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December 06 2010

16:35

UBC Students, Globe and Mail Investigate Hidden Cost of Shrimp

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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

Twenty-something university students usually head to Thailand in search of exotic adventures. But when a group of 10 University of British Columbia journalism students went almost a year ago, they were searching for the untold story of shrimp, a seafood delicacy that has become common in North America.

Led by associate professor Peter Klein, the students spoke to exploited Burmese migrant workers, documented devastated mangrove swamps, and visited labs where shrimp are tested for carcinogenic chemicals.

Their work was published recently in partnership with Canada's newspaper of record, the Globe and Mail, together with a companion micro-site to showcase the breadth and depth of the students' work.

"The Globe was preparing to do a series on global food, and we had just finished this reporting in Thailand, so we discussed with the editors the idea of a collaboration," said Klein, a former "60 Minutes" producer. "We shared transcripts of our interviews with one of their print reporters, and our students gave the reporter some advice on what we found in the field."

The project is an example of a growing trend of partnerships between major news organizations and universities, and it highlights the role of journalism schools as homes for investigative reporting projects.

This is the second project of UBC's International Reporting program. The first documentary, Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground, was produced in partnership with PBS Frontline/World and went on to win an Emmy Award in September for investigative reporting.

A Nuanced Story

The International Reporting program takes 10 journalism students abroad to cover under-reported international issues. The idea of looking at the real cost of those all-you-can-eat platters of cheap shrimp came out of a pitch by one of the students, Kate Allen.

mangrove.jpgShe suggested a general story about seafood, the ocean and fisheries. As the students researched the topic, the issue of shrimp aquaculture started to take shape.

"There are environmental concerns, human rights issues, and even health issues that can affect us back home in North America and Europe, where most farmed shrimp ends up," said Klein.

For the investigation, the students visited several sites in Thailand. They interviewed exploited Burmese migrants who are paid a pittance for their labor, filmed the underwater effects of shrimp runoff on the country's reefs and reported on how the clear-cutting of mangrove swamps by shrimp farmers contributed to the effects of the 2004 tsunami.

"It's a nuanced story," said student Kerry Blackadar. "We went there expecting a black-and-white story about run-offs from shrimp farms impacting reefs and mangroves, but realized the complexities of the industry when we were in Thailand."

Allen, the student who suggested the topic that eventually became this project, said,
"By the end of our Thai trip, we were left with a palpable sense of how North America's raging appetite for one tiny species of crustacean had done serious harm to this beautiful country."

Multimedia Treatment

The students produced a web video project for the Globe that offers a snapshot of the impact of cheap shrimp. The journalism school also produced a micro-site that highlights different aspects of the story, drawing from more than 100 hours of footage shot in the field.

shrimp_telephone.jpg"This project was really well suited for a multimedia piece," said Klein. "There are several distinct themes we addressed, and in a linear TV piece we would have had to do awkward transitions between these themes. In this project, we were able to separate out the themes and address them as individual video clips."

The website was created using WordPress, which is the content management system we use for our student online publications. I was involved in supervising the site, which was developed by student Erin Empey.

"This worked well as a multimedia project because of its complexity," she said. "By using several multimedia tools and breaking the video into chapters, we were able to present the nuances of the story clearly."

Here's one of the videos produced for the project:

Non-Profit Investigative Reporting

The website was the culmination of a year-long investigation that started back in September 2009, when the students embarked on the second year of a new course called International Reporting.

The course is an example of foundation-funded journalism. It was launched in 2008 thanks to a generous donation from Alison Lawton of the Mindset Foundation.

For the shrimp micro-site, the school also secured funding from the MITACS Accelerate internship program. The program provides federal and provincial funding to offer students the opportunity to apply their research to real-world issues.

Funding programs like these can help established media undertake innovative research and development projects. Last year, the UBC journalism school also received a grant from MITACS to partner with CBC Radio 3 to create a Canadian music wiki.

These kinds of partnerships are evolving as news outlets, foundations and journalism schools pool their resources, particularly at a time when established media are devoting fewer resources to investigative reporting

"This is classic investigative journalism, the kind of reporting that rarely gets done anymore on international topics," said Klein.

Alfred Hermida is an online news pioneer and digital media scholar. He is an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Journalism, the University of British Columbia, where he leads the integrated journalism program. He was a founding news editor of the BBC News website. He blogs at Reportr.net.
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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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December 03 2010

19:00

INMA Transformation of Media Summit: Bundling, or how and when to get readers to pay for content

It was early in the morning when John Paton, CEO of of the Journal Register Company, had a curious statement for the assembled audience at the INMA Transformation of Media Summit Thursday here in Cambridge.

