Saturday, March 31, 2007

VoilĂ : journaliste entrepreneurial

I believe it was George W. Bush who famously observed that "the trouble with the French is, they don't have a word for entrepreneur."

Howard Owens quite a few words for "entrepreneurial reporter." They are available here.

Questions from the newsosaur

The newsosaur (Alan Mutter) contacted me shortly after our Yahoo announcement with a long list of detailed questions about the deal.

They were good questions, not all of which I'm in a position to answer. But it was a chance to expand somewhat on our public announcement, as I have been doing here at the bureau in DC and with editors at ASNE, so I thought I'd share these further thoughts with you, as well. This is drawn directly from my reply to Alan:

Sorry to be tardy in answering; I'm in DC at ASNE this week and have been swamped.

I'm sure you saw some of my comments on the deal, and I expect your reaction to the journalistic side of the deal is just like mine: we have great, unique content and Yahoo has the largest news audience in the world. I've spent my whole career trying to get great stories to as many people as possible, and this plan is a homerun in that respect.

Obviously, we also need to make money to keep doing that, and I guess that's mainly what you're asking about. We're not releasing the financial details of this deal; both Yahoo and McClatchy have a lot of content sales and syndication deals, and it doesn't make sense to make our business details available to competitors and others. Most of the aspects you ask about ... are included in one way or another; to me, the heart of the transaction comes in using Yahoo's display of a small sample of our content to attract many new readers to the rest of it, mainly at a newly redesigned DC bureau website focused on our public affairs journalism. (We expect that to debut at about the same time the first McClatchy content starts appearing on the Yahoo News pages.)

This initial phase of the partnership involves material from three or four of our foreign bureaus, probably a couple of traditional stories and some blogging each day. (All of this material will also be on our site and available to our papers simultaneously; the blogs will not be syndicated to anybody outside McClatchy except Yahoo). This is seen by both McClatchy and Yahoo as an exploratory phase. Obviously, I hope it's wildly successful just the way we launch it, in which case it could easily scale to include material beyond selected foreign coverage. If we learn we need to do some things differently (probable), we can and will tweak the model as we proceed.

My basic premise is that unique coverage like our fine work from Baghdad and the Middle East is as valuable to readers in Omaha as it is in Kansas City -- but we don't have a paper in Omaha. Our new website -- mainly featuring the national and international work of our bureau, but including new multimedia efforts and national journalism, commentary and photojournalism from all our papers -- intends to attract those readers in Omaha and other cities not fortunate enough to be served by one of our newspaper/website operations :) The Yahoo deal will help us kickstart that.

The new McClatchy public affairs site intends to use a range of Web 2.0 tools and techniques to make it as accessible and intreractive as possible. Public policy and current affairs obviously attract readers who care about the issues and want to talk about them. We want to provide that opportunity, to engage them and showcase their ideas and observations along with the work our professionals produce.

The site that debuts this spring intends to make it plain that we're committed to that relationship; I don't suppose we will get it all done by launch or get it all right the first time, but we're determined to hit the right spot.

The answers to your many more detailed questions will emerge as our plans unfold, and I'll be happy to stay in touch as they do. I'm not in a position to offer more details now, but I appreciate your interest and will appreciate any feedback, reaction or ideas you have to help us make this better. As you well know, we're all exploring new territory nowadays; I have high hope for this particular journey.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Assertive editors

For those McClatchy editors who missed the longer story of Gary Pruitt's appearance on the Newhouse Schoolprogram earlier today, here's a handy clip-and-save version of the money quote:

That response prompted Auletta to push the question further by adding that Baquet had publicly challenged executives: "We want our editors to stand up and assert themselves," said Pruitt, who was serving as a proxy for the newspaper industry in general and the Tribune Co. specifically. "I don't want them to be punished for asserting themselves."

What about 'Trusted Voices'?

Howard Owens wrote a thoughtful, supportive post about our Yahoo announcement (see it here) that includes this observation:

I’m not a fan of the name, which sounds a bit too “we’re the journalists and we know better.” That’s not a great value proposition in the era of distributed media where truth is often sussed out among a multitude of voices, but there is value in placing all that content under a single platform.

I see it differently (what a shock). The intention is to differentiate McClatchy from commodity news and headlines -- not to separate ourselves from the readers. "Trusted" has lots of implications, of course, but a key objective is to declare that these reporters are doing more than one-dimensional reporting; in a real way, they're guides to help you fight through the thicket of data that everybody faces. We picked "voices" to stress that they are individuals, not packaged goods.

Maybe that doesn't work. What do you think of the name? Any other concerns?

Keep on blogging

Are you blogging yet?

A non-newsroom employee at a former KR paper sent my assistant Jill an email that got passed along to me.

I want to thank [Howard] for his blog -- even on the weekends! I read it every day I'm in the office and kind of feel a pang of missing when a new entry isn't there. Anyway, will you please tell him thanks for me? Reading the blog kind of makes me feel more like a real McClatchy employee and less of an orphan stepchild employee.

