someone's blog or even (hopefully!) within the comment sections on your news org's site.

Those producing digital content need to change their workflow habits. Reporters need to get in the habit of multifaceted story development. They should offer hyperlinks and contextual/ related information - not the copy desk. Editors and producers need to feel comfortable adding information as the day progresses, even adding in more hyperlinks or other information long after a story has been published.

Below is our suggested workflow for online editorial content. You'll notice that part of digital content production includes a discussion with your advertising team, a step to republish your content across multiple channels and platforms, and creating meaningful ongoing conversations with your local community. I'm willing to bet that your newsroom is currently doing only half of what's below - and that's on a good day. You'll see that there's no real beginning or end. That's because digital content production is an ongoing process involving folks inside - and outside - your newsroom.

Print this out, bring it to your next managers meeting and start re-thinking how you're going about content development. And please keep in mind we're strategists and coders here at MyDigiMedia- not artists.

 

February 07, 2008

Who Owns What...v2.1

In the wake of Microsoft's proposed $44 bil takeover of Yahoo (and all the subsequent chatter), I've updated my Who Owns What chart. Because I think this topic is so important to all journalists, regardless of whether they work in traditional media or even in the United States, I'm going to launch an RSS feed and a widget soon that will roll constant updates on who owns what.

In the six months since I first created the chart, there are a handful of notable updates:

  • AOL's list has grown tremendously, while Google, News Corp and IAC have remained relatively unchanged.
  • AOL is heading strong into behavioral targeting and various ad network options.
  • Yahoo's buy early and large strategy toned down considerably in Q3 and Q4 of 2007.
  • Google's last acquisition was Postini early last fall.
  • Though I'm not tracking this on the chart, News Corp has also been selling lots of assets - namely local television stations.

Here's the new Who Owns What page at mydigimedia. Download the new chart (PDF) here. And if you want to read my original post and learn more about why I started tracking all this to begin with, have a look here.

Again, the chart isn't intended to be absolutely comprehensive - else you wouldn't be able to print it out. (And print it out you should! The trees will understand. Hang this up at your desk, look at it regularly, and remind yourself that all this digital stuff isn't going away.) If you see any glaring errors or omissions, please let me know.

Meantime, keep your eye out for a WOW widget and dedicated RSS feed...coming soon.

January 30, 2008

Recognition

I'm at work right now and have NPR playing in the background. In about 15 minutes on the Diane Rehm show today, Roy Harris, senior editor of The Economist Group's CFO magazine, is going to talk about the history of the Pulitzer Prizes. You can listen here.

Now awards season in the U.S. is still many months away, but the promo to this segment got me thinking. At what point will journalism online achieve the same revered status as newspaper journalism? To wit: A few years ago, the website that I'd founded was nominated for a Webby for best online magazine - and it blew my socks right off. But when I told many of my journalist friends, I had to explain over and over what, exactly, a Webby was. Kind of took the thrill out of announcing our nomination.

This April, the Pulitzer nominated finalists will named. But of the 14 categories for journalism, there is still no mention of digital work. Yes, I realize that the Pulitzers are meant to recognize work done by newspapers. While I know that a lot of truly fantastic public interest journalism is being done at newspapers, it's important to note that a growing number of those newspaper stories are being published on the web first or only as a digital package. Have a look at Not Just a Number at the Okland Tribune or the House of Lies package at the Miami Herald.

There are ONA awards, OPA awards, and awards from Editor & Publisher. But they don't hold the same kind of prestige as the Pulitzers.

I'm wondering at what point our attitudes will begin to really change. Plenty of jurnos are still miffed when their byline appears online only and not in print - even though in the online edition of many newspapers, a story is likely to be read by tens of thousands more people around the world.

Why no really big prize for digital journalism? Are we afraid of rewarding the kind of work that will inevitably supplant traditional print journalism? Or are we reluctant to acknowledge that it's already happened?

January 22, 2008

Lessons from O'Shea/ the LA Times

By now, we've all read about the departure of James O'Shea from the LA Times' newsroom. The news has sparked a series of New York Times articles and a whole bunch of chatter around the blogosphere.

In a memo to his newsroom (leaked to LA Observed), O'Shea makes a strong statement about the role of reporters and editors in ensuring the financial viability of their publications:

One thing I want put on the record, though, is that I disagree completely with the way that this company allocates resources to its newsrooms, not just here but at Tribune newspapers all around the country. That system is at the core of my disagreements with David [Hiller, publisher]. I think the current system relies too heavily on voodoo economics and not enough on the creativity and resourcefulness of journalists. We journalists have our faults, but we also have a lot to offer. Too often we’ve been dismissed as budgetary adolescents who can’t be trusted to conserve our resources. That is wrong. Journalists and not accountants should seize responsibility for the financial health of our newspapers so journalists can make decisions about the size of our staffs and how much news remains in our papers and web sites.

While I agree wholeheartedly with what O'Shea says - "journalists and not accountants should seize responsibility for the financial health of our newspapers" - I don't agree with his assertion that most journalists are already doing that in their newsrooms.

This is one of the key issues facing the industry, and the one most quickly dismissed whenever I bring it up at meetings. Every reporter should have a good, solid understanding of the economic realities of publishing. Editors should be shown that not every overseas reporting assignment has to cost thousands of dollars - and it doesn't necessarily have to break the bank to set up a multimedia desk for the first time.

Too often, folks in newsrooms don't do the research to figure these things out on their own. Or they don't take enough advantage of the many listservs available (ONA has a fantastic one, and the conversation has included many discussions about how to produce high-quality multimedia stories on the cheap).

Does your newsroom offer the following? If not, I'd venture to say that you're not taking advantage of available resources and not really preparing for the next six months:

* A wiki or intranet, where all reporters have the ability to post and share resources

* Optional weekly training sessions, where a staff member shares her/his skills with everyone else (esp. digital media)

* A transparent guide to how and where the company is spending its money

* The ability for all reporters, not just the folks who've been at the newsroom since Carter was in office, to attend conferences

* Regular teambuilding events for the entire staff - editorial, business, press

 

November 01, 2007

Little (Big) Threats...

I've been hunting around for examples of non-mainstream media hyperlocal sites. It occurs to me that while it's a useful endeavor for newspapers to cover their local constituencies more, bands of citizen reporters have an easier time of getting neighborhood content to the web. There are fewer steps in the publishing process, less demands on time, etc.

A fantastic model of what might be done at newspapers is the WaPo's LoudounExtra. (If you haven't already, visit it asap.) It's a hybrid WaPo/ citizen reporter enterprise with heavy emphasis on prep sports, entertainment and blogs. But the WaPo brand is clear throughout the site, which makes me want to really trust the content. On other cit-j sites, I'm not as inclined... Also important to note is the advertising content. It feels more like a digital version of the local suburban newspaper we used to get growing up: "deal of the day," big picture ads rather than blinking banners...you get the idea.

While I'm noticing more and more newsrooms trying to go hyperlocal on their own sites, I don't see as comprehensive an approach as LoudounExtra. I see breakout sections of websites with high school sports, or pages dedicated to local elections. (And to be fair, WaPo has dedicated a significant number of staff to that project - a number that would be inconceivable in other newsrooms.)

Now here's the rub: It seems that I find a new neighborhood site every day, produced by folks outside of mainstream media. Many of them are very, very good. Mainstream media is battling for pocketbooks and attention, while the same advertisers, classifieds, and interviews that may have run in your local newspaper are migrating to neighborhood sites in greater numbers than before...

Here are some to watch... For a big list of cit-j sites, have a look at Cyberjournalist.

iBrattleboro (Vermont)
Chi-Town Daily News (Chicago)
Philly Future (Philadelphia)

I've also come across some new web tools/ service providers that are making it easier for neighborhood groups to start their own robust, hyperlocal sites. Worth a look - you might find ideas for your own newsroom projects...

i-neighbors: Offers calendars, ranking, polls, ability to send faxes to officials, document sharing, networking, group emailing and an easy interface to post and manage content.

Smalltown: Biggest feature is the "webcard," which enables users to create index-style cards with photos, ranking, data, text and more to share with others. Users can therefore post multimedia classifieds as easily as they can search through the cards to find a pizza joint - and then share comments with others.

Local2Me: Social network based on zip code. Users can post questions, ads, etc. to the geographic area and find answers or other connections. (Mainly in California for now.)

 

 

 

October 24, 2007

Can media really make the world better?

At a summit in Washington D.C. for part of the day to talk about the future of journalism, globalism, technology and how all those things collide. Trying to wrap our heads around ways that media can change the world and make it better. It's a small gathering at the Ronald Regan building - less than 200 people. We're talking now about the changes in "citizen journalism" and about our current system of publishing. Listening now to Jan Schaffer, Solana Larsen (Global Voices), Tom Rosensteil (Project for Excellence in Journalism), Michael Tippet (NowPublic), Alan Webber (Fast Company) and more...

Says Webber: Media really can't change the world because you must challenge the status quo. To do that is to risk your financial well-being. There's a problm of finance. To change the system, you can't be in the system... The media is a newsgathering organization - Fast Company was in part "edu-tainment." The media isn't going to be in a place to change the world. Report on news, yes, but not raise questions that will significantly change the status quo.

Says Mike Hughes (Creative Director, Martin Agency): Citizens must change behavior. (We're talking now about Al Gore and climate change and the media response to him/ it.) The responsibility of the journalist is to tell the truth regardless... More environmental reporting, more honest climate reporting. We're facing a partisan lockdown. The backlash against Gore is unwarranted. Journalists should listen to the science and try to weed through the politics. Sometimes, in pursuit of balance, journalists are working against the spirit of telling the news and affecting change.

Says Schaffer: There are very different definitions as news. We don't see news as conflict, we' don't see scorecard journalism. In citizen journalism, we don't see these definitions in that space. Cit-jurnos challenge journalists to do their jobs better.

Says me: We should be differeniating advocacy journalism from American-style reporting and storytelling. There are many folks from international publications here - I'm wondering why, if we're going to have a discussion about the purpose of journalism, we're not discussing the historic purpose of reporting in America. I think journalists should engage the public in having discussions about current events and world conflicts...and I believe very strongly that technology enables this conversation to happen. It's not about creating a culture of anyman reporters or creating superfluous information - no, it's about communication on a grand, global scale. Hell, at least people are interested in news, no? I remember growing up and listening to my parents bemoan the lack of awareness people my age had in the state of the world.

October 12, 2007

ONA 2007 Conference

Very excited about the ONA Conference that kicks off next week in Toronto! I planned this year's Business Track sessions and helped organize the Super Panel, and I'm really excited to see what folks like Katharine Fong (Mercury News), Erik Schwartz (foneshow), Brian Gruber (Fora.tv), Wendy Warren (Philadelphia Daily News and TheNextMayor.com), Steve Rubel (Micro Persuasion and Edelman), Stuart MacDonald (founded Expedia Canada), Ian Clarke (Thoof), Anil Dash (SixApart), Dorian Benkoil (consultant),
Hosam Elkhodary (The Web Analytics Co. Ltd.) have to say. There are many, many others and more than 700 who will be in attendance.

If you plan to be at ONA, please let me know. While we're there, John Havens (BlogTalk Radio) will be recording and streaming live interviews starting next Thursday. You can call in to ask questions (347) 215-7814, too. You can listen to a 30-minute chat about some of the things we've planned for the conference here. Ongoing live coverage will be available here, and you can also subscribe via RSS.

August 17, 2007

From the "Um, I don't think so..." Department

Who hasn't yet seen the incendiary editorial from the LA Times this morning? You know, the one saying that publishers say (because apparently the Times wouldn't) that Google is "a greater threat to [publishers'] livelihoods than Osama bin Laden."

The editorial lambasts the recent Google announcement to allow unmoderated comments after stories published on Google News. And since Google News is aggregating content from newspapers that don't allow any comments, let alone unedited ones, the Times would like to know what the value is in suddenly allowing folks to discuss the news without a recess aid.

To wit:

The essence of good journalism is asking the right questions. Google, however, won't ask anything of those who submit comments. According to the company's announcement, its only interest is that the submissions are authentic, not that they're relevant or even truthful...

There will be some valuable responses too, plugging holes in stories or correcting mistaken impressions. Google, however, won't help readers separate the factual wheat from the public-relations chaff -- a reminder that Google may strive to be the world's index, but it's not journalism.

