Sunday, June 24, 2007

Paying bloggers for comments

There's been quite a dust-up in the blogosphere lately about a deal where Microsoft paid "A-list" bloggers to repeat the company's "people ready" catch phrase in various ways. There's been some useful discussion contrasting "old media" attitudes and attributes (like independence) against the supposed We-The-Media values of the blogosphere.

Turns our some of the citizen journalists were, crudely speaking, for sale.

Of course there have been sins enough to go around amongst professional journalists, in recent times ranging from Jason Blair to Judith Miller. Just last week, there was some flurry over campaign contributions made by professional newsies, including a few at what are now McClatchy operations. (Considering that the story discovered contributions from 143 of more than 50,000 professional journalists, I'd argue that our 99.68% purity rate ain't too bad.)

Microsoft and some of the people they paid characterized the practice as "conversational marketing." Whew; where's George Orwell when you need him? But to its credit, the blogosphere itself mainly identified, criticized and rejected the practice out of hand. Some of the paid-for-bloggers openly repented, and you can be sure few will want to participate in the future.

The best discussion I've seen is happening over at BuzzMachine, where Jeff Jarvis weighs in against the practice. Some of the best discussion is in the comments that follow; I'd encourage you to read all the way through.

One interesting avenue of discussion: What's the difference between "integrity" and "authenticity" in this debate?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Different kind of homeless story

We've all written extensively about the homeless, but Observer reporter Fred Kelly and photographer Dana Romanoff picked up on an angle I've not seen before. "Secret shelters" might also be something to check out in your area. Same as here, you may have unofficial shelters, run by caring people, who nevertheless are worrying fire marshals, health inspectors and others who don't have these places on their radar. It sure surprised a lot of people in Charlotte. Click here to see their work

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The language of baseball

I see the L.A. Times just hired a 2002 UCLA grad who is fluent in Spanish and Japanese to cover the Dodgers.

Just seemed worth noting.


I mentioned earlier that I think there's extraordinary material in the blogs now being displayed at our national site, and that we were planning to make some of them available for print use.

As usual, the folks in Washington and at MCT are ahead of me. Jane Scholz tells me blog exerpts move on the MCT wire Monday through Friday slugged GLOBALINK:WA.

I think your readers would want to see them.

As a bonus, they're planning to move material from the Dave Barry For President Q&A as well. It's funny:

Q: Mr. Barry- If the earth was invaded by aliens from outer space, would you personally lead a fleet of fighter jets to do battle with the enemy in a final climactic scene? I think this country needs a man like that in the White House. I think it would be very good for box office revenues.
Johnny, Ashburn, VA 6/19/07

A: My approach would be to lure the aliens to downtown Miami, where they would eventually realize that there was no parking and be forced to return to their home planet.
Dave Barry 6/20/07

Lessons in innovation

I'm a Macintosh fan, and beyond that a fan of how Apple consistently produces products that work well and delight users. They get plenty of my money.

So, I try to get something back – in this case, lessons that can be translated from their success in high tech, consumer products to our own endeavors as a news company. The Economist recently made this easy by publishing this piece on Innovation Lessons From Apple. It's a quick read, also exerpted below:

  • Ideas from anywhere: "Apple is, in short, an orchestrator and integrator of technologies, unafraid to bring in ideas from outside but always adding its own twists. This approach, known as “network innovation”, is not limited to electronics. It has also been embraced by companies such as Procter & Gamble, BT and several drugs giants, all of which have realised the power of admitting that not all good ideas start at home."
  • Built for users: "Apple illustrates the importance of designing new products around the needs of the user, not the demands of the technology. Too many technology firms think that clever innards are enough to sell their products, resulting in gizmos designed by engineers for engineers. Apple has consistently combined clever technology with simplicity and ease of use."
  • Also listen to your heart: "For all the talk of “user-centric innovation” and allowing feedback from customers to dictate new product designs, a third lesson from Apple is that smart companies should sometimes ignore what the market says it wants today. The iPod was ridiculed when it was launched in 2001, but Mr Jobs stuck by his instinct."
  • Fail wisely: "The fourth lesson from Apple is to “fail wisely”. The Macintosh was born from the wreckage of the Lisa, an earlier product that flopped; the iPhone is a response to the failure of Apple's original music phone, produced in conjunction with Motorola. Both times, Apple learned from its mistakes and tried again."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hearing Trusted Voices

One of the innovations arriving with our redesigned national website is the introduction of more blogs from foreign correspondents, the feature we call Trusted Voices. Forgive me this "proud papa" urge to point them out to you and encourage you to pay attention, because I think they are remarkable.

