Thursday, February 02, 2006

Newspapers in drivetime

Somewhere recently I read a short item in which Robert Siegel said that every time he saw a photo of a long traffic jam on the interstate, he silently gave thanks for conditions that trapped all those people in cars where all they could do was listen to the radio.

What if they could listen to the newspaper, instead?

Particularly from our vantage point here in California, the idea of reaching people during commute time is mighty attractive. All our papers are honing production cycles and tuning distribution systems to get the paper on doorsteps by 5:30 or even 5:00 am. (Watch them closely or they’ll also want to push back deadlines, as if papers with late scores are a real win …)

So what if they could subscribe to a podcast that iTunes automatically downloaded to the home computer sometime overnight? (I already get a couple of newspaper columnist podcasts delivered this way; it's trivially easy). You could then transfer it to an iPod while the coffee brewed and then listen on the drive to work, couldn't you?

It would be great if we could produce a couple of versions – maybe one for a 20-minute drive, and another for a half-hour. I wonder how staff time it would take to produce something like this? Maybe a radio station that doesn't normally do much drivetime news would be interested in partnering, or a college class of some kind ...

Has anybody tried anything like this?

15 comments:

  1. It certainly would have possibilities with mass transit as well. Maybe one-fifth of Metro riders in DC already are listening to SOMETHING -- music mostly but also speeches, radio news, etc.

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  2. We've started several podcast in the last few months, mostly featurey topics that aren't as timely as a straight news summary would be. We've spent some time working on a news summary and have decided to start with sports news, particularly since that's such a big things already for radio drive-time and most of the major commentators in the morning radio slots are columnists for the paper. The idea we're working on is to use the segments both as a podcast and as a special segments that the website will be launching soon under the possible title of Stribstudio, where we'll focus on a two-hour segment each day for special programming. That way it has the propect of being used a couple of different ways in the early going to experiment with various approaches.

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  3. We're working on ideas for a page 2 index and are talking about thinking news podcast as well as newspaper summary. Our biggest challenge is in finding ways to write for broadcast (audio, podcast); it's easier to figure out how to get the podcasts recorded. I've listened to a couple of summaries being done by newspapers, and they're not all that good from a listener's standpoint. There's a very funny one at roanoke.com that's being done as video. I wonder if we should be thinking immediately in terms of video with an audio-only option -- much more of a leap, but also more where we're headed.

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  4. As Anders mentioned, we have launched a few podcasts, the most recent being a daily Olympics cast from Jay Weiner, who is in Turin (http://www.startribune.com/style/metafiles/podcasts/olympics/daily_jay.xml). Unfortunately, while Jay is off to a great start, few of his colleagues in the newsroom can hear his contributions -- most editors and reporters and photographers at the Star Tribune cannot download mp3's because of a directive from IT. We're working on changing that. Are folks at other McClatchy papers facing similar issues?

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  5. Here in Modesto, I've done podcast recordings of a couple of recent columns I wrote. And for Christmas weekend, we had a reporter record Clement Moore's "Visit from St. Nicholas" and a few of us did a recording of the nativity story from the Gospel of Luke. Those were our first attempts at podcasting.

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  6. Now that I've figured this posting business out, let me add:

    Melanie's right, that what's written in newspaper style doesn't always make for scintillating listening. I did a fair amount of writing for the broadcast wires and have some broadcast writing tips stashed in files somewhere at home. If anyone would like me to share, I'll dig 'em up.

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  7. Will -- I haven't heard the Oly podcast yet because users here in the corporate office can't access mp3 files, either. I was supposed to get unblocked, but it hasn't happened yet. Not enough clout with IT, I guess.

    BTW, I subscribed on iTunes and it listed the Daily Jay okay but won't download it. I can usually get iTunes podcasts (for instance, BeatNonStop, Sacramento's pop music podcast) but not this one. maybe it's the same mp3 issue ...

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  8. Howard: That probably is the same issue. The Daily Jay is downloading okay, from all we've heard. But if anybody encounters any problems with it via iTunes or any other reader, please holler.

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  9. The point made by Dan and Melanie is pretty critical: We don't have the right content. If you look around at the 'casts that are working, they are almost exclusively shows of one sort or another. They are conversational, if those that are a single person's voice. How many of the stories appearing in our papers each day are conversational? That said, I don't think it would be difficult to take the content of any of our sites or papers and make it more conversational and broadcast-friendly. But it takes focus and the attention of somebody who can write copy that will work in the 'cast format.

    One thought: Is there a reason this can't be a single resource for everyone? Have a central 'casting copywriter who writes the off-the-news podcasts for everybody and a single 'voice' who reads those casts? Sure, podcasts that feature and build off the personalities at our various papers must be locally planned and produced and programmed, but the news 'casts -- even when they focus on local news -- need not.

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  10. If I do a wine-related podcast for commuters, would that count as drinking and driving?

    Just kidding.

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  11. Will, to close the loop: I downloded The Daily Jay at hometonightand of course it worked fine.

    \-\/\/

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  12. Has anyone given thought to hiring someone with solid radio experience? The local news radio anchor in Merced (he's a one-man news division at an ultracheap group of stations) is a real gem -- witty, intelligent, great voice. They pay him an absolute pittance, and I have an open position for online content editor. I just may give him a call ...

    We've just begun our audio journey. Last week we added sound files of a recent interview with the district attorney to accompany a big story, and for days they clocked in the top five most clicked items on the site. It was a first for us.

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  13. Joe -- At the Anchorage Daily News, we used to think of the Alaska Public Radio Network as a secret source of great reporters. Three or four top reporters at the paper started in radio. We weren't doing audio in those days, of course, but I simply found that good radio reporters often make good newspaper reporters -- much, much more likely than TV reporters.

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  14. We have one editor with radio experience (cam from Minnesota Public Radio) and one with solid TV experience. But neither were 'talent.' Both bring distinctly different approach to storytelling and news focus. It's often the interplay between their approaches and those of the print-trained folks that result in the most intersting stuff.

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