Monday, February 26, 2007

Way to go, Bradenton

Today's BFD (best front page design) features the Bradenton Herald, for this cover treatment of a kidnapping in the community. Says they:

"Kidnapping for money" – how can you not read that story? The Herald backed this up with a photo from the scene, mug shots of the key players in the story, a locator map and secondary heads that addressed the most pressing issues.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Newspapers adapting better than TV

There's been talk lately about how newspapers are ahead of television itself in figuring out the emerging new model of using video for web journalism. I liked this discussion, from Rosenblumtv:

The irony, at least from my own perspective, is the comparison between news organizations that have traditionally worked in print and those that have traditionally worked in video - that is, local TV news stations. The magazines and newspapers have far less problem adapting to video; at least in the VJ model - that is where the reporter carries their own small camera and laptop, and produces their own stories. The magazines and newspapers ‘get it’ right away because this is they way they have always worked. Newspaper journalists have never worked with a crew. They have never had to wait in a reporting situation for ‘the pencil to arrive’.
Take a look at the comments that follow, too. They seem to be mainly from traditional television producers who only want to say "It'll never work ..." Where have we seen that kind of attitude before?

Thanks to BuzzMachine and howardowens for spotting this.

Away for a week

BTW, I'm off until March 3 and won't be posting much. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves ...

Bad finances and good journalism

An editor writes to ask what I thought of Jack Shafer's latest piece in Slate (False Profits: When bad financial news for newspapers is good news for journalism.)

Here's what I wrote back:

I guess I'd say that Shafer is right in some fundamental sense, although he is
wrong on many specifics. (Interestingly, almost *none* of these noted pundits
ever call us to ask questions about our operations, or the deal, or our
perspective. They just opine.)

What's overarchingly true about The Present Troubles is simply that conditions changed. Newspapers were highly profitable and commanded huge sales prices largely because we used to have
monopoly enterprises with an exclsuive advertising franchise (classifieds) and
very high barriers against competition. None of these three things is true now
(mainly because of the web) and so papers make smaller profits and are worth
when you buy or sell them. It's not about greed or stupidity or malfeasance
(though our industry, God knows, has seen plenty of all three). Things have just

It's not raining on us. It's just raining.

I do think Shafer's right to suggest that the journalism can (and, in my world,
must) survive the economic shifts. That's why we talk constantly about being
mission-driven; I am willing to do what it takes if we can keep honest,
independent journalism at the center of things.

If we can migrate successfully to new platforms, master new techniques and learn to operate in today's world of partnerships, alliances, interactivity, audience empowerment and the like, we can become even more successful at our core mission: holding government accountable, building community cohesion, speaking truth to power and the like.

The good news: we're moving there very fast, now, and I have every confidence we'll do so successfully.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Baghdad staffers besmirched

I was happy (but not surprised) to see my longtime friend and colleague Rich Mauer step up in defense of our Iraqi staff bloggers when they were groundlessly attacked on an ideological blog recently.

Inside Iraq, written by McClatchy Baghdad bureau staffers, has won increasing attention recently, often drawing praise for its authenticity and its unvarnished reports of personal, street-level realities. I suppose it's no surprise that bloggers who view the war through an ideological lens rather than first-hand experience would be challenged by that.

Rich, who's in the Baghdad bureau on TDY from Anchorage, had this to say in his own blog about the conservative bloggers who said they doubted the existence of the our Iraqi colleagues:

So, what shows up in the blogosphere? The right-wing fanatics on Red State call the blog “a Baghdad fairy tale from McClatchey,” bad spelling and all. They claimed that Sahar, Dulaimy and the rest are names made up in some boiler room filled with left-wing ideologues. The stuff our staff is saying can’t be true, they say.

Well, just what do they think happens when a bomb goes off and kills 60 people? Or maybe they think that is made up too?

Sahar posted a note challenging them to fly to Baghdad to see whether she exists. They’ll never do it. They don’t have a fraction of the guts and courage she has.

Cover best, link rest?

