Friday, December 28, 2007

A thousand words

John Moore captured some of the most compelling images of the Bhutto assassination, many presented here in an arresting narrated slide show at the NYT. To me, this photo made moments before the gunshots and bomb blast makes achingly clear why her death is such a huge loss for those who seek modernization and peace in the Islamic world.

Just as I was planning to post it, I came across another "worth a thousand words" example, this one an Economist article about three of the most important infographics in history. One charts causes of death of British soldiers in support of a Florence Nightingale crusade to improve conditions in barracks. Another combines time and money on two different axes in suggesting that the cost of wheat was too high compared to wages. "

The last is an example Edward Tufte described as "the best statistical graphic ever drawn. : an illustration that shows all manner of data about Napoleans advance and retreat from Moscow:

Minard's chart shows six types of information: geography, time, temperature, the course and direction of the army's movement, and the number of troops remaining. The widths of the gold (outward) and black (returning) paths represent the size of the force, one millimetre to 10,000 men. Geographical features and major battles are marked and named, and plummeting temperatures on the return journey are shown along the bottom.

The chart tells the dreadful story with painful clarity: in 1812, the Grand Army set out from Poland with a force of 422,000; only 100,000 reached Moscow; and only 10,000 returned. The detail and understatement with which such horrifying loss is represented combine to bring a lump to the throat. As men tried, and mostly failed, to cross the Bérézina river under heavy attack, the width of the black line halves: another 20,000 or so gone. The French now use the expression “C'est la Bérézina” to describe a total disaster.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Velocity matters

Perhaps you saw the interesting article in the Sunday NYT entitled Google Gets Ready to Rumble With Microsoft.

Buried deep in the piece is one lesson that seems especially appropriate for us: velocity matters. I know the pace of change and especially our time-to-market on technology/online issues is a common frustration. I hope you know that our new steering committee is working hard with McClatchy Interactive to improve that performance, chiefly by focusing on key priorities and untangling communications. Your continuous feedback to steering committee reps – including me – is essential.

And some of the bottlenecks can be navigated on your own, by speeding up decision-making and willingness to experiment at your own site. Too often, we fall prey to caution, to paralysis-by-analysis, to letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. It sounds simpleminded, but ready-fire-aim often is the soundest decision. We can change it later; we can iterate; we can fine tune.

The thing we cannot do is dawdle.

Here's the relevant portion of the Google/Microsoft article, though it's all good:

Google’s quicksilver corporate culture can be jarring for some employees, even for Mr. Schmidt. He recalls that shortly after joining the company and its young founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, he was frustrated that people were answering e-mail on their laptops at meetings while he was speaking.

“I’ve given up” trying to change such behavior, he says. “They have to answer their e-mail. Velocity matters.”

VELOCITY does, indeed, matter, and Google deploys it to great effect. Conventional software is typically built, tested and shipped in two- or three-year product cycles. Inside Google, Mr. Schmidt says, there are no two-year plans. Its product road maps look ahead only four or five months at most. And, Mr. Schmidt says, the only plans “anybody believes in go through the end of this quarter.”

Google maintains that pace courtesy of the cloud. With a vast majority of its products Web-based, it doesn’t wait to ship discs or load programs onto personal computers. Inside the company, late stages of product development are sometimes punctuated by 24-to-48-hour marathon programming sessions known as “hack-a-thons.” The company sometimes invites outside engineers to these sessions to encourage independent software developers to use Google technologies as platforms for their own products.

New features and improvements are made and tested on Google’s computers and constantly sprinkled into the services users tap into online. In the last two months alone, eight new features or improvements have been added to Google’s e-mail system, Gmail, including a tweak to improve the processing speed and code to simplify the handling of e-mail on mobile phones. A similar number of enhancements have been made in the last two months to Google’s online spreadsheet, word processing and presentation software.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Full fat, extra cholesterol

To succeed in the emerging media landscape, we need to be sure we're providing value-added information – information that makes people's lives better, that they can't find elsewhere.

Yes, TMZ generates giant traffic numbers with it's combination of pop culture fact and fantasy while more substantive sites lag behind. Yes, large numbers will watch Dancing With the Stars at the expense of NOVA.

That's not likely to change, but "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" isn't a strategy we can live with. We're a public service journalism company. It's what we do, and if we can't find a profitable way to keep doing it, there's no reason for there to be a McClatchy Co.

If there were no consequences, many of us would probably start dinner with dessert and follow-up with cheese nachos. Fortunately for us, many intelligent people recognize thatgood health and long life requires nutritional meals as well – and the same is true of their information consumption.

In that light, have a look at the video below from the League of Conservation Voters. In my mind, the issue of climate crisis is a settled scientific question, the consequences of both action and inaction siginficant and the need for wide debate imperative. But look at these results: in 2007, five leading broadcast journalists asked presidential contenders 2,275 questions at 120 different venues. No more than 24 touched even remotely on global climate issues.

