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December 14 2010

15:00

Better curation on Twitter, pushback against anonymity, and more new startups: Predictions for 2011

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2010 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Below are predictions from Bob Giles, Alan Murray, David Beard, Geneva Overholser, Alan D. Mutter, Melissa Ludtke, Brooke Kroeger, Jan Schaffer, and Ory Okolloh.

We also want to hear your predictions: take our Lab reader poll and tell us what you think we’ll be talking about in 2011. We’ll share those results later this week.

Newspaper companies will regret the deep cutting of newsgathering resources as the economy recovers and advertisers conclude that local newspapers are no longer vital sources of community coverage. Moreover, newspapers will follow their historical pattern of being slow to adapt to what’s new — in this case, opportunities offered by the iPad and other tablets.

This will be the year when collaboration finally, truly, really takes hold. Smart legacy media leaders will determine what they and they alone can do best, then ally themselves with others who can supply the rest. Radio, TV, web-based publications, print publications, bloggers, international and national news providers, journalism schools, nonprofits, and commercial media — the smart ones will figure out their niche and how to partner (strategically) with others to be sure their work is seen. The public will be the biggest beneficiary.

This will be the year we finally realize how big a mistake it was to relinquish our time-honored aversion to anonymity when we went on the web. Having been persuaded that we had to adapt to the culture we were joining, we lost one of the key distinctions that differentiates journalism from other info sources. Bring naming names back, and vanquish the trolls!

1. The emergence of a great WebSocket live-blogger: working from livecasts, using text on the right rail, an articulate, knowledgeable, irreverent commenter can deconstruct and add background as events go on, in a step up from current chat technology. Others might employ VH1 Pop-Up Video or Mystery Science Theater 3000 styles, with fact bubbles on livecasts.

2. A really organized Twitter wire service — or a use of Twitter for a really valuable compilation that might move beyond a Twitter list or paper.li. A favorite of mine for journalists — Muck Rack Daily.

Alan Murray, deputy managing editor and executive editor, online, The Wall Street Journal

2011 will be the year of the tablet — dozens of them coming out, and some might even be good. Because each one requires a different build, it may also be the year in which the techies outnumber the journalists!

But 2011 won’t be the year of WebTV. Cable companies can’t hold back the tide forever — but they can hold it back for a few more years.

The major trends to watch in 2011 will be same as those we saw this year — just more intense:

Mobile: A growing amount of information will be consumed on smartphones and tablets vs. PCs, laptops, TV, radio, or print. Static content will feel stiff, suffocating, and subliminally inauthentic in an age of near-epidemic skepticism toward almost every institution of society — particularly the media.

Transactional: Consumers actively will shop for news, entertainment, commercial information, and, of course, actual goods and services. As they gain confidence in themselves and their peers to judge everything from Federal Reserve policy to the best place for a burrito, the time, attention, and importance they attach to conventional news and advertising will decline.

Social: Facebook, YouTube, WikiLeaks, and other consumer-driven media will assert greater control over what is covered, how it’s covered and what it means. (See also: “Don’t touch my junk.”) News, entertainment, and advertising are destined to increasingly blur together into something you might call info-tainment-ising. The shrinking authority of conventional news and advertising in this environment will devalue legacy media and commercial brands.

Denial: Deeply invested in their traditionally lucrative business models, legacy media companies for the most part will not move fast enough to create fresh news, entertainment, and advertising products to respond to the prodigiously empowered, self-actuated consumer. If the mainstream media companies continue to nibble cautiously around the edges of innovation, then dozens of daring competitors will merrily fill the void to build shockingly efficient businesses to poach what’s left of the once-fat legacy franchises.

The word “new” will show up less and less as an attached-at-the-hip adjective describing media.

What constitutes “value” in the work journalists do will be a question much pondered — with answers leading to greater awareness of its essential contextual and curatorial role in the era of information overload.

Redesigns in newsrooms’ seating plans will happen more often as editors mesh the tech folks with the journalists and find ways they can work together to feed news and information to the web, mobile phones, tablets, and print — and do so with storytelling techniques offering greater visual appeal.

The word “eyeballs” will send ones like “circulation” and “subscription” to the same place where typewriters now reside.

Audience fragmentation will continue apace, while at the same time media and tech powerhouses will look to consolidate their influence by acquiring social-media pieces they don’t already have.

Jan Schaffer, executive director, J-Lab

Collaboration will be the new competition. News startups within metro areas and between metro areas will increasingly work together to share content, trade links, connect silos and possible seek group support.