This editorial is emblematic of just how troubled our industry is right now. It's another indication that traditional news media outlets don't fully understand not how, but why the 'net works. On the print side, newspaper consumers have an expectation that their morning paper will have a certain number of local news stories, sports stories, a recipe or two, some editorials and a handful of letters to the editors. Sure, I'm generalizing, but the point is that American newspapers have succeeded in branding themselves into a corner. Part of the problem is that newspapers are static in both form and content. Think of what happened when the New York Times announced a reduction in size... or what happened with the Journal went color. Bedlam!

Print pubs are, by nature, static. Broadcast news changed that mindset just a bit, and if we all remember what happened when the first episodes of the Today show were airing, publishers all thought the end was near. But the industry adapted and survived.

It's transition time again - but rather than feverishly working to adapt and adopt, we're crying foul: Google isn't playing nice! Where's the lady with the whistle when you need her? Isn't someone going to give Google a detention?!?

The Internet is by nature and, well, in terms of its technology, dynamic. That means that it's bound to change and evolve much more quickly than we're able really comprehend. The whole reason we now have 70 million blogs indexed is because the Internet offers an adaptive, open publishing environment. Anyone can play, and for the most part, there are few or no barriers to entry.

While the 1990s saw the first transition - folks pushed content out to their consumers - the mid-2000s are seeing the second: participation. Why are sites like Facebook and Flickr exploding? Because consumers have (1) become more technically savvy and willing to try new web tools during the past decade and (2) because more people than ever are able to participate in the digital conversation.

It is unrealistic to believe that consumers still want news only pushed one-way. Even if that news comes via a seasoned, trained journalist. The expectation has morphed dramatically - we want, and we have, the ability to talk back.

It astounds me that news organizations are continuing to discuss whether or not to allow comments on their websites. Or if those comments should be moderated. Or watched. Or whatever.

Of course consumers should be able to take a story and run with it. Ask more questions, contribute their own ideas. Hell, that's what I'm doing right here, no? Difference is that I'm talking here, on my blog rather than reacting to the Times' editorial over at LATimes.com. And for the many, many people who come to mydigimedia every day, you're reading what I have to say here - and not at the LA Times. Lots of times you're commenting here, too.

And guess whose site is benefiting from that traffic?

Moderation? Absolutely - comments should be moderated to some extent. I wind up with at least a hundred spam comments and trackbacks for porn or Viagra every day. But there are workarounds - easy tech solutions that don't require me to sit for hours going through each commenter.

And so what if a flack at the LA Times chooses to respond here, to explain the editorial board's viewpoint? In the editorial, the Times gives an example of how commenting may result in unfettered publicity:

For example, if The Times ran another expose on conflicts of interest within the Food and Drug Administration's drug-approval process, Google News would provide a forum for the FDA and any researchers or drug manufacturers implicated in the story to respond, unedited...

...As a result, the comments section is likely to be larded with spin, hype and obfuscation. A seemingly heartfelt comment may carry the CEO's name, but the words will probably have been typed by corporate flacks.

What's to stop the obfuscation around the water cooler at your office? Or the spin dished out on talking head "news" shows? Funny, I haven't seen anyone from the Baltimore Sun show up at my neighborhood bar to moderate a discussion between me and our district councilman about a recent story that appeared in the paper.

Point is, newspapers cannot - cannot - rebuke the web as it realistically functions today. Nor can they continue to stare at the ground, waiting to be told where their cheese moved. Or for that matter, where the cheese will be tomorrow.

 

August 16, 2007

Rant: The Ken Burnsification of News

Two significant events occurred yesterday that've had me thinking. (Three, actually, if you include the fact that after losing my copy of Getting Things Done four times I finally found it in my office and was able to start reading...)

First - I started testing the Apple's new iLife and iWork '08. As much as Katherine Boehret (via Walter Mossberg) recently gushed platitudes about all the spiffy improvements, there are some very irritating - and potentially dangerous - bugs associated with each program. The new iWeb '08, for example, will overwrite some important files and without strategic fixing, you'll be hard pressed to open projects you'd created in the last version. The graphics and features in iMovie, an easy app to create web-ready video, make things more cumbersome (but yes, the program looks a lot more sleek on your desktop).

In the older (and current) version of iMovie, there's something called the "Ken Burns Effect," which means that you can zoom in or out of pictures as you narrate a voice over. The result is a modern moving picture, reminiscent of the work that characterizes a Burns documentary. I created a super quick example using pics from a recent Cubs game we attended back home in Chicago last month - have a look below.

 

Second - I spent a few hours watching video from various news outlets online yesterday. For example, at chicagotribune.com, I sat through a video about the trial of mobster Joey Lombardo. (I'd link, but there's no way to share.) A reporter read a script and showed either court sketches or photos of folks mentioned in the story as each was being quoted. The Greensboro News and Record had a video up about a local high school preparing for the fall football season. (Again, no sharing.)

And at the NYTimes.com, I watched video stories about nuns in Hollywood, Brooklyn artist Duke Rily and Karl Rove's resignation. In all cases, the photography used was very, very good (hell, it is the New York Times). The content was solid, too.

But the videos weren't that spectacularly compelling. And there weren't opportunities to embed or share those videos on other sites.

Meantime, someone uploaded a C-Span video to YouTube that had a brief intro voice over (this video is five minutes and it is Karl Rove's resignation speech) before offering straight footage of what happened. While the NYTimes.com video was slick, it missed something that I was promised in the title: Rove's speech. To be fair, the user who uploaded this particular video clip also inserted an unflattering picture of Rove at the end - but the video is what I'm talking about here...

Point is, what is the initial result of the recent video push at newspaper websites? Yes, yes - I know there's an argument to be made for traffic. On the other hand, most newspaper reporters and photogs aren't trained documentarians. Lots of the newspaper-produced video out there looks, well, Ken Burnsified. Like someone locked themselves into a dark room, went on 24-hour Civil War and Jazz bender and emerged as the "multimedia guy" for his newsroom armed with the Ken Burns Effect button.

As much as I disagree with Murdoch - more to the point, as much as I take issue with the disproportionate coverage he's getting compared to Google and Yahoo - his WSJ action plan calls for grand integration. And that's a good thing. TV news video is done best by TV news teams, and that video content doesn't necessarily translate well to the web. Newspapermen and women are used to writing copy for a print product - again, cutting and pasting doesn't resonate online.

Murdoch has talked about integrating systems in a comprehensive way. I think that idea has a lot of merit, and there's no reason other news orgs can't learn a little something from all this.

If a newsroom is going to offer multimedia training - and they all should - why not start out with the fundamentals of what makes for good web content? A journalist already knows what makes a good story. The trick is to train folks on what content from that story is best suited for the web. Don't just arm your reporters with sets of high-def cameras and audio recorders... Learning the technology is a piece of cake. But there's a shift in perception and understanding that needs to precede a big change...

...the Ken Burnsification of news isn't a bad thing, necessarily. After all, the man tells a damn good story. But there's a difference between a trained documentarian and the "Effect" button on iMovie, no?

July 31, 2007

More WSJ Sale Updates

From the Journal, a history: Now, Rupert Murdoch becomes the heir to the credo posted on Clarence Barron's office wall a century ago: "The Wall Street Journal must stand for the best that is in Wall Street and reflect that which is best in United States finance."

Via Hollywood Today: Despite the media frenzy and open paranoia about his bid, Murdoch is poised to win bid for America’s largest business newspaper, which he will leverage to launch a new cable business channel this fall.

From ABCNews.com (with AP & Reuters reports): The Bancroft family has been divided for months over the $5 billion sale. The family was originally expected to vote on the proposed sale by 5 p.m. Monday, but that deadline came and went. While enough members appeared to support the deal, news reports surfaced saying that family members and Murdoch were debating whether News Corp. would cover the $30 million in legal fees that Bancroft family members had incurred while debating a sale.

 

WSJ Sold!

The Bancroft family has agreed to sell out. Murdoch's News Corp is the proud new parent of one of the last independent news organizations in America.

UPDATES

Coverage so far:

Via Reuters: "The Bancroft family has accepted," John Prestbo, editor and executive director of Dow Jones Indexes, told reporters on Tuesday in Chicago. Dow Jones "will be part of News Corp," he said. Mr. Prestbo told Reuters the information came from an internal company memo.

 

 

Convergence, Again...

From this morning's wires:

The New York Times announced it will collaborate with MSNBC.com/ NBC News to cover the 2008 presidential election. The Times will share national print content with the MSNBC site, and in return, NYTimes.com will run NBC political video coverage on its website. (via AP) Read the release

And the UK-based Financial Times is searching for a multimedia partner. Says Marjorie Scardino, chief exec at the Times' parent company Pearson, "we're talking to all sorts of people about different distribution channels." Possibilities include CNBC. (via IHT via NYT)

Maybe journalism will get convergence right this time around... The problem in the 90s was in distribution. Newspaper stories - especially long, investigative pieces - don't translate well to the 15-second soundbite platform on our local nightly newscasts. And video content didn't seem transferrable to a print product.

The Internet changes things. Bring the best of a paper's content and the best of a local news station to the web and we might find an ideal, meta-info site.

Also see:

  • Interesting story by Chris Gabettas about convergence in Tampa at the RTNDA site.
  • A warning - and call to arms - from Vin Crosbie back in 2004
  • The API's searchable media convergence tracker

 

June 28, 2007

Breaking News in Blogs: Lake Tahoe Fires

If there's any positive to come from the tragic fires sweeping Lake Tahoe, it's LATimes.com coverage.

Under the direction of Times.com Exec. Editor Meredith Artley, breaking news online no longer means publishing a full, 10-inch story with updates tagged on as the story progresses. I heard her say at the NAHJ conference recently that the web isn't a wire service, so why not write out the story as it unfolds?

Have a look at what her team is accomplishing via a breaking news blog. There are maps, video and interactive elements, too - but check out the blog first. Readers are commenting. This is the way newspapers should handle breaking news events.

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June 19, 2007

Top News Sites for May...

Top news sites for May according to ACNielsen//Netratings, via Jon Dube:

Before reading on, keep in mind that some of these sites double as information portals/ search engines...and that will drive traffic metrics way up. Also note that some of those listed are news organization sites, with multiple newspapers/ broadcast stations feeding into the data. WorldNow is a publishing platform. That said, NYTimes.com, USAToday.com and washingtonpost.com are single news sites and also have the highest print circulation in the country.

Brand or Channel Unique Audience (000) Time Per Person (hh:mm:ss)
Overall = Current Events & Global News 94,573 115:53
Yahoo! News 30,451 0:26:28
CNN Digital Network 29,094 0:30:30
MSNBC 28,347 0:25:21
AOL News 17,444 0:42:09
Tribune Newspapers 13,300 0:13:02
NYTimes.com 12,775 0:29:36
Gannett Newspapers and Newspaper Division 12,645 0:16:03
ABCNEWS Digital Network 10,211 0:08:19
McClatchy Newspaper Network 9,885 0:12:29
USATODAY.com 9,528 0:12:39
Google News 9,359 0:12:15
CBS News Digital Network 8,620 0:08:20
washingtonpost.com 8,613 0:18:43
Hearst Newspapers Digital 8,380 0:18:53
Associated Press 8,191 0:08:23
Fox News Digital Network 7,594 0:40:17
Netscape 6,648 0:17:19
BBC News 6,554 0:08:00
WorldNow 6,232 0:12:36
MediaNews Group Newspapers 6,189 0:09:32

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June 14, 2007

NAHJ: Audio from Digital Revolution session

Listen to or download the session. Audio is now uploaded.

April 13, 2007

Yahoo/ Newspaper Partnership Expands...

From today's LATimes: A dozen companies that own about 250 daily newspapers are preparing to expand a ground-breaking partnership with Yahoo Inc. to share advertising and editorial content. The companies are working with Yahoo to give wider Internet play to their news reports, draw users to their Web pages and offer national advertisers a one-stop solution for multiple newspaper Web sites, executives said....

...The Yahoo-newspaper partnership began last November when seven news companies teamed up to sell employment ads through Yahoo's classified job site, HotJobs. The consortium has been growing since and will be strengthened considerably by the addition of McClatchy Co., the nation's second-largest publisher by circulation, the executives said.

