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December 03 2010


How Storify Helps Integrate Social Streams Into Articles

Curation seems to be the big buzz word in journalism and online content these days. It's also an area that's generating a lot of product innovations. New services such as Keepstream, Storify, Storyful and Qrait are jumping into the space, aiming to offer new tools to help people curate web and social media content.

Curation is a way for journalists and bloggers to help the public make sense of the overwhelming amount of information out there by carefully selecting the interesting bits and pieces and by providing context. In this new information environment, the thinking goes, we need fellow humans to make sense and filter for us.

For me, curation is part of the all-important process of telling stories and connecting people around these stories. Storytelling is about involving people, finding out new information and providing context so people can find out why that particular story is meaningful to them.


Storify is one of the new curation tools I've been using to tell stories and organize conversations. To gain access you still need an invite code, which you can find in various places on the web such as in this TechCrunch post or on Mashable.

Here's a short video introduction to the tool:

Storify demo from Burt Herman on Vimeo.

In this post I'll focus on why Storify is an interesting new tool for media sites and blogs.

For background, in the above mentioned Mashable post you'll find some use cases (and the home page of Storify has some interesting examples). On Zombie Journalism, Mandy Jenkins offered ten ways journalists (and bloggers, of course) can use Storify: Gathering reactions on breaking news; combining past content with newer information and social streams; showing your own quests on Twitter, Facebook etc.; or organizing your own live tweets from a conference.

Mark Luckie at 10,000 Words also identified several ways that journalists are using the tool.

I recently used it on the financial blog of my newspaper for a post about U.S. GDP statistics that included some lively comments from economics professor Nouriel Roubini being pessimistic about growth prospects. I also used Storify from a post that collected some initial reactions on the Federal Reserve's quantitative easing. (MediaShift's Craig Silverman used it to collect the notable tweets of a Canadian politician.)

Five Reasons to Use Storify

From my readings and experiments with Storify, I've come up with five reasons why you should use it:

  1. It helps you to discover stories on social media. While using Storify to look for reactions to the GDP statistics, I came accross the rather vigorous discussion of professor Roubini's predictions. That became part of my story.
  2. It's graphically appealing for readers and it's easy to use for content creators. Basically, you use Storify to search for content on various social media services and the web, and then drag and drop them and then rearrange it, adding text in between items to create a story. Readers see a clean, interesting presentation of your story, and you can also track traffic to your Storify story.
  3. It makes your work transparent. Your community gets to view the raw material you used to write your story. Storify also makes it very easy to notify the people who created the individual tweets, pictures and status updates that you've curated. This makes it easy to them to react to what you've done.
  4. Even though it presents the raw material, it also enables you to filter out the noise, such as retweets and other distracting elements.
  5. Last but not least, Storify enables you to integrate things such as Twitter into an environment that is more familiar to your community members: Your own blog or website. It works with what you already have.

Things to Think About

Screen shot 2010-12-03 at 12.05.37 PM.pngNow that you know a few reasons for using Storify, here are things to think about before you do so:

  1. A Storify presentation can be confusing, especially for readers who are less familiar with social media. Make sure you offer a bit of background about what they're looking at, especially if Storify is new to your website. I also found that keeping things in chronological or reverse chronological order helped our readers better understand what they were looking at. Finally, be careful about how much you're mixing YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr with blogs and your own text. Don't try to tell too many stories in too many ways in a single Storify story.
  2. Providing context. The neat thing about Storify is that it allows you to insert your own text in between the curated items. But it's also sometimes a good idea to start with a classical long form blog post or written intro above your Storify story, and then embed the Storify below. Often times, just inserting Storify into a blog post isn't enough to help people understand the context of what they're reading.
  3. Beware of the unknown. Storify is still in private beta and more and better features are being added. However, we don't know if the company/product will succeed, so I wonder what happens to all of my Stofiy stories if it shuts down? What if the company decides to integrate ads in a way that's not acceptable for you or your media company? I asked (on Twitter of course) Storify whether it's possible to export one's stories, and the good people at the company said you one can export stories using their API." Just append .json to the story URL and you're good to go!

The Future

I think Storify has the potential to become a very interesting platform. While services such as Seesmic make it easy to monitor social streams from many different services, they don't provide a very easy and straightforward way to combine all that stuff into stories. I look forward to seeing how Storify will develop its service (for instance, on tablets).

What are your experiences with Storify or similar services? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife, Liesbeth.

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December 02 2010


10 Reasons Our Student Newspaper Blog Stinks

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

I am writing an adviser's confession: Our student newspaper blog stinks.

Amid many scoops and successes this semester, The Minaret, the weekly campus paper I advise at the University of Tampa, has endured a major bust. Roughly three months in, our efforts to launch a buzzworthy and newsworthy blog have failed -- spectacularly.

But I will not go quietly into that long production night, which for us is Tuesday.

Instead, I want my staff to learn from our mistakes and grow our blog, The Crescent, into something better. I also want to ensure others do not follow in our #epicfail footsteps.

In that spirit, here are the top ten reasons I believe our student newspaper blog, so far, has flopped.

10 Reasons

1. We don't have a dedicated blog editor.
Our managing editor oversees the blog. At first glance, that makes sense. He's a workaholic new media whiz kid with design chops and an unbridled passion for journalism and the newspaper. So far though, it has been hellish for him.

I know we live in a journalism age in which everyone is supposed to be equipped to do everything. And I know that student newspaper staffers regularly double and triple up on their defined job scope for the greater good of the paper. But for our managing editor -- someone who is already enmeshed in layout, staff oversight, copy editing, reporting, and budget issues -- launching and overseeing the blog appears to be a step too far.

Even in the short time I've known him, I've been able to measure his stress not by the look on his face, but the fuzz. When he's clean-shaven, I know all's well and we have a solid issue. When he sports two-day stubble, I know there's a major misspelling in a published headline and a reporter who's gone MIA. When he periodically dives into blog work, his scruff becomes a full-blown "defeat" beard, the kind Al Gore grew after he lost the 2000 presidential election and the one Conan O'Brien continues to sport after being ousted from "The Tonight Show."

A blog is important enough to have a staffer whose sole or most significant responsibility revolves around its maintenance. Just because a staffer in a separate position has the skills, knowledge or willingness to augment their work with additional blog oversight does not mean that they should.

2. We don't have a blog-first mentality.
The Crescent should be our spot to break news and provide real-time previews and post-event reviews. But the power of print is subverting the blog's potential. Students continue to hold content for the hard copy paper, seeing their role as weekly newshounds instead of real-time watchdogs. In this sense, writing for the Crescent is not perceived as a perfect avenue to report in the moment, engage readers or experiment. Instead, it is viewed as extra work, the type most staffers do not have the time or energy to take on.

3. We haven't integrated the blog into the paper.
In our early planning, we excitedly defined the Crescent as the last piece of our puzzle, the driving engine of a three-tiered presence that also includes our print edition and website. Instead, it's been the spare tire hidden in the trunk.

There is no real interplay between the blog and other parts of the Minaret. At editorial meetings, while brainstorming story ideas, we talk about news angles, sources, photos, editorial illustrations, information graphics, and full packaging options. The Crescent rarely, if ever, comes up.

Screen shot 2010-12-01 at 10.14.00 PM.pngWe randomly run a few Crescent headlines in RSS feed-fashion on the side of our home page, but otherwise the blog exists in no-man's land. It sports its own web address and masthead. At first glance, it is not immediately clear what the blog is, why it exists or who it belongs to.

4. We don't embrace the blog's multimedia potential.
The Crescent sports bare text and Flickr photos by the truckload. We are not running podcasts, audio slideshows, news videos, Dipity timelines or PDFs of campus security reports or student government budgets. At this point, we barely offer active links.

5. We haven't made the blog feel very inviting.
The design is what I've dubbed "minimalist bleak." The text is there, presented in the classic centerpiece one-column format, but it is tiny. The sparse whiteness of the page also appears just a bit too white, overwhelming the words and images embedded within it. We also don't tease out enough of each post to entice readers to click through. And the small photos running with the text are not grabbing anyone's attention.

6. We haven't made the blog interactive.
There is no dialogue with readers. We haven't solicited crazy Halloween stories, messy dorm room photos or #epicfailatUT tweets.

We have attempted to stir up interest in a poll question asked at the end of a big story in each week's print edition that students must travel to the blog to answer. Our enthusiasm has waned after realizing that not many people are answering. I recently responded to a question, selecting one of the three choices, and found each one had been chosen by 33.3 percent of respondents. It turned out only three of us had answered, each one giving a different response.

7. We aren't promoting the blog enough.
In an informal poll a few of my students and I conducted on campus, we came across only one student who even knew the Crescent existed. He had only been to the site once. When asked how he had heard about it, he giggled, replying, "Honestly, I don't remember."

We have not yet taken advantage of the massive power of social media to hype our efforts. Heck, we haven't even handed out flyers or papered dorm hallway walls with the web address. And while we drop in occasional quarter-page promos about it in our print edition, they don't sport an image, tagline or concept that in any way stands out from the bodybuilding and "quit smoking" ads running nearby.

8. We aren't running enough fresh content.
We never expected hourly updates, but we barely scrounge together three or four solid posts a week. They tend to go live at random and rarely relate to anything timely happening on campus or in the world. The bottom line: There is absolutely no reason for anyone to check out the blog on a regular basis or in the midst of breaking news.

9. We don't have a coherent voice.
This was a planning problem. We wanted a blog, plain and simple. But at the outset, we never really established why or what we wanted it to be. Is it meant for us to let our hair down and write without objectivity? Is it for us to tackle tougher issues and be more explicit? Is it to speak with sarcasm? Is it to drop the nonsense and literally be all-interactive, letting students write in and sound off? Is it to simply flesh out our print coverage? Answers still to come...

10. We don't offer a consistent editorial slate.
Our blog content is scattered. As recent headlines reveal, we jump randomly from "Gossip Girl Spoiler Chat" and "How Real Men Treat Women" to "American League Cy Young Predictions" and "Another Reason Canada Should Apologize to Justin Bieber."

The best blogs fill a niche, providing the most relevant and comprehensive information on a single slice of life, geographical area or area of interest. By contrast, our blog is a ditch- one in which we have been throwing unwanted or unneeded content, regardless of form, quality or relevancy to our readers.

Still Have Hope

On the bright side, the beauty of the web is that failure can often turn to success -- and you can watch it happen in real-time. I hope in the months to come the Crescent will become a central part of our web presence. The dream scenario is for the blog to be the students' home page, their first check in the morning, something for which they are excited to contribute, and something that fills their information niche.

But for now, as Usher once sang, this is my confession: Our student newspaper blog stinks.

Dan Reimold is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Tampa. He writes and presents frequently on the campus press and maintains the daily blog College Media Matters, affiliated with the Associated Collegiate Press. His first book on a major modern college media trend, Sex and the University: Celebrity, Controversy, and a Student Journalism Revolution, was published this fall by Rutgers University Press.

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

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November 12 2010


November 03 2010


Canadian Murder Trial a Crucible for Real-Time Coverage

Late last month in a Canadian courtroom, Russell Williams, a former high-ranking colonel in the Canadian military, pleaded guilty to the murders of two young women as well as 86 counts of break and enter, sexual assault and other crimes. His sentencing hearing was widely covered by major Canadian media. Here, Canadian online journalism professor Robert Washburn explains how journalists tackled the story, in real-time.