That's not a nutritious meal – and therein lies opportunity for us. Add value and nutrition to the information diet. There's an appetite for it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It all starts with content

Andy Perdue and crew at the Tri-City Herald's online department celebrated a milestone in fine form recently. For the 100th edition of their Northwest Winecast production, they introduced audiences to the notion of "sabrage" – cutting the top off sparkling wine with a sabre.

Here's the past of Andy's message I liked best:

Last night, I got an email from the owner of [the Winecast sponsor]. He said he thought this episode was great and he was heading to the store to buy some sparkling wine and a machete so he could learn how to do this.

He ended the email by saying, "Thank you for letting me be the sponsor."

Those eight words sum up our goal: to produce content so interesting and compelling, our advertisers are thanking us for the opportunity to have access to our audience.

It all starts with content.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Jessica Hagy, correspondent

If you haven't checked out the contributions from Jessica "Indexed" Hagy at our alt.campaign feature on McClatchy DC, by all means do so, right now.


I'm sorry for the scarcity of posts here lately. I've been preoccupied with family needs for the last month or so and work is being handled as triage. I expect to have more time and mental energy before too long.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

You say you want a revolution?

Revolution is not for the faint of heart.

Two central truths about our business become clearer every day: first, that there is an enduring need and opportunity for public service journalism; and second, that the current transition, involving everything from audience relationships to revenue models, is indeed revolutionary.

It is our good fortune to be the generation entrusted with this rebirth, though not everybody will agree with that. Some of you will think we’re going too far as we transform our operations, priorities and relationships. Many will criticize us for moving too slowly. Tragically, some of you will give up and quit too soon.

But there’s a profoundly important role in the evolving information ecology for the journalism of verification, organized responsively in an outside/in relationship with audiences, drawing upon networked resources, founded on trust and reputation. We must be prepared to do pretty much whatever it takes to our business operations and organizational charts to get us there.

Nearly every day I discuss changes that would have been heresy for newspaper editors even 10 years ago. Things that once seemed like tenets now look like artifacts. The pace of change and the momentum of the imperatives we face truly are disorienting.

Our stock price is in the tank. Bummer. (I've been accumulating McClatchy stock longer than most of you). Year-over-year revenues have been declining. Businesses that were mainstays of our prosperity – Detroit car markers, real estate brokerages – are themselves in turmoil. Wall Street is not happy; the relentless downward trend is disappointing, no doubt about it. Investors who own millions of shares and employees who own hundreds all share the discomfort.

Some of this is the particular pain of the housing meltdown and related economic woes. Beyond that, many of our business fundamentals really are different now. As a result newspaper publishing is moving from being one of the country’s last vertically integrated industries to being something else – a model being invented as we go.

Some of the restructuring is easy enough to understand, even if it feels bad. People who answer phones in circulation are worth every bit as much as people in newsrooms, of course – but their jobs are not equally central to the mission of producing public service journalism. We serve our mission better the more efficient we become.

So we’re a mission-driven company, right? How do you decide what’s central? Does it matter if you compile sports agate and NBA game summaries on your own copy desk? If the state public offices commission has a transparent, easily accessible campaign finance database online, should you try to duplicate that or just link it? If there are already 50 photographers covering a wildfire, when do you send your own?

These questions keep getting harder. If the future of the enterprise depends on continuing to grow audience (and it does), is it right to reassign staffers from features to a social networking site for young mothers? In a culture that prides itself on depth and subtlety of its journalism, how much can you justify reassigning reporters to early-morning shifts to populate the website with breaking news for early risers?

Though it be littered with such tough questions, I am not afraid of our future. Every day I watch McClatchy newsrooms adapt and extend, producing sustained public service journalism for audiences that have never been bigger. These growing audiences are at the heart of both our mission and our business model, a congruence for which I give thanks daily. (It need not necessarily have been so). We’re getting better at selling and profiting from them, even as we get more efficient and less expensive to operate; those lines will cross, and meanwhile our legacy business produces comfortable profit margins to see us across the changes.

The music’s not in the piano. Storytellers always occupy a central role in society, and there is no story more compelling than the truth.

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.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bright lights and shining stars in L.A.

The Iraqi women of the McClatchy Baghdad Bureau completed their North American Courage In Journalism tour in Los Angeles Tuesday night. As in New York and Washington earlier in their visit, their award from the International Womens Media Foundation and Sahar Issa's remarks stirred the capcity crowd in the Beverly Hills Hotel ballroom.

And yes, former journalism student Meg Ryan was on hand to introduce them, huddled in conversation with Sahar throughout dinner and warm and expansive in her remarks about the brave work they've done to shine light into the darkness of the Iraq war.

We were proud just to be in the room with them. Now we're home in Sacramento and Sahar and Bureau Chief Leila Fadel head back to Baghdad. God speed to them all.

