Sunday, April 27, 2008

In a world of information abundance

Matt Thompson was one of the first people I know who talked about the evolution of journalism as it seeks to shift between dealing with information scarcity and information abundance. In his potent analogy, "The press earned its stripes covering a scandal [Watergate] about which information was scarce. The press lost its stripes covering a scandal [Enron] about which information was plentiful. The plenitude of information, not its scarcity, defines the world we live in now. And journalism must change to accommodate that fact."

We're all far more engaged now in information architecture, data-mining and visualization than when Matt wrote that in June 2006. Simply constructing and posting searchable databases is a basic step; more layered and textured graphical presentations – like some of those the Charlotte Observer used to help explain its ground-breaking discoveries of home-lending abuses – show us the next step.

There are many steps yet to go. We've got to become increasing sophisticated and adept at uncovering data-rich news (Matt's main point) and presenting it in ways our increasingly demanding audiences require.

This evolving art is widely demonstrated and examined in many places. There's a good starting point here, where numerous data-visualization blogs are linked.

I'm particularly fond of this splendid technique regularly employed nowadays at the New York Times:

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The gods of world history

There's always something wonderful about just the right image, just the right combination of words to evoke a feeling you recognize at once, even though you didn't know it was there.

Like this, for instance, from Jonathan Frazen in The New Yorker:

"The week before, when I'd arrived in Shanghai, my first impression of China had been that it was one of the most advanced places I'd ever seen. The scale of Shanghai, which from the sky had presented a dead-flat vista of tens of thousands of neatly arrayed oblong houses—each of which, a closer look revealed, was in fact a large apartment block—and then, on the ground, the brutally new skyscrapers and the pedestrian-hostile streets and the artificial dusk of the smoke-filled winter sky: it was all thrilling. It was as if the gods of world history had asked, 'Does somebody want to get into some really unprecedentedly deep shit?' and this place had raised its hands and said 'Yeah!'"

– Jonathan Franzen
The New Yorker
April 21

Thanks, Robin, at Snarkmarket

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

'Fonts are the clothes that words wear'

I've never had the time or training (or, perhaps, talent) to really indulge my love of typography, but it's real. I thoroughly enjoy intelligent, informed discussion of why certain fonts work, what designers are working to communicate and so forth.

Combine that with a certain fascination about politics, and it's no wonder I enjoy the detailed and intricate critiques that have been done about the choice of typeface by presidential candidates. Obama's use of the Gotham face has been widely discussed, Hillary's New Baskerville a little less so.

Now they're talking about McCain's use of Optimum, a choice that seems strangely appropriate when explained by the designers interviewed here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

An opening you could drive a satellite truck through

As a college newspaper editor in the early 1970s, I had a conversation with an aged Baltimore Sun reporter (he must have been at least 50) about the future of our business. We agreed that television would surely bury us; it was just a matter of time. But I was in love with newspapers and determined to press on.

"I don't understand you, kid" he said. "Me, I'm just obsolete. You're an anachronism."

Well, tomorrow night, on the occasion of a pivotal election contest in the most interesting presidential primary campaign of my life, network television will desert the field – and newspapers will still be there. As the Miami Herald is reporting here, there's no network coverage scheduled for the Pennsylvania primary.

This leaves the field wide open to cable, of course – and also to us. Instantaneous online reporting, live-blogging and database capabilities provide ample opportunity for us to display the greater depth and sophistication of our political coverage. As live and streaming video become more available, that opportunity only grows.

Learning more about blog readers

It begs the question to call this finding the product of "research" (just 15 people were included in the study) but a preliminary examination of blog reading habits undertaken by U.C. Irvine professors does yield some intriguing findings. I'd recommend reading it, not as anything conclusive but as a spur to further thought about what will surely be a growing part of our future.

A taste:

In other words, when it comes to some blog readers, keeping them may be much easier than getting them in the first place–a finding that suggests the importance of good marketing for blogs ...

One interesting finding: the blog readers typically professed little stress about information overload in trying to keep up with their favorite blogs. When they got behind on reading posts, they just skipped the old ones. (Blogs apparently are not like the pile of New Yorker magazines you intend to get to–someday.)

Linked from SacredFacts

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Alaska's singular voice

I've written here before about my friend Peter Dunlap-Shohl, the gifted, singular cartoonist at the Anchorage Daily News. I'm happy to report that the local kid we hired almost right out of school has now been honored by the Alaska Press Club for having "advanced free speech in the Alaska press for more than a quarter century."