Using social media in journalism is like watching lightning. It can be explained as a physical phenomenon using the laws of physics. Scientists study it and forecast when it will happen. But nobody can predict where it will hit. Nobody can predict the results. More than anything else, nobody can make it hit the same spot twice.

Social media played a significant role during the Russell Williams hearing, as it became a news ticker from inside the courtroom, sharing vivid, often disturbing details of his crimes.

More and more, newsrooms are recognizing the importance of the use of social media like Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and so forth. The American Journalism Review in March reported the influx of social media editors working with citizen journalists, engaging audiences. NYTimes.com and CNN.com, for example, experienced a 300 percent increase in unique visitors via these media.

Yet, social media continues to confound those who want to see reproducible results. Social media is viral and uncontrolled; messages get reworked, reshaped and retweeted, as Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias pointed out in her post-G20 analysis of the use of Twitter during the protests in Toronto in June.

Robert Picard, a fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, said it best in a recent article in Nieman Reports.

"So this may not be the ideal time to suggest that the social media landscape is continuing to be transformed in ways that journalists and news organizations will find confounding," he wrote.

Already there are analyses starting, looking into the ethical dimensions of the use of Twitter during the Williams hearing. It will be up to the media ethicists and other scholars to dissect the content and provide analysis. This article is meant to be an early examination of the role of social media technology and the lessons learned for future applications in journalism.

BlackBerry Ban Lifted

Immediately, it is important to understand the unique context of the Williams hearing. First, a judge lifted a BlackBerry ban and allowed reporters to bring laptop computers and smartphones into the courtroom. This is not always the case in Canada, and is determined by each judge for each case. Hence, this was unusual.

These tools allowed instant communication with the newsroom. It also gave reporters the ability to instantly publish what was going on. Twitter was a popular tool, as some organizations allowed reporters to post to individual accounts or to use aggregator technology like CoveritLive, where a number of reporters, commentators and editors were presenting a stream of information via text and images.

The content was very raw in some instances, as reporters became stenographers, passing along details with little -- if any -- context or forethought. Twitter technology constrains journalists in this manner, according to Mark Walker, business team leader at Toronto-based real-time content management system ScribbleLive. For one thing, he said in an email to me, messages are limited to 140 characters. It's also push technology, meaning the audience subscribes and then automatically receives information. It is unedited, unauthenticated and unverified, he argued, breaking three of the major protocols of good journalism.

Sure, the contents of the hearing were compelling. Certainly, there were members of the audience and journalists who found the content repulsive. Still, the way crown attorney (prosecutor) Lee Burgess walked the judge through the evidence, building layer upon layer of detailed evidence, made a word-for-word reporting pretty enticing. This, in turn, became more shocking as it unfolded. It was a challenge for journalists to stop and use news judgment due to the momentum created by this legal strategy. The evidence was presented in such a way as to create a very dramatic narrative as the nature of the crimes and violence escalated. While the technology made it easy to publish, the content smoothed the process as well. Neither the technology nor the news media needed to add anything to make this case sensational. It was inherently sensational.

Beyond Social Media

The high news value of the Williams hearing meant additional resources were given to the coverage. And the technology went beyond social media. While some reporters were alone in the courtroom, platforms like CoveritLive allowed editors and other journalists to contribute to the information stream. Reporters back in the newsroom included contextual background, uploaded photo galleries and provided filler when the streams were slow. In the courtroom, illustrators uploaded their drawings directly to the newsroom's live feed. CoveritLive also enabled news organizations to incorporate what readers and other Twitter and social media users were saying.

Screen shot 2010-11-03 at 1.34.51 PM.png

In other cases, CoveritLive was used to hold live, interactive chats with audiences to discuss aspects of the trial. For example, the CBC invited trauma specialists and psychotherapists to discuss the impact of the trial.

Another factor was the high public interest in the case. The coverage of the murders, the investigation, the arrest and the pre-hearing reporting laid the foundation for a large audience seeking more information. Social media was a good channel for audiences because it allowed them to follow details instantly and from anywhere.

Expect To Be Confounded

Twitter is useful to journalists as a form of news ticker, a steady stream of information for audiences. It is good at letting people know up-to-the-minute what is going on in the format of short snippets. But the use of CoveritLive by the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail and CBC (and ScribbleLive by the National Post), among others, mitigated some of the issues raised by using Twitter alone.

In these cases several techniques were used. For example the blending of several Twitter feeds provided varied points of view. In other cases, Twitter messages were combined with other journalists and experts outside the courtroom and in the newsroom, who were able to provide context, images and other information. This added context in some cases and other perspectives, as well. It also made for a single delivery platform for audiences, giving them one channel to receive a wide range of information.

Toronto Star reporter Joanna Smith, who distinguished herself as one of the better Twittering reporters in the country when she used the platform to report from Haiti, was quoted by her own paper in a story about using Twitter to cover the hearing.

Screen shot 2010-11-03 at 1.26.24 PM.png

"The immediacy of Twitter has a power that both news consumers and journalists are still getting used to harnessing,'' she said. "I think of my tweets from Haiti and how crafting a single 140-character tweet that worked as a complete narrative had a power that gave me chills, sometimes, in a way that the same amount of text in a newspaper story would not. I think many of my followers felt the same way about it. I think the same dynamics are at play here, but the content is so graphic that almost any tweet can blow someone away. We have to respect that, and work hard to check and balance ourselves accordingly."

Is Twitter a useful tool for journalists? No doubt. And, should journalists continue to use social media? Of course. But, as Picard rightly said, we must expect to be confounded. What is most important is journalists should be free to experiment with these new technologies. The Williams hearing was an important crucible to test the use of social media in news coverage in Canada.

We are in a period where innovation can happen spontaneously. New standards are yet to be formed. Journalists must remain open to the possibilities. Still, it should never be viewed as predictable or controllable. Like lightning, journalists will need to understand it, but also stand back and watch.

Prof. Robert Washburn instructs in the new Journalism: Online, Print and Broadcast program at Loyalist College in Ontario, Canada, where he teaches the uses of new technologies in journalism. He is the innovation editor for J-Source.ca, where he launched the Canadian Hyperlocal Journalism Project aimed at building resources to assist those interested in this emerging area. He has worked for more than 25 years as a journalist in newspapers, magazines and radio, and was the first post-secondary educator in Canada to teach in Second Life.

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October 28 2010


Notable Moments From the 2010 ONA Conference

"Welcome to the conference where journalism supposedly doesn't know it's supposed to be dead."

Those were the welcoming words from Online News Association executive director Jane McDonnell as she opened the 2010 Online News Association Conference.

Many of the top people in online journalism in the Unites States, Canada and other countries are in Washington, D.C. this week for the conference. I'm here representing PBS MediaShift and OpenFile, the online news startup I'm involved with in Canada. This post is where I'll collect my thoughts, impressions and all of the notable things I see and hear at #ONA10.

Come back over the course of the weekend for the latest updates.

Friday TBD Keynote

The conference program officially kicked off with a keynote discussion featuring key people from TBD.com, the recently launched local news website for the D.C. area. Jim Brady (general manager), Erik Wemple (editor), Mandy Jenkins (social media producer) and Steve Buttry (director of community engagement) took part. Some notable quotes and information:

"The way I phrase [our revenue model] to people is that there's no silver bullet -- it's just shrapnel ... there isn't one stream that's going to make us successful." -- Jim Brady. He also later noted that TBD could roll out paid mobile apps that offer very targeted information and functionality. For now, though, their main apps are free and will likely stay that way.

"Burrell & Associates predicts there will be $1 billion spent this year in local mobile advertising, and they are seeing $11 billion by 21014. That's bigger than last year's decrease in print advertising." -- Steve Buttry

"Our editorial vision is that we try to focus on a few key areas: Transportation, arts and entertainment and sports that cut across the region. We can't be in every jurisdiction. For politics we are doing a fact checking approach ... The vision is just work really hard all the time, and always be checking your device. We are just trying to keep the site refreshed at all times." -- Erik Wemple

"If you run a website that doesn't have something that's terrible on it, you are not trying hard enough. You have to fail, fail, fail. You have to fail and fail miserably many times." -- Erik Wemple

Many Jenkins said that in order to do her job she has 22 columns open in TweetDeck, has keyword searches running constantly, and is reading around 200 news feeds constantly. "I follow a ton of our readers -- pretty much anyone who has sent us a news tip," she said.

"Social media, while it's a great source of information, you have to treat it like a tip line, not like a reporter. It's a matter of checking all of your sources before you run with them, and it's an important part of using [social media tools] responsibly." -- Mandy Jenkins

A lot of news organizations think social media "is a way to get our stuff out to people. [Mandy Jenkins] pushed an idea that it's also the police scanner of the 21st century." -- Jim Brady

"The commodity that's most restricted in people's lives is time." -- Jim Brady

More updates to come...

Craig Silverman is an award-winning journalist and author, and the managing editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He is founder and editor of Regret the Error, the author of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech, and a columnist for Columbia Journalism Review and BusinessJournalism.org and the Toronto Star. He serves as digital journalism director of OpenFile, a collaborative local news site for Canada. Follow him on Twitter at @CraigSilverman.

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October 19 2010


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.

pam maples.jpg

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.


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:


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:


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:



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 18 2010


Newspapers Must Consider More Free, Citizen Media Content

Newspapers can be saved and they can get back to delivering a consistent return on capital to investors, but this can't be achieved using old methods. At CRG Partners, our experience working with newspaper companies in the U.S. and U.K. has shown us that publishers and their executive management seem to believe that traditional cost-cutting methods of layoffs, smaller and thinner papers and lower salaries represent all of the savings that they can generate out of their operations. That's not the case.

One of the myriad problems facing publishers and editors is that, while their resources have been halved or more and they have drastically cut staff and operations, they still face the need to create valuable, compelling and most importantly, local news and features.

One publisher told our firm, "In order to survive we have to be able to generate non-commodity hyper-local content that is relevant and at a cost that allows us to remain competitive and profitable."

Content costs represent between 35 and 45 percent of the cost of producing a newspaper, so the question becomes: How can we cut costs in content and still deliver quality? In order to approach the question correctly, publishers need better information about how they source content -- which content comes from what sources, how it is used, and how much it costs. Content sourcing is one of the area where newspaper publishers and other content-driven organizations can realize real cost savings and prepare their organizations for the new world of publishing.

Maintaining Quality Amid Economic Realities

In reality, publishers and CEOs have little understanding about what their editors are doing. Publishers don't know the relevance of the cost of staff-produced content, paid content from syndicates, wire services and shared or free contributed content and associated editing costs. If they can get a handle on this, they can do a better job figuring out the cost/quality equation for print, online and beyond.

Without change, the opportunity to reduce costs without impacting quality is probably limited. How to build a better model? When you are working towards more efficient content sourcing, you have to ask the right questions:

  1. Is there an alternative content gathering model or a more efficient model that will help to reduce costs without negatively impacting quality?
  2. Can we improve our content gathering model without any need for change?
  3. How good are we at sharing content?
  4. How much copy is rewritten?
  5. Can we increase pro bono content and is there a strategy in place to facilitate this?