“For god’s sake, stop listening to newspaper people,” Paton told the audience. The audience filled with newspaper people.

He went on to say “we” have had 15 years to figure out the Internet and “we’re no good at this, folks. We’re no good at all.” His solution? Listening to the digital folks, as well as the audience, to find solutions to help better connect with readers and jumpstart declining revenues.

Awkward in a room of news executives from the U.S. and around the globe? Perhaps. But the theme of the first day of the INMA conference (in which the Nieman Foundation had a small hosting hand) was based around the idea of “extracting new value from content,” and the talks were wide ranging in their discussions of experimentation with business models, monetizing existing content, and reaching out to new audiences. While the theme of day one was pulling new value out of content, the discussion seemed to come back frequently to the idea of bundled subscriptions, offering content across new platforms as a vehicle to gain an audience and potentially generate new revenue.

It’s something Paton is familiar with, telling the audience that the Journal Register’s digital revenue went from “negligible” less than a year ago to 11 percent of ad revenue in November. Paton credited it to developing new revenue streams online in areas like videos, expanding from 13 revenue streams to 60.

In one of the more lively (and funny) conversations of the day, media columnists Peter Kafka of All Things Digital, and David Carr of The New York Times, found themselves in the position of talking about their respective parent companies plans for paid content — the Times’ plan for a metered site next month and News Corp.’s iPad product, The Daily.

“The web is the problem, because we all jointly agreed — and there are exceptions in this room and elsewhere — that the price of our content is nothing,” Carr said.

While both NYTimes.com and WSJ.com have a future in paid content (and also, in the case of WSJ.com, a past), both Kafka and Carr said readers should still have a level of free access, be it metered or as “samples.” Carr said he believes the future is customized tiers of subscriptions, where readers can choose between a mix of mobile devices, print, news alerts, the web, and a super-reader level “where Frank Rich will come to your house and have coffee with you,” he joked.

Kafka suggested one way forward is similar to what All Things Digital does with its series of conferences and events, a type of access that goes beyond stories and an alternate revenue stream to subscriptions and advertising.

Speaking more strictly about online content, Klas Uden, vice president of circulation marketing for Dow Jones, said “it’s not just about charging for content, but providing valuable content and understand what consumer needs are.” Uden was a member of a panel on what works and doesn’t in paid content. Uden said some of the strength of The Wall Street Journal’s model came from combining print and digital subscriptions early on, which changed customer behavior to expect paying for content but also to receive content across different platforms. Now, as the Journal expands its mobile and tablet apps, Uden said 50 percent of Wall Street Journal’s digital revenue growth comes from new devices.

Andrée Gosselin O’Meara, director of business development for The Globe and Mail in Toronto, described a similar situation, as the Globe’s biggest areas of growth are in mobile apps. The Globe and Mail offers a Kindle edition, Kobobooks edition, Globe2go app, and traditional iPhone and iPad apps; in October they served 20.5 million pageviews across all mobile devices (14 percent of all digital page views). Within 24 months, they expect to have more pageviews on mobile than on the website, she said. Gosselin O’Meara said the idea of being “device agnostic” is the key to success in gaining new readers, and potentially, subscribers.

“If people want to read their newspaper on a very basic device like the e-reader in black and white with out any picture, let them,” she said. “Let the customer choose. Let them read you however they like.”

November 23 2010

19:00

Catalysts: The Globe and Mail’s community brain trust

One of the Big Existential Questions facing journalism right now is the extent to which news organizations are just that — organizations that produce news — and the extent to which they’re also something more: engagers of the world, curators of human events, conveners of community. Should news outlets focus on news…or should they also be sponsoring conferences and creating film clubs and setting up stores and selling wine?

There’s a lot of variation in the way they answer that question, of course, but many news outlets are currently skewing toward the “community” end of the continuum, preparing for the future armed with the idea that news production is only part of their mandate — the notion that to succeed, both journalistically and financially, they’ll need to figure out ways to cultivate community out of, and around, their news content.

One particularly interesting experiment to that end — a worthwhile initiative, you might say! — is playing out in Canada, where The Globe and Mail, the country’s paper of record, has convened a community of users to help guide its engagement policies. The Globe Catalysts are a kind of external brain trust for the outlet, a community charged with helping to ensure that the paper’s path is the right one for its users.

“We wanted people to know we’re taking this seriously,” Jennifer MacMillan, the paper’s communities editor, explained of the project. And at its core, the Catalysts experiment is about demonstrating that engagement is a mutual proposition. “We wanted to make sure people felt valued.”