Jeff Jarvis starts today with a general post where the headline pretty much says it all ("Cover what you do best. Link to the rest.") and then goes on to gather string on a range of related questions and issues. Much of the value here is in the comments section.

Altogether, it's a valuable collection of thoughts and opinions we need to be considering.

Emerging standard for local coverage

I try, but honestly I don't always see the great daily work being done by all our operations.

I came across a sterling example this morning, featuring print and online, multimedia coverage of a big fire in a Raleigh subdivision. In a way, it's a routine story that might get overlooked or under-played -- no exploding chemical plants, no fatalities -- but it has huge resonance in the community.

I was taken by the range of of this coverage. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that it's really not all that special any more; this is becoming the standard for what we do with big local news, and many of you are doing this regularly.

But give yourself come credit; this is miles ahead of what we could do even a few years ago – not just comprehensive coverage in the next day's paper, but also breaking news alerts, constant online updates, video, multiple photo galleries, sidebars, "how you can help" features, and so on.

I want to encourage you all to flag great work for the rest of us to share. You can either let me know and I'll handle it here, or post on your own. (As you know, anybody can poast a comment here but you need to be a "registered user" to post articles; to get approved please contact my assistant Jill Christensen, jchristensen(at)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Adios, Norwegian miracle?

I haven't had time to check this out for myself, but it looks like Howard Owens has taken apart that Norweigan online success story that I (and many others) blogged the other day. Have a look at his factchecking here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Newspaper video: TV for smart people

You'd have to start by acknowledging that Kurt Andersen, a hell of a writer, has a distinctly mixed record as a media prognosticator. Nonetheless, he's making some points in a recent New York article you ought to consider.

In essence, the premise is this: don't write off newspapers because you think what they're doing won't last; after all, they might evolve. (We've talked about evolution before on this blog, you may recall: "Evolution, revolution & hand grenades," and "Weather report: damp".

For instance, he takes a look at a cable news show loopping endlessly over Anna Nicole Smith and postulates:

Given the dumb-and-dumber choices, I can easily imagine newspapers’ Web-video portals becoming the TV-journalism destinations of choice for smart people—that is, in the 21st century, the dominant nineteenth-century journalistic institution, newspapers, might beat the dominant twentieth-century institution, TV, at the premium part of its own game.

Later, he talks about a couple of newspaper-to-video experiments that work:

Online video can also exploit the “long tail” in ways TV can’t. There may not be many of us who want to watch a hep Romanian mayor justify prejudice against Gypsies (the Post), or Sarah Vowell’s illustrated ode to the architect Louis Sullivan (the Times), but I adored both. If documentaries are hard to get shown in theaters and on TV, imagine the obstacles faced by serious shorts. But now, in the online archives of U.S. papers are thousands of videos, among them dozens of exceptional short docs, more like miniature Frontlines or public-radio-with-pictures than like network-news segments, available anytime. This is video-journalism-on-demand years ahead of digital television: Because I elect to watch a story, then see it on a computer screen eighteen inches from my face, I focus in a way TV doesn’t require.
And later:

[Washington Post reporter Travis] Fox sees himself as a sort of quiet revolutionary, eager to overthrow the ancien régime: “The possibility to replace television is in sight.” Ann Derry, the Times’ video No. 2, enthusiastically but very calmly says, “We are reinventing journalism.”

Monday, February 19, 2007

It's all just media now

NPR invited a gang of the country's best thinkers about changing media to Washington last week to talk about the network's future. The result has been an outpouring of interesting blog posts, intriguing ideas and complex connections. I'll cite a few of the key links below; you can follow the emerging web of ideas by starting pretty much anywhere and clicking through the links they provide to one another.

A couple of thoughts along the way: you'll note that while National Public Radio is flying high these days (that $200 million philanthropic gift, growing respect and reputation, great public affairs and features journalism) things are not so bright for the hundreds of local public radio stations that subscribe. The many separate programs that local stations piece together to fill most of their broadcast day are available now in many other forms (podcasts, streaming audio, perhaps satellite) and in the future will almost surely by-pass the need for a local broadcast outlet. Local public radio news isn't remotely up to NPR quality (well, maybe in Miami) and the stations are understandably antsy.