The conversation about sustaining news startups will move beyond ad sales and into such possibilities as stewardship models for journalism.

More statewide investigative news startups will launch.

We will begin to develop a deeper conversation about innovations in journalism itself, not just the delivery systems for journalism.

Alas, 2011 will not be the year we divine the ultimate profit, nonprofit, and/or combination model for sustaining high quality journalism. But by December, we will know substantially more than we do now about what does — and does not — have real potential to work.

Ory Okolloh, co-founder and executive director, Ushahidi

Wikileaks/Cablegate will remind us of the important curation role that journalists/newspapers play and will encourage more collaborative and investigative journalism based on open data.

October 25 2010

15:30

National Journal relaunch tests free/pay content strategy

When your site goes hybrid, with a combination of paid and free content, the question becomes: What goes in front of the paywall?

That question will be front and center at National Journal, a Washington, D.C. publication until today published behind a paywall (over $1,000 per year) for political insiders, like Hill staffers, lobbyists, and so on. It relaunched today with a new, dual online strategy, aiming to attract a second, more general-interest audience. National Journal will still charge subscribers for the in-depth, nitty-gritty Washington coverage they’re known for, but will post their national and breaking news — about a quarter of its stories — for free. Until today, only a handful of National Journal stories were available without a subscription. With many Washington publications going niche, it’ll be interesting to watch whether the site can make a go of it in the opposite direction.

“If our goal is building subscriber base, we’ll have to measure that with the natural, ego-driven interest to put everything on a free site,” David Beard, National Journal Group’s online editor and deputy editor-in-chief told me.

Beard expects to post stories which appeal to a broad, national audience, particularly breaking news, on the free version of the site. The plan is very much in line with advice Alan Murray, executive editor of WSJ.com, gave Nieman Lab alum Zach Seward last year on monetizing content. “The key is not to take your most popular stuff and put it behind a pay wall,” Murray said. “The broad, popular stuff is the stuff you want out in the free world because that drives traffic, that builds up your traffic, and you can, of course, serve advertising to that audience.”

Beard gave me this hypothetical to describe his plan: “If Christine O’Donell won [the Senate race in Delware], or showed some increase in the polls, that would go [up for free]. If she become chair of an agriculture subcommittee, that would go to the subscribers. That would go to the people who really care about the nuts and bolts of government operations.”

Beard also said that National Journal has plans for about 40 email newsletter products. About ten of them will be free. The morning newsletter world is already crowded in Washington, particular by their chief competition, Politico, which puts out Mike Allen’s morning read, as well as a number of free policy-oriented daily emails, like Morning Money and Morning Tech. “The idea is that some of that might be cheeky aggregation,” Beard told me. “I think the goal is that people paying for this [newsletter], it’s x percent more important and better.”

September 29 2010

15:00

David Beard on leaving Boston for National Journal: “I just didn’t want to live my life managing decline”

Sad news for The Boston Globe today — but great news for the ever-expanding National Journal. David Beard, Boston.com’s editor for the past four years, is joining the National Journal Group as deputy editor-in-chief and online editor. He’ll start October 18.

Beard will be joining — and in many cases overseeing — a staff with an impressive, even daunting, journalistic resume. There’s Marc Ambinder from The Atlantic, Michael Hirsch from Newsweek, Matt Cooper from…tons of outlets, Major Garrett from Fox, and many, many more — all overseen, of course, by Ron Fournier, the former head of the AP’s Washington bureau. The term “Dream Team” comes to mind.

That stellar staff was part of the appeal of the move, Beard told me this morning. But another aspect of it was being part of an organization that, with its digital-first approach to news reporting, will focus on innovation. “It’s the hoariest of journalistic cliches to say, but I want to make a difference in my career and in my life,” Beard says. In America, “we’re talking about declining reporting capabilities on institutions and watchdog efforts.” A move to Washington is an attempt to be part of the solution.

The specifics are still being worked out — but one big aspect of Beard’s role at the Journal will be “in translation”: to facilitate dialogue between NationalJournal.com, the open web site, and the members-only, mobile-focused version of its product. He and his staff will focus on a live-blog model of news reporting, with an emphasis on social media — essentially, Beard says, “to take these enormous resources and get more of it out there in real time.”

One particularly nice resource: the Journal’s partnership with its fellow Atlantic Media-owned outlet, The Atlantic. “So if we see an Andrew Sullivan piece we like, we’ll put it on our site,” Beard points out. “And [Atlantic.com editor] Bob Cohn will put our stuff on his site.”