 

March 30, 2007

Newspaper PDFs: I saw an e-reader, in the wild!

I've seen it! In the wild!

I was just on a flight to Chicago and, sitting next to me, was a guy with a Sony Reader flipping though the pages of The Da Vinci Code.

I've been following the progress of E Ink and other displays/ e-readers without much real enthusiasm. In theory, I love the idea - I read lots of books and would love a practical, iPod approach to filing and using them. In practice, though, the concept of an e-book reader hasn't really caught on Stateside.

So I asked him: Are you using that thing voluntarily?

He handed me his reader and showed me how easily he can change the font and colors to best suit the light. Says there's no eye strain and that he genuinely enjoys using it. I had a problem with the size of the screen, which was big and bright but only allowed me to view one page at a time. I read quickly, and I think that in my case, constantly clicking on the reader to turn a page might get annoying.

In Sony's case, there's an online store a la iTunes called CONNECT where books can be downloaded. True to Sony style, the platform and product are both proprietary, so you can't browse for titles without the Sony Reader.

Still, I was stunned to see someone using an e-reader, after the years of hype and hoopla. He was a very normal, non-techie guy, choosing to read his books electronically... But also says that he'd never flip through PDFs of a newspaper on it.

Seed Newsvine

My (USA Today) Friends

Now here's something from USAToday.com's relaunch that I really, really like: the newly-released Reporter Index.

All (at least, I think all) reporters at USA Today now have online profiles with links to past stories. Some - not nearly enough, as it looks like a voluntary system - have also uploaded bio information with a headshot, an "about me" section and, if that reporter keeps one, a link to his or her blog. Better yet, the Index allows users to leave public comments and messages about/ for that reporter. (Users can rank reporters too, though the rankings don't seem to do anything except display a number within that reporter's profile.)

The system is powered by Pluck, a social networking app that plugs in neatly to most content management systems and is also used by washingtonpost.com, foxnews.com and one of my favorite online news sites, chron.com, website for the Houston Chronicle.

It may seem a little My-Spacey for some, but I think the Index is accomplishing the important task of making the folks in newsrooms as transparent and as reachable as possible. Kudos to USAToday.com - this is a good start.

Now how about upper management's profiles? Where's Kinsey Wilson?

Seed Newsvine

March 29, 2007

Weather Or Not: How to increase your web traffic

A report this morning from Nielsen//NetRatings shows that 15.4 million unique visitors came to TV station sites hosted by Internet Broadcasting last month, setting a new record for the company. This is a 12% increase from January, which held the previous high.

Internet Broadcasting is the largest publisher of local news for broadcast affiliates and serves such sites as NBC10.com in Philadelphia, NBC4.com in D.C. and Telemundo47.com in New York. This company provides both a content management system and content to populate local TV web sites. I know that in many cases, sites are populated by an IB employee and not a journalist hired by the local affiliate.

What's behind the spike? IB says the weather. Users are visiting these TV sites for meterologist blogs, where they can get immediate, interactive information from their local weatherpeople and comment directly back to them. As part of the weather blog microsites, many of IB's stations also solicit and publish user-generated photos and videos during storms.

This absolutely dumbfounds me. I lived in Philadelphia for three years and was always surprised at the amount of local air time devoted to storm coverage. I'm from Chicago. We're no strangers to snow storms, tornados and record heat -- sometimes all in the same week. And yet in Philly, I remember watching a nightly newscast devoted almost entierly to Glenn "Hurricane" Schwartz's announcement of the impending weather apocalypse.

On the NBC10.com site, the weather plays a very prominent role: forecase, news, media, features, blogs, and plenty of user generated content.

Now here's the kicker. I think that a lot of publishers and editors think they know what users want: lengthy, heady stories about political corruption, videos of community events. More white space. Less clutter.

The top-ranked websites in terms of traffic continue to be search engines/ aggregators and social networking sites. Of the top 25, only four differ: Microsoft (#15), CNN.com (#16), Mapquest (#24) and...wait for it...Weather.com (#23).

Maybe all we really want is a good search platform and the ability to know what it's like outside while we sit in our windowless offices.

More on this issue:
WeatherBug from Steve Rubel's Micro Persuasion
Weather-o-Rama from the American Press Institute

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March 27, 2007

Knight Citizen News Network Launches

The Knight Citizen News Network launched yesterday. The project is a free web portal to help cit-journalists and professionals create and populate local news sites.

From the press release:

KCNN.org was created to help citizens use digital media in ways that enrich community, enhance public discourse and enliven democracy, said Jan Schaffer, director of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism, which manages development of the site. It also seeks to open doors for traditional news organizations seeking to embrace user-generated content.

"Above all, the site seeks to impart an understanding of the qualities that make for responsible and credible community news and information," said Schaffer.

KCNN.org so far offers:

  • a database of U.S. citizen media sites, searchable by keyword, town or state and displayed on a Google map.
  • a "Things We Like" feature, starting with more than 20 cool ideas from sites around the country.
  • an interactive overview of the "Principles of Citizen Journalism," with more than 40 audio and video interviews and scores of resources.
  • the latest citizen media research.
  • mini case studies on how to train citizen journalists and resources to start reporting.

The project was developed by Amy Gahran and Adam Glenn of I, Reporter and by Dan Gillmore from the Center for Citizen Media and was funded by the Knight Foundation.

There are still some components coming -- the site isn't quite finished yet. But I encourage you to have a look through what's there. KCNN isn't just meant for stay-at-home bloggers. The way in which we gather and disseminate information has changed because our expectations for content delivery are being shaped by YouTube and digg. I think that every reporter in the U.S. should visit this site regularly.

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March 22, 2007

How To: Make a dynamic calculator for your news site (using AJAX!)

Have a look at this AJAX tutorial, posted last Sunday by Harry Maugans on his blog. He offers directions, step by step, how to create a simple, dynamic calculator -- and in the process, gives a good explanation on how (and when) to use AJAX (asynchronous JavaScript And XML).

If you have the ability to upload new multimedia files or code to your newsroom website, I'd recommend using this tutorial as a way to get started. You could potentially use this tool to create property tax calculators, income calculators, real estate calculators...useful interactive journalism for your news company's site.

 

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March 15, 2007

Philly.com names Eric Grilly as online prez

If you haven't yet heard...

Erick Grilly has left MediaNews Group, where he was the top online executive and a senior vice president, to become the president of Philly.com, which publishes content from the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News.

Grilly had been vp for interactive media at the Denver Post, one of MediaNews Group's papers, and had previously worked for McClatchy's online group. In his most recent position, Grilly had been earning roughly $350k a year.

He'll oversee what's left of Philly.com's site overhaul, which is costing $2 million and is expected to launch early summer.

I'll be very interested to see what Grilly does with Philly.com, which has contracted with Clickability for its site architecture and new cms.

One of the major problems facing newspapers owned by corporate chains is the inflexibility of a corporate cms that must fit the needs of all its properties. In the case of Tribune Co., which is in the process of streamlining all of the newspaper websites within the chain, I can't imagine that a template that's been customized to work for the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Newsday or the Baltimore Sun will also work for the Hartford Courant, Morning Call and Hoy.

What Grilly is inheriting is a website that hasn't taken advantage of new web tools and a company that hasn't even begun to coax its reporters into thinking as multimedia reporters rather than newspapermen and women. On the other hand, he need only worry about two newspaper properties. And that means that if all the money spent to redesign philly.com results in a website that enables platform-agnostic sharing, user generated content, true multimedia features, a site architecture that makes sense and smartly-used advertising (read: no more floating pumpkin ads!)...then I think Grilly may be poised to challenge the traditional way in which newspapers are serving content on the web.

Now I'll leave you with a gripe: This is one more top-level position in digital journalism that went to a man. At a paper that ushered out Amanda Bennett, one of the only female Executive Editors in the country, and the woman who initiated blinq and the Inky's other blogs. I'd be very keen to learn how many women were brought in to interview with Brian Tierney for this job...methinks zero.

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March 14, 2007

State of the News Media: New report

The Project for Excellence in Journalism released its fourth annual report on the state of the news media on Monday. This is a lengthy, detailed analysis of how our media is evolving - and more importantly, how people are reading/ viewing/ listening/ browsing/ sharing/ collaborating with us in journalism.

From the Digital Journalism chapter:

What are those news sites like that are original on the Internet — sites that were not added on to some legacy TV network or newspaper? Do they have a personality profile? Do they have different emphases and strengths from those connected to another media? Or are they varied among themselves, an emerging platform with no fixed traits yet?

To try to help users sort through all that is available, the Project conduct a close study of 38 different news sites, those from different media sectors, and those that are Web only, including some with a distinct citizen-media-based flavor.

Researchers looked at six criteria, including customization options, multimedia, branding, depth of info, interactivity and business model success.

I'd be interested to learn more about how the 38 sites were selected, since at least two were aggregators rather than providers offering original content.

You can view the report at stateofthemedia.org. Also see:

Digital Journalism: A Topography of News Websites
Newspapers
Online
About the study...

More about the Project for Excellence in Journalism

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March 08, 2007

Citizen Journalism: Here's what I know about Chris Noth

I'm writing this from the window seat of a plane, en route to Chicago. While I was standing on line back at the terminal, a man who looked enough like Christopher Noth to make me stare uncontrollably, boarded the flight. And as luck would have it, I wound up sitting right next to him. (Seriously, he's reading a copy of USA Today right now - I'm watching him!) This is a situation, a Mr. Big Moment!

It's now been an hour, and the flight attendand came by to ask what we'd like to drink. His order, for a decaf coffee with a little water added and also milk which she should add because we've hit a skosh of turbulence and he has a very important meeting, led me to determine three things. First, and perhaps most importantly, this guy ain't Chris Noth. Secondly, a pair of Coach sunglasses and shiny leather bag do not a savvy businessman make.

The third thing I realized is this: the Internet is the great equalizer. That because of this medium, my children may never have their own Mr. Big Moment. Let me explain how I arrived at this point...and I promise, what I'm arguing will also impact journalism.

I'm fascinated with Chris Noth, partially because I'm attracted to him, partially because I associate him with the role he played on Sex in the City. And so I'll often sit through TV shows or movies featuring him but that aren't particularly good. Same goes for Clive Owen (my crush happened in "Closer"), the guy starring in "300" (because he reminds me of Clive Owen) and Rufus Sewell, a tremendous U.K.-based actor who America has yet to really discover.

I've seen these men with and without their clothes, in cineplexes and in my home theater. They're special because I've seen them on a big screen, and only a fraction of people ever appear in larger than life like that. My friends and family recognize these men, their images, their names...Chirs, Clive and Rufus...so they're Big in real life.

And yet I mistook the guy next to me for one of them.

Before the Internet, they only way to cultivate that kind of celebrity - because there were only a few, unattainable venues like theaters and televisions - was to appear in a movie. And now we have inexpensive video cameras and digital recording devices. We can upload video without really having any programming skills. We can spread that video virally without spending a penny, and ensure that millions of people around the world will see us.

I wrote yesterday about Paltalk, and I just can't stop thinking about the myriad ways in which we collect and perceive information is about to dramatically change.

There's nothing preventing the guy next to me from crafting a sitcom-style program and launching it on YouTube except, perhaps, for his whiny voice and drink ordering fetish. (On the other hand, Meg Ryan made a mint...) Hell, enough people appear to be watching network shows, 90% of which I think we'll all agree are terrible. So why not him?

And so let's say that he does launch a show, something akin to Lonelygirl15's YouTube adventures except with a more straightforward plot. And let's say that the show is uploaded to YouTube and that he also keeps a blog, a sort of personal diary, about the show. The blog and show are tagged and spread around the web using Slide, Stumble Upon, bebo.

Now, this average guy is suddenly a celebrity, recognized for real in the airport. And maybe people start mistaking Chris Noth for him.

Unlike filmmaking, which costs a lot of money and requires deals and relationships to get a movie produced, distributed and ultimately seen by people, there are no barriers to entry in the digital world, save for a few hundred bucks to buy equipment and the ability to think creatively. And so now there are movie star doppelgangers running all over cyberspace.

But when something unattainable and special becomes ubiquitous, it becomes ordinary. With all this access to both produce and receive media, won't the playing field eventually equal out? Sure, fantastically talented or attractive people will always command more widespread attention than others, but the field itself will be larger than ever before, with limitless players and possibilities.

