Thursday, January 31, 2008

A mouse training to become a rat

I often eschew video online because I don't want to watch a whole video sequence just to see the "good bit" everybody's talking about.

With that in mind, I was intrigued by the treatment I found here, where a site called bigthink has chopped up its interview with New Yorker editor David Remnick into multiple, bite-sized chunks with clear content labels. Perfect.

Remnick, btw, is one of my favorite editors, and definitely one of the most quotable. When he was asked about whether he ever thought of becoming an editor while he was a reporter, he said that had always seemed to him like "a mouse training to become a rat."

Let's hope the roof stays on

Gary pointed this one out the other day:

Strange how people who suffer together have stronger connections than people who are most content.

I don't have any regrets, they can talk about me plenty when I'm gone.

You always said people don't do what they believe in, they just do what's most convenient, then they repent.

And I always said, "Hang on to me, baby, and let's hope that the roof stays on.

– Bob Dylan (Brownsville Girl)

A network of newsrooms

Publish2, the embryonic web-based aggregation and ranking system for journalists now running in public beta, is launching an experimental "network of newsrooms" syndicate that aims at identifying and publishing links to the best regional coverage of Super Tuesday elections.

The concept takes a minute to wrap your head around, so you should visit the explanation at this address (where you will also find links to Publish2 itself).

There are smart folks behind the Publish2 project, and I've been talking with them about the project since it was simply a concept. Some of our editors have likewise been approached to participate in the beta.

This is a separate, one-off project. If it sounds like something your website might use, by all means contact Scott Karp or others at Publish2 for more details.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Widget love

Here's a nice bit about a little widget that asks you travel and geography questions to promote a site called Travel Pod. The discussion of why and how it works is interesting; there's a taste below, and you can read the whole post here.

I got hooked on this travel widget for probably upwards of 20 minutes over the course of the day yesterday. Some people in the office were even able to make to the last level (they obviously paid more attention in history and geography). This is a perfect example of creating compelling content that people will choose to interact with and share, which is in line with your brand. An application dedicated to identifying places you would love to see in your lifetime, and a travel blog Web site.

Doesn't it seem like it would be easy enough to produce a compelling NewsQuiz or SmartAss widget that would work for us?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Wisdom of the crowd or tyranny of the mob?

Slashdot, which bills itself as "News for nerds. Stuff that matters," is one of the oldest and most influential communities of interest online. It operates with a rough egalitarian focus I envy; site users rank each post 1-10 based on perceived usefulness, and the readers can sort by telling the site, for example, only to display posts ranked 7 or above.

And so when one of the Slashdot founders speaks, people interested in online communities ought to listen. Rob Malda, known to Slashdotters as CmdrTaco, tells the New York Times he's worried about the sites where "the wisdom of the crowd" becomes "the tyranny of the mob" instead. Have a look over at the Times' technology blog, Bits.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

You should be "actively seeking out your audience"

I thought this post was succinct enough and important enough to reproduce in full. But go read the blog it comes from, written by a North Dakota media producer named Zac Ecola:

Shortly after polls closed last night, my wife got a text message from Obama’s campaign. He was the projected winner of the South Carolina primary.

A few minutes later I logged into Gmail, where Obama had already sent me an email about the victory and where I could watch his speech.

About a half an hour later a friend in Washington sent me a text with the percentage breakdowns.

This morning I logged on to Facebook to see a notification from Obama, a simple copy/paste job from the email sent earlier.
Sometime today, I’ll watch his speech and Clinton’s concession speech on YouTube, since I was busy playing Super Mario Galaxy while he actually gave the speech.

Except for a CNN breaking update I got via Twitter last night (after Obama’s text message), I knew who won the primary without ever seeing a newspaper or TV site.
Only today, when I checked CNN’s excellent primary elections section did I go to an MSM site. News that I care about comes to me, despite the source.

I, like many other people, only go looking for news (on my days off) if something has first come to me to pique my interest. Then I find a site with valuable, contextual information laid out in a way that I can explore the data (in this case, exit polls). I can passively receive information I’d like to know.

If you’re not actively seeking out your audience, you’re doing something wrong.
Media organizations should be doing the same thing Obama does. It should be everywhere I am and it should provide valuable, easy-to-use added context and content if and when I decide to hit their sites.

One thing about blogging

This blog has been a useful way for me to highlight things around the company I think everybody ought to see, and it lets me express opinions and send informal messages.

What it doesn't do is engender much exchange. Maybe that's not possible when the boss blogs, but it should be. Anonymous posts are welcome, after all.

What I'd like is recognition that I'm not sure about everything I post here, that I need your ideas and refinements, that we're all kind of making this up as we go.