Metro dailies spend large sums on Associated Press and wire content while also maintaining significant local staffing levels. Based on our experience working with these types of publishers, the problem is that the expenditures often don't match the way content is used. Additionally, the way content is used varies wildly by title. A content sourcing analysis can reveal sometimes startling mismatches between editorial expenditure and the way content is used.

Some content is national or international in nature and, in our view, don't need to be staff-produced. Those cases include national and international reports, movie reviews, celebrity news, travel and many lifestyle features. Staff photography can be moved to the first few pages of a section and wire service or contributed photos used further inside. Layers of copyediting can be reduced.

Free or contributed content is a small but growing source of the newspaper offering. Metro dailies have so far rejected the large amount of free content that is available due to concerns about quality, editorial independence and ethics. In this day and age, however, it is wrong to believe that the quality of content you can get from free or archived material or bloggers is unusable.

I'm not advocating that companies move to relying upon citizen journalism as a solution to the metro daily content sourcing puzzle. But certain areas -- high school sports, local government and education, for example -- can rely upon content produced by unpaid contributors who work within specified editorial policies. They can fit into the overall editorial sourcing solution. The best-producing, most popular journalists still have roles in the new model by producing relevant, non-commodity local news that differentiates the metro daily. They are needed now more than ever. New media still stands on the shoulders of old media.

Content Sourcing Data

Over the past year, our firm analyzed four newspaper chains representing 300 titles.
The below graphic illustrates what we found when we looked at how a group of U.K. newspapers were sourcing content (I share some U.S. data below it). Each letter on the left hand side represents a newspaper in the U.K. that has experienced downturns in circulation and revenue. The percentages illustrate how papers within the same chain use content in very different ways:


At a different newspaper company, we found that 125 papers published an average of 37 percent staff-written articles and 29 percent wire service material. What we called "reworked content," or content that had to be rewritten or heavily edited, accounted for 14 percent of what was published. Shared content from sister publications was just 8 percent, while free, or contributed content, represented 5 percent of published content.

These papers had already undergone extensive staff reductions. In the conventional sense, all the costs had been wrung out. But newspapers have to change the way they think in order to survive. If you've wrung out all the costs you can from the existing content creation model, then it's time to change the model itself. One paper printed 8 percent of its material from free content. If that number moved up to 20 percent, the savings can be measured and monetized. In the case of this client, a reduction of the use of 16 percent of staff-produced material led to a savings of 28 percent in staffing costs.

Although the program has been implemented for 2010-2011, actual results aren't in yet. At this point, the editorial changes have been accepted and circulation is holding steady. If all goes according to plan, a total of $4.3 million more in savings will be realized. None of that could be accomplished by an editorial system that doesn't understand what it costs to produce a newspaper. It's high time for a content sourcing change in this industry.

As part of New York-based CRG Partners, Neil Heyside (neil.heyside@crgpartners.com) has more than 20 years of experience in process improvement, change management and operational reengineering in the U.K., U.S., Europe and South Africa. CRG Partners received the 2010 Turnaround Management Association's (TMA's) Mega Company Turnaround Award and was named Turnaround Consulting Firm of the Year by M&A Advisor. He can be reached at 212.370.5550.

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October 06 2010


Linden Lab's Rosedale Considers 'Scrum' Method in Newsrooms

My software developer friends talk a lot these days about two words/concepts: Agile and Scrum. At first I thought it was typical dev talk with no relevance for newsrooms, but I eventually realized these notions are part of a major shift in the way all companies -- including media companies -- will have to adapt.


As Wikipedia explains it, agile software development is a group of methodologies based on iterative and incremental development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams.

Key points from the Agile Manifesto are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Even though these principles may seem rather vague, the agile philosophy has very concrete and precise implementations such as the Scrum methodology. The main roles in Scrum, according to Wikipedia, are:

  • The "ScrumMaster," who maintains the processes (typically in lieu of a project manager)
  • The "Product Owner," who represents the stakeholders (such as the customers or users) and the business
  • The "Team," a cross-functional group of about 7 people who do the actual analysis, design, implementation, testing, etc.

When combined with an open source approach, this can be an efficient way of doing things. For instance, the virtual world Second Life is reworking its "viewer" (user interface) using the Scrum methodology and it's publishing the documentation of the entire process.

The developers reach out to users in order to determine priorities, and users can monitor the progress being made in fast iterations.

The founder of Second Life, Philip Rosedale, recently started another company, LoveMachine, a crowdsourced review and bonus system (among other projects). Here's how the company's website describes the operation:

We are also a different kind of company. Instead of interviewing to work here, you just get to work. If you'd like to join our team, first sign up at the worklist, where you can see and bid on the jobs we need done, then enter our live workroom and talk to other team members!

LoveMachine attempts to be completely transparent, and to introduce market-based price discovery systems for jobs that are typically done by employees in a traditional bureaucratic structure.

I wondered whether we could imagine a newsroom being so transparent and open: Publishing worklists that are open for bidding, granting open access to a live workroom, allowing anyone to collaborate.

I met Philip Rosedale in Second Life and asked him what he thought about applying these principles to a media organization. What follows is an edited version of our conversation.


Philip, is LoveMachine an example of Scrum?


Philip Rosedale: That company started from scratch with not one line of code written. So we could do things completely differently in order to create software as efficiently, enjoyably and fast as possible.

Scrum is really becoming the mainstream way of looking at best practices. At LoveMachine we brought this to another level, for the whole company. We provide a tremendous amount of transparency. We ask people to bid for a small piece of work, or if you do a small piece of work, you set the price afterwards -- we trust you. Psychological research -- using brain scans -- demonstrated that this tends to be much more rewarding than being paid upfront. Because people set their own prices, it makes them very engaged.

Within the company, there are people with a budget and they accept work from other people. Because everything is transparent, there is a rapid setting and finding of the right price.

You recently returned as CEO at Linden Lab (the company behind Second Life). Do you apply the same principles there as at the LoveMachine?

Rosedale: We are not applying those same principles in Linden Lab. That is a relatively large company involved in complex projects. However, Linden Lab is the place where six years ago we started applying these ideas of recognizing the work of [colleagues] in a transparent way.

So does this mean that large companies cannot apply the methodology of LoveMachine?

Rosedale: Large companies will partially apply this because these techniques allow for such fast and efficient work. For instance, they'll do so for open source projects. But they will not adopt this en masse, because of the weight of tradition.

Could it be applied by newspapers or other mainstream media?

Rosedale: It's a promising way of organizing highly motivated contributors working in a decentralized way. Traditional, well-established companies will not [implement] this overnight, but they'll experiment.

99 designs is a bidding platform which can be used when you want a logo or web design. It is highly efficient and is also used by media companies.
More in general, one should take advantage of the fact that many different people are capable [of doing] a certain task. Instead of only relying on a very limited number of employees, one can appeal to a much larger distributed community of contributors. It makes much faster and cost-effective development possible.

Speaking from a European perspective, I cannot imagine the labor unions would applaud this.

Rosedale: Labor unions as collectives can only agree on increases in wages, while in some situations it's more rational to lower the wages. There is a trade-off between job security and efficiency. In times of technology-driven major change, unions are an interesting problem.

Could developing countries benefit from this, and who would profit most, the West or developing countries?

Rosedale: Developing countries have less institutional hurdles for adopting this way of working. I've been reading the book The Rational Optimist [by Matt Ridly], which explains how technologically driven change is beneficial for humanity, and actually the developing world profits even more from technological change than the industrialized countries -- which means that technology helps narrow the gap.

More trouble for established media companies

Rosedale's vision is optimistic on a macro level and seemingly well suited for young, small and nimble companies. But his points also made me understand that big, established media companies may be in more trouble than they realize.

Today's media companies are increasingly becoming technology companies. So while the big, established companies find it difficult to lower their cost structure and change their legacy organizational structure, newer start-ups are adopting transparent methods that enable them to develop technology much faster and cheaper.

Chances are that they will be the champions in an era of mobile, ubiquitous media.

Image of Agile process via Wikipedia

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife, Liesbeth.

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September 27 2010


How Aftonbladet Varies Paid Content with Clubs, Micropayments

While newspapers in the U.S. are struggling to find ways to fund online content, Aftonbladet, the most read newspaper in Sweden has been successfully charging for online content for several years. Here's a look at how paid content is working in Sweden.

Aftonbladet: Early to the Web

Aftonbladet, founded in 1830, is one of the biggest daily newspapers in the Nordic countries. The paper's content is a mixture of news, entertainment, sports and lifestyle. As a typical Scandinavian evening paper, Aftonbladet isn't as sensational or punchy as one might expect in a British or American tabloid.

Aftonbladet has a daily circulation of roughly 360,000 and a readership of over 1 million in a country of 9.3 million people. The print paper is sold daily for the equivalent of $1.30, and the paper does not offer subscriptions or home delivery for the print edition.

Its print circulation has been on the decline, but Aftonbladet's growing online readership is now up to 5 million unique visitors a week. Aftonbladet was the first Swedish newspaper to go online in the mid-'90s, the first to charge for online content, and the first to find success with this strategy.

Schibsted, a Norwegian media conglomerate, owns 91 percent of Aftonbladet. Schibsted has been very successful at monetizing online businesses, with one example being a Craigslist-style online classifieds business.

Paid Content: Plus Service

Aftonbladet uses a freemimum model for its online content strategy. Most of its content is free, including news and commentary. But readers are charged for the "Plus" service content, and they can pay for it using micropayments or by purchasing a subscription. A subscription costs about $4 per month (or $43 per year). The service started seven years ago and currently has 115,000 subscribers.


The Plus service includes lifestyle material, such as over 200 different travel guides, health articles, and reviews of cars, gadgets and other products and services. There are also instructional guides for everything from buying an apartment to dieting or owning a pet. The paper also charges for select news stories, such as those that have to do with the Swedish Royal family.

The service's most popular content are the health articles, travel guides, the yearly lists regarding taxation in Sweden, and the reviews.

"One of the most read articles was about how to get a 'Fight Club' body, a very well trained body," said Elsa Falk, the product development manager at Aftonbladet. "When the article was published, we got many new subscribers."

Falk said the paper works to get the most out of its popular content by changing the angle and pictures on articles in order to keep them fresh, which enables them to reuse content.

Most of the content offered in the Plus service is produced by Aftonbladet's staff writers. The paper has created a special editorial group with four editors and one managing editor for its paid service. They select the material that ends up going behind the pay wall.

Experiments with Micropayments

Aftonbladet introduced the micropayment option for the Plus service earlier this year. With this in place, readers can pick any paid article they want and pay a one time fee for that piece of content.

"The total number of purchases increased since we launched micropayments, but sales of subscriptions decreased drastically," Falk said.

That's a notable loss for the paper because there is a lack of information of average revenue per user (ARPU) when it comes to micropayment users. That makes it hard to analyze the business. On the other hand, with the micropayment model, the paper gets to see what kind of stories people are willing to pay for individually.

As a result, Aftonbladet shifted the way it's using micropayments. One big change is that not every Plus service article is available for single purchase.

"We deliberate now carefully about which articles will be available only for Plus subscribers, and which ones are also available for micropayments," Falk said. "We also raised the price of content available for micropayments."

