Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Elaboration on the aggregation post below

Those who read the comments will have seen Jack's quick and helpful reply to my request for details about the blog news aggregations.

But for those who don't, I'm promoting the comment to the main page, here:

Howard, this is a "your mileage may vary" answer because it will certainly depend on the interest in the content.

This "article" was in our Top 10 articles on Tuesday for the combined knoxnews/govolsxtra sites.

Today, this one is performing in the Top 15 on the combined knoxnews/govolsxtra sites.

Both of these are sets links to blog postings. They were created using the Publish2 tool on a topic of very high reader/user interest.

I could easily create these without using the Publish2 tool. But it makes for quicker work and I'm all for that.

My work process is simple: Surf blog aggregators and blog search engines for appropriate content, bookmark the content in Publish2 with a fairly obscure tag. Get the RSS link for the tag in Publish2 and process through a perl script (which I found on the Internet) that outputs a bulleted list. It's format happy for our Ellington publishing platform. Cut-and-paste as "article" text.

The links can be gathered over time, by multiple users using the same tag or from multiple computers.

I hope that helps.

Aggregation and linking for the real world newsroom

Scott Karp has a long and thoughtful post at Publishing 2.0 that describes how aggregating links to content elsewhere fits into daily operations at real newsrooms. Of particular interest is the experience of Jack Lail at, where he's been using the Publish2 tools to turn regional blog postings into stories and features.

I don't know how the work is being received by audiences there (are you listening, Jack? Wanna tell?) but to me it looks like a winning application of what Karp calls "speed and elegant simplicity of innovation."

All these examples are things you could be doing on your site, right now. I know Scott is eager to introduce newsrooms to the Publish2 platform, and doubtless would be available to consult informally if you're interested.

I'd love to hear about anybody who tries.

Body slows, but the cartoons are moving

Peter Dunlap-Shohl was a local kid working in a frame shop when he was hired at the Anchorage Daily News. Though he was a philosophy major and accomplished folk musician, what he really wanted was a career as a blunt instrument – that is, as an editorial cartoonist.

I was able to find him a job in the art department, where he was "allowed" to produce cartoons basically on his own time. He blossomed and soon was producing highly individualistic local political cartoons with uncanny insight and uncommon wit.

Though he had grown up on Conrad and MacNelly, his work didn't look like anybody else. That – and the fact that he was relentlessly local in his focus – probably obscured his work from wider audiences, but he has been amongst the most potent, consistent and prolific visual commentators of the last 20 years.

After one of our many newsroom strategy sessions in the midst of the Great Alaska Newspaper War, Peter came to me with an idea: he'd draw a locally relevant cartoon strip for the funny pages six times a week. It would be a feature the opposition couldn't match, and might help distinguish and differentiate the ADN.

Good idea, I told him – but I thought the editorial cartoon was more important.

No problem, said Peter: he intended to do both.

I believe he was drawing four editorial cartoons a week in those days (hey, we were all younger) so that meant a weekly total of 10 different, creative contributions to the paper. Thus was launched the multi-year run of Muskeg Heights, as charming as the editorial cartoons were caustic.

I'm a PD-S fan, as you might guess, and also a friend, and I was stunned and saddened six years ago when I learned Peter had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. It was tragic in any sense, of course, but especially poignant for Pete. I mean, the guy draws for a living; it's who he is.

I'm happy to report that while Parkinson's has of course taken a real toll on Peter and his family, it hasn't stifled either the spirit or the creativity. "Since my diagnosis, I have been surfing my strongest creative roll, period," he reports.

Though the disease took away Pete's traditional drawing ability, it also forced him to adapt in ways he says have extended and enhanced his capacities. He now draws on a computer tablet, works in Photoshop instead of India ink, and has discovered the power of animation.

On his personal blog "Off and On: The Alaska Parkinson's Rag," he tells of learning to use the computer as a drawing tool, with a big assist from artist wife Pam:

Whenever I got stuck, bewildered, frustrated or exhausted, Pam would arrive and sort things out. Eventually I arrived at my goal of being able to produce work on the computer that was indistinguishable from my pre-computer cartoons.

When I arrived at that lofty peak, that dearly bought goal, that ultimate moment when I finally was able to reproduce that old style, I was rewarded with a moment of clarity. I realized that recreating my old look was was a stupid idea.

Take a two thousand dollar machine, equip it with some of the most sophisticated software available, and turn it into a fifty cent pen. Brilliant, wouldn't you agree?
Instead of trying to describe the result of that insight, I'll just recommend that you go and see for yourself. As Pete says, "The world is accelerating while my body is braking. But at least my drawings can move."