Barriers are falling down everywhere. Some companies, such as Anheuser-Busch, are already taking advantage of this. I'm referencing bud.tv, which so far has been a commercial success. You already know my feelings about Paltalk.

Now consider the career trajectories of the men behind PerezHilton and Daily Kos. Neither Entertainment Weekly nor People magazine was banging down Mario Armando Lavandeira Jr.'s door asking him to report for them. Markos Moulitsas was a consultant, not a Woodward or even a Bernstein for the Washington Post.

We're still in the early stages of this media transition, but I'm starting to believe that as services and access become more widespread - and it may take a generation or so - more people than probably should will become content providers.

That brings me to journalism. There are more publications right now than any point of our global history, if you include blogs and websites. Enough people understand the basic way you craft a story: call a source up, ask him a few questions, call another source up, ask a few questions, repeat. Check notes, write story, repeat. Check facts. Publish.

Journalism's silver screen is gone, and gone forever. Yes, most people look to recognizable brands such as the New York Times and Washington Post for news. But more people, especially millennials, are open to PerezHilton and Daily Kos and the thousands of other topic-specific blogs out there. Citizen journalists have access to people, companies, government sources, etc. to do their reporting.

Will the old cache journalism once held evaporate? Working for Newsweek, I'd make a call for an interview and was never, ever told no, because, well, it was Newsweek. I can't say that 10 years ago I had the same success writing for Japan, Inc. Magazine.

My perception, even as a journalist, has changed. If the New York Times called me up wanting an interview on digital media, I'd be pretty stoked. But if I got an email from Michael Arrington or someone from Boing Boing...that would knock my socks off.

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March 07, 2007

Paltalk: The world's largest chatroom you've probably never heard of

Everyone remember when chat rooms first became available? You could sign up and sign on to have inane 10-word conversations with strangers from around the world. I certainly joined in the fray...and quickly learned that when people are offered a no-holds-barred anonymous system of speech, they use the privilege to talk about, what else?, sex.

Enter Paltalk, a Manhattan-based video chat service founded in 1998 that streams live multi-person chats. There are more than four million active members using the online service, and Paltalk World's list of media and advertising partners would make most Web 2.0 companies drool. Using your webcam, you can join in ongoing chats, set up your own private room and even purchase upgrades to ensure a smoother video feed.

If you're a journalist but not covering tech, you may not have heard of Paltalk. The general audience skews young, at least from what I've seen. While businesses and others may be using the service, they're likely doing it privately.

In the past, Paltalk has hosted celebrity sessions featuring folks like the Rev. Jesse Jackson and New York Times best selling author Douglas Preston.

And the latest celeb to join is CNN Radio Bureau Chief Gary Baumgarten, who's left CNN to become Paltalk's Director of News and Programming. The announcement was made this morning.

Wait, you say. I didn't get that. A chat service provider -- not a broadcast news station -- nicked a Peabody Award-winning journalist with 38 years of experience in the field away from CNN?

Yes. And yes.

Baumgarten is going to head the development of original programming on Paltalk and will host News Talk Online, which is a daily interactive program allowing guests and the audience to interact wit heach other. Guests include, and I'm not making this up, Dave Koz, Arianna Huffington, and Kenny Kramer. (Sadly, I can't seem to be able to play archived shows.)

I just don't know what to do with this information. How does someone in media, who's worked within a very confined context and whose industry has always followed a certain paradigm, begin to understand the changes that are afoot?

I teach a class at Temple University about how to report and gather information using Web 2.0 tools. But the curriculum at that school, as it is at all journalism schools around the country, is really based on the idea that trained reporters will go to work for a newspaper, magazine or broadcast station. S/he may work for the online division, but practicing journalism means doing it at one of these places.

Clearly if Baumgarten succeeds in developing news programming and talk show-style interactive shows at Paltalk...and why wouldn't he?...this would represent a true paradigm shift and a cause to rethink our multimedia strategies as journalists. This isn't just some newspaper throwing video up on the web. It's interactive, live news talk allowing guests and users to see and hear each other as well as to use and share websites and other electronic information as part of that show's content. It's a new editorial product, delivered electronically.

Yahoo! has a very active, productive team of journalists. Seven years ago, Yahoo! was simply a search engine that listed categories like News and Culture to help you "surf the Internet." Paltalk is poised to be a serious news content provider. And there are others.

Anyone else feel goosebumps?

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March 05, 2007

Warren Buffett Makes It Official: Print is (mostly) dead

According to Warren Buffett, the halcyon days of high profit newspapering is over.

Buffett's group, Berkshire Hathaway, owns the Buffalo News. And in a letter to shareholders last Thursday, Buffett raised some interesting points about the future profitability of news.

What Buffett has to say will undoubtedly be painful to hear: "Simply put, if cable and satellite broadcasting, as well as the internet, had come along first, newspapers as we know them probably would never have existed...We are likely therefore to see non-economic individual buyers of newspapers emerge, just as we have seen such buyers acquire major sports franchises. Aspiring press lords should be careful, however: There’s no rule that says a newspaper’s revenues can’t fall below its expenses and that losses can’t mushroom."

I say painful because this comes from a man that many look to as a weath-building oracle, and a lot of times folks don't heed warnings until Buffett announces an edict.

Painful? Yes. But I won't say original. Buffett isn't announcing anything I'd call new. In fact, we've been discussing these issues within our industry for years. I do think he makes a compelling case for newspapers moving, potentially, to hyper-local models. As much as I want to know what's happening back where I lived in Japan, I'm not turning to the Baltimore Sun, my local newspaper, for that information. I'll look at the wires or at the Times or even CNN.

Perhaps the newspaper model for the future involves micro newsrooms and hyper-local online communities. If print is still absolutely necessary, rather than one big newspaper, how about micro-sized local editions akin to the Metro?

Buffett is right in saying that sports desks will always drive circulation and online traffic. But I think that news...explained as it affects me, an individual with very specific interests...could easily be monetized.

The challenge, of course, is to change the way we think about the American newsroom.

An excerpt Buffett's most recent letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, dated Feb. 28, 2007 (see pages 10 and 11):

...When an industry’s underlying economics are crumbling, talented management may slow the rate of decline. Eventually, though, eroding fundamentals will overwhelm managerial brilliance. (As a wise friend told me long ago, “If you want to get a reputation as a good businessman, be sure to get into a good business.”) And fundamentals are definitely eroding in the newspaper industry, a trend that has caused the profits of our Buffalo News to decline. The skid will almost certainly continue.

When Charlie and I were young, the newspaper business was as easy a way to make huge returns as existed in America. As one not-too-bright publisher famously said, “I owe my fortune to two great American institutions: monopoly and nepotism.” No paper in a one-paper city, however bad the product or however inept the management, could avoid gushing profits.

The industry’s staggering returns could be simply explained. For most of the 20th Century, newspapers were the primary source of information for the American public. Whether the subject was sports, finance, or politics, newspapers reigned supreme. Just as important, their ads were the easiest way to find job opportunities or to learn the price of groceries at your town’s supermarkets.

The great majority of families therefore felt the need for a paper every day, but understandably most didn’t wish to pay for two. Advertisers preferred the paper with the most circulation, and readers tended to want the paper with the most ads and news pages. This circularity led to a law of the newspaper jungle: Survival of the Fattest.

Thus, when two or more papers existed in a major city (which was almost universally the case a century ago), the one that pulled ahead usually emerged as the stand-alone winner. After competition disappeared, the paper’s pricing power in both advertising and circulation was unleashed. Typically, rates for both advertisers and readers would be raised annually – and the profits rolled in. For owners this was economic heaven. (Interestingly, though papers regularly – and often in a disapproving way – reported on the profitability of, say, the auto or steel industries, they never enlightened readers about their own Midas-like situation. Hmmm . . .)

As long ago as my 1991 letter to shareholders, I nonetheless asserted that this insulated world was changing, writing that “the media businesses . . . will prove considerably less marvelous than I, the industry, or lenders thought would be the case only a few years ago.” Some publishers took umbrage at both this remark and other warnings from me that followed. Newspaper properties, moreover, continued to sell as if they were indestructible slot machines. In fact, many intelligent newspaper executives who regularly chronicled and analyzed important worldwide events were either blind or indifferent to what was going on under their noses.

Now, however, almost all newspaper owners realize that they are constantly losing ground in the battle for eyeballs. Simply put, if cable and satellite broadcasting, as well as the internet, had come along first, newspapers as we know them probably would never have existed.

In Berkshire’s world, Stan Lipsey does a terrific job running the Buffalo News, and I am enormously proud of its editor, Margaret Sullivan. The News’ penetration of its market is the highest among that of this country’s large newspapers. We also do better financially than most metropolitan newspapers, even though Buffalo’s population and business trends are not good. Nevertheless, this operation faces unrelenting pressures that will cause profit margins to slide.

True, we have the leading online news operation in Buffalo, and it will continue to attract more viewers and ads. However, the economic potential of a newspaper internet site – given the many alternative sources of information and entertainment that are free and only a click away – is at best a small fraction of that existing in the past for a print newspaper facing no competition.

For a local resident, ownership of a city’s paper, like ownership of a sports team, still produces instant prominence. With it typically comes power and influence. These are ruboffs that appeal to many people with money. Beyond that, civic-minded, wealthy individuals may feel that local ownership will serve their community well. That’s why Peter Kiewit bought the Omaha paper more than 40 years ago.

We are likely therefore to see non-economic individual buyers of newspapers emerge, just as we have seen such buyers acquire major sports franchises. Aspiring press lords should be careful, however: There’s no rule that says a newspaper’s revenues can’t fall below its expenses and that losses can’t mushroom. Fixed costs are high in the newspaper business, and that’s bad news when unit volume heads south. As the importance of newspapers diminishes, moreover, the “psychic” value of possessing one will wane, whereas owning a sports franchise will likely retain its cachet.

Unless we face an irreversible cash drain, we will stick with the News, just as we’ve said that we would. (Read economic principle 11, on page 76.) Charlie and I love newspapers – we each read five a day – and believe that a free and energetic press is a key ingredient for maintaining a great democracy. We hope that some combination of print and online will ward off economic doomsday for newspapers, and we will work hard in Buffalo to develop a sustainable business model. I think we will be successful. But the days of lush profits from our newspaper are over.

References:
Read the 1991 Letter to Shareholders.
Wikipedia on Berkshire Hathaway

(Thanks to Andy Cassel for sending me the letter.)

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.Mac (Apple Computer, Inc.)

March 02, 2007

I (heart) Data: My afternoon snuggling up to instacalc

More Data!

I'm in a numbers mood and have been playing with this calculator, which might be a model for a widget. I could see a newspaper site developing something like this, monetizing it with a GoogleAd and inviting users to create new hyper-local calculators and saving them to a shared section.

Meet instacalc: a sharable calculator tool that enables users to enter data and get fast answers. Data can be shared and charted, to boot. As an example, you can use instacalc to figure out your site's bandwidth:


Ideas for hyper-local calculators for use on newspaper websites:

  • Property taxes
  • Tax rates + city services
  • High school sports stats
  • Public employee salaries vs. your salary
  • Body mass index
    • BONUS! Keep track of zip codes, aggregate with a Google map and tally the BMI of your reader area
  • Holiday sales vs. interest rates
  • Diet/ calorie counter
  • Grade keeper (how well you'll have to do on upcoming tests to score a certain percentage)

I like it, I like it!

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Apple iTunes

March 01, 2007

Washingtonpost.com + Apple = Slick Marketing

In case you haven't seen the WaPo's Apple promo... It's a slickly-produced, highly-Appleified inside look at washingtonpost.com operations in Virginia.

(HT: Cyberjournalist)

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February 28, 2007

Data Universe: In case you haven't seen it...

I've been chatting, via email, with Dmitry Dimov, who's the Product Chief & Cofounder of Swivel. Yesterday, he put this question to me:

You have a good point on data sourcing: even if it has the source citation (which we require on upload), no one can guarantee that the data actually came from there unchanged. On the other hand, when you see a graph in a magazine you trust that the data source is in fact where the data came from, but it's impossible to verify it unless you request the source data from the publication and check out the sources on your own.