I'd go so far as to suggest, even on the scant evidence to date, that the blog format may well emerge as one of the most potent forms of foreign correspondence. They give these reporters a voice and format where they can explain lives and situations that are distant beyond imagining for most of us. Whether it's Shashank Bengali describing a poor cabinet maker forced from his usual location, Tim Johnson standing in the shadow of the Great Wall or Dion Nissenbaum watching explosions from his window while pinned down in Gaza, the reports so far have been extraordinary.

We're looking for a way to make print summaries or teasers avialable to you for publication. I think readers who take the time to find and read these blogs will be thankful that you steered them there.

Here's something from Leila's Baghdad Observer blog earlier this week:

A gaping hole in the row of buildings caught my eye. A burned picture of the grandson of the prophet Mohammed hung over a pile of rubble, the homes around it destroyed.

This is the Shiite mosque that was bombed two weeks ago. I wrote about this in a story just a few days prior. I used the word "leveled" to describe it. I gave it one line.

People who died inside their homes were likely raised from their sleep by the pressure of the powerful blast that ripped through their buildings. Neighbors dug them out from beneath the rubble. I gave their misery one line in story.

So many peoples' lives get only a few words: 25 anonymous corpses on the side of the road, a bombing killed 10, mortar attacks killed two. No one ever knows about their families' grief, where they worked, not even their names.

Mahdi Army militiamen casually leaned against buildings studying faces, looking for strangers. A red Hyundai sped past us filled with men wielding AK 47s. The streets were largely empty save a few stragglers searching for taxis.

'How could you leave me behind?'

Hannah Allam's heartbreaking account of an Iraqi whose three-year service as a military translator left him abandoned by the United States and a refugee in Syria is the kind of powerful, personal journalism our correspondents are known for.

It comes across with additional power when you hear Mohamed Abdul Kareem tell the story in his own words at this narrated slide show that traces his Army experience.

From Hannah's piece:

His pretty 25-year-old fiancee was killed in crossfire between the Mahdi Army and Sunni insurgents as she traveled alone in a taxi from her house to his parents' place on Dec. 21, 2006. Zena, a Shiite he'd been smitten with since college, died when a stray bullet struck her in the head, Abdul Kareem said.

"After I buried her, I couldn't stand Iraq. I promised myself I would never go back to that place," he said. "I'm starting to worry about my humanity. I feel burned inside, but I can't react. I'm a stone."

After the traditional three days of mourning, a distraught Abdul Kareem fled to Syria in January. His life in Iraq was over, he said, and his last hope was to win asylum and move permanently to the United States. For the third year in a row, he's entered the U.S. green-card lottery.

"I still think Iraq will rise from all this, but I don't think it will ever be my home again," he said. "If my neighbors, the people in my tribe, knew what I did, I would be killed right away. I'm not a traitor - I'm a patriot - but my country has rejected me for working with Americans.

"And the Americans, at the end of the year, their promises went nowhere," he said, referring to the rotating units he'd worked with. "They'd give us a certificate and leave."

From Iraq blogs to Dave Barry

Bureau Chief John Walcott does a nice job describing our plans and intentions in this interview with E&P Magazine about our new website:

"The biggest single thing is the interactivity," said Bureau Chief John Walcott, whose staff also includes the paper's eight foreign correspondents. "We are trying to make it a destination site for the kind of journalism we do, not a breaking news site, to highlight our brand of news."

Monday, June 18, 2007

3 ... 2 ... 1 ... liftoff

McClatchy's new national website for public affairs journalism launched about noon Eastern time today.

