Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sac Bee ombudsman

In response to an earlier post about the AJR column, "Anonymous" suggests posting a link to last week's column by the Sac Bee public editor. It was on Romenesko earlier, but is also available here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

John Leo "On Good Writing"

John Leo has written stories, columns and essays for a variety of national publications, including Time, the New York Times and U.S. News & World Report. In "On Good Writing," a speech to Ursinus College, he spelled out much of what he's learned about how to put words together with grace and elegance. Here's a taste:

When I started my column in U.S. News & World Report 18 years ago, I decided I would write in a conversational style. This meant I would never use words such as “nonetheless,” “moreover,” “albeit” and “to be sure,” because they are in nobody’s speaking vocabulary. It also meant that I wrote as though I were addressing each reader personally, talking about something that interested us both. My model here, believe it or not, was John Madden, the football announcer. Madden is the most famous TV football analyst, not because he knows the most, though he may, but because he sounds like a friend on the next barstool watching the game and sharing his thoughts with you.

After a month or so, I realized that readers of columns don’t just follow the words. They listen to the background music too. Readers want to know who you are. Is the writer consistent and fair? Does his take on the world relate to me? Is he humorless or playful? Do I want to spend time with him? Is he in the pocket of some cause or political party?

Lenny Bruce Is Not Afraid

Those of you who have heard my "Born Fighting: Music for news warriors" playlist should enjoy this cartoon that takes off on REM's It's the End of the World As We Know It. (Click to enlarge Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis, Sunday, May 27.)

Resistance is futile ...

David Weinberger makes the argument in this Harvard Business Review commentary that aggregation not only adds value to information, but probably also represents an unstoppable trend in the information world. I agree.

Adding value to information is what we do, and learning to do so better and more effectively is where our future success will be located. If you're not engaged in learning to aggregate on your websites – local news, local blog traffic, opinions, reader photo albums – you're missing a big bet.

A taste:

In the long run, resistance to aggregators is futile. Somewhere, undoubtedly, a couple of kids are sitting in a dorm room figuring out how to aggregate and disseminate your firm’s data. Executives should therefore make sure that aggregation works to the advantage of their company, their customers, and the firm’s other stakeholders.

Postcript: Weinberger's new bookEverything Is Miscellaneous – makes sense out of the changes that come to infomration management in a networked, digital world. You can have a look at the prologue and first chapter free online at this site.

Charting content changes

Although quite snarky, this analysis of changes at the Minneapolis Star Tribune is certainly interesting, and perhaps even a bit illuminating. Minnesota Monthly magazine compared five front pages from the same dates a decade apart:

Average number of teasers (e.g., “Are you sofa savvy? See page C12”) per day
Then: 5
Now: 9.2

Average amount of copy above the fold
Then: 9.2 paragraphs
Now: 5.8 paragraphs

Number of headlines phrased as a question (“Do you YouTube?”)
Then: 2
Now: 15

Total number of national stories:
Then: 17
Now: 6

Total number of shopping/consumer-related stories
Then: 1
Now: 10
(Mini Cooper, Apple TV, Spanx anyone?)

Total references to dogs or children
Then: 0
Now: 11

Total references to death or violence
Then: 5
Now: 10
(number related to the war in Iraq: 0)

Biggest story
Then: Mass suicide of 39 California cult members
Now: Dog attack in Minneapolis

Number of days a photo obscures the newspaper’s name
Then: 0
Now: 4 out of 5

Percentage of those photos that are of dogs, babies, celebrities, or models:

Number of photos featuring attractive young women
Then: 0
Now: 6

Number of photos of dangerous men
Then: 2
(O.J. Simpson, James Earl Ray)
Now: 2
(President Bush, Darth Vader)

Uses of the word “you” or “your” (referring to readers)
Then: 0
Now: 9

Uses of the phrase “sexy and confident at Mystic Lake”
Then: 0
Now: 1
(in reference to singer Taylor Hicks)

Global-warming index
Then: High
temperature: 55
Now: High
temperature: 75

Then: 50 cents
Now: 50 cents

Monday, May 28, 2007

Building digital journalists

Here's a great idea: a one-year masters in journalism program at Medill that helps prepare people to work in the intersection of news and digital networks.

