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August 16 2012


Prehype Uses Collaboration to Bring Startup Culture to Big Companies

What if you could incubate the energy and talent that fuels so many startups, inside a big company?

Prehype, a product innovation company with offices in New York City, London, Copenhagen, and Rio, is doing just that, providing an infrastructure of collaboration in which big company executives and their team members willingly play on equal ground. The result? Companies retain more talent, and entrepreneurial employees get the chance to remake their day jobs into their dream jobs.

Capturing the Startup Spirit

Henrik Werdelin

In the not-so-distant past, every business school graduate's dream was to get an offer from a Fortune 500 company, thanks to the promise of a good salary, competitive benefits, and a strong foothold on the corporate ladder. But these days, new MBAs are increasingly forming their own ventures instead. And often, the startups they create are the result of collaboration.

At the Wharton School, 5 percent of graduating MBAs started their own business rather than looking for jobs; that means more Wharton MBAs are becoming entrepreneurs than hedge fund managers. At Stanford, a whopping 12 percent of 2012 MBAs started their own businesses rather than going to work for someone else.

Big companies are scared by this trend -- and they should be. The talented employee who tenders her resignation in order to start her own company often inspires others to follow suit. This exodus lowers morale at a big company and causes a drain on the talent pipeline that such companies have long taken for granted.

Enter Prehype, which brings the creativity and exhilaration of a startup venture into big company structures. Prehype founder Henrik Werdelin, a Danish digital dynamo, has designed his career around turning conventional business wisdom on its head. Watch a video of Henrik talking about innovation:

Rebuild big business - how to innovate from within?, Henrik Werdelin, Prehype from Rebuild21 on Vimeo.

He and partners Philip Petersen and Steven Dean all have deep product experience working for and with big companies and startups alike, so they speak both cultures' languages. And they believe the two cultures have much to learn from one another -- and a lot to gain by collaborating.

Cultivating Internal Stars

Traditionally, when a big company wants to expand into a new line of business or target a new customer segment, it scrambles to hire outside talent. Prehype helps break this paradigm, focusing instead on finding entrepreneurial talent inside a company's ranks.

Prehype then helps these internal entrepreneurs -- or "Entrepreneurs in Residence" -- develop their new product ideas and pitch them to company executives. When execs give the green light, they give the employees the freedom, investment (of time and money), and opportunity to bring the idea to life.

Since a product's fate ultimately lies with customers' willingness to buy it, Prehype helps companies get customer feedback as early as possible in the life of the product -- namely, within 100 days.

Leveraging a company's existing human resources to develop innovative products comes with a host of advantages:

  1. Employees want to be happy, appreciated, intellectually challenged, and engaged. Prehype believes the best way to achieve this is to help employees execute their own ideas in an effort to support the company where they work.
  2. Companies develop a stronger spirit of collaboration, and employees feel a renewed sense of pride in their work and loyalty to the company.
  3. The 100-day launch timeline instigates a high level of camaraderie. It leaves no time for office politics, power plays, and the dreaded corporate silo mentality. To get a product off paper and into the hands of customers in 100 days, everyone involved needs to roll up their sleeves and work together.
  4. Though working for a startup sounds like nirvana to many a corporate employee, the truth is that it is a lot of work and success takes time to build. For people who have hefty financial obligations (such as mounting student loan debt, a mortgage, or a spouse or children who depend upon a stable income and benefits), leaving a corporate job for a startup can be difficult to near impossible. Prehype's method gives employees a way to keep the stability of their corporate jobs while increasing the satisfaction they get from their work.
  5. It's far cheaper for companies to fail and learn with their existing teams than it is to do an external talent search that may bring forward a candidate who doesn't understand, like, or fit into the company culture.

Making Big Companies Better

Prehype focuses on bringing together companies, entrepreneurs, and freelancers with world-class technical chops to help large companies capitalize on opportunities and minimize threats.

Of course, that doesn't always work. The bigger the company, the more complex its politics. And when a big company has been successful for a long time, it can be difficult to get its management to realize that what made them successful in the past will not necessarily make them successful in the future. Plus, in the current economic downturn, even the boldest corporate employees can be reticent about suggesting new ways of doing things, for fear of losing their jobs.

Given these challenges, why not just help entrepreneurial-minded people get out of Dodge, ditch their companies, and start their own business independently? The Prehype team certainly has the skills and connections to make that happen. Steven Dean offered one answer.