Clubs and Movies


While the Plus service is a big part of the paper's paid content strategy, it's by no means the only offering.

Aftonbladet also operates different membership clubs. Currently, its site has a weight loss club and an insomnia club. The weight loss club costs $70 per year or can be joined for about $10 to $15 a month.

The weight loss membership provides a program for dieting, and the insomnia club is, of course, aimed at helping people sleep better. Each club is run by experts in the respective field. The weight loss club has had brought in 380,000 subscribers since its launch in 2003. The Insomnia club just launched, so Falk said it's too early to share figures or declare it a success.

Aftonbladet also sells documentaries on a pay-per-view basis, and delivers this content in collaboration with producers such as National Geographic and BBC.

"You don't get rich on showing one documentary, but it is the long tail that matters here more," Falk said.

The paper has also made it a priority to release iPhone apps, and will be launching an iPad app as soon as the device arrives in Sweden.

"It is necessary to be present in all the platforms, and it is important not to be there only for free of charge," Falk said.

The Future: More Experimentation

Aftonbladet's online revenue is growing, and it currently accounts for between 10 and 12 percent of total revenue. One fifth of Aftonbladet's online revenue comes from paid content. And of all revenue generated by paid content, the journalistic content (such as articles, reviews and guides) accounts for 55 percent. Membership clubs bring in a bit more than one third of total paid content revenue, and the rest comes from selling books and products such as yoga mats and even vuvuzelas.

There are many factors that have contributed to the paper's online success. For example, Aftonbladet was smart enough to be an early mover on the web in Sweden, and that has resulted in it gaining a large, loyal audience. Aftonbladet has also done a good job creating a sense of uniqueness around its Plus service, and in offering a wide range of content. There is something for a sports fan or celebrity junkie, as well as useful content for anyone buying an apartment, trying to lose weight, or planning a trip.

Falk said the paper continues to experiment with its paid content offerings.

"There are interesting possibilities with 'Long Tail' e-commerce, for example," Falk said.

She said Aftonbladet hasn't really operated with a holistic strategy for paid content, but that the paper is now developing one.

"We are very much entrepreneurs here at Aftonbladet, and it has been good enough so far," Falk said. "Now we want to apply more strategic thinking in our plans."

Tanja Aitamurto is a journalist and a Ph.D. student studying collective intelligence in journalism. She has studied innovation journalism at Stanford, and has degrees in journalism, social sciences, and linguistics. Tanja advises media companies and non-profit organizations about the changes in the field of communication. As a journalist, she specializes in business and technology. She contributes mainly to the Huffington Post and to the Helsingin Sanomat, the leading daily newspaper in Finland, as well as to the Finnish Broadcasting Company. Tanja splits her time between San Francisco and Finland, her home country.

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August 18 2010


August 17 2010


10 Ways to Make Video a More Interactive Experience

I love my iPad. One of the reasons I love it is that it's a great device for watching video. Some mainstream media integrate video very nicely into their iPad applications. However, it seems that all this slickness comes at a price: The conversation with the people formerly known as the audience is often non-existent. It seems that the potentially-messy-but-genuine conversation with
the community is being shifted to Facebook and Twitter.


The iPad (and similar products) is potentially a disruptive device, empowering people to publish not just blog posts or status updates but also their own books and magazines, as the example of Flipboard (left) demonstrates. There is a danger, however, that traditional media won't understand this and will revert to its old ways by producing slick end products that broadcast without actually engaging in a conversation.

You can see this tendency at work online in the videos produced by newspapers. Yes, you can (often) embed their videos, share them on Twitter and Facebook and via email. But often you can't participate in a discussion about the video. Sometimes you can't even leave a comment. Too little effort is being made to evaluate and integrate interactive and community aspects into video.

For example, have a look at the impressive video production on WSJ.com. The videos are well done, but the integration of community interactivity is underwhelming. We're struggling with this at my own newspaper as well, but we're in the process of applying some of the solutions I suggest below.

10 Suggestions

In order to help media organizations do a better job of making video interactive, here are 10 suggestions for integrating video into a wider discussion with the community.

  1. Enable people to leave comments on a video. What I often see on YouTube, however, is that the producer or uploader of the videos do not participate in the discussion. The same rules apply here as for text articles: If you don't respond to comments, there is a risk that people will consider the comments to be akin to graffiti on a blank wall, and not participate.
  2. When interviewing colleagues or experts in a video, provide a back-channel so the audience can chat along and add to the discussion. For example, Livestream.com and Ustream.tv offer a chat and social stream next to the live video. Ustream also does this rather well in its iPhone App.
  3. It's also possible to integrate video into a text-chat module, such as the previously discussed CoverItLive. A word of caution: Most people are not good at being a talking head on video while simultaneously chatting -- it tends to give clumsy and boring results. So let the live video host focus on her job.
  4. The same rules apply as for a regular chat session: It helps to have a fixed schedule for conversational sessions, and to provide an introductory article or post to provide context and discussion material, thus enabling people to ask questions in advance and to prepare for the discussion.
  5. You can invite community members to have a video conversation by using their webcams to appear directly on camera. I've done some experiments with Seesmic video and will note that some psychological and technical barriers stand in the way of doing this well. Which means we need more experimentation.
  6. Especially when it comes to local news coverage, it could be interesting to invite your community members to contribute their own videos. In my previous post about immersive journalism, I mentioned Stroome as an interesting platform for collaborative video editing.
  7. You can easily build a virtual studio in Second Life and invite guests to participate in a live discussion with an audience of avatars/community members. Second Life enables you to combine audio (for host and guests) and chat (for the audience/community members), and a video stream all in one. You can do this for guests who would be hard to convince to come in person to your newsroom for a live discussion. To see this in action, have a look at the Metanomics show. You can find other related practices in the aforementioned immersive journalism post and the comments on that post.
  8. Do not underestimate the importance of text. It could be interesting to have three live streams: 1) The live video stream of an interview; 2) the chat channel; and 3) a live blog. The live blog enables people who missed the live event to quickly find out what the chat was about. During the event it helps those who are hearing impaired, or who are in office settings and can't watch the video.
  9. A very simple but effective technique is to announce a video interview in advance and to ask the community for input in terms of questions or topics for discussion. This seems very straightforward, but it's mindboggling how reluctant journalists are to ask the community for input.
  10. Along the same lines, there are many ways to ask for help when preparing for a video interview: You could use a wiki, a collaborative mindmap, or let people vote for the best questions. But in my opinion the good old blog post does a great job because it's conversational and not technologically intimidating. Just explain what your intentions are for the interview, what the context is (as you would do for your newsroom colleagues), and ask people to react. A follow-up in the video or in a separate blog post would be nice. Be sure to mention which community questions made it into the interview -- and make sure you tell your guest when a question comes directly from the community.

Those are my ideas. Please share your own suggestions for turning video into a community experience below in the comments.

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.

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August 16 2010


Experts Weigh Pros and Cons of Social Media

OurBlook.com has been conducting an ongoing interview series on the current and future role of journalism and social media. In previous posts for PBS MediaShift, I shared some of the insights we've gathered about the future of journalism, and the skills that will be required of future journalists.

In this installment, experts weigh on the impact social media has had on the media industry, and the way that journalists relate to their audiences. Overall, experts agreed that social media helps journalists:

  • Have more frequent two-way communication with news consumers, and thus develop stronger relationships with their readership.
  • Promote themselves by creating their own personal brand.
  • Find an array of news sources and information in real-time, and stay updated on new developments.
  • Easily promote content across multiple platforms, while at the same time reaching a wider audience.
  • Do on-the-spot reporting by making video and photography more accessible and inexpensive.

Experts Weigh In

"I can't understand why so many sectors are going kicking and screaming from the industrial age. News organizations have been reporting the change for decades, so what's the surprise? There is no shock that newspapers and magazines are failing; the model of printed news is being transformed into a new relationship model of information. Consumer markets, political conversations and everyday decision-making are being driven more and more by content in social media. Did news not get the memo that everyone wants to be a reporter?" -- Val Marmillion, president of Marmillion + Company Strategic Communications

"Social media are value neutral; their main virtue is the promise of democratic communication. This brings along with it all of the difficulties of democratic society...incivility, bullying, bias, prejudice, privatization, power struggles. These problems aren't a reason to dismiss or fear social media platforms; they're a challenge to each of us to fight for parity, transparency, access and openness." -- Jessica Clark, director for the Future of Public Media Project for the Center for Social Media at American University, and MediaShift contributor

"Twitter's brevity, its inherent capacity to reflect and create chaos, and to do so instantly and without verification, does not suggest that it has the power to create the kind of narrative that sustains real revolutionary action." -- Trevor Butterworth, editor of STATS.org


"Too much information bouncing around at the speed of thought leads to too much information erroneously being 'reported' or accepted as 'fact.' This has only accelerated the pressure to be 'first,' often at the expense of being 'right.' But perhaps even more dangerous is that the increasing proliferation of choices means that news consumers can choose to focus exclusively on 'infotainment,' and thus disengage from serious coverage of critical issues." -- Matt Hinckley, assistant dean for journalism and student media at Richland College

"At a joint National Press Club/Atlanta Press Club event a while back, I asked this question of the panel: In the future, how will people know what is a journalistic story and what is a paid, biased or fictitious post? I said I was concerned that young people may not know the difference. The panelists' answer was to encourage journalistic literacy programs, which is a good idea. But the most telling moment came when a journalism student approached me afterward and said young people can tell the difference; he's more worried about people in the older generation like his mother, who can't tell a scam email from the real thing." -- Terri Thornton, owner of Thornton Communications

"I strongly disagree that social media represent a dumbing down of America. It's the opposite...it's a way for us to become more informed, more connected and overall less ignorant. It's a way for us to experience different lives, different worlds and different points of view in a way that's never been possible, quite literally, in the history of the world. To call this tremendous capacity and facility to share information a 'dumbing down' is to miss the forest for the trees." -- Sasha Pasulka, blogger and founder of EvilBeetGossip.com

Rob Salkowitz.jpg

"People who approach political discourse from the perspective of reading blogs and engaging in online debates via social networks -- Twitter and so on -- tend to value authenticity in those interactions, and are less patient with the niceties of the one-to-many broadcast model of communication...Members of the millennial generation in particular find the pomposity and stuffiness of traditional media less engaging than the give-and-take of social channels" -- Rob Salkowitz, author of "Young World Rising: How Youth, Technology and Entrepreneurship are Changing Global Business."

"One particular advantage of social media is that they help a reporter see the intellectual and social network of a source. For example, in Twitter I can see whom you are following and who is following you. I can see what you have re-tweeted and what links you have selected. Therefore, I can understand more fully your social context." -- Jerry Zurek, professor of English and communication department chair at Cabrini College

"This is a new way, an emerging way, and now a pervasive way. So when you jump in this pool, you have to jump in all the way. And that means, you have to listen, you have to participate, you need to contribute value as part of those relationships. And the reason you have to do that is because if you are not, your competitor probably is." -- David Kissel, partner of the Zocalo Group

"Social media is a good tool for publishers to expand content reach, but it won't save the fundamental business model of journalism at its core." -- Mitch Joel, president of Twist Image, author, and social media expert.