Are you a skilled programmer or Web developer? Are you interested in applying your talents to the challenge of creating a better-informed society? Do you want to learn how to find, analyze and present socially relevant information that engages media audiences? Do you see possibilities for applying technology as a way to connect people and information on the Web or new delivery platforms?

If your answers are "yes," consider coming to Medill for a master's degree in journalism. You can earn your degree in just a year. You will learn new skills that will open doors to new opportunities that might help build a better democracy. And a new program at Medill offers you a chance to win a fully funded scholarship.

What does that all mean? See the cartoon in thepost below this one.

Information available here, from Medill.

Adrian Holovarty

If you find this as funny as I do, you've probably been spending too much time online (from Journalistopia):

RX: Responsive. Nimble. Sexy.

Observations, lessons and insights gleaned from a fabulous Sunday Business section in yesterday's New York Times:

To the list of dominant, all-American icons under seige – Detroit automakers, newspaper publishers – add another unthinkable entry: Coca-Cola.

The world changed. Coke didn't. Coke got hammered.

Oh, it's still a successful business with an iconic brand. It still makes money. Looking at the global market, there's still some growth. (Where have you heard all that before?)

But young people aren't forming the cola habit the way they once did. More nimble rivals spotted emerging consumer trends first and moved faster.

Taken as a whole, soda sales still handily outweigh all other beverage categories combined, but the trend lines are ominous for a “sparkling beverage”-dependent company like Coke ... a survey last year [found] that teenagers, who used to be among the biggest consumers of soda, increasingly prefer other beverages.

“If you lost that generation, as they age they aren’t suddenly going to start drinking carbonated soft drinks,” says [an analyst]. “That’s the importance of Coke closing the non-carb gap.”

Yet that insight has hardly been a secret. Coke and Pepsi executives have talked about the importance of noncarbonated beverages since the early 1990s and have rolled out all sorts of new products to attract cola-weary customers. But in that effort, Coke has seemed to always be a step behind.

“The difference was, Pepsi meant it and Coke didn’t,” said Emanuel Goldman, the veteran beverage analyst who retired from ING Barings in San Francisco and now works as a consultant. “Coke really didn’t mean it when they said they were an all-beverage company.”
[Emphasis added.]

The Times' long, insightful story by Andrew Martin also contains some suggestions about what went wrong, and what it might take to change things:

So how did Coke lose its magic? Macroeconomic factors played a role. So did a raft of bad publicity over issues of obesity, racial discrimination and food poisoning. But internal issues were also in play. Mr. Isdell surveyed his top executives about the problem when he took charge, and arrogance, he says, was a common answer. Complacency was another. [My emphasis].

I also found intriguing insights in two other stories in Sunday Business. One was Ben Stein's column, The Dream That Was Once Detroit. Here are a couple of graphs I underlined. (It's not hard to connect the dots from the Coke story and Stein's column when you're thinking about the newspaper business today.)

The legacy costs [that burden U.S. automakers] may mean a slight premium in the price of a Detroit-made car as compared with a Japanese or German car. But think about it: when was the last time you heard a buyer of a new car say that she bought her last car because it was 5 percent cheaper than another model she was considering?

I am sure some economists say that somewhere, but what I hear is that buyers choose a car because it looks better or handles better or seems to be better made or — in the case of us insecure men — goes faster. Fit and finish. Reputation for being well-made. Quality of the “feel” when you’re behind the wheel. Sexy good looks. That’s how cars are sold.

And there's a prescription in Ben's column, too:

American cars used to rule the world. The Cars of the Fabulous ’50s (there is a book with that name; look at it and be amazed at what Detroit used to make) and the early 1960s were gorgeous, powerful, lush. You had the feeling you were a commodore of the proudest highway fleet in history ... You didn’t need a Mercedes. The American product, Detroit iron, was the stuff of which dreams were made.

