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August 17 2012

14:00

6 Questions for Arion McNicoll of The Journalism Foundation

It has been a difficult time for the British press, caught up in the phone-hacking scandal that has meant the death of the News of the World paper, along with arrests of News Corp. personnel, suspensions at Scotland Yard, and never-ending investigations. But from those ashes has risen one idealistic effort to promote free press issues around the world: The Journalism Foundation.

Unlike in the U.S. with our non-profit funders such as the Knight Foundation, the U.K. and Europe have been looking for a white knight that could help support struggling legacy media in their transition to digital. The Journalism Foundation was started last October by former editor of the Independent, Simon Felner, with money from the Independent's owners, the Lebedev family.

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The Foundation's first two projects include a training program for journalists in Tunisia (in conjunction with the City University of London's journalism school) and financial support for a hyper-local site in Stoke-on-Trent called pitsnpots. But the Foundation has also hired its own editorial staff, who are posting stories online relating to digital media, freedom of speech, and the Leveson Inquiry. The site recently ran a first-person account from the Independent's Guy Adams about Twitter suspending (and then un-suspending) his account.

I recently struck a content-sharing deal with The Journalism Foundation, so that they could run our various stories from MediaShift on free speech issues, while we could run their stories that touch on the digital and global angle of freedom of expression. The hope is to spread our content and ideas across the pond in both directions.

I asked the site's editor, Arion McNicoll, six questions via email to learn more about the Foundation and how it plans to spend its grants. McNicoll comes to the Foundation after being the assistant editor of The Sunday Times online, helping the Times build its iPad app. The following is an edited version of our exchange. (McNicoll also posted his interview with me here.)

Q&A

1. How did you get involved in The Journalism Foundation, and what are its goals?


Arion McNicoll: I joined The Journalism Foundation just prior to its launch in October last year. At the time, British press was under intense scrutiny in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal -- a public event that shocked the nation and led to the closure of the News of the World newspaper. Senior figures at Rupert Murdoch's newspaper publishing company, News International, were summoned to explain themselves to the government; the Leveson Inquiry was initiated to look into press standards and regulation not only within Murdoch press, but across the entire U.K. media landscape.

Against this backdrop, and at a time when the media seemed to be running out of friends, The Journalism Foundation was established to promote free and fair journalism around the world. We try to do this in two ways: by running media-based projects that have a positive impact, and by promoting intelligent debate around the big questions in journalism today on our website. My role as editor is to nurture that debate.


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2. Who has more awareness of press freedom issues, people in the U.S. or U.K., and why?


McNicoll: Whether the average American is aware of it day-to-day or not, freedom of the press is a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment upholds a raft of important freedoms -- of press, religion and expression -- which simply do not have an equivalent in the U.K. That said, media in the U.K. is deep and varied, with numerous newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations, and I think the U.K. public is rightly proud of this plurality. The high rate of literacy is mirrored by a history of high newspaper consumption.

The national broadcaster, the BBC, is a much-loved public institution, in which many people feel they have a stake. When the BBC spends money frivolously or in the wrong place, the public actively complains. Many regard the BBC's service in a similar way to how they think about the free medical care -- as a right and an integral part of what it means to be British.


3. Explain the grant process for people who'd like to get a grant from The Journalism Foundation.



McNicoll: The Journalism Foundation looks to support a broad range of projects. From community-based enterprises to broad initiatives, our grant scheme is intended to support people or organizations with specific projects that further the cause of journalistic freedom. Once an application is lodged (go here), staff from the Foundation will review it and get in contact for more information if the project seems promising. If we can offer support (either practical or financial) we then work out how best to make that happen.

We don't have an upper limit on what we can grant (notionally) but in truth our projects have tended to be to the tune of about £10,000 to £20,000 so far. Our initial funding comes from the Lebedev family who own the Evening Standard and the Independent newspapers here in the U.K. This is one of their benevolent programs. We also do our own fundraising though, and all the money we raise from donations goes straight to projects.

4. Do you believe new online media outlets can help cover news lost at legacy organizations as they cut back? How?

McNicoll: I think media is currently in a transitional state. News organizations were quick to get their content online in the early days of the Internet, hoping that they could convert vast numbers of readers into advertising gold. Gradually it became apparent that simply having a lot of readers was no guarantor of financial success. Consequently, many news organizations have begun putting up pay walls and returning to subscription-based revenue models.

In the meantime, a raft of new media news organizations have sprung up offering alternatives to the traditional providers. Initially, the point of difference was journalistic veracity (i.e., people felt old media could be trusted, whereas new media was more suspect), but even that has eroded over time. Various sites such as Huffington Post and TMZ have put considerable effort into ensuring that their news is not just fast, but also accurate. Can such outlets fill the gap left by the decline in newspaper sales? Certainly, but the transition is not necessarily going to be swift or smooth. Plus, the future of news is unlikely simply to be digital newspapers, but something that fuses the best bits of print, TV, radio and social networking.


5. In the realm of press and Internet freedom, which organizations (including for-profit media and NGOs) do you respect in Europe and why?



McNicoll: Reporters Without Borders does a fantastic and admirable job, fighting for the rights of journalists who work in places where simply doing their job can cost them their lives. The Chartered Institute of Journalists does good work here in the U.K., and has been doing it for longer than almost anyone else in the world, founded, as it was, in 1884. The Centre for Investigative Journalism champions the kind of critical, in-depth reporting that makes the rich and powerful nervous.

At a more community level, Talk About Local is an excellent organization that trains people in starting up their own digital publications. And there are countless blogs and citizen journalism projects around the country which are doing their small bit for the spread of free information, many with deeply journalistic sensibilities.


6. How important is collaboration now in journalism, among non-profits, for-profits, public media and readers/community members?

McNicoll: Very important. In recent years the traditional division between people who are journalists and people who are not journalists has been almost completely eroded. Now anyone with a mobile phone can report on the news. While people remain rightly suspicious of the more sinister aspects of journalism, overwhelmingly I think there is still a great deal of public support for the free spread of information -- support which people are expressing through engaging actively with the process of news gathering and commentary. Just last month the United Nations unanimously backed a resolution that Internet access and online freedom of expression should be considered a human right.

While the spread of journalistic practice is an important development, I think the next stage is working out a fair way to recompense those people who work in the more costly or dangerous sides of news reporting: writers and photographers who report from the front line, investigative journalists who spend months on end trying to uncover a hidden truth. But I think there is broad understanding that some kinds of journalism cost money and people are prepared to pay for it.

The interaction between non-profits, for-profits, public media and readers underpins the evolution of journalism, and that evolution is essential to the continuing spread of information.

*****

What do you think of The Journalism Foundation and its work? Can it succeed in spreading freedom of expression ideas around the world and in the U.K.? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian and fiancee Renee. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit. and Circle him on Google+

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August 02 2012

14:00

6 Questions for Rafat Ali on Skift.com, His New Travel Startup

Rafat Ali is one of those rare people in the media industry who understands the power he wields with his written words, yet can be so humble and friendly in person. I was struck by that quality in him when we first met probably 10+ years ago when he was first starting the paidContent blog as a one-man operation focused on digital media.

What he accomplished with that site was a lesson for all of us who are running small media ventures, taking a one-man operation and expanding it into a full-fledged online business. Ali received venture funding, expanded staff and built more sites, and eventually sold the site to the Guardian (which later sold it to GigaOm).

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After selling his baby, Ali decided to take time off to travel the world and disconnect from the intense 24-hour news cycle that consumes everyone who lives on Internet time for breaking news. And now that he has resurfaced, his new baby is Skift.com, billed as a "travel intelligence media company."

As he has described the startup on various Mediatwits podcasts (we co-host the show together for MediaShift), Skift will put a laser-sharp focus on the business of travel, the travel business and business travelers, disrupting the current incumbents who cover the industry in a less intense fashion.

We recently connected by email, and he answered my six burning questions about Skift and his plans for the site.

6 Questions for Rafat Ali

1. Why did you decide to target the travel business with Skift? From all your trips abroad?

Rafat Ali: It is in the travel sector, but not really built upon my own travels over the last two years. The cliche is: A startup guy sells his company, goes off to travel the world, and through his experiences during his travel, hits a brainwave in the middle of Mongolia on how to solve all the travel woes in the world. Thankfully, mine isn't that.

My travels inform my worldview on how we want to build Skift, how broadly we look at travel, but the genesis of Skift is more prosaic: We saw a big white space in the travel information industry, and we're attacking it.

2. What lessons did you learn from paidContent, and how did you apply them to Skift?

For one, we're bringing the same energy of the saturation coverage of the digital media industry that we did for years at paidContent, and now bringing it to the world's largest sector: travel. We'll be a digital native, 24/7, breaking news, analysis, opinion, somewhat similar to what we did with paidContent.

Also pC, back when it started in 2002, brought together then disparate silos of the larger media-information-entertainment industries, and with Skift, we're attempting the same with the very large silos of aviation, hospitality, destinations, cruises, technology and others, and bringing them together. The underlying assumption, that these silos will collapse, is the same as paidContent. We'll see if they're borne out.

3. Who are your first investors, and how did you find them?

A long list of 17 angels, 14 disclosed: Chris Ahearn, Luke Beatty, Gordon Crovitz,
Craig Forman, Jim Friedlich, Tom Glocer, Vishal Gondal, Jason Hirschhorn, Peter Horan, Alan Meckler, Mohamed Nanabhay, Sanjay Parthasarathy, Amol Sarva, Chris Schroeder.

These are all very accomplished business execs in the media-tech industry that I've known for years, covered them at paidContent, they spoke at pC conferences, and I have developed relationships with.

So they're betting on us, the team, to build a large media+information+data business in a very large sector.

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4. How is it different starting a site in 2012 vs. when you started paidContent?

We realize trying to scale just using media/content will not cut it; we're trying to build a very large travel intelligence company, and that means we have to go beyond what we did at pC.

For us, that means building the company at the intersection of travel and data, and that means first pulling in that data, and then building services on top, all of which we hope the industry will pay for.

Also unlike paidContent, where we tried in small ways to do some crossover stories, with Skift we really will attempt it, aimed on the consumer side at business travelers. While paidContent helped define the digital media industry as it exists now, our ambition was to go deeper into the vertical, not go broad and consumer.

Skift hopes to redefine a new generation of data- and information-heavy media companies, built to break out of the vertical media ghettos and scale.

5. Tell me more about the "studio model" and how much revenue you think you'll get from services vs. ads.

This for us means we'll build a slew of data services, some of which will succeed and some won't. It means we'll be quick to prototype, and quick to discard if it doesn't work -- that's what we mean by studio model. It means we'll learn what the information and services black holes are for the travel industry and professional travelers as we grow, and we'll adapt quickly to address those needs.

We think we'll get a majority of our revenues from services. Ads will be a decent part, both on B2B and especially on the business traveler side. Business travelers are a very addressable and lucrative category for all sorts of advertisers, including travel brands, financial services, luxury and others.

6. Will you ever look at travel the same way again after getting so deep in the weeds on the business side? How will things change?

Great question. I hope I don't lose my sense of wonder in travel. If I can keep traveling to the kinds of places I have over the last two years, then I surely won't, but if I just restrict myself to work and business travel, then I'll always be in work mode!

*****

What do you think about Skift.com and its "studio" business model? Can an upstart disrupt the business travel industry? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian and fiancee Renee. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit. and Circle him on Google+

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March 01 2011

22:28

Shankbone's Wikipedia Photo Portraits Spread Like Wildfire

David Shankbone is arguably the most influential new media photojournalist in the world.

He has taken over 1,000 portraits of prominent people across a variety of fields for articles on Wikipedia.com and its foreign language equivalents. Because the pictures are copyleft -- or free for reproduction, alteration, and distribution -- they are used by numerous non-profits, schools, authors, television programs and well known publications, such as the New York Times and the Miami Herald.

He has also interviewed leaders ranging from Al Sharpton to former Israeli President Shimon Peres and given presentations in the United States and abroad about Wikipedia, new media and Internet culture.

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But, as a recent Columbia Journalism Review article about this famous Wikipedian revealed, Shankbone isn't even his real name and journalism isn't his profession. It's David Miller and his day job is doing legal work on Wall Street.

In spite of all that, Miller -- as Shankbone -- has had a big influence on the development of web culture. In a discussion conducted via email, I asked Shankbone about his controversial contributions to Wikipedia, the way the web and WikiLeaks are changing journalism, and what he thinks legacy media organizations need to do to survive in the digital age.

Your portraits of famous people range from Taylor Swift to Gore Vidal, and they have been used by news sites ranging from Vanity Fair to Forbes. Do you identify yourself as a photojournalist, artist, or what?

Shankbone: Probably more of an artist. Information is realist art and I create information. The challenge to be empirical was more exciting for me than infusing my work with my own perspective.

A few years ago your photo documenting the making of an adult film was banned by the Australian government. Do you think the Internet pushes society's limits of what is acceptable, or does it reflect what is already there?

Shankbone: Knowledge pushes those boundaries. Few aspects of society are hidden any more and Wikipedia's approach to unadulterated information plays a hand.

Explicit images on Wikipedia have been very controversial, but time is on the side of the editors who want little censorship of reality. There's a rational line to be drawn, but what kind of porn researcher would be surprised and offended to see an example of how it's made on the pornography article [in Wikipedia]?

Another one of your photos, "Palestinian Boy with Toy Gun in Nazareth" (below, left) you placed on the Wikipedia article Children and Minors in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. This caused controversy because some critics believed you were trying to push a political view, since you had taken it on a press junket that was funded by the Israeli government. What prompted you to choose that photo?

250-Palestinian_boy_with_toy_guy_in_Nazareth_by_David_Shankbone.jpgShankbone: I saw the photograph and thought about the debate over whether children playing with toy weapons increases violence. A few years earlier in Israel, a child with a toy gun was shot by a soldier -- something that also happens in the United States with the police. There was also a study in Israel about the psychological effects the conflict had on children. So, given all of that, I thought the photograph of a child in Israel with a toy gun worked.

It was only a few people who took the worst possible interpretation, which is that I was portraying this child as a terrorist. At the same time I placed Palestinian Kids in Nazareth, a photo of his friends hugging, on the Friendship article, and that photo is now found on the Palestinian people article.

How do you feel about the role digital media is playing in the Middle East protests?

Shankbone: Satellite and Internet make it impossible to control what people know. I am as nervous as anyone about how it will all look a year from now, but the desire of a nation to be freer and find its own voice is something to be cheered, even when it's not clear that it's in America's best interest.

What impact have the Internet and bloggers had on journalism?

Shankbone: Corporatism hurt American journalism and the Internet exposed that it was no longer functioning as the Fourth Estate. New York Times executive editor Bill Keller admitted that the government vetted the Wikileaks cables before [his paper] published them. What a far cry from the Pentagon Papers. It's a problem. We need the media. But everyone across the political spectrum is angry because too often journalists fail at what they purport to do.

WikiLeaks is a polarizing force in American media. Is the radical transparency espoused by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange changing traditional journalism mores?

Shankbone: WikiLeaks means the public will expose lies, horror, and hypocrisy if the media won't. The best analysis is on blogs and the best journalism is public or foreign. American reporters crave 'access' -- and their editors demand it, no matter how much it corrupts.