Jeff Jarvis has some advice that's beginning to sound rather familiar: stop thinking like a radio station. On-air broadcasts are no place for the hyperlocal content everybody's seeking nowadays, but Jarvis argues (this may sound familiar) that the broadcasts can drive audiences to online communties that extend the radio franchise.
[The broadcast] has the power to develop local communities of news, information, and interest. It can use its promotional power to drive people there. It could, for example, get people in a market to record every damned school board and town council meeting and put them online, served by the station. It could create the meeting place where people share news and information, competing with or even in cooperation with local papers. It could be a home for talk about local issues and news.

Local television is thinking more about print; many are selling classified ads on their websites. Radio needs to stop thinking like radio. Newspapers are adding video and audio online.

It's all just media now.

There's a 10-minute video overview of NPR's deep thinkers thinking deeply here.

David Weinberger starts his extensive and engaging discussion with a post found here. (It includes many valuable introductory links to other participants). Jeff Jarvis' initial post about the experience is here. Scroll down to the Friday post to start reading Doc Searls' observations at his blog here.

Spanking local television

From Journerdism, this link to an intriguing little article about "how newspapers are spanking local TV in online video."

Playing offense online in Norway

Interesting story here from the International Herald Tribune describes how a Norwegian newspaper publisher has emerged as one of the biggest internet players in Europe and, perhaps, a model for how publishers can profit online. [UPDATE: I somehow missed the fact that this was also an NYT story.]

A taste:
At a time when other newspaper companies lament a loss of readers and advertisers, Schibsted is thriving. No profit warnings here: Earnings rose 28 percent in the fourth quarter. Online operations will generate about 20 percent of the company's revenue this year, according to analysts at Kaupthing, a bank based in Reykjavik, even as many other big newspaper publishers struggle to reach the 10 percent mark.

Perhaps more important, at least for investors, online businesses will provide nearly 60 percent of the company's operating earnings by next year, the Kaupthing analysts predict. Schibsted has become so emblematic of online success that Bharat Anand, a professor at Harvard Business School, is writing one of the institution's well-known case studies on the company. There's clearly something quite special here," Anand said. "There's no question they managed this transition earlier than a lot of newspaper companies, and they're in a better position as a result."

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Keep hope alive

We talked here last fall about hope and hobbits (item three on the archive page here), contrasting the Christian view of hope – grounded in belief that good ultimately triumphs – with the Nordic notion that one keeps fighting because it is the right thing to do, regardless of likely outcome.

Now Kathleen McCoy has highlighted another discussion of hope (this from Harvard Business Review's list of "breakthrough ideas" for 2007) keyed to the role of hope in leadership.

Here's a taste:

People must see that change is possible and how they can engage personally in that change. The remaining elements have to do with how hope is cultivated in organizations: Hopeful work groups are most often composed of individuals whose worth to the organization has been affirmed, who perceive an openness on the part of management, and who enjoy an authentic sense of connection with their colleagues and with the organization’s mission. Even so briefly described, these elements suggest why hope can be an energetic force for positive change to a degree that, say, optimism alone could never be.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Our audiences are smart

I know some of you have wrestled with questions about whether allowing comments and forums generated by readers somehow devalues or contaminates staff-produced content.


Fact is, audiences are pretty smart, and they can tell the difference between a nuanced staff editorial and a partisan rant. They understand a detailed, documented investigative piece carries more weight than an ungrounded conspiracy theory.

David Weinberger said this far more elegantly at a recent panel discussion pondering these questions at NPR. You can watch a video clip of his argument at Andy Carvin's peripatetic, multimedia blog.

Friday, February 16, 2007

All opinion, all the time

The Washington Post is summarizing editorial and op-ed commentary from a wide range of newspapers in a feature they call "The Editorialist".

Aggregation will become crucial for news operations that want to command a wide audience. The Post's feature (like Slate's old standby, "Today's Papers") uses a human journalist to aggregate; it's also done with minimal human intervention by using RSS feeds.