“Ye shall be as gods.” That’s what Detroit told us. “Ye shall be as gods.” And Detroit was Parnassus.

Then it all fell apart. Starting in the late 1960s (except for the Corvette, always the design leader in North America), American cars became shapeless blobs ... look at the style, feel the feel of the Nissan Altima or the Toyota Camry (often designed and made in America) compared with most of the Big Three’s offerings, and the comparison is pathetic ...

In other words, the problem is not the U.A.W. The problem is not so much legacy costs. The problem is that management stopped making cars that Americans wanted to buy and drive.

Finally, still one more gem from Sunday Business. (Newspapers may be dying, but, damn, the good ones are sure interesting). This one is from Randall Stross' column on why Apple rules the retail world for electronics.

Apple stores extend an “emotional connection” to their customers that Sony’s do not, Mr. Ander said. The absence of such a connection, he said, was a common failing of manufacturers who venture into retail on their own ...

Wendy Liebman, the founder of WSL Strategic Retail in New York, was equally critical of the Sony Style store, which she faulted as being merely “a place of stuff.” She said that a successful brand excites a passionate attachment, the way Starbucks or Target do, and that Apple’s stores exemplify “emotional connection.”

“People can just walk in, absorb the fumes and feel like the smartest technophile in the world,” she said. Let’s add that there is only one place to buy computers that features Geniuses at all times.

Responsive. Nimble. Emotionally connected. Sexy good looks.

See? What's so hard about that?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Let a blog be your ombuddy

Deb Howell reports on a number of interesting observations encountered at the Organization of Newspaper Ombudsmen (ONO) convention at Nieman HQ in Cambridge. It's worth reading just for the link to the keynote address, a long, rather elegant oration by Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian.

She also raises and then suspends this question: Should ombudsmen blog?

Jeff Jarvis says yes, of course they should. Deb says, "Maybe."

I'll help her resolve this one: he's right, you should.

And the ombuddy blog ought to be a genuine forum, where readers have as much standing to raise topics and issue opinions as anybody else. Newspapers employ ombudsmen not because they are smart, authoritative judges of journalism practice (though many, of course, are) but because we know the news process needs to be opened up.

We seek transparency because it helps build credibility and improves our standing amongst readers. An ombudsman – as an independent third party – can enhance that. And so can a genuinely open public blog, inviting and enabling broad particiation.

Deb reports drawing a laugh when she protested not having time. "I hardly have time to go to the bathroom. Start a blog?"

But honestly, how can speaking to thousands of interested readers in a forum specifically crafted to engage them be an optional exercise? Isn't that really the foundation of the whole job?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Announcing changes at the New York Times

According to this post on Gawker, NYT editor Bill Keller called the troops together for a surprising briefing late this week, spelling out how the paper is moving steadily online: assigning more copy editors to day shifts to feed the web, expecting editors to understand how their sections played on the web, telling them "we cannot insist on the same control we exercise over print."

Taken at face value, it signals a huge shift in attitude at what we once knew as the Gray Lady of the press. ""We can't let our reverence for quality become a straitjacket in new media," Keller is quoted as saying. "The web environment is different..."

A footnote: this seems significant to me, so why can't I find anything about it anywhere but Gawker? (Thanks to Publishing 2.0 for the pointer).

Here's another sample in Gawkerspeak:

[Keller] also spoke about the "gradual reallocation of resources from print towards digital" and copy editors being moved to the day side, so that there could be a "greater flow of fresh quality edit material." We imagine a chill swept quickly over the room! Then he brought up two of the Times' stars: Sewell Chan, who has become a "full-time, online Metro journalist"; and the comely Ariel Kaminer, who—assuming we heard this correctly—is becoming a "cultural impresario." Snarf.

AJR on McClatchy's bureaus

Is it immodest to link to a column that quotes yourself? Well, I can't resist, because the sentiment expressed here in support of the work and focus of our foreign correspondents is just too good to pass up.