"Social media isn't a fad; it's changed the way people share and consume content. The web has allowed people to create their own online neighborhoods and elect leaders to speak for them. That's something journalists are going to have to really take into consideration. It's a new audience." -- Lisa Barone, chief branding officer of Outspoken Media, Inc.

"To be sure, social media are a frightening phenomenon to incumbents in the press, in politics and in the media. To the incumbents, social media are profoundly disruptive because of how they obviate their ownership of the 'choke point' in the communication channel. Their power is based on control of scarcity: Scarce resources, capital, intellectual property, and modes of production and distribution." -- Larry Elin, associate professor, S.I. Newhouse School, Syracuse University


"An active democracy is a successful democracy. As social media platforms engage voters in the political system, our democracy thrives. The risk, however, is that special interest groups have a significant opportunity to skew the conversation in their favor. While regular users have the ability to contribute to the conversation, few are motivated enough to do so. That allows motivated subgroups to manipulate the conversation and portray an inaccurate picture of the most important issues." -- Patrick Schwerdtfeger, author of "Webify your Business: Internet Secrets for the Self-Employed."

This article was co-written by Kurt Schilligo, a University Partnership Program intern.

Sandra Ordonez calls herself a web astronaut who has been helping organizations navigate the internet since 1997. Currently, she helps run OurBlook.com, a collaborative online forum that gathers interviews from today's top leaders in the hopes of finding tomorrow's solutions. Since December 2008, the site has been conducting a Future of Journalism interview series. Sandra also heads up the Facebook page, "Bicultural and Multicultural People Rule." Previously, she was the Communications Manager for Wikipedia. She graduated from American University with a double degree in International Relations and Public Relations.

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August 02 2010


Can Social Micro-Earnings Help Micropayments Work for News?

Would readers pay as little as a penny, or even less, for news? They would, if paying was combined with social sharing, micro-earning, virtual currency and a centralized banking system, according to doctoral students Geoffrey Graybeal and Jameson Hayes of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

Graybeal and Hayes propose a "Modified News MicroPayment Model" as a way to implement micropayments for news. In this model, readers are not pushed to pay for content, but are instead given choices and incentives to nudge them to pay. The model consists of four key elements: Micro-earnings, socialization/sharing, local focus and a centralized banking system. The model is described in a detail in a paper [PDF] that the pair presented at the Annual International Symposium on Online Journalism in Austin, Texas, in April.

The pair determines the two-way interaction of the social web as a principle in the model.

"When you use people's social networks to share content, and get other people to pay for it, it should be a partnership between the media organization and the reader, not a one-way proposition," Hayes said in a phone interview. "People need to get paid back, and the social web allows that."

Micro-earn by Sharing

In the model, micro-earnings are combined with social sharing. For example, when a reader shares news articles with friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter, and a friend ends up purchasing the article, the reader earns points. The reader can exchange these points to pay for articles at a news outlet. Thus, the reader can transform their social capital into something with monetary value.


Micro-earning has already been experimented with on a small scale in journalism. For example, sharing platform YupGrade enables readers to earn points, credits or badges by sharing news stories related to a certain topic. Sharing can be combined with donating, as was the case when YupGrade partnered with the Hunger in America campaign for the SXSW Interactive conference. For every story about hunger, malnutrition, or obesity in the U.S. shared on YupGrade, a can of food was donated to the campaign.

Another example of micro-earning is crowdfunding platform Spot.Us, where community members can earn credits by filling out surveys or other activities. They can then use these credits to donate to pitches on Spot.Us. Thus, readers' time is given a monetary value that can be converted on the site.

According to Graybeal and Hayes, when a news outlet implements a micropayment system, they should also simultaneously implement a micro-earning system.

"Micro-earning would have taken away some of the shock when Time magazine recently implemented a pay wall," Hayes said.

Virtual News Currencies: Times Tender, WSJ Bucks

Evidence suggests consumers are more likely to spend more money when they use virtual currencies and credits, Hayes and Graybeal state in their paper. As a result, the pair believes media outlets should establish their own currency. The Wall Street Journal could offer "WSJ Bucks," the New York Times could have the "Times Tender," etc.

Earning 100 WSJ Bucks for sharing an article on Facebook is more appealing to the reader than paying one-tenth of a cent for an article, they argue. Readers could then cash out the micro-credits they have earned via a centralized banking system. The news outlets could also sell points to the readers.

How the Banking System Works

Hayes and Graybeal see a centralized banking system as being crucial when building a seamless user experience for paying for news. It is also needed to address the transaction costs that are associated with micropayments. The banking systems gives especially local news outlets more control over the pricing of the news, the pair says.

"If a big story breaks in Clayton, Georgia, and the local newspaper, the Clayton Tribune, is the only one who has the story on it, the newspaper should be able to leverage that for their business, and not have the price forced on them by the national news organizations," Hayes said. "The central banking systems allows you to maintain the local focus, have different prices on different products and different places, all that streamlined into one banking system."

Here is how the banking system could work, according to Hayes' and Graybeal's proposal. Let's say the New York Times' currency is called Times Tender, and the user pays $100 for 100 Tenders. With one Tender, the reader can get an access to 10 Times articles. The Times has partnered with a micropayment billing platform that enables the reader to purchase articles with one click.

The users' Times Tender profile is linked to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. When they share a news article on social media and somebody from their network purchases the article, the billing system recognizes this and gives the reader credit.

"The key is to have a seamless user experience," Hayes said. "It has to be easy to use so that it is appealing to the readers."

Micropayments as Part of a Revenue Ecosystem

Graybeal and Hayes emphasize the importance of local and hyper-local focus in journalism, and see their micropayment model that could work for local news.

"Local news has always been a bread and butter for newspapers, but often times when talking about business models we are talking only about big players such as the New York Times," Graybeal said. "But a large amount of newspapers don't fall into this category, and there is a big opportunity for journalism in the neighborhoods that nobody is really covering."

Graybeal and Hayes see micro-earning as one revenue model in the ecosystem of revenue streams that consists of advertising, subscriptions and micropayments.

"This is not the solution, but can be one of the solutions", Hayes said.

He said readers have to be given different options for how to pay for news, such as through subscriptions or one article at a time via micropayments.

"In a paid content environment, outlets will leave money on the table and do a disservice to readers if multiple options for payment are not offered," Graybeal said.

Tanja Aitamurto is a journalist and a Ph.D. student studying collective intelligence in journalism. She has studied innovation journalism at Stanford, and has degrees in journalism, social sciences, and linguistics. Tanja advises media companies and non-profit organizations about business models, reader engagement and community building. As a journalist, she specializes in business and technology. She contributes mainly to the Huffington Post and to the Helsingin Sanomat, the leading daily newspaper in Finland, as well as to the Finnish Broadcasting Company.

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July 26 2010


Don't Blame the Content Farms

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From a business perspective, traditional journalism is rather inefficient.

Stories are chosen by a small group whose members often have similar experiences and outlooks. With little knowledge of true market demand, they assign the stories to a limited pool of writers and reporters who may not have the knowledge or contacts to quickly do a top-notch job. The stories are then produced and put out to consumers who may or may not like them. The process is repeated, daily or weekly or otherwise, often with little hard data on what, exactly, made a given story or feature popular.

But despite the inefficiencies, publishers have been able to survive, even thrive, because of other inefficiencies and barriers to competition, such as costly printing presses, advertisers with few other viable outlets and controlled distribution.

Enter the Internet. The "content farms" that MediaShft has focused on this week are exploiting new digital information technologies and systems to turn the model on its head, remove the friction caused by the inefficiencies, and reap the economic rewards. Rather than a small group of editors surmising what a community might want, algorithms from Demand Media, AOL and others process search queries and social media, glean what's wanted, then use other pieces of technology to calculate the likely value; they then quickly find writers or producers at a profitable price, assign and produce the content, attach money-making ads, and pay the "content creators" in a streamlined way.

Some in the industry may bemoan what's produced as "dreck," a term AllThingsD's Kara Swisher used while interviewing Demand CEO Richard Rosenblatt, but it does seem to satisfy a significant number of media consumers.

"Whenever you do stuff at scale and it's disruptive, people immediately think it's not good," Rosenblatt told Swisher, saying Demand produces some 6,000 pieces per day. "We're trying to prove that our content is good."

It's not as if the content farms invented the idea of producing work that's just good enough to sell. Just scan the racks at your local newsstand. As for complaints about the amount the content creators are paid, anyone producing the content is doing so voluntarily. By definition, they're being paid a market rate.

Not All Content Creators are Content Farms

Not every company trying new media business models can be put into one "content farm" bucket. Organizations like Politico, Patch and MainStreetConnect (a recent client of my company) are hiring reporters according to a more traditional model and focusing them by subject matter, geography, or both, while also using technology to keep costs down and drive new efficiencies that allow them to become, they hope, profitable with lower revenue than is required by traditional news organizations.

It's the classic case of a disrupted industry: The newcomers can do what's required to make a profit without having to support legacy processes responsible for a majority of current profits.

"It's hard to do something for future gain that is costly in present revenue and margin," publishing industry expert Mike Schatzkin told me in an interview. "If you don't have present revenue or margin, you have nothing to lose."

Writer James Fallows, in a recent Atlantic Monthly article, suggests that those bemoaning the fate of journalism might take a page from the engineers at Google, and instead try new processes, test and iterate, to discover how to derive enough revenue from what they make to sustain its production.

"Find out what [consumers] really want and value, and try to give them that, instead of what you've been making (which they may or may not want to buy, but which you've wanted to sell)," Alan Webber, who co-founded Fast Company magazine, told me in an email. "Find ways to cut costs. Find ways to cut waste. Find ways to test new ideas, new products and services faster, cheaper, and better."

That's more productive than fretting that the old ways of doing business are no longer working. And it sounds like what the content farms are doing.

Transformation of the Media Industry

About a century ago, as Americans were switching from horses-and-buggies and trains to cars, there were said to be more than a thousand companies producing automobiles in the United States. After a vigorous era of foment and entrepreneurialism, a handful survived, often incorporating the lessons learned from some of the other players that they bought out. Eventually, a thriving industry supplying millions and millions of consumers was born.

Entrepreneurial journalism -- an increasingly popular topic at journalism schools and institutes around the U.S. -- is just that, entrepreneurial. Amid the ordered disarray of startups and growth, different models are being tried. Some will succeed, and more will fail. New standards will be created.

Those upset that their skills can't get them more from the market might do well to bolster those skills. No longer is it enough to be able to report and write; hiring managers are looking for the ability to template, shoot, mic and perhaps even write a bit of code. If you don't know how to use Twitter these days, you're nowhere near the cutting edge.

Think of the power the new tools give journalists, including ones working for such venerated institutions as the New York Times, to reach beyond the confines of their publications and personally assemble communities of readers, viewers and participants around the journalism they create, while also developing leads and sources. That's more traffic for the publication, more influence and voice for the journalists. The tools also give people working for the content farms, also known as content mills, the ability to quickly get their work done and in some cases earn an hourly wage well beyond journalists' typical starting salaries.

"Yes, Demand Studios is a content mill. A new business model well adapted to the way consumers demand information. Get over it already," writes a commenter on a previous story in our series. "Why do I work for Demand Studios? The hourly pay is worth it and the independence fits my lifestyle."