Yes, there are some glitches and missing parts. But it's up and we're proud of it.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Miami's Chicken Busters

Given all the smart, sophisticated journalism going on at The Miami Herald and (for example, this nuanced, potent examination of black identity and culture in Latin America) I almost hate to point to something like this chicken video.

Then I thought, why the hell not?

(P.S. This is a YouTube version because it isn't easy to embed video from one of our sites to a blog. I understand the vMix platform makes it easy to do. It better.)

(P.P.S. If you liked the Herald's chicken video, you'll probably also enjoy the Nike ad that features this Angry Chicken.)

New national website on Monday

There are always technogremlins at play when you reach this stage, but if all goes according to plan the new McClatchy national website will be launched about mid-day on Monday, June 18.

The web address is

We've had a preview site up and running privately for a few days now. If you just can't wait, send me an email and I'll send you that url; we can't guarantee that everything is ready for primetime there, so I don't want to make it generally available.

(But you? Well, you're special, so you can visit.)

The site is dedicated to public service journalism, principally devoted to the work of our national and foreign correspondents, but there's a great deal more there, too. We're displaying the best national journalism, editorial cartoons and columnists from around our company, six new blogs from overseas, ubiquitous tagging, and a place for readers to upload their own video commentaries on public affairs. We're soliciting comments and hosting regular Q&A forums with staffers.

Naturally, we had hoped to have a few other new features by launch, but they're not all ready. We're still looking for the right social networking software to help our audience build communities of interest around the public affairs topics we cover. If you have ideas about that, I'd love to hear them, too. We're working on an ambitious participative journalism assignment. Before long, we plan to host some non-traditional views of the presidential campaign called " alt.campaign." Stay tuned for that.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Data isn't knowledge

We spend a lot of time in our newsrooms talking about how to "add value" to the information we process. Rather than relying on the old "eat your broccoli" theory of why people ought to read us, we're working to make it worth their while to do so.

NYT columnist David Carr offers a splendid example of why the value-added model matters in "The Media Equation" this week.

As a type-two diabetic, Carr had more than reportorial interest in news about the possible coronary implications of the drug Avandia. He read the Times' initial story about a study suggesting dangers, and then took to the internet to research things for himself.

Needless to say, this proved somewhat less than satisfactory. Here's the payoff paragraph:

... after some time spent researching the whole issue, I decided to just back away from the mouse. Data is not knowledge, and information is not insight; consumers still have to make their own judgments about the agendas that are at work.

Carr also notes that, "As it turns out, the Web’s penchant for polarized discourse is not just something that flares up over the war in Iraq or presidential elections." We've talked before in this blog about how a culture of partisanship and spin creates opportunity for honest brokers, and this is a perfect example.

Reporters can't advise patients whether Avandia increases their risk of heart attack, but we do have the skills and capacity to filter, sort, document and verify information that will help them along that long, twisted journey through the internet. If we do that right, we'll be in business for a long, long time.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Who killed the council member?

The Fresno Bee is asking online readers to help solve a local mystery by contributing possible endings to a mystery story written to highlight the coming Nancy Drew movie.

Check out their presentation here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Winning big at Casey

Three McClatchy winners were recognized Tuesday by the Casey Journalism Center at the University of Maryland for outstanding work focused on children and families.

George Pawlaczyk and Beth Hundsdorfer of the Belleville News-Democrat (project/series) and Julia O'Malley from the Anchorage Daily News (single story) each won in the under-75,000 category. Sacramento Bee's René Byer won for photojournalism.

All were, as you might expect, outstanding – and we're proud of them, There are links to all the winners at the Casey site.

RX for predictions

If you like science fiction at all, chances are you know about David Brin and the "Uplift" series. Even if you don't, you might still enjoy hearing how he's established one of the best reputations around for making predictions that come true.

There's an interview at Discover that covers the ground well. The short version? Reject smug assumptions, respect real people.