One of my favorites? This animated story of Laika the Soviet space dog at the bottom of this blog post.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A pair of Polk winners

I hope you've already heard that McClatchy journalists have claimed two of the celebrated George Polk awards this year: Baghdad Bureau Chief Leila Fadel for international reporting, and staffers at the Charlotte Observer for economic reporting.

Man, we're proud of them all.

Here's the summary from the New York Times:

Leila Fadel, the Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy, won the foreign reporting Polk for wide-ranging articles from Iraq on families in ethnically torn neighborhoods, on killers and victims and on an endlessly changing military and political struggle.

The Charlotte Observer in North Carolina won the economic reporting award for disclosing a high rate of housing foreclosures that presaged the subprime mortgage crisis and prompted investigations and regulatory reforms.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Recipe for something new

I've always loved that bumper sticker that says "Ignore Alien Orders." Taking a line from a post I read this morning, another might be "Ingore Contemptuous Initial Reaction."

Paul Graham apparently is a software developer who noticed a pattern to the way he approaches creation of new products. He describes in well in Six Principles for Making New Things. Here's a taste:

Here it is: I like to find (a) simple solutions (b) to overlooked problems (c) that actually need to be solved, and (d) deliver them as informally as possible, (e) starting with a very crude version 1, then (f) iterating rapidly.

When I first laid out these principles explicitly, I noticed something striking: this is practically a recipe for generating a contemptuous initial reaction. Though simple solutions are better, they don't seem as impressive as complex ones. Overlooked problems are by definition problems that most people think don't matter. Delivering solutions in an informal way means that instead of judging something by the way it's presented, people have to actually understand it, which is more work. And starting with a crude version 1 means your initial effort is always small and incomplete.

Thanks to Daring Fireball for the link.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Is mobile ready to match its hype?

Mobile devices are getting better. Opportunity is growing.

That's the basic message from this post at Evans Ink, but there's more to read about the prospects. We're working at McClatchy Interactive to optimize delivery for mobile devices, but you ought to be thinking about how to take advantage locally, as well. Email alerts, Twitter streams and other simple deliveries can get you started.

From Evans Ink:

In the US market, Mobile has be be a critical part of every local publisher’s strategy and infrastructure investment work in 2008, gaining a serious place in the media publishing and new ad inventory for 2009. Let’s not lag this time ...

In the European market, while Mobile clearly is ahead in mass personal use adoption and publisher involvement, the shift to next generation devices, and a growing importance of web-derived and influenced usage patterns, has the potential to catch the publisher moving too slowly. As noted in the MacWorld article linked above, UK’s O2 characterized iphone as deriving “unheard of data traffic” on their mobile net.

We need to begin thinking of how advertisers will be found in other engines, and how promotion and embedded distribution will evolve.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Ten tips for 'reinventing journalism'

From Howard Owens comes this list of ten ways to "reinvent journalism." Oldtimers like me will recognize these were mostly the right ideas for journalism 30 years ago, too.

One of the 10:

Stop treating journalism like a competition. It’s fun to beat the other news outlets, but that shouldn’t be the only reason to pursue a story. Treating every story like a scoop leads to errors, both in reporting and thought process about how to handle the story. The economic value of beating the competition these days is arguably nil. The value of being a trusted source of a timely, reliable, steady stream of information is significant. These are not contradictory points, if you think them through.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Lots more info on EveryBlock

You've heard of Adrian Holovaty's EveryBlock, a datamapping, geocoded site that aggergates news, reviews, public information and other data for select cities. But you probably don't know as much about it as you will once you read the engaging interview available here.

One key point: this will become available to you:

Q: One of the obligations of the Knight grant is to make all the source code available. Does that affect how you think about the site as an asset?

A: The open-source requirement affects both our technology and business decisions. We've engineered the thing so that it can be replicated in any area, with any data. I suppose we would've done that anyway, even without the open-source requirement, because it's just the Right Way to do it, but the open-source requirement certainly influenced us.

I'll paraphrase something really smart that Wilson, our designer, said recently: We've created a machine that's capable of publishing address-specific news, and our initial launch is a demonstration of its potential. Now that we're live, it's time to improve the machine and improve the demonstration.

On the business side, clearly we'll have to figure out how the site is going to sustain itself after our grant money is spent. I have a feeling some solution will make itself apparent at some point over the next year and a half. But even before that, we'll find out whether our idea is something that catches on with our audience -- this whole thing is an experiment, after all! For all we know, EveryBlock might be a novelty that doesn't sustain an audience in the long term. Being honest Chicago people, happily far away from the Silicon Valley BS, we have no delusions of grandeur.
Thanks to Daring Fireball for the pointer.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Does the 'hive mind' still need editors?