Meg Ryan, a journalism major at New York University, pictured with McClatchy Baghdad staffers (not pictured for security reasons) and on the big screen making the Courage In Journalism award in Beverly Hills.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

New editors for two McClatchy papers

Melanie Sill has been named editor of The Sacramento Bee, and John Drescher is named executive editor of the News & Observer in Raleigh.

These papers are in fine hands.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Building networks on your beat

Jay Rosen is looking for guinea pigs. Here's a recent note and invitation:

I am currently recruiting good test sites for my next initiative, beat reporting with a social network. It's going well so far, and I believe I will have participation from [several] newspapers in [other companies.]

Participating newsrooms designate a single beat reporter to try to build a social network specifically for that beat. I aim to have 12-15 doing it at once, with help from NewAssignment.Net. That way they learn way more.

Interested? You can contact Jay through the links found here.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

AP announces 'member choice'

My email (and probably yours) has delivered this news release about the AP's prospective new sort-of-a-la-carte service:

New AP packaging & pricing plan
to take effect in 2009

AP Board approves 'Member Choice,' making more content available and easier to find

NEW YORK -- The Associated Press Board of Directors approved a set of resolutions today that will restructure the way AP content is packaged for newspaper members as well as the assessment formula to charge for it. The move represents the most comprehensive change in the way AP content is sold in the history of the cooperative.

The new plan, called Member Choice, will make all AP English-language breaking news text available to members -- a step that should enable them to locate significantly more news of local interest for their markets.

For example, in a pilot study of Member Choice this summer, a newspaper in Texas could easily follow stories about an international company that is a major local employer. Another paper, in a city facing an overcrowding issue in high schools, located stories from two other cities in other states facing the same problem. Under AP’s previous distribution model, the newspapers would not have access to those stories.

“As newspapers focus more on local news, this total access to breaking news will greatly expand the amount of locally relevant content they can draw from,” said Tom Brettingen, AP senior vice president for Global Newspaper Markets. “Member Choice offers members more access to news, the tools to identify what they care about most, and the contract terms to use it more broadly. It also comes with a new easy-to-understand pricing structure.”

With Member Choice, members will pay a basic assessment that gives them access to all AP state, national and international breaking news. Using the Web-based AP Exchange delivery platform, newspapers can search this broader pool of content to find the stories that are most locally meaningful to their readers.

For additional fees, members will be able to buy premium services featuring in-depth content in news analysis, business, sports, entertainment and lifestyles. In addition, for the first time, members will be able to buy these stories on an a la carte basis. Members who choose not to buy the premium sports package, for example, will be able to view that content using AP Exchange and purchase individual stories.

Previously, AP sold its text in different-sized bundles, intended to serve the basic needs of small, medium and large newspapers, with the core services including varying amounts of national and international news and content from the newspaper’s home state wire.

Under the new plan, most AP members will experience either a reduction in costs, or no change, from their current AP fees. The basic assessment will continue to be based on circulation, as it has in the past. This move marks the first major change in AP’s assessment schedule since 1985.

Member Choice is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2009. It affects U.S. newspapers, which are owners of the not-for-profit cooperative. Broadcast and new media customers should also benefit from these changes, although specific programs have not been finalized.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

To dig up answers with our bare hands ...

Sahar Issa's acceptance speech on behalf of the Iraqi women of the McClatchy Baghdad Bureau upon award of the 2007 International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Awards is the focus of a powerful New York Times editorial today. Here is the entire text of her remarks:

It is a great honor for me to stand here today.

To me, this award means that my colleagues and I have succeeded in what we set out to do; and that our voices have carried, through war, through death and sorrow, through sleepless nights and fear driven days in an effort to reflect the picture of our country as we see it, and of out people as only we can truly know them.

To be a journalist in violence ridden Iraq today, ladies and gentlemen, is not a matter lightly undertaken. Every path is strewn with danger, every checkpoint, every question a direct threat.

Every interview we conduct may be our last. So much is happening in Iraq. So much that is questionable. So much that we, as journalists, try to fathom and portray to the people who care to know.

In every society there is good and bad. Laws regulate the conduct of the society. My country is now lawless. Innocent blood is shed every day, seemingly without purpose. Hundreds of thousands have been killed for seemingly no reason. It is our responsibility to do our utmost to acquire the answers, to dig them up with our bare hands if we must.

But that knowledge comes at a dear price, for since the war started, four and a half years ago, an average of about one reporter and media assistant killed every week is something we have to live with.

We live double lives. None of our friends or relatives know what we do. My children must lie about my profession. They cannot under any circumstance boast of my accomplishments, and neither can I.

Every morning, as I leave my home, I look back with a heavy heart, for I may not see it again – today may be the day that the eyes of an enemy will see me for what I am, a journalist, rather than the appropriately bewildered elderly lady who goes to look after ailing parents, across the river every day. Not for a moment can I let down my guard.

I smile as I give my children hugs and send them off to school; it's only after they turn their backs to me that my eyes fill to overflowing with the knowledge that they are just as much at risk as I am.

So why continue? Why not put down my proverbial pen and sit back?