Well done, Pete. Shoot for another quarter century more.

Here's the nomination letter, with a few links.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Just another week for Leila

This week, McClatchy Baghdad Bureau Chief Leila Fadel was in New York accepting the George Polk Award for foreign reporting, but last week she was embedded in the midst of a Sadr City firefight. Leila, as we've all come to expect, came through with stories, photo galleries and a video report to help tell the story.

UPDATE: I've elevated this note from the comments:
Leila Fadel was also interviewed on this week's "Bill Moyers Journal," which you can see on iTunes or go to

Personally, I kind of liked this comment from the Moyers blog: "You are sharp, hot, & have a great heart. We are lucky to have you."

Ten things you didn't know

Lisa Williams, founder of Placeblogger and a prolific commentaor on the intersection of journalism and tech, has a provocative list of the things she thinks journalists need to know about surviving in the high-tech environment journalism now inhabits: Ten Things Journalists Should Know About Surviving In a High-Tech Industry.

Can't say that they all seem right to me, though others seem entirely on-point. Here are a couple:

3. Nobody has the right qualifications. If you think you aren't qualified to work at Google or Yahoo!, you haven't worked there. People with all sorts of backgrounds have jobs at high tech companies. The best way to get a job at the New York Times is to start by getting a job at Facebook. Bring your values to online companies; bring your skills back to news companies. Repeat.

4. Company loyalty is obsolete. Think projects, not companies. Look for interesting projects, not prestigious companies. You'll stay with a set of ideas for a decade or more; those ideas may get housed in half a dozen companies during that time. Companies can't and won't provide stability, and even prestigious, exciting companies have a ton of boring, dead end jobs.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Learning as I go

A number of folks who weren't there and who viewed my exchange in Raleigh last week primarily as a discussion of hotel bills have told me me they don't understand the ruckus.

I do.

The newsroom at the News & Observer is a collection of highly talented people who hold themselves to tough standards in pursuit of public service journalism. They're working as hard as anybody in the business and achieving results far better than most. For some time now, we've been asking them to do more with less: extend vigorously onto the web, embrace community participation, uphold standards, learn video ... and, oh yeah, keep putting out that award-winning newspaper.

Not to paint everybody with one brush, but they're tired and mad about it – for the very best reasons. They want to keep doing superior work and need tools and colleagues to help.

They view the industry and our economics from a different vantage point than I do; I think we're both right in some ways.

For starters, they're right about me staying at the Umstead – not because it cost $400 a night like Gearino and others implied (it didn't), but because it wasn't my best choice. They're right in reminding me that examples matter. I can't promise to sleep on Gearino's couch next trip – despite the invitation – but I'll never stay at the Umstead again. (I do hope I can get some credit, at least, for having spent only $21.31 on dinner for both editor John Drescher and me that night.)

They are also right for keeping the issue of newsroom resources squarely at the center of the agenda. If they're not passionate and activist about that, who will be? Speaking freely and forcefully about what we're doing is essential as we navigate through The Present Troubles.

I do want those folks and the other McClatchy newsrooms I visit to keep in mind that the decisions that impact them are necessarily made in a broader context than they can see. McClatchy remains a profitable and fiscally sound company, but it's experiencing unprecedented revenue declines amidst a double-barreled threat based on both cyclical (recession-driven) and structural (new internet competition) factors. We don't yet know where the bottom of that decline will be. As stewards of the company, management seeks first to ensure its stability and security and then to see that it is well positioned to emerge from this challenge in the best possible shape to pursue its mission.

On that, the Raleigh newsroom, me and all of McClatchy's management and directors and I are aligned: We're a public service journalism company, and we must do everything we can to ensure that the mission survives and prospers.

Nobody does more for that mission than the people in the Raleigh newsroom. I am proud to work with them, and hope I can make them proud to work with me.

Thanks to Anonymous #6 for the copyediting help.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sipping wine as the ground shifts

Museum (myū-zē'əm), from the Latin Mūsēum, and the Greek Mouseion, shrine of the Muses, is a noun that calls to mind a building intended for the collection, preservation and appreciation of artifacts that recall the past.

Newseum (nū-zē'əm) may thus be imagined as describing a similar kind of hagiography for news and the news business. The imposing, extensive, expensive Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington most certainly is.

