Posted on July 25th, 2008 No comments
My post on PBS Idea Lab this week is titled, It’s Time for a Revenue Revolution. It puts the upcoming Printcasting advertising tools in a context that hopefully everyone can relate to: how can we help local record and book stores more effectively reach local customers, hold their own with online competitors and Wal-Mart, and stay in business?
Thinking back to my journalism school days, I remember professors telling me that I should try to block advertising sales and business development out of my mind because it would taint my reporting.
But here’s what they missed. Local businesses are just as much a part of your community as the consumers who live there, and in fact business owners are often some of the most active, participating members of any community. It’s possible to serve the interests of the community, and also the interests of local business, and harness that to pay for services that help the entire community.
As newsrooms lay off reporters because the advertising side could no longer bring in enough to pay the bills, everyone at every level of a news organization has an obligation to think about how to fund the great work they do. If you continue to assume that someone else is going to step in and solve this problem, you may find yourself with a pink slip instead of a savior. Now is the time — and for some, the last opportunity — to make your ideas heard. Trust me: it won’t soil your hands, it won’t influence your reporting, and it may even be fun.
As far as I’m aware, Printcasting is one of only three Knight News Challenge projects that has any sort of revenue / sustainability plan at all. The other two are David Cohn’s Spot Us, and Richard Anderson’s Village Soup. I don’t say that to toot our collective horns, but rather to encourage more people to incorporate revenue into their plans for the next Knight News Challenge round.
Speaking of which, if you have such an idea you can use the new News Challenge Garage to start fleshing it out with the help of others who can tell you how to make it better — including all 26 existing news challenge winners (which means also me!) By the time the News Challenge officially opens on September 2, you’ll have a better proposal that will stand out against the thousands of others that didn’t benefit from such advice.
Posted on July 11th, 2008 No comments
Last night I went to Andrew Hyde’s Startup Drinks, an informal gathering of people who work at startups, or are interested in startups or the startup culture, in the Boulder, Colorado area.
While talking to a fellow innovator there about something I’d posted in my Twitter feed, he surprised me.
“Oh, was that you? I saw that.”
Really, I asked? At first I assumed he was following me in Twitter, which of course made me feel cool. But alas, it turned out that wasn’t the case. I delved further and learned that he found me through a Twitter Local search.
There are dozens of sites that now let you search for conversations that are happening in Twitter near you. The social geek I was chatting with bookmarks one of these local searches for Boulder and regularly follows what people are saying. I have to say that this is one of the most interesting things I’ve seen around community aggregation in a long time, and the possibilities for how it could be used are endless.
One easy way to do this is with Summize, a search engine that indexes conversations in Twitter (and which Twitter is rumored to possibly buy, too). To localize it, all you do is type the word “near:” followed by a city name or zip code. For example, I enter “near:80020″ for areas around Broomfield, Colorado where I live.
You might be tempted to say, “So what? I use local message boards like that. This is nothing new.” But you start to see how new and powerful this is when you use a Twitter local search to research a local problem that a lot of other local people are having.
Today I think we saw this on a global level with the iPhone 3G release. Like people all over the world, I shelled out a few hundred bucks for an upgraded iPhone only to find out that Apple’s iTunes servers had crashed due to too many people trying to activate their phones. I wanted to know if I was the only one experiencing this, so I typed “iphone near:80020″ in Summize and got a list of geographically targeted conversations from people near me who were having the same problem. (If you click that link now, you’ll see posts from happy iPhone owners who were finally able to complete activation and are now surfing the web at high speeds from their handhelds).
A more practical, meaningful example might be a local disaster such as a flood or tornado. The next time we get a tornado warning in my area, I’m typing “tornado near:80020″ into Summize to see what comes up. And when the Democratic National Convention is happening in Denver, you can see what local Denverites think about Obama’s acceptance speech at Invesco Field by typing in “obama near:Denver”.
But Summize doesn’t stop there. Just as it pulls content from Twitter, it makes it easy for you to put its content elsewhere using search RSS feeds. I can think of several uses for local conversation RSS feeds for news organizations, but one is creating locally aggregated topical searches and embedding them throughout a news site. And this can be a lot easier than you may think.
For our Printcasting project, I’ve already been experimenting with Drupal, which has some very nice built-in feed aggregation features. Today, in about 10 minutes, I was able to feed local Summize results for my area of conversations about Barack Obama, John McCain and the iPhone. They update every 15 minutes, so if you go back a little later you should see new conversations about those topics that get pulled in from Summize. Then, I’m able to feed all three of them into a Conversations category container.
Remember: I’m not a programmer, and I was able to do this. So if you’re one of those people who learns enough just to be dangerous, trust me, you can do this too. If you don’t want to mess around with Drupal, you can do something similar with RSS feeds in Ning, which is free and easier to use for novices.