Whether it's local news or opinion, somebody's going to pull it all together for readers. Might as well be you.

'Blowing up the newsroom' in Atlanta

The Atlanta Journalism & Constitution will radically restructure its newsroom and undertake concerted efforts elsewhere to shape the company's response to changing conditions, according to reports Friday. The best overview story is, unsurprisingly, from the newspaper itself.

Judging simply from this first explanation, the AJC’s newsroom plan could be described as both more radical and more realistic than the “Information Center” campaign that drew so much attention at Gannett last November. As I read it, the structural changes rest on this underlying premise: that newsgathering and news distribution are distinctly separate enterprises nowadays, and they will now be handled independently of one another in the AJC newsroom.

As Julia’s memo and the stories all report, there will be four newsroom divisions: breaking news, enterprise journalism, print production and digital production. Presumably, copy generated by any of the news teams will find its way online and/or into print based on editors’ determination of where it belongs; actually producing newspaper pages or online presentations will be the province of specialists from those divisions.

Operational arrangements will no doubt be intricate and sometimes messy, but there is an elegance and underlying simplicity in this arrangement that appeals to me. It will be fascinating and surely instructive to watch as it develops.

Some of you may wonder why there hasn’t been Grand Plan announced at McClatchy. Are we that far behind Cox and Gannett in responding to competitive changes?

Not hardly. It’s not our style to centralize and roll out singular initiatives with big titles (McClatchy 2000?), but innovation and change are well established in our operations. Our online growth has been impressive, and we capture a larger percentage of total revenue online than anybody but the big national players, NYT and the Washington Post.

Fresno’s online operations (news and sales) have been thoroughly integrated with newspaper functions for more than a year now. (It’s probably no coincidence that the percentage of revenue from online there leads the company, too.) Raleigh recently debuted a locally developed reorganization plan that moves the newsroom to the front ranks of the revolution. Anchorage will unveil new initiatives in coming weeks; Wichita is increasing dedicated online staff in the newsroom from 2.5 to 17 … and so on, throughout the company.

Chris Hendricks and I will be playing an increasingly active role in helping spread this innovation rapidly around the company. Local strategic expertise and news judgment remain our basic touchstone, but conversations about change, priorities and follow-through will be more focused and more frequent. They must.

The Great Helmsman recommended “constant, disciplined rejudgments” as the path to improvement. So, too, for us. We’ll work to communicate continuously, test constantly, revise and reiterate incessantly. Watching you all do so is the basis of my great and growing confidence in our future.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

First out of the gate

We talked yesterday about a long list of ideas newsrooms can implement to help reach audiences online, and also asked you to think about highlighting online content on page one (like the Wall Street Journal, perhaps).

Kansas City must have been lying in the weeds on this one. They're first out of the gate with a flurry of activity this morning – three new online ventures, all highlighted prominently beneath the flag on the front page. One was specifically mentioned on our list (an online version of the typical business page feature about local promotions and other press release-type information); one was a direct steal from Sacramento (a paid, premium-content political site); and one was, I suspect, pure genius: an online site showcasing the editorial cartoons the paper wasn't willing to use in print. Gutsy – and surely irresistable.

Great start, KC. Kudos.

Video storytelling

You hear people talk about the need for new kinds of journalists whose skills are chiefly about how to handle and interpret data ("information architects" is one term). This video beautifully illustrates a kind of data-based storytelling that wouldn't be possible any other way.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Beating TV on video

Newspapers are beating television stations in the race for local video advertising revenue -- and, presumably, beating them on audience growth, as well.

That's the substance of a new report from Borrell Associates, outlined in an E&P story here. The report says newspaper websites captured about $81 million in advertising from streaming video, compared with $32 million at television stations.

As Chris Hendricks said on the conference call today, we're in the final stages of rolling out new tools to make your use of video -- your own, and contributions from users -- much easier to handle. As many of our sites have already demonstrated, there are powerful new storytelling techniques available now that we could hardly have imagined just a few years ago.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Transforming a media company

IDG is a worldwide media company with annual revenue just about the same as McClatchy. They do lots of print (PC World, MacWorld, CEO magazines, etc.), run a lot of websites, present conferences and the like.