Here's a taste from Rem Rieder in American Journalism Review online:

"Global news is local news nowadays," Howard Weaver, the company's vice president for news, wrote in an e-mail to AJR. "There's never been a time in our history when world events had greater impact on Americans--terrorism, security and war in Iraq, obviously, but also immigration, job outsourcing, international trade, African genocide and the possibility of pandemic flu or other global diseases. Does this seem like the right time to cut back?"

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Afternoon delight?

(click to enlarge)

I wonder what this means.

I often find myself reading newspapers in the evening, which is probably unsurprising given the amount of newspaper reading I do. Partly because I have more time, I often find that time feels more like relaxation than "information inputs."

Clearly, there's quite an appetite for reading after noon. The top graph is from a December 2005 Scarborough data from NAA and the chart is taken from a 2002 Readership Institute Impact Study with 37,000+ responses. (Columns on the chart from left are Total, Men, Women, <23, 23-34, 35-54, 55-59, 60+, Heavy Readers, Light Readers. It was a PDF and hard to sample.)

All these results, of course, are based on the habits of people who, overwhelemingly, are reading papers designed for morning reading, often focused on things like overnight sports scores, evening meetings and other "yesterday" events that may well have been well communicated online or elsewhere before the paper gets read.

Powerful, first-hand accounts

Capt. Jeff Leonard is a counselor with an Army infrantry unit in Iraq, a regular blogger for the Fresno Bee and our national site in DC. If you're not reading his posts, you're missing a powerful, first-hand account of the war told in very human terms:

"No, sir, I don't really sleep. Well, maybe an hour or two, then I get up. I don't want to dream," the soldier said to us. His name was Staff Sgt. Johnson. He was a good soldier, and you could tell when you spoke to him. He was a man of honor. He was ashamed to be speaking with us, but his leaders had insisted. He had served three combat tours as a squad leader in a line unit. His body and his hands shook during pauses in his speaking and he stared at us, and sometimes past us, with a wide-eyed look of hyper alertness. He had just returned from leave and two guys in his squad were killed days before his return.

Our EPpy winners

Congratulations to the McClatchy EPpy award winners for outstanding online journalism in their weight classes. Scanning quickly, I don't think any company got more:

Tacoma News Tribune, best media sports blog (Seahawks Insider)

Miami Herald, best special feature/news or event (House of Lies) – which was a tie with The Star Tribune (A People Torn)

Sacramento Bee, best special feature/enterprise (The Weight)

Congrats, too, to our other finalists: (best media entertainment blog) and El Nuevo Herald (best Spanish language newspaper site).
Full results are online here at E&P.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

NYT slideshow

Highly recommended: the narrated slideshow produced by NYT photographer Michael Kamber chronicling an attack that killed one and wounded several members of the 10th Mountain Division combat team he was accompanying.

We have such great storytelling tools nowadays. (Thanks to Journalistopia for the pointer).

Freedom to map

Dan Gillmor reports:

The California First Amendment Coalition has won a crucial lower-court ruling that Santa Clara County must provide — at cost — its geographic “base map” of real estate boundaries in the county. The county had been saying it would charge tens of thousands of dollars for information collected on behalf of residents, using taxpayer money.

Maps are turning into an essential element of citizen media, via a variety of techniques including mashups. Traditional geographic information systems (GIS) like the Santa Clara County data are being combined with other data to produce new kinds of information.

If you've spent time with Fresno's real-time crime map or other innovative mapping-as-journalism projects, you'll quickly recognize why this matters. Access to the basic data that concerns your audience is an essential, fundamental component of the new media platform.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Quality vs. glitter

Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 discovers an intriguing nexus of issues and ideas, contrasting the revenue woes of traditional journalism with the worries of online publishers who create sites only to attract Google AdSense dollars. It's a longish post well worth reading for several reasons.

The main take-away, for me, is confirmation of the observation we made here some time ago: It's not raining on us; it's just raining. The creative destruction unleashed in a digital, networked world falls on everybody. Some get hit sooner, some get hit harder, some prosper for a while and then wilt in a subsequent phase. It's all about change and adaptability; it's about evolution.