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I recently had a drink with a writer from Gawker and I said, 'You guys must be invited to so many incredible parties.' He replied, 'Believe it or not, we aren't because people are worried that we will write something unflattering.' A real journalist should be able to say the same. Instead, I photograph them on red carpets.

Sadly for the foreseeable future, hacks will reign at the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times will be a degraded mess, the New York Times will fumble along, and cable news will be little better than talk radio.

What changes would you like to see legacy media organizations make in the digital age?

Shankbone: They think to be neutral is to be uncontroversial and to not assert the truth. They think balance means two opposing views and that somewhere in the middle is moderation. Such ridiculous notions have come to define the attempt to present reality to their audiences. The jig is up: Everybody knows that it's impossible to be totally neutral.

Don't shout from the rooftops that you have a perspective, just stop insisting that you don't and try your damnedest not to let it bias your facts. Mimic the example of the profitable Economist magazine, the most respected publication in the world. Fox News would be great if it was a place where the interesting nuance of conservative thought was hashed out before its viewers.

Be daring. Try new things. Newspapers should involve local citizen reporters in their articles, with talent the only barrier to consideration. Discover the good local bloggers and photographers and develop relationships with them. Dispatch them. Pay them a nominal fee. Have regular reporters work with locals and give them one of those "additional reporting by..." credits. That would help foster a cohesive bond with the communities that they serve.

All images by David Shankbone, via Wikipedia.

Sandra Ordonez calls herself a web astronaut who has been helping organizations navigate the Internet since 1997. In the last two years, she has collected over 200 interviews on the future of journalism, and was one of the first Communication Managers for Wikipedia. She specializes in community management, collaboration, and artisan branding. Her official site, Collaborative Nation, is a home for tecno-activists. She also heads up the Facebook page, Bicultural and Multicultural People Rule." She graduated from American University with a double degree in International Relations and Public Relations.

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January 13 2011

17:20

Social Media Grows at NY Times, But Home Page Remains King

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Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

Lately Facebook has been trumpeting its prowess in driving traffic to news sites. In a blog post a couple weeks ago, Facebook media guy Justin Osofsky crowed that Facebook was now the number one referral site to SportingNews.com and that the Washington Post saw Facebook referral traffic grow 280 percent year-over-year. That's certainly impressive, but the New York Times website continues to get the majority of traffic from its own home page.

That's right. People just type "N-Y-T-I-M-E-S.-C-O-M" into their web browsers to read the stories there (at least until the pay wall comes). In a discussion with New York Times associate managing editor Jim Roberts, I learned that on most days 50 percent to 60 percent of the site's traffic comes from people starting at the home page. Roberts said Facebook referral traffic was important -- and growing -- but noted that the home page still remained the top referrer.

Still, Roberts has a lot to celebrate when it comes to the New York Times on Facebook. Its main Facebook page recently surpassed 1 million fans, leading all other U.S. newspapers, and it's considering a new strategy that would break out more sections into their own Facebook pages. Here are some relevant stats for NY Times' social media feeds:

> @NYTimes on Twitter has 2,845,559 followers
> The NYTimes Facebook page has 1,052,752 fans

> Over 450,000 NYTimes.com users have opted to 'Log In with Facebook' to make comments on the site

All this is happening while the organization's org chart is being changed to reflect print and web convergence. Roberts himself went from being the lead editor of news at NYTimes.com to associate managing editor on Jan. 1.

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"The previous job was a little bit amorphous bit it was basically directing the news coverage of the site, breaking news, multimedia and social media," he told me. "[With the new job] I will have one foot in print and one in the website. We're breaking down our structure, we had a staff of producers who were solely producing the digital product. They reported through a centralized digital management structure. That's going to be broken down. My job will be much more managing news across the news organization as a whole rather than just the digital portion."

Over the holidays, I spoke to Roberts about the Times' overall social media strategy, the shift as previous social media editor Jen Preston vacates her role, and the manpower issues that swirl around who will manage which feeds. The following is an edited transcript (with audio clips) of our phone conversation.

Q&A

How did you get to 1 million fans on Facebook?

Jim Roberts: I consider our Facebook strategy part of a broader approach to social media. While certain things are done specifically on and with Facebook, it's only one of the social media tools we pay attention to. When I talk about our efforts ... I think of it as an overall strategy instead of a Facebook strategy.

In some ways we've been as successful on Twitter as on Facebook ... We have close to 3 million followers on our main Twitter feed and we've been very successful taking advantage of that platform.

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Have you noticed any trends for the way people are coming to your site through Facebook and Twitter? I've seen a big bump in those referrals here at MediaShift, with Facebook becoming the main driver of traffic. Are you seeing that too?

Roberts: It's not our main driver of traffic, but we're seeing a steady increase over the past few years. I can only expect it to continue. I don't have the raw statistics to show that increase, but we still get the vast majority of traffic through our home page, whether it's people who type out the NYTimes.com URL or bookmark it. We still get 50 percent to 60 percent of our traffic on some days through the home page.

And Google search, I assume?

Roberts: Google search continues to be a big component, and we get a lot of referral traffic from sites like Drudge Report, Huffington Post, Daily Beast. Social media probably ranks several notches down after the home page and search engines and some of those referral sites. I totally expect [social media referrals] to increase.

But I see our appeal in social media as much more than page views. It sounds a little cliche, but we develop a relationship with our readers in social media that transcends page views.

Will your social media strategy have to change with the coming pay wall at the Times?

Roberts: I don't know that it changes, but it becomes ever more important. The metered model that we will institute will only benefit with an engaged readership. In a lot of ways that can be enhanced by social media. To me the benefit of social media is not just increasing page views but as a way of developing a more personal connection with your audience. You can talk to them, and they can talk to you....You can't ignore the page view impact, the distribution mechanism that social media does enhance. So from a distribution standpoint and an engagement standpoint, it's very important to us as we go to a metered model.

Roberts describes how he sometimes shocks people by responding to them via Twitter:

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Tell me how you're using social media editorially. I've seen reporters work sources via Twitter or get story ideas that way. How are you using it?

Roberts: We're still experimenting, but a lot of reporters have found individualized ways to use it to develop sources of information and bring people into the reporting process. I can think of one or two reporters in particular who have begun to use Twitter ... in some ways, it's a promotional device because they are directing people to pieces that they're working on. But they don't just throw up a link. In some ways you can see pieces develop before your very eyes.

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Who are the people you are talking about who use Twitter really well at the Times?

Roberts: Well, Brian Stelter is the most obvious one. He certainly uses it in a smart and aggressive way. I'd point to him first as someone who's really learned the value of building a unique audience. In a crass way, you could say he's building it around him, but I really think he's building it around the subject matter. He writes about television and media in general. He has a good following and people go to him because they think they're going to get quality information delivered quickly.

What he's been doing with Twitter is using it for building blocks for blog items and longer stories, both on the web and print. How he's using it is something I could see other reporters picking up on.

Roberts explains how a reporter might use Twitter to develop a blog post, eventually creating a longer story for print in the Times:

roberts1.mp3

With Jen Preston moving on and not being the social media editor, who's in charge of the overall New York Times Facebook page?

Roberts: I'll tell you who will be. It may sound like I'm dodging the subject but I think we will disperse a lot of the Facebook effort to a number of people. The main page ... my intent is -- and we have a step or two to take before we get to this point -- the intent is to get the main page into the hands of the basic news desk, so it becomes a bit more a part of our overall publishing strategy. It's not intended to be a true publishing platform, but it's a way for people to access our material and our site. Our desire is to have some of our news editors involved in deciding what stories ought to get the most prominence and ought to be updated.

Aside from the main news portion of Facebook, when you break down into specific areas such as culture, sports and politics, our goal would be to have the editors in charge of those subject areas manage those pages.

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How do you decide to break out a specific topic into its own Facebook page?

Roberts: That's all part of the experimental nature of our relationship with Facebook. We're still trying to figure out what works best. We put a lot of effort into a couple pages devoted to culture. Jennifer [Preston] really saw these through. One is devoted to movies, the other one to Broadway theater. There are a couple people who are working as producers on the website on those subjects, and we asked them to devote a chunk of their time managing those Facebook pages, to aggressively update them and try to think of ways to get users to interact with them.

I think the jury is still out in how much benefit we get from those efforts. We're still trying to figure out whether it's worth our while. My gut instinct is it's definitely is worth our while and that if we can do that on subjects from politics to sports, we'd like to do more of that.

How did things change with Jen Preston going from social media editor to a reporter? How do you see things changing organizationally?

Roberts: I'm going to make a stab at it, but I'm probably going to answer that question differently in six months or a year from now. I'll go back to those experiments we did in the movies and theater section. An editor, in politics for instance, who works with the reporting staff to stay on top of developments, might be put in charge of managing the New York Times politics Facebook page. The one component that keeps coming up is the manpower issue. When we do things like this we want to do them smartly.

Roberts explains how the Times must be careful in balancing the time needed to manage social media with other duties for staffers:

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You mentioned a manpower issue before. Is that also an issue when it comes to responding and filtering all the Facebook and Twitter responses and comments?

Roberts: Absolutely. I know that other news organizations have committed more people proportionally to this task than we have. Huffington Post comes to mind. I could easily foresee a time when we have more than a handful of people devoted to that at the New York Times. But we put such a premium on the creation of unique content, so we have to be very careful in how we manage those resources.

It can be a real -- I don't want to say 'burden' because it's very much worth the effort -- but it's demanding. There's no question it's demanding.

*****

What do you think about the New York Times' social media strategy? Should it have eliminated the social media editor job? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

news21 small.jpg

Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

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October 19 2010

18:35

Knight Fellows Switch from Sabbaticals to Hands-On Projects

For much of the past 40 years, the idea of a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University was a dream come true for mid-career journalists, most of whom came from major newspapers. The journalists were paid a decent salary, could shape their school year away from work with study and in-depth projects and thinking. And best of all, they could take their learning back to the newsroom and continue where they left off.

But during the fellowship class of 2005-2006, something was amiss. Seven of the fellows saw their newspapers sold, or they were offered buyouts. The jobs they thought they would have upon return had vaporized. That class of fellows was more concerned about the changing state of journalism than their own personal projects. How could they relax and learn when they weren't sure what kind of work, if any, would be there at the end of the program?

Pam Maples was a Knight Fellow that year. She came from senior management at the Dallas Morning News. She's now the innovation director of the Knight Fellowships, which changed course last year to focus on innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership. The Fellowships are now not so much about mid-career journalists; they're about journalists who want to bring change to the industry.

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After her fellowship, Maples went from the Morning News to a post at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and even became vice president of editorial at the startup Newsy in Columbia, Mo., before taking the position at the Knight Fellowships earlier this year. In a wide-ranging phone interview, she told me how she would describe her job as innovation director.

"One of my primary jobs is to work with [fellows] on their projects," she said. "We like to think of it as being kind of like a coach. Part of my job is to help them keep themselves accountable. It's also to watch out for the program. We expect them to produce something tangible during this year. And that can be broadly defined, but part of my job is to help them decide what that's going to be."

Maples said prospective fellows have to pitch ideas to get accepted for a fellowship, and have to prove they have what it takes to make those ideas a reality. But she also admitted the program has had stumbles in making the transition from free-form sabbatical to results-driven projects and startups. The following is an edited version of our conversation with some audio highlights.

Q&A

When they said they were changing the program, did that make sense to you? Do you think they should have made the changes sooner?

Maples: Yeah, one thing that really affected them was not just people in the [fellows] class I was in and what was going on for them in the industry -- but we wanted to talk about it, and not just cry over spilled milk. We wanted to talk about journalism and what was going on. It used to be that fellows were really into disconnecting. We organized some of our things, we were a very entrepreneurial group [when I was a fellow] and we wanted to talk about what was going on and how to navigate it not just as individuals but as fellows. And what could be some of the answers.

The change should have been made sooner. I don't think we missed the opportunity, but it made total sense ... Jim [Bettinger, program director] or Dawn [Garcia, deputy director] would tell you that they wished all this happened faster.

What's your assessment of the first class of fellows with this new direction? What worked and what didn't work?

Maples: The first class was really messy, and I mean that in the best way you can. A lot of things were being figured out as they went along. There was a lot of trial and error. Jim and Dawn were also changing what the staff [of the fellowship program] do. Think of it as trying to manage 20 high-performing reporters. So we learned some things from that first class of fellows. Their feedback was great.

Their feedback was that the year started too slowly. The message they say they got in the beginning was, 'Don't sweat your project so much at the beginning, during the first quarter. Get your feet on the ground, relax a little and enjoy the fellowship experience.' For some of them who wanted their project to become their livelihood, by the spring they were saying, 'Man I wish I had started harder earlier.' So we changed the pace of the beginning of the year.

Maples explains how some fellows are taking classes with the design school at Stanford, and they're even running a bootcamp in collaboration with the school:

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How much of a role does technology now play in the work and study of fellows in the program?

Maples: We look at innovation broadly, so it doesn't mean it's just technology. I sensed in the spring that there were fellows who were trying to create technology-based initiatives. Some of the other fellows were feeling like, 'Oh that's what I have to do!' You can get infected with that out here [in Silicon Valley]. 'I got to do a startup!' I had a conversation with a fellow who wanted a risk-free startup. She didn't say that, but I said, 'You need to ask yourself if this is the life for you, and it's OK if it's not.'

So we've tried to be clear with folks about that. If you come here with a concept and want that to be your future livelihood, it's not impossible, but it would be unusual to take a very broad concept to a funded startup in nine months. We've tried to be clear about what you can expect while also walking a line to not dampen [their enthusiasm]. We had some folks, and that's what they were trying to do, and it was getting late in the year and they were trying to find money. We've been clear that we're not a seed organization. Well really we are, we invest in this year, we pay for this year, but we're not a financing organization or an angel [investor].

So maybe it makes sense to have a seminar on getting funding?

Maples: One of our roles is to help them get the tools and knowledge they need to pursue their project. We're running a little survey with them. They have so much initiative. There are some things they are going to teach each other. There will be a special set of seminars. Some of the fellows have volunteered to teach other fellows things they know. For things they don't know, I'm putting together seminars on things like 'How to Write a Business Plan,' 'How to Make a Pitch' and have some investors there -- not to put money down but to listen to pitches and give critiques.

How have you changed the requirements for Knight Fellowships? It used to be for mid-career journalists but that's changed. How many people are doing it and going back to organizations and how many aren't?

Maples: We don't have the same sort of requirements any more. One of the things we changed was who we consider an applicant and how we define it. In last year's class of fellows, we had more U.S. fellows not going back to organizations than people who were. We don't have language about 'mid-career' journalists in our literature anymore. Our average age is close to what it was, but the span is wider. We have people in their late 20s this year, and people in their late 50s -- it's a broader mix.

People have to pitch their idea in either entrepreneurship, leadership or innovation -- or in all three of those. Somebody can have a fabulous idea but if you don't see any sign that they've ever been entrepreneurial or pushed an envelope, then we think about that. What's our sense of whether this person could effectively pursue this? We found that a few last year completely changed their projects, and the world changes so fast now.

When you're accepting more freelancers, do you also accept people doing journalism on a blog rather than with a traditional media outlet?