Tools like Twitter and Summize that make it easy to aggregate local conversations are something every newsroom should be making use of. As I’ve said before, journalism is not work that is done for its own sake, but because it has relevance to a community — and most often that means a local community. Or as Steve Yelvington says, building community should be job #1 for newspapers.
I also believe that the business of local news organizations is fundamentally about connecting local people with shared interests and goals to each other, and then connecting businesses to those targeted audiences that community exposes. Not every newspaper is able to create a rich social networking experience like we have in Bakersfield, but they can tap into existing social tools like Summize. I think there’s a case to be made for an “editor” devoted to nothing but finding the best current local conversations searches.
What local conversation search tools do you use? Post a comment and let me and others know.
Posted on July 8th, 2008 No comments
In response to my Media Shift IdeaLab post about Brian’s insightful comparison of Printcasting to Moo Cards, he’s expanded on the idea. Printcasting, he says, is like the custom El Camino, with each one looking a little different. The vanilla newspaper is more like a beige Toyota Camry.
I like this analogy because the truth is that everyone has an opinion about the car they drive. Some people really love Camrys, while others won’t be caught dead outside of a gas-electric hybrid. Still others require a little extra fender here, a little more chrome there. It’s like the “Dude, Where’s My Car?” media model. I want my car, not yours.
The analogy I often use to describe the Californian’s admittedly strange local media model is built around boats rather than cars. Think of every daily newspaper as a big, beautiful cruise ship cutting through the deep blue sea. The people on that ship have been floating out there for decades, content with whatever the chefs have on the menu and the 5 activity choices the captain has chosen for them for that evening. Some are fine with that, but others want more.
One day as the cruise ship is approaching an island, someone spots something different. A group of fun-loving natives comes out in hundreds of little boats to greet them. The native on one boat is selling fruit and tie-dye clothing. Another is a music boat, with the pilot strumming a totally new kind of instrument nobody has ever seen before. And still another offers rides in his little boat for a few U.S. dollars.
That night at dinner, the captain realizes that 10% of the cruise population is missing. No problem, it turns out they’re out having fun with the natives on the little boats. The next day, that number increases to 20%. And the next, 40%. What’s happening? Is it the end of the world!
To the captain and his cruise ship, maybe it is the end. He can choose to stay out there in the same old ship operating the same old type cruise in the same old way. Eventually he will have no more customers and he’ll need to shut down his business. But there is another way.
He can start throwing out some life rafts so his customers can more easily float around in the little boat world they prefer. Instead of being in the cruise ship business, the captain may discover he’s in the flotilla business. Some people may move between boats in the flotilla and the cruise ship, and some may choose to float in the same little boat forever. And yes, some will never leave the comfort and convenience of the cruise ship.
But one thing is clear. If newspapers are going to have a long, bright future, we need to operate more like the flotilla and less like The Love Boat.
Posted on July 7th, 2008 No comments
At a time when everyone is doubling down to find new ways to engage audiences and grow revenues, it’s good to remember that some of the biggest innovations in history were either accidents, or discovered while working on something completely different.
Robert Austin, Lee Devin and Erin Sullivan of The Wall Street Journal interviewed innovators in fields from manufacturing and fine art and came up with these recommendations for how to encourage accidents that may lead to future innovations. Their prescription includes periodically mixing things up between seemingly unrelated projects, making experimentation (and resulting accidents) cheaper, and my favorite, encouraging people to collect what appears to be random junk if they find it interesting.
If something interests you, they say, squirrel it away into your messy filing cabinet of random ideas and periodically stumble through it. You never know when it may pop into your mind at the right moment, and even change the world. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Edward Jenner, who remembered a milkmaid telling him that she would never get smallpox because she had cowpox. That simple idea lead him to discover a vaccine for smallpox.
Posted on July 4th, 2008 No comments
Steve Outing’s recent E&P column about how to take hyper-local journalism and citizen journalism to the next level, and the criticism and responses to it, got me thinking. I don’t exactly agree with what he’s saying, but I don’t completely disagree with it either.
That’s fine, though. The key word there is “I,” and I think it demonstrates that he and most traditional media people may be missing the bigger point. Unless you’re a celebrity, the world as a whole no longer cares what you individually think. The future of media is all about giving a little bit to everyone, and the future of media business is all about advertising across those interests.
I found one comment of his about typical citizen journalism content particular telling. He wrote, “I can’t begin to describe how dull this collection of content is to me.”
Here’s the thing. For everyone who hates one piece of content, someone else loves it. He happens to hate what he reads in YourHub, but he also probably doesn’t share much in common with the people who love it.
I can tell you for certain that the regular readers and participants of YourHub, The Northwest Voice and Bakotopia really connect with those brands, and some of them also HATE the daily newspaper. Everyone is an individual.
I’ve sure learned that lesson lately with my YouTube video Dog Eats Iguana. Many of the 1,100 or so people who’ve found it are big fans of iguanas, and boy have they told me what they think of that dog (and also me for not saving the iguana). But what about the people who like dogs and hate lizards, or those who know that non-indigenous iguanas are out of control on Puerto Rico? It doesn’t bother them one bit.