The paper came up with the idea over the summer, MacMillan told me — as a project that would be a part of the paper’s print and online redesign that rolled out this fall. (The idea, actually, was Mathew Ingram’s — the Lab contributor who, before he became a writer at GigaOm, was the Globe’s communities editor.) To test the waters of user interest, MacMillan and her team sent out a Catalyst invitation to the users who subscribe to The Globe and Mail’s e-newsletters (“people we knew were engaged, and who might have an interest in helping us shape where we’re going”) — a form asking for basic info like name, postal code, gender, and profession. And they got, to their shock, floods of replies in return — “several thousand,” in fact. Which was not just a surprise, but also “really encouraging,” MacMillan notes — a show of users not just expressing interest in the paper’s future, but acting on it. “A sign that they wanted to play a bigger part in the experience of the Globe.”

From there, the paper streamlined further, asking respondents to write a short explanation of their vision for the paper. Looking for a cross-section of background and location, interests and perspectives — and employing the services of the digital communications firm Sequentia Environics for help in whittling down the applications — the paper selected a group of users who are charged with helping to oversee the community elements of the paper’s content. A group of 1,000 or so users, in fact, MacMillan told me. (And, of those, about 800 accepted the offer to be Catalysts.) From there, they created a special, members-only section of the Globe and Mail site and then “just started chatting” — about the paper’s future and about the best way to cultivate community around it.

And a big part of that community is the content that it generates: the comments that flesh out a story’s life in the world beyond its text. Per MacMillan’s introduction of the Catalysts project, its members will:

— Help out commenters when they need a hand

— Help keep discussion on-topic

— Intervene when discussion becomes immoderate or personal

— Bring particularly poor behaviour to the attention of Globe staff

— Act in any manner that is representative of a community leader

— Add thoughtful posts that add background info, perspective

— Recommend/vote on comments that add insight and contribute to the discussion

It’s a broad mandate that’s along the lines of Gawker’s starred commenter system and HuffPo’s “Moderator” badge. And so far, it’s yielded good results: “We’ve had very good feedback,” MacMillan says, “and I think a big part of that is that we’re giving readers what they were looking for.” The paper’s recent series, “Canada: Our Time to Lead,” made use not only of Catalyst moderation, but also of the Catalysts’ connection to the newsroom. Globe reporters waded into the Catalyst forum, which led to conversations and new (crowd)sourcing opportunities, MacMillan notes. “We’ve never really done something quite like this before, where the contact has been so direct” — and “it was a really fruitful discussion.”

As for the comments, their volume has held fairly steady since the Catalysts started doing their thing in early October — a recent piece on Canada’s failed bid for a seat on the UN Security Council garnered over 2,000 comments — but their overall value, MacMillan says, has risen. Which is a trend we’re seeing among several of the news organizations that employ a select group of users to do their comment-moderation: investment leads to accountability leads to higher quality. (And to add a bit of incentive, the paper has made a practice of picking a particularly punchy quote from a user comment, and running that quote, via its “You said it” feature, across its homepage.)

But what’s the incentive for the Catalysts themselves? The fact that the community has a high barrier to entry, and no financial reward, begs the question: Why? Why are people willing to take time out of their presumably busy lives to participate in a project whose work isn’t compensated? Is this the cognitive surplus, playing out in our news environment?

To some extent, yes. Financial gain is by no means the only incentive for participation, of course — and there’s something inherently rewarding about seeing your ideas play out “in living color,” MacMillan notes. And togetherness — being part of something — can be its own compensation. One benefit of the Catalyst approach could simply be that it’s making its members part of a community; and in this fragmented world of ours, that alone is a value. And though the project is a work in progress, it’s been gratifying to see what can happen when put some effort into transforming your users — anonymous, atomized — into something more meaningful and productive: a community. “They’re interested in seeing where this is going,” MacMillan says — “just as we are.”

November 01 2010

16:00

Getting lapped by innovation abroad? Mario Garcia’s path to better designed newspapers

In seeking out inspiration for its print redesign, Canada’s Globe and Mail didn’t look south of the border, as one might expect. Instead, the national daily focused its gaze overseas, pilfering design tips from newspapers in southern Europe, Latin America and Asia. Editor-in-chief John Stackhouse went so far as to call the U.S. market “fairly depressed in terms of newspaper innovation.” It doesn’t get more blunt than that.

Not to flog a dead horse, but newspaper design guru Mario Garcia reported a similar sentiment back in 2008, this time from an anonymous Indian editor expecting to ooh and ah while touring American newsrooms. The editor was less than impressed.