Dimitry's camp is embracing the crowdsourcing model, which banks on the wisdom of the crowd to correct mistakes of the few. I'm eager to see how Swivel evolves and to see how, and if, journalists start to embrace tools like this.

At least one newspaper has already moved in that direction. And while the data isn't user-generated, the ability to search its homespun databases is easy enough for anyone to get involved. I'm talking about the Asbury Park Press' Data Universe tool, and if you haven't yet seen it, I suggest you do asap.

Data Universe, developed and innovated by Investigations Editor Paul D'Ambrosio, launched back on Dec. 3rd and essentially offers its readers a variety of searchable databases ranging from campaign finance to public employee salaries.

I'll be the first to say that the user interface isn't that sexy. The service has been up for three months now, enough time to enhance and put a better skin over the basic template. And there's a lengthy disclaimer at the bottom of each database explaining that the datasets may not be complete or even completely accurate.

That said, Data Universe couldn't be easier to use. I gave the SAT scores and property sales databases a spin and got exactly what I was looking for within seconds.

The APP is owned by Gannett, and corporate says that in the two weeks after Data Universe launched, that part of the site's traffic grew by 500k page views. And the databases carry banner ads. (Data Universe is embedded within the main app.com site, so I'm assuming that ads are served via a central cms.)

My point is this: As newspapers and other media websites start using new online tools, I think it's a good bet to innovate projects similar to Swivel and Data Universe. Users aren't just interested in video and photo slideshows. At the heart of the Internet's ubiquitous popularity is our desire to harness and distribute information without much hassle. Reporters are already culling public databases for the same information - why not aggregate it on your own news site? If you do it well, and if the content makes sense, you can eventually monetize it.

Ed Goppalt's Hallwatch.org site in Philadelphia is a perfect example of why it's a smart move to aggregate public data with an easy interface.

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Picaboo

Citizen Journalism Redux

So I just found StorySquared, an online tool that allows users to start and write creative stories. It's one-part blog, one-part Netflix and one-part Flickr. (At least I think you can upload photos...hard to tell.) The company is based in, where else?, San Francisco and is a small startup. I'll say up front that what separates this tool from a standard wiki is that no one is allowed to edit or take down previous content.

We've been trying to figure out how to invite citizen involvement in online journalism for at least eight years. I say eight because in 1999, I was applying to graduate school and remember first hearing about Jay Rosen and his public journalism project at NYU.

One of the problems has been whether or not to edit outside content. How much can a citizen journalist be trusted? If that content is labeled as an independent blog, would the paper be absolved of any potential embarrassments? Ok, well how about just allowing folks to upload pictures at the scene of a crime? Or what about video?

Here's what I like about StorySquared, and here's how it applies to newspapers. I like the idea of reporting on a particular topic unfolding, wiki-style, and becoming a living document. Now StorySquared doesn't allow for editing once content is posted, which clearly wouldn't work for a newspaper site. On the other hand, I do like the overall concept if the rules were relaxed a bit.

Once we commit something to print in a newspaper it's there, in perpetuity. We can make a correction, but the only way to add context or to invite more input is to publish more of that story throughout the week. And let's be honest with each other. No one is going to devote that kind of paper real estate without months of "special project planning."

I wonder if the StorySquared concept might help to advance stories online, to invite user content, to encourage accuracy... Reporters, editors and citizen jurnos would be working on a single story all together at once to provide the best possible information, with the most context, for everyone. Unlike a standard wiki, there wouldn't be unlimited access to edit, create or delete content. With a moderator and/ or human aggregator, this could be a highly effective kind of tool to consider.

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February 22, 2007

Found! Bill Marimow watch officially over!

Philadelphia Media Holdings has, after a lengthy 84 days, finally changed its masthead. And while Amanda Bennett is no longer listed among its Senior Executives, I also noticed a glaring, deeply troubling omission: Why is the head of philly.com not recognized as part of the executive publishing staff? This makes me think that PMH doesn't value the online side of its operations as much as it should, especially given the pervasive changes facing our industry right now.

Think I'm making a big deal out of nothing? Have a look at the staff bio pages for the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, and hell, even the Times of Northwest Indiana (my hometown newspaper). They all list at least one executive staff who's in charge of digital operations.

I'm happy that PMH has updated its staff page, but leaving off the head of the company's interactive division seems like a digital slap in the face. A newspaper's website simply can't be an afterthought. When publishers work out budgets, think about strategic growth and staff placement, the digital side must be a part of that discussion.

...in other PMH news: Exec. Producer Kevin Donahue posted a comment last night to talk about other new changes coming at philly.com:

...yes, there is a redesign in the offing. Your list, and ideas like those, are certainly on our radar. Expect to see that come to fruition when the weather is warmer.

Certainly, I'd be interested what you and your readers think of these changes over time. My email's below.

Kevin Donahue
Executive Producer, Philly.com
kdonahue@phillynews.com

This is fantastic news, and I'm eager to learn more about how the site will take advantage of Web 2.0 technology now that it's powered by a new content management system, Clickability. I have high hopes for Kevin and his team and wish them well...

 

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February 20, 2007

Found: Great web development resource for journalists

Just found the htmlPlayground, a still-in-beta XHTML and CSS reference site. You can click on any tag and it will display what that tag does, what the surrounding code should look like and how you can use that tool on your own website. So far, it's genius - and I think a fantastic tool for journalists working on the web side of their newsrooms who might get stuck once in a while and don't have a code monkey to call for help.

And here's another application: It seems to me that this model, a true interactive dictionary, might be used for certain kinds of reported stories. I could see something like this accompanying a health story, a football story, a local politics story...video could be thrown in, too.


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February 19, 2007

How To: Different ways to use Google maps...

I've recently been playing mashup with Google Maps, and I still believe very strongly that journalists can use them more effectively as both a reporting tool and as a richly graphic way to display information on newspaper/ magazine websites.

Here are a few ideas after my morning brainstorming session:

Map + Schedule = graphic interface showing travel dates
Applications: sports schedules, personal schedules, political campaigns

Map + Travel information = interactive travel guide
Applications: see NYTimes Travel

Map + Health Desk = maps showing demographic and health information
Applications: obesity charts, spread of disease/ epidemic, hyper-local flu information

Map + Real Estate listings = property value/ taxation survey
Applications: local income:housing cost disparities, neighborhood tax:services disparities

Map + Nightlife Events = ad-driven listings database
Application = monetized nightlife calendar (bonus! add RSS feeds by event category)

For more inspiration, have a look at the unofficial Google Maps Mania site. API detail on how it's done at ProgrammableWeb.com. Craigslist + Google housing price map.

Please note: I'm not commenting here on the integrity of reporting on any of these sites - I just want to show you what's possible.


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Apple iTunes

 

 

Simple How-To: Monetize your content through SMS text messaging

A new service launched today that allows bloggers to monetize content easily. But it has broader uses too: businesses can serve ads directly to their consumers in a process that completely sidesteps classifieds, print or digital.

Meet TextMarks, an exceptionally clever app, so smart that newspapers ought to take notice immediately and begin emulating some of its features.

Publishers select a keyword, such as BALTPOL (Baltimore Politics). Then an auto response would be entered: Mayor Sheila Dixon announces she won't run for office in September. Subscribers to that keyword receive an instant SMS to their mobile phones. Users can also text the keyword to 41411 at any time for an update. (And I'm sure you're noticing that 41411 looks very similar to 46645, which prompts Google to return an answer via SMS to directory searches, sports scores, etc.)

Using TextMarks, bloggers can update their sites via text message and they can broadcast information to subscribers.

And, of course, you can monetize your blog using TextMark's SMS alerts. You set a price point at either $4.99 or $9.99 per month, customize the graphics all you want, and offer text updates to your blog's readers.

Now TextMarks is taking a significant portion of the proceeds, but it also takes away the need for a secure shopping cart system. TextMarks deals directly with the wireless carriers, so bloggers never have to worry about billing.

This model, at least in some form, should (and can!) be applied to newspaper and magazine websites asap.

To wit: I'm not a die-hard football fanatic, but I was at my sister's most recent opera recital last month and missing both of the playoff games. I sat in the audience with my Blackberry on silent texting Google every couple of minutes to get game updates. Then I switched over to ESPN.com mobile. Both were free (and I have an unlimited data plan, so usage was free too). But you know what? I just might have paid $1.99 for a one-night subscription to get the scores. Hell, the sale of commercial ringtones topped $2.5 billion in 2004. Billion! You don't think folks might pony up a buck or two for up to date information?

At last year's Online News Association conference, I sat in on a panel of industry big wigs talking about the challenges and pitfalls to harnessing wap for use with newspaper/ media promotion. The Bakersfield Californian was, an entire year ago, starting to use SMS for stories and also for advertising.

Why aren't more newspaper websites taking advantage of SMS - TextMarks should convince publishers that they need to look beyond videos and podcasts already.


Apple iTunes

February 14, 2007

100 oldest domains...but where was journalism?

Just found this list of the first 100 domains registered. Have a gander. What do you see missing?

Create date  

Domain name

15-Mar-1985

SYMBOLICS.COM

24-Apr-1985

BBN.COM

24-May-1985

THINK.COM

11-Jul-1985

MCC.COM

30-Sep-1985

DEC.COM

07-Nov-1985

NORTHROP.COM

09-Jan-1986

XEROX.COM

17-Jan-1986

SRI.COM

03-Mar-1986

HP.COM

05-Mar-1986

BELLCORE.COM

19-Mar-1986

IBM.COM

19-Mar-1986

SUN.COM

25-Mar-1986

INTEL.COM

25-Mar-1986

TI.COM

25-Apr-1986

ATT.COM

See the complete list here...


LastMinuteTravel.com

Sulzberger Retracts: Well, maybe we will be printing the Times in five years after all...

While at the World Economic Conference, held last month in Davos, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of the New York Times, told a reporter from Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz that print is dead. "I really don't know whether we'll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don't care either," he said.

According to the New York Observer, Sulzberger plans to clarify that statement today to his newsroom staff. Observer reporter Michael Calderone printed a portion of Sulzberger's speech, which was supplied to his paper in advance:

"We are continuing to invest in our newspapers, for we believe that they will be around for a very long time. This point of view is not about nostalgia or a love of newsprint. Instead, it is rooted in fundamental business realities: Our powerful and trusted print brands continue to draw educated and affluent audiences.

"Traditional print newspaper audiences are still significantly larger than their Web counterparts. Print continues to command high levels of reader engagement. And, of course, we still make most of our money from print advertising and circulation revenue. And yes, I remember what I said here last year and what I was supposed to have said last month at Davos about not having a printed product in five years time.

"So let me clear the air on this issue. It is my heartfelt view that newspapers will be around--in print--for a long time. But I also believe that we must be prepared for that judgment to be wrong. My five-year timeframe is about being ready to support our news, advertising and other critical operations on digital revenue alone ...whenever that time comes."

Would it really be so bad if the Times went strictly digital by 2012? If you consider all that's changed in our media landscape during the past five years, I don't think Sulzberger's original comment to Ha'aretz is so obscene.

In 2002:

  • The iPod was only a year old and had scant market penetration.
  • Business Week explored the idea of DVRs, saying: "couch potatoes who make copies of the Super Bowl or The West Wing on the next generation of digital TV sets could find that an anti-pirating program erases them within 48 hours. "
  • Google had just launched its Google News Search service, which was a porthole a la Yahoo. Unlike Yahoo, Google made headlines because its system was the first to be fully automated.

There was no YouTube. No one was really blogging yet. No newspaper website was clamoring to figure out how to upload video or to engineer reporter podcasts.

Five years later, a quarter of U.S. homes have at least one mp3 player. Standard & Poor's Equity Research team now says that DVR penetration will climb to 35% by 2010. Technorati estimates that there are 55 billion blogs on the Internet. The most popular, Engadet, isn't affiliated with any mainstream media source and has 26,010 blogs linking to it.

My point is this: Who the hell knows what our media landscape will really look like in the next few years? This transition isn't going to be like the Industrial Revolution, when the conveyer belt and a new work ethic took a few decades to transform American society. There are too many people creating too many new interesting web and digital applications. I wouldn't hedge my bet on any one new technology or content delivery model.

But I'll say this. The transition is going to be faster than we think. I do know that the ubiquity of computers in the U.S. combined with our ever-increasing need for information on demand points to a real change afoot.