Maples: Absolutely. Absolutely. We have a woman this year, Wendy Norris, who is editor and publisher of WesternCitizen.com, an independent investigative news network of journalists and citizens who participate in crowdsourcing. She started her life as a social worker and came into journalism. It used to be that you had your organization's support, and they promised to give you a leave and you promised to go back. What we say now, because some organizations won't promise anymore, is that if you do promise to go back, then you have to keep that promise.

We have a guy this year, Dan Archer, who's a comics journalist. You wouldn't have seen that in the Knight program three or four years ago. He's doing some very interesting work and thinking about telling stories visually.

Maples talks about a fellow in Ecuador who was working on making newspaper opinion pieces more interactive, and a fellow in Nepal who was helping people in community radio share content:

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How do you define success with projects -- especially after you changed the way projects are done?

Maples: We're still talking about the ways to define success and figuring that out. We looked at this as a program that helped one journalist at a time, in the old days. And now we look at it as a program that tries to help journalism through these people. In some respect, some of the successes will be projects that actually happen -- whether it's about technology or not. We probably won't know the impact [of many projects] for a few years. If some web initiatives actually launch and become companies or non-profits, that's a concrete sign of success. For some things, the project is less important than what the person takes away, but that's hard to measure.

There was one former fellow, Teru Kuwayama, who ended up getting funding through a Knight News Challenge grant. Do you think there will be more of that kind of synergy between those programs?

Maples: We're talking about that. But Teru did that on his own. They don't hold a slot for a Knight Fellow and we didn't ask them for that. We are in an interesting spot because we have our own endowment, we don't get our money from that part of Knight. But we're in communication with them.

How much input did they have in the change you made?

Maples: They didn't. They're very happy with it and they talked about that, but Jim and Dawn and the board did this on their own. We technically don't answer to them [because of our endowment]. The Knight Foundation gave this money to Stanford and it's a separate endowment. We keep them posted on what we're doing, and we've been talking about how we can take advantage of the expertise they have [at Knight].

Maples talks about how Knight Fellows work with the computer science school and business school at Stanford:

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*****

What do you think about the new direction by the Knight Fellowship program at Stanford? Have you taken the program before, and what was your experience? How do you think it could be improved? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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October 07 2010

19:13

Examiner.com Execs Push for Quality, Refute 'Content Farm' Tag

Journalists love to categorize, generalize and put everything into easily digestible chunks of information. But in our quest to explain something in simple terms, we also can oversimplify things. That may have been the case with MediaShift's recent series, Beyond Content Farms, where we included Examiner.com in no less than three stories. Examiner.com does create massive amounts of content, with more than 3,000 new stories per day written by more than 55,000 "Examiners," or paid local contributors.

And while Examiner.com was fine with getting the coverage on MediaShift, they don't like being cast in the same light as Demand Media and Associated Content. I recently met with Rick Blair, CEO of Clarity Digital Group (which runs Examiner.com for billionaire Philip Anschutz) and Leonard Brody, president of Clarity Digital and former co-founder of NowPublic (bought by Clarity last year). They were clearly uncomfortable with the "content farm" tag for Examiner.com and tried to emphasize the vetting process for hiring Examiners, their training program, and community policing of their work.

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"There's a philosophical difference between what we do and what Demand or Associated Content would do," Brody said. "Sometimes people will compare us because we have a volume of producing content so they think that we must fall into the 'content farm' bucket. But the philosophical difference is very simple: We don't start from the basis of content. We start from the basis of the Examiner. The Examiners are our core currency, that we build everything around -- our toolsets, the Examiner workflow -- we don't put the value on the content at the start. We're much more on the qualitative side, and have much more of a local focus and bent."

Yet, similarities to Demand Media do exist. Demand does pay for content that will show up in searches, and Examiner.com pays contributors based on a "black box" calculation that includes page views and traffic to the story. Rick Blair even touted a recent ad campaign on Examiner.com that was focused on helping boost the SEO (search engine optimization) for an advertiser because of the stories written by Examiners. Plus, there's the staggering numbers in content creation that all these sites produce. To wit:

> 55,000 Examiners in more than 200 cities in the U.S. and Canada, with a goal of getting more than 200,000 Examiners in two years.

> More than 3,000 stories posted per day, with an archive of 1.5 million stories.

> 20.8 million unique visitors to Examiner.com sites in July 2010, with 60.1 million page views served, according to Omniture figures cited by Clarity Digital.

These are impressive numbers for an operation that really only hit the ground running two years ago. Blair told me they are on the road to profitability, and have 100 staffers, remaining largely separate from the Examiner newspapers that Anschutz owns in San Francisco and Washington, DC. The following is an edited transcript of my recent interview with Blair and Brody, including some Flipcam video excerpts.

Q&A

Tell me how the integration with NowPublic has gone at Examiner.com?

Rick Blair: We purchased NowPublic about this time last year, and we've used their platform to launch our Drupal 7 platform, or Examiner 2.0, which is the largest consumer-facing Drupal platform in the United States. Everything's gone quite well. We have the normal slip-ups that you have with any technology platform where you're serving over 20 million readers a month, and 60 million page views a month. We just released a new publishing tool for our writers, and within a week, 75% of them are working with it and are happy with it.

Len, tell me how things have changed for you going from NowPublic to the world of the Examiners and Clarity Digital?

Leonard Brody: Well, now I have Rick yelling at me a lot instead of my board. [laughs] The big change for us was the paradigm in which we stored it, it was pure user-generated content. NowPublic was a free-for-all. You could sign up and contribute, and as long as you weren't doing anything illegal, your stuff was posted and the community sorted it out. The Examiner model is much more sophisticated... No one was doing pro-am very well, and the Examiner said, 'The time is right for someone to do a true pro-am model.' And they've owned that space very well from the way they heavily vet the people who apply to be an Examiner to writing samples to criminal checks (which is why Rick and I are not Examiners...). [Rick laughs]

The ecosystem of content has changed for us. We've filled out the whole picture, with NowPublic as pure UGC [user-generated content] with an unadulterated flow. That's been the big difference. Qualitatively you see a big step up in that respect.

Rick, what did you feel like you got out of NowPublic, outside of Len [Brody] himself?

Blair: Well, we looked at NowPublic for three things primarily. The management team was one of them, and Len's been a visionary and leader there... We were growing so fast at Examiner.com, that the wheels were coming off our platform. We needed an open source solution, and we found that with NowPublic. The third thing is that NowPublic had nearly 200,000 contributors, and we utilize NowPublic as a farm team for our Examiners, for the paid writers on Examiner.com.

Most of our Examiners come from referrals from other Examiners. There's some exponential math there that I can't do.

So there's a bit of an Amway angle to it?

Blair: A bit. We were looking at multi-level marketing when were first discussing the concept back in 2008 when we had six cities and 100 Examiners.

So if you referred someone who brought in a lot of traffic, you would get some kind of bonus for that?

Blair: We looked at and quite frankly, it was a bit complicated to explain to people, so we came up with a simpler way to do that, and a more successful way. Because now we have 55,000 Examiners in about two years' time, and we've grown from a million unique visitors to 20 million unique visitors a month. We produce about 3,000 stories a day and have an archive of 1.5 million stories.

The route we took to that was a good one. There are some multi-level marketing aspects to it because we've sent our Examiners to recruit other Examiners. What we find that is those Examiners find the best Examiners.

And if they can recruit for you, then they're doing your job for you?

Blair: It's one of the most expensive ways to recruit people, but over time, it's where we get the best people.

Blair explains how the editorial oversight and workflow operates at Examiner.com, including rigorous vetting up front, and allowing the community to fact-check:

Tell me more about your training program for Examiners.

Blair: We have 40 courses at "Examiner University" [an online set of tutorials for writers], and we teach them how to write headlines, how to tag stories, how to socially distribute their content. We also discuss how to use the AP Style Book, and make sure they don't creep over the line. We don't cover crime or politics, particularly, and we don't endorse politicians. Most of what we do is provide useful information for our passionate local insiders in the community.

How does it differ from what Demand Media does?

Blair: Demand Media, and even Associated Content, what they'll do is select a certain area, and even write the headline occasionally. They'll then submit that to their freelancers, have them write it and then they pay them a fee for that. We cover local, and in order to do that accurately, we have to cover areas that aren't as easily monetized as other stories. So we're not going to have 50 stories on gadgets in San Francisco. We have to cover the bar and restaurant scene as well. We're not about using an algorithm and telling people to write more about that topic.

Rick Blair explains how writers are compensated, but can't give all details because the exact system is a secret. Len Brody says they tell writers not to quit their day jobs:

So who do you see as competition? Is it hyper-local sites, local TV or newspapers, or alternative weeklies?

Brody: There are two answers to that question. Your competitors are the people competing for your revenue dollars. In that sense, everyone in the local broadcast area would be somewhat in that same pool. But in the content aspect, we are somewhat unique. When we started the company, we figured we would find lots of people in communities who were like-minded and passionate about similar things. But really there wasn't. So the model here was different, it was to create a reflection and recreation of America's town squares, and let people collect and discuss things they are passionate about -- not only in their communities, but geo-topically across other communities across the U.S.

Blair: In terms of scaling the business, we're a little different than others as well. We put a fence around North America, and said we're going to publish in 233 cities in the United States, 5 cities in Canada, and do two national editions -- one for the U.S. and one for Canada. And then we're going to get more hyper-local and grow that organically from local on up. In Los Angeles, for example, we have more than 2,000 Examiners today, but there's 800 neighborhoods, so we know we have a long way to go to be hyper-local, but we have a shorter trip than most.

We went through a local and hyper-local online boom before, with CitySearch and Microsoft Sidewalk and so many others, many of whom failed. Now we have Examiner.com and Patch and some others coming in. What do you think is different now?

Blair: Well, I was part of the Digital City team at AOL, and at that time, we weren't looking for individual contributors, we were looking to the local media. And it was online but not really the Internet, it was 1994, 1995. The tools didn't exist to have individual contributors such as Examiners. The tools for measurement of audience and advertisers and couponing online did not exist in 1995. We made our meal ticket at Digital City in classifieds. Today you'll see that someone else has capitalized on classifieds. I think he lives nearby. [A reference to Craig Newmark and Craigslist, based in San Francisco.]

We're focused on local sponsorships for as low as $29 a month. When I say sponsor, they can have their ad adjacent to relevant content. It's in a safe environment because we vetted all these people. We don't allow our Examiners to shill for advertising, and there's no direct compensation to them for [ad sales next to their content]. For distributing content over social media, we've created a product called Examiner Connect, which lets us combine social media content, SEO and paid Internet advertising to service the big brands.

Rick Blair explains how Examiner.com did a big campaign for Iams pet food about pet adoptions and helped them with SEO, and discusses how they separate Examiners from the advertising. Plus he describes the sales process for selling local ads:

Does Clarity Digital Group owner Philip Anschutz have input into what you're doing? How autonomous are you in what you do?

Blair: We're very autonomous. We get that question quite often because of the name that we use, Examiner.com, which is the same name as the Examiner newspapers. Phil has never asked us to slant our stories in any way, and we would never ask the Examiners to do that. He's a funder and a builder and he gives us business guidance. On our larger businesses decisions, since he's our sole investor, he has a lot of input. We meet with him directly about once a week. There's a large team, which in a public company might be called a board of advisors, and we have a group of Anschutz employees that are internal and work with his companies, and they really do help us.

What about the conflicts of interest for writers? If they don't have someone editing it, it might be easy to write something about a local business where you know the owner of the business. Seems like a lot of possible conflicts would come up.

Blair: We don't allow the Examiners to shill for folks. If we find out about it, then it's cause to take down the story, and if it continues to happen, we would cease our relationship with that Examiner. We do have a staff of about 100 employees, and most of them are on the content and recruiting side. And we have a team of five people who sit on top of the feeds. If they find something unusual, they'll delete them.

Brody: Since the early days of NowPublic, we found that statistically speaking, the level of errors and conflicts between traditional and non-traditional media is probably about the same. The difference is that in non-traditional media the transparency is so great... it's like the eBay phenomenon. If you care about your credibility in that community, you'll be very careful to do things that are not off-side. The community is very quick to police, and is very quick to ensure that people really are who they say they are. You get a faster self-policing there than you would in traditional media which is often a one-way broadcast.

Blair talks about future plans to expand to more than 200,000 Examiners in the next two years, plus adding mobile apps for Examiners so they can report on breaking news happening in their area:

*****

What do you think of the Examiner.com local model? Is compensation fair for the Examiners, and what about the quality of content? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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August 06 2010

17:21

Facebook Launches Media Page But Resists Revenue Sharing

Facebook is the alpha dog of social networks, and it's also becoming a top dog when it comes to referring traffic to news sites. That became clear in February when Hitwise found that Facebook was referring more traffic to news and media sites than Google News. But for a long time, Facebook only had intermittent communication with media companies about how they used the social network.

That all changed last month when Facebook launched its new Facebook + Media page, along with a media partnership team headed by Justin Osofsky that's on a "listening tour" of media companies. The goal is to hear what tools publishers want developed by Facebook, and build a stronger relationship with them. So far, tools like the omnipresent "Like" button, the activity box listing most "Liked" stories on sites, and Facebook Connect have created a true symbiotic relationship: Publishers get traffic, and Facebook gets high visibility and more members.

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"The nature of our [media] partnerships is mainly as a platform company," Osofsky told me in a recent phone interview. "The Facebook platform gives media companies and other organizations the ability to build social experiences by bringing in people's friends, what they care about and want to recommend. Since we launched social plug-ins back in April, more than 350,000 sites have implemented it, and that's the primary way we work with media companies."

Facebook also did extensive research and issued best practices for media organizations, including best placement for the Like button, what story types did best on Pages, and how to use Facebook Insights, their version of Google Analytics for Facebook Pages.

But one thing that's off the table is sharing revenues with media properties from the ads Facebook serves onto their popular fan pages. For instance, CNN's Facebook Page has more than 1 million fans, but the ads that run on that page only bring in revenues for Facebook. Osofsky says Facebook is happy to drive traffic to publishers but hasn't considered sharing revenues with them.

The following is an edited transcript of my interview with Osofsky, where he discussed how Facebook worked with the New York Times on a World Cup visualization, and how they are considering a page on what stories have been "Liked" the most Facebook-wide.

Q&A

Tell me how you got involved in doing media partnerships at Facebook.

Justin Osofsky: We recently formed a team at Facebook to focus on media companies. We're excited to begin a dialogue on how best we can deliver value. Media companies are great at creating content and delivering it to the right people at the right time. We're excited to think about how those things can have a social dimension. We formed this team a couple months ago, and I'm leading the team.

Why you? What's your interest in working with the media?

Osofsky: I've worked at Facebook for a little over two years in various roles, most recently I led product marketing for Facebook Connect for the Facebook platform and led our platform partnerships. I'm excited about the opportunity to partner with media companies, because there are so many interesting things going on in the industry, and there's also this desire to share content with friends and recommend it to friends. The opportunity to work with media companies to create innovative experiences was one that was personally exciting to me.

Osofsky explains that partnerships with media companies don't involve money, but simply Facebook providing tools for them:

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What do you hear from the media companies that they would like to see from Facebook?