"Companies have interesting problems to solve," he said. "They have an enormous impact on society because they are deeply entrenched in our everyday living, and they have been for a long time. If we can help them succeed, then we all win."

Though they are open to working with a wide variety of companies in a whole host of industries, the Prehype team has found that certain company characteristics are more likely to predict success with the Prehype model than others. Midsize companies, with a demonstrated ability to change with the times, are much more open to the Prehype methodology. It also helps if a company's back is up against the wall and it has no choice but to change or fall off the map. Desperate times call for unprecedented measures, which can be just what's needed to allow a company to embrace the change it needs.

Prehype is currently on the hunt for new markets and partners who want to reinvent the way business innovates. Given the number of frustrated corporate employees and big companies that desperately need creative solutions to stay alive, I'd say Prehype has a lot of potential ahead of it, indeed.

Christa Avampato is a product developer, freelance writer, and yoga and meditation teacher based in New York City. She blogs daily about the art of creative living at Christa In New York: Curating a Creative Life. Learn more about the things that light her up by visiting her company website Chasing Down the Muse and very-often-updated Twitter feed.

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August 08 2012


The Art of Collaboration: Inside the New York Theatre Workshop

Editor's note: Collaboration Central occasionally looks at collaborations outside of the journalism world to glean lessons for what works elsewhere. This story looks at collaboration inside an award-winning theater company to explore inspiration for media organizations.

"Without collaboration, you can't make a play." --Jim Nicola, artistic director of the New York Theatre Workshop

Since 1988, Jim Nicola has been at the helm of the New York Theatre Workshop. Last season, he led this non-profit theater company to win 13 Tony Awards for the smash hits "Once" and "Peter and the Starcatcher."

In a wide-ranging interview, Nicola told me that he sees the role of artistic director as that of "facilitator in chief."

"My job is to support, sustain and nurture the relationship between artists and the audience," he said.

As someone who spent more than six years managing Broadway shows and national tours, I know first-hand that collaboration is an essential ingredient of any theater company's success. But not everyone takes collaboration as seriously as Nicola and the NYTW -- or applies collaboration to achieve such impressive results.

Collaboration's The Thing

Jim Nicola

From my first day on the job in theater, I understood in a visceral way that no man is an island in this business. A successful show effectively fuses the talents of a vast cast of characters, onstage and behind the scenes. And yet the writers, actors, musicians, designers, crew members and managers involved in a show often have competing interests, needs and opinions about how a production should come together. To add further complication, all of these parties have their creative reputations riding on the outcome of the final product.

This means that the leadership of the artistic director is critical to unite cast and crew members behind a single set of artistic decisions. Everything rides on this person's ability to transform a group of artists with strong opinions into a tight-knit community dedicated to one another and to the work. It is a Herculean task -- and one that Nicola handles with tremendous grace and savvy.

Community-Fueled Creativity

"We have a structure of collaboration and relationships and that structure is vital to our work," Nicola explained. A new NYTW show typically begins with a reading from one of the Usual Suspects, a group of affiliated artists 500-strong that receive support from NYTW. Each member of NYTW's collaborative community, including critics and audience members, has a stake in shaping and reshaping a show until each artistic element helps the story rise to its potential. It is a beautiful and rare process in this day and age of overproduced shows, celebrity leads, and ever-shrinking budgets.

"To do justice to a piece of theater, it needs to be in the mouths of actors," Nicola said. "That's why our labs and reading series are so critical to our creative process."

Once a reading is complete, NYTW uses a feedback technique called the "Critical Response Process" created by artist Liz Lerman. The process is composed of a series of questions that pass between the creative team and audience members, with the goal of giving the creative team useful feedback:

  1. The creative team asks the audience, "What ideas did you walk away with?"
  2. The creative team asks the audience their opinions of specific artistic elements in the show. For example, "How did you feel about the minimal number of props that were used in the show?"
  3. The audience asks the creative team specific questions about the motivations behind any artistic element in the show. For example, "Why was everyone wearing green hats?" The creative team may not have the answers right away.
  4. The audience shares its opinions and recommended fixes with the creative team.

If this process sounds lengthy and tedious, it is. It's also necessary in order for NYTW to continue its lineage of producing meaningful art. Collaboration is the vital ingredient that keeps NYTW at the top of its game and on the leading edge of a crowded field.