Erected at a cost of about $450 million, it is a seven-story, 250,000 square-foot monument to an age that was fading into history even as hundreds of its acolytes stood on polished floors to sip wine and martinis and celebrate Monday evening. This is not simply a museum of news; it’s a museum of Big News and Big News Companies.

The story it celebrates is already an artifact. The oligarchic era of heroic news anchors and preening press barons is over.

There is much to love about the Newseum simply as memoir of a grand and romantic time. There are moving Pulitzer photos and artifacts of great events -- from the twisted rubble of 9-11 to a substantial chunk of the Berlin Wall. There are numberless video screens recounting heroic deeds. There are interactive exhibits, huge elevators with their own bars aboard, a glass-walled Newseum nerve center to be admired (from a distance). There is a touching and sobering memorial to fallen journalists, a long list few citizens realize typically represents a wartime casualty rate higher than the soldiers’. Let me be clear about this: I’ve worshiped at the Church of News longer than most and few can claim deeper devotion, so it’s small wonder that many exhibits -- great and small -- moved me. People like me will love it.

The grand edifice also intends to be an audacious advocate for the First Amendment, parked squarely on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House. To whatever degree it is successful in inspiring a bit more fervor for the endangered freedoms of that vital amendment, it will be worth all the hundreds of millions of dollars it represents.

But I fear that may be a tenuous hope. First Amendment inspiration is unlikely to be the reaction commonly evoked by this Newseum. Instead, the overwhelming, dominant message is this: I Am Big News and you are my consumer. Behold my works, and tremble. It seems self-referential to the point of hubris.

I could be wrong. Maybe I’m just tired and cranky. I hope so.

Fall, mountains; just don’t fall on me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

B.S. from G.D.

This may sound a little defensive, but hell, it's my blog.

You may read a post on G.D. Gearino's blog about a question I was asked in the Raleigh newsroom last week. (Thankfully, the Romenesko link was busted when I tried, but I suppose it will get fixed).

Some of what he writes is actually true. He quoted "several different N&O journalists who attended the meeting, and their accounts all matched up" and he's right about the fact that Joe Neff asked, in the context of expense cuts, why I had stayed at the Umstead, which he described as "one of North Carolina's most expense resorts and spas."

I told Joe I'd paid $210 a night. In a follow-up email, I also mentioned that I had checked prices before coming to Raleigh, and the downtown Sheraton where I usually stay quoted us $179. Since I spent most of the day at McClatchy Interactive, which has offices closer to the Umstead, I'd have spent more than the difference on cab fare traveling back and forth from downtown.

I stay at hotels with negotiated rates approved for use by all traveling McClatchy employees by our Shared Services division. (I'm at the Hilton Garden Inn in Washington as I write this).

Gearino ends with a cheap shot: "Cost-cutting is only for the little people." You know better than this, Dan. Why didn't you ask me?

Kodak's take on transitions

The CEO who saw Kodak through a transition that sounds remarkably similar to ours shared this video today at the NAA/ASNE conference. It's worth watching to the end.

In the 1990s, Kodak's own scientists said digital imaging was going to quickly overtake traditional photography and printing, but in 2000 Kodak's film business was still growing, so the company didn't respond. By 2003 that business was down 30% and today it's about 10% of what it was.

Today the company's revenues are about back to where they were before the plunge, thanks to a massive restructuring and realignment of its business to digital products. The workforce is dramatically smaller (they shuttered 11 of 14 film factories); some business units (like a massive machine shop) were spun-off as employee-operated firms that now serve the general public; retirements were managed carefully; and it was all done in largely unionized plants without a strike.

The CEO of Proctor & Gamble, also on the panel, said of transitions, "The worst thing that can happen to you is for you to be winning, because you think if you won yesterday, you'll win tomorrow."

The CEO of Owens Corning said, "If you try to do more of the same thing faster and harder, that will mean more resources. We were most creative when we were most constrained."
(All based on rough notes and my subsequent recollection.)


I wasn't present, but I'm told John McCain delivered prepared remarks and then was questioned for 40 minutes at the NAA/ASNE convention here Monday morning, and the word "Iraq" was never spoken. (I read the transcript of his remarks, and it sure wasn't there.)

Two AP reporters doing the questioning never asked about Iraq. Most news stories led with his remarks supporting a shield law.


