Wednesday, November 28, 2007

President's Awards for community newspapers

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Nov. 28, 2007 – Six newspapers have been awarded 2007 McClatchy President’s Awards in the community newspaper division, an annual competition designed to recognize the best journalism among the company’s non-daily newspapers. Each first-place winner receives $1,000, and the winning publication receives a crystal trophy. Second-place winners receive $500.

The Cary News of North Carolina won three awards, including first place in the special projects category for its comprehensive, multimedia coverage of Cary Band Day, an annual high school marching band competition that draws some 28 different bands from throughout the Southeast to Cary, N.C.

“The Cary Band Day presentation produced by The Cary News is an outstanding example of journalism that combines wide community reach with vigorous, multifaceted coverage,” said Howard Weaver, McClatchy’s vice president, news, who judged the public service category. “As a result, readers leave this special presentation with a powerful sense of what a central event this marching band competition is for the community of Cary.”

The Cary News also won a first-place award in the sports category for its showcasing of high school athletes in both print and online video. The weekly newspaper finished second in the photo category for coverage of a Harry Potter party.

The Fort Mill Times, a weekly covering Fort Mill, S.C., won the first-place award for news. Also honored with first-place awards were the Sierra Star in Oakhurst, Calif., in the features category; and Lee’s Summit Journal in Lee’s Summit, Mo., in the photo category.

Staffers at various McClatchy daily newspapers not associated with the community publications judged the news, sports, features and photo categories.

Click here for judges' comments.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"Willful cluelessness ..."

I haven't read the long profile of Universal Music's CEO Doug Morris in Wired yet (and I certainly don't know anything myself about the guy), but this section – already posted on several blogs – is just astonishing. Maybe "moronic" is a better word.

Here are the money graphs:
... The record labels had an opportunity to create a digital ecosystem and infrastructure to sell music online, but they kept looking at the small picture instead of the big one," Cohen says. "They wouldn't let go of CDs." It was a serious blunder, considering that MP3s clearly had the potential to break the major labels' lock on distribution channels. Instead of figuring out a way to exploit the new medium, they alternated between ignoring it and launching lawsuits against the free file-sharing networks that cropped up to fill the void.

Morris insists there wasn't a thing he or anyone else could have done differently. "There's no one in the record company that's a technologist," Morris explains. "That's a misconception writers make all the time, that the record industry missed this. They didn't. They just didn't know what to do. It's like if you were suddenly asked to operate on your dog to remove his kidney. What would you do?"

Personally, I would hire a vet. But to Morris, even that wasn't an option. "We didn't know who to hire," he says, becoming more agitated. "I wouldn't be able to recognize a good technology person — anyone with a good bullshit story would have gotten past me." Morris' almost willful cluelessness is telling. "He wasn't prepared for a business that was going to be so totally disrupted by technology," says a longtime industry insider who has worked with Morris. "He just doesn't have that kind of mind."

Monday, November 26, 2007

Everything you need to know ...

In talking about the evolving role of the printed newspaper – becoming as much summary and briefing as headline provider – I often cite The Week, a little magazine that boasts it includes "All You Need To Know About Everything That Matters." There are four or five subscriptions delivered here in the corporate suite, but Americans generally haven't been very aware of the product.

That's changing, as David Carr reports in the New York Times. Already a strong brand in England, it's growing by double digits here. His examination of why is worth reading. Here's a taste:

Last week, the power grab by Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan was boiled to a few hundred words, name-checking (and grabbing content) from The Weekly Standard and The Economist, along with The Boston Globe and The Washington Post. That way, when I go to a dinner party tomorrow night and Benazir Bhutto’s steadfast opposition to his use of mass arrests to maintain power comes up, I can sound as if I actually made my way though that stack.

Recession, the presidential candidacy of Rudolph Giuliani and soccer hooligans in Italy all get the same short-form, high-density treatment. Rather than inveighing against the Web’s hit-and-run informational ethos, Mr. Dennis has rendered it corporeal, producing a 42-page primer on the week that was, without getting bogged down in, or even acknowledging, the details.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Why moderate?

Teresa Nielsen Hayden – writer, editor and moderator par excellence – has some words of wisdom about why comments need to be policed and moderated. 