It's because I'm tired of being branded a terrorist: tired that a human life lost in my country is no loss at all. This is not the future I envision for my children. They are not terrorists, and their lives are not valueless.
I have pledged my life – and much, much more, in an effort to open a window through which the good people in the international community may look in and see us for what we are, ordinary human beings with ordinary aspirations, and not what we have been portrayed to be.

Allow me, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to reach out. Help us to build bridges of understanding and acceptance. Even though the war has cast a dark shadow upon your nation and mine – it is never too late.
I thank my bureau chief and our editors for retaining a high standard of balance and credibility, and I thank you all for being here today.

Good Day.

(We include no photo of Sahar, or the other Iraqi staffers because their lives are endangered because of the work they do.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Proud day for McClatchy

This report is from McClatchy Washington Editor David Westphal:

It was a proud day to work for McClatchy. Six current and former Iraqi staffers in Baghdad were awarded the Courage Award in New York today by the International Women's Media Foundation. Four of the six were present for the awards lunch at the Waldorf Astoria, and one of them, Sahar Issa, gave a smash acceptance speech on everyone's behalf. Standing behind her were Ban Adil Sarhan, Huda Ahmed and Alaa Majeed. Not able to attend were Zaineb Obeid and Shatha al Awsy. A McClatchy fan club, including John Walcott, Mark Seibel, Leila Fadel, plus Knight Ridder alums Clark Hoyt and Steve Butler, led the cheering section.

We are so proud of them. Their reporting from the streets and roads and markets of Iraq is the foundation of our Baghdad report, and it was obvious from the crowd's reaction (and individual comments afterwards) that McClatchy's sparkling work on Iraq was widely understood and respected.

But this was a day to honor the courage of Ban, Huda, Alaa, Zaineb, Shatha and Sahar -- and by extension all of the Iraqis who have worked for us in Baghdad. Only the handful of you who have worked in Baghdad can fully glimpse what it means to be an Iraqi journalist working for an American news organization. The rest of us can only stand in awe, and express our thanks for all they have given, and risked, to tell the story of their country.

As Bob Woodruff said in his introduction, "These six Iraqi women have reported the war in Baghdad from inside their hearts."

Woodruff, the ABC newsman who was critically injured in Iraq, gave me a copy of his introduction. We'll send Sahar's remarks later.

Introduction of McClatchy Courage Award by ABC newsman Bob Woodruff:
This has been the most dangerous war for journalists. I have American and British friends who have died there. Still, Iraqi journalists have suffered the most. More than 80 percent of the reporters who have died there are Iraqis.

They are courageous and busy, day to day traveling on the streets. Among the best of these journalists are the six Iraqi women from McClatchy’s bureau whom we honor today. They have become the eyes and ears of a nation... their nation.

They words say it all:

“Abu Salah heard the screeching tires and gunfire outside his home in central Baghdad, and cowered. He’s feared this moment. He’d even plotted leaving the city. Now invaders had entered his street, and he knew that as the only Sunni on a street filled with Shiites, he was probably their target, whoever the invaders might be.” – Zained Obeid

“I left my home Monday. As my family fled the fighting that’s engulfed our neighborhood in Baghdad, I gazed out the car window, thinking that I might never again see the fruit stand off our street, the shops where my sisters and I bought soft drinks, the turquoise-domed mosque where we prayed in the Holy month of Ramadan.” – Shatha al Awsy

“We were asked to send the next of kin to whom the remains of my nephew, killed on Monday in a horrific explosion downtown, can be handed. From the waist down was all they could give us. ‘We identified him by the cell phone in his pants’ pocket. If you want the rest, you will just have to look for yourself. We don’t know what he looks like.’ Now begins the horror that surpasses anything I could have possibly envisioned.” – Sahar Issa

These six Iraqi women have reported the war in Baghdad from inside their hearts. They have watched as the war touched the lives of their neighbors and friends and then they bore witness as it reached into the lives of each and every one of them.

All the while, they have been the backbone of the McClatchy bureau, sleeping with bullet-proof vests and helmets by their beds at night, taking different routes to work each day, trying to keep their employment by a Western news organization secret.

All have lost family members or close friends. All have had their lives threatened. All have had narrow escapes with death.

(Then a video about the McClatchy bureau, including interviews with Leila Fadel and Nancy Youssef.)

With us today are four of the incredible journalists from McClatchy’s bureau: Ban Adil Sarhan, Huda Ahmed, Alaa Majeed and, accepting the award for all of them, Sahar Issa.

We ask that you refrain from photographing them, because if their identities should become known, it would pose a threat to both themselves and their families living in Iraq.
click to enlarge

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Questions without answers

Just for fun, have a look at this list of questions for which techüberblogger David Pogue has no answers.