I kind of wish that Sulzberger would have stuck to his guns and not tried to explain himself out of what most of us recognize as inevitability.


LastMinuteTravel.com

Bill Marimow / PMH Watch: Have you seen this editor?

PS: PMH still hasn't managed to take outsted exec editor Amanda Bennett off its site. I'm officially starting a Bill Marimow Watch. It's been 16 days since I first wrote about it and 72 since I first noticed it back in November 2006. (Click image to see the PMH page.)

Seriously - how can philly.com innovate if its parent company can't even get it together to change its masthead?

 

 

February 12, 2007

Newspapers: Meet Barack Obama's web design tea

By now, you should know that the single greatest way to increase web traffic is virally. Say something interesting, deliver your message in a compelling way, and...here's the most important part...make it damn easy for other people to share your content with others.

And so I present to you the newest features on Presidential hopeful Barack Obama's website. They went live yesterday: BarackTV and My.BarackObama.com.

ObamaTV offers an archive of videos - stump speeches, citizen testimonials - the standard campaign hoo-ha that we've all come to expect. But it also makes it achingly easy for an Obama supporter (or detractor, even) to embed that video within his or her personal website. A toolbar below the video allows you to email the clip, link it, or get the code to copy and paste:

This is very, very smart. And I've tried it out below. [NOTE: The Obama site isn't feeding the original video I had posted anymore, so I've removed it.]
I also like the My.BarackObama.com, which is a newly-constructed social network based only on his campaign. Users can create a profile (a la MySpace and Facebook), raise money (hints of Fundable.org), plan and attend events (Google calendar), blog about Obama and even hook up with other supporters (O-Date anyone?).


I would love to see traditional media get out of the business of just blogging. On the norgs listserv over the weekend, we've been discussing the fallout from the Inquirer yanking the blinq blog and what that indicates for the future of philly.com. Carl Lavin, one of the deputy managing editors wrote that, to the contrary, the Inquirer actually launched two new blogs:

"For example, let's look at two blogs that started this month: http://blogs.phillynews.com/inquirer/weather and http://blogs.phillynews.com/inquirer/roadwarrior. Are these blogs perfect? No. But it's more evidence that the Inquirer newsroom is moving forward, not backward, to embrace the possibilities available in 2007. We have expertise in many areas, including weather and transportation, and we are determined to make the most of that expertise in every format possible."

I guess that what I'd really like to know is why so many newspapers are forging ahead to develop new blogs or even Podcasts. Who's even more desperately competing for an audience than newspapers? Politicians! Even they realize that the best way to build a constituency and to engender support among an audience is to take charge of the technology that's currently available - and to make it simple as hell to get others involved.

I'd really love to see a newspaper develop a widget or stand-alone app on its website that helps users to find headlines that they're interested in, connect and share with others, blog about featured stories, share their own personal histories, publish video and photos on their personal sites...

MyObama definitely has my vote for targeted content delivery and design.



February 10, 2007

Newspapers, meet Yahoo's multimedia journalists

This is why the current ballyhoo about media reform doesn't concern me all that much. While traditional journalists and indy media activists are consumed with Clear Channel buying up radio signals or News Corp snagging Newsday or Tribune Company breaking up into little pieces, the smart folks at Yahoo are doing the kind of innovative journalism that's online users have come to expect. Click on the picture below to see how the info graphic works...but you gotta read what's below it first.

Newspaper editors, now hear this! By all means, have the stuffy academic discussion about media consolidation and ownership. But you'd best look over your shoulder to Google and Yahoo, who are in the process of forming partnerships with the companies your reporters are covering for your business and tech sections. You may not understand the significance of Yahoo Pipes or even how the damn thing works. You may not have a clue about how Google uses Ajax to enable users to stick with its suggested sites. That's okay, as long as you know that big things are happening at digital media companies...the kinds of things that might make our current media reform discussion irrelevant in the next few years.

Do me... hell, do yourselves a favor, and type in "Google buys," just like that, into Google. See the company names Applied Semantics, Keyhole, PageRank, dMarc Broadcasting, Measure Map, JotSpot and so many others?

Believe me, YouTube ain't the biggest news story here.

You're about to miss the last train from Clarksville, newspaper editors and publishers. But don't say you never saw it coming.



Lingo

February 09, 2007

Media Reform - Cronkite, Copps and others at Columbia's J-school

Yesterday, media reform activists gathered at Columbia's J-school to talk about everything from media consolidation to proposed changes to how the FCC doles out licenses.

FCC Commish Michael Copps wants deaggregation and argued that broadcast stations should be required to offer more news and programming in the public interest. That they should be more accountable to taxpayers, since we're footing at least part of the infrastructure bill.

Walter Cronkite talked passionately about the decline of our newspapers. That ownership by just a few isn't serving the needs of many. Without competition within markets - dozens of communities are now one-paper towns - newspapers can't be as accurate in their reporting as they were decades ago.

Cronkite called ours a "soundbite culture," one that has "been a willing accomplice" in the deterioration of politics and society.

Frank Blethen, publisher of the Seattle Times and most outspoken news exec on the topic of independent journalism, warned that any news media owner ought to recognize his or her civic responsibility. That the needs of stakeholders should come before those of the shareholders.

During this afternoon discussion, I was struck by the omission of digital media. Because while big corporate interests were battling over different pieces of the Knight Ridder pie (and soon, the Tribune pie also), nontraditional media companies are dramatically changing the landscape of information. I think that the popularity of alternative news sites reached a certain critical mass both because the masses finally had access to technology and because they found independent voices more interesting.

For example to me, reading the Indianapolis Star or the News Journal in Delaware or even USA Today is sort of like pouring over the same sweater in three different colors at Banana Republic. At Gannett, there's a model that everyone uses for the paper. Five stories on A-1 with a nice, colorful picture. No real muckraking, no hard-core public interest reporting.

But the website Grist is serving up high-quality environmental journalism. Stories are written well and they're diverse, even within this small, independent site. At one point, Copps said that no website can pull together the same kind of in-depth investigative reporting or public interest stories as big newspapers. I ask him to spend some time on the Center for Public Integrity's website, which has won numerous investigative reporting awards.

It's good that we're talking about media reform and trying to find alternatives to consolidated ownership. And I'm really happy that Dean Nicholas Lemann has brought the discussion to Columbia.

But we need to look beyond just newspapers and broadcast stations to companies like Google and Yahoo. Why not monitor what's happening on the digital landscape as well? Why not apply the same standards?

 

Lingerie, Lapdances and Lapdogs: Now at the Arizona Republic!

Someone convince me that this feature story would have run in the print edition of Gannett's second-largest daily newspaper, the Arizona Republic. I'm referencing, of course, the "Latest Lingerie" slideshow/ column which is featured on the front door of azcentral.com, right next to a woman in a black leotard arching her back over a piece of gymnastic equipment.

From the slideshow:

Sometimes lingerie is just for you.
It makes you feel pretty, feminine, deliciously indulgent.
This Valentine's Day, Yes encourages you to treat yourself to a leisurely morning of lingerie and literature.

Because for me, spending a breezy morning wearing expensive underwear and reading The Grapes of Wrath really indulges my senses.

And guess what? You can click from the slideshow to the products and shop online. Is this advertorial content? Did it come from the sales desk? Jill Richards, who has the byline, isn't listed as part of the newsroom staff.

So is this a desperate plea for traffic? (You'll notice that the slideshow has been engineered so that you have to manually click to get to each picture.) Is it advertising? To me, this is one more indication that newspapers aren't taking their web products seriously enough. Why apply a different standard to something that would run in the print edition from what would run online?

If newspapers want more eyeballs on their web products, they should innovate creative tools and adopt a different attitude towards content. Not run a Fredericks of Hollywood style peep show on their home pages...

 

February 08, 2007

At Columbia's J-school today...

I'll be at my alma mater, Columbia University, today for a journalism summit on media reform. Will post my comments after...

Newspapers: One way to save your audiences

According to the Center for the Digital Future at USC: Non-Internet users watch an average of 9.1 more hours of television per week than Internet users. I can tell you that I'm not included in that group. I watch as much television as I can during the week - but I watch via TiVo or downloads onto my computer.

The Center just released its 2007 Digital Future Project Report, which focuses on how we use and interact with technology. Among the key findings:

  • 43% of Internet users who are members of online communities say that they “feel as strongly” about their virtual community as they do about their real-world communities.
  • Almost two-thirds of online community members who participate in social causes through the Internet (64.9%)
    say they are involved in causes that were new to them when they began participating on the Internet.
  • The number of Internet users in America who keep a blog has more than doubled in three
    years (now 7.4% of users, up from 3.2% in 2003).

Here's how this information can help inform those in the newspaper business. If more folks are going online for social reasons - if they're seeking both information and a subject-focused community to discuss and disseminate that information, wouldn't it make sense for newspaper companies to revisit the zone edition model from the late 1980s and 1990s and possibly reapply it to a new online model today?

To wit: the Daily Bugle newspaper in Metropolis might consider changing the structure of its site to a porthole system with different channels. There might be a high school sports channel, where the Bugle's sports reporters and photogs would contribute content just as they would in the newspaper. But there would be an area for parent contributions. Maybe that section would share content with Metropolis' high school newspapers and carry student commentary. Citizens at games would edit and upload their own video (parents, boyfriends, girlfriends and grandparents are doing it anyways - why not capitalize on content that's already available??). On the discussion boards, there'd be gossip about coaches and alternative commentary about what happened at last night's game.

And there'd be plenty to monetize in this model, too. Advertising would come from very targeted vendors - sports retailers, college athletic programs and new movie releases. Game and season stats would be available up until a certain point, and then they'd be available via a database for a minimal fee, either subscription or pay-per-use. It'd be one part news, one part library, and one part must-visit digital social scene for all high school sports fans in Metropolis.

Think of the most successful sites and blogs on the web. Their focus is very specific and targeted. Getting married? Who hasn't heard of theknot.com? Want to know about new tech? Technorati. Celebrity doings? PerezHilton.com.

They're popular because of their content, yes...but because they've effectively captured their market. And in an age of information overload, where thousands of groups are competing for just a fraction of your attention, the ones that succeed capitalize on your personal relationship to a subject matter.

So to newspapers, I ask this: Just how emotionally tied to (fill in your city here) are your readers? Might you capture more of their attention if you started specializing content? You already have an easy place to start: high school sports. Then, move to public schools. Local politics. Hyper-local real estate. The daily commute.

Innovate online products that will compel users to visit and stay on your site...not because you're the local newspaper, but because they feel a social connection to your brand, your reporters and to others who contribute to the site via blogs, discussion forums or multimedia. That's how you'll win back your dwindling audience.

Hell, it'd be a start.

February 06, 2007

World's Oldest Newspaper Now Digital!

A sign of the times, from From Karl Ritter in Stockholm, via the AP:

STOCKHOLM, Sweden - For centuries, readers thumbed through the crackling pages of Sweden's Post-och Inrikes Tidningar newspaper. No longer. The world's oldest paper still in circulation has dropped its paper edition and now exists only in cyberspace. The newspaper, founded in 1645 by Sweden's Queen Kristina, became a Web-only publication on Jan. 1. It's a fate, many ink-stained writers and readers fear, that may await many of the world's most venerable journals.

...the Post-och Inrikes Tidningar, which means mail and domestic tidings, runs legal announcements by corporations, courts and certain government agencies - about 1,500 a day according to Olov Vikstrom, the current editor...

Despite its online transformation, Post-och Inrikes Tidningar remains No. 1 on a ranking of the oldest newspapers still in circulation compiled by the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers.

"An online newspaper is still a newspaper, so we'll leave it on the list,'' WAN spokesman Larry Kilman said.

The world has not come to an end. It's important to note that in Sweden, there are 6,800,000 Internet users as of Sept. 2006. That translates to 74.7% penetration throughout the country.

Me thinks the Swedes will still get their news, even with the Post-och Inrikes Tidningar now direktanslutet.

February 05, 2007

Newspapers, Meet Southwest's Marketing Team

A recent survey by Outsell, a market research firm, found that advertisers will increase spending by 5.8% this year -- and that ad dollars earmarked for websites will rise by 18%. This year, 20% of all ad buys will be for digital -- not paper -- publications.