Guess I'll keep writing. Lots of reasons for you to consider it, too.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

McClatchy's new deal with Yahoo

McClatchy announced a deal today to distribute some of its foreign coverage through Yahoo! News and to add more personalized and illuminating blogs from some of the correspondents.

As a journalist, I love the idea of getting this great journalism to potentially millions of new readers. (Yahoo! has the biggest news audience on the planet). Obviously, I think it’s going to be good for McClatchy, too – essentially spreading the expense of producing high quality, public service journalism across a larger audience than our newspapers alone command.

The press release says pretty much everything we can say publicly about the deal right now, but I can tell you that I don’t expect you’ll have to wait long to see some other changes associated with this “Trusted Voices” project.

Yahoo! invited me to post a short note about the project on their internal blog, available here. In it I said,

When the trans-continential telegraph started delivering same-day news from the East Coast to Sacramento in 1861, McClatchy’s Sacramento Bee newspaper had to start doing things differently. Same with commercial radio, and then television, and then this browser-thingie that showed up in the early 1990s. (McClatchy’s Raleigh News & Observer newspaper started Nando Times, widely credited as one of the first internet news sites.)

Adaptation, change and competition are part of our DNA at McClatchy – and have been for 150 years. We’re excited about this chance to join the folks with the world’s biggest news audience in exploring the next phase of the adventure. Keep an eye out for our “Trusted Voices” in Yahoo! News, and please let me know what you think, what else you’d like, and what we could do better.

We’re going to keep exploring, trying things, changing boundaries. I’m excited that I get to be part of this era in American journalism.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

It's not raining on us – it's just raining

I wrote here the other day that, "The biggest 'destructive technology' change for newspapers is the fact that websites can be refreshed constantly while printed papers get updated once a day."

I think that's right (certainly defensible) when we're talking about delivering news to audiences. But I realized when rereading and thinking more about it that it's also a fairly narrow observation. I want to "amend and extend" my remarks, as legislators sometimes say.

Of equal magnitude for us is this: the web also wiped out our longstanding monopoly status and the exclusive advertising franchise (classifieds) that went along with it. This is huge, too – the primary reason that newspaper revenues are down and cost structures are under so much pressure. Since we won't ever enjoy that monopoly status (or pricing power) again, we have to find ways to perform more efficently to close the gap that's widening between expenses and revenues.

The most virulent (and high publicized) form of that "cost restructuring" comes in newsroom layoffs. This is what captures the attention of fellow journalists (a point worth discussing separately sometime) and also what most effects our core mission.

At McClatchy, we've mostly avoided this; there have been some voluntary buyouts, and losses from hiring freezes and attrition, but I believe newsroom populations at McClatchy have been effected less than other major newspaper companies. (Lots of news jobs have been reallocated to online efforts, too, which is essential, but that also puts pressure on traditional operations).

The pressure on expenses is far from over. Reported revenue at public companies continues to decline, and most reports from private companies are about the same (or worse). Newspapers don't have to make the same profits in the future they did in the past (and we're not), but the in a capitalist economy we do have to establish a stable path of growth.

We can, and we are.

I know it's selfish for an editorial guy to say so, but there's a lot of opportunity left for companies to cut costs without destroying newsrooms. I know layoffs in telemarketing are as painful for the individuals as those in newsrooms, but the cold fact is that they don't affect the mission in the same way. The fact that the Contra Costa Times has outsourced ad production to India doesn't speak to the newspaper's mission nearly as much as the newsroom cuts they've had there.

[I'm not suggesting newsrooms are immune to reforms and reductions; our editors know better, and are feeling the pressure every day. But know this: McClatchy understands newsrooms are at the heart of the enterprise, not an incidental "cost center."]

Newspaper companies evolved as clasically "vertically integrated" enterprises. Until very recently, we did everything, even at the smallest local papers: reporting, selling, producing, distributing. Each were creative companies and sales companies and manufacturing-distribution companies. They did their own accounting and procurement, their own IT, their own security and janitorial.

Other modern industries stopped that years ago; even behemoths like GM and Disney became "horozontially integrated" (out-souring to subsidiaries) and sectors like banking, telecommunications and information technologies became fully distributed. Where there once were integrated single entities, the companies now operated within an "ecosystem" of related, efficient separate businesses. (This same dynamic is emerging in advertising sales and news distribution, I believe; we'll explore that notion and its impact on us later).

Newspaper companies have embraced efficiencies sporadically, and some are farther along than others. Some have been relatively smart about it (though the best of us were slow), and some less so. Take that all into account: there's still a great deal of opportunity here for us, some so obvious that it qualifies as low-hanging fruit.

So don't freak out when you read about our "collapsing" revenue model. It's changing and getting smaller – but so can our costs.

We don't have infinite choice about changing. Remember, it's not raining on us; it's just raining. It's raining on Ford, and Sony and NBC. It's raining on travel agents and the guys who used to make prints out of Kodak film. Get over it.