Osofsky: Media companies are excited to work with us for a few reasons. First, they want Facebook to drive more referral traffic to their sites. And they're interested in using our tools, both the social plug-ins and also pages on Facebook to help drive traffic. The average Facebook user has 130 friends, so when a Facebook user shares a piece of content from a media company site, on average 130 people see it. So Facebook can be a meaningful referrer of traffic.

Also, media companies can make the experience on their site more customized and engaging for each user. For instance, they can surface friends' activity and recommendations on the site itself. A great example of that is CNN. On the home page I can see what articles my friends have recommended and shared with others. There are other examples of that -- CNN, ABC News, the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe -- they all use the activity panel to show what friends have done.

But I think engagement goes beyond plug-ins. For instance the New York Times recently did a very interesting visualization. They took the public status updates from Facebook users during the World Cup, and created a visualization showing which soccer players were most popular [and mentioned most on Facebook] during specific days during the World Cup.

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Osofsky: I thought that was a good way to show how people are expressing themselves on Facebook, and create an engaging, immersive experience on the New York Times.

Were you able to work with the Times on that project?

Osofsky: Yes, the Times used our search API to create the visualization and our team helped them in the process.

So your team will help in an informal role for people like at the Times?

Osofsky: Yeah, the purpose of our team is to work with all sorts of media companies to create engaging experiences. We work with them to develop innovative new ideas and implement our platform tools.

Is there a tool that publishers have asked for from Facebook that you don't offer yet?

Osofsky: We're in an active dialogue, we're on a listening tour, and asking publishers, 'What can we do to meet your needs?' Publishers are constantly giving us feedback on how we can do things better, from improving our Insights product to deliver better stats to them to potential plug-ins we could create. What my team does is bring that back to the product team to meet their needs.

If publishers create a Facebook Page that gets hundreds of thousands or even millions of fans, would it be possible for them to serve their own ads onto that Page or do a revenue split with Facebook for the ads that Facebook serves up?

Osofsky: Within a page, there are monetization opportunities. We don't work with publishers directly around that, there is no revenue share. We encourage publishers to create popular pages which can then drive traffic back to their sites, where they are obviously good at monetizing them.

But if they create a page that has interactions and engagement, shouldn't they deserve some of the ad revenues from that page or serve their own ads? I know it's not something you currently do or offer, but perhaps it's something publishers might want down the line?

Osofsky: We're not currently looking into that model. The value to the publishers out of the fans they acquire is to create a meaningful long-term distribution channel. So when I've liked a page, the publisher can reach me as frequently as they want to reach me with engaging content, and send that traffic back to their site to monetize it there. That's the core value that our pages provide.

Osofsky explains why he attended a recent Hacks and Hackers meetup in San Francisco:

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Did the media folks you met feel like they had had problems getting through to people at Facebook in the past?

Osofsky: We do our best to communicate well with developers through our development site and other communication channels. Like any platform, we can always do better. Publishers and media companies appreciate the focus on the media industry and their needs.

I like the way you let people track activity on their sites and you offer plug-ins for publishers to put on their site to rank their own stories that get "Liked" the most, etc. Have you considered doing a page on Facebook that ranked all the stories on all of Facebook that are being shared or "Liked" the most?

Osofsky: That's actually a question that's been raised by a number of companies and organizations we've talked to. I'm currently providing that feedback to the product team to see where that fits into what we're trying to accomplish. Generally, the most effective way to communicate to a Facebook audience is for an individual to communicate with their friends, rather than for us to share information that's occurring across the system as a whole. It's the most social dimension. If we're friends and you see something I shared, it's actually a really cool experience, and that's been our product to date. But I'm providing feedback to the product team based on conversations we're having.

I think it is interesting to understand at a network level what's going on. Part of what we do are these best practices, where we pull out some similarities and commonalities about what works well on Facebook for media organizations. We're open to hearing ideas like this and then we can figure out how well they integrate into our product direction.

In your research, did you find that there are problems with cluttering up the page with Like buttons? Is there a point where you overwhelm someone with too many of those kinds of buttons on a page?

Osofsky: We didn't find that there would be too much clutter with a Like button on a page, but we did find that the way people implement a Like button does have a real effect on driving traffic. We found that if you had a Like button with thumbnails of your friend, and if you let people comment when they are Liking something, and show it next to visually appealing content -- those things combined can increase the use of the Like button by three to five times. Implementation definitely matters with the Like button.

Publishers often grapple with the question of how often to post to their page on Facebook. Have you found any best practices around posting frequency?

Osofsky: We didn't look specifically at the frequency of posts. What we looked at was the nature of the content in the post. Was it a question? A headline? A call to action, such as 'like this article' or 'comment below.' The time of day it was posted. We did see significant differences when it comes to passionate debate or emotional and evocative or interesting breaking sports news like the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup. Those tended to have two to three times more engagement. And status updates with calls to action also had more engagement.

We didn't look specifically at the frequency issue, but I think that probably depends site to site. There are some forms of content where more frequent updates are something people are interested in. For instance, I follow the Boston Globe's coverage of sports, and if they sent me the Boston Red Sox score every night just as the game was ending that would be great and useful to know for me. But on the other hand there are things that are lengthy discussions, and at that pace, a high frequency of postings wouldn't be as effective.

What's great about our Insights tool is that it gives you the ability to understand how users are interacting with it. You can understand which posts are most engaging, and also if you're posting too much, users have the ability to hide all posts from a publisher -- which is a good leading indicator to how people are reacting to your frequency of posts.

So you can see how many people are hiding your updates?

Osofsky: Yes, you can see a stat [to find out] after making a post if people are hiding future posts from you. On the flip side, you can see the engagement after each post, how many Likes you got or comments, which can be positively reinforcing.

Osofsky talks about future plans for the Facebook + Media page:

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*****

What do you think about the new Facebook + Media page? How has Facebook helped drive traffic to your site? Do you think they should share ad revenues with page publishers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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July 28 2010

19:02

Gaming + Mobile + Social = 'Conspiracy for Good' from Tim Kring

Tim Kring, a long-time television writer and producer, is best known as the creator of the NBC show "Heroes." But he's rapidly expanding his media universe -- last week at Comic-Con he launched a new book project, "Shift," which will debut in August from Crown Books.

He has also created a new transmedia project called "Conspiracy For Good" (CFG), which describes itself as "a movie where YOU can be the hero and impact the outcome of the story for the better." Participants travel through a blurred narrative that mixes media, interactive storytelling and a learn-as-we-go collective approach to fight a greedy corporation and benefit good organizations.

CFG is being partially supported by Nokia and its Ovi mobile platform. Plus, the fictional story includes chances for players to do real good in the world. For instance, there is a collaboration with the Pearson Foundation and Room to Read, where each time an online visitor reads a book to a child, the corresponding book will be donated to five libraries set up in Zambia. Nokia and Room to Read will also fund a year of education for 50 girls in Zambia.

The first live meeting of participants in "Conspiracy For Good" occurred on July 17 in London. I connected with Kring to explore this new genre he calls "social benefit storytelling," and what its implications are for entertainment and social good.

Q&A

What is "Conspiracy For Good" (CFG) and how can people participate or experience it?

Tim Kring: The "Conspiracy For Good" is a global movement for change driven by a story, which the audience becomes a part of and every participant has the ability to impact the outcome of this story. The story will be played out on websites, mobile devices, at live meet-up events in London, and ultimately in a village in eastern Zambia where CFG will be responsible for building a library, stocking it with books and providing 50 scholarships for school girls.

This U.K.-based project of "Conspiracy For Good" is the pilot for game-changing entertainment -- narrative mythology that blurs the lines between fiction and reality, compelling the audience to become a part of the story with real world outcomes.

To get into the "Conspiracy For Good" and join in the story, simply go to the web page and watch the featured video. A recap will point you to the current activities and detail how you can get involved. And if you're in the London area, register online at the site and join us on the streets.

Anyone can follow along -- comment, contribute, share, decipher, solve, connect and collaborate at the website. The site is the global hub for all things CFG: Watch videos, follow progress and events on the blog, and make an impact and interact with the characters of the story through the main websites.

"Conspiracy For Good" is called "a social benefit experience." What does this mean and how can an entertaining story generate social benefits?


Kring: The "Conspiracy For Good" creates a new genre of entertainment which combines rich narrative, philanthropy and commerce. We call this genre "social benefit storytelling." The "Conspiracy For Good" aims to become a movement. Individuals are now being "tapped on the shoulder" and asked to join this movement to continue to make the work of the "Conspiracy For Good" a reality with global impact. By participating, members of CFG have the opportunity to affect real word change from the environment to education to the economy by applying their unique abilities, talents, networks and passion as an active part of the story.

The entire gameplay centers around causes, and direct action...on the streets in London, where participants will be involved in book drives, toy drives, cleaning the Thames, etc. By creating a secret society for good, and providing a forum for people to connect with one another, the hope is that there will be a tremendous amount of user-generated interest in new and worthy causes.

"Conspiracy For Good" says it integrates "interactive theater, mobile and alternate reality gaming (ARG), music and physical participation." Is there one component that excites you most? And will this multi-screen experience include movie theaters or television?

Kring: I am very intrigued by the mobile aspect. It has just exploded over the last few years as smartphones are reaching a wider demographic. I love the idea that a mobile phone can be both a content consumption device and a content creation device. In other words, an audience can use their mobile phone to receive story and create video and text and geo-tagging themselves. For a storyteller, this really piques my interest.

Tim Kring Headshot_300dpi June 2010.jpg

"Heroes" was a fictional story about people trying to save the world. "Conspiracy For Good" seems to be a real-life extension of this narrative. What elements and lessons from "Heroes" were applied to the development of "Conspiracy For Good"?

Kring: You are right that I came up with this idea when I saw how connected and committed the "Heroes" audience was to the underlying core message behind "Heroes" -- interconnectivity and global consciousness. So, I thought, wouldn't it be great to not just talk about "saving the world" in fiction, but to attempt to do it in the real world. In many ways this is the logical extension of what was known as the "360 Platform" that NBC.com and "Heroes" built around the show. The attempt there was to build a broad, connected universe around the show that created multiple extensions of the story that could cross all platforms.

We learned a tremendous amount doing this. One of the key things was just how motivated the audience can be to create content on its own. So in many ways, CFG takes that idea and makes it the ultimate goal -- to create a self-sustaining movement for good that ends up having real-world implications and direct action.

You just announced that Room to Read and the Pearson Foundation will be beneficiaries of the "Conspiracy For Good" experience. Will there be additional organizations and how can participants support them?

Kring: Other organizations are invited to include their missions in the "Conspiracy For Good," and participants are welcome to join those missions, too. The meeting place for missions and people is conspiracyforgood.com.


The experience includes live meet-ups in London. How will participants meeting other participants evolve the story? Will there be meet-ups in other cities?

Kring: London is the first of what we hope will be many cities around the world. When participants come together they will follow a clue trail of video drops that move the story forward. They will have to work together in teams to solve various clues in order to advance the story. They will find key props and sets and locations for the story, interacting with these and using their collective efforts to confront our bad guys and have justice prevail for our protagonist. Along the way they will interact with actors in character, creating a sense of a truly pervasive experience.

Here's a video giving the back story on "Conspiracy for Good":

Blackwell Briggs is a fictional greedy corporation in the energy industry that distributes false information. Is it inspired by any real-life company or event?

Kring: We've all become very familiar with corporate greed of all stripes. Blackwell Briggs is an attempt to draw from that sense of familiarity without necessarily conjuring up any one corporation in particular. The corporation seems to be involved in almost everything controversial. So, in many ways, they are a "catch all" for corporate greed. By showcasing a fictional, evil corporation, we also celebrate, by contrast, the admirable, real world companies that really do exist in the marketplace today.

What does success look like for "Conspiracy For Good"?

Kring: Teams in five different countries have worked together to bring an idea to life, to do something that has never been done before. Designed as a proof of concept pilot that integrates narrative, cross-platform participation and philanthropy, the measure of success is that it has been built and deployed and proves viable on a story level, a participation and community level, providing a foundation for greater expansion.

*****

Do you plan to join the Conspiracy For Good and contribute to the movement? Share your thoughts about this transmedia project in the comments below.

Nick Mendoza is the director of digital communications at Zeno Group. He advises consumer, entertainment and web companies on digital and social media engagement. He dreamstreams and is the film correspondent for MediaShift. Follow him on Twitter @NickMendoza.

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July 15 2010

18:21

Kachingle Hopes 'Social Payments' Can Help Fund Content

If advertising alone isn't going to support all the online journalism and content sites, and pay walls will just turn readers away, perhaps there's another solution, a third way: Social payments. More than just simple donations, social payment systems such as Kachingle and Flattr simplify giving money to sites you visit. Both services set up a monthly payment system, with a set amount each month, and the more sites you like, the more ways your payment is split.

While Flattr is still in a closed invite-only beta test, Kachingle launched in February and works a bit differently. Here's the basic run down for Kachingling (yes, it's also a verb):

1. Sign up at the site to pay $5 per month through a credit card or PayPal. No more, no less.

2. Go to sites that have Kachingle enabled and become a Kachingler for them by clicking on their Kachingle medallion. Big Kachingle sites include the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colo. and Carta.info in Germany.

3. Kachingle will pay out your money to the sites each month based on which ones you visit the most. They begin making a payment when the site gets at least $3.35.

4. Kachingle takes about 7% of your $5, PayPal takes 8%, and the sites get 85%.

So far, there are less than 300 sites that take Kachingle payments, but there's been a huge uptake in Germany. Ulrike Langer, who runs the German new media blog Medial Digital, told me that she was impressed by the new social payment services.

"I think it's a great opportunity for bloggers like me who would never make that much in advertising," she told me. "I realize that from the tiny amount of money I get from Google AdSense. As soon as I heard about Kachingle, I checked it out. The concept appealed to me because regular users of my site, who read the feed and come back regularly, would have a way to say 'thank you' that's more than just leaving a comment or clicking the 'Like' button for Facebook."

So far, Langer's best month of income from social payments was 40 Euros from Flattr, and about $15 to $20 on Kachingle. That's not exactly going to pay the rent, but she's still impressed to get that much as these services are in their infancy.

I got the chance to talk in-depth to Kachingle founder Cynthia Typaldos, who told me why she started the service, what the challenges are to get publishers on board, and how it's often more about creating a bond for users and sites rather than being all about money. The following is an edited transcript of our talk, with some video clips shot with my Flip cam.

Q&A

Tell me about social payments, explain to me what they are, and also tell me about your own background.

Cynthia Typaldos: My background is all high-tech. I have a degree in computer science, an MBA at MIT, and I've worked at a number of technology companies, including Sun Microsystems. I did my first startup called GolfWeb in 1995. I'm not a golfer, by the way, but it was a great place to learn about the social aspect of the Internet, because most of golf is about being social. Then I did another startup called Real Communities, which was an earlier form of Ning, but was too early. So this is my third startup.

As far as social payments, it's the name that's gelling now around people voluntarily paying for free content online. It sounds crazy, in a way, because you wonder why people would pay for free stuff. But we think it's a new movement that will be successful because people want to support great digital content and services they love, to make sure they'll be around. On Kachingle, they get credit for that and build a persona around what they're consuming and supporting.

What was your motivation for starting Kachingle?