A former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA, Dorian Benkoil has devised and executed marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, retaining and monetizing audiences. He tweets at @dbenk.

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July 07 2010


How Immersive Journalism, Games Can Increase Engagement

The average reader spends 25 minutes a day reading the newspaper, while the average online user spends 70 seconds a day on a news site, according to data from Hal Varian, Google's chief economist. (JD Lasica has more on this presentation.)

As a journalist, I'm not satisfied when people just scan my headline and then move on. As a citizen who also wants to discuss certain developments in the world, I would like to participate in online venues where people have an attention span longer than 70 seconds.

Of course, enticing people to hang out longer on your site or blog has financial value, as advertisers value that kind of engagement. In this post, I'll suggest a few ways to encourage people to interact for a longer duration and with a higher level of engagement. I'll start out with a few fairly traditional ways to achieve this, and end with a new approach: immersive journalism.

Five Ways to Increase Engagement

1. Provide context. One interesting experiment is Google's Living Stories. This model helps provide context to news articles, which increases how much people understand the topic and better engages them. Matt Thompson, one of the participants in the Future of Context panel at this year's South by Southwest interactive conference expressed the importance of context this way:

Hundreds of headlines wash over us every day. And part of why many of us engage in this flow is because we have faith that over time, this torrent of episodic knowledge is going to cohere into something more significant: a framework for genuinely understanding an issue. And we live with it 'cause it sort of works. Eventually you hear enough buzzwords like "single-payer" and "public option" and you start to feel like you can play along.

But mounting evidence indicates that this approach to information is actually totally debilitating. Faced with a flood of headlines on an ever-increasing variety of topics, we shut off. We turn to news that doesn't require much understanding -- crime, traffic, weather -- or we turn off the news altogether.

It doesn't require any new kind of design or technology to provide context -- giving background information or providing links to relevant material is a good start.

2. Ask people for their take. In other words, don't just write another article; try to create and foster a conversation. People are more likely to be engaged if they have an opportunity to become part of the process, to share their views and knowledge.

3. Live-stream your newsroom. I covered this idea in a previous post for MediaShift. This is a way to open up and let people get an inside look at how things work. It could spark their interest.

4. Use video. Video-sharing services are a great resource, and video itself is hugely popular online. Don't be afraid to use smartphones, Flip cameras and other quick-and-dirty ways of shooting video. Do it as long as it helps to tell your story and moves people to interact. Also invite people to send in their video footage.

5. Use video collaboratively. Have a look at Stroome, a collaborative video editing platform with great potential for community journalism projects.

The Future

This may prove to be the more controversial part of my post. It's about how journalists and bloggers can use the rapidly growing ecosystem of virtual objects, casual games, games on social networks and virtual environments to increase engagement.
This is what some call "immersive journalism." I also think that augmented reality presents many opportunities for increasing engagement.


Nonny de la Peña, a senior research fellow focused on immersive journalism at USC Annenberg, is one of the people leading the way in this field. In this context, immersive journalism is a novel way to utilize gaming platforms and virtual environments to convey news and non-fiction stories.

It's a bit hard to explain, so let me show it in action using a video. The below video is about the Cap & Trade immersive journalism project, a collaboration with the USC Annenberg School of Journalism and the Center For Investigative Reporting, and is based on the PBS Frontline World story Carbon Watch. This machinima showcases the proof-of-concept Second Life experience:

De la Peña uses other techniques for immersive journalism. There was a game about Darfur and a PC game about John Kerry's Swiftboat battles, all of which are showcased on ImmersiveJournalism.com. It's a great place to learn more about this concept, and to see what's possible with it.

In terms of augmented reality, a company such as Layar provides a platform where you can build layers of digital information and then superimpose them on a physical reality using a mobile phone. It can also be combined with location-based social networks such as Foursquare and Gowalla.

Using this kind of platform, you could superimpose facts and narratives on structures and places within a neighborhood, and invite your community to add their own comments and notations. You could create location-based games using reporting and other information. You can even have your layer behind a pay wall (for those who find that of interest).

Challenges and Opportunities

The possibilities are seemingly limitless, but it's difficult to know where to start, and what to watch out for. As much as I'm thrilled by augmented reality, gaming applications and virtual environments, I'm also aware of the dangers. Here are ten points to reflect upon before and while engaging in these new media from a news perspective.

  1. Keep a close eye on costs and benefits. Realize that virtual environments are, at least for adults, a niche activity. People in general don't like to download stuff and to go through technical hassles.
  2. Ask and answer some basic questions. Who are your community members? Is access to wireless broadband Internet ubiquitous? Do they have sophisticated smartphones? Your strategy will depend on the answers to these and other questions.
  3. Choose your game format wisely. Developing even a simple game is time-consuming, and not every game will be appreciated by your community. An article by Nora Paul and Kathleen A. Hansen in Nieman Reports about news-focused game playing reports on the results of their tests of different approaches. This is essential reading for anyone thinking of building a news game.
  4. Look for collaborative platforms. Try to get help from educational institutions, for example, or others in the community. It's not just about you and your organization.
  5. Don't forget that the developers of your new media experiment need guidance. You have to provide facts and you should be able to help create storyboards and deliver a philosophy and goals for the project.
  6. Don't hesitate to use relatively low-tech solutions. Developing a full-fledged game can be expensive. Maybe a Flash-based game is okay as well (sorry Steve Jobs!). Or even organizing a quiz or a scavenger-hunt related to the kind of news you're covering could be an interesting way to animate your community.
  7. If you're not a gamer, familiarize yourself with games and virtual environments. There are lessons to be learned. For instance, did you ever think about the use of audio in the context of a game?
  8. If you start exploring games and virtual environments, you will soon find out that there are very different approaches. In some games participants follow a relatively set rule structure. Other games or environments offer a framework, a theme, and people are encouraged to respond by telling their own stories.
  9. Capture your experiments on video so you have something to show the people who chose not to participate. (And those who did participate should of course be asked for feedback.)
  10. Don't forget your ethics and best practices. These should be part of your development and execution.


If you're already trying any of these strategies to increase the attention span and the engagement of your community, I'd love to hear about it. What challenges and opportunities do you see? How can we practice "affordable immersive journalism"?

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.

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June 29 2010


5Across: Arts Criticism in the Digital Age

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5Across is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

As newspapers and magazines have cut staff in the shift to digital, arts critics find themselves with less sure footing when it comes to a full-time staff position. According to a recent article in the Australian, 65 full-time film critics have lost jobs on American newspapers and magazines since 2006. Can't local newspapers just use syndicated reviews for movies shown nationally? And isn't the Internet giving many more critics outside of traditional publications the chance to shine?

Plus, there are review aggregator sites such as Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic that simply give people a roundup of what critics have said about a particular movie. In the case of Rotten Tomatoes, you even get a 1 to 100 rating that is an aggregation of all the major reviews. What is the state of arts criticism, and can traditional critics hold onto their jobs? We convened a roundtable to discuss the rise of aggregators, audience participation, and what happened when one San Francisco newspaper asked its critics to use social media. (They didn't.)

5Across: Arts Criticism in the Digital Age


>>> Subscribe to 5Across video podcast <<<

>>> Subscribe to 5Across via iTunes <<<

Guest Biographies

Matt Atchity is editor-in-chief for Rotten Tomatoes. Matt is responsible for defining the editorial voice of Rotten Tomatoes, and oversees the publishing of all of the content on the site, including original news stories, interviews and columns. Before Rotten Tomatoes, Matt was senior content producer and managing editor at Yahoo Movies. He has also worked as a site producer for Warner Bros. online and Entertainment Asylum.

Kenneth Baker has been art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle since 1985. A native of the Boston area, he served as art critic for the Boston Phoenix between 1972 and 1985. He has written on a freelance basis for publications ranging from Artforum, Art in America, Art News and Art + Auction to Smithsonian Magazine and the New York Times Book Review. He was a contributing editor of Artforum from 1985 through 1992. Baker is the author of two books: "Minimalism: Art of Circumstance" (Abbeville Press, 1989/1997) and "The Lightning Field" (Yale University Press, 2008).

Reyhan Harmanci grew up in Amish country in central Pennsylvania, and moved to San Francisco in 2001. She began working at the San Francisco Chronicle as an editorial assistant in 2002, eventually becoming an arts/culture/trend reporter in 2006. She took a buyout in April 2009, freelancing for California magazine, Village Voice, McSweeney's, Style.com, SF Weekly and others. Currently, she is the culture editor/writer at the new non-profit site, Bay Citizen.

Jonathan Kiefer is a leading Northern California freelance arts critic. He's a former arts editor and still a film critic for the alternative weekly Sacramento News & Review, and has written for Salon, the New Republic, the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times Book Review, and Film Quarterly, among others. He writes regularly about books and theater for SF Weekly, and about film for the Faster Times (an online newspaper), KQED.org, San Francisco magazine, and several alternative newsweeklies. His book about Bay Area cinema is forthcoming from City Lights Books.

Susan Young is the president of the Television Critics Association, an organization of more than 220 professional TV critics and writers based in the United States and Canada. The TCA holds twice-yearly press tours in Los Angeles and hosts the annual TCA Awards. Susan was the TV critic for the Oakland Tribune for 15 years and now is a freelance writer for publications including People magazine, Variety and MSNBC.com.

If you'd prefer to watch sections of the show rather than the entire show, I've broken them down by topic below.

Traditional Jobs Disappear

Rise of Aggregators

Audience Participation and Comments

Who's a Critic?

Print vs. Online



Mark Glaser, executive producer and host
Corbin Hiar, research assistant

Charlotte Buchen, camera

Julie Caine, audio

Location: Vega Project & Kennerly Architecture office space in San Francisco

Special thanks to: PBS and the Knight Foundation

Music by AJ the DJ


What do you think? Should local newspapers continue to have arts critics on staff, or will more critics become freelancers? 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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5Across is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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June 07 2010


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.


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 02 2010


Why Journalists Should Learn Computer Programming

Yes, journalists should learn how to program. No, not every journalist should learn it right now -- just those who want to stay in the industry for another ten years. More seriously, programming skills and knowledge enable us traditional journalists to tell better and more engaging stories.

Programming means going beyond learning some HTML. I mean real computer programming.

As a journalist, I'm full aware of the reasons why we don't learn programming -- and I'm guilty of using many of them. I initially thought there were good reasons not to take it up:

  • Learning to program is time-consuming. One look at the thick books full of arcane code and you remember why you became a journalist and not a mathematician or an engineer. Even if you are mathematically inclined, it's tough to find the time to learn all that stuff.
  • Your colleagues tell you you don't need it -- including the professional developers on staff. After all, it took them years of study and practice to become really good developers and web designers, just like it takes years for a journalist to become experienced and knowledgeable. (And, if you start trying to code, the pros on staff are the ones who'll have to clean up any mess you make.)
  • Learning the basics takes time, as does keeping your skills up to date. The tools change all the time. Should you still bother to learn ActionScript (Flash), or just go for HTML5? Are you sure you want to study PHP and not Python?
  • Why learn programming when there are so many free, ready-made tools online: Quizzes, polls, blogs, mind maps, forums, chat tools, etc. You can even use things like Yahoo Pipes to build data mashups without needing any code.
  • When Megan Taylor wrote for MediaShift about the programmer-journalist, she asked around for the perfect skillset. One response nearly convinced me to never think about programming ever again: "Brian Boyer, a graduate of Medill's journalism for programmers master's track and now News Applications Editor at the Chicago Tribune, responded with this list: XHTML / CSS / JavaScript / jQuery / Python / Django / xml / regex / Postgres / PostGIS / QGIS."