Here's a taste:

Peering ahead is mostly art. We all have tricks. One of mine is to look for “honey-pot ideas” drawing lots of fad attention. Whatever’s fashionable, try to poke at it. Maybe 1 percent of the time you’ll find a trend or possibility that’s been missed. Another method is even simpler: Respect the masses. Nearly all futuristic movies and novels—even sober business forecasts—seem to wallow in the same smug assumption that most people are fools. This stereotype led content owners to envision the Internet as a delivery conduit to sell movies to passive couch potatoes. Even today, many of the social-net and virtual-world companies treat their users like giggling 13-year-olds incapable of expressing more than a sentence at a time of actual discourse.

Thanks to Robin at Snarkmarket for the pointer.

The dean of McClatchy's bloggers?

I suspect the Sacramento Bee's Dan Weintraub has been blogging about as long as anybody at McClatchy; he started in April 2003, sending in blog posts from the Schwarzenegger campaign bus from his Treo or Blackberry or whatever ..

Here's a link to an interesting video interview with him about journalism and blogging.

Breaking up is easy

Greet Desager made this video as part of a campaign for ... Microsoft?

Watch the video and you'll see why that seems unusual. Of all the top-down, hierarchical companies in the world, I'd rank the Redmond giant near the top.

Along with old-style newspaper companies, of course. That's why I think the message in this video is worth your while.

And here's Desager on the thinking behind the spot, from his blog Bring The Love Back:

Together with our ad agency Openhere, I’m currently making a commercial for Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions. The film is called ‘The Couple’ and makes some statements about the relationship between today’s advertiser and today’s consumer. A quite risky project if you know that the commercial explicitly challenges the advertisers - our clients - to question themselves and the way they communicate with their target groups

Thanks to Richard Sambrook for the pointer.

Empty newsrooms

As you might guess, I visit a lot of newsrooms. Along with dozens of positive experiences, one lingering impression nags at me.

They're all dead early in the morning.

I know lots of newsrooms – including most of ours – have reassigned some staff to ensure that early-morning updates get posted online. A few are doing original reporting in the dawn's early light. But there's little energy evident in support of that.

Perhaps this is inevitable. I know that sustaining production for the morning paper occupies vastly more staff effort than anything else, as it must. But shouldn't there be a little more visible activity?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Getting shut out in sports

Professional and collegiate sports have grown increasingly restrictive in trying to prohibit news coverage of their events. It's a battle we have fought in small ways for years, but it's growing increasingly troublesome, highlighted most recently by an NCAA decision to toss a Louisville reporter who was live-blogging a college baseball game. (They should, of course, be happy anybody's paying attention to college baseball ...)

A number of McClatchy editors and lawyers have been working on a response. So have sports editors, mainly through APSE.

I think we can (and will) make strong legal arguments about our right to cover public events being held in (mainly) publicly owned venues. But even though legal options are naturally limited, there's a lot more involved here than legalities. I think Dan Gillmor makes excellent points in this post at his citizen media site.

Here's a taste:

But the paper should go much further. For one thing, it should go around the control freaks, and buy a ticket for a reporter and have him/her blog the game from the stands.

Then it should get the readers/fans involved. For example, the paper should ask readers to blog the game themselves, from TV sets or from the stands, or both — and then point to the best reader game-blogs.

Getting to know Facebook

Jeff Jarvis posts some helpful thoughts and observations about Facebook, the nature of online communities and what this can mean to the news business over here at BuzzMachine.

The notion that has haunted me since I first heard it a few months ago is Facebook founder Dave Zuckerberg's observation that you can't really create communities; what you need to do is find a way to serve a community that already exists. The way to do, he says, is with "elegant organization."

This seems hugely promising for us. Communities do indeed already exist around many of the events and issues we deal with all the time – geographic interests, social interests, political interests. We can create elegant ways to serve people who want the latest verified, unfiltered news from Baghdad; who want to find local place to read their poetry in public; who want to join other fans in painting their faces blue and white (or green and gold, or whatever your local team colors are).

Briefly, Jarvis:
Zuckerberg went on to explain that communities already exist and the question these [news] magnates should ask instead is how they can help them to do what they want to do. Zuckerberg’s prescription was “elegant organisation”. That is what he brought to Harvard’s community when he started Facebook, then to more colleges, high schools and companies (including half the BBC, which has 10,000 friends, says its director of global news Richard Sambrook). And now it is open to the rest of us.