And yet at least one corporation has developed a direct-to-consumer advertisement that also provides useful services. Southwest has created a widget that lives on your desktop and alerts you to fare changes, flight updates, sales and more. On the desktop, it looks like a Southwest airplane vertical fin (that piece that sticks up at the back of the plane) with the company logo and colors displayed.

The widget itself is pretty helpful. I fly often between Philadelphia, Baltimore and Chicago and typically use Southwest. In theory, I can use this to do everything from checking in online to booking new airfare to searching the system for sales. (To be fair, all of the widget's content gets linked back to the Southwest website, so it acts more like a portal than a true stand-alone widget app.)

Here's how newspapers can use it: Why not create a widget? It could serve headlines, columns, announcements about live chats with reporters, sports stats, polls (how often do you read the Daily Bugle at work? At home?), community events. But it could also carry an unobtrusive ad. It could be wrapped (borders and small banner space at the bottom) by a different sponsor every day.

The problem continues to be that publishers aren't thinking creatively enough. Even if advertisers are willing to up their spending by 18% (or 20% or 100%), I have to think they're not just interested in banner ads anymore, since users have become averse to clicking or even looking at them.

 

January 25, 2007

What's the Opposite of Innovation?

Yesterday, LAT Editor Jim O'Shea announced a broad new initiative to shift focus from the LAT print publication to its website. He's just created an "editor for innovation" position.

(Hell, every newsroom is bestowing that made-up title on one of its top suits these days. Why should a three-hour time difference delay what's now ubiquitous on the East Coast from taking a strong hold in Cali?)

Biz Editor Russ Stanton is the new digital guy in town. Here's part of a memo sent from the LAT top brass to its staff when Stanton was named to his most recent role as chief of the business desk:

To: The Staff
From: John Carroll and Dean Baquet

We are pleased to announce the appointment of Russ Stanton as business editor of The Times.

Russ has done a terrific job as deputy editor of the section and as Orange County business editor before that. He is respected by the staff - and by us -- for his deep knowledge of the business world, his commitment to quality journalism and his integrity in dealing with people.

Russ has been a business journalist from the start of his career at the Visalia Times-Delta. He has covered agriculture, aerospace, real estate and manufacturing. Before joining The Times as a reporter in 1997, he was business editor of the Orange County Register.

Russ has a vast knowledge of business and the region, and a clear sense of the stories this paper should dominate in the coming years. But what really drew us to Russ were some other attributes that emerged from conversations with The Times business staff over the last few weeks: He is a leader who commands trust, respect and affection from his colleagues...

Anyone else catch what's missing from this memo? Where's the section about how Russ innovated new, clean multimedia templates to help increase user stickiness? Or the part about how Russ developed relationships with outside bloggers so that he's engendered interest and trust in online communities? So much so that they'll create symbiotic information sharing projects?

From the Times' own story about the move:

O'Shea named Business Editor Russ Stanton to the innovation post and said the "Internet 101" course would teach reporters, editors and photographers to become "savvy multimedia journalists," able to enhance their writing with audio and video reports. He emphasized the need for speed in reforming an operation that he called "woefully behind" the competition.

The Times has just made the same mistake that Philadelphia Media Holdings, Inc., the company that now owns the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, has been making for the past two years. (I'd have linked the Inky and DN, but neither paper has its own website. Instead, philly.com houses content from both and remains a wholly separate entity. Want more? The PMH site isn't even updated and still lists ousted Inky editor Amanda Bennett as the person in charge. Innovative!)

The people leading the digital revolution aren't the business editors, the deputy managing editors for sports or the photogs with a bit of HTML training. They're not the yes men.

They're the code monkeys hacking away in their spare time. They're the true digital journalists, who maybe have less experience reporting the news but a deep knowledge about how and why our Internet works. They understand why you can't just offer an Internet 101 class, send reporters out into the street with a digicam and audio recorder, throw that content on the web and call it a night.

O'Shea has missed a great opportunity here. From what I'm observing, PMH doesn't seem to care about its future or about truly embracing digital journalism and adapting as the Internet continues to change. Why, oh why, are newspapers grasping at video straws? Video is what NBC does. Audio is what NPR does. Newspapers have, at least in theory, the capability of telling all area stories with lots of details and rich analysis. Why not take that concept and digitize it? Vast databases with sleek UIs. Rich historical timelines and an internally-linked bio file for people mentioned in stories. Inviting participation by users - uploading their video feed to accompany a thoughtful reporter's work.

You want innovation? And I mean real innovation -- not some cobbled-together photo slideshow? Visit the BBC site. Have a look at BuzzTracker, a project developed by a student at Penn. Hell, even the guy behind gahooyoogle is changing the way I perceive and hunger for information.

It's those kinds of folks newspapers should be hiring. Why is this concept so alien to the editors & publishers?



November 16, 2006

Paying for Citizen Journalism

So the BBC announced that it will begin paying for some user-generated content.  The Guardian reports this morning on the company's new policy, which says:

"Material is submitted to the BBC under published terms and conditions. These give us a free, non-exclusive licence to publish on any platform, and the person who took the footage/pictures retains copyright.

"However, on very rare occasions where material is particularly editorially important or unique and depicts something of great significance, we may consider making an appropriate payment.

"In newsgathering, journalists should consult their senior editor, before entering any negotiations on payments; in English regions referral should be made to [heads of regional and local programmes] and through heads of news and current affairs in the nations.

"Audiences should not be encouraged to think that payment is the norm, or in any way encouraged to take risks, put themselves in danger or break any laws in order to secure what they perceive to be material of high monetary value."

"In return for payment we may negotiate an assignment of copyright or exclusive rights - but bear in mind that material other than photographs may be copied and used by other news organisations under 'fair dealing'.

"Bear in mind also that under the standard terms the person sending in material generally retains the copyright, so they are free to give or sell their material to others. They may go on to agree an exclusive deal with another outlet, which would in effect terminate their licence to the BBC, and we would not be able to reuse the image, video or audio. We would not have to delete the archive though."

Appears as though BBC is angling to secure exclusive rights to content in exchange for cash.

This is an interesting proposition for two reasons.  First, it would intimate that the content citizens are able to get on the ground is potentially as good or better than what trained journalists might get in the course of their daily work.  If not, why enforce an exclusivity clause?  

Second, it calls into question the entire idea of what we're calling "citizen journalism."  Paying people for their "reporting" makes them freelancers, no?  And it suddenly gives them a financial incentive.  I get the feeling that many citizen jurnos were originally motivated by a sense of civic duty, to uncover information that the mainstream missed (or wouldn't report on).  To now pay folks for information now would change the impetus -- and in my opinion, the outcome of that kind of news-gathering.

October 22, 2006

Check out the Larry Kane show...

It's all about how the media covers (or doesn't) international news. The show airs tonight (Sunday) at 9:30pm EST on Comcast's CN8 channel. From Larry's site:

In a roundtable debate on the subject on CN 8’s VOICE OF REASON, taped for tonight at 9:30 P.M., the verdict was unanimous: Americans are not getting the information they need to make proper judgments.

Chris Harper, former network and news magazine bureau chief in the Middle East blames declining overseas coverage for the fact that most Americans have limited knowledge of the forces in Iraq that are fighting each other. He calls it a real crisis of information. That view is shared by Robert Thompson, professor of pop culture at Syracuse University, who has strong words about the lack of foreign news events that are often overshadowed by fluff and puff on local news.

Bob Zelnick, former ABC correspondent told me that he finds it ironic that most young Americans are getting their news from Comedy Central when they should be reading more. And Michael Days, Editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, was candid enough to admit that readers are not coming to his paper for overseas coverage and that there are plenty of outlets for it.

Perhaps the voice of the future on this show is MyDigiMedia, editor in chief at Dragonfire, a most unusual and in depth news and information website. Amy thinks that the web with its platform and space will eventually be the premiere news site of the future.

I checked Dragonfire out. If you want depth and a special level of reporting expertise, I highly recommend it.

My view on the overseas coverage debate? If you look had enough you’ll find the information you need, but most Americans don’t have the time. Aside from the cable news networks, the major news organizations of this country are doing little to explain the real nature of our foreign challenges in a time when we need it most — when challenges overseas threaten us at home.

Beyond superficial headline summaries, American newspapers and TV outlets must do more to make things clear.

Amy may be right. In a vacuum of in-depth coverage, the internet may be the place to go for news that counts.

October 09, 2006

"National Tribune" ... Consolidating the Trib Co.

A very compelling essay from Michael Kinsley.

"These days, on the one hand, thanks to the Internet, any newspaper can be a national newspaper. On the other hand, near universal availability of the New York Times print edition makes the traditional role of a regional paper like the Los Angeles Times superfluous.

But now imagine the Tribune chain as a single newspaper with separate editions in each of its cities. Call it the National Tribune. Or the papers could keep their separate identities, but carry a "Tribune" insert or wraparound with national and international news. This paper would start out with towering dominance in two of the nation's top three markets (Los Angeles and Chicago) and a solid position, via Newsday, in the largest (New York). It would even have a toehold in Washington (thanks to the Baltimore Sun). All this, and Orlando too..."

October 07, 2006

More than video...

At the ONA conference in Washington, DC right now... not blogging from it, but I have a general comment to make. The big buzz here is about video -- how quickly can we, journalists, capture the YouTube audience?

Video isn't the complete answer to newspapers. Your core competnency is data and reporting, so why not capitalize on your available assets? Make public documents available via a database with a simple, engaging interface. Utilize interactive environments to tell features. Use audio to bring a voice to stories. Think of ways to tweak what you're already doing - how can you aggregate, automate and publish better?

I wish that editors and publishers were thinking more broadly. Skipping everything else and racing to video is a lazy way of bringing richer interactivity to a newspaper's site.

August 21, 2006

Tune In to Talk of the Nation...

I'm a guest on today's Talk of the Nation (NPR), which begins airing at 2:00 p.m. EST. Please tune in - more information is available on the NPR site.

August 18, 2006

My Digital Diet: A month without print or broadcast media

In June, I embarked upon a Great Experiment: I went on a strict digital diet, spending 30 days without any form of traditional media. I wanted to know which was more important _ the medium (television, newspaper, magazine, radio) or the information itself. I kept a daily journal of my successes, irritations and failures. The story ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday, April 20th.

The Rules:

  • No reading magazines, newspapers, etc.
  • No listening to the radio or watching television. Listening to a broadcast online is OK, as is downloading previously aired television shows.
  • No looking at newspaper stands or boxes.
  • Also, no looking at flyers or copies of print stories.
  • No books, unless they can be read or listened to online.

My story is featred in this Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer. Below, I've listed some of the tools that I used, websites that I visited and a handful of pictures... NOTE: Please read my disclaimer about my use of Apple products.

The Equipment:

  • Fifteen-inch PowerBook G4 (Mac).
  • G5 with 20-inch cinema display (Mac).
  • BlackBerry 7105t.
  • iPod Photo (30 gigabytes of memory).
  • Canary Wi-Fi Digital Hotspotter (to find open wireless networks).
  • DSL connection at home.
  • T-1 connection at the office.


 

I read most of my news using an RSS aggregator called Bloglines. It delivers headlines and summaries throughout the day from the 27 feeds I subscribe to. I'm also able to access all of my feeds on my BlackBerry, which means that I'm able to stay on top of the news 24 hours a day... or as long as my batteries are powered. Here's what my "digital newspaper" looks like:


Even before the experiment, I typically work on multiple projects at once so I toggle between Bloglines, various websites and Word documents I'm using for work:


Because I was relying primarily on digital sources for information, I was always on the watch for useful sites. Here are some that I continue to use today...

Web 2.0 Search Engines:

Search blogs: http://www.blogdigger.com
Search for specific feeds: http://www.feedster.com
Crawl through discussion forums for information without actually visiting each one: http://www.omgili.com
Search Google and Yahoo at the same time: http://www.gahooyoogle.com

Fantastic News Sites:

BBC
washingtonpost.com

How I Watched TV...

First, a word of caution: There are laws against distributing copyrighted material. I'm not advocating that you start burning copies of your favorite television shows to share them with all of your friends on the Internet.

That said, there are plenty of ways to download or stream broadcast content -- some legal, some questionable.