Her observations come in the middle of a long thread of posts on Boing Boing sparked by a video entitled "Fox News Porn - the prurience of prigs." Predictably, that attracted Fox defenders mounted attacks on the poster and the commentary deteriorated from there.

Reading the whole thread, which you can find here, is instructive. Because it's buried in the middle, I'm reposting Teresa's primary observation here at length (my emphasis):

Not enough people seem to remember that the main reason Boing Boing's first set of forums got shut down was that the Boingers didn't have time to moderate them, and they went septic. Every large general-interest web forum that's worth reading is moderated, many of them far more strictly than Boing Boing.

The "come and see the violence inherent in the system, help help I'm being repressed" crew are less of a puzzle than they initially seem. Their own online activity tends to be dull and disruptive, but they think they're entitled to the kind of large audience for their behavior you can only get by being interesting. This is why they don't actually want free speech. All that would give them is the freedom to call the shots on their own websites. What they really want is someone else's audience.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

About Kindle

Amazon's Kindle e-reader is getting considerable attention, and will be of interest to us for obvious reasons. By all accounts ( I haven't seen one), it's a solid product: well designed, easy to read, functional. Unlike previous electronic book devices, this one comes with a free online updating for subscriptions and book purchases, making it a prospective platform for newspapers (amongst many other things).

But the blogospheric debate has been fierce. Unsurprisingly, it tends toward love it/hate it extremes.

Amazon's sell is pretty good. Guy Kawaksaki loves it -- more than his iPhone.

Jeff Jarvis isn't buying, and John Gruber is even more dismissive.

There's design and then there's web design

There's an undeniable tension between web design and graphic design. Newsrooms that necessarily turn to traditional designers to help fashion websites are naturally feeling some of the pinch.

We've all encountered sites that look great and do amazing tricks, but don't really work all that well. On the other end of the spectrum there is – well, Google, for one. Somewhere in-between is the right solution for us.

A web designed named Joshua Porter examine all this in an interesting post entitled Do Canonical Web Designs Exist? Here's a taste:

The first answer would indeed be Google. Google has, for nearly ten years, provided the best search engine on the Web. It is the standard by which all other search engines are compared. In the exact same way that Massimo Vignelli’s New York subway map has affected the design of subway maps since, Google has affected the design of search engines. I know design teams that have copied the search results pages of Google almost exactly simply because it was the design that Google used.

I also know a tremendous number of web designers who look to the spartan Google homepage as inspiration that great tools don’t need complex interfaces.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Of sentiment and principle

If you care about news and newspapers, you'll be interested in the long, intriguing profile of Sam Zell in the Nov. 12 New Yorker. (It's online here, but way easier to read in the magazine ...)

Zell is the prospective purchaser of the Tribune Corp. and thus a huge figure in newspaper circles these days. By all accounts, the real estate billionaire is a man of parts, comfortable on his motorcycle, passing a joint on the deck outside his office, in Dubai negotiating with Arab developers.

I'm pulling for his TRB deal to get done this year (there are doubts, many centered on whether cross-ownership rules allowing newspapers to own broadcast stations will be changed). Zell's competitive zeal and financial acumen seem like assets the news business can use, and there's a certain new-broom-sweeps-clean quality that's appealing, too. What's more, all the other options I know about seem distinctly less attractive.

That said, something about the swagger on display in this piece bothers me. He justifies greed by proclaiming his own worth ethic. ("I’ll put my work schedule against anybody you know, including you, and I work my ass off every day!" Oh yeah? I wonder how long he'd last on a Tyson chicken line?) He's similarly dismissive of ethical concerns.

But most troublesome, to me, is his apparent lack of any interest in a mission beyond profit in the news business.

Zell reads the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Financial Times, and the Chicago Tribune each morning, and, occasionally, the L.A. Times. But there is little evidence that a regard for the public service that newspapers provide will affect his decisions about them. When I pressed him about the appeal of becoming a newspaper owner, he said, “You don’t know me, O.K.? I’m a major skier. I’ve had innumerable opportunities to buy ski areas. Each time, whatever it costs per day sounded cheap compared to having to deal with owning a ski area. I almost bought a motorcycle company, Ducati. In the end, fifteen thousand dollars seemed a lot better deal than a hundred million. So the answer is, I’ve been tested. The way I look at transactions, and the way I look at risk, I have no room for sentiment.”