One of the biggest problems with editorial oversight is that we can use it to fool ourselves into believing that we know what everyone else will be interested in. It’s the lure of the ivory tower. Everyone wants to be at the top and have everyone below agree with everything they say. The truth is that for any editorial decision you make, only a small subset of people will agree with your choices. You can choose to call your view “quality” and theirs “amateur,” but I choose to call both niches.
The problem is that it’s very difficult to build a business out of just a few niches. That’s not the fault of “citizen journalism,” but a significant problem that can be solved. I personally choose to focus more on that, rather than trying to “train” regular people to look more like we traditional journalists.
Let me be totally clear about where I stand on this issue of training. We will never succeed in getting normal people to write and report like trained journalists, and we shouldn’t try or attempt to pass value judgments on them for not being like us. There may very well be a reason that they’re contributing their own stories and online content. Maybe some of them don’t like what we’re producing, or they think they could do a better job. That’s fine, because they now have a voice that until recently they completely lacked. It’s a new world.
I think a compelling argument could be made that for the past couple centuries, newspapers have succeeded in convincing everyone that there’s one “right” way to share news simply because we were the only ones who could. That’s no longer the case, but you couldn’t tell by how we act. In reality we’re masters at serving one large but shrinking niche interest: people who like traditionally-produced news. The world of media is so much bigger than us now, it’s not even funny.
So if the new media world is all about serving many small audiences, where does that leave us? We need to rethink everything. A successful niche strategy requires many, many niches, so we should be trying to figure out how to position ourselves to manage the ultimate local niche network. Let’s let thousands of local enthusiasts build their little ivory towers surrounded by a few hundred people and see what happens.
As long as we power the network and can advertise across it — which I find more interesting and possibly easier than trying to break down one newspaper audience into multiple interests — who cares about what I, or you, or Steve Outing thinks about the quality of the content? If it appeals to the people who are part of each niche, that’s what’s important. (And that’s what advertisers will care most about too, by the way).
Don’t think this is possible? Check out Ning.com, the social-networking-creator tool championed by Netscape founder Marc Andreessen. It powers 230,000 networks and is growing at 1,000 new networks each day, and is now valued at 1/2 billion dollars. This shows that it’s possible to make this happen, but it requires completely different assumptions and thought processes.
In my view, local media organizations’ biggest challenge is how to do what Ning has done at a local level, and also leverage the unique knowledge and assets we have for “terrestrial” distribution of content (in other words, print). Our challenge is all about either embracing fragmentation, or being consumed by it.
Posted on July 2nd, 2008 No comments
I’m fascinated with the latest move of The Record in Hackensack, New Jersey.
Faced with falling print revenues (especially in Classifieds) and a poor economy, it needed to cut costs. Rather than lay off a few more reporters like most newspapers do these days, they’re moving reporters out of their current offices and getting them into the field as mobile journalists. Read more in this Editor and Publisher story.
When reporters and editors need to be in an office together, they’ll call ahead to reserve space at a new, smaller location — a growing trend in business called hoteling. The paper expects to save $2.4 million a year on electricity, cleaning crews and building maintenance, with more to come when they sell the land.
Why do I like this idea? Well first, I’m obviously not happy that newspapers need to resort to such measures, but it makes more sense than cutting further into the reporting base that creates demand for a newspaper in the first place. It’s a good example of taking a bad situation and turning it into a positive.
I also think it makes a ton of sense from a strategic perspective. Of course you want your journalists out of the office and in the communities they serve. Thanks to nearly ubiquitous cellular coverage, quality mobile broadband services and wifi, it’s now possible for an employee to work from anywhere. I think news organizations should be doing more to mobilize their employees in general, regardless of cost savings.
Trust me, I know what I’m talking about, as I just spent my entire workday yesterday at a place called The Cup in Boulder, Colorado, surrounded by lots of MacBook Pro-toting entrepreneurs. I got a lot done, and so did they. Compared to four years ago when I felt strange pulling out my laptop at a coffee shop, today you almost stand out if you don’t have a laptop.
As a remote employee who has worked out of a basement office for over four years, I find that it’s sometimes helpful to trick my senses into thinking I’m in an office by working from a wifi coffee shop. It’s actually more efficient than an office though because I don’t know any of the people sitting around me. There’s no temptation to waste time shooting the breeze. We all sit there hunched over our laptops typing away, with an occasional sip of coffee. We still spend a lot of time communicating with colleagues through instant messages, e-mail and phone calls, but most of those interactions are focused on work.
I know this probably sounds like a scene out of the movie Brazil. It’s weird and different, but it works. And for you managers out there, I can tell you that we work-from-homers are also a lot happier than office workers. We have an extra 40-60 minutes each day thanks to no commute, we’re more protected from the sting of $4/gallon gas, and we work on our own terms. And while you will very likely not believe this, most of us are also more productive thanks to fewer distractions.