The key test here will be how well we can stay mission-centered as we evolve. Do the changes we adopt optimize our ability to produce quality, public service journalism? Do they help us hold the government accountable, speak the truth to power, build community cohesion, give voice to the voiceless?

We will succeed or fail by those measures.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Hype doesn't help

You know I love Web 2.0 and all that, but the hype gets out of hand now and then.

In celebrating the "wisdom of crowds," this recent reference to Wikipedia says, "Thousands of Wikipedia users have created an encyclopedia that studies have shown is as accurate as traditional volumes like Britannica."

Now, I use Wikipedia as a source quite frequently, but this much cited study certainly did not find it as accurate as the professional encyclopedia.

The study in question was in the highly respected journal Nature; while it was generally impressed with accuracy in the open source Wikipedia, the review found 162 errors in Wikipedia and 123 in Britannica. In fact, Wikipedia is only 75% as accurate as Britannica.

What the article in Nature actually said was "the average science entry in Wikipedia contained around four inaccuracies; Britannica, about three."

So where the Wikipedia makes 1,000 errors, Britannica makes only 750. That's not "as accurate as." That's a huge difference.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Good design is elegance, built in

You've heard me talk about the importance of good design here before. Turns out I have at least one ally: William Powers, media columnist at the National Journal.

Design isn't about pretty (though good design almost always, irresistably, is). It's about ease of use, elegance, intuitive navigation, common sense -- and all of it built in, from the ground up.

I agree completely with Powers on a key point: today's consumers both know and expect good design. There's no easier way to look old fashioned, outdated or irrelevant than to offer them products that don't measure up.

Here's a snip from his short post, available in full here:

Most American papers look as if they've stopped caring and are just going through the motions. And it's a really bad time for newspapers to look bad. First, they are losing audience like crazy. Second, Americans have gotten more sophisticated about design...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

CDs, newspapers and destructive technolgies

Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 poses this question in a thoughtful recent blog post: “Is it possible that content creation will cease to be a business?”

Before we get into the fancy analysis, let me just answer directly:


Before you reject that conclusion as simply another old media dinosaur in denial, dig a little deeper into the argument. It might work best for you to take a detour right now and read Is Content Still A Business?

Karp’s interesting speculation takes off from the observation that music no longer sells well on CD. But while I think there are lessons to learn from how digitization has changed the music business, I don’t think that experience translates very well into our own. While it’s certainly true that “pathetic, half-hearted efforts” like music companies pursued online won’t successfully transition from one platform to another, it’s not true that making that transition is impossible.

The crushing “destructive technology” change for the music business came when it became possible to buy (or steal) a single song rather than pay $17 for a CD filled with other music you didn’t want.

The biggest “destructive technology” change for newspapers is the fact that websites can be refreshed constantly while printed papers get updated once a day.

Music companies handled their response to the change badly: resist, seek legislative and legal protection, restrict legal online sales and sue the people who downloaded music.

Our industry, while slow, has responded differently: embrace new platforms, learn to play to their strengths (breaking news, video, etc) and try to give our customers what they want.

Obviously, the issue is more complex than that, but there truly are fundamental differences between our experience and that of the recording industry. In a world of increasing complexity and overwhelming choice (a theme I hope to explore more sometime soon), a big part of the value we bring to our audiences is in selecting, sorting and verifying information – not simply manufacturing it. If we do that right, we can continue to attract and aggregate audiences, and those will continue to be valuable to advertisers (though not as valuable as they once were).

Remember this: we haven’t made money “selling our content” for a long time. It costs about as much to print and distribute newspapers as we collect in subscription revenue. Music companies reaped enormous profits selling CDs that cost them a few cents for $15-20. We’re not going to feel that kind of pain when we lose sales of 50-cent newspapers that cost us 51 cents to supply – as long as we don’t lose the audience.

There are lots of subtleties, uncertainties and questions about how the news business transitions into the new age – but very few that can’t be solved by growing audiences.

Make it so.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Alaska's human aggregator

The Anchorage Daily News has launched a daily Alaska news aggregation feature that's a bit different than most: the engine behind this one isn't a search or aggregation algorhithm; it's a person, long-time reporter and editor Dave Hulen.

Today's edition of the Alaska Newsreader draws on a number of ADN stories, of course, but also reaches far afield -- to a newspaper in Arizona for a tale of a fallen Alaska soldier (told by his mom), to North Carolina to tie in the Alaska angle on the lost-and-found boy scout, and to D.C. for a slightly snarky take on the Alaska-based "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case at SCOTUS.

Becoming your community's clearinghouse for useful and interesting news is a must. We ought to be aggregating in lots of categories -- news, of course, and opinion and probably many niches. There are lots of ways to approach doing so, and we may need to employ them all. But certainly having a talented, experienced local journalist apply his touch is a giant step forward.

I'd love to hear about other efforts and how they're working; I know Hulen and ADN Editor Pat Dougherty would love feedback, as well.

Dave Hulen, human aggregator. I know for a fact that he's been called worse.