Howard Owens has thoughts about the intersection of Facebook and news on his blog, too; find them here, and here.
And BTW, the best way to explore this is to go join Facebook. Search for "Howard Weaver" and send me a request. I promise you'll have at least one friend :)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

I can see your thong from here ...

Have you turned on to Google Street View, where the already impressive Google Maps actually turn into a 360º virtual neighborhood tour, based on real photos?

It's cool. It's impressive. Spooky, too.

Mark Morford explores the spooky aspect in a great column at sfgate. It's a good piece, and this is one hell of a paragraph:

Ah, Google, you great wicked benevolent super-cool vaguely disturbing Big Brother überbitch mega-company, quietly taking over the entire goddamn Net universe and most of the terrestrial world, too, one cool but simultaneously unnerving innovation at a time.

UPDATE: I later came across this, which makes the same point in a different way: Google Interiors: The Day My House Became Searchable.

Not about journalism

This post has nothing to do with the subject of this blog.

Except, of course, that we're trying to reach these people:

The GSS folk actually made the mistake of asking the following question as part of their science module:

Now, does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?

Here we go. Now what follows is real social science data folks. No joking around:

Earth around sun 73.6%
Sun around earth 18.3%
Don’t Know 8.0%
Refused 0.1%

Yes. More than a fifth of the American population does not think (or are not quite sure) that they live in Copernicus’ heliocentric solar system. Is this a glass half-full or glass half empty thing? Well, those glass half-full people might say, almost three-quarters of the population got the right answer. But the GSS questionnaire designers conspire against your carefree optimism half-glass full guy or gal. Among those who were up to date with seventeenth-century Galilean basic science, they actually dared to ask the follow-up question:

How long does it take for the Earth to go around the Sun: one day, one month, or one year?

One day 19.0%
One month 1.1%
One year 71.2%
Other time period 0.1%
Don’t Know 8.5%
Refused 0.1%

Barring that guy who categorically refused to answer the question, we are again faced with the result that a full one-fifth of those in the American population who are aware that the earth revolves around the sun are in their turn unable to distinguish the earth’s rotation around its axis from a full revolution around the sun. Poor Galileo; talk about reason to turn in your grave.


Friday, June 08, 2007

Coming to NAHJ?

We know attendance will be down at NAHJ this year on account of tight travel budgets and other restrictions. But McClatchy will have a sizeable presence at the convention, where we're the platinum sponsor.

This note went out Friday to a number of you, and applies to any who are there with us in San José. Please feel free to invite anybody you think should join us at our reception:

McClatchy will be hosting a reception on Thursday, June 14 from 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. at MACLA (Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana - Art Museum).

The museum is located at 510 South First Street, San Jose. It is approximately a 10 minute walk or a short cab ride from the convention center.

Invitations will be available from Brianne Etters at the McClatchy booth at the job fair.

'Ignore the fringes'

Dan Gillmor, a respected newspaper journalist who's now a central figure amongst those pondering the future of news, had a thoughtful piece in the S.F. Chronicle Thursday that's well worth your attention.

A taste:

Try to ignore the fringes of this conversation: the old-guard doomsayers and/or elitists who see nothing but woe for journalism, and the tech-triumphalists and/or media haters who can't wait to see today's system blown to utter shreds. These are vapid, false choices. Let's work to keep the best of traditional media.

Meanwhile, smart people -- including the ones working for traditional media companies, most of which are still quite profitable even as trends work against them -- will invent, discover and use democratized media tools to create updated and new kinds of journalistic products and services. The journalistic ecosystem could end up healthier in the end, if we get this right


Thursday, June 07, 2007

The end of "One Big Idea"

Brian Collins' recent opinion column in Creativity magazine is about advertising – not too surprising, given that this AdAge mag is about the creative side of the advertising industry.

But there are lots of insights and ideas worth consideration by anybody in the communication business, certainly including us. It's not online that I can find, but folks at the magazine allowed us to post it, and you'll find the complete column on our alternative site here.