A sample:

  • Why is Wi-Fi free at cheap hotels, but $14 a night at expensive ones?
  • What happens to software programs when their publishers go out of business?
  • Would the record companies sell more music online if it weren’t copy-protected?
  • Do cellphones cause brain cancer?
  • What’s the real reason you have to turn off your laptop for takeoff?

thanks to Kottke for the pointer

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Thinking about rivers of news

Doc Searls, one of the web's leading-edge thinkers and co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, says a year from now we'll all know the term "newsrivers" and, indeed, be producing them.

From his recent post:

News is a river, not a lake. It is active, not static. It’s what’s happening, not what happened. Or not only what happened.

But what happened — news as olds — is how we’ve understood news for as long as we’ve had newspapers. The happening kind of news came along with radio, and then television. Then we called it “live”. Still, even on the nightly news, what’s live is talking heads and reports from the field. The rest is finished stuff.

There’s a difference here, a distinction to be made: one as stark and important as the distinction between now and then, or life and death. It’s a distinction between what’s live and what’s not.

This distinction is what will have us soon talking about the life of newspapers, rather than the death of them.

Because it’s not enough to be “online” or to have a “presence” on the Web.

To be truly alive, truly new, truly part of the life of its readers, a newspaper needs to be on the live web and not just the static one. It needs to flow news, and not just post it.

It needs to flow rivers of news, or newsrivers.

I have one version of a New York Times "newsriver" bookmarked on my iPhone. You can cruise it online here. This is obviously preliminary, proof-of-concept stuff. We've used Typepad blogs at our DC website to flow rivers of breaking news in the past, most recently I believe for the Virginia Tech shootings, or maybe the Petraeus testimony.

But there's a lot of thought and experimentation to be done with this concept. I think it's fruitful, and I'd love to hear what you've been doing that touches on this.

Warning signs for Google?

Shortly after writing the post below, contrasting certain techblogger ethics with traditional journalism standards, I read this story in Friday's Wall Street Journal about Google's troubles with Brazilian law. It's well worth your time.

Google's extraordinary profitability comes not only from its vast traffic, but also from automated, self-serve advertising sales that cost virtually nothing to handle. Unlike the way we sell ads for print and online – with sales staff earning substantial salaries and commissions – the Google engine is fueled by AdSense and its cousins. Like eBay, it's a dream business model: the customers supply all the inventory AND do all the work.

This story makes it clear that global domination is going to be a lot more complicated. As with the observation below about the need for oversight and accountability, it looks like the whole hands-off-my-internet model may not be nirvana, after all.

Score one for integrity

Maybe the corrupt old mainstream media isn't the worst of all possible journalism.

Check out Techbloggers Have Sold Their Souls for some observations about why the conventions of honest journalism, integrity and accountability still belong in the world of news and information.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Rick Rodriguez resigns

Sacramento Bee Executive Editor Rick Rodriguez has resigned his job at the paper, he and Publisher Janis Heaphy told the newsroom here this afternoon.

I wasn't taking notes but Janis said something like this: "Rick and I have worked together for many years and I have immense respect for him and his contributions. However, Rick and I differ over my vision for the long-term future direction of the Bee and so we have mutually decided to part. We have agreed not to publicly discuss this, though I want to reassure you our differences are not based on expenses or staffing or our commitment to quality journalism." She repeated in answer to a question later that the issues weren't financial.

UPDATE: Sacramento Bee story here.

Neither of them answered questions about Rick's decision.

Janis also announced that Rick will start working as a consultant with me after the first of the year. Asked what he planned to do, Rick said, "I'm taking a vacation and then after the first of the year I'll be working with Howard – unless I get a better offer."

UPDATE TWO: Bee's internal announcement here:


DATE: October 18, 2007

TO: All Employees

FROM: Janis Heaphy

RE: Rick Rodriguez steps down

After nine years as The Bee’s executive editor and senior vice president, Rick Rodriguez has announced his plans to leave The Bee and pursue other opportunities.

I am close to naming his successor and hope to do so shortly. Managing Editor Joyce Terhaar will serve as editor in the interim.

Rick served The Bee and our community with pride, determination and compassion. Under his leadership, The Bee won virtually every major journalism award, culminating in a Pulitzer Prize for feature photography earlier this year. Rick is highly regarded throughout the industry and served as president of The American Society of Newspaper Editors in 2005. He was named one of America’s 100 most influential Hispanics by Hispanic Business Magazine in 2006.

As the Sacramento area grew, Rick recognized the opportunity for a strong regional news source and positioned The Bee to fill this role. He overhauled the paper’s regional coverage, opened news offices in Roseville, Folsom and Elk Grove and built an influential Capitol bureau to serve as the source of record for California politics.

Rick also championed high-impact investigative journalism, and projects like “Chief’s Disease,” which detailed disability claim abuse in the California Highway Patrol, and “Pineros,” a series on the hardships and inequities facing immigrant forest workers, sparked lasting social, legal and political reform.

A graduate of Stanford University, Rick began his 28-year career with McClatchy at The Fresno Bee in 1979 and moved to The Bee in 1983 as a political reporter and then editorial writer. He was named managing editor in 1993 and promoted to executive editor in 1998.