“I am disappointed, to be honest,” he told Garcia. “I went to the U.S. to learn, to get ideas on how to improve our newspapers here, but in every case, I was faced with newspapers that are hardly innovative. Why are American newspapers less willing to experiment, to take that leap into the future, to analyze their products and to adapt them to the realities of a multi-platform world?”

To be fair, that was two years ago and major dailies are, slowly but surely, becoming multi-platform vehicles. Still, the disappointment expressed by Stackhouse and the Indian editor speaks to what Garcia calls the general dearth of innovation in American newspaper design. For whatever reason — financial difficulties, tradition, sacred cows — American design innovation has stagnated. (For the record, design consultant Ron Reason is more optimistic than Garcia on the point.)

“When you look at newspaper design overseas — like Spain and Latin America — they’re much more adventurous, much more interesting, much more magazine-like,” Newsonomics author (and Lab contributor) Ken Doctor says. “It’s all about presentation; there’s a visual surprise.”

The surprise, however, has more to do with information architecture — how papers structure headlines and sections — rather than color and typography. “Pure design is just cosmetic,” Garcia told me last week. “It’s not going to solve the problem.”

Garcia, a sort of newspaper-design Carmen Sandiego, has consulted newsrooms in over 96 countries, including Hong Kong, where he’s currently working with the South China Morning Post, and Colombia, where he recently helped re-launch the Bogotá-based El Tiempo, which he chronicles, step-by-step, on his blog in refreshing and lengthy detail.

Garcia readily admits the continued (and often growing) interest in print overseas has given foreign newspapers some of its room to innovate. American editors are “plagued by a sense of malaise, that print is going to die,” Garcia says. Foreign newspapers, on the other hand, take a more carefree approach: As circulation increases, why not take some risks? The outcome might be a fresher, more navigable newspaper. “American newspapers think of death and dying; foreign newspapers think of birth and renewal,” Garcia says.

Over the course of our interview, Garcia laid out some design innovations popping up in the foreign market, citing the United Arab Emirates’ Gulf News, which devotes an entire, editor-run page to online citizen journalism, and New Delhi’s Hindustan Times, which reaches its millions of readers by publishing nearly 20 regional editions. It’s as if The New York Times ran an edition for each of New York’s five boroughs.

Foreign newsrooms, he argues, are well attuned to the newspaper’s role in the online/mobile/print/tablet nexus. Papers are usually considered supplementary, rather than top-dog, all-that-matters news sources. Here are three ways Garcia sees international newspapers innovating design:

Information architecture comes before design

In its redesign, El Tiempo eschews traditional sections in favor of a more guided approach. The paper splits into three sections: Debes Saber (What you must know); Debes Leer (What you must read); Debes Hacer (What you must do).

Debes Saber covers local, national, world, sports, and business news. Garcia describes it as the “kitchen,” where you hastily gather news over your morning coffee. Debes Leer, the “living room,” provides opinion and analysis; it’s the newspaper’s salon, a more leisurely, end-of-the-day read. Debes Hacer, the “outdoors,” covers health, fitness, food, and fashion.

Garcia writes in his blog that he was “thinking like a reader” when he sat down to help overhaul El Tiempo. Indeed, El Tiempo’s compartmentalization gets to a news consumer’s most basic needs. “It’s about how you get the content flowing better for people who have less time,” Garcia says.

Respect the cult of personality

“People desire to hear the opinions of others, even if it’s nonsense,” Garcia says. Analysis should be on the front page, not reserved for back-page editorial sections. English-language weekly The Moscow News, which will be relaunched as a daily — under Garcia’s guidance — in early 2011, will publish celebrity journalist commentary on A1. Garcia concedes American papers might find this unseemly — where’s the objectivity? where’s the integrity? — but a newspaper, he says, should be the most obvious place to find must-read writers.

Sound like tomorrow, not yesterday

“To find your place, you need to relinquish your time advantage,” Garcia says. Online provides the five w’s as they happen; print needs to find, and accept, its place as an ancillary source of information.

Foreign newspapers are less afraid to publish “headlines in the future tense, running second-day headlines on the first day,” Garcia says, pointing to Spain’s El Pais, which routinely pushes stories forward by focusing on what comes next, not what happened yesterday. More recently, The Independent’s Metro-style i, the UK’s first new national daily in quite some time, scatters snappy news briefs around ideas-driven articles, refusing to dwell on yesterday’s news .