In this blog post, their senior VP/Online talks about the company's rapid transformation to a genuine multimedia, platform-agnostic operation. I'm astonished (and, I guess, encouraged) at the speed with which their revenue picture has changed. Online revenue is growing faster than print revenue is declining. In the U.S., 35% of the publishing revenue comes from online, and they expect 50% by 2009.

But the key, as Colin Crawford makes clear, is a wholehearted embrace of the necessary changes:

The more enlightened in our media world will figure how to allow their audiences freedom to create and share their knowledge and content and to mash it up in a way that engages users.

We have to become facilitators as much as content creators – our brands are trusted, they have quality content and loyal audiences – these are our competitive advantages but we’ll only hold onto those assets if we truly listen to our communities and provide appropriate environments for user initiated conversations and user created content.

Bloggers and Big Media

This round of the debate was introduced by a short but significant post on SacredFacts:

Enough of conferences going over the same ground, enough of bloggers (several of whom make their living from consulting with big organisations) saying big media doesn't "get it" and only they have insight, enough of big media publicly agonising over how to respond to the huge disruption the internet has brought. Enough of the fallacy of thinking there is some kind of power struggle going on. It's about integration, not subsititution...

For me this year has to be less about talking and more about doing.

That observation sparked considerable reaction in the blogosphere. (No subject animates bloggers more than talking about blogging, especially bloggers being dissed by MSM.) Brook himself links to many of them from within his rebuttal posts at SacredFacts; I especially recommend his short essay on the fallacy of us versus them.)

A couple of additional links and observations to share. Most surprisingly, perhaps, this from bête noire Craig Newmark (of craigslist):

"The Wisdom of Crowds sometimes leads to mob rule, panic, or bad decisions. We need ‘representative democracy’ on top of that. We need editors."

Newmark's quote and many others are highlighted at the official We Media conference blog here. (Do they take themselves serious, or what? Check out the lead on this one:
"Rarely do you attend a conference where the accumulated intellectual star power on one stage is as great as was the case in our final group panel discussion at the We Media conference ...")

Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 weighs in here.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A blog worth watching

This cartoon, much excellent commentary and many useful links come via Richard Sambrook's blog SacredFacts. Recommended.

Rejuvenating television?

Broadcast television, as everybody knows and I have repeated endlessly, is cooked. Put a fork it in it; it's done.

But this article from The Economist suggests the obituaries could be a little premature. At least one new approach with an impressive pedigree (the founders also started Skype and KaZaA) is poised to launch a service the writer says "could end up rejuvenating the 75-year-old medium." The service – basically designed to deliver television on demand through broadband – is called Joost; they're taking beta tester applications now.

Friday, February 09, 2007

News about Anna Nicole Smith!

I'm with Jeff Jarvis on this one: a low moment for American journalism and contemporary culture.

P.S. I just used that headline to try and get more search engine traffic :–)

Straw dogs

Steve Outing is a smart guy who realized early on that the internet was going to have profound impact on newspapers. He's been an important voice for change and conduit of information about how to do it for more than a decade.

That's why it's so discouraging to see his E&P column reflect unsupported, one-dimensional thinking. There are plenty of other folks out there eager (hell, positively giddy) to seize on every fragment of survey research or observational anecdote as proof of their Chicken Little thesis.

The biggest disservice of their apocalyptic chorus is that it drowns out conversation about genuine change that desperately needs to be happening.

A couple of examples:

Outing tells us he has a couple of teenage daughters and then concludes, “If there are any folks in the newspaper industry who have notions still that they'll adapt the print product to attract some of my daughter's generation, or those in their 20s, and probably 30s, too, I'd say your chances for success are practically nil.”

Come on, Steve. Nil? Something like 70 percent of people 18-34 read a newspaper every week right now.

He also approvingly quotes supposed experts making statements like this: “First of all, video formats will remain dominant. That's been a bitter pill for local newspapers to swallow for a long time -- but that's just the way it is.”