Newspapers' local advantage

It's hard to do local online.

Well, you knew that, right? Despite more than a decade of effort, there's no solid evidence yet of anybody building local online news sites that achieve real traction in local markets. That particularly true -- as Business Week's Jon Fine reports here -- when somebody is trying to build the service from scratch.

The failure so far can't be attributed to underfunded or untalented players. Microsoft and AOL (dueing its heyday) both tried; more recently, the startup (brainchild of veterans with millions in VC money) is the latest to splutter. That's mainly the subject of Fine's column.

There's good news for us in this, both explicitly in the column and intuitively in the experience. Local sites that are extensions of real news organizations have big advantages. Here's a quick quote from the Fine column:

The nation's largest newspaper chain, Gannett, is now enabling and ramping up local participation on its sites. It's easier for a local daily to promote these efforts than a new face with a new name. Backfence's executives thought they saw a sweet spot but ended up flanked by the solo entrepreneurs on one side and the Gannetts on the other. They found that the middle of the road is often nowhere at all.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

If marketing takes over the web ...

Scott Karp at the blog Publishing 2.0 takes a look at Google's new "cost-per-action" advertising model and concludes that it's about to turn the web into one giant marketing machine.

The new model takes pay-per-click, AdSense type web ads a step (or more) farther. These will be ads where payment comes only when the customer not only clicks, but actually does something – a purchase, a test drive, etc. (The NYT's story on the plan is here.)

Karp is right about this much, for sure: this changes things.

I'm no advertising guy, but my simpleminded analysis is that this will make advertising harder to sell, since it raises the bar about what gets paid for. If the ads have to show direct results, won't that make spamming or flashy "Click To Win!!" ads less productive?

Karp has a more developed view that comes to a different conclusion. Go read it here; for starters, this taste:

Of course, everything exists on a spectrum. Many [cost per click] ads will be placed next to high quality content and lead consumers to offers that they will genuinly find valuable. But that “lighter touch” publishing model isn’t what made Google the cash soaked monster it is. No, Google became big by giving “publishers” (i.e. people with no editorial goals, only profit goals) the tools to turn the web into a giant direct marketing machine.

If you think the web is filled with marketing now, you ain’t seen nothing yet. It will make you long for the days of network TV when you only had to sit through three minutes of commercials.

Google will also increase, by an order of magnitude, the pressure on advertising as a creative art, where it was once acceptable to waste half of a brand’s money. No, Google doesn’t profit from advertising. It profits from direct marketing, where the ends always justify the means.

I don't know why, but I feel less threatened by that kind of direct marketing free-for-all than from the contextualized, disintermediated advertising that defines today's web. In other words, if the web gets junkier and advertising spans wall-to-wall, wouldn't that drive people to higher quality sites? Anybody have an insight on this?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Another case for newspaper widgets

Take a look at the online presentation of this investigation by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, built on a custom database the paper constructed, and then imagine there was a free, easy widget to use for embedding a search gateway onto websites.

Every PTA website in Florida would have it installed before nightfall.

Let's get there first.

No more boring data

Hans Rosling is a Swedish professor who teaches about world health. Watch this presentation from the TED conference; you'll learn something about the facts, of course -- but maybe even more about how we can use common tools (Flash, Photoshop, Illustrator) to make what we show compelling. I saw this talk live: uplifting and inspirational. Thanks Journalistopia for reminding me.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Community service & viral marketing

How cool would it be to provide a nitty-gritty, community service in a way that also polished your brand, drove traffic to your website and made you feel good?

At a glance, it looks to me like the Morning Call's idea for making databases built by the newspaper available as embeddable widgets might do all that. There's a quick discussion of the notion – and a link to one Morning Call example – available at the Journalistopia blog. [I saw this first at; thanks.]

The example in the Journalistopia post is a searchable database of breeders and kennels. Why not? But I can see more traction for widgets built around your election guide, your restaurant reviews, your best columnist's archive.

Addendum: If you don't understand why this is close to a slam dunk way to get bloggers pointing to our content, that's another good reason for you to start blogging. You'll see.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Tell me a six-word story

Debates about story length, jumps, alternative forms and multiple entry points are hardly new – though they have taken on new urgency as we wrestle with engaging a changing, demanding audience.

As an editorial page editor, I had hundreds of arguments with letter writers who were certain they couldn't adequately express themselves within our 200-word limit. For years, we pointed to an Anchorage Daily News letter that had done a fine job in just 14 words:

I smoke pot. So what? Send me to jail. I can get it there.

That was eclipsed when I later discovered the winner of a nation-wide essay contest on the theme "good government" had used just six words:

Good government. Good government. Sit. Stay.

It turns out that lots of people have worked on telling stories in few words, sometimes called "flash fiction." I had never before encountered this story, which Ernest Hemingway reportedly called his best work:

For sale. Baby shoes, never worn.

I recently encountered this post, which encourages people to come up with "six word stories."