Wait a minute, Sam: that's not sentiment you're talking about there. It's principle.

Nobody ought to spend $300 million on a whim. I'm not interested in owners motivated by sentiment. But newspaper companies really ought to be owned by people who care about their mission.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The age of Helvetica

Can you make an engaging documentary about a typeface? The answer, conclusively, is yes.

I got my advance-order copy of
Helvetica today. Barb and I just finished watching, and it's astonishing. Told almost entirely in the voices of typographers and designers, the story will open your eyes to a landscape of both subtle and overt typographic messages and orient you at the intersection of Modernism, reactive Post-Modernism and the progeny of both – including, it seems to me, a Modernist revival.

I'm going to think more before I write more. But I already know enough to recommend this film enthusiastically. Officially available after Nov. 20 from Amazon,

(Arial, a Helvetica clone,
is the closest blogspot
lets me come to setting this post
in appropriate type.)

23 actionable lessons from eye-tracking

All those eye-track tests with people wired up for Poynter researchers have yielded design lessons for websites. Comments suggest that news sites tend to be among the worst offenders. Here are 23 lessons gleaned from the studies.

This must be design week at Etaoin Shrdlu

I keep coming across these engaging sites about good design. These are the best book covers of 2007 as picked by the Book Design Review. Winners from 2006 and 2005, too. (There's also a poll where you can express your own opinion about the finalists.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Buy this magazine or we shoot the puppy

Newspaper design is more than ever informed by concepts we once associated exclusively with magazines, but the mags are still generally lots better at it.

Have a look at the top covers in this competition judged by the American Society of Magazine Editors, with winners and runners-up in a variety of engaging categories (cover of the year, best celebrity cover, best cover headline).

Thursday, November 15, 2007

It didn't start with Photoshop

Click here for an irresistible comparison of original photos and their more famous, doctored spawn.

10,000 Words A Minute

Not particularly relevant, but too good to pass up: I was reminded of this bit from Norman Mailer by a brief item on NPR this morning. I wanted the longer quote (from "10,000 Words A Minute") and Google delivered:

... Mailer's description of the reporters drinking and smoking and trading anecdotes in the press room: "So they char the inside of their bodies in order to scrape up news which can go out to the machine, that enormous machine, that intellectual leviathan which is obliged to eat, each day, tidbits, gristle, gravel, garbage cans, charlotte russe, old rubber tires, T-bone steaks, wet cardboard, dry leaves, apple pie, broken bottles, dog food, shells, roach powder, dry ball-point pens, grapefruit juice. All the trash, all the garbage, all the slop and a little of the wealth go out each day and night into the belly of that old American goat, our newspapers...

"So great guilt clings to reporters. They know they help to keep America slightly insane."

If he thought that was true of the newspaper press, what would he make of the blogosphere?

'An obsession with balance'

There's an engaging discussion of changing media and the future of "public service journalism" – all from a British context – at this blog hosted by the London School of Economics.

Bear in mind that England is no proxy for the U.S. in such matters. Newspapers there are generally ideological, and the government spends big money supporting the BBC. These arguments all come in that context.

For all that, there are various voices here that echo prospects and concerns we're facing, as well. A taste:

Richard D North is an elitist free market ideologue who believes that the UK newspaper market is the ideal. A diverse range of robustly held views give us choice and competition. The reader can sort out the bias for themselves. He believes that the BBC is inhibited by its authoritative obsession with ‘balance’, when in fact it is simply another point of view (liberal, metropolitan, middle class). And because the BBC’s journalists are forced to be ‘impartial’ they end up being negative about everything.

P.S. I lived in England for a year (1992-93) and looked forward with enthusiasm to extended exposure to the U.K. press. I ended up unimpressed. Here is my journal entry from February 1993 on the subject.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Be the network?

I haven't had time to digest this new Jeff Jarvis post admonishing media companies to "become to network," but I have been thinking about the idea. Reading his previous posts and recent, related items about Glam, are provocative. This is worth thinking about, especially where we're particularly advantaged: local geographic regions.

Jeff says:

Google grew by building a network. So did Glam. I say that is a model for survival and growth among media companies. Local newspapers, for example, should be building hyperlocal networks of local blogs; with them, they can expand coverage and reach in ways that were never possible when they depended only on staff.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Wichita video strikes again

While I'm still laughing about Rudy's cameo role in I'm My Wife's Grandpa, the videocentric opinon mavens at The Wichita Eagle have already moved on.