This parenthetical note from a blog called Confused of Calcutta expresses what I'm after precisely:

[I’m not sure I’ve got it now. But then that’s what makes blogging so valuable. I can stick something out here and invite comment, watch you improve on it or cut it to shreds or even do both — at the same time — without getting hung up about it.]

(The post it's from is fascinating, too.)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Hat tip to the Sun News

Could be coincidence, or some random factor, but I did like this item from the NYT's liveblog of the South Carolina voting Saturday:

8:30 p.m. | Looking at the Map Mr. Obama is winning almost every county across the state. The only county that Mrs. Clinton has won so far is Horry County where Myrtle Beach is located; its newspaper was one of the few in the state to endorse her.

Do you tweet? Or even twit?

The Charlotte Observer tweets. The AP tweets, and so does Time Magazine, in the person of anamariecox, whom some of you will remember as the founding Wonkette. A number of McClatchy folks do, too. Including me, albeit erratically.

If you haven't discovered Twitter, it's worth a test drive. I haven't found it satisfying as a means of personal expression, but there seems to me to be real potential for delivering news in these 140-word tweets.

Posts are limited to that length, and can be delivered via web, mobile device or SMS. You choose who (or what) to "follow" and then whatever they post (or tweet, I guess) shows up automatically. I followed the Charlotte Observer for a while, and was impressed by the frequency and volume of news snips they delivered. (Each tweet can include a tinyurl link back to a fuller web story). I had to stop following after a while because I just didn't need to know that much about the Bobcats, or the Greene trial, or whatever).

Hearing small personal updates from friends can be fun, though. And used properly, the form is entertaining, too. Ana Marie Cox is following the presential candidates for Time. Here's a recent post from the trail:

Miami, FL: McCain "nat'l security roundtable" largely consisted of old white men telling each other how awesome they are.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A role for audio

After The State newspaper in Columbia S.C. endorsed Barack Obama for president, the newspaper received complaints about selecting an African American candidate. One left voice mail, and editor Brad Warthen decided to include it on his blog to help illuminate the issue for readers.

Here's his blog post with a link to the audio, and a transcript:

... I need to talk with someone to discuss the fact that y'all are supporting a black man for president of the United States. I am ASHAMED that we've got a newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, one of the best cities in America, and yet we've got a black operation supporting black candidates ...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Give away a thousand cameras?

Here's an intriguing post from Jeff Jarvis, in Davos. Exerpt:

I showed my FlipVideo (the $79, 30-minute, dead-easy video camera) to Kai Diekmann, editor of the biggest paper, by far, in Germany: Bild. He gets thousands of photos from his readers, who send it up to a simple number via their mobile phones. Now he’s practicing networked journalism and assigning and mobilizing them to shoot things. He also told me that next week, they’ll have a top chef from a popular German food show telling readers in the paper to send in videos that he will put on his show. Where’s the line among media there? Diekmann is then doing with videos what he did with phones and so he was wowed by the Flip and wants to order a thousand of them.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A note from Sam Zell

From: Talk to Sam
Sent: Tue 1/22/2008 11:03 AM
Subject: Censorship, the First Amendment and the Fourth Estate

Everyone, I learned on the first leg of our tour of Tribune's business units that some of them were filtering Internet content. I do not see how a member of the Fourth Estate, dedicated to protecting the First Amendment, can censor what its own employees and partners can see. I have instructed that all content filters be removed. You are now exposed to the dangers of You Tube and Facebook. Please use your best judgment.

Let's focus on what is important, and go for greatness.
– Sam

About Jim O'Shea's strange 1-percent solution

Jim O'Shea quits over budget disputes at the L.A. Times and exits to sustained applause – not just in Los Angeles, but likewise newsrooms around the nation. It's like the Dean Baquet Show, Act II.

I don't know all the details, and I certainly can't know what it feels like in the executive suites at the L.A. Times. I realize that budgets have been shrinking for a while now, and that each new decline is additive. But the Times own story says this dispute boiled down to a one-percent newsroom budget cut. Huh?
The dispute with O'Shea arose several weeks ago, Hiller said, after Hiller told department heads to prepare 2008 budgets with no increase in spending over 2007. Then, after advertising revenue weakened further, Hiller said he asked for a 1% cut.

Hiller said O'Shea responded with a request for a 2008 newsroom budget of $123 million, up $3 million.

O'Shea, in an interview Monday, said his spending plan represented the minimum amount necessary to maintain adequate news coverage in a year when the paper was gearing up for the Olympics in China and continuing to cover the presidential race. He said holding the budget flat or trimming it by 1% would mean imposing drastic cuts in other areas such as foreign news.