Monday, April 14, 2008

David Westphal headed westward

We announced at the McClatchy DC bureau this morning that Washington Editor David Westphal will be leaving later this fall to accompany wife Geneva Overholser to her new position in Los Angeles.

"It may seem odd to call you all together to tell you my wife has a new job," David told the assembled staff. "There's more to it than that. The job is in Los Angeles, and I'm going with her.

"I love you all, but I love Geneva more," David said.

The multi-talented Overholser, now head of the University of Missouri's Washington bureau, is set to become director of the journalism program at the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California. David will serve as Executive In Residence at the school as well.

David has been with the Washington bureau about 13 years, the most challenging of which surely have been the last two, when he deftly managed the integration of McClatchy and Knight Ridder staffs while helping guide them all to ever-greater heights of journalism and world-wide reputation. The bureau has won a basketful of journalistic awards for foreign, Washington and regional coverage and, more importantly, has consistently delivered high-quality, value-added journalism for all our operations.

David plans to work in Washington at least through the political conventions in August, and perhaps longer if we can entice him. Because of that and the strong leadership in place at the bureau and McClatchy Tribune Information Services, we don't need to make any immediate decision about how to handle his departure.

David is a good friend, and that at least won't change. I look forward to having him in California, though like staffers in Washington I will miss his steady hand and superb judgment in the D.C. newsroom.

Baghdad banker

This photo of a Baghdad banker by Khampha Bouaphanh of Fort Worth hangs on the wall at McClatchy's Washington bureau.

Hope is a state of mind

Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Either we have hope or we don't; it is a dimension of the soul, and it's not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, and orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons ... Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more propitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper the hope is. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Politics, books and the rest of life

I got to hear a terrific lecture in Raleigh Thursday night by long-time News & Observer political writer Rob Christensen, drawn from the extensive research behind his new book, The Paradox of Tarheel Politics. In he is explores the roots of the question, "How can one state be represented in the U.S. Senate by Jesse Helms and John Edwards at the same time?"

The event was at Quail Ridge Books and Music, a Triangle institution, and played to a packed house. I liked the bookstore, too, although I have to admit the section labels weren't exactly inspirational:

The velocity of the future

Today's Washington Post has an engaging story by Joel Achenbach contemplating how quickly science is changing the world, and how ill-equipped we humans are for dealing with that. (There's also a great sidebar by scientist/futurist Ray Kurzweil, who pretty much represents the most optimistic possible interpretation being advanced by any serious scientist.) Many of the issues discussed are about health, longevity and climate science, but the subject also hits at the core of the changes in communications an information technology that define our lives today. I'd recommend reading the package.

Here's a taste:

What's unnerving is the velocity at which the future sometimes arrives. Consider the Internet. This powerful but highly disruptive technology crept out of the lab (a Pentagon think tank, actually) and all but devoured modern civilization -- with almost no advance warning. The first use of the word "internet" to refer to a computer network seems to have appeared in this newspaper on Sept. 26, 1988, in the Financial section, on page F30 ...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

New roof at gallery courtyard

Here's a photo of the new roof over the Kogod Courtyard at the National Gallery in D.C.

Just because.

You saw it here first

A couple of updates to ponder this weekend:

I mentioned Sac Bee's use of Nokia cell-equipped video cameras to stream live footage of SF Olympic torch protests to Qik and thence, near real-time, to its website. Others noticed, too, including Well done.

And I blogged a couple of weeks ago about Chris Anderson's analysis of how newspaper performance numbers don't exactly add up to certain doom. Now Jeff Jarvis has another rumination about the state of newspaper thinking and, as usual, his conclusion is that we're generally way behind the curve. He mentions Chris and me as "finding kismet" in our moderately optimistic views, and I guess that's right. I certainly plead guilty to (generally) seeing glasses as half-full -- at least partly because I think optimism is an essential ingredient in the fuel that drives success.

Microsoft's Steve Ballmer (hardly my role model) once said leaders must be able to do two things: to be coldheartedly realistic about current conditions, and to have an optimistic vision of where the organization can go from here. I try (with varying success) to shape my behavior that way.

Jeff definitely practices a tough-love model of criticism, and I'd argue there's more than a shadow of hyperbole in there once in a while. But I know he believes in core journalistic values and wants, like us, to see the best possible information available to the broadest possible audience.