Typaldos: I got the idea a few years ago. What happened was that my best friend got brain cancer -- it's a sad story. Her English wasn't very good and so she asked me to do brain cancer research on the Internet. So I did, I went around and got all this information, and at the end of the month I gave it to her. Afterwards I wanted to give $100 to all the sites that helped me out in my search, but it was all a blur. I couldn't remember all the sites, and didn't know how often I'd been there. It wasn't about a contribution to cure brain cancer, it was a contribution to support great information and show that I valued it.

How have you funded it?

Typaldos: [laughs] Believe it or not, I don't advise people to do this, but I sold my house and used the proceeds so I could work on this full-time and fund web hosting and things like that. I've also brought in some partners who have put in some money, and we have some angel funding.

How has your growth been so far? How many sites are using it and how many users do you have?

Typaldos: That's a good question. We have almost 300 sites ... and we have individual blogs. What's important is that we're getting the idea of social payments out there. The main thing that's important is how many times our medallion is served up. The medallion is our widget that runs on publishers' sites. And those views have peaked at more than 1 million medallion views per day.

Typaldos explains how they are trying to create a new social norm, and will be launching new Twitter and Facebook apps:

I'm curious what the excuse is from larger newspaper websites who won't use your service. What is their excuse? It seems like a simple enough thing to try.

Typaldos: What it takes is there needs to be a person at the company who is forward-thinking, is willing to experiment, and has the authority and power to implement the medallion on their website. It only takes like five minutes. There aren't any integration issues. When you are talking about pay walls, those systems take time to implement. [To get Kachingle on a site] takes a champion and it takes a champion with clout.

Tell me how it works. Does a publisher's site have to have PayPal to make it work? Can they take credit card payments?

Typaldos: It's really very simple. A publisher pulls the medallion from our site, and posts our medallion on their site -- and they could even have multiple medallions for various parts of the site. Each medallion can have its own PayPal account. So they could have the money go to the newspaper's finances or it could even go to one journalist. It's their choice. Yes, it does go into PayPal, so they need an account to retrieve it.

What's your cut in the equation and what's the cost with PayPal?

Typaldos: This is an interesting question. We wanted to make it incredibly simple. We manage all the financial transactions through PayPal. So we can tell people using our system that 85 percent of the money they put in will go to the publishers' hands. We manage all the transaction fees. We went to PayPal and did a deal with them for the pay-in when people buy the $5 subscription, and we told them we had to have a better price, and we did a deal on the pay-out too. We got those fees down to 15 percent, ours is about 7 percent and theirs is 8 percent. We got them down from 11 percent but think it should be even lower.

We're really happy with PayPal because they were willing to do this deal with us even though we're just a small startup. The reason they did the deal is that they really believe this will be a very big market, and they want to be part of that market. They improved their existing products for us, and they'll be coming out with new products to make it even better.

It seems like a perfect fit between what you do and what non-profit news sites might want.

Typaldos: We do think there are lots of great non-profits in the journalism field that don't have a regular source of revenues. So we're really pleased we have signed up a bunch of non-profits, including the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Center for Public Integrity, and many more. We're excited about that, but we have plenty of good blog sites doing great journalism as well. It's really up to the users to decide what to reward and what the user values.

Typaldos talks about how Kachingle is trying to build up the user base by signing up more publishers:

How did you come up with $5 per month, and why are you so strict about people putting in no less and no more than that?

Typaldos: It's a really interesting question. Early adopters and bloggers love lots of choices, but our target audience is ordinary people and they don't like a lot of choices. I don't know if you've read The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, but it's one of my favorite books. He talks about how you go into a store and there are 25 types of peanut butter, and it doesn't make your life any easier. We want to send a signal to users -- they don't know how much to spend when they first sign up, they don't know what their friends are doing.

It's like tipping. If you didn't know the standard 15 percent to pay for tips, each time you went out to eat, it would be a stressful experience. We wanted it to be $5, no thinking, to reduce the barrier for getting people to sign up. We're also saying that $5 is enough, these are micropayments, and we're not expecting people to be putting in $100 or even $30. Over time, we will start sending some signals saying that their friends are giving $10 a month, and would they like to give more. But without social signals people don't really know what to choose ... Eventually we'd like to bring people up to $10 to $12 on average per month.

What's been your biggest compliment from people and your biggest complaint?

Typaldos: The compliments largely come from the more than 300 sites who have got more money -- but it's not always about money, it's often more about building a stronger bond with users. We even had users write to us saying, 'please I'd like to Kachingle a certain site but they don't have the medallion -- can you make them do it?' We're trying to figure out how to make that happen. The biggest compliment is from the sites and users saying they want to connect, and connect in a monetary way.

As far as the biggest complaint, the biggest difficulty, is in Germany -- we're big in Germany and the U.S. -- where they require a credit card just to use PayPal for a subscription, even if the credit card isn't being used. And credit cards aren't big in Germany so it's an issue for us. We're working with PayPal to fix that. It's been our biggest issue.

One other compliment we get is on being totally financially transparent. As a user, you can see exactly where your money goes. You can track every penny. I felt that this was incredibly important because users really want to know where their money is going. I call it 'crowdsource auditing.'

Typaldos tries to explain why Germany is such a popular place for Kachingle:

How do you differ from the online tipping services?

Typaldos: One of those companies, TipJoy, went out of business. A lot of these companies have way too many mental transaction costs. We're not a tipping system. A tipping system requires you to figure out how much to pay each time. For us, you just start at Kachingle and pay $5 a month, and choose the sites you want to pay once, and we do all the work in the background -- figuring out which sites you went to most, and splitting the money that way. It's a simple, fair algorithm. Most systems before required people to take action each time.

There's a new company in the space, Flattr, and a new French company too called Rue89, so soon there will be three companies. The more, the better, because we are trying to change social norms. There's dramatic differences between Flattr and us. They ask you to click a button like a Facebook "Like" button to give money. We're very much different than that, because you only have to turn on the medallion once for a site to give money to them.

*****

What do you think about social payment systems? Could it help with the business model of online news and journalism? What will it take for them to break through to a wider audience? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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June 11 2010

16:38

How Josh & Chuck Made 'Stuff You Should Know' a Hit Podcast

Perhaps you were hunting around iTunes one day and came across a list of the top audio podcasts. There in the top five among the usual suspects from NPR was something called Stuff You Should Know. And once you started listening, you were hooked on the congenial chit-chat between hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant, senior writers at HowStuffWorks.com (owned by Discovery Communications). And the topics, oh the topics, with one outdoing the next: How flamethrowers work, how you clean up an oil spill, and how hard is it to steal a work of art.

Stuff You Should Know About 'Stuff You Should Know'

> The podcast was first started in April 2008 with Josh Clark as host with rotating co-hosts, with Chuck Bryant joining him to form the dynamic duo in August 2008.

> They are not experts. Really, they're not.

> There's a TV show coming to Discovery Channel based on HowStuffWorks.com, but Josh & Chuck aren't involved with it. They would like to do something like that one day.

> They have made more than 250 podcast episodes, and it has peaked at #1 on iTunes among all podcasts.

> The shows take as long as they take. A show on cliff diving clocked in at 27:19 while a show on serial killers took 44:41.

> In April 2010, the podcast had more than 3.5 million downloads. How do I know? Josh & Chuck's PR person told me that.

> Josh & Chuck still write for HowStuffWorks.com, and have become senior writers. They don't have the time to start another podcast, but do have a blog and would love to take a live show around the country based on an upcoming audiobook.

I had the pleasure of talking with Josh & Chuck recently in a wide-ranging phone chat, and the following is an edited version of that conversation.

Q&A

How did you get started with the podcast?

Chuck Bryant: Josh and I were both initially hired as writers, which is what we continue to do, for HowStuffWorks.com. We did that for a solid year before the podcast started. Josh was approached by our editor in chief to start the podcast. Josh even thought of the name, "Stuff You Should Know."

Josh Clark: Yup, I did ... HowStuffWorks is perfect for this kind of media and they wanted to expand the brand a bit [with a podcast]. I had no idea how to do it, and Chuck you didn't know how to do it?

Chuck: No.

Josh: And, frankly, to be honest I had never listened to an actual podcast before we started making one. Luckily we had a great producer and we were put together [as a team] and it worked out. We were surprised as anyone, probably moreso, that it's worked as well as it has.

stuffyoushouldknow logo.jpg

Chuck: The great thing about it was that there was no pressure at all at the beginning. We were writers for the website and that wasn't going anywhere, so if the podcast failed miserably they would have shut it down and we would have gone back to writing. We have a great company and a parent company Discovery Communications [that allowed us] to let it grow organically, by word of mouth, and it's been a big success.

Josh: We found the only real pressure is when we are above Ira Glass in the iTunes ranking. Otherwise, we're fine and feel like we can do whatever we want.

Chuck explains why he think podcasting has staying power even with the rise of video:

sxykpodcast.mp3

Were you the first podcast produced for HowStuffWorks?

Josh: We were the first one and it was a shot in the dark. It started to take off like a rocket. So they said, "Let's get everyone on the content side doing podcasts." We had our history podcast that started out as "Fact or Fiction" and I played the gullible rube who would say, "I heard this about this historical event. Is that true?" My co-host would say whether it's fact or fiction, or would say -- and this would rile people up -- "that's faction!" That went the way of the dinosaur pretty quickly and was replaced by "Stuff You Missed in History Class," which evolved out of that and has been very successful.

We have TechStuff, which is a great tech podcast. It has a great following, and the guys, Chris and Jonathan, are perfect foils for one another. They're very subdued and rambunctious, respectively. We now have 10 total podcasts with a video podcast.

Why do you think it became so popular?

Chuck: The comment we get most from our fans on email or our Facebook fan page is: "It feels like I'm listening to a couple of my old friends from when I was in college, sitting around in a bar, having a drink." The everyman quality that we both bring to the show really hits home. We're not experts, we don't profess to be experts. We mess things up every now and then, and people call us out and we read the correction on the air, and people get a kick out of that. It's just a very down-to-earth smart discussion, usually pretty funny, and people get to learn something and have fun at the same time.

Josh: The conversational tone that we manage to strike in every podcast is another compliment we get. "It's easy to listen to" is something we hear a lot. The reason for that is we don't practice together or rehearse. We both read the same article from HowStuffWorks.com, and we read it independently, do our own side research, ask our own questions and go over the topic and tear it apart and explain it bit by bit, including stuff we found in the article and elsewhere. We go off on tangents. We have a way of dating things by if it was before or after the first "Ghostbusters" movie came out.

Every bit of this podcast has come about organically, was given room to grow on its own. That accounts for its success as well.

Chuck explains how they never script anything in advance and try to spring little factoids on each other:

syskfactoids.mp3

So you base your subjects on a story that's been written for the website, right?

Josh: That's right. That's what gives it the structure. We both know the meat information that we both read over and over again to absorb it. That provides the loose structure, but within a topic ... one of my favorite topics of all time is How Zombies Work. That was cut into two parts. One was movie zombies and surviving a zombie apocalypse. That was semi-fictitious. Then there was the true part about Haitian zombies and how they're created. Knowing that's how the article went, we knew when it was time to switch gears when we'd used up our external research.

It's very easy to tell, after doing this so many times, when we're done. But at the same time, we've never been very pretentious about this. So we'll say, "Do you have anything else?" And that stays in, it doesn't get edited out. We're not bashful about letting people see through the veneer of what we're doing at any point. Though we do edit out any egregious mistakes -- most of the time.

stuff episodes.jpg

You cover some pretty serious subjects but you have a light tone. Does that become difficult for you or upset the audience?

Josh: Yes, every once in a while we get listener mail and are taken to task and scolded. It's very rare. In almost every case, the person says '"I am not going to unsubscribe but I wanted you to know you ruffled my feathers." When it comes to a heavy topic like "How Comas Work," we treated it slightly more heavily than we did "How Twinkies Work" but it still has the Josh & Chuck tone. After it was released, we knew we hadn't said anything offensive there but we wanted to make sure we hadn't inadvertently offended anyone who had a family member in a vegetative state. And we got listener mail from people who do have relatives in comas, and they thanked us and said, "You guys did this very well, it was factual and respectful and you didn't sensationalize it."

Since that point in time, we've become a lot more confident that our approach could be applied to anything. So we've done "How Tourette's Works" and we got compliments from people who have kids with Tourette's. I think people identify with us on a personal level and they're willing to forgive us.

Chuck: We now cover ourselves a little upfront with a disclaimer of sorts. We did a show on serial killers and it turns out we're not the only ones endlessly fascinated with serial killers. And we knew we would be joking around on the show, because that's what we do, so we said, "We just want people to know that while we are fascinated with this and into this, we do know there are real victims and we don't want to make light of that, so let's get on with the show." Every once in a while a little disclaimer goes a long way.

Josh: Physics doesn't really work in Chuck's or my brain, it doesn't fit that well. So we'll research our little hearts out and try. We did a recent podcast on the Hadron Collider, but we did a disclaimer at the beginning of that one too, not that we would offend anyone, but that we would surely get several things wrong on this. And if you can correct us, please do. And we got corrections from astrophysicists. As recently as last Monday an astrophysicist came up to me and said, "You guys really screwed up the Large Hadron Collider." But in a successive podcast, we read all the corrections on air, so the bad information we give out is corrected by someone who really knows what they're talking about.

How do you get your audience involved? They suggest topics and correct you, but is there any other way you interact with them?

Chuck: I can't say enough about our fan base. We've been lucky enough to meet some of them here on our trip to New York. We had a little get-together last night and are having another one tonight. They're the kindest, smartest, most interesting, curious, inquisitive people we've ever met. Josh always says that they're the largest collection of friends who have never met before. We get 350 fan mails a week, and our Facebook page has more than 10,000 fans after being up two months. We go onto Facebook a lot and we're really active there, it doesn't just sit there, and they appreciate that. It's a big happy family.

Josh: Plus, our Kiva team is another way people have got involved in a really tangible way. We did a podcast on how microfinance works, and how you can give loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries. We partnered with Kiva.org and set up a Stuff You Should Know team, and got to $100,000 donated within a couple months. [The total is now beyond $150,000.] There's a subsection of fans that has taken over our team and are leading the charge to raise a quarter-million dollars to loan to entrepreneurs in developing countries by the end of August.

Do you have plans to expand into other formats or do other projects?

Chuck: We've done a few live speaking gigs and spoke at an education conference and that's opened up a whole world to us, speaking in front of live humans, instead of just the two of us sitting in a room.

Josh: If you want to be baptized by fire do your first speaking gig in front of a group of teachers and principals -- especially if you were a smart aleck in school. They can tell 20 years on that you were somebody who would have given them trouble at their school.

Do you think the reason you're so popular is that typical journalism is not doing a good enough explaining the basics?

Chuck: There's some validity to that. Journalism and television media these days is pretty rapid-fire. You don't get a lot of in-depth discussions on things. That's why I love TV shows like "Charlie Rose" where you can get to the meat of the matter. We're both big NPR fans; they do a good job of that. We've been able to expand the show, and when you have 45 minutes to discuss a topic, you can break it down, and it's just a gold mine for guys like us. It used to be five minutes long and it became really hard to work in those constraints and so they just got longer and longer.