“I’ve had the experience of a lifetime working at The Bee and am grateful to the passionate journalists who have dedicated themselves to this paper and to working with me, “ said Rick. “I am immensely proud of what we have accomplished together and the reputation that we have built for this fine paper.”

Starting early next year, Rick will begin working with McClatchy’s Vice President for News, Howard Weaver as a consultant on journalism issues, providing analysis, personnel advice and other assistance.

I have immense respect for Rick and wish him all the best in his new ventures. Please join me in thanking Rick for his many contributions.

A current look at video

Current TV has been interesting since its inception, but it's getting a lot more interesting now. Sporting an elegant new design and an energized community, the site offers remarkably high quality video storytelling from a huge range of sources.

It'll take you a while to get your feet wet at Current; I feel like I've just started. Virginia Heffernan's blog The Medium at the NYT has a short exploration that might help you get started.

I especially like this story, which I found while poking around earlier.

UPDATE: Here's a second piece well worth watching:

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Lessons of the dog-poop girl: the internet is a cruel historian

For an engaging, thoughtful post about the role of the internet in enforcing social norms, see The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet.

Here's a sample:

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne was forced by her colonial New England village to wear a scarlet letter A to represent her sin of adultery. The Internet is bringing back the scarlet letter in digital form – an indelible record of people’s past misdeeds. One commentator to Don Park’s post about the dog poop girl said it best: “Right or wrong, the internet is a cruel historian.”

A roadmap to tomorrow?

Pat Dougherty in Anchorage flagged this post from the new MediaShift Idea Lab blog (which ought to be amongst your RSS feeds): Jay Rosen's formula for online success.

While I distrust any simple list or formula in matters that are evolving as quickly as this, there's no denying that Jay has assembled a potent recipe. It comes as close as anything I've seen to a roadmap for the near future.

The best news? This is all stuff we can do – and in many cases already are. As we settle into a more familiar relationship with the emerging online gestalt, all this will seem as natural as subheads and agate pages – things we naturally know we need to employ in pursuit of the big mission: public service journalism.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The biggest local news

[click to enlarge image]

When the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, returned to Ft. Lewis, WA this week from a 15-month deployment in Iraq, 48 of the Stryker troops who left with the brigade did not return.

But they were not forgotten. This front page of The Olympian was an unforgettable reminder of their sacrifice and a tribute to their memory.

It was, as editor Vickie Kilgore told readers, "
the biggest of local stories."

Readers generally applauded the gesture, which coincided with memorial services at the fort. It was a splendid example of impact journalism and community service.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The war comes home

The News-Democrat in Belleville has moved opportunistically to leverage local interest in Ken Burns' PBS documentary on The War, building a site where local folks can tell their own stories and share histories.

The effort is in its infancy, editor Jeff Couch reports, but "we believe we will be able to build a rich, layered
WWII page with lots of reader participation and full use of multimedia story-telling tools."

I love the way they jumped right in and plan to improve and elaborate with experience. I'd like to see what else McClatchy sites are doing with this.

Fait divers (encore)

I wrote admiringly here not long ago about the spare elegance of a recently published collection of short French newspaper fillers called "fait divers" – sundry items.

Here is another, longer piece from the NYRB discussing these gems and their author, whom the reviewer credits with "considerable talents for compression, distillation, and skeletal evocation..."

One more sample:

There was a gas explosion at the home of Larrieux, in Bordeaux. He was injured. His mother-in-law's hair caught on fire. The ceiling caved in.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Two faces of innovation

Tim McGuire and Howard Owens doubtless agree on many things about our business – Tim's excellent points about the necessity of value-added journalism, for one – but they're miles apart on the question of innovation and breakthrough thinking.

Tim's speech is available here, and Howard's rebuttal is over here. Tim has always been a big, Beyond The Horizons kind of thinker, and his speech reflects that. Howard's more likely to be found down in the trenches.

Tim's indictment:

Innovation is big, bold and a little nuts. Starting an online website and putting video on it is not innovation. Kicking the stuffing out of old boundaries, now that’s innovation.

Innovation is not safe. Innovation calls for risk. Look at the innovators of the last several years. Google, eBay, Auto Trader, Pay-Pal, Craigslist, Monster and thousand of others. Those innovators did not introduce incremental change, their changes were giant leaps forward.

Look at that list again. Any body missing? You don’t see a newspaper on it. Newspapers have shown themselves incapable of innovation for a couple of reasons: they are risk averse and want to keep the business they have even if it’s not going to grow or perhaps wither away ...

From the rebuttal:

Here’s the rub, and why I think McGuire’s assertions are dangerous: If you believe you can’t innovate, you won’t. And if you believe that innovation takes big blow-out expenses, you will never innovate.

Google was started on two computers in a garage. Craigslist was started by one guy sending out a few e-mails to friends. Yahoo! had the same humble beginnings.