And without question, we're in agreement on his final point in the post:

... a discussion of how bad bad is isn’t terribly helpful, either. What we need is discussion of ideas and action.We must move past this pining for the past and shrugging about the future. We also have to stop seeing newspapers as the center of the news universe.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Fun with links

The New York Times is learning to link to other media, including competitors, as must we all.

I'll bet this one was especially satisfying: a link to a chart from the Wall Street Journal that is, alas, behind the firewall and can't be viewed.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Happy Birthday, TNT

The Tacoma News Tribune is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, and to mark the related 75th anniversary of a local festival, the front page took on the look of the paper from the 1930s. Editor Dave Zeeck talks about the old school edition here.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Camera to audience, almost immediately

The Sacramento Bee is using small video cameras equipped with cellphone connections to stream video from Olympic torch protests in San Francisco to its website in near-real time. The shot above was about two hours old when I captured it.

They're taking advantage of Qik, a service that streams video live from your cell, to stage the material, then transferring it to Here's a basic explanation as reported to me:

The video is shot with a small camera that has cell-phone components and streamed back live to this web site ( Like a YouTube video, the display can be embedded into an other web page.

I don't think the videos are streamed live on Sacbee, but the recordings are posted very fast for near-live viewing.

Fresno has also pioneered the Qik live video connections. Anybody else?

Advertising: also not dead yet

It's long been one of the accepted touchstones of web triumphalism that advertising is doomed. A simpleminded summary might go like this: The ubiquity of networked data on the web combined with tools to empower and unite consumers will ultimately yield a world in which pure information rules.

Well, based on experiments performed at MIT, that might just not be 100% true. Not only did the experiments demonstrate a powerful, continuing impact from "messaging" (which we call advertising), but also suggested that far from obviating advertising results, the web could actually extend and strengthen the impact.

Francois Gossieaux at the blog emergence marketing reports results: It’s not the product that counts - it’s the information about the product… More details are available at predictably irrational. (I wonder why these kinds of blogs hate capital letters so much?)

I came across this thread at JOHO the Blog, site of musings by David Weinberger, noted along with many other accomplishments for helping write The Cluetrain Manifesto, a genuinely seminal work that explained how a networked global world would affect business. In it, he notes regretting almost from the start one of Cluetrain's observations: “We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.”

Says he now:

We are so not immune. Branding works. We think of Volvos as safe and the Ford Fiesta as a car for young folks. We think of Coke as the original and Pepsi as the copy. We can characterize someone as a “wearer of Birkenstocks.” Branding and advertising in some important sense work.

Now, we certainly can undo some of the cognitive damage advertising and branding do. Market conversations in fact often are about the ways in which a product’s promises and sloganeering don’t live up to its reality. But that’s a lot different than saying we’re immune to advertising. We’re not.

None of this means to suggest that the web hasn't had profound impacts on commerce, as with so much else in the world today. It has, and we need to be top of all that. Pay attention. Keep up. More information and background is available here, and at the sites mentioned above.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Listening to your audience

You telephone the Merced Sun-Star and record your rant. You and your neighbors click on the Squawk Box to hear it. It's brand new; details as they emerge.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Enlightened doubt and post-modern truth

Mankind's longest running intellectual debate -- from Aristotelians to the Age of Faith to the Enlightenment to French deconstruction and post-modernism -- isn't the stuff of everyday newsroom practice. But you do have a dog in that fight.

The essential question used to be "What is truth?" but devolved into "Is there truth?" and beyond. In some elementary form (philosophically speaking), it's the central question we ask every day. (Jack Fuller offers as good a definition of journalistic truth as I've ever seen in "News Values"; he calls this testing and discovery "the truth discipline," a journalistic process that produces a useful and robust, if crude, version of truth that serves us well in the everyday workings of the world. (Find a discussion of "truth discipline" here, or many other places in the book every serious journalist needs to read).

I mention all this only to introduce you to a fascinating post on the NYT blog of Stanley Fish. You do not need to read this, but God, is it interesting.