Here's one sample from Scott's ruminations:

Even more interesting is the net effect on content — a regression to the mean of content quality. Neither hacked together crappy content, on the one extreme, nor Pulitzer Prize journalism, on the other, can any longer thrive in a Google-driven content ecosystem.

Why? Because most people don’t find either to be sufficiently valuable. Not valuing Made For AdSense content isn’t difficult to fathom. As for investigative journalism, etc., it’s not that people didn’t value it when it came packaged with the newspaper. It’s just that most people don’t search for it (and search drives the web), and there isn’t a market for running ads next to it.

This doesn’t mean that investigative journalism will cease to exist or that clever online publishers won’t find ways to make money from online advertising without investing in content. It’s just that the economics of both have shifted to the middle — at least for now.

I mentioned on his blog that I think this analysis misses one significant exception: powerful as it is, AdSense isn't everything. While the revenue dynamics of AdSense-type advertising may well serve to push content toward the middle of the quality/glitter spectrum, it's not the only revenue model available.

Thankfully, banner advertising (we call it "display" in newspapers) continues to work well for many purposes like reputation building, branding and new product introductions. A new study from the Journal of Consumer Research, summarized in an article here, makes that very encouraging point very plainly.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Get used to the criticism

Guardian (UK) editor Alan Rusbridger at the Organization of Newspaper Ombudsmen convention (as liveblogged by Jeff Jarvis here) talks broadly about the changing relationship between professional journalism and audiences. A taste:

In discussion, Alan is asked by Michael Getler, now of PBS and formerly of the Washington Post, about the pressure that the flood of comments puts on reporters. Alan says that reporters will have to get used to it; it is all out there anyway and they can come in in the morning and check Technorati for what is being said about their work. “Reporters are just going to have to grow up and like big boys and girls take it on the chin.”

Whither the interview?

Jay Rosen reproduces and comments on a Howie Kurtz' column exploring claims that the traditional interview is outmoded. Growing numbers (especially from the blogosphere) argue that an email interview is better because both sides have a full record and reporters can't distort things as easily. Rosen offers what seems to me a nuanced view.

Start one this week

As Howard Owens points out, if you don't start aggregating a round-up of local blog commentary, somebody else – probably a television station – will.

Here's ipsosacto, the home-brewed version that the Sacramento Bee's John Hughes built more or less on his own. He could tell you how. The Anchorage Daily News takes a different tack, incorporating blog info into the Alaska Newsreader along with mainstream journalism.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Jeff Jarvis at ONO

The apparently ubiquitous Jeff Jarvis is on the road again, this time headed for Cambridge and the annual convention of ONO -- the well-named Organization of News Ombudsmen.

Jeff posts notes at Buzzmachine about what he's thinking of saying on the blogosphere's role as newspaper watchdogs. It's a thoughtful pitch and I think nearly all correct. Have a look and see whether you agree.

A taste:

We need to see the news story as more of a process and less of a product. And once we do that, we open the door for collaboration with the public. So that relationship need no longer be solely about complaint and fault. It can be about cooperative effort, asking for each others’ help, networked journalism. So now, before the story is done, we can ask the public what they know that we don’t; we can ask them what they want to know; they can ask us to find facts. This profoundly changes the relationship between news organizations and their publics.

Driving online traffic

Kathy Schwartz has a post at DigitalEdge that summarizes a recent NAA report (apparently for members only) about strategies for driving online traffic. Since that's a key imperative for us right now, I thought you'd want to have a look.

As a taste, here's the first tip:

  1. There are seven suggested SEO marketing strategies, but one would be pretty easy to do: rewrite your headlines to include important keywords and place words.
    1. Example: “City council approves new voting procedure” should be “Wilkes-Barre City Council approves new voting procedure.”