Community engagement, both direct and indirect, will be a big part of that. “Every community has its own personality,” Beard notes — “and you have to listen as well as lead.” At the Globe, “we’ve really tried to develop the sense that if you want to know Boston, you want to connect on Boston.com — because we speak the language,” he says. The site, he says, tried to explore the reasons “to live in a place with such crummy weather and high rents. We’d try to come up with a reason every day.”

He’ll try to apply that same reason-focused logic to the Journal, only with a narrower focus: politics. While, at the Globe, “we’ve been all things to all people,” the new gig will require, for the most part, being all-things-politics to politics junkies. Or, as Beard puts it: “It’s sort of like running a Benetton, not the whole department store.”

At Boston.com, Beard has been known for fostering young talent in the digital world — Amalie Benjamin, for example, with her Red Sox coverage, and Meredith Goldstein with her relationship-advice column — and he’s looking to continue that trend down in Washington. The focus, though, will be digital engagement, saying he’ll reward someone with top-notch social media skills “just as heavily as somebody who’s just going to trade on their thirty years of experience.”

As Beard sees it, the move to DC will represent something of a back-to-the-future move in his relationship with journalism. “In many ways, this was a dream job for me,” he notes. “It’s almost like being an editor 50 years ago” — one with the resources to make a difference and change journalism for the better. He read The Trust, Alex Jones’s book on the early days of the NYT “and I thought about the first Times owner…and how much he really dreamed up new ideas and thought like an entrepreneur — as opposed to a manager of an extant company,” Beard says. “I didn’t want to live my life managing decline.”

Still, “I’ve loved my four years on the job,” Beard says — “particularly the last two years, with the emphasis on building socially: building our audience ourselves, and responding to them.” And, having worked with Marty Baron for nine years, it’s a great thing, Beard says, to “come to work knowing that there’s a person who cares as deeply about the product as you do.” With Baron, “you knew every minute, every hour of the day that he cared.”

But in a time of tumult, the Journal is an organization whose relatively vast resources will, presumably, help it to be a voice of accountability during a time when watchdog journalism is challenged. It’s an outlet “with 100 sets of feet on the street,” Beard says, “covering government, policy — not just the horserace. It can give an answer to the question: ‘What’s government for?’”

June 16 2010

14:00

Gooooooooaaaal, in any language: Boston Globe uses Google Translate to expand its soccer blog’s reach

How do you make the most of World Cup fever? If you’re the Boston Globe, you think…well, globally. Boston.com’s soccer blog, Corner Kicks, has integrated Google Translate into its user interface: click a button, select a language — from Afrikaans and Azerbaijani to Welsh and Yiddish — and the blog’s text will be translated for you, instantly.

For example, in Spanish:

The insta-translation is one way to extend the blog’s — and, by extension, the newspaper’s — reach, says David Beard, Boston.com’s editor. “I love it,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity for us to bring people into the tent.”

A polyglot blog, Beard points out, allows the Globe to leverage both depth and breadth: to find new audiences both in local communities and around the world. The fact that Corner Kicks can now, with essentially a single click, be translated into Spanish means not only that the Globe can easily reach new readers in Spain or Mexico or the Philippines…but also that it can reach new readers in Lawrence, the Boston-area town with a large community of Spanish speakers. Same deal with Portuguese and Framingham. Same deal with Vietnamese and downtown Boston.

That said, the automated translation service — though steadily improving — isn’t perfect. To integrate Google Translate is to integrate an experimental feature on the Globe website. And that’s “going to rub some people the wrong way on the perfectionist-slash-iteration divide in American newsrooms,” Beard allows. As he put it in an editor’s note introducing the new feature:

To our readers,

We’ve added a translation feature to the Corner Kicks blog to assist readers who may be more comfortable reading another language.

Google Translate is not perfect — we’re aware of that — but it is quite good at getting the main points of the story across. We’ve successfully used it on The Big Picture, Boston.com’s extremely popular world photography site. I’d be eager to hear your feedback on its use in Corner Kicks, in whatever language.

David Beard, Editor, Boston.com
beard@boston.com

Still, though, the translation is “fairly good, I think,” Beard points out — at least for many of the languages most relevant to the Boston area. (Beard is fluent in Spanish, and speaks some Portuguese.) And besides, its integration ultimately “allows a greater number of people access to our content.”

And that fact alone, from both the business and editorial perspectives, is vuvuzela-worthy.

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