His post is either a review of or a meditation on a book by Francois Cusset to be published next month – “French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States” – that I certainly would not (and probably could not) read. But in Prof. Fish's clean, accessible prose, I feel like I can understand it. Here's a taste:

Obviously the rationalist Enlightenment agenda does not survive this deconstructive analysis intact, which doesn’t mean that it must be discarded (the claim to be able to discard it from a position superior to it merely replicates it) or that it doesn’t yield results (I am writing on one of them); only that the progressive program it is thought to underwrite and implement — the program of drawing closer and closer to a truth independent of our discursive practices, a truth that, if we are slow and patient in the Baconian manner, will reveal itself and come out from behind the representational curtain — is not, according to this way of thinking, realizable.

That’s a loss, but it’s not a loss of anything in particular. It doesn’t take anything away from us. We can still do all the things we have always done; we can still say that some things are true and others false, and believe it; we can still use words like better and worse and offer justifications for doing so. All we lose (if we have been persuaded by the deconstructive critique, that is) is a certain rationalist faith that there will someday be a final word, a last description that takes the accurate measure of everything.

Okay, here's one sweet, final item: almost immediately following the Fish post, Berkman Fellow Gene Koo added an addendum: "Enlightened doubt: Wikipedia's post-modern search for truth" that extends the meditation into the contemporary techno-communications realm. Says he:

Fish may as well be describing Wikipedia, for Wikipedia exemplifies the quest for truth in a deconstructed world. Wikipedia harnesses individuals’ faith in truth, yet ultimately tempers it within a fundamentally relativist framework. Wikipedia ultimately guarantees not so much the truth as the ability to argue for the truth by appealing to a common cultural understanding — the Neutral Point of View — as the final arbiter of truth. In short, Wikipedia resolves the postmodern dilemma of truth by ultimately relying on process. Through the give-and-take between many committed individuals who hold strong beliefs in what is true, as well as a common commitment to what truth means, a truer (or truthier) encyclopedia of knowledge emerges.

How does any of this relate to producing news in today's bewildering environment? Well, not at all. Except totally.

What's the future of your paper?

Tell some civilian that you work at the newspaper, and odds are good that you'll hear something like, "Oh, I'm sorry. Won't you be going out of business soon?"

Combine the very real changes and challenges we face with the steady drumbeat of misinterpretation and pessimism and the result is an atmosphere of pervasive gloom. Yes, some newspaper companies may fail, some because they ended up in financially untenable situations, and others because they wouldn't embrace the changing needs and demands of the audience.

But others will survive and prosper in new configurations that serve their public mission in new ways. McClatchy is one of them, and if folks had my vantage point they'd see how much radical change and reorientation has already taken place. Our operating costs are dropping in the high single digits every year (boy, is that fun) and our online audience was up 25% last year. (It's growing faster so far this year, too). While there have been challenges, we're rapidly getting better at selling and profiting from that online audience, and the partnership with Yahoo that rolls out later this year will deliver far more sophisticated tools and lots more inventory to sell.

Execs at the News & Observer decided to take the question of their future head-on in the pages of the paper recently, and produced an illuminating section discussing their perspectives and helping readers understand what they were up and where they're trying to go.

Click on these images to get a closer look at the story they told. And I'm sure John Drescher & Co. there would be happy to follow-up with colleagues who are interested.

Two finalists for Pulitzers

Newsrooms at two McClatchy papers are sighing and celebrating today, having just learned that they were named finalists for Pulitzer Prizes.

PUBLIC SERVICE: In Charlotte, a team of Observer staffers contributed to the paper's entry, which the citation describes as an "illuminating examination of the mortgage and housing crisis in the newspaper’s community and state, resulting in federal probes and changes in a major lender’s practices."

BREAKING NEWS: In Boise, several Idaho Statesman staffers likewise were involved in coverage of events triggered by the mens-room arrest of Sen. Larry Craig, work the Pulitzer Board described as "tenacious coverage of the twists and turns in the scandal involving the state’s senator..."

In each case, the winner was from the Washington Post (for coverage of Walter Reed Army Hospital and the massacre at Virginia Tech), so hats off them (dammit); the Post won six Pulitzers in all.

UPDATE: Did anybody notice any Pulitzers at all from papers west of the Mississippi River? Kind of astonishing how little good work gets done out here. (At least Bob Dylan lives in California part of the time.)

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The limits of free ...

Yes, most web content is free, and always will be. Google's friction-free system for placing contextual ads next to content and handling the transaction as a self-serve auction has revolutionized the process. Chris Anderson at Wired makes the case well.

But sometimes free is too expensive. Honestly.