Josh explains how the subjects for the podcasts "comes from our brains":

syskbrains.mp3

*****

What do you think about Stuff You Should Know? Why do you think it's successful, and if you're a fan, explain why in the comments.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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June 07 2010

23:36

Barnett: Advocacy, Membership Groups to Push Non-Profit News

The erosion of the traditional business model for news has led many to go down the non-profit path. The result is a slew of new non-profit news websites. The Bay Citizen, which launched at the end of May, is the newest and joins the likes of ProPublica, MinnPost, and the Texas Tribune, to name just a few. But as the closing of the non-profit Chi-Town Daily News last year indicates, running a non-profit isn't easy.

Perhaps no one understands this as well as Jim Barnett. After almost two decades as a newspaper reporter, Barnett threw his efforts into launching his own non-profit news service in 2005. Managing a non-profit proved to be a major challenge and Barnett realized he'd need some new skills in order to be successful in this space. These days, he's pursuing a masters in non-profit management at George Washington University, working as an in-house adviser to AARP's publications group and doing some editing for the Washington Post News Service at night. He's also been expanding on his academic work on his blog, The Nonprofit Road, and more recently on Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab blog.

I spoke with Barnett to examine the outlook for non-profit journalism, the government's role in the future of news, quality indicators for good non-profit news sources, and more.

Q&A

You've been blogging about non-profit journalism since 2009. You're pursuing a non-profit management degree at GW and you even tried to launch your own journalism non-profit. It's fair to say you're pretty invested in the model. Are you concerned that the activity in the non-profit journalism space will slow down at all because of the drop in newspaper layoffs? How do you think non-profit journalism will evolve over the next five years?

Jim Barnett: While it is true that the bloodletting of the past couple of years has created a huge talent pool for non-profit startups, I think the model really is riding its own trajectory. What now seems like a flurry of interest I think is actually the result of a longer-term trend that I think will continue as the economy recovers and the newspaper industry stabilizes.

I think the recent uptick of interest in the non-profit model can be traced to events in 2004, as it was becoming painfully apparent to many in the news business that the newspaper model would not translate simply or easily into the digital age.

One was Louisiana State University's March 2004 symposium, "News in the Public Interest: A Free and Subsidized Press," which attracted thought leaders. The non-profit model was a major topic of discussion, and it soon began gaining traction within journalism circles.

In November 2004, Columbia Journalism Review published an essay by Phil Meyer of UNC-Chapel Hill entitled "Saving Journalism." In it, Meyer talked about the non-profit model as a way 'to keep the spirit and tradition of socially responsible journalism alive until it finds a home in some new media form whose nature we can only guess at today.'

After a lot of talk that year, things really started taking off. In 2005, the Voice of San Diego was launched. Two years later came ProPublica and MinnPost. Today, there are many more, small and large. And now, other non-profits that do advocacy and education are exploring how they can use the tools of journalism to help fill the void.

How will the non-profit model evolve over the next five years? I don't think anybody can say with any degree of certainty. We're in a period of great experimentation, and much will be up to luck and circumstance. But when you think about how much has happened since 2004, I do think it is clear that the sector has achieved a critical mass that will carry it for years to come.

I will risk two general predictions. I think you'll see a lot more advocacy non-profits (think Human Rights Watch or American Red Cross) doing more to fill the void in traditional journalism. And I think you'll see more journalism sponsored by membership groups (think Council on Foreign Relations) and online communities (Spot.Us) that function like membership groups in many ways.

You're no stranger to criticism of non-profit journalism. Do you believe the model has its limits or is it journalism's silver bullet?

Barnett: It's by no means a silver bullet. I'm always very careful to say that the non-profit model is an answer, not the answer. But the non-profit model is especially useful in certain areas, such as public affairs reporting from D.C. and state capitals that have been abandoned by many newspapers but that we need to function as a society.

This is not a new revelation. I like to remind people that the non-profit sector in journalism dates to 1846 when a group of New York newspapers formed a cooperative to cover the Mexican-American War. That cooperative serves us now as the non-profit Associated Press, and the economic forces that made it a good idea then remain in force today.

Is there anything non-profit journalism does better than traditional newspaper journalism in its heyday?

Barnett: That remains to be seen. But I do think the non-profit model does as good a job as any of matching newspapers' ability to take risks, throwing reporters and resources at a story without any promise of financial return. In most for-profit models of the digital age, news stories must serve two masters: Each must meet the standards of journalistic inquiry and each must carry some share of the freight by generating online advertising revenue. In the non-profit model, the case for philanthropy can be built around the pursuit of objective journalism without the same pressure to generate immediate readership and revenue.

You've written about the Newspaper Revitalization Act and the FCC's Future of Media project. What role should the government play in the future of journalism?


Barnett: First, we need to separate the concepts of journalism and the media -- in this case, newspapers -- that deliver it. I'm not a huge fan of the Cardin bill because it attempts to give newspapers -- not necessarily journalism -- a special place in line for government help. I think government creates problems in any industry when it starts picking favorites, no matter how noble the cause. If newspaper publishers really want to operate under non-profit status, they can do so under existing law. But the real problem is the economics: Publishers must serve shareholders first, and they generally do better by continuing to cut costs (read: news staff) even if they lose circulation and quality. The Cardin bill does nothing to reverse the newspaper death spiral.

Do you think public subsidies, such as the ones suggested by Robert McChesney and journalist John Nichols, are a good idea?


Barnett: Whether one thinks subsidies are good or bad, they are a fact of life for any major media enterprise. Earlier this year, David Westphal and Geoffrey Cowan at USC released a masterful report showing the pervasiveness of government subsidies to news media of all kinds, and they argued that this is exactly how the Founding Fathers intended it. I think their report enlightens the debate immensely. To oppose subsidies on principle is a bit like the health care reform protestor last July demanding, "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!" But what level or what form any subsidy should take is way beyond my little realm of expertise.

With so many different journalism non-profits sprouting up, earlier this year you blogged about the need for a 'Good Housekeeping seal of approval' for non-profit journalism and outlined some ideas for criteria. You said you'd be doing additional research on this and that it would be a topic of discussion at the We Media conference. So we're following up, any new insights?


Barnett: I've wrapped up my research and am working on a post for the Nieman Journalism Lab that I hope to publish soon. The question I tried to tackle was this: 'What steps can non-profits take if they want to be legitimate news providers?' There are some great examples out there, and not all come directly from within boundaries of traditional journalism. Some advocacy non-profits such as Human Rights Watch establish legitimacy as fact-finders and align their case for philanthropy with that mission. Other non-profits such as the American Red Cross use the tools of journalism as a means of accountability and transparency to donors. Stay tuned, my post should go live this week.

What's next for you? Any plans to expand your role in the non-profit journalism world?

Barnett: One thing's for sure -- I'll be wrapping up my academic career next year when I get my master's from GW. Beyond that, I hope to apply some of the things I've learned to my day job as a strategic analyst at AARP. We put out some high-quality publications, and I think we have a lot to contribute at a time of great change in the news business.

*****

What role do you see non-profit news organizations playing in the future of the press? Share your thoughts in the comments.

A writer, reporter and media consultant, Jaclyn Schiff is up at the crack of dawn to tackle the headlines of the day for her job at the non-profit Kaiser Health News. When she should be catching up on sleep, she can usually be found updating her Twitter feed or Tumblr blog, MEDIA Schiff (pun intended). Schiff covers non-profit news for MediaShift.

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June 04 2010

16:45

NBC's Ryan Osborn Wants to Use Social Media for Storytelling

Ryan Osborn's story at NBC is the prototypical tale of the young aspiring journalist going from a page on "The Today Show" in 2002 to becoming the first director of social media at NBC News. But what he'd like to do in that job is not exactly typical: Osborn wants NBC to concentrate on using Twitter and Facebook to extend the storytelling and editorial of the news organization, rather than making it purely a marketing tool.

"I bring unique experiences to the job with a background in editorial," Osborn told me in a wide-ranging interview. "I know the organization very well and know the personalities that make it work. Primarily, we're looking at it as another way to tell stories. And if we tell the right stories, they will market themselves. I know it sounds kind of coy but I do believe that's our play and the way we'll balance it moving forward. I can't stand someone who's promoting themselves all the time."

Osborn, 30, is a music lover who discovered Twitter in 2007 at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas. He took that back to "The Today Show," starting a feed and thinking about ways to use social media to help connect with the audience, generate new story ideas and find more sources. Rather than relentlessly promote the show via Twitter, Osborn pushed producers to use it as a feedback loop during the show's live broadcasts.

Now, Osborn joins the growing list of social media directors at major news organizations. He hopes to help direct the efforts of various shows while letting them birth new ideas organically. The following is an edited transcript of our recent phone conversation.

Q&A

When did you first realize the power of using social media at NBC?

With our executive producer Jim Bell, I created @TodayShow [on Twitter]. At first it was an outward bound voice that put out ideas and helped us interact with the audience. I think the first story I used it on was an unemployment story, with the daily grind of looking for someone who had lost a job. I put out a call for anyone who had recently lost a job and got pretty decent responses. One of those people I featured on a taped spot I did on the show.

That was my first introduction to social media, but where I really saw the power of it was when the US Airways flight landed in the Hudson River. I was at my desk watching the coverage on TV. WNBC in New York was early to break in. I had been addicted to Summize at the time, which turned into Twitter search. I searched for "plane crash" and found Janis Krums' picture and got it on air on MSNBC ...That was an extremely powerful moment, where I knew this was something I was very interested in and it had the potential to add something to the organization.

When you were doing that search to find the picture, was it tough to get in touch with Krums to verify it?

Osborn: It was interesting because I found the picture, and it has this weird quality, there's something almost professional about it, the way it has this glow around the plane with a golden light. It was so new that I definitely questioned it for awhile. But I tweeted back to Janis to give me a call, and put my cell phone number on the feed. He did call me back ... I think the whole thing took about 20 minutes to get him on air. There was concern within the organization where you say, "I just found this source via Twitter and I want to put him on air." There's a concern around authenticity.

As social media outreach became more accepted at NBC, how did social media use evolve?

Osborn: Social media is such an exciting space, so there are different ideas there every day. So it's a struggle to focus on clear objectives. We've slowly got our anchors and personalities on Twitter and other spaces and figured out what suits them best. Ann Curry has been a great example of somebody who's really engaged in using the space effectively. I've done a couple events with her, we did the 140 Characters event together. She had some success covering the Iran elections and social media, and tells some great stories around that. When the earthquake happened in Haiti, she found some great sources via Twitter.

How did social media work up until now? Did every show decide how to use it or was there an overall strategy?

Osborn: It came down to the individuals within a given show. It's an interesting study in organization, which isn't really your interest or mine. I consider myself a storyteller and very much on the editorial side of things. As far as how much you integrate ideas from younger people in an organization and try to make them happen, and at the same time try to incorporate them into some kind of overall strategy, that position has never existed and that's why I'm in this job today.

I don't want to discourage those ideas from flowing out of our newsrooms. That's really where they're going to come from. If I really do my job well it won't be what it is today, but be more of trying to pull together specific leaders from each news division.

Do you think you're getting more buy-in from the top, because it seems like most of these initiatives start out lower down the organizational chain.

Osborn: The creation of my job has helped get more buy-in from the top. Social media is something that's so new that it can be perceived as something that's disruptive. And for a prestigious news organization like ours, we have to make sure we're doing things right. I think there's been some healthy skepticism, and that's good, and there's always been a natural tension between what we've been doing as NBC News for years and what we'll continue to do and how we evolve that. I know it's something that news organizations across the board are dealing with.

Other than Ann Curry, are there others at MSNBC or NBC you can point to and say "this has really worked for us"?

Osborn: I know that Rachel Maddow has created a really good community around her show. When you talk about social media it's not a gimmick, it's about the content itself, it's about the actual shows themselves and the stories we're telling. I think her show has innovated in the space and made a deeper connection with the audience.

chuck todd twitter.jpg

Chuck Todd is also a good example within our organization ... he's a multimedia machine. Howard Kurtz recently profiled him in the Washington Post and it's an interesting read on how a network correspondent's job has evolved.

We've created a model on "The Today Show" where we have a couple producers in the control room trying to create a live experience. We have our senior producer, Don Nash, who is @Studio1aDon, whose follower count is relatively low [597] but as far as the reach of a very engaged audience, it's a smart idea.

So during the show, he'll be on there doing a running commentary, giving behind-the-scenes details?

Osborn: Exactly. He uses it as a kind of listening post. What we want to avoid is promoting all the time. We want to create two-way experiences where we're listening to the audience and integrating it into what we're doing. That kind of model is interesting to me. The social space is the first place we've seen the eyeballs of a two-screen experience make sense for what we're trying to do, and that's why it's so exciting ... I don't see myself as being on the tech side of things. I like thinking about the trans-media storytelling.

Osborn talks about how "The Today Show" might engage its audience even more in the real world:

osborn offline.mp3

What do you think will be the biggest challenges in doing this job?

Osborn: The biggest challenge is balancing the excitement with the space with using the tools in the proper way. I want people to focus and tap into the social space for telling stories and finding sources, but at the same time don't let it distract you from our core mission. So many people look at social media as a gimmick, it's a quick fix for viewer engagement. You get in a meeting and someone wants to set up a Twitter account or a Facebook page, and I love those things. But I don't want people to lose focus on the content itself.

Social Media Policies

Do you have a social media policy as far as what people can say and can't say on their feeds?

Osborn: We have a Standards & Practices which we've spent a long time looking at and our lawyers have worked on. I think my role is communicating that in accessible ways to our newsrooms. Simple things like if you're on a plane and you say you don't like this airline, and then you cover that airline the next week, how will that jeopardize your position as an unbiased reporter or producer? It's something I want our people to start thinking about. The policies are in place but I think we could do a much better job communicating them.

Are there similar rules against talking about competitors or the workplace?

Osborn: No. There are some technicalities, but we want people to be themselves and encourage that; we want them to know that in some way the new reality is that they are representing NBC News and need to think about that. The funny thing for me is that I've become more comfortable under the guise of @TodayShow than on my personal feed @rozzy because I do know the power of these things and I do know how a tweet lives on forever on a Google search.

ryan osborn posterous.jpg

You have a Posterous blog and your personal Twitter feed. How will those work moving forward?

Osborn: Those Posterous exchanges were a way for me to get out quick ideas and communicate to my immediate network what was going on. I'm hoping that as we evolve we can create a home for that in our network, whether as a blog or another transparent conversation to engage the audience. I'm a big fan of Posterous and Tumblr and would love to see us integrate them in some way. That kind of conversation would be really interesting from an organizational standpoint.

I've befriended Jen Preston, [social media editor] at the New York Times, and they follow the model of @NYT_JenPreston, and I don't know... It's something that I've thought about a lot, and is Ryan_NBC more professional? I want people to know me and know the human side of our organization, so I didn't want to set the example to have NBC in your Twitter handle. It's an interesting debate and I could talk about it for awhile. I'm leaning toward keeping @rozzy. I would love to have @RyanOsborn but I didn't get it in time.

I think the power of these things is in revealing the humans behind the brands. If I can be more effective as @rozzy, than so be it.

How do you convince people at NBC to be more personal? Some of them might have a problem revealing too many personal details, or they feel like it could be a time sink. How do you win them over?