Those are some of the reasons why I thought I could avoid learning programming. But I was so wrong.

Why Journalists Should Program

You've heard the reasons not to start coding. Now here's a list of reasons why you should:

  • Every year, the digital universe around us becomes deeper and more complex. Companies, governments, organizations and individuals are constantly putting more data online: Text, videos, audio files, animations, statistics, news reports, chatter on social networks...Can professional communicators such as journalists really do their job without learning how the digital world works?
  • Data are going mobile and are increasingly geo-located. As a result, they tell the stories of particular neighborhoods and streets and can be used to tell stories that matter in the lives of your community members.
  • People have less time, and that makes it harder to grab their attention. It's essential to look for new narrative structures. Programming enables you to get interactive and tell non-linear stories.

Jquerylogo copy.jpg

  • You don't have to build everything from scratch. Let's take JavaScript, which is used for creating dynamic websites. Tools such as jQuery, a cross-browser JavaScript library, enable people to create interactivity with less effort. Web application frameworks such as Ruby on Rails and Django support the development of dynamic sites and applications. So it can be easier than you thought.

A Way of Looking At the World

Maybe you're not yet convinced. Even though jQuery makes your life easier, you still need a decent knowledge of JavaScript, CSS and HTML. Django won't help you if you never practiced Python. All of this takes time, and maybe you'll never find enough of it to get good at all this stuff.

Still, we must try. The good news is that it doesn't matter if you become proficient at the latest language. What is important, however, is that you're able to comprehend the underpinnings of programming and interactivity -- to be able to look at the world with a coder's point of view.

I'm still just a beginner, but I feel that this perspective provides you with an acute awareness of data. You start looking for data structures, for ways to manipulate data (in a good sense) to make them work for your community.

When covering a story, you'll think in terms of data and interactivity from the very start and see how they can become part of the narrative. You'll see data everywhere -- from the kind that floats in the air thanks to augmented reality, to the more mundane version contained in endless streams of status updates. Rather than being intimidated by the enormous amount of data, you'll see opportunities -- new ways to bring news and information to the community.

You probably won't have time to actually do a lot of the programming and data structuring yourself. But now you're equipped to have a valuable and impactful conversation with your geek colleagues. A conversation that gets better results than ever before.

So, even though it's probably a bit late for me to attend the new joint Master of Science degree program in Computer Science and Journalism at Columbia University, I can still learn How to Think Like a Computer Scientist using the the free MIT OpenCourseWare, take part in the Journalists/Coders Ning network, and find help at Help.HacksHackers.Com).

And so can you.


Are you a journalist who has taken up programming? A programmer with advice for journalists? Please share your experiences and insights in the comments.

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.

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May 07 2010


DoApp Wants to Dominate Mobile Apps for Local Media

The buzz surrounding mobile and tablet apps is deafening. Media companies of all sizes are considering how mobile apps might help a hurting bottom line, leading them to consider mobile ads or paid apps. The We Media folks even threw a one-day Tablet Throwdown so media companies could show off their iPad apps and talk about possible business models.

But what's a local media outlet to do? Apps are costly to create, and you need to make them for iPhones, iPads, Android, Blackberry and more.

Into that void step the folks at DoApp, a self-funded startup in Minneapolis that has transformed itself from a utility and game app maker into a partner with local TV and newspaper outlets who want news apps. In fact, DoApp says it has 120-plus local media apps built and a total of 185 signed on.

What makes the startup so successful in getting local media outlets to use their services? DoApp CEO Wade Beavers told me it's the low cost charged for apps that run on multiple platforms. He said DoApp typically charges media companies $750 to $1,000 per month, with a split of ad revenues, and says some outlets are already turning a profit based on that arrangement.

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"We build them an Android, iPhone, and even a Blackberry WAP [site]," Beavers said. "It's very affordable. We've heard a lot about media companies in financial trouble so we said, 'Let's make this a no-brainer.' They pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for content management systems. We're a mobile content management system and they're paying a fifth or even a tenth of the price."

While DoApp made a name for itself with utility apps like MyLighter (turning your iPhone into a lighter), the startup has made local media a focus with its Mobile Local News platform ("The Best Mobile App You Never Had to Build"), and a budding local mobile ad network, AdaGoGo. But DoApp faces serious competition from Apple's own iAds network, as well as various app developers such as Verve Wireless, which has worked with Hearst, Cox, Belo and the AP.

I recently talked with DoApp CEO Wade Beavers, who previously worked at IBM in user experience, and founder Joe Sriver, who worked as the first user interface designer at Google, to hear more about how their service works, what they are offering publishers, and their view on geo-targeted local mobile advertising. The following is an edited transcript of our phone conversation.


Tell me about how your company got into creating mobile apps for news organizations?

Joe Sriver: The company's roots are back in '07 [when] I started a company called PagePal. It was a website widget development company ... We shifted our focus from widget development to mobile development. And that's just when the iPhone SDK came out, and at first we were trying to get our feet wet so developed some games and utility apps.

We created MyLite and MyLighter, which creates a virtual lighter, and they were two of the top downloaded apps in the App Store for '08. We did some work with Sony BMG for their artist David Cook who had won "American Idol," so we did an app for them. At first we were seen as an iPhone gaming company, but we knew it was just to [build experience] on the platform, and we would do something bigger. We had contacts at WCCO, the local CBS affiliate here in Minneapolis, and they wanted to get their content delivered on mobile. So that got us into mobile local news, and we teamed up with another group to deliver journalism content from TV stations or newspapers on mobile devices. Our Mobile Local News product has had about a year of development on it, and we've been able to achieve most popular status for the number of apps we have for local TV stations and newspapers around the U.S. We have the most apps out there among our competitors.

So how many local outlets are using your services?

Wade Beavers: We have about 120-something in the store and about 185 signed, so another 50 or so coming out to market. I can tell you that on a daily basis I'm getting three to four calls from companies who want this service. About a year ago, when we talked about local mobile, a lot of them were intrigued by it, but now they're scurrying; they're feeling like mobile is definitely an important point for distribution. A year ago, we had to do a whole lot more convincing. Now we're getting calls from smaller local properties. I have one down in Mississippi, where the town's entire population is 10,000. I was surprised.

When we started the Mobile Local News product, we saw the handwriting on the wall. I'm 40 and Joe is in his mid-30s, and we have employees in their mid-20s, and I see the lack of them using print regularly, and the way they consume information is asynchronous -- 'when I want it.' It's hard to get people to sit down and watch the 6 o'clock or 10 o'clock news, and it's hard to get people to take the paper. You capture everything in nuggets of information, and that's when we said mobile makes sense because the phone is such an appendage to people, it's not even funny. You take it away for a day and people go through withdrawal.

Sriver: There's a lot of news aggregation sites like Google News, but for me, I still want to know local news, and the local TV and newspapers have a trusted brand that they've been developing for 50 years or more. There's still a need for truly local news.

How does the business model work? If a news property wants you to develop an app for them, how do you charge them?

doapp ad.jpg

Beavers: We have two models we work with: One is a subscription model with an ad revenue share; or a straight revenue share with limited monthly costs to help them get going. But the reason for that is we built an ad network called Adagogo, with geo-targeted ads we can serve. When people see it working, their jaws just drop open, because we draw a circle on a map and say that when your app is open in that area, your ad will be served. When you have that kind of detailed functionality it's pretty impressive, and we have digital coupons that can be shared on Facebook and Twitter with one click. So they get it.

Adagogo is something we want to grow; that's our business model. What we got tired of was people built ad networks like AdMob, and then they let developers build apps, but there's a true disconnect, because ad networks don't understand how to make apps. And app developers don't understand how to integrate an ad. We know how to do that. So when [Apple CEO] Steve Jobs says that mobile ads suck, we say that we've been doing this for a year creating a great experience.

So is it a plug-and-play platform so publishers can decide what to put into the app? Where to put sports, weather, etc.?

Beavers: Exactly. They can create it and move things around and decide what is a priority and not. We also let them change the navigation color. It's scalable so they can add categories on the fly without having to re-submit to the App Store. We realized that news and information changes so much that we had to build this scalable. Before we built ours, we weren't the first in market, but we did our homework and said, 'How do these news outlets work?' We found out that they're not technical people, they're writers, they have different jobs, so we knew this had to be easy. If it wasn't, then you're going to run into all kinds of problems. We even created a 'feed cleaner' where we could take a feed with a photo image that would be too large and compress it on the fly so it could go through the data network faster.

joe sriver.jpg

There were things we learned along the way to improve that experience. We definitely didn't want to do -- what many competitors have done -- which is throw a WAP [Wireless Access Protocol mobile website] inside of an app. We didn't want that. I commend Apple for putting the kibosh on that because you're not even using the phone the way you're supposed to. Why don't you just make a WAP, why are you making an app? We have geo-targeted weather and traffic for cars. We built things that were useful for having on your phone.

Sriver: The main point for newspapers is that it would integrate into what they already have. So they have RSS feeds on their website, and they can simply add those RSS feeds into our back end and they don't have to do any extra footwork. We use what they already have, and it's easy to get up and running. We can usually get their app into the store in 30 days or less -- and usually it's less than 15 days.

Beavers: We also added user-generated content so people can take a photo or a video right within the app and submit it within the app. And no one was doing that besides CNN. We do it on a scale of 100-plus properties. And we do it on Android too. When we did that, we should have promoted it more. The stations love it. Most of what they get is weather and local sporting events. They'll get their traditional inappropriate things [laughs].

Does it cost different amounts for each platform, or does one subscription fee pay for all of them?

Beavers: It's one cost for all the platforms. We decided that as we add more functionality, we're not going to itemize that. User-generated content or geo-targeted traffic -- we added those in one of our updates and everyone can use it. They can just turn it on, and we don't charge extra. We think of it as an ongoing thing and we'll keep improving the product. We did nine updates in the app in the last 12 months, and they were all major updates, not just bug fixes.

espn chicago.jpg

Everyone talks about Pandora. That's single-handedly created a competitor to local radio. News properties need to figure that out, too, because the New York Times announced it would go into local markets, and CNN is trying to do that as well as ESPN going into cities and having ESPN Dallas and ESPN Chicago. So local news outlets need to start thinking about ways of using new technology or they're going to be challenged. Their one advantage is local and they better start providing that or others like CNN will.

Do the outlets set a price for the apps if they want to charge?

Sriver: In all the ones we've done, we say that we recommend you make them free, and ad revenues is where they'll make their money. Paid walls are a big issue, and a lot of them want to charge. I think charging for the app is fine, but what I've seen is that when people put up paid walls your number drops immensely. Could you make that up by giving it away for free and getting ad revenues? Yeah, you would tend to make more that way. Unless you have really unique content.

Beavers talks about who DoApp considers to be competitors in developing apps for media companies:

When these local news outlets first went online, they used providers like WorldNow and IBS to help them develop their websites. A lot of the sites looked similar. Is that the same problem with these apps, that they look cookie-cutter in design?

