Web Publishist

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The news and online journalism industry through the eyes of a young Web publishist.

Hyperlocal media of the future: follow-up thoughts

Last week I wrote about my “vision of the future” for hyperlocal media. Here I’m going to offer up some follow-up thoughts.

In last week’s post I discussed the use of flat screen monitors, PUSH notifications, meta data and touch screens. What I’d like to suggest now is an integration of the most basic aspect of what makes Twitter and Google great: personalized notifications.

For this to be effective, it would need to be implemented in a small or mid-size market. Every person is given a username, which is input into the news system. When a story is written about someone, the writer uses both their name and the assigned username. This pings back to all of the people who indicated they’d like to find out when an individual is mentioned in the news.

An example: The local news outlet runs a story. You aren’t interviewed for it, but you are mentioned in it. No one told you that you would be mentioned, but there you are. As soon as the story is filed online, a notification is sent to you (on your phone, computer, TV – wherever) that you were mentioned in a story. You could also set up notifications for your family members and close friends. This way you are always kept “in the loop” on what’s going on with the people you care about.

The technology already exists. It’s just a matter of shrinking it and localizing it. It would be a very interesting development if a news organization picked it up.

Filed under: Aggregation, newspaper websites, social media, , ,

Hyperlocal media in the future: my vision

Large touch screen monitors will become more widespread as prices drop

Large touch screen monitors will become more widespread as prices drop, which would enable big breakthroughs in hyperlocal journalism

I have a vision for what I think hyperlocal media will look like in, say, 15 years. It could be much sooner, however with the recession, innovation has been pushed back considerably.

My vision involves large touch-screen monitors, push notifications, news feeds/RSS, augmented reality and metadata. Oh, it also involves news on the Web.

Please excuse me, as this will probably sound very pie-in-the-sky right now. But it’s only a matter of years before we’re seeing this technology – or something like it – realised and utlilised.

Here’s the scenario I’m envisioning:

You’re sitting in your home when suddenly you hear a beep. The beep you’re hearing is coming from the touch-screen monitor sitting in your kitchen (0r sitting room, or bedroom). The beep is a push notification sent to your screen. You approach the screen and see a geographic overlay of your community/state/country.

Touch the blinking icon and a new screen appears. It tells you what has happened within the area that you’re interested in monitoring. It will give you a headline and possibly a photo. If it’s something you’d like to know more about, you “click-thru” to the full story.

Once you’ve clicked through, you’re brought to an augmented reality viewing of the area in question. It shows you the address and all relevant information about the area that is legally available in public records. It also shows you the story in different mediums. If you want to watch a video of it, tap the video. Want to read the story? Tap away. There’s even a soundslide available. Tap, tap, tap.

The idea is you’re giving the reader the option of seeing the story in whichever way they want, and ensuring that they are finding out what’s happening in their community and areas of interest. You’re bringing the information to the user, but also asking them to define the parameters of delivery.

Like I said, very pie-in-the-sky sounding. But at the rate technology is evolving – iPhone to Kindle to Tablet – I suspect it’s not as far away as we might think.

Here’s how I think such media would be packaged by the news outlet:

Once a story is finished, the next step before sending into down the pipeline and to your customers/readers is to encode it with the relevant metadata. Find out exactly where the story is based. Encode the text, video and soundslide files with metadata of country, state, city, “tags” and latitude/longitude.

After it’s encoded, it’s sent down the pipeline and delivered to the end user. It shows up on their map as an icon if it’s within their pre-determined search parameters.

I don’t think I’m crazy. We’re not there yet, but we will be soon. Be prepared.

Filed under: Aggregation, design, newspaper websites, , , , ,

News: Everywhere you are

twitter_logo

By now it’s cliche to say that there are parallels between Twitter and the news industry. So I’m going to go ahead and abuse the cliche a bit more.

Twitter spread like wildfire across the world because it was a very new kind of service – of the Didn’t-Know-I-Needed-It-Until-I-Had-It variety. In its eary days, Twitter was available on the Web. No Tweetie. No Twhirl. No TweetDeck. Just Twitter.com. Obviously that changed quickly.

People realized they wanted to use Twitter in different ways. They wanted to be able to manipulate it. At its core, it’s still just 140 characters. But people wanted the power to do what they wanted with their 140 characters. Now Twitter is available pretty much anywhere where there is electricity and some kind of Internet connection.

Since Twitter’s API is so accessible, developers all over the world have gotten to work developing applications to show your Tweets. There are the popular ones, but there are also the lesser-known ones. Take a look and you’ll see just how many there are.

News organizations could learn from Twitter. By being so available, in so many different ways, it was able to grow exponentially. News organizations should embrace each and every technology that comes up as a way of distributing its content to readers.

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Not long ago, The Guardian released Guardian Open Platform for developers. Though even that’s restricted – they have an “API bucket” where only some stories go.

Take the Kindle for example. There was talk a while ago about a number of newspapers teaming up to offer subscriptions on Kindle. Not a bad idea. But the Washington Post’s executive editor said something that I found disconcerting:

You can subscribe now to The Post and a number of other newspapers on Kindle. We’re intrigued by the possibility of reaching a large audience through such hand-held readers, although so far the number of people who are reading The Post on Kindles is relatively small.