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Whale watching in Sacramento

There are a couple of whales lost in the Sacramento River here, and the Sac Bee has been covering their fate with vigor. I liked this column by Rick Rodriguez for a couple of reasons: the discussion about how we decide to allocate space and news effort, and for this discription of the range of the Bee's coverage:
Bee reporters, photographers, artists and editors have shot and posted video, interspersed with traditional photos, on our Web site, We've started an interactive map that tracks the whales and that as of Friday had drawn more than 20,000 viewers. A call to help name the whales drew 118 suggestions and in a close vote of some 300 readers, the names Delta Dawn and Sunny won. We asked you to help write a piece of fiction about the whales and a nice little tale has evolved. We've reached into our electronic archives to post old stories about Humphrey, background about humpbacks and audio of their feeding calls, all on And we're updating the story several times a day.

What does it take to do all of that? ... On any given day, we've had up to five reporters, five photographers, three multimedia journalists, two graphic artists and a host of others working the story ... Is it worth it?

Personally, I'd say yes.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Troll Management 101

From Information Week (via howardowens) comes this gem of an essay by author and activist Cory Doctorow about how to understand and even manage the complex social landscape of an online community. I've never seen this explained or said better. You need to know this stuff.

A taste:

Teresa is a troll-whisperer. For some reason, she can spot irredeemable trolls and separate them from the merely unsocialized. She can keep discussions calm and moving forward. She knows when deleting a troll's message will discourage him, and when it will only spark a game of whack-a-mole.

Teresa calls it "having an ear for text" and she is full of maddeningly unquantifiable tips for spotting the right rod to twiddle to keep the reactor firing happily without sparking a meltdown.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Stanford panel talks about our future

McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt was one of four panelists at a Stanford symposium Monday night to address (what else?) the future of news. The NYT's Bill Keller, Harry Chandler of the LAT Chandlers and Google VP Marissa Mayer joined the discussion.

You can find a short video exerpt at the Stanford site here, or by clicking the image above. I'm told they will soon post audio of the whole session, which ran about 90 minutes; it's worth hearing, too.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Voting for the Sunday Star

Here's a idea that seems perfect: an online selection of audio clips and an invitation to website users to vote, American Idol style, for the best Sunday singer in Raleigh. Early word is that votes are arriving about one every 90 seconds. Linda Williams explains here.

Anybody else doing this?

Building online communities

Mathew Haughey, who founded MetaFilter, probably knows as much about online community as anybody. This recent post on his new blog fortuitous distills recent thinking about the subject to a few highly useful tips. Recommended.

Here's a taste:

If you're building a community you have to love what you're doing and be the best member of it. It takes great care and patience to create a space others will share and you have to nurture it and reward your best contributors. It's a decidedly human endeavor with few, if any, technical shortcuts.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Bruce Sterling on design

Just because I found it wonderful, here's a link to a short video in which a very smart guy named Bruce Sterling talks about design.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Media war with Google?

When you read items like this – Old media turns combative against new media – it's important to remember that "media" is a collective noun. Not all media are created equal, and our interests in the news media are appreciably different than those of film producers, for instance.

UPDATE, thanks to John Paczkowski: This quote from Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons seems particularly moronic:
"The Googles of the world, they are the Custer of the modern world. We are the Sioux nation," Time Warner Inc. Chief Executive Richard Parsons said, referring to the Civil War American general George Custer who was defeated by Native Americans in a battle dubbed "Custer's Last Stand".

Er, Richard. How'd that war work out for the Sioux, anyhow?

Future Shock

I've talked here a few times about the news business being in a "phase transition" nowadays.

We are. But so is everybody else.

Have a look at this slide show called "Shift Happens," recently voted the best presentation by judges at the site Not only is it compelling storytelling in powerpoint format, it's also a powerful reminder about the scope and pace of change that defines our environment. I think you'll find it illuminating.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

LAT's 'Dust Up' over media

Have you tuned in yet to the "Dust Up" feature in the L.A. Times where a couple of smart professors are doing a back-and-forth discussion of current media conditions?