Let's play, too. You could leave your suggestions here as comments.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

'Eat media corporations for lunch'

Here's an intriguing short tale of a small, hyperlocal "distributed media" startup getting shafted in a deal with Big Media (Fox, in this case). It's interesting on several levels and worth a look (thanks, howardowens), but the real takeaway for me comes in this heartfelt conclusion:

One other thing is clear to me: We will, sooner rather than later, eat these larger media corporations for lunch, unless they learn how to behave in a world of distributed media. Granted, that's the larger "we." I can't guarantee that Pegasus News will be The One, or one of the ones to pull it off. We've grown more quickly than you could have ever imagined with fewer resources than you waste in an afternoon. The "people formerly known as the audience" are mobile and transient and will abandon their old media habits without prejudice -- perhaps worse, without even realizing they have done so. Blogs, Wikipedia, Digg, YouTube, RSS, Flickr: how many had you heard of a few years ago? These and others have disrupted the hell out of media in general, but have had less of an impact on local media. That's changing, and fast. We thought we'd found a Big Media company that was ready to embrace that, rather than shrinking from it. I'm disappointed that we were wrong about that.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


I’m a newspaper reader, so I usually find those really interesting stories on the third page of the business section. I track incremental developments in local stories over many different days. I know where to look for science stories on Tuesday, and for the high-tech columns and reviews on Thursday.

Most readers don’t.

And today, when the audience is increasingly made up of people who may hold the printed newspaper in their hands only occasionally – if at all – it’s crazy for us to pretend that Friday’s reader is going to remember what we wrote on Tuesday, or to dismiss an idea with, “We just had a story like that in the entertainment section a couple weeks ago …”

The audience needs your help.

There’s much engaging, interesting, useful reporting and storytelling in our newspapers every day. Chances are that most newspaper readers don’t find it all, and it’s a cinch that people who drop in at the website once in a while, or scan your headlines in an RSS reader, are the least likely of all.

Why wouldn’t we help them find the good stuff? If I ran a newspaper, I think I’d ask some smartalecky copy editor or cool younger features reporter to write a blog about how to find the best stuff from the paper – not just important news, but weird-ass foreign stories and strange trends and impossibly hip new bands from unlikely places. If possible I’d look for some attitude and personality to keep the audience reading every day.

I’d send this out as an email notice at mid-morning every day, so people could make better use of their newspaper, or just click through on the embedded links. I’d already have email addresses for all the subscribers. (Your circ department collects that, right? Well, make them start.) And I’d promote it heavily as a free email subscription for anybody else who wanted it.

Maybe I’d call it “ReadMe” or The Users Manual or “insiders’ guide.” Probably somebody at the paper would have a better idea for that, though.

Anybody want to try?

The majesty of the passive voice

The New York Times reports:

WASHINGTON, March 13 — Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said this afternoon that "I accept that mistakes were made" in the decision to replace some United States attorneys, but he vowed to stay on the job and fix the system.

Because I can't resist, here's a vintage cartoon from Matt Groening's old "Life In Hell" series, which was (as I recall) commentary on how President Reagan acknowledged problems with Iran Contra:

And how about McClatchy's Washington bureau reporting on this story, huh?

Monday, March 12, 2007

'All journalists should blog'

I don't know if I agree with Howard Owens assertion that "all journalists should blog," but I do think all editors should.

You all are, right?

Owens' assertion is straight-forward, and seems right:

The best way to understand blogging is to blog. That’s why I say: All journalists should blog. You can’t get modern media without understanding blogs, and you can’t understand blogs unless you do it.

I started this blog a couple of years ago primarily to learn how – and to make sure our editors learned to deal with blogs, RSS feeds and the like. I don't check on how often or how regularly folks stop by (and you rarely leave comments – have you noticed?) but I do know there's a steady readership, and I've learned some cool tricks like the widget that tracks my whereabouts (plazes) and how to tune Google Reader to generate the "I'm reading ..." list, and how see who's visited lately (the site meter link at the bottom).

Here's an even better reason senior editors should be blogging: an editors' blog is a fabulous way to communicate with readers. The debates, defenses and discussions you've had with readers one-on-one for all these years can now take place in front of thousands. You get feed back, you can reply, the conversation iterates.

I've noticed a couple of excellent blog entries by McClatchy editors lately. I'm sure there are many more (send me links, please), but here are a couple of quite different editor blog posts, from Melanie Sill in Raleigh and Pat Dougherty in Anchorage.

Friday, March 09, 2007

'Think different' about design

Much has been written about the role design plays in Apple products – including a recent book about the iPod that's worth reading (The Perfect Thing, by Steven Levy of Newsweek). Pretty, pleasing products that work intuitively are a good thing.

What people often overlook is the fact that Apple's emphasis on design isn't something that's added on; it's a fundamental ingredient in everything the company does, most obviously with products (like the iPod) but also process (like the legendary Steve Jobs presentations at MacWorld) or even, it turns out, the way the Apple retail stores work.