When I read this, I thought: Why does it matter how small the audience is? There’s obviously an audience. It might not be huge, but it’s how these people want to read your publication. News organizations are not in the position to be shedding readers because they don’t provide their content in the ways that their readers want to read it.

kindle

There aren’t that many options right now, so it isn’t inconceivable to have all of those bases covered. Some bases:

  • A developer platform. Be in contact with these developers. Who knows, one of them might write an application that could change your business.
  • Many, many Twitter accounts. In addition to each writer, have it for each section
  • Digg accounts
  • FriendFeed accounts (actually manned by someone)
  • Facebook accounts (maybe two – one “profile” and one “fan page”)
  • Podcasting
  • Vidcasting
  • Kindle publishing
  • Functional mobile Web application
  • Possibly a freesheet once a week at places people congregate (concerts, parks, etc)
  • Google Reader account, to let people know what writers/editors are reading. Mixture of your own content and from others

That’s just some of it. Things are changing every day. But you’ve got to be pushing your content, your brand, your writers – everything. You’ve got to be everywhere.

Your readers will decide how they want to read your content. It’s not for you, the news organization, to decide. If you don’t give your readers the content they want, in the way they want it, then they’ll look elsewhere for it.

Filed under: design, newspaper websites, social media, , , ,

Perspective is important

For newspaper executives the world over, this should qualify as an “ah-ha!” moment:

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This is what runs through my mind when I read on Facebook or Twitter, journalists pleading/guilting/etc their friends and/or colleagues into buying a newspaper. Newspaper as a medium is not sacrosanct, much to the chagrin of every member of the Newspaper Association of America and most newspaper editors.

I doubt newspapers, the physical product, will go the way of the Dodo any time soon. They still have a purpose. In London millions of people read the numerous free dailies that are handed out each morning and evening.

They read it, put it down, and someone else picks it up. The digital readers like Kindle have a long ways to go before they dominate that set of consumer group, so until then it will be newspapers. And in some communities, newspapers are still preferred. But they’re fading.

But seeing people who don’t  buy newspapers as people who “abandoned” newspapers is a very wrong way of looking at it. Newspapers don’t own their readers. They can try to imagine some sense of reader loyalty, but that’s mostly imagined.

Filed under: community journalism, newspaper websites, ,

The case for “messy experimentation”

A few days ago a peculiar Tweet from NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen popped up in my Twitter feed.

Twitter

This gave me some pause. I thought, “Really? Journalism doesn’t need experimentation?” Surely Jason Pontin can’t be serious. But no, that’s really what he said.

Twitter2

Experimentation is the mother of invention, or something like that. Right? I hate to use Google as an example of experimentation gone right, but, well, that’s really what they are.

To illustrate my point, I suggest reading this fascinating piece in  The Huffington Post by Daniel Sinker,  journalism faculty member at Columbia College.

The kicker: Five years ago, Google’s entire revenue was a scant $3 billion. Newspapers’ print ad sales for 2004? $48.2 billion. And yet, with significantly smaller revenues, over that five year window, Google launched or acquired 35 products.

Each of those 35 products constitutes “messy experimentation.” I can’t imagine the people at Google thought, prior to launching Picasa, that it would take off. With every launch there’s a sense of “this might work, it might not.”

Journalism as a craft isn’t going anywhere. The industry, however, will continue to fall apart. We’ll probably see more big titles fall before this is said and done. There aren’t any investors rushing to the side of newspapers, mostly because they aren’t seen as being innovative, dynamic products. Some have begun to turn the corner and see themselves as not being immune to the economic situations and technological preferences of their readers.

But for the time being, experimentation will be the only way to really learn what works and what doesn’t. Otherwise we’re just treading water. Barely.

Filed under: newspaper websites, social media, , , ,

A new brand of hyperlocalism

This post adds to the topics touched on in the previous blog post about knowing your community’s bloggers and making use of them. What I’d like to talk about now is the evolution of hyperlocalism and the role of New Media and the Internet in it.

On top of the many ills that the newspaper industry current suffers from, one that I’m interested in analyzing is how small titles over time pulled back from its readers and enforced a ‘one-way-street’ mentality with the news.

The ‘one-way-street’ approach is very print-oriented. A press release rolls in, a few calls are made, a story is written, edited, and put in the paper. Titles have grown very accustomed to throwing news at their readers and hoping it sticks.

In a sense it suggests that the title knows whats best for its readers inherently, and is thus giving it to them without actually asking.

The Internet has changed that. News is a two-way street — especially hyperlocally. Titles should represent the community that they cover, while at the same time evolving with what their readers’ wants and needs are.

What I’m suggesting is a new approach to hyperlocalism. The idea of giving a community more of a stake in covering itself and letting its voice be heard. You do this, at a base level, by knowing every single important person on your beat. You then ask each of these important people if they would be willing to write blog posts detailing the goings-on of their areas. You’re giving them a voice.