Osborn: I think they have a lot to gain from the social space. If you're working in media today, it's an exciting place to experiment and that's my sell internally. Whether you like talking about music or media, there's a lot of interesting things in there for a lot of different people. It's an interesting place to gain exposure and as a journalist to get more sources and hear ideas. We as individuals have a lot to gain by engaging in the space.

What's your take on Facebook? Do you think each show, each anchor, each producer should have their own Facebook page or would you get more power aggregating that?

Osborn: I'd love to see each personality have a Facebook page. It's up to the individual and what they want to get out of it. When you look at the shows and the way the audiences overlap, Facebook becomes attractive and the user base itself is something we have great respect for. I think there are a lot more interesting ways we could use it.

As a journalist, I've searched for different groups or we've built groups around different events, but I haven't integrated that into my storytelling yet. We had a success story where we searched status updates on Facebook and did use it for a "Today Show" story. I view it as a much deeper connection that lasts longer than what you find on Twitter. We look at it as another way to engage consumers.

Osborn explains how they will measure success beyond just page views:

osborn success.mp3

*****

What do you think about NBC's efforts in social media so far? Do you think media companies should use social media for promotion, marketing, editorial or a combination of those things? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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March 26 2010

17:43

PayPal Hopes to Lure Publishers to Its Micropayment System

With all the talk about paid content coming back into vogue (thanks, Rupert Murdoch!), it's a wonder that PayPal hasn't been part of the conversation. The tech startup that's now part of eBay has been dominant in handling online payment transactions and is projected to have $5 billion in sales by 2011, according to Bloomberg. But so far, a grand total of just one major newspaper publisher has shown interest in PayPal's offer to handle their online payments: FT.com.

Sam Shrauger, PayPal.JPG

Why the slow uptake for PayPal? I talked with Sam Shrauger, vice president of global product strategy for PayPal, who said the problem is that publishers are still unsure what their business model will be online. It turns out that FT.com is more aggressive than most at charging for online content. The site already has a "metered wall" that lets people read a certain number of free articles per month; a new trial test with PayPal might charge people for daily or weekly access to articles -- and perhaps micropayments down the road.

PayPal has had a micropayments product for a few years. It charges publishers a smaller fee per transaction that regular PayPal for merchants. But even that micropayment fee structure -- 5 cents per transaction plus 5 percent of the value -- is way too high for publishers who want to charge pennies per article. PayPal is now working on a new model for micropayments that will allow publishers to process transactions as a group in order to lower the overall charges.

"The challenge is how do you make a $1 transaction attractive to everyone from an economic standpoint," Francesco Rovetta, director of PayPal's mobile unit, told Bloomberg at SXSW. "We are finalizing the development of that business model."

Meanwhile, I spoke to Shrauger in-depth last month to get an update on where PayPal was going, and how it would woo content sites to use its payment services. The following is an edited transcript of our phone conversation.

Many publishers are looking for a payment system or micropayment system for their online content. Tell me more about what you offer them.

Sam Shrauger: We recognized the need back in 2005 for publishers of any kind of content to cost effectively process small transactions. We introduced about four years ago micropayment processing which are intended for people selling things in small dollar or sub-dollar increments. Pricing is probably the biggest issue that publishers run into, because the cost for processing is prohibitive for them. We've introduced a pricing mechanism that is a fixed fee of 5 cents plus 5 percent of the transaction value that's intended to be cost effective for publishers.

Our core offerings to all our merchants -- whether it's retail or content -- is to provide them safe, secure and cost-effective payment processing, and do it in a way that's fast, easy and safe for their consumers. So we've combined that pricing structure with all our publisher or merchant products to allow them to have a payment platform that works for their business.

So you are charging 5 cents plus 5 percent for whatever the micropayment is?

Shrauger: Right. Our typical pricing structure is anywhere from 1.9 percent to 2.9 percent of the transaction value plus a 30-cent fixed fee. That's obviously not something that works well for folks who are selling items or content that's under $10, so that's why we introduced the micropayment system.

So who are some of the publishers that are using your micropayment system?

Shrauger: We have a variety of folks who are using that. We've had iTunes as a merchant going back to at least 2005. We have SpareChange, which is one of the big social media processors, and I can give you some other names. Napster is another one.

How does your offering compare to those of competitors such as Journalism Online and others?

Shrauger: I won't comment specifically on any competitors, but we see two camps of people trying to support payment needs. We are a payment processing provider, and what we intend to do for publishers or online merchants is make their payment processing cost effective and safe and easy. There are a variety of folks springing up around the operational management of paid content, people who help build the pay walls and manage digital rights that goes on around that. We see those folks as partners with whom we can work with to provide the operational functions so publishers can manage paid content.

Shrauger talks about how he is less concerned with competitors than he is with publishers working out their business model for paid content:

As far as the payment part of the transaction, do you feel like you have a head start on any new players in the space because you've been doing it so long?

Shrauger: I think there are a lot of dimensions in payment of digital content that are somewhat unique. In any form of digital content -- whether it's music or downloadable games or paid content -- there are some unique characteristics and we have experience dealing with them. In particular, there's a fair amount of fraud in the digital goods space, probably more than in any retail/commerce vertical. Fraud management is something we've build our business on, and I think we have the deepest experience in managing that risk in online transaction.

The second thing is convenience, particularly when you're talking about smaller dollar transactions. When you're talking about folks who want to pay to read an article or download a piece of content, that's not a transaction that consumers want to spend a lot of time in the checkout process for. One of the things PayPal has done for consumers is make the payment process safe and efficient for them. The speed of checkout is another place where we've distinguished ourselves.

And lastly, the micropayment structure that we are offering is very compelling. People say that they typically have to pay pretty high costs per transaction, and the PayPal micropayment rates are very effective for people wanting that.

How would you break down the revenues you get from regular PayPal payments and micropayments?

Shrauger: We don't break out those numbers publicly, but I would say that if you look at the overall world of e-commerce, I think paid content, which includes all digital goods, is about a $49 billion market this year. Relative to overall e-commerce which is about $250 billion to $300 billion. So paid digital content is smaller relatively to the total e-commerce market -- about 15 percent to 20 percent. And within that, micropayments are a fairly small but growing percentage of that market. We think it's about 25 percent of all digital content sold. So the market itself is not that large, but it's something that's starting to grow, and will grow even more as cost effective payment options come into the market. That's been the barrier to folks effectively managing businesses on a micro-transaction level.

Shrauger explains why PayPal is a better fit for newspaper publishers than Google for processing payments:

What were your challenges to get micropayments to work? Was that the main challenge or were there others?

Shrauger: The other challenge that's always a driver in this space is that the process for a user to make a micropayment has to be very brief. Whereas consumers are used to checking out with a full shopping cart experience and filling out some payment pages for a typical payment process for $50 or $100, that's not something they are interested in doing for a $1 or $3 transaction. The focus for us has been to make the actual process of payment as fast and efficient as possible for the consumer.

For people who have PayPal accounts already it's a very fast and quick experience.

paypal logo.jpg

The other thing I would add is the point around fraud. The other thing in the digital space is that the fraud rates tend to be higher than in other verticals largely because the goods are delivered instantly, as opposed to physical goods, where the merchant has time to check an order or check a customer before shipping the product to them. In the digital goods context, you make your payment and your game currency or whatever you're buying is available instantly, so it's something that can be turned around and resold really easily by a fraudster.

So how does the micropayment system at PayPal differ from the regular PayPal transaction?

Shrauger: What a lot of these merchants will do is, after a first payment with PayPal, they will allow you to make purchases without having to log in every single time you want to make that purchase. We have a product that allows them to initiate another transaction against your account without you having to log in every time. What that allows you to do is one-click payments effectively with those merchants.

If someone is trying to sell a micropayment that's literally 5 or 10 cents, that would be hard to do with PayPal if you are charging 5 cents, right?

Shrauger: There's obviously a floor to where micropayments processing for anyone is tenable. What I would say there is we're always looking for ways to make those transactions more cost effective and get pricing structures that will work across the entire spectrum of transaction sizes.

Shrauger explains how some merchants aggregate their own micropayments before processing them, similar to what iTunes does:

Is there anything else that publishers would like to see other than fraud protection?

Shrauger: Everything I read about paid content makes it seem like it's so binary: either paid content is going to work or it's not going to work. My perspective and PayPal's perspective is that there will be models that work in this industry and they will be very dependent on a lot of things. It will depend on the content and the demographic of who consumes that content, and where it's distributed. Every one of those business models might take a different form. Some will be successful on a subscription basis, others on a micropayment basis, others might be successful with a hybrid of those things. Our perspective is that we can offer the publisher the ability to operate their business in whatever way makes sense for them and not have the cost of payment processing be an impediment to that.

What about internationally? Do you see publishers outside the U.S. showing interest in payment systems as well?

Shrauger: Absolutely. I think it was in the fourth quarter of 2008 that we made our micropayments processing available worldwide, and we support 24 currencies now, and it's something we're continuing to expand. If you look globally everyone's wrestling with the same set of issues. Will consumers pay, and if so, in what fashion and in what amount? How do we then process those transactions? Those are global needs.

*****

What do you think about PayPal as a possible vendor for publishers who want to charge for their content? Is it a viable option or too expensive as currently set up? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

PayPal logo photo by Lava via Flickr.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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December 17 2009

22:13

California Watch Says 'Yes' to Open, Networked Investigative Reports

Some investigative journalists have been resistant to change in their profession, but hard times at newspapers have brought about a new sense of experimentation and collaboration. That is evident at the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) and its new California Watch project, which attracted major foundation funding from the James Irvine Foundation, Hewlett Foundation and Knight Foundation.

When I visited their cramped offices in Berkeley, Calif., recently (they are moving to a larger space soon), CIR's executive director Robert "Rosey" Rosenthal and California Watch's editorial director Mark Katches were the ultimate "yes" men. Nearly every experiment I brought up to them, from crowdfunding to holding town hall meetings, was on the table and in the realm of possibility for them. "We're open to anything," Katches said at one point. "You ask us anything, and we'll say, 'Sure we'll try it.' "

When the California Watch site relaunches in early January, it will showcase some of those new approaches. Reporters will be blogging and tweeting openly about their ongoing investigations, and the audience will be included in a network of eyes and ears on the ground. While the latter is still a work in progress, Katches is open to having the audience help crowdsource work on documents, or give tips to reporters as they work on investigations.

California Watch soft-launched a few months ago, and its first story received wide distribution, making the front pages of dozens of California newspapers. While Rosenthal has had success in fundraising and hiring what he says is the largest investigative reporting team in the state, his attempt to keep the site non-partisan will be a challenge. Having reporters blog and tweet without giving away their biases will be difficult. CIR itself shows liberal leanings via online distribution partnerships with Huffington Post, Mother Jones and Salon, without any similar conservative sites in the mix. When I brought up this point to Rosenthal after our interview, this was his response via email:

In addition to hundreds of stories published in mainstream news outlets over 30 years, we have worked with outlets you mention. Going forward we hope to broaden our distribution more widely, working with with as many outlets as we can to reach people of all political persuasions and points of view. If you are going to make a judgment on the nature of the work by where it was published I think it makes sense to read, view or listen to it, and see if the stories were unfair or biased.

The following is an edited transcript with video clips from my recent visit to the CIR/California Watch headquarters.

Q&A

Robert Rosenthal explains how the idea for California Watch grew out of talks with the Irvine Foundation:

How do you choose your partners for distribution? Are you selective about that?

Robert Rosenthal: We are selective, but we also really want to reach an audience. We're not looking for exclusivity. Exclusivity lasts about three seconds now on the Internet. We want to reach an audience, and part of that model is working. We had a piece where Mark Shapiro, whose expertise is in the cap-and-trade carbon issue, his work is in Mother Jones, it will be in Harper's, and we've worked with FRONTLINE/World on a series called Carbon Watch. There's a piece on Marketplace with NPR, on NewsHour with PBS. He's blogging and other people want to work with us. Our idea of having one core reporter working on multiple stories really works.

One of the stories we did was on 25 front pages throughout California on the same day, which is unheard of, plus radio, plus TV. Again, there's different partners. If we went to a big national partner and they said they wanted exclusivity, we would consider that. But what we're finding is that they don't care. If 10 papers have it in California, or if it's on "California Report" on KQED, they see themselves as having a different audience, and they will take that story and give it a much more contextual, national flavor. They're interested in the information we're bringing them.

The last story we did was translated into Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese and Spanish, and [we] distributed it to ethnic media in California, which I don't think anyone has done. Sandy Close at New American Media helped us out, and La Opinion translated it for us in Spanish.

Mark Katches: For the first stories we've done, there's no set model for how we'll distribute stories. A lot of other non-profits that are sprouting up are mostly doing one-offs with one news organization or a collaboration for an exclusive story. ProPublica will do that, but they also give their content away to anyone who will take it online. They are partnering with one news organization at a time.

What we did with our first story was that it ran on the front page of 25 newspapers with a combined circulation of 1.8 million. There isn't a newspaper in California that comes close to that circulation on its own. We want to get the story out to as many eyeballs as possible. Our mission is to tell stories that will make an impact and change lives. The broader the audience you have, the better you can do it.

For that first story, we created 15 versions of the story. It was a story about Homeland Security grant spending in California -- misspending in a lot of ways and lack of oversight. G.W. Schulz, a CIR reporter, did a fabulous job reporting it. To sell that to very different news organizations, we couldn't hand them over a 100-inch story and expect them all to run it. So we had the story edited at three different lengths. Beyond the custom lengths, we also created a version with custom content for the Sacramento Bee, San Jose Mercury News and others.

What are you doing for online promotion?

Katches: When we launch our new website [in January], all our stories will be running jointly with the news organizations that partner with us. We're also thinking we'll use our blog as a marketing vehicle. We're not up there yet, but when we start rocking and rolling in January, we'll let people know stories are coming on our blog, and keep stories alive on our blog and on our websites.

Rosenthal: And on Facebook and on Twitter.

Katches: Yes, we're going to use lots of social networking. Everyone here has a Twitter account. If you go to our site, you can see what our reporters are up to, we're using Publish2 to show what people are reading. We're also -- without giving [away] the store -- showing what our coverage priorities are, what we're working on. Our reporters' latest tweets are there on our site. We have a Facebook page, a Twitter page and will use the whole gamut of social media.

Would you consider partnering with Yahoo News? The same way you're talking about getting distribution in print, isn't there a parallel online?

Rosenthal: Yes. We're hoping to reach out to them and do just that. We want our site to be vital, but we know it's not going to become a news site, with that kind of activity. We want to showcase our work and create traffic, but our model is not to have our site as the only place you can find it. If we do this right, our stories will be on multiple sites -- not just on California-focused sites but, for the right stories, national sites and global ones.

Rosenthal explains what the funders' expectations are and how California Watch has to create a ripple effect to be successful:

What do you think would be the ideal split in the business model between bringing in money with ads and charging news organizations for content and grants from foundations?

Rosenthal: Right now we're about 90 percent or 95 percent reliant on foundations. We haven't been as aggressive about raising $50 checks and more, but we're going to build that into the model. I think if we can get to 30 percent or 40 percent revenues outside of foundations, it will be very successful in the next 12 to 18 months. My own feeling is that we're not creating a strategy where the end user pays, but we're seeing that newspapers are willing to pay. Some are talking to us about long-term syndication models. There will be TV stations that might be willing to pay a consistent fee for access to what we're doing.