We wrote here not long ago about ways to be "better than free," basically sugestions from Kevin Kelly about how to make your free content stand out from other free content.

But this post from George Colony at Forrester takes a different tack: why there are limits to what that frictionless advertising can do, and why people will sometimes be willing to pay to avoid it.

Here's a taste:

What it means ... Anderson is half right. Many are willing to sacrifice time and attention to get their content free. But a growing market will pay to get just what they need, when they want it, with few or no ads.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Swift stroke

The rules of conduct, the maxims of action, and the tactical instincts that serve to gain small victories may always be expanded into the winning of great ones with suitable opportunity; because in human affairs the sources of success are ever to be found in the fountains of quick resolve and swift stroke; and it seems to be a law inflexible and inexorable that he who will not risk cannot win.
—John Paul Jones

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Could be nearly worthless

This blog post at Freakonomics makes a point I've often pondered: how the hell do we know what "the market" is doing or thinking, anyhow? Why do we anthropomorphize "the market," as if it was a distinct thing, or as if stocks had motivations?

I think the honest answer is that collective ignorance about markets and economics leads the press to a herd mentality in which we all just repeat what a handful of business writers tell us.

Is what we write and publish about stock markets useful?

Dark, and very warm

World War II. The interior of a tented command post, after nightfall.

A single bare bulb hangs above the littered table, shining through a cloud of smoke from a dozen cigarettes. Junior officers stand around the table, sometimes reaching out to touch a map or quietly ask one another questions. Their commanders huddle in a corner nearby.

Several years into the war, this routine is practiced and well rehearsed; they all know what to do. In a few moments they will walk away from the briefing and into the night, which is very dark, very warm and strangely quiet.

But the briefing was neither casual nor reassuring. The objective has been identified and located -- they think -- but much about the enemy’s strength and intentions remains unsure. Their forces, ragged after years of steady battle, need replacements and fresh troops, but none are promised. There may be enough gasoline for the armor, but certainly not for support services. They need more medics, better radios, more reliable artillery charges.

These issues all were raised, and answered or ignored, in the briefing moments before. Now the young men will leave the huddle to return to the ranks, to brief and prepare and motivate their troops, to lead them into the morning to fight again. Despite their objections and concerns (all legitimate, some nearing criminal) they will fight again, and win, and then do it again. They do not know if they are months or years away from victory, but they fight each battle with all the strength at hand, and history will one day record the legacy of that perseverance and the fierce spirit that animated it.

Benjamin Franklin, blogger

I happen to think Benjamin Franklin is the role model for nearly everything good about the creation of the United States: liberty, self-sufficiency, strength coupled with restraint, freedom of the press ... (Remember how the Constitution explicitly recognized slavery, by allocating partial value to slaves in population counts? Franklin was the only signer who, in his lifetime, repented of that position and came out against slavery.)

Mark Andreessen has a nice post
about why Franklin would have made a good blogger. (I've long argued that Tom Paine certainly would be blogging at, but never considered Ben.) You'll enjoy some of the sample Franklin prose he offers in support. Here's a taste:

[Concerned that the British did not fully understand the potential consequences of further alienating the American colonies, Franklin] published a parable in January 1770 about a young lion cub and a large English dog traveling together on a ship.

The dog picked on the lion cub and "frequently took its food by force."

But the lion grew and eventually became stronger than the dog.

One day, in response to all the insults, it smashed the dog with "a stunning blow," leaving the dog "regretting that he had not rather secured its friendship than provoked its enmity."

Secrets of Google News

Just how do those algorithms determine story play and treatment at Google News?

This post at the Google News blog has some answers that could be helpful as you think about optimiziation strategies.

One myth:

Having an image next to your article improves your ranking MYTH

While having a good image with your article does improve your chance to get your picture shown, it has no impact on the ranking of the article itself. There are some tips in our help center designed to help us include more of your images in Google News. We encourage you to check those out if you have had problems getting images included in the past.

UPDATE: I have elevated this comment from blogger Danny Sanchez, with some amplification:

Having an image may not help the story's ranking BUT it does improve its chances of being the featured thumbnail for a story. That means it will display next to the lead headline and in the regular Google Search results if it triggers a news result.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Maybe it's about vision?

Matthew Dent is a 26-year old British designer who has never before designed currency. The U.S. Bureau of Engraving is 2,500-person bureaucracy with a $525 million budget.

Let me know which design job you like better.