I just discovered it this monring, but it looks like provocative and frequently illuminating stuff. Recommended.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Crime Map debuts in Fresno

Interested in crime in Fresno? Well, Fresno Bee readers are, we know that, and so the Bee has introduced a fresh interpretation of online crime stat mapping: Crime Map, a feature built off the Fresno Police Department database to provide near-realtime crime data for the city. The paper's description of the project is available online here.

You can click on the map link above to test drive the new feature or click on this illustration for a bigger view. Editors hope to enhance the map soon with additional features allowing users to sort by time and date of crimes.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Here be social networks

From xkcd, via Megan Taylor, the SoJo. If most of these references are a mystery to you, that's a problem.

(click on image to enlarge)

Pro/Am journalism in Raleigh

The reader participation editor in Raleigh, DME Dan Barkin, says the News & Observer will go live on Monday with a page inside the metro section that combines staff and reader journalism on local affairs.

It sounds very much like the discussions we started here some time ago (scroll down to "Weather report: damp") about how Ohmynews in Korea and other successful citizen journalism sites, where the work of many amateur contributors is filtered and edited by professionals. Importantly, this effort will be using contributions received for the community site as material for the printed paper, as well.

I have few illusions about this. As a guy who's edited thousands of letters to the editor over the past 40 years, I know that the quality of both prose and accuracy will vary hugely, that reliability will be uneven at best, that many of the contributions will be self-serving and some may be unfair or simply wrong.

So what? We'll learn to handle that, adding value by applying editing skills that a typical community news site won't have. We'll learn directly from readers what matters to them, helping us broaden horizons and be more genuinely responsive. It will breach some of the walls we thought were protecting "journalism" from the Visigoths, but really were just separating us from the audience.

I know Fresno has a community news project ready to debut soon – perhaps on Monday, as well. (When I hear for sure I'll flag that here, of course, though I am planning to be in the air much of Monday). I'd love to hear about what the rest of you are up to, as well.

Friday, May 04, 2007

No more secrets. Get over it.

Like many things described as "radical," the notion of radical transparency is probably over-hyped, oversold and over-promised.

But it's not wrong.

I remember how proud I was to be a journalist yeas ago when I read in some former cabinet secretary's memoirs that he often made decisions by asking himself, "How will I feel when I read this on the front page of the Washington Post?" Yeah, that's it: hold them accountable.

Well, how many times in the last few years have you wondered, "How is this memo going to look when they post it on Romenseko?" I now know the names of alternative weeklies in most of the McClatchy cities, because that's where I find stories about the internal debates at your papers. Some lucky folks even have entire blogs devoted to critiquing them; see Tribal Fires in Anchorage, which this week says of me that I'm falling down on my job, "performing his usual function of explaining how this latest development is further proof of his boss's brilliance."

That's just the way it is, and that spirit of openness and access is only going to grow. As a profession based on the idea that people can't (and mainly shouldn't) keep secrets, journalists in particular need to get used to it. People get to call you names. Pissed off staffers get to leak your memos for the world to read. Competitors and disgruntled former employees get to start blogs and trash you.

But you also get to operate in a kind of healthy sunlight that can engender growth. For every cheapshot taken in a critical blog, there are a hundred opportunities for us to employ the same tools for richer, deeper conversation with readers. Stories that are blogged while they're being written – before actual "publication" – will inevitably be better for having been tested and refined. (The Star Tribune's "Big Question" feature is one interesting approach to this.)

The article about radical transparency in Wired is worth your time – not because everything it talks about is a technique you need to adopt right now, but because it accurately describes the landscape we're navigating, and offers important signposts to help guide us through it.

We need to keep thinking and talking about this.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Clark Hoyt heads to NY

I'm sure you're all heard or read by now that Clark Hoyt has been named public editor at the New York Times.

I've worked closely with Clark only since our purchase of Knight Ridder a year ago (he's been a trusted consultant and colleague) but have known him as a great journalist far longer. His values and judgments are second to none in this business, and I just want to second Dan Gillmor's observation – echoed by many others – that this is a brilliant move. I think it will be good for the New York Times, and our whole profession.

It's a very hot seat in a volatile industry at a critical time. I'm glad Clark's there.