Legal TV: I downloaded copies of The Office from the iTunes store.

Questionable TV: YouTube is an easy site to search for video files. Sites offering downloadable torrents are also good resources for video files. I've used BitTorrent as my client.

A note to Mac users: I would suggest downloading a copy of VLC, a cross-platform media player that will allow you to view files intended for PC-only applications.

 

 

 

August 17, 2006

Macy's Pulls Advertising...

I read in AdAge this morning that Macy's is planning to pull about $425m in newspaper-side advertising. Clearly this stands to affect several papers around the country -- including my local newspapers, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News.

What will be the next frontier of print-side revenue? Product placement? Paid advertorial sections?

My concern is that print is inextricably tied to advertising and commerce. If I was at the helm of a big newspaper or chain, I'd monetize certain reporting projects to create pay-per-use data packages and I'd create new digital products that could be turned into profit centers. There are embedded markets for this in every American city, ones with sports teams, high crime rates, blossoming real estate markets... the information that a reporter might get during the course of his or her daily work might be fed into a database that could become a profit center. Hallwatch is a good bare-bones approach.

The market is in mashups, and I believe there is strong potential at newspapers to get creative.

July 31, 2006

List Institutional Information...Please?

A personal irritation:

I don't understand why more newspapers don't post their institutional information online. We're working on a newspaper project at Dragonfire, and this involves us verifying circulation rates, date of launch and cost per issue. We're survaying a dozen newspapers, and I was only able to get the information I needed on philly.com, believe it or not...

Are publishers trying to hide something??

Journalism Salaries...

A new survey by Inland Press explains that journalism salaries are increasing online, but not on the print-side...

"The position of online editor recorded an 8.1 percent increase in base pay from 2005 to 2006, according to the NICS. The position also posted an 8.8 percent increase in total direct pay, which consists of salary and incentives."

Online Advertising is Dead

I just finished breakfast at Editor & Publisher's EPpy conference. I was sitting with a colleague and a new friend, the GM at a large news organization, and we were talking about revenue streams.

Here's what I said this morning, and what I've been saying for the past year to whoever will listen. Why, oh why, are we still relying on advertising in the news business? Here's an update folks: The online advertising revenue model is fundamentally no different from the 1860's newspaper model we're now lamenting. If news organizations continue to rely on businesses to fund their organizations, we stand at risk to lose -- and lose big -- once the banner ad boom bursts.

Problem #1: Younger audiences are already avoiding banner ads. Ad placement online tends to be uploaded in the same basic places. Above the top navigation. Below the left-hand navigation. At the bottom. A square in the middle of a text article. With increased usage, our eyes are now accustomed to where ads are placed online, and we're entering a period of ad avoidance.

Case in point: I was recently speaking to a group of college students. I asked the standard questions: What are your favorite sites? Where do you get your news? What online brand do you recognize most?

And then I asked how often they click on a banner ad. The response? Every single one of them said that they've never clicked. They don't even notice banner ads anymore. No matter how much blinking, how snazzy the rich media -- we're avoiding the banner ads we see online.

News organizations are struggling to attract online advertisers, because they're doing battle with the print side operation. That might affect the overall revenue stream, since online ads are cheaper. And that could affect the editorial budget, and eventually the paper's circulation.

So let me pose this question to you: Why aren't we in the business of selling information? After all, we are the information brokers. Our core competency is gathering, packaging and distributing news. Why don't we turn the information itself into a revenue stream?

Your newspaper or magazine has compiled a real estate report, I'm sure. Something about property values going up by zip code. Or a report card on the local school system. Or a list of your city's most dangerous intersections. It was our strong desire for news we can use that spawned the CAR (Computer Assisted Reporting) movement five years ago, and access to technology has kept that movement growing today.

Why are we not packaging that data into robust databases that can be searched by users for a price? Real estate agents would subscribe to get access to that reporting. Consultants and parents would pay a small fee for access to information on schools.

Need proof of your ROI? Look at what US News has done with its school rankings. The service is now fee-based, and they're making a mint.

If we were to start shifting away from the standard advertising model to an information-as-commodity model -- and there's much more packaging to be done besides the subscription database idea -- we'd see a brighter future, one less dependent on businesses and their advertising.

It's not hard to do, and if you want to talk more with me about how to get started, give me a shout. But it will require an attitudinal change in how the big guns at corporate media organizations think about revenue streams. It's not hard to get traditional journalists enthused about 360-degree reporting. And training doesn't have to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If we're going to survive, I say this: Chuck the old media advertising model. Banner ads, site passes -- these are just new window dressing.

June 30, 2006

Video Feed - norgs + Media Giraffe Project

I was at a really interesting conference yesterday with my colleagues from Philadelphia. The Media Giraffe Project is currently hosting "Democracy & Independence: Sharing News & Information in a Connected World," the first summit conference of The Media Giraffe Project at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

From the site:

"Traditional and citizen journalists, political strategists, educators, bloggers, developers, technology and media researchers convenedJune 28-July 1, 2006 at University of Massachusetts Amherst for the first Media Giraffe Project conference. The Media Giraffe Project, a non-partisan, interdisplinary research effort of the UMass journalism program, is hosting the roundtable summit and how-to sessions designed to:

1. Consider and recommend answers to changes to the financing and practice of journalism
2. Bridge the gap between new and traditional media
3. Show and consider the impact of new media technologies on journalism and the "public sphere"
4. Spotlight emerging business models
5. Create new networks of media innovators which bridge traditional carriers among journalism, education, politics and technology
6. Watch and share innovations in media-literacy education."

Part of this conference included a virtual panel discussion by norgs, a Philly-based group of journalists, engineers, programmers and bloggers who are trying to envision what Will Bunch originally called a "news organization of the future."

On our panel were: Wendy Warren (Daily News), Paul Socolar (Philadelphia Public School Notebook), Karl Martino (PhillyFuture.org and Comcast), Carl Lavin (Inquirer), Chris Krewson (Allentown Morning Call) and me.

We talked a lot about the fate of Philadelphia's newspapers and about how to implement multimedia strategies in the newsroom. Here's the Quicktime video (click right to download). You'll see the Philly group and our colleagues at the conference.

 

June 21, 2006

Notes for norgs

An asterisk (*) denotes sites/ areas where we’ve spent the most time and done the most research. DISCLOSURE:  I do not have any financial interest in any of the sites or companies listed below.  Dragonfire currently uses the Ingeniux cms.

Before you begin:
I strongly recommend making a laundry list of items that you absolutely want your content management system to accomplish as well as a list of things that you’ll want to do on your site.  Do you want to be able to use Flash in a variety of ways? Do you want to include blogs?  Do you want to have user input automatically display?

Reviews, ways to review cms options, ratings:

  • http://www.cmsmatrix.org
  • http://www.cmsreview.com -- and -- http://www.cmsreview.com/CMSIndex.html#C *
  • http://www.opensourcecms.com  *

Summary:
After doing extensive testing and research, it is my opinion that any newspaper looking for a cms solution invests in a few good programmers and creates their own, in-house system.  I have not found any cms that is designed to meet the publishing demands of a newspaper.

Open Source cms:
If you can create a list of essential tools and functions that you need out of a cms - -and this list needs to be thorough, you can then work with a developer to customize one of the many open source cms options available.  Developers would likely work on a freelance basis, but a better option would be to hire someone outright to have in the newsroom who would both customize and document the open source cms you decide to use.

There are several systems available, and it’s easy enough to work with an existing system, modify it and implement it.  Most of these open source cms require PHP, SQL and XML at a minimum.  However, I have seen cms that are coded in PERL or Python.

Free, Structured Systems
Mambo: *
A lot of people really like Mambo (it’s now called Joomla).  It’s free, more structured than most of the open source systems and there are thousands of pre-made templates.  There’s a WYSIWYG editor, support for CSS and HTML, inclusion of Flash files, popups and more. Assuming that you have a hosting package that can handle (and that you know) PHP and SQL.

We downloaded and played with Mambo, however we ultimately decided that we weren’t going to be able to modify it to meet our needs.

Drupal:
Drupal is a popular cms with lots of great features.  It’s emphasis is on Web 2.0 functions – lots of interactivity and community input.  On the other hand, it isn’t really designed for a robust news organization with lots of content.  Learning curve is steep.  One neat feature:  Drupal allows you to turn dynamic pages back into a static one, and it the cache process is automatic.

Cofax:
There is, of course, Cofax, which was designed and implemented by KR and the PNI.  I don’t have experience specifically with this system…

Pay, Licensed Systems
Expression Engine:
I would not recommend this for a newspaper.

Symphony:
I’ve heard a lot of good things about Symphony.  It uses xslt stylesheets and templates.  It allows you to pull content from Flickr, etc. On the other hand, you have to know how to code xslt stylesheets – not impossible, but cumbersome.

Ingeniux: *
Dragonfire uses Ingeniux.  In many ways it’s a great system – all inputs are in WYSIWYG, allowing any of our editors or writers to easily create static or multimedia pages from a variety of our preset templates.

There are serious limitations, however.  In order to change parts of the site, we must edit our xslt stylesheets.  It’s very difficult to implement blogs, chats, shopping carts and newsletters.  Ingeniux offers these at very high prices, and developer training isn’t included. 

Documentum: *
Formerly Documentum, a new beta with a new name is set to be release by EMC any day now.  Documentum was widely condemned throughout the multimedia and IT communities because it was extremely cumbersome to use.  It was a very difficult system with many bugs.

PHP Cow:
This was released about a year ago.  They offer a free trial, and compared to other systems, it’s not all that expensive.  Obviously, the system is coded in PHP.  We don’t have experience using it at Dragonfire, however it was supposedly designed specifically for newsrooms.

CityDesk:
We looked at this platform but didn’t test it.  One of the features is bringing a Word document right into the cms without weird MS formatting issues, but I never saw that in practice.

June 20, 2006

CMS and the Philadelphia Newspapers

Here's the email that prompted me to go through my cms notes again. On the listserv, we were discussing the future of online operations at the two Philadelphia daily newspapers, now that they have new owners

...I was at CNN in Atlanta over the w/e visiting an executive producer friend. Their entire online operations are in a separate side of the (massive) building, and he didn't know how or where they get their content. So I went downstairs to the online folks -- there were only two people working while I was there -- and they were separate from the CNN and Headline News newsrooms.

I seriously think the problem in our industry is one of attitude, not resources or technology. CNN has more technology than I've ever seen and they have a tremendous amount of cash. You should see one of the new production bays they're building -- that room would literally finance Dragonfire for the next decade. And yet no one seems to know what [the online news people] do. They're the abandoned puppies of the newsroom.

Why, then, are the online folks relegated to a different side of the building? Because the digital people are STILL, after all this time, an afterthought. We all know what the web can do, and most journalists now realize that there is no URL for Web 2.0. We're eager to report on technology and the last people to implement it. I was at a conference (E&P's Interactive Media con) listening to the heads of KR Digital, Disney Digital and NPR tell me about about the wonders of cell phones. I was stringing for a US news outlet in 1997, using my digital phone to buy train tickets and check headlines (in Japan) -- and 10 years later after I wrote about what was then the hot new technology, newsrooms are suddenly eager to adopt it. What gives?!?

In my heart of hearts, I believe that the Inky and DN are prime for a digital revolution. Philadelphia desperately needs databases that we can access...ways to showcase political corruption...crime data...etc. There's a tremendous amount of important investigative work that could be done just for the web. What about this city's foodie population? Sports? Environment? There are personal tragedies happening down the street that are best told combining audio, photos and pdfs. This city has top physicians, chefs, artists...PNI's audience could benefit from access to these people via the web product.

I know there are union issues and that changes happen at a horribly slow pace over there. But with some tweaking to some of the systems you're using, a handful of new staffers and some different equipment, you could reemerge as an exciting digital resource. Yes, it'd cost initially. But PNI could also monetize existing reporting and change the way it's selling online ad space to generate new profit streams. PNI's digital hub wouldn't be isolated -- it'd be very much a part of the newsroom, where coders and jurnos could conceive of projects together.

I completely agree that cranking out the daily paper is a monumental task. On the other hand, there's a lot that can be automated, and many of the current staff can be repurposed there for digital work. If they were excited about all of the possibilities and saw a bigger picture where everyone's a stakeholder, they may be eager to get on board...