Stay in touch with these people regularly. Ask them if they’ve had any ideas for blog posts. Then have them pitch it to you. This is a somewhat radical concept, but I think it’s important. Your community — your readers — should be pitching stories to you. You do this by setting up a group of well-known community members as pitchmen (and women).

You’ve got to give the community a stake in its coverage. Pass some of the onus onto them. The best way to get the community involved and caring is to let them, in a way, cover themselves.

I’m not suggesting this works at every level of the publication. What I am suggesting is that it would likely give the community a greater sense of ownership over a title that is supposed to be representing them and giving them the news that they want and need to know.

The Internet makes this possible and I believe it’s a direction that titles should seriously consider taking, first at an experimental stage and then, depending upon its success, pursuing it further.

It’s refined citizen journalism. These people aren’t journalists by trade. But they do have valuable information and are considered important people in the community. Not giving them a platform would be a mistake.

Filed under: community journalism, newspaper websites, , ,

Know your community bloggers

Blogging is pretty widespread. While I wouldn’t quite call it ubiquitous, it’s getting there. Despite that it’s fair to say that most every community in the US likely has a blogger or two sitting in homes clacking away about what’s happening with them in their community.

In the age of Web-first and community involvement, these kinds of people are extremely valuable. Titles need to know who the bloggers are in their communities. If the blogger is good, offer them a platform to write on a specific subject. Money is tight, but I believe that many would be happy to have the platform and to be recognized as an authoritative voice in their community on a specific subject.

It’s often as easy as keyword searching locations and landmarks in your coverage area into Google’s blog searcher. This will give you an index of instances where these locations have been mentioned in blogs. Half the work is already done for you.

If there’s a college in your area that has a journalism program, you should be walking into those classrooms and asking for applicants who consider themselves good bloggers. These students are looking for ways to add experiences to their portfolios and the students looking to get ahead will see this as a prime opportunity.

Community and hyper-local journalism is going to need to return to the community to rebuild its reputation and standing. This is a perfect opportunity to involve the community, learn more about your readers and increase the amount of content you’re putting online.

Filed under: newspaper websites, social media, student journalism, , , , ,

The revolution will be aggregated

The news industry is in the midst of the Digital Revolution. It’s not a secret, but occasionally it needs to be said as some — most recently, The Associated Pressseem to forget.

A major part of this revolution is the rise in prominence of content aggregators. If you think about it, news aggregators have been around for a while. They started as RSS feeds. You could put them into readers, such as Google Reader or Feed Burner, and get the news delivered to you. Some browsers even come pre-packaged with a news aggregator in the upper-left corner in a drop-down format.

What’s changed now is that aggregators now have a fancy face and greater interactivity. Many, many people still use standard RSS feeds, but that hasn’t stopped the evolution of the aggregator.

Some of the most popular news sites on the Web are at least part-aggregator. Examples of this: The Huffington Post, Wonkette, Drudge Report, Gawker, and on and on.

The new news consumer can’t be bothered to find the news they’re interested in. They want it at their doorstep. And then once its on their doortep, they want someone to read it for them and pull out the interesting parts and spread them out on the table for them.

What this means is over the next few years regional and local news aggregators will sprout up and they will gain prominence. What this means is that local news outlets, instead of being the place people go for content, will instead become small AP-like outlets that supply content to aggregators. The second part of that I don’t expect to happen for a number of years. Not until local and regional aggregators have firmly asserted themselves.

But once they do, look out. It will be a game-changer.

Filed under: Aggregation, community journalism, newspaper websites, social media, , , ,

J-school & Web development: A perfect match

An interesting article was floating around Twitter a few days ago. It appeared in Editor & Publisher and was written by Seth Porges, who is currently an editor at Popular Mechanics magazine.

The subject he addressed was whether j-schools are adequately preparing students for the real world – and in it suggesting they’ve misstepped.

His thesis statement is that j-schools are too quick to adopt new media standards, such as basic Web coding, and are in the process throwing out pre-existing elements of core curriculum that should remain.

In this blog post I take chunks of what Mr Porges said, and give my thoughts and opinions.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: design, newspaper websites, social media, student journalism, , , , ,

The next newspaper crisis: poorly designed Web sites

Before CityOnline Magazine went live I decided to test it on a few people. It was a pretty level-one design then (and still is) but it was more or less what the site would look like when it launched.

Each time I would show it, I noticed people would often tell me that the site looked “clean”. That word, “clean”, in terms of Web design, is important because it’s a sort-of loaded term. It also touches on an important issue present in the development of Web sites for print operations.

Pressed further, the consensus on what “clean” meant to them, the response often was that the site was not cluttered and that it appeared easy to navigate. What designer doesn’t want to hear that?

As the print establishment crumbles, beneath the sighs and cries about the death of the once-sacred industry, there’s been a call to action to the Web. It’s the new must-have item: a tricked-out Web site for their readers.

This is a failed strategy.

Here are screen shots of the homepages of a few Web news outlets. Most of them are newspapers. After the image, I’ll explain what I like (and dislike) about the design. My opinion matters insofar as I’m both a journalist and an avid Web user.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: design, newspaper websites, social media, ,

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