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.

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

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, , , ,

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, , , ,

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, ,

Thoughts from the “Practices in Online Journalism” roundtable

Earlier today City University London hosted a roundtable discussion on its campus titled “Practices in Online Journalism”. Throughout the roundtable I was Tweeting updates using the hashtag #pioj. Here are some of the Tweets, followed by more in-depth thoughts on the subjects. You’ll notice that most of these are just statements unattributed to a single speaker. I’m more interested in what was said than who said it, in this instance.

Gather as wide range of skills as you can so you can show you’re competant across different platforms“.

This subject came up a few different times throughout the session. It’s the idea that students in journalism school today should not be tied to a singular medium. It’s time to face facts that simply being a good reporter won’t cut it in this era of journalism. Fifteen years ago you’d be OK. Probably even as recently as 10 years ago. But not in 2009.

Discussion turned to business models for online journalism. The industry is trying to figure out not only how to be sustainable, but to be profitable, too. But you’ve got to learn to walk before you run, so I suspect the online journalism industry is a good while away from being profitable. I suspect that doesn’t come as much consolation to the 6,169+ who’ve so far lost their jobs in the U.S.

But what if it isn’t the journalism that needs to make money, but the method in which the journalism is distributed? Here’s a note from Matteo Berlucci, CEO of Livestation.

For entrepreneurism in journalism, the money is in the service, not the content

He followed this up by explaining why he prefers to use iTunes to get music over the peer-to-peer networks. It’s because he can get the songs quickly, and transfer them to his Mp3 player in a matter of seconds after purchasing. Matteo suggested that this may be a model for news outlets.

We’ve heard about the iTunes model for news and we know it’s mostly rubbish. But that’s not what Matteo is referring to. He’s suggesting that news outlets, whether their newspapers, magazines, or strictly on the Web, need to deliver the news to their readers in their preferred format and to be able to constantly evolve as their readers’ habits evolve.

The rise in popularity of news on the Web has meant that consumers have more options than ever to stay informed in whichever way suits them. This was another subject addressed.

“People can now comparison shop for news.”

It’s unlikely that someone will have just one place they like to go for news, just as it’s unlikely that you’re only going to go to one coffee shop every day. People’s moods change, their beliefs change and their interests change. Personally I visit about 10 different news sites regularly. But each day I’m exposed to new ones. The ones I like, I’ll bookmark and revisit. It’s not possible for a news outlet to be everything to everyone. Brand loyalty in the news is a thing of the past.

And one final note from the roundtable, this time about prospects for student journalists:

“There’s a window of opportunity for people leaving jschool who know how to do multimedia.”

There’s a now-widely read post from Nieman Labs discussing why young journalists need to get beyond their institutional mindsets. Toward the end it notes that many newspaper editors who have young journalists in their newsrooms are finding that these young people aren’t fitting the stereotype that they should be full of angst, ready to change the industry.

I’m going to suggest that the people who are set to change it, the young people, that is, are still in school. In the next 2-3 years, as they begin to filter through their respective programs and into newsrooms, they’ll be the ones who more fully understand social media, who know how to shoot and edit video, and who want to change things.

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

Third Way social media: Let’s outsource it

Newsrooms worldwide are grappling with the implications of having to suddenly become adept at utilizing social media to promote their Web sites. Writers complain that it’s not in their job description; they don’t want to; or they just plain don’t know how.

Because  so many newsrooms remain pretty far in the Dark Ages of new media the task of outfitting an entire newsroom is a daunting task. Some will write up a plan, circulate it around their newsroom and hope it implements itself.

For those in the “hope it fixes itself” camp, you may be interested in who I met yesterday at a media job fair at City University London. During the fair I chatted with two representatives of Agency:2, a London-based social media agency. I was a bit confused about what a ‘social media agency’ does, so I decided to ask.

What they do is assist organizations with their social media needs. Asked if this meant organizations were just outsourcing their social media strategy to them, they nodded in agreement

I asked if their clients set out benchmarks for them and they said not really. The company goes in and establishes their client’s social media footprint, tracks what people are saying about their client, and helps their client remain competitive within the social media sphere. Since social media is still in its experimental stage, everyone — including these social media agencies — is still determining what works and what does not.

An excerpt from their Web site:

We promote brands within influential online communities. We do this by deploying our writers to actively participate within discussions on popular and highly targeted user generated sites such as forums, blogs and social networks. In addition, we monitor relevant conversations within such user generated sites to help brands improve their customer insights and competitive intelligence.

This is an interesting approach. For a news organization that is stretched thin, this could be a viable option. By handing this off to a third party it gives the news organization the ability to both have a social media presence and keep the articles flowing at the same pace.

The are also downsides to this. Namely that it prevents staffers from becoming trained in the ways of social media. This approach also would not work for a title facing severe budget shortfalls and thus cannot afford to employ a third party.

Despite all of that, I do think this could be a real possibility for some titles to establish their social media footprint while they wade through the financial crisis. Once the paper gain its footing, editors can begin to train or hire people to take over the responsibilities of maintaining their social media profile that was built by the third party.

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

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