Beavers: I would say that's true, and with our design, the navigation is the same. But they can definitely brand it differently, they can change the color, but it does have the same feel when you open the app. But you know what's funny? If you look at all the other news apps, they're all the same because they're using Apple's SDK. They have five buttons on the bottom -- four are categories and then you have a 'More' button. We wanted to do something different, and everyone says they love our navigation design.

Sriver: The other point is that the percentage is very low of people who download the app from the Daily Herald as well as WCCO and someplace out in California. For an individual user, they probably don't know that a sister station in New York has the same interface and they wouldn't care.

Beavers: If someone wants uniqueness, we can do that for them if they pay for it. But I always tell them there's a cost for that. There's more we can do for a fee. But you know what's funny? The content is king. What they provide is the key. There are some apps that are good and some that are bad based on the fact that some don't provide good content and others do a great job.

People have complained that some apps don't allow comments on stories or don't have outside links to the web. Is that something you leave to the publisher to decide to include?

Beavers: There's about 40 or 50 different commenting technologies out on the web. Every time we talk to a group, they ask whether we can include those. But who's going to monitor and manage the acceptable terms and what people put in there like expletives? Otherwise we have to tie into all those technologies. We can for a fee, and most of them say they don't want it.

Sriver: The other thing is the form factor of a mobile device being so small and it's difficult to type on. So that might thwart someone from commenting because it takes people so long to type. With the iPad, that might be a feature we want to integrate because the keyboard is much bigger. So we might circle back on user comments or interactive elements. Outside links work, and publishers can put those in there. We launched a light version of the browser within the app, and technically they could do commenting the same way if they wanted to. A link could bring up a browser session to do that, but no publisher has asked for that yet -- but they could.

Beavers talks about how he thinks there isn't a problem distinguishing between advertising and editorial on mobile apps:

What kind of ads do you offer? Interstitials, roadblocks, rich media?

Beavers: We do, and we're adding more. One of the things we're working on is a splash interstitial. We have billboards, we've got banners and we integrated ads into RSS feeds on the fly, which is patented technology that we have. Video pre-roll ads are the next one we'll be rolling out. It's one of those things that a lot of people think they want, but so far with the video numbers on mobile across news it's not as high as viral video where people watch the kid in the back seat who came back from the dentist's office.

Sriver: The other thing about ads is that they can get annoying for the user if a lot of these ads from AdMob are national ads. If I'm reading a local article about a sewer system, and there's an ad to download [a game] that's not relevant for me. But if I see a local ad about cleaning your sewer or it's a time-based ad at lunchtime with a local restaurant ad that comes up with a two-for-one deal ... I would feel better showing relevant ads, which would ease people's hesitation to put ads in the app.

Do you have people buying ads through your network, or are outlets selling ads into their apps? How does that work?

Beavers: We end up doing both. We provide the path for outlets to sell locally, and we also have an opportunity as we are negotiating some national ads for people. But we also have a self-serve component, so any advertiser could choose what app they want to be in depending on geo-location.

Sriver: Right now, if you download our apps, you'll probably say that the ads aren't relevant. But it's a gradual process where we're building up the Adagogo network on our side. In the next six to nine months I think we'll gain more traction for local ads. The Denver station and the station up in Seattle are selling local ads, but once we release the self-serve ad service, local mom and pop shops can come in and advertise their stores and the local aspect will...

Beavers: The other part is that because they can sell geo-targeted, you may get the [Minneapolis CBS TV affiliate] WCCO app. You're in San Francisco and if you open the WCCO app, you'll get national ads or geo-targeted ads for that area because WCCO will have local businesses, but businesses will be able to choose where ads can run geo-targeted. Research has shown that 50 percent of your transactions are done within a five-mile radius of where you live and where you work. So why wouldn't an advertiser want to serve ads based on geo-location? It makes sense.

Sriver talks about the difficulty in finding out market penetration for apps in each locale:


What do you think about DoApp's local media apps? Do you use them, or have you contracted with them to develop apps for you? Share your experiences 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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May 04 2010


OurBlook Roundup: Journalism Will Survive in Digital Age

OurBlook.com is a website that gathers opinions from today's top leaders in the hopes of collaboratively finding tomorrow's solutions. It is funded by Paul Mongerson, a retired CEO who has a long history of philanthropy in the journalism world. In December 2008, those of us who run the site launched a future of journalism interview series. To date, we have collected over 100 interviews with well known journalists and new media experts.

When looking for similarities between the interviews, there's an underlying sentiment that newspapers have a lot of catching up to do. Many experts also expressed the belief that, in terms of their internal culture, newspapers seem to have a hard time adapting to change. The good news, however, is that all believed that journalism will survive in one form or another, and that there will always be a need for trained journalists.

Below are some of our findings and the best quotes from the interview series.

Future of Journalism Interview Series Findings

blook.jpg* Newspapers are still searching for business and editorial models that are sustainable in this new world of media. Outlets that cling on to their old methods of doing things will die.
* The idea of newspapers charging for their websites was once looked down upon, but is now becoming an accepted strategy. Additionally, as online advertising changes, and banner ads are quickly becoming passé, experts are urging newspapers to explore non-traditional revenue streams such as online games or web apps.

* Hyper-local is gaining acceptance. As a result, harnessing the power of citizen journalism has become a key goal for many media outlets.

* The role of journalists and the skills necessary to succeed have changed. This has caused many industry insiders to ponder the future of journalism's culture and ethics.

* One-way storytelling has given way to a two-way (or multiple) conversation between the journalist and the audience. Tools like Twitter and Facebook have become incredibly important in this new context.

* TV news is beginning to experience the same changes and chaos as print journalism, causing many to panic.

Best Quotes from Future of Journalism Series

"I believe this is both a difficult and exciting time in journalism. The old paradigm is dying. The monopoly/ologopoly that news organizations once enjoyed is breaking apart. Amid all the disruption, something new is being born. The new paradigm is more democratic and comprehensive than the old one. The key is to make sure that it has substantive journalism." -- John Yemma, editor, Christian Science Monitor

"To date, newspapers have, for either the strangest or most inexplicable reason, chosen to either downplay or ignore their strengths: Reporting and writing. Newspapers have a virtual monopoly on those two attributes. 'Aggregating,' and its tedious synonyms, is not reporting nor is it writing; it's cutting and pasting." -- Bruce Austin, professor and chair, Department of Communication at Rochester Institute of Technology

"Giving away information for free on the Internet while still charging 50 cents to $1 for the print version of the paper was one of the most fundamentally flawed business decisions of the past 25 years. Newspapers told their paying customers that the information truly had no value. They told their paying customers that they were suckers. Why would anyone pay 50 cents for something he or she can get for free? This poorly conceived and obviously flawed strategy has helped put the newspaper industry into its current financial condition and hastened the demise of many publications." -- Paul J. MacArthur, professor, Utica College

"What I find unique is that publishers have gone online and said 'actually, we sell content.' In the 200-plus years of printing newspapers...they never sold content once. They sold advertising...The problem with that one trick pony, as it is right now, is that this sort of 'wantiness' of investors to invest in a company whose primary raison d'être is to sell banner ads, is not all that great...People involved in online marketing know the banner ad is not the future of online advertisement or online marketing." -- Mitch Joel, author of "Six Pixels of Separation" and founder of Twist Image

Bob Garfield on Journalism, Advertising, and Future from OurBlook.com on Vimeo.

"We are going to lose a horrifying amount of experience, judgment, talent and the culture of journalism which has, for the most part, made it a very ethical enterprise. Not only are we losing the accumulated judgment, wisdom, experience, knowledge of tens of thousands of journalists, we are losing their sense of how to stay relatively pure." -- Bob Garfield, co-host, "On The Media"

"I'm not convinced that video and audio...'multimedia'...are going to be newspapers' salvation. They're fine to have, as supplements to written stories with good graphics, powerful photos and useful database information. But video and audio take real time...five minutes of video is five minutes...and people can scan text so much faster. We'll always want to see the spectacular video or some special moment captured in sound. But if that would save newspapers online, then TV websites would be thriving...and they're not." -- Charlotte Grimes, Knight Chair in Political Reporting at the Newhouse School, Syracuse University

"When the U.S. media look at the changes in media consumption trends, naturally enough, they tend to focus on the United States. This is terrifically misleading. Newspapers are thriving in countries such as India and China...I say to my friends and colleagues: You should feel blessed. You are part of a revolution in how information is distributed far greater than the invention of the printing press, and certain to have more far-reaching effects." -- Thad McIlroy, author and founder, FutureOfPublishing.com

"My belief is that newspapers, in their traditional form, can still be enormously popular. And if newspaper publishers largely reject the web, and go back to basics, they can decrease their operating expenses and generate enough display advertising to return to profitability...I think it's been the mainstream newspaper industry's embrace of new editorial formulas and approaches that has been leading to its demise." -- Adam Stone, publisher, Examiner community newspapers in Putnam and Westchester counties in New York.

"Now, with online advertising in cyclical decline, news publishers of all kinds...newspapers and magazines but also online-only news organizations...see that it's hard to support a news department with only the advertising revenue stream." -- Gordon Crovitz, former publisher, the Wall Street Journal

"The consolidation of media in the broadcast age also changed the sociology of journalism by turning it into much more of a profession for educated people and, at its highest levels, an extremely powerful and prestigious position. I think an increasing portion of the audience for mass media, especially at the young end of the demographics, is turned off by the self-importance of highly visible mainstream journalists (as demonstrated by the success of media parodies like the Onion and 'The Daily Show'), and resent the inability to talk back in any kind of meaningful way...Members of the Millennial generation in particular find the pomposity and stuffiness of traditional media less engaging than the give-and-take of social channels."-- Rob Salkowitz, author and founder of MediaPlant

Amy Gahran on Future Journalist from OurBlook.com on Vimeo.

"Regardless of the newspaper, I think one of the most important things they should consider is nurturing talent. Are you a local newspaper? Ninety percent of your income from print adverts targeted at people in the area? Then you should be looking for the local citizen journalists who sit next to their police scanner and report on the drug busts and local fires. Assume you will have to invest in improving their writing skills, be relaxed about them publishing elsewhere, and pay them enough money to make it worth their while to give you the first option on material. If they could afford to, they would be on the scene at these fires and such." -- Brian McNeil, contributor, Wikinews

"Social media are becoming part of journalism, another transmission system, that all journalism must be involved in, in much the same way that aggregation is now a component of journalism. Journalism is more than narrative now. It is more than storytelling. It always has been, but professional journalists didn't always see it. Journalism is shifting from being a product...to being a service...how can I help you answer your questions." -- Tom Rosenstiel, director, Project for Excellence in Journalism

Sandra Ordonez calls herself a web astronaut who has been helping organizations navigate the internet since 1997. Currently, she helps run OurBlook.com, a collaborative online forum that gathers interviews from today's top leaders in the hopes of finding tomorrow's solutions. Since December 2008, the site has been conducting a Future of Journalism interview series. Sandra also heads up the Facebook page, "Bicultural and Multicultural People Rule." Previously, she was the Communications Manager for Wikipedia. She graduated from American University with a double degree in International Relations and Public Relations.

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