Huh? That’s not true in either the wired or unwired world. Text is overwhelmingly dominant on the internet, as it is in analog communication. There's a good reason for that: people listen at somewhere between 100 and 160 words per minute (depending, perhaps, on whether the speaker is from Biloxi or Tacoma). Yet in that same 60 seconds people can read between 300 and 1,000 words, meaning text gets facts into your head between twice and 10 times as rapidly.

Of course video is important, and becoming more so. That’s why we’re pushing hard to present more and more of it in our online news reports, why we’re learning to deliver it on a variety of mobile devices. Ten years ago you needed to buy a television station to do what our sports reporters in Kennewick now do routinely. Public demand for on-demand video is an opportunity for newspapers, which have deeper and richer content local news content to distribute than anybody else.

Much of the argument in Steve's column is classic straw man rhetorical technique: misrepresent the opposing position and then knock down the misrepresentation. Is the printed, once-a-day newspaper as premier provider of headline news doomed? Yes. But who do you know in the news business nowadays that pretends otherwise?

My own view is much closer to the one Outing reports from Robin Sloan: it's by far the most insightful of all the observations in the column and has huge implications about how and why we must change the top-down, hierarchical culture of news reporting. Here's a big snip, but by all means read it all:

I think 'news' just becomes a less distinct category. You don't sit down with a newspaper, or even a news website, or even a super wireless e-paper device, for 10 minutes in the morning to very formally 'get your news.' Rather, you get all sorts of news and information -- from the personal to the professional to the political -- throughout the day, in little bits and bursts, via many different media. With any luck, in 5-10 years the word 'news' will be sort of confusing: Don't you just mean 'life'?

Here’s perhaps the most troubling of all the predictions Outing features: the view that "there really won't be a … shared news experience" in the future. Though it’s presented as "the bitterest pill for newspaper executives to swallow," it would be far worse than that. No shared news experience? Wouldn't that also be a death knell for civic life and self-government?

Outstanding design in K.C.

An outstanding front page at The Kansas City Star, recognized by the Brass Tacks folks as "best front design." Click on the page to link to a bigger example; the designers' comments that follow the post there are worth a look, too.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Affirmative leadership

We'll be writing and talking a lot about leadership as we chart the way through The Present Troubles, but here's one theme you can take to the bank now: it's essential for you to demonstrate and model an affirmative, optimitistic approach.

Pollyanna? Not at all. In fact, I think a cleareyed, honest approach is the only one that will work long-term. But being honest about the present doesn't mean being negative about the future. The people who successful guide this company to the future will be those who believe in it, have a vision of where to go and a passion for getting there.

I'm no Steve Ballmer fan (I have a great t-shirt from the Microsoft Eradication Society) but I think he said this very well in his NYT interview recently:

You've got to be very realistic about where you are, but very optimistic about where you can be ... And the day you can't be both of those things, you shouldn't be a leader of a company like Microsoft. You have to believe; you have to believe; you have to believe.''

A glimpse at the future (present)

This video will introduce you to Web 2.0 in less than five minutes.

Probably you'll encounter examples or concepts you don't understand. You need to. This kind of fluency is becoming as important as using good English.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Molly Ivins remembered

I was sitting at a rodeo in Fort Worth when I learned of Molly Ivins' death, a setting that seemed appropriate both because she worked for the Star-Telegram, and because the arena was full of bullshit, a special target of her commentary.

In memory, I point you back to this earlier post, drawn from notes I made during her 1987 presentation to an Alaska Press Club workshop. Kathleen McCoy also has memories of Molly's Alaska visit, found here.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Why we fight

“Mr. Weaver, if you were 30 or 35 years old, would you keep working for a newspaper company?”

That question at lunch in Fort Worth last week nicely framed everything I’d been talking about during two days at the Star-Telegram. Given all the uncertainty in our business – the hiring freezes, the layoffs elsewhere, McClatchy’s sale of the Star Tribune – how can anybody feel good about our profession?

I struggle with those questions myself. Though I’m at a different stage of my career, I still wonder now and then why it’s worth getting up and going into the office to fight through another round of unpleasant troubles. Most of my 40 years in newspapers have been richly rewarding (hey, I started in high school, okay?) but none of those years were anything like the last one.