American newsrooms may be handcuffed by traditions and finances. Garcia thinks they see him as an “interior decorator,” which may explain why he hasn’t consulted stateside in three years. But American editors, like Stackhouse, may be wise to pay attention to design changes in the foreign market: Before long, they may be the ones globetrotting to international newsrooms.

October 13 2010

14:00

Does investing in print help the bottom line? Discouraging evidence from the San Francisco Chronicle

The Globe and Mail is the latest newspaper to double down on print — investing big money in a new, glossy, full-color format aimed at making the value of news-on-paper more clear. As Canadians kvell over the print redesign and read the national daily without the inky stain of newsprint on their fingers, it’s worth remembering that the San Francisco Chronicle made a similar move almost a year ago.

Last November, the Chronicle began printing its weekday front page, section fronts and select inside pages on high-gloss paper as a way to lure advertisers and strive for “magazine-quality production,” publisher Frank Vega and editor Ward Bushee said at the time. (The paper revamped its layout in February 2009.) It was an interesting move, considering that less than eight months earlier the paper, facing the threat of closure by its parent company Hearst, was shedding nearly $1 million a week. The switch was a result of a 15-year, $1 billion deal between Hearst and Canadian printing giant Transcontinental, which opened a $200 million plant near San Jose.

Looking at the numbers, it’s hard to see any improvement from the move. Circulation numbers are still in decline, and the Chronicle has scaled back glossy printing to its Sunday paper only. Which raises the questions: Is glossy paper worth it, both in terms of circulation and advertising? And if readers enjoy a smoother feel to their paper, does that warrant the extra cost?

“I don’t think so,” Chronicle president Mark Adkins told me. “You would have to be part of a broader strategy that would include more commercial printing and higher consumer pricing. It’s not a good tactical move for other papers.”

Lack of advertiser response

When it switched to glossy, the Chronicle circulated around 251,782 weekday papers, a 26-percent drop from the previous year. By March 2010, weekday circulation was down to 241,330. The economy certainly takes part of the blame, but the marketing power of a classier kind of newsprint doesn’t seem to be having much of an impact. It costs about 30 percent more to print on the new heat-set presses, which are rare (and expensive) in the newspaper industry.

“On the ad side, advertisers have not responded to it at all,” Adkins says, although the Chronicle wouldn’t reveal specific ad revenue numbers. When the Chronicle switched to glossy, it had “no advertisers lined up,” Adkins adds. The move was primarily aimed at consumers, to present a more luxurious product. But to some extent, that’s what the Chronicle expected when it restructured its business model around readership and circulation revenue, rather than advertising, almost two years ago. Even before the arrival of glossy stock, the paper had increased single-copy and subscription prices. Readers have responded favorably to the new paper, Adkins says, but they’re shouldering more of the production cost.

But back when the shift was made, Adkins also emphasized the appeal to advertisers, leading the San Francisco Business Times to write: “Without naming names, Adkins said that some advertisers who are now playing ball with the Chronicle wouldn’t before. They shunned newspaper ads because ‘they don’t deliver the brand image they require,’ he said — an obstacle the Chron’s new paper removes.”

“People are definitely and truly intrigued when they see copies of the Chronicle,” says Chuck Moozakis, editor of the print innovation monthly Newspapers & Technology. “The paper is trying to send a signal that you can have a newspaper that looks like this and not like that. But it’s a challenge now.”

Looking internationally

The Chronicle won’t be phasing out high-gloss paper any time soon — not with that $1 billion Hearst deal — but Adkins isn’t ready to champion glossy as the savior of the print industry. That’s partly because in most cases printing on high-gloss paper requires outsourcing — a costly and alienating move — to independent commercial presses like Transcontinental. Heat-set presses simply aren’t ubiquitous enough in the United States to make higher-grade printing a viable option for most newspapers.

As for Canada’s Globe and Mail, editor John Stackhouse told readers that he wasn’t looking to the American newspaper market for inspiration when it comes to his “Proudly Print” approach: “Rather than study the U.S. market which is fairly depressed in terms of newpaper innovation, we looked to quality papers in southern Europe, Latin America and parts of Asia and found a great array of ideas that encouraged us to pursue a bold and confident look as well as a design that would continue to support great, in-depth journalism…One of the principal goals of the redesign is to raise the quality of The Globe at a time when we feel many other media are reducing their quality.”

October 05 2010

14:00

Doubling down on print: Canada’s Globe and Mail unveils a new print edition to complement the web

The Globe and Mail, Canada’s most-circulated national daily newspaper, revealed its much-ballyhooed redesign on Friday. The paper is calling it “the most significant redesign” in its 166-year history, and it’s a billion-dollar bet on print at a time when the format’s fortunes would seem to be fading.