Kevin Kelly, a founding editor of Wired and ├╝bergeek author, blogger and commentator, has been thinking about the power of bottom-up, crowdsourced, "hive mind" operations, and there's some encouraging news for us in his observations: While the power of many is intense and immense, it works a lot better with some filtering and control.

I'd urge you to go read the longish post at The Technium. He's a clear thinker and fine writer, and you'll find much to think about even if you don't buy every thesis.

Here's a taste:

It is important to remember how dumb the bottom is in essence. In biological natural selection, the prime architect is death. Death powers evolutionary selection. Death is one binary bit. Either off or on. What's dumber than that? So the hive-mind of evolution is powered by one-bit intelligence. That's why it takes millions of years to do much.

We are too much in a hurry to wait around for a pure hive mind. Our best technological systems are marked by the fact that we have introduced intelligent design into them. This is the top-down control we insert to speed and direct a system toward our goals. Every successful technological system, including Wikipedia, has design wired into it.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A new model for freelance art?

This new site called Pixish, which describes itself as "still very beta," sounds intriguing to me. Publishers (or anybody) can post an assignment for art or photos and offer payment. Any artists who want can submit work, which then gets sorted by site users but ultimately picked (or rejected) by the publisher.

It could be a new model for freelance assignments. A site called Helium is trying to do a similar thing for writers, bloggers and others.

This from Pixish:

On Pixish, you can post an Assignment that asks for exactly the kind of imagery you need. The Pixish creative community can then submit their work, and review each other's submissions. Then all you have to do is pick the winners and send the rewards.

This may sound like some sites you know already - Threadless uses similar "wisdom of crowds" techniques to create t-shirts (and they rock!). But Pixish is not limited to just one product. On Pixish, anyone can create an open call for submissions to any visual project: t-shirts, magazines, websites, books, anything! I made an assignment for a tattoo (but don't tell my grandma).

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Election aggregation

I mentioned the Publish2 project to aggregate election links. The Tacoma News Tribune has signed on to test the service as Washington State heads to the primary. You can check out their progress here.

Geocode it

Geocoding is a tagging/metadata technique that will let you select and display content sorted by location -- allowing, in effect, an unlimited digital zoning strategy sliced any way you want it. As this post at Journalistopia argues, we need to be active in this already.

Google is starting to do it. EveryBlock is already doing it really well. Topix sorta does it. A few others are doing it too. Groups of engineers have already written scrapes that scan the text of news stories. They’ve written algorithms that detect and process addresses for geocoding. Let’s not re-hash the whole newspapers-are-always-falling-behind speech; just get moving already.
I wonder if the AP's planned metadata project will help?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

My schedule and blog posts

FYI, I'm headed to San Diego this afternoon for the regular McClatchy Editor & Publishers gathering. We'll be working there through Friday, after which I'm planning to take a week off. Blog posting will be somewhere between light and absent.

How to be better than free

The internet is all about copies, and anything that can be copied will probably sooner or later be made available free. Even some services, like Craigslist classified ads, can become free,

Naturally people want to know, "How can you compete with free?"

Kevin Kelly, former editor of Wired Magazine and a leading digital thinker, has a compelling answer: "When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied."

And what kinds of things are those? Well, trust, for one thing.

Trust cannot be copied. You can't purchase it. Trust must be earned, over time. It cannot be downloaded. Or faked. Or counterfeited (at least for long). If everything else is equal, you'll always prefer to deal with someone you can trust. So trust is an intangible that has increasing value in a copy saturated world.

You should go and read his whole post on this subject, which expands on a list of eight attributes he argues can make you better than free: immediacy, personalization, interpretation, authenticity, accessability, embodiment, patronage and "findability."

Thanks to Phillip Lenssen for the pointer.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Learning how to hire

Paul Conley's blog has a depressing but informative observation about newspaper hiring techniques. It's well worth reading in full (yes, we will be hiring again). Here's a taste:

A few months ago I sat on a panel with two recruiters from mid-sized newspaper chains. They were both lovely people. But I think it's safe to say that they didn't share my beliefs about how to recruit or what to look for in a new hire.

One of them was asked "what would make you throw out a resume?" And she replied that she wouldn't hire anyone with a resume that said "multimedia reporter." She went on to say that she was looking for "newspaper people." But then, a few minutes later, she mentioned that the reporters at her chain were now being trained to carry video cameras.

The other woman, when asked about how she looks through applications, said she doesn't look at electronic resumes and won't follow links to Web stories, multimedia packages or other online examples of work. The reason? She said she didn't have the time, and preferred to look at things on paper.

(Thanks to Howard Owens for the pointer).