They got a major ride on the NYT's Dot Earth blog today. You can see the write-up and follow the links from the Dot Earth site here.

Perez Hilton and McClatchy

I'm blogging this only because it's so unlikely. Go see.

(Thanks, Hannah).

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Slow food, slow reporting

Haven't read the whole of this guy's inaugural remarks as a newly minted U.K. journalism prof, but I liked this snip:

You can get junk food on every ... street. And you can get junk journalism nowadays in every outlet there is. But just as there is now a movement for Slow Cooking, I should also like to see more of a demand for Slow Journalism.

Slow Journalism would show greater respect for the craft of the reporter – a patient assembler of facts. A skilled tradesman who is independent and professionally reputable. And who can get paid the rate for the job. A disentangler of lies and weasel
words. Don’t you think such people are useful operatives to probe the dodgy
mechanisms of our imperfect democracy, and our very imperfect world? I do.

Thanks to SacredFacts for the pointer.

Feeling uncomfortable yet?

Your paper is posting reader comments after stories, and probably hosts some bloggers who aren't staff members. You're getting calls and emails fairly regularly now asking how the Bugle Intelligencer can possibly allow some of those people to say such things.

It's libelous. It's scandalous. It's ... oh, my God ... inappropriate.

And by now you may also have learned that one of those opinion bloggers once got fired by the politician she's now criticizing, or that the guy co-hosting the Outdoors blog was convicted of hunting out of season 14 years ago, or that .... well, you get the drift.

Are you feeling uncomfortable yet?

If not, I'm worried about you. If you're not squirming in uncertainty from time to time nowadays, you must not be close enough to the edge. In response to a question in the Sacramento Bee newsroom last week, Melanie Sill said, "If you're in a newsroom and the editor doesn't say that change is needed, you should leave." I think that same sentiment applies to our need to loosen up, let go of some control and learn to play by the changing rules of the new game we're in.

Jeff Jarvis (following up on an issue mentioned below) explores two contrasting experiences in this useful post on BuzzMachine.

In Cleveland, a political blogger was dismissed over making political contributions. In Newark, a former politico was allowed to blogstalk a staffer at the Star Ledger. Check Jeff's post and related commentary for some intriguing discussion.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Giving it away for free ...

Cory Doctrow is a blogger, activist, novelist and entrepreneur who advocates for radically transparent and accessible art and information. The blog has an interview in which he ranges widely across the landscape of publishing, copyright, authority and accountability.

Amongst many occupations, Cory writes science fiction novels (often very good ones, in my view) and gives away digital copies while selling printed books. Here's a taste of his reasoning – in this case specifically focused on the art of fiction writing but applicable, I think, to what we do:

... we live in a century in which copying is only going to get easier. It's the 21st century, there's not going to be a year in which it's harder to copy than this year; there's not going to be a day in which it's harder to copy than this day; from now on. Right? If copying gets harder, it's because of a nuclear holocaust. There's nothing else that's going to make copying harder from now on. And so, if your business model and your aesthetic effect in your literature and your work is intended not to be copied, you're fundamentally not making art for the 21st century. It might be quaint, it might be interesting, but it's not particularly contemporary to produce art that demands these constraints from a bygone era.

Ask the fans for help

Dan Gillmor has an idea about what to do next time some school wants to place onerous restrictions on photography or blogging at a sports event: refuse to cover it, and ask readers to submit photos and blog reports from the stands.

Fine it here.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Taking newspaper communion

Jeff Jarvis has a perspective on the changing relationship between newspapers, audiences, contributors and participants. Worth reading.

A taste:
What we’re really seeing is the view of journalism from inside the cloister of the newspaper: Once you take a dollar from the paper, once you take its communion, you are transformed: You take a vow of political celibacy. You have no opinions and if you do, you hold them to yourself, like impure thoughts. You don’t participate in your community but stand apart from it. And you don’t mingle with those outside the walls who speak the vulgate, blog. So the priests of the paper said that the bloggers were sinners. And they were excommunicated.

(I'm due back in Sacramento this evening and hope to have more time and energy for the blog.)