The renovations to “Canada’s National Newspaper” are part of what editor-in-chief John Stackhouse boldly calls his “Proudly Print” approach, with print as one component (with online and mobile) of a three-pronged news attack. The redesign tries to make the differences between print and web more clear. Full-color printing and a high-gloss wrap — the first of its kind in North America — aim to help lure advertisers. There’ll be more magazine-like stories, including photo-driven features plastered boldly on the front page. A slightly narrower size means shorter, punchier stories. And that’s not to mention the informational accoutrements, like sidebars and info graphs, and the litany of new inserts and content realignments. The redesign “once again demonstrates our commitment to the newspaper business,” according to publisher and CEO Phillip Crawley.

This is a big-time overhaul for the Globe, and not only because the paper sees it as a reassertion of dominance — i.e., shelling the struggling National Post, its conservative competitor since 1999, in the national newspaper war of attrition — over the Canadian media landscape.

But whenever a redesign happens, criticism follows. The prevailing question in this case is fairly obvious: Why invest in an 18-year, C$1.7-billion printing deal — with the same press as the San Francisco Chronicle — at a time when newsprint seems like yesterday’s medium?

“It’s going to be a millstone around the Globe’s neck,” says Mathew Ingram, a senior writer at GigaOm and former Globe web editor (and Lab contributor). “That’s 10 years you’re going to be paying for something that’s going to restrict the paper’s ability to do things that are focusing on the web. That’s not a thing a newspaper needs at a time like this.”

But the Globe sees its investment as a bet on print having a complementary role to online news going forward. “Our readers are digitally-minded people,” Stackhouse told me on launch day. “We publish a paper for people who are online a lot and still want a printed product at their doorstep every day to make sense of a world that flew by them while there were online.” Stackhouse, who took over as editor-in-chief in spring 2009 after a career as a business reporter, knows what he’s up against, and he’s making an argument about what a 21st-century newspaper needs to look like.

The Globe has always been the highbrow stalwart in Canadian journalism — and judging from its minimalist yet dramatic ad campaign, the paper still sees itself at the head of table. (For more proof, check out this nifty microsite.) Stackhouse uses the term “the daily pause,” when readers feel obligated to close their browsers and read insightful, show-stopping journalism. That’s what newspapers should strive to give their readers, he told me. He says there “needs to be more selection. We need to bring more insight to issues that matter most and focus on issues of consequence and try to have fun with it.”

The Globe, like most other newspapers, realizes there’s still money in print advertising. According to a profile of the Globe in last month’s Toronto Life magazine, the paper’s online component brings in roughly 15 percent of the revenue generated on the print side — not far off the totals for most large American newspapers.

Whether or not Crawley’s doubling-down strategy will work remains to be seen. Eighteen years is a long time. Critics wonder if placing such emphasis on print will limit the Globe’s ability to take the reigns of a slim Canadian online news market. The responses look a lot like this tweet, from Toronto-based technology consultant Rob Hyndman: “The Globe’s changes are about fear of loss, not about moving towards a positive goal.”

The Globe surely sees things differently. Its prime competitors — the National Post, the Toronto Star, and free dailies like Metro and 24 — are all print products. In fact, the paper’s weekday circulation jumped 5 percent last year and its print revenue increased 10 percent, while everyone else took a step backward. In Canada, the world of print is still the gladiator ring. The Canadian online news marketplace is underdeveloped: There’s nothing like Salon or The Daily Beast or The Huffington Post to draw eyeballs away from sites — GlobeandMail.com, CBC.ca, CTV.ca, GlobalTV.com — already affiliated with traditional news organizations. Speaking at the Economic Club of Canada on the eve of the launch, Stackhouse pinpointed four online competitors — The Huffington Post, Bloomberg, Yahoo Finance, and the BBC — none of which are Canadian. Without a sea of competitors galvanizing innovation and growth in Canadian online news, the Globe seems to think it makes sense to stick to the gravy — a move Ingram thinks is a mistake.

“Now is the time to seize the day, to become a leader,” he says, “because the Globe doesn’t have a huge amount of competition in print or online. It feels like it’s the only game in town — except maybe the CBC — and that lulls the paper into a false sense of security about its future.”

November 19 2009

18:00

Profiles in Courage: Social Media Editors at Big Media Outlets

During a recent trip to see an editor I work with at The Globe and Mail, a national newspaper in Canada, I passed by the newspaper's cafeteria. My editor looked in and pointed at a man who was sitting with his back to us.