Here's a taste of Brian Collins:

The One Big Idea model is dead. The last half of the 20th century was the only time when there has ever been a model. Since the dawn of commerce, niche products and shifting micro-segments have always been the! rule. TV created massive markets for mediocre, ``good enough'' stuff. That was the exception. Now we're back to chaos again, and we're not going back. This has undone some marketing organizations that are used to placing the bulk of their efforts in one broad, top-down, agency-controlled idea. Single-minded communication--The Big Idea--makes life easy for communicators. But people aren't single-minded. We're too busy living our lives to pay attention. We know what we love, and it's not brands spread like jam across every piece of media in our face. It's lots and lots of small, weird, new ideas and products--in lots of different places-so amazing that people will seek them out.

[BTW, some of you might enjoy subscribing to Creativity, as I do. Subscriptions include a password to the website, where a treasure trove of television commercials are archived and available. I see far more advertising there than I ever do on elsewhere.]

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Tune in for Pat

The News & Observer's Pat Stith is scheduled to be on the NPR program Talk of the Nation to discuss their recent series Speed Unlimited on Thursday, I'm told.

Pat's a legendary investigative reporter, and indefatigable worker and national journalistic resource – almost certain to be worth listening to.

This "Facebook" thing

Perhaps, like me, you knew a little about Facebook as a college-oriented service that helped people stay in touch with friends from school. (Maybe you were hiding under a rock and didn't hear anything at all.)

But chances are you're hearing a great deal more nowadays, but may still be a bit ... vague ... concerning what the fuss is all about.

Here's a piece from the Guardian's organgrinder blog that does a good job of laying out the whys and wherefores. It's worth a look.

I found the link through the BBC's Richard Sambrook, who blogged on the subject at Sacred Facts. I also liked what he had to say about staying abreast of online developments by participating.

Digital media is transforming society, but you have to get your hands dirty to really understand it. (Resist adopting the lofty "I have people to understand that for me" attitude I encounter which may just be a cover for fear of the new....)

Monday, June 04, 2007

Name that soapbox

We're planning a feature for our new national website where readers can upload video commentary.

I was planning to call it "Video Soapbox." My godson tells me this name belongs to Microsoft. Oops.

We need another name. Any suggestions?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Ten obvious things

There are a couple of things in this list of ten "obvious things about the future of newspapers" that I'd take modest issue with, but for the most part Ryan Sholin has hit these issues squarely on point.

Here's a taste:

It’s time to stop handwringing and start training. If your editors are still writing navelgazers about the cataclysmic changes in the business instead of starting training programs to teach some new tricks to you and that guy in the cubicle next door, that’s a problem. Stop whining and move on.

and this

Reporters need to do more than write. The new world calls for a new skillset, and you and Mr. Notebook need to make some new friends, like Mr. Microphone and Mr. Point & Shoot.

Thanks to buzzmachine for the pointer.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

A new national website

Many of you know we're in the final stages of preparing to launch what we hope will become a destination website for public affairs journalism from McClatchy.

Based at the Washington bureau, the site will feature work of regional, national and international correspondents; columnists, cartoonists and photographers from across the country; and the best of national journalism from our papers. We're also planning to enlist freelance contributors to help us broaden the scope of our coverage and commentary, to encourage readers to upload video commentaries and footage they shoot on the presidential campaign trail, and so forth.

The near future, we hope, will also include ambitious participative journalism projects and social networking tools to help readers build communities of interest around areas we're covering: Iraq, veterans issues, the U.S. Attorneys scandal, and the like.

I talked about the site Friday at the Washington bureau, and most of my remarks (minus a few proprietary items) are available at some length here.

Here's a taste:

We don’t have to debate and worry any more about the future of the news business. While there are a lot of fundamental variables still much in play, we know enough to assert a great deal right now. We will occupy a distinctly hybrid, multiplatform, multimedia future in which we exercise far less control but enjoy far greater reach and opportunity. We will touch more people in more interesting ways. We will collaborate with our readers and audiences, we will operate more transparently, and we’ll find ourselves adjusting and recalibrating constantly as we do.

Here’s the really good news: we get do all of that on the most solid possible foundation, this bureau’s unequalled capacity for producing significant, exclusive, public service journalism that sustains our unchanging mission as a company.