An intriguing little article from Fortune explains specifically how store design has contributed to the unlikely, extraordinary success of Apple Stores – which generate almost twice as much profit-per-square-foot as Tiffanys. Wow.

Business Week, stock analysts and retail experts all predicted disaster when Apple said it was starting retail stores. ("It's desperation time in Cupertino," said But the company believed its world was shifting (sound familiar?) and it needed a new approach. Says Jobs:

"I started to get scared," says Jobs. Looking angularly trim in his trademark mock turtleneck and jeans (shopping, one is reminded, has never been integral to his lifestyle), Jobs is describing what he saw circa 2000. The company was increasingly dependent on mega-retailers - companies that had little incentive, never mind training, to position Apple's products as anything unique. "It was like, 'We have to do something, or we're going to be a victim of the plate tectonics. And we have to think different about this. We have to innovate here.'"

We need that kind of attitude. The "plate tectonics" of our business are shifting at least as radically as for they were for Apple, and we have to "think different" as well. (I love that ad: see below). Singular, maniacal focus on design – real design, meaning the way people use our products – is a great start.

(Disclosure: yes, I'm a longtime Apple fan; I got my first Mac for Christmas in 1985 and never looked back.)

Mac Ad - think different - apple

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Citizens & journalists in Raleigh

Dan Barkin, the News & Observer DME who was recently named "participation editor," has a valuable post on the N&O's new "community sharing" site. It's a great introduction to what they're trying to accomplish – and an illumination of them taking a fast ride on the learning curve as they explore new territory.

Here's a taste:

What we have tried to create is a community space. A town square on the web. A new newsroom. A thing that is more yours than ours.

The address of this page is, and it is part of a larger community site called, a sister to, that is still a work in progress. Our part of the sharing, one part, is to put it up on the web, try to figure out the best we can how it should look, what kind of tools it should have, that sort of thing.

And we’re still figuring out, with your help, what makes these kind of sites work. A couple of days ago, I had lunch in Chapel Hill with a very smart man, Phil Meyer, a journalism professor at UNC. One of his sayings is “invest a little, learn a lot.” And that’s one of our objectives here, to learn a lot.

We need everybody's “A” game now

In the heat of our life-and-death newspaper war in Anchorage, we were always on the lookout for things we could do for readers that the competition (also a morning newspaper) couldn’t match. After one of our brainstorming sessions, editorial cartoonist Peter Dunlap-Shohl came to me with an idea: in addition to his normal duties, he offered to launch a daily comic strip based on Alaska themes and set in Anchorage.

The strip, “Muskeg Heights,” started that month and ran six days a week for at least the next 10 years – a popular, unique feature in our paper that readers couldn’t get anywhere else.

I appreciated Pete’s hard work and creativity – but I was even more proud of the fighting spirit he displayed. He had talent that could to help us win, and he didn’t hold back.

We need that kind of effort and initiative from all our stars today. We need your best, most opinionated sports columnist to host a controversial blog; we need the editorial writer who used to work in radio to start an opinion podcast; we need that terrific writer who’s been doing long-term projects to step it up and write more often.

Everybody who wants to help ought to ask themselves the same question Pete did: What can I bring to the party? This is the time to do it; there’s no point in holding back.

One of my favorite writers, Annie Dillard, said something related to this:

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill in from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

After Michelangelo died, someone found in his studio a piece of paper on which he had written a note to his apprentice, in the handwriting of his old age: “Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio—draw, and do not waste time.”

—Annie Dillard
The Writing Life

The journalist as supplicant

There are a lot of important implications arising from the role journalists played in the Scotter Libby trial, all explored in this story from the NYT.

I want to highlight just one of them: the sorry spectacle of bigfoot, insider journalists dancing around both common sense and common decency in attempts to justify their behavior. There were plenty of examples; here's one taste, where the Times' story contrasts journalists' behavior with two earlier, more principled newsmen:

“I wonder,” Professor Kirtley said, “if part of it is that Caldwell and Farber were proudly outsiders.” By contrast, the journalists who testified at the Libby trial were Washington insiders, and they gave the public a master class in access journalism. It was not always a pretty sight.

“They’re not fearless advocates,” Professor Feldstein said of the reporters involved, “but supplicants, willing and even eager to be manipulated.”

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Your newsroom probably needs a 'journo-geek'

Dave Zeeck and his crew at the News Tribune told us at McClatchy's Northwest Editors' meeting about the "jurno-geek" they hired to help bring programming capacity to the news storytelling in Tacoma. Now he's been discovered elsewhere.

MediaShift, a PBS blog tracking transitions in the news business, features Aaron Ritchey and his explots prominently in a new post about what they call "news programmers." The Star Tribune's Matt Thompson makes a compelling case for the necessity of bringing digital skills into the newsroom -- not only for presentation, but also to plumb the depths of information that make up stories like Enron (See The Press' New Paradigm on his blog Snarkmarket.)