Well, so what? My answer is still unequivocal and clear: yes, I’d absolutely stay – and for the same reasons that I did in the first place.

I simply ask whether what I’m doing is still mission-driven: does it help hold the government accountable, speak truth to power, build community cohesion? Can I still feel at the end of the day (and the end of a career) that what I did was worthwhile, and that it made some difference?

I said here last November that “it looks like we are going to be the generation called on to save American journalism.” It sounded kind of over-heated when I wrote it, but I’m more certain all the time that it’s true.

I’m working on a longer post that builds on recent discussions about these questions in Modesto, Sacramento, Tacoma and Fort Worth. But I can pass along the conclusion right now: stay and fight, because it’s worth it.

Insert cute, useless headline here

I've spent a long career as an editor failing to stop copy editors from their (generally futile) attempts to turn bad puns into good headlines.

Turns out that search engines hate that even more than I do. Those literal-minded computers don't know the Chicago Tribune is writing about the Super Bowl when all the headline says is "Reign Out." They can't tell what the Virginian-Pilot means when it says "Colt comfort."

Stories with more literal and explanatory headlines rank higher in search results than these misbegotten literary allusions. Tuning them to do so is a process called "search engine optimization," and it matters; about 10 percent of all our online traffic comes to our sites as the result of search engine inquiries. Consider this:

In November, Nielsen/NetRatings ranked, the sister Web site of The Boston Globe, as the fourth-most trafficked newspaper Web site in the country, even though its print circulation is ranked 15th by one audit bureau. "We're regularly beating the bigger boys, like the Chicago Tribune and The Wall Street Journal...and part of the reason is SEO," said David Beard, editor of and former assistant managing editor of its print sibling, The Boston Globe.

"We have Web 'heds.' We go into the newspaper (production) system to create a more literal Web headline," said Beard. "We've had training sessions with copy editors and the night desk for the newspaper. It's been a big education initiative."

There's an good overview story about this issue at C|Net here. McClatchy Interactive has engaged a third-party specialist to help us optimize for search engine ranking, but that's just the start of the process, not the end. You need to be aware of how your headlining and tagging can drive results for content, as well.

Without further comment

I don't think this story needs much commentary: the world's oldest newspaper is becoming online-only.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Brass Tacks

Do six-column photos on A-1 help or hurt newspaper readership? Is it possible that TV books are actually part of the problem? If newspaper markets are all different, why do so many newspapers look the same?

The website of Brass Tacks Design offers its own answers to those questions and much more. Their take may or may not be right on any specific question, of course, but they do frame some pretty provocative questions.

What's more, the site is filled with gorgeous examples of great-looking newspaper pages. I don't often remember to cruise by and check it out, but when I do I generally feel rewarded.

In which expertise becomes readership

Kathleen McCoy offers an intriguing proposal for colleagues back in Alaska: why not take your expertise on all things salmon and turn that into a destination web stop?

Her basic logic – to make "newspapers and their Web sites into a 'place' for people to gather and discuss, rather than the pretense at a 'finished' version of an ongoing science story" – obviously could be broadly applied. She imagines ways in which newspaper staff expertise would combine with experts and interested audiences to create a continuing conversation that would remain useful and vital long after any individual news story fades from view.

The Tri-City Herald's Kennewick Man site, available here, offers a robust illustration. How successful have they been in creating a resource based in news but transcending daily journalism? Well, if you Google "Kennewick Man," the Herald's website is the top result.

Kathleen's suggestion:

So what if the Anchorage Daily News created a Web page attached to its news site that was all we, and experts we approached, could deliver on salmon. The passionate could "drill down" as far as they wanted into scientific papers and data and documents. It would include a forum for interested parties. It would be dynamic, not a snapshot version of an ongoing story.

Salmon as a topic makes sense for Alaska, it is iconic for us. We have the only healthy wild runs on the planet. Who else do you know brews beer and names it after salmon?

Any other examples amongst McClatchy websites? Any interest?