Now, this may get me drummed out of the Editors' Club once and for all, but I have to ask: Is there another editor anywhere in the country who wouldn't embrace a flat 2008 budget or one-percent cut with open arms and a hallelujah? If your budget is $5 million and you're asked to cut $50,000, do you make a pretty speech and quit?

I'm sorry, but that's not the way to defend good journalism. I'm disappointed.

McClatchy editors have been asked to do far more, and almost universally have responded with intelligence, fortitude and good intentions. We have cut until it hurts, no denying that, and then cut some more. None of us has the budget she needs or deserves, and none of our operations is operating the way we think it ultimately must.

But the newspaper industry is in the middle of an historic transition and traditional economics have turned upside-down; revenues have fallen farther and faster than anyone imagined, and we haven't hit bottom yet. Now, on top of our industry's parochial concerns, the whole U.S. economy is melting down in a bubbling vat of subprime consequences.

Well, so what? In my book, that means we work harder, make tougher choices and work to sustain capacity for a future when the revenue picture stabilizies. Everybody has a threshold, I suppose, but from where I stand, the mission is too important to just give up and walk away.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A letter from a friend

It's hard to add much to this letter from a reader received recently at the Kansas City Star:

I have little formal education. I began reading the KC Star when I was a teenager. I'm now 50.

[Without] realizing at the time ... my reading of this great
newspaper taught me a communication vocabulary and history education worthy of an expensive university. I studied the writing structure, the formation of thoughts and information transferred into an efficient written communication medium. I saw new words and learned their meaning through the

When I was 30 my department manager, a college grad, asked me where I went to college. I told him the KC Star.

This newspaper seems an old friend. Not a fly by night so often found these days as revenue goals becomes the character. I've laughed and cried with its contents. Its been a loyal constant, so rare these modern days. This paper is blessed with exceptional talent, new and old and offers something for everyone. CW Gusewelle's ability to paint a gorgeous visual portrait with
his words next to an article about a local boy killed in action in a
terrible place in a terrible war. National and local stories, commentary, and my favorite the opinion section. Sports, entertainment, its all there contained in this almost living thing, the KC Star.

There seems a correct professional morality about this paper, drawn and maintained through the generations. The world is changing, nothing last forever. Some say newspapers are a dying breed.

Yes, I have 300 TV channels, and internet, but for now I think I'll get a cup of coffee and enjoy visiting with an old friend, the KC Star.

Phil Swayne

Thursday, January 10, 2008

More fun with type

Have you seen the documentary Helvetica yet? Honestly, I recommend it.

And here's another intriguing observation about type. Canadian
 university student
 Phil Renaud has discovered (across a fair-sized sample) that his essay grades vary directly in relation to the font he uses to submit them. 

Fonts used: Georgia, Trebuchet MS, Times New Roman. Grades received: find out here.

Growing audience and opportunity

Five presidential primary races so far, five different winners.* Record voter participation. An open field, a perilous world, an imploding economy.

Rhetoric ratcheting, knives being sharpened for races yet to unfold.

This is good news for us, cousins. If we can’t practice value-added, public service journalism in this context, when will we?

We need to bring our A game, serving the growing audience appetite for campaign news with everything from concise statistical data to unique overview and insight. You need to be thinking about this when you design A-1 and whenever your website updates breaking news.

It’s a bit late to be retuning coverage plans, but you can’t go far wrong by ensuring that whatever you do is the result of explicit, conscious thought. Don’t run things because you “ought to.” Eschew the formulaic and obvious. Reject the simpleminded, the facile, the unattributed and the clich├ęd.

Our Washington staff is working hard to provide journalism that goes well beyond the conventional; if they’re not meeting your needs, by all means talk that over with them, or me. Draw on all our resources, from Dave Barry and the alt.campaign coverage to MCT graphics and timelines. Flag the coverage you’re producing for inclusion on the wire and the bureau homepage.

People who find satisfaction with our political coverage will be far more likely to stick around for other journalism. Let’s focus and work hard to do the best possible job for them right now.

* Iowa (Huckabee, Obama); N.H. (McCain, Clinton); Wyoming (Romney).

Where's Howard?


I know posting here and communication from me generally has been greatly reduced of late. I thought I should explain briefly.

Sadly, my younger brother died in mid-December after a short, fierce illness. I got to visit him several times in Alaska in the months preceding, and of course was there with family afterward for the services and other arrangements.

This all takes time and, I discover, considerable emotional energy, too. I've been at work since, but honestly haven't been as focused or energetic as I'd like. I expect that to change, and I intend to be more in the flow.

Thanks to those who have mentioned missing the posts; that's gratifying. Look for more in the future.