"There's Mathew Ingram, doing his office hours," he told me.

Ingram is the Globe and Mail's communities editor, a job he took on after being a technology reporter, columnist and blogger for the paper. My editor explained that Ingram's "office hours" consist of him making himself available in the cafeteria so that anyone can come see him and talk about Twitter, user comments, blogging, or anything thing else that falls under the social media/community banner.

Five years ago, there was no such thing as a community manager or social media editor at large media organizations. Today, this role exists at places such as the New York Times and NPR, among others. To get a sense of the role of these new social media editors at big media organizations, I spoke with four people currently filling these positions.

Mathew Ingram

Name: Mathew Ingram

Title: Communities editor, The Globe and Mail.

Time in the Position: Close to a year.

Previously: Technology reporter, columnist, blogger for the paper.

What the Job Entails: "There was never really a job description so we have been making it up as we go along," he said. "The general idea was to have someone who was thinking about how we interact with readers online, and all the ways of doing it and ways we could be doing it."

Biggest Challenge: "To be blunt, complacency is the biggest danger, the biggest risk," he said. "The biggest challenge is raising awareness of these tools, and convincing people that they are worthwhile. That's something that has been easier with certain people than with others. There's a wide spectrum of awareness and openness to trying new things. Let's face it: being a newspaper reporter hasn't really changed in a huge amount [over the last few decades]. You use a computer rather than a typewriter. So the change taking place right now is maybe harder to deal with if you've been doing that for a long time."

Best Initiative So Far: Using CoverItLive for discussions and liveblogging. "For certain things, like our swine flu discussion, we have gotten 10,000 or 15,000 people, and hundreds and hundreds of comments, along with interaction between editors and writers and readers," he said. "To me, that is a magical thing that never would have happened if we hadn't used that tool. We can also wind up making what we do better. In the swine flu discussion, we were feeding news into the live discussion and we had a Google Map that an epidemiologist had created. Someone said in the discussion that the map was not up to date. Our editor asked if anybody knew of a better map, and three minutes later a guy posted a link to a better map that we never would have found."

Lesson He's Learned About the Globe Community: "We get surprised daily by the things that people are interested in, and the things they want to read about or talk about," he said. "...For me, the big benefit of using these tools is getting a better idea of what readers want. Before, we kind of just had hunch and found out long after the fact. Now we can watch in real time."

Biggest Mistake: "I'd love to say we haven't made any, but I wish we had gotten involved in Facebook earlier on, and built an audience there or made better use of it."

Final Words: "Focus on the small victories. It's quite easy to get overcome and disillusioned when people are not interested in what you think is valuable, or when the things you try don't work."

Shirley Brady

Shirley_Bradysmall.jpgName: Shirley Brady

Title: Community editor, BusinessWeek.

Time in the Position: Close to 18 months.

Previously: Editor of the Cable360.net website, and a reporter at CableWorld magazine. Previously held editorial positions with Time Inc., among other media organizations.

What the Job Entails: "I spend a lot of time in the comments observing the trends, featuring people across the site, and trying to connect with our writers and say, 'Hey, there's this really interesting conversation going on, you may want to chime in.'" She also works on their blog, "What's Your Story Idea?": http://www.businessweek.com/blogs/whatsyourstoryidea/, and was brought on to help manage the magazine's Business Exchange community.

On Interacting With the BusinessWeek Community: "We've done things that feature our readers on the site by using their comments or contributed articles," she said. "Our audience is business professionals and they are on the front lines of all the stuff we're writing about. They are doing what we're just observing."

Best Initiative So Far: "We had a reader dinner and invited 10 really avid readers to come in and tell us what they like and don't like," she said. "The big takeaway was that our comment system, which is pretty basic, needs to get better... We got to sit face-to-face with these people, some of whom we only knew from their user names."

Biggest Lesson Learned: The need to manage expectations for new initiatives. "It's been interesting watching our Business Exchange platform launch because there were very aggressive expectations for it internally," she said. "As a user, I know the demands on people's time are really intense, and to expect people to adopt another social network is a lot to ask."

Next Big Challenge: Integrating with the magazine's new owner, Bloomberg. "We've been acquired by Bloomberg and are waiting to find out what their strategy is," she said. As this article was being finalized, Brady announced on Twitter that her "role isn't continuing with Bloomberg," and her last day at BusinessWeek will be December 1.

Andy Carvin

andycarvin.jpgName: Andy Carvin

Title: Senior strategist for NPR's social media desk.

Time in the Position: He's been the social media/community guy at NPR since September 2006.