There's a lot of interest. The niche we're in, high quality investigative, unique storytelling... I think there's an opportunity to get more funding. Not to totally fund us, but the goal is to bring in revenues and hire more journalists to do more of this work.

What do you think of the crowdfunding model and what Spot.us is doing?

Rosenthal: We'd like to work with Spot.us and we'd like to try that. I think there are issues around the quality, and we've talked to David Cohn. If we can put out a pitch and help manage a story and get it placed, it may add value to that. I think there are issues around how you pick a story. If you say you want to make sure so-and-so is never re-elected, that may raise some issues.

The challenge long-term is establishing this as a credible model at a time when information and news is becoming more partisan. That's a risk. If we're seen as being partisan or coming from the right or left, it would hurt our credibility in the long term.

So would you stay away from syndicating in a place like Huffington Post?

Rosenthal: No. If they were our only outlet [it would be a problem], but we're talking about multiple outlets and you're not looking to one outlet or the other. You're arguing that you want to reach eyeballs from different points of view. If an organization said it doesn't want a story because it doesn't fit their point of view, then I don't think we'd ever deal with them again. I think the Internet opens the field up to a lot of opportunities to reach audiences.

What about your own reporters? You are showing off their tweets and inside thinking and blogging. They are people with biases and political leanings. How will you deal with that?

Katches: A lot of that will have to managed pretty strictly early on. We're expecting people to be responsible. We don't have a social media policy but we might need one. We have professional, outstanding journalists, and they know how to handle themselves, whether they're blogging or tweeting or conducting an interview. But it's something we need to keep an eye on.

One of my worries is that reporters are venturing out into one area they're not used to, revealing what they're working on. Investigative journalists have tended to be paranoid by nature, they don't even let people in their own newsroom know what they're working on. We're not going to give away the store, but we do want to pique people's interest.

Rosenthal: We have clearly addressed that, and we do have guidelines, but it does potentially create issues. Everyone has to be aware of that. We're already perceived, because we're physically located in Berkeley as being '"Berkeley [liberals]." We are sensitive to that, and our goal is that our body of work will address those issues if they exist.

Katches talks about the balance of doing long-term and short-term investigations, and how the staff will spend 10 percent of its time blogging and on social media:

The Guardian used crowdsourcing with its Investigative Your MP's Expenses in the UK. Are you considering doing things like that?

Katches: Absolutely. We're looking at those kinds of things, and have had discussions about those. Not only are we building our investigative team, we're right now working with three different USC class projects with more than 40 student journalists collaborating with us. We're looking at mobilizing small armies to do the types of work you're talking about. We can't do it all ourselves, but if we do it collaboratively, we can get a lot of things done.

Rosenthal: Mark is right that what we're doing with USC Annenberg is great, but you have to build an infrastructure to manage it and do it. What we can help others with is to figure out how to do this. It's not easy. You have to know how to manage it and have the right people, and willing partners. We're looking to raise more money for the California Watch and CIR, and I want someone whose job is basically a collaboration editor, because it's really full time. You have to have some journalistic skills, but it's complicated. When I was at the Philadelphia Inquirer you had to have a collaboration editor for inside, for the warring departments [laughs].

Katches: One of the things that's been wild is that a reporter will file the story, we'll edit the story, Rosey [Rosenthal] will review the story, and we'll get the story done to the point where it meets our standards. Then we put on our salesmen's hat and we're calling news organizations around the state and we're actually selling the stories to them. In some ways it's the same jobs we've always been doing, producing good journalism, but [we're] going to another level of marketing it and distributing it... it's an exciting new world.

Rosenthal explains how journalists need business partners for help now, and how new models will have to have alignment between funders and journalists:

Are you planning on having something to help people take action on your reports?

Katches: We are. We're planning to have a feature called "React & Act" and tie it to every one of our stories. We may not do it right at launch, but pretty soon after. We hope it's a platform, a jumping off point for people who want to get involved. It goes beyond commenting on stories. If we do stories about a particular agency, then what runs along with it is a sidebar with the photos, the email addresses, the phone numbers of stakeholders who can make a difference.

Do you feel you might even bring your audience together with you in some way, like a town hall meeting?

Katches: Sure, we're open to anything. You ask us anything, and we'll say, 'Sure we'll try it.'

Rosenthal: You still have to make sure you have an infrastructure so that you can manage it. But strategically, we'd like to be a place where there is discussion. If there's a town square where we can help take a big state-wide issue and show a community how it impacts them, or show them data on a ZIP code level, we want to get that information to a community. We might even facilitate a public meeting.

We're talking about websites, but one of the key things that might develop is that in some communities it won't be people having laptops. It's going to be handheld devices or cell phones, or whatever that becomes. So creating content for that is just as important. And we talked about ethnic media and how they reach an audience, and that's a completely different issue. If we're going to be effective, we have to do all those things. If we're going to be effective, we don't have to only build the journalism -- [we have to build] the infrastructure to do all these things.

Katches gives a preview of the coming redesigned site for California Watch:

With your redesign, I saw part of it asks people to "join our network." What is that exactly?

Katches: The idea is that it will start with the ability to comment and engage on our site. We would love to get it to a point where it becomes like a crowdsourcing community of people who can converse about investigative reporting, share their own knowledge of things they are learning in their community, and maybe even direct coverage. It's early in the development, but it will start with the basic ability to comment and engage on the content we put up.

So it's required for people to register in order to comment?

Katches: Yes, that's one of the things we want to do to make sure we have responsible commenting.

****

What do you think about the work of CIR and California Watch? Can their non-profit model be replicated in other states? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Videography and photo by Charlotte Buchen.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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December 10 2009

19:23

Stanford Program Breaks Down Walls Between Business, Tech Journalism

I am so used to hearing about innovation in journalism that when I first heard about the Innovation Journalism program at Stanford, I assumed that's what it focused on. Not exactly.

The VINNOVA-Stanford Research Center of Innovation Journalism actually focused on helping journalists cover the field of innovation. David Nordfors, a Swedish punk rocker-turned-molecular-physicist-turned-journalist, found that journalists were stuck in silos of "business journalism" and "technology journalism" and couldn't see the big picture of innovation.

In 2003, Nordfors started the Innovation Journalism program, bringing mid-career journalists from around the world to Stanford University as fellows. They were placed in San Francisco Bay Area newsrooms to learn the new ways that reporters and bloggers were covering technology and innovation. Those newsrooms include the Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, CNET and even the Technologizer blog. There's also an annual Conference on Innovation Journalism at Stanford, where the fellows present their work and discuss related topics.

IJ conference.jpg

While the program was set up to help journalists do a better job of covering the topic of innovation, there is now a need for journalists to do a better job of covering innovation in journalism itself. Nordfors told me that journalists charged with covering the media are good practitioners of innovation journalism, because they are mixing business, technology, lifestyle and political journalism in one beat. He stresses that journalists need to break out of their silos and go across disciplines for better coverage of innovation.

I recently sat down with Nordfors at Stanford to talk about the Innovation Journalism program, and get his take on the current state of journalism, and how media companies -- and even journalism schools -- need to change. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation, including audio and video clips.

Tell me a little about your background going from Sweden to the U.S.

David Nordfors: I was in the first generation of punk rockers in Sweden, and then I broke that off to become a quantum molecular physicist. After a number of years doing that, I decided that I was much more interested in the interaction of people. I wanted to think about how knowledge creates value when it spreads in society. I looked at my own research and wondered, "who has a use for this?" It was the process of spreading the knowledge that fascinated me. I had worked as a journalist for a computer magazine and [found] some joy in it, and some success. Physicists are heavy users of super-computers so I covered that for a Swedish computer magazine. I became the science editor of that magazine.

Then I got a job offer to help build up a new foundation about innovation and the introduction of information technology in Sweden, and [and about] collaboration between industry and universities. I jumped at it, I had to take it. What I brought with me from the magazine was that all these research structures in society were very bad in communicating to the outside world. They produced brochures but never served the needs of journalists. My point of view as a journalist was that all these booklets have the same message: "We have a booklet!" They have nice color, glossy paper, but the message is "booklet." To get knowledge out there, you need to have journalism! And journalism wasn't part of that system.

So we said science had to interact with society, and get research out so people could interact with it. Normally, science is about intra-community -- you publish for peer review. If scientists are in the outside world being very visible on TV and newspapers, their colleagues will stop taking them seriously and think they are vulgar or sensationalists. We tried to change that. I always pushed journalism as part of the system.

Nordfors discusses how power is shifting from Washington D.C. to Silicon Valley boardrooms:

What was your impetus for starting the Innovation Journalism program?

Nordfors: We aren't able to have a public discussion [about innovation] because journalism is organized in those same darn verticals as the rest of society. So you have one part of innovation stories on the business page, another part on the tech page, one part is on the politics page, one part on the lifestyle page. All these editors have one part of the story and have no intention of collaborating with the other editors. You have the same stack of silos in the newsroom as out in society. If you're into changing things and finding new solutions, the opportunity is to go across disciplines.

When I started with Innovation Journalism, I said we must cross the barrier between tech journalism and business journalism [that existed] in early 2000. I talked to a business journalist about it and he said, "It sounds interesting, but you know it won't work. We business journalists don't cover products. That might give companies control over us." His job was covering the numbers from the company, but it's impossible to cover a company if you don't cover both how it's managed and the products it makes.

If we want to discuss the iPhone or Nokia or the future of the U.S. car industry, we have to discuss their ability to make future products, and there's no way to do that without crossing the silos of tech, business, politics and lifestyle. And these barriers can be very high. I was lucky to be at a small magazine where all our readers were engineers, so we could write enlightened things for enlightened engineers -- but we couldn't set the public debate.

How has the program evolved over the years?

Nordfors: We started it as a Swedish program, I came here as a visiting professor at Stanford and then after a year I was hired by Stanford. Pretty soon Finland joined; there was a guy here as a Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Seppo Sisättö. He started the first commercial news outlet after communism in Finland. Finland has the most robust innovation journalism program [operating] today. They send three journalists a year here to work in the program and work at news outlets here. They sent researchers here, who returned to Finland and got funding to do research on innovation journalism. [It's a] similar story in Slovenia.

You are training people who are mid-career journalists, right?

Nordfors: Yes. The first innovation journalism fellow we had from Finland, Jyrki Alkio, had covered Nokia for five years for the largest daily newspaper in Finland. He was at Red Herring, and he did a lot of valuable reporting for them, and brought valuable training back to Finland about how to report on innovation. He became very influential in Finland, and co-founded FINJO, the Finnish association for innovation journalists.

What makes me most happy is what we've done in Pakistan, which is such a dark horse. There's basically only one story going on about Pakistan and that's [based on] what we envision [about the country], but in all countries there are people doing all types of things. I also learned the same thing while living in Israel -- that under the toughest of circumstances, you can find the best people. If you have a country with great working conditions, average people can do very good things. But if you're in a country with challenges and war and corruption, you have to be very good to make things happen.

I've been fortunate with a collaboration in Pakistan. Amir Jahangir headed the Pakistani Innovation Journalism Initiative after being a fellow here. They started things like citizen journalism and reporting. They took tips from the audience, and they started a series on innovation in Pakistan that has been extremely successful.

Nordfors explains how the news industry is slowly giving up control of the medium with the switch to digital:

Do you work closely with the journalism school here at Stanford?

Nordfors: We have good relations with them, and with the Knight Fellowships. I have lectured for the Knight Fellows and they will be lecturing for my fellows. My fellows interact with the journalism program and Knight fellows. The difference is that my fellows are off-campus in newsrooms, and the Knight fellows and students are on campus most of the time.

We place fellows in newsrooms such as Fortune magazine, Fast Company, Science magazine, Technology Review, PC World, CNET, San Francisco Chronicle, Red Herring. We had single bloggers like Technologizer, Harry McCracken. It's not that these guys from other countries come to see how things work perfectly here. It's to work together with U.S. peers and with people who are knowledgeable in journalism ... to dive in and develop their expertise.

So they work for the newsroom here [in the Bay Area] or their home newsroom?

Nordfors: They have a desk in the newsroom -- if the newsroom has desks -- and work for the ones here. In 2004, back when people wondered whether blogs should be taken seriously, and we had a guy named Marcus Lillkvist who did some marvelous investigative work on an Icelandic company called Decode. This earned him his fellowship and here he was at the Wall Street Journal, and did the first story in the Journal about blogs getting advertising. They're also in classes here at Stanford ...

We also have our own copy editors, because fellows say it's hard to get into the almost artistic literary writing that's required for journalists in the U.S., instead of just writing the facts as people are used to in Sweden or Finland. We have a copy editor who has been covering the Valley, so it helps the fellows turn in good first versions of stories to their hosts.

Nordfors discusses how journalists should address solutions for problems such as global warming, rather than just pointing out the problem:

There are some schools that are teaching journalists programming and how to do database journalism. What do you think about that?

Nordfors: That's very good. We need to redefine journalism. It has always been defined by its relationship to its medium. We need to redefine journalism by its relation[ship] to the audience. Journalists focus public attention on topics of interest to the public, with a mandate from the public. If their mandate is from the sources, then they are PR guys. Why shouldn't it be possible for journalists to be programmers? They can develop applications that focus public attention on issues that interest the public, and help to build the story, the shared narratives in society, and help us discuss topics like global warming.

If it adds to the journalistic knowledge of a subject, then it's journalism. I'm all for that.

Who's doing innovation journalism well, in your opinion?

Nordfors: If you go to publications like TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Engadget, CNET -- some independent bloggers that have been around awhile -- you can get a good picture on what's happening here. The journalism here is opening up to take in the social stories, and the politics a bit. What was Obama's platform on this? I'd like to see a bit more journalism around how well Obama is keeping his promises around this. That's maybe what's missing here in the Valley -- it's a bit weak on the public policy, but it's strong on mixing business and technology.

It's important that we don't just see this as tech, but as innovation in society. It's not the tech gadget that's the news. It's the increased ability of us humans to live improved lives, with new improved abilities, and how we use it. Tech is a central part of that story as a key enabler.

How do old ways of journalism need to change?

Nordfors: Journalists have to tear down the wall to the marketing guys, and have to accept that they're part of the equation. And the technology guys who sit in the basement have to build an elevator up from the basement so they can come up and talk to the people in the light, and sit down and figure out how to co-develop this. It's not about journalism or marketing or technology, but it's about co-evolving these so we get good journalism.

Today, journalism companies have to focus on technology, but technology isn't the answer. Technology will always remain the tool for developing a useful story for the audience to participate in.

There's so much in the structure of journalism that has to be changed. It's the curriculum: the principles of journalism that talked about objectivity and not being involved, which we all know is not true. So we need to take that one by the horns and figure out how we are involved, and still uphold the principles of journalism. The Constitution of Sweden, and even of the U.S., talk[s] about freedom of press and who is a journalist. They define a journalist by the medium. That's got to be changed. That's important. I think the First Amendment is important and it's heading over the cliff, because not everyone who's writing on the Internet is [seen as] a journalist. You can't define a journalist by their medium.

Nordfors talks about journalism schools and how they could change by focusing on the storytelling rather than the medium:

*****

What do you think about the Innovation Journalism program at Stanford? Do you think journalists could do a better job covering innovation? How? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

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