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, , ,

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, , , , ,

eReaders and freesheets

freesheet

London's freesheets could face extinction with the rise of eReaders.

In London there are a lot of freesheets that are handed out in the morning and evening. People pick them up because they’re going somewhere and mostly need something to entertain themselves while they travel.

Eventually eReaders will become the norm. It’s at least 10 years — and possibly 15 — from being a reality; but it’s something that needs to be considered. Price cuts need to happen, the industry needs to develop standards, etc. But once it does, and they become affordable, more people will own them.

This means free sheets have been granted a reprieve for the time being, but their time is running out. None of London’s freesheets are so good that people would pay for them. Not in print and not online. They survive because they’re there for people rushing to or from work. It’s the same way many college newspapers in the U.S. survive: captive readership.

People consume news digitally differently than they do in print. Once eReaders become more widespread, readers will sit with their Readers and read news or whatever they’d like to read, as they do online. There are some freesheets out there with quality analysis and may have a band of loyal readers. But most, I suspect, do not.

Over at NewspaperInnovation, they’ve translated an article comparing a paid title and freesheet title in Copenhagen:

By reading free newspapers you get an equally good overview of political events than by reading Jyllands-Posten, and an even better idea than reading Ekstra Bladet. Free newspapers cover the same events and with such a solid factual basis that the reader gets aware of the important events in society.

This turns the argument on its head a bit. It doesn’t invalidate the argument that freesheets are heading into a storm if they don’t make big changes. But it does suggest that some freesheets do provide quality analysis, as I noted.

To become viable they’ll need to have developed eReader versions of their paper. But, again, since none of the papers are so good that readers would pay for it, the product would likely run at significant losses in revenue.

For newcomer thelondonpaper, this could prove fatal. Mediaweek reported that the paper remained loss-making in its second year of operation, but that it’s narrowing that gap. This is good news in the boardroom. Stopping the bleeding is critical to the title’s success, but down the road, the march of digital progress remains steadfast.

The free sheets may lose out to the established media outlets who have reader editions. The question then becomes, will readers pay for eReader editions of The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Guardian, etc? That’s something everyone is arguing over right now.

Since Readers are still considered a relatively new technology, a revenue model hasn’t been developed and fully tested yet. But it’s being worked on.

Today the major paid-for print news outlets are feeling the pinch. They’ve taken their lumps are trying to right the ship. But as technology progresses, more eReaders are developed, and the price drops, they’ll become more ubiquitous.

Unless changes start happening — and at this point figuring out how exactly to change is tough — I believe it’s the freesheets that will suffer the most from the march of digital progress.

Filed under: freesheets, 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.

GuardianOpenPlatform_Graphisc_NoHeader_1

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:

Twitter3

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, , , ,

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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