Here's a taste from MediaShift:

[Adrian] Holovaty has repeatedly called on newspaper editors to hire programmers, and many of them are finally heeding his advice and considering ways of getting computer programmers onto their news staff and out of the trenches of tech support or doing work on web classifieds. Inspired by Holovaty’s comments at a convention, Dave Zeeck, executive editor for the Tacoma (Wash.) News-Tribune, hired Aaron Ritchey as a “news programmer” who has helped streamline the work for reporters and page designers while also creating online databases and map mash-ups for readers.

P.S. You can learn more by tracking the website Journerdism, described by founder Will Sullivan as "
A news and commentary website for journalists and nerds to kick it and discuss the craft journalism, multimedia storytelling, web 2.0 development, web and print design, social content and all things nerdy online."

Monday, March 05, 2007

Techies 92, Readers 8

As Scott Karp points out over at Publishing 2.0, webheads and tech folk really liked the redesigned USA Today website and all its social bookmarking features – comments, tags, user content areas and the like. About the only dissent in the tech community came from those who thought it didn't go far enough.

Readers? Well, Karp points out, 92% of the first 130 who posted comments hated it, according to this post at The Next Big Thing.

I'd caution against over interpreting either the technoid enthsiasm or initial reader reaction, but there is a lesson here. Simply diving into the flavor-of-the-month is no guarantee of success. Like Karp, I look forward to watching as USA Today fine tunes the results, as I am confident they will.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Lessons from Scoopy Bee

Today's column by Sacramento Bee Public Editor Armando Acuna makes a point worth remembering: being responsive to readers, whenever possible, is never a bad idea.

Praising what he called "a nimbleness and flexibility" he had found missing on some other recent issues, Acuna was appropriately proud of the way the paper has responded to reader concerns about changes on the weather page. Here's a sample of what he cited:

In the case of the weather page, The Bee made a series of changes at the beginning of the year that caused some unexpected negative reader feedback.
I wrote about the changes and the reader reaction to them almost two months ago. Here is the update.
Back by popular demand: Scoopy and his weather trivia question.
Back by popular demand: the flow of water into and out of regional dams.
Back by popular demand: easy-to-read tide tables.
And there have been several other changes, too...

The Bee, like other newspapers, has made changes that angered readers recently: reducing stock listings, changing the format of the weekly television guide, eliminating some Sunday comics. There's no way to do that that doesn't make some readers angry. But there there are ways to mitigate it.

The most successful changes in stock listings, for example, have come at papers where the newshole saved by eliminating vast tabular columns of stock results was partly repurposed to provide more business news, either as increased local business newshole or in the form of business news that sought to forecast trends and events. A paper that saved four pages of stock listings, for example, might dedicate one of them to those features, while banking savings from the other three.

Editors have also learned that asking readers to nominate favorite stocks for inclusion in the reduced results list also goes a long way to reducing their ire.

Similarly, The Bee was able to mitigate reader reaction to changes in the TV book. It was changed from a stitched and trimmed book to a standard tabloid to save production costs, and some readers just won't get beyond the fact that they preferred the former. But the paper was able to actually increase newshole and add back some listings and features (while still saving money on production); a surprising number actually rose to defend the paper when others complained, saying they preferred the new book.

Changes mandated by budget pressure are the worst, but editors also know that even changes that truly improve the paper overall will anger some readers. So be it; if we never made a change that caused objections, we'd still be running Gasoline Alley and the Katzenjammer Kids on the funny pages.

But by listening carefully and willingly readjusting to meet reader concerns whenever possible, we can go a long way toward treating readers better.

More notes on News War

A collection of scattered and interesting observations from Howard Owens after watching News War, found at his blog here.

P.S. I don't usually post about a single, specific item I think might be worth sharing with you. More often, you can find links to some of the things I think were interesting (not all about journalism) listed in the right column here, called "I'm reading ..."

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Conventional wisdom, interrupted

Tim Rutten's column in the L.A. Times makes some cogent points (as usual) in dissecting the recent Frontline documentary News War. The most damning come when he asks why the third episode didn't quote either the current publisher or editor of the Times, despite devoting extensive time to the paper's woes and quoting former employees, analysts and critics at length.

Jeff Jarvis, meanwhile, weighs in with a substantially different set of criticisms about the program in a recent post at BuzzMachine.

Each makes points worth considering, and together they address an issue I've been thinking about a great deal lately: much of the reporting being done these days about newspaper woes, media transformations and emerging new paradigms for news is superficial, shallow and formulaic.

There's enough sin to spread around, and some of the sinners are pretty obvious: bloggers who reflexively attach conspiracy theories to anything in the mainstream press they disagree with, or newspaper journalists who dismiss the role of bloggers and lump them all into the same, pajama-clad camp.

More damaging, I think, are reports on the business pages of major newspapers, opinion columns in weekly business mags and commentaries on network television that use every new factoid or development as an opportunity to repeat a set of stale, cursory bullet points that are rapidly becoming conventional wisdom. Some paint the news business as all but dead, soon to be replaced by a kaleidoscope of YouTubes and myspaces. Others suggest that everything would be fine if only Dean Baquet had more reporters.