All of these ideas began with an insight on how something might be done better, not with big budgets, bright-light epiphanies, or an understanding how available tools and previous advancements could be used to create a new opportunity.

As soon as you think you can’t do something, you are already defeated.

... If you’re waiting for the publisher to hand you a million dollar check, or for that big break-through thought, you’ll never be an innovator. But if you get busy thinking about what problems need to be solved and what available resources you can use to solve those problems, then you have a chance to make a great contribution to our industry.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Tips for livebloggers

"Liveblogging" – basically, real-time reporting from an event, game or conference – can be a compelling tool in the right circumstances. Bureau reporters in DC used it recently to post frequent updates during the Petraeus' Iraq testimony, and many others in the company have employed it elsewhere.

Here are some tips from veterans of the conference liveblogging circuit that may be useful for staffers who intend to do it. I'd love to hear about your experiences in doing so.

(Thanks to Giussani and Zuckerman).

Monday, October 01, 2007

What's new?

I don't typically nod in agreement when I read Steve Borris' observations about news, but I found a lot to think about in this post about why blogs represent a potent way to spread the news.

What's new? The answer found in blogs can be personal, tentative, textured and interactive. But traditional top-down media, he argues, answer the question like this:

... ever since the printing press was invented, when we’ve asked “what’s new?” we’ve been getting answers to a very different set of questions. What’s new among people who are richer, more successful, more glamorous, or more powerful than you are? What’s new that most people are at least somewhat interested in? What was new yesterday? What objective, verified facts are new? What new things perfectly fill-up a specified amount of time, column inches, and publication frequency? What’s new in New York and Washington, or the downtown of your metro area? What do New York Times editors want you to know today? What bad things were done by someone the editors don’t like, or good things were done by someone they do?

Friday, September 28, 2007

The vision thing

Okay, I'm taking the predictable amount of grief since the University of Alaska press release about my lecture there billed me as "newspaper visionary Howard Weaver." Go ahead, say it.

But in my defense, I will offer the following weekly newspaper article. Think about the current political bribery scandal in Alaska when you look at this – which was published in 1987.

Finding your blogs

I don't think we're guilty of all the sins enumerated in this criticism of how newspapers handle blogs, but some of it rings true. I particularly think she's right in this observation:
Nearly all newspaper websites mistakenly segregate their blogs off with the other blogs. They're organizing by form, not by content. (The Times does a better job, both promoting blog posts on the front page and integrating each blog's content into existing sections.)

And this seems particularly damning:

... most of the blog writers end up screaming into the void. Take internet critic Steve Johnson at the Chicago Tribune; how will his long piece on internet gossip trash ever get seen? It's total traffic-bait—and it has nary a comment. No entity on the internet has even linked to it, as of 4 p.m. EST today.

Winning features

Four of the top 10 features sections in the country are at McClatchy papers, the American Society of Sunday & Features Editors says:

AASFE's Best Section Winners

The winners of the 2006 Best Sections contest for the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors were announced at the conference Thursday afternoon in Savannah. The Top 10 Best Sections are

The Charlotte Observer
The Chicago Tribune
The Houston Chronicle
The Los Angeles Times
The Kansas City Star
The New & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
The State (Columbia, S.C.)
USA Today
The Virginia-Pilot (Norfok, Va.)
The Wilmington Star News (NC)

No matter how cynical you are ... it's never enough

Always wanted a Pulitzer? Get your checkbook.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

"Full of day-old stuff ..."

There's an interesting post and comment thread at the Visual Editors website here that's worth a read.

Yes, it's a random conversation with a single reader, but I found a lot to think about in the reflections this editor gained by talking with an airplane seatmate about newspapers.

Here's a sample:

After stowing my laptop under my seat, I asked her if she would be interested in reading one of the newspapers during the flight.

Her reaction, which I totally didn’t expect given how she had first inquired about the newspapers I had purchased, was a less-than-measured response:

“Naw, thanks, it’s just full of day-old stuff … ”

Realizing that she might have just insulted me, she quickly began to apologize: “I didn’t mean to say that you are wasting your time” … “It’s just that, in my experience, newspapers are a bit slow ... Whatever important news that I need is either on TV or on the Internet, you know.”
And this:

She seemed irritated, almost as if she felt cheated with her newspaper experience, which led me to inquire whether in fact she USED to be an avid reader.

Guess what: She was.

She had very strong feelings about what a newspaper’s role used to be versus now: “I used to read all the time 10 years ago, because my paper would tell me a lot that I didn’t know. It was full of stuff from around my area and the rest of the state. It made you feel smart to read it. It just isn't that way anymore."

Content wants to be free?

The fall of the Times Select pay-wall has sparked another round of worries about how we'll survive if nobody wants to pay for the news they read. Of all the things you might stay awake at night worrying about, this one should be way, way down the list.

It's all about advertising. As I've noted many times, newspapers don't really charge for content anyhow. Since it (often) costs more to print and distribute the paper than we charge for subscriptions, we're already giving it away in order to build an audience we can charge advertisers for.