Previously: Ran the non-profit Digital Divide Network.

What the Job Entails: "I work with a team called the social media desk, which is an editorial unit that focuses on ways for our reporters to interact with the public," he said. "The way I look at it is NPR has this large, loyal community of more than 26 million listeners around the country who tend to see us as more than just a content producer. In some ways, being involved with NPR is almost a lifestyle choice for them. We've had a long history of reaching out to the public and having hem contribute ideas and content. But there's never been a platform before social media that enabled us to interact with the public and give them tools to interact among themselves."

Biggest Lesson Learned: "The key thing is to come up with a variety of ways that people can interact and work with you," he said. "On one end you might have people contribute long stories and put together thoughtful narratives, whether in text or video or audio. At the other end, you may have some who are just wiling to share a quick snippet and move on."

Best Initiative So Far: HurricaneWiki.org. "Last fall when Hurricane Gustav was approaching, we asked for volunteers on Twitter to come together and list hurricane-related resources. Over 48 hours we had over 500 people signed up to build a wiki called HurricaneWiki.org," he said. "They built Google Maps with evacuation routes and shelter information, and some people listened to ham radio and scanner traffic for information and transcribed that." He also notes that Scott Simon and the team at NPR's Weekend Edition have done a good job using Twitter.

What He's Learned About the NPR Community: "These are communities that love us and our mission and what we do, they want to help us succeed and prosper -- and we ignore them at our peril," he said. "Thankfully, we are not ignoring them. It's about understanding that people who use social media and are fans of NPR are our most powerful supporters. They can be advocates, soldiers, messengers. They can assist in editorial matters as well."

Final Words: "There's no edict here saying that every person has to be on Twitter or Facebook. We do it somewhat organically because we want to make sure the staff that are using social media understand why they are using it, and have editorial goals in mind."

Jennifer Preston

jennifer_preston.jpgName: Jennifer Preston

Title: Social media editor, New York Times.

Time in the Position: Close to six months.

Previously: Edited the Sunday suburban section of the paper. Has also held other editing and reporting roles at the paper, along with jobs at other media organizations.

What the Job Entails: "I don't really have a typical day. I would say one of the challenges is not doing things on a piecemeal basis, and I'm sure my colleagues would share that concern. We know we have to put effort into getting more people to begin using these tools."

What She's Learned About the Times Community: "Surprise, surprise they like us. I tell anybody who is having a bad day around here just to go to the Twitter search field and look at what people are saying about our work," she said. "People are sharing and recommending the work... One of the really cool, fun, powerful things about social media is that, through the power of recommendations, your loyalists can share the stuff they like. We produce a lot of great stuff, and it's been heartening just to see people share that with enthusiasm."

Best Initiative So Far: New York Times Twitter Lists. "One initiative that helped us move forward quickly, and in an area where there is tremendous potential, is Twitter Lists," she said. "It was an opportunity to go across the newsroom desk-to-desk and talk with different editors and reporters and explain how the feature works and say, 'Hey, how about giving me a list?' I'm mindful that the landscape changes rapidly, and we will change with it. But I do think the Twitter Lists project for the newsroom has helped us get more people interested in Twitter." Preston noted that the paper built new Twitter Lists as reports rolled in about the Fort Hood shootings. "I sit in the middle of the newsroom with the continuous news desk, and so we were all jumping on the story and trying to figure out what was going on," she said. "I walked over to Jenny 8 Lee and said, 'Jenny can you help me put together a Fort Hood list?'"

Biggest Lesson Learned: "One of the most important lessons learned is that much of the best ideas, and the really creative approaches and innovations, come from the developers, many of whom work here in newsroom," she said. "This job is also a public role, and I was unprepared for that. Some people were very kind and helpful and welcoming, but there was a group who were not. I had to figure out what my role is on Twitter because every broken link I sent out was seen as a crime. In any event, you have to be resilient and have a sense of humor."

Final Words: "The New York Times did not discover social media with my appointment, and vice versa," she said. "For the last two years we have had more than a couple hundred accounts on Twitter, and we now have 2 million followers on our main feed. We have half a million fans on Facebook...We're going to be doing something interesting very soon with Tumblr. The really fun part of this whole moment is that you can really play in the space and have fun and figure out what works. And if it doesn't work, that's okay, you can try something else."

Craig Silverman is an award-winning journalist and author and an associate editor at MediaShift and Idea Lab. He is the founder and editor of Regret The Error, the author of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech, and a weekly columnist for Columbia Journalism Review. Follow him on Twitter at @CraigSilverman.

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