Rarely does one mention that newspapers – alone among major media – are growing total audience. Nobody seems to notice that far more people read the Sunday newspaper (yes, on newsprint) than watched the Super Bowl. They neglect to mention that newspapers are handling online video more effectively than television websites (here, here, and here, for starters). They seem blind to the fact that newspapers own the country's biggest online employment site (CareerBuilder) or that companies like McClatchy, which made almost 100% of its revenue from newspapers 10 years ago now gets almost a third elsewhere. And 2006 was a disasterous year, right? (Actually, our annual ad revenues were up, not down.)

I'm not trying to camouflage the very real, very insistent issues we're facing. Yes, the ground is shifting. We know the way people get their journalism tomorrow will be dramatically different that yesterday – or even today.

But the truth is, we're making the changes that will help us meet those challenges and preserve the mission: to keep independent, fearless public service journalism at the center of whatever new landscape emerges. Let's make sure that our newsrooms, at least, understand that.

Now *that's* local

The Bakersfield Californian's interactive "pothole map" – where readers add their own pothole discoveries – could work anywhere, don't you think? (Thanks to BuzzMachine for flagging this.)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Why local editors rule

This struck me as a compelling example of why decisions about news judgment have to be made by local editors who know their communities. Who could have guessed that photos on dogs would out-draw pix of a fur bikini contest?

Top photos viewed online at (Anchorage Daily News):

Dog shots -- 7,382
Fur Bikini Contest at Chilkoot Charlie's -- 5,810

Trump card: they still trust us

There's a valuable story at the Readership Institute website pulling together recent research and making the crucial point that the way people feel about "the media" isn't the same as the way they feel about their local newspaper. The key take-away is simple and profound: most people trust the local paper. This is our trump card -- if we use it well as we transition into the new media landscape.

Here's a key taste from the article:

But, "the media" are not "my local daily newspaper" (just like Congress is not my local Congressman). People seem to have a different response when asked directly about the newspaper they usually read. Writing in the Newspaper Research Journal in 2004, Phil Meyer identified several studies that show that, when asked specifically about their local newspaper, people rate newspapers very high on various questions related to credibility, believability, and trust.

our own study of the 100 Impact papers last fall, we found that 75% of respondents say they trust their local daily newspaper to do a good job most of the time or just about always. Younger people, in particular, and those with lower education and income levels tend to have slightly higher levels of trust in the newspaper. What's more, we found that trust correlates with readership -- people who trust the newspaper are more likely to read it.

Trust, however, is not just an opinion or attitude one has about the newspaper (and that you can measure with a single question). Trust is a relationship; it is a product of an ongoing interaction a person has with the newspaper product, brand, and service; it is an experience.

I remember not long ago noticing that the same 2004 Pew survey that was widely quoted saying more than half the adults surveyed believed "little or nothing" from the press, also said that 80% had strong positive feelings about their local paper.

It's hard to overstate how crucial this is. Our relationship with local readers gives us the opportunity to leverage into the new media world in a way that sustains our journalistic mission: hold government accountable, speak the truth to power, build community cohesion, be a voice for the voiceless. Without their trust, we're just another voice in the bewildering chorus; with it, we can continue to satisfy our crucial mission even as we change platforms and learn to meet audience needs in new ways.

Especially with the continued, negative perception that surrounds our industry these days, it's crucial that you not buy into the conventional wisdom. People still trust us to look out for their interests; when you add newspaper readership to unduplicated online visitors, our total audience is growing.

More people want what we do today than wanted it yesterday. This is not the profile of a dying industry.

Don't let the common misperception take root in your newsroom; our demise is certainly not inevitable, and need not even be likely.

A Web tale from DC

Marisa Taylor, our Justice Department reporter, has developed multiple scoops on the saga of the seven U.S. attorneys sacked by the DOJ. Yesterday she had another -- the New Mexico U.S. attorney's claim that he was fired because he refused to go after a Democrat prior to last fall's election. (The New York Times credited this scoop this morning.) Marisa's editor, Jim Asher, wrote the following e-mail to the staff about the speed with which the Web makes things happen. Here's Jim:

Wednesday's day-long journalism by Marisa Taylor on her fired U.S. attorneys story reinforces a startling truism about our business. It's changed forever.

Marisa's story was posted on our site at noon. Within an hour other internet sites were touting it. Then, in what seemed like an nanosecond, members of the house and senate were opining about her story. It was read into the congressional record by Sen. Feinstein and provoked two hearings by house and senate committees on whether to subpoena the U.S. attorneys.

I tell you this, not to praise Marisa, which I do, but also to point out the kind of immediate impact our work now has.

Within minutes, stories get noticed and action gets taken.

No longer are we bound to the printing press, or to the deadlines of yore. This is an exciting development that frees us from the slow moving traditions of our industry. As we move quickly into the world of virtual journalism, hang on to your hats. This is gonna be some fast ride.