Yes, it's helpful to have paid circulation since that demonstrates what the advertisers call "wantedness," differentiating newspapers from free shoppers. The environment in which you see an ad matters. But subscription prices aren't really about charging for content.

Now Scott Karp at Publish2 offers another illuminating way of thinking about this. In this post, he argues that people actually do pay for content online; the wrinkle is that they're paying their internet service provider – Comcast, or SBC for instance – rather than the producer.

In a way, this is analogous to paying for the newspaper: in either case, what you're really paying for is the delivery.

In England, there's a fee attached to television sets that helps pay for the BBC. (I believe it's about $260 per year). I think the same is true of blank VHS tapes, and perhaps other media, where a small part of the purchase price is returned to various copyright holders.

Since it's easy enough to meter what gets used online, why couldn't there be a fee attached to ISP charges that rebates to content providers?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Back from the frontier

Greetings from Alaska, and apologies for the lack of fresh content here. We were beyond net-reach part of the time and too busy otherwise, but now we're back. I figure it will take -- oh -- 10 or 15 seconds for the solitude and splendor to wear off.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Disturbing, compelling photojournalism

A fabulous essay by Robin Lustig provides narration for this slideshow of notable, historic photojournalism from Magnum. It's called "Covering Conflict."
(Thanks, SacredFacts)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Mantras, not mission statements

Kathleen McCoy flagged this short video clip and recommends watching. Me, too.


Aim to make meaning, not money. How?

  • Improve the quality of life
  • Right a wrong
  • Prevent the end of something good

Monday, September 10, 2007

Without comment

Front page, SLO Tribune
September 2007

Abbey Road, London
September 1969

Free speech?

Facebook is in the midst of a user revolt over creation of a group called "Fuck Islam." Protesters arose demanding that the group be banned, its creator apparently was booted and then reinstated, and as of now the resolution is unclear.

Spend a few moments searching through the groups spawned in opposition (and support) of the original and you quickly see what a thicket it is. For instance, what about the "fuck the fuck islam groups and fuck the fuck the fuck islam groups" group? How about "Fuck Tibet - Free Palestine"?

The New York Times has a brief story, including this:

The latest concern centers on a group with a crude title denouncing Islam that had more than 750 members at last count. While the group takes pains to say it has nothing against Muslims, who “can be and usually are peaceful and respectful,” it asserts at the start: “The Quran contains many lies and threats. Islam is false, no god exists, and someone should say that loud and clear.”

In the month or so since the group was created, the reaction has been building across Facebook. As of the weekend, more than 58,000 Facebook members had joined a group that said that unless the anti-Islam group was removed, “we r quitting Facebook.”

Facebook declined to comment on Friday on the subject of hate speech or on what steps had been taken.

Friday, September 07, 2007

News coverage boycott

While it's obviously far easier to play tough with rugby than the NFL, it seems to me that this may well be the only genuine resolution to questions about restricted access and restrictive prohibitions from sports franchises.

News Agencies Boycott on Limits

PARIS, Sept. 6 (AP) —The world’s three leading news agencies suspended coverage Thursday of the Rugby World Cup in a dispute with the sport’s governing body over media restrictions.

The Associated Press said its representatives would not attend any World Cup events until the dispute over media credentials was resolved with the International Rugby Board. Reuters and Agence France-Presse also said they were suspending coverage.

The A.P. said it hoped for a resolution so it could return to full coverage of the six-week tournament before the opening match Friday between France and Argentina.

The A.P. said it would not distribute text stories, photographs or TV images from precompetition events Thursday.


Message from the Associated Press

The press freedom dispute with the IRB has just been settled and normal coverage should resume. Other information may follow.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Are you a journalist?

Andria Krewson was interested in my response to the question "Who is a journalist?" which emerged from a conversation on Facebook. Marc Matteo had posed some questions:

What is a "real" journalist? I have a degree in Journalism, does that count?

If one publishes a "journal" -- online or not -- doesn't that by definition make one a journalist?

Or is there a test? A certification? That would indeed make us Journalists as opposed to journalists.

Here's my reply, posted here for wider consideration and comment:
A journalist is a person who does journalism.

A journal? Nope, not enough. A Flickr stream? Not necessarily.

Journalism has a lot in common with science: it's a process of testing, calibrating, disputing, refining and adjusting notions about reality. There's no "whole truth" or final answer to be had, but there *is* a process available that gets us closer. It's neither an accident nor a revelation from on high; it's the product of evolution. (See “The Truth Discipline” in Jack Fuller’s book “News Values,” pp 86-89).

Good information advantages those who have it, and “journalism” is simply the process by which we have sorted and codified one kind of information as being more refined than some others. (Ideally, a doctoral thesis, investment newsletter or CIA briefing might all be even higher grade info than journalism.)

Not everybody with a blog about biology can call herself a scientist, nor is every political blogger a journalist. But some are.