"Acts of creativity require collective support. When someone comes to see a show at NYTW, they are peering through a small window into a much larger image of what we do here," Nicola said. "There is an entire community at NYTW that is much bigger than any one production, and we want the audience to be a part of it."

The Role of the Audience

NYTW recently took the idea of audience participation to a whole new level when it staged the original production of "Once," the hit musical that transferred to Broadway and won eight Tony Awards this year, including Best Musical. The audience spent the pre-show inhabiting the on-stage bar that serves as the show's main location.

Nicola explained that NYTW does not try to entertain; instead, he wants the audience to think long and hard about the larger implications raised by the themes of a show and reflect upon how those implications make them feel about their own lives.

"We have an obligation to help the audience figure out what they think and why," he continued. "You are a citizen, one part of the fabric of humanity, and life is getting more and more complicated. You need to have opinions and thoughts on how it's unfolding. Theater is just a reflection of what's happening in society. Let's talk about it. We don't need to agree, but we do need to come together and share our points of view."

"A writer can write," Nicola said, "and a painter can paint independently. Theater is different. Everything we do here has to be an act of collaboration. And here, everyone counts."

Christa Avampato is a product developer, freelance writer, and yoga and meditation teacher based in New York City. She blogs daily about the art of creative living at Christa In New York: Curating a Creative Life. Learn more about the things that light her up by visiting her company website Chasing Down the Muse and very-often-updated Twitter feed.

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July 13 2011


6 ways of communicating data journalism (The inverted pyramid of data journalism part 2)

Last week I published an inverted pyramid of data journalism which attempted to map processes from initial compilation of data through cleaning, contextualising, and combining that. The final stage – communication – needed a post of its own, so here it is.

Below is a diagram illustrating 6 different types of communication in data journalism. (I may have overlooked others, so please let me know if that’s the case.)

Communicate: visualised, narrate, socialise, humanise, personalise, utilise

Modern data journalism has grown up alongside an enormous growth in visualisation, and this can sometimes lead us to overlook different ways of telling stories involving big numbers. The intention of the following is to act as a primer for ensuring all options are considered.

1. Visualisation

Visualisation is the quickest way to communicate the results of data journalism: free tools such as Google Docs allow it with a single click; more powerful tools like Many Eyes only require the user to paste their raw data and select from a range of visualisation options.

But ease does not equal effectiveness. The rise of chartjunk illustrates that visualisation is not immune to churnalism or spectacle without insight.

There is a rich history of print visualisation which remains relevant to the generation of online infographics: focusing on no more than 4 data points; avoiding 3D and ensuring the graphic is self-sufficient are just some.

Kaiser Fung’s trifecta is one useful reference point for ensuring a visualisation is effective, and this explanation of how a chart was transformed into something that could be used in a newspaper is also instructive (summarised by Kaiser Fung here).

In short: it’s not a simple process.

Visualisation has one major advantage which makes that effort worthwhile, however: it can make communication incredibly effective. And it can provide a method of distributing your content which cannot be matched by the other types of communication listed here.

But its major strength is also its main weakness: the instant nature of infographics also means that people often do not spend much time looking at it. It makes it very effective for distribution, but not for engagement, and so it is worth thinking strategically about 1) making sure the image contains a link back to its source; and 2) making sure that there is something more at the source when people arrive.

2. Narration

A traditional article can struggle to contain the sort of numbers that data journalism tends to turf up, but it still provides an accessible way for people to understand the story – if done well.

There are books providing useful guidance on how to write with numbers most clearly – and some guidance for web writing too (you should use numerals rather than words, as this helps people who are scanning the page).

As with visualisation, less is often more. But also, as in most narrative, you need to think about meaningfulness and your objectives in communicating these numbers.

Abstract amounts can be impressive, but meaningless and useless. What does it mean that £10m has been spent on something? Is that more or less than usual? More or less than something similar?

Try to bring down amounts to manageable quantities – the amount per person, or per day, for example.

Finally, use editing to focus in on the essentials: and make sure you link to the whole.

3. Social communication

Communication is a social act, and the success of infographics across social media is a testament to that. But it’s not just infographics that are social – data is too. The Guardian has demonstrated this particularly successfully with the cultivation of a healthy community around its Data Blog (which enjoys higher stickiness than the average Guardian article), and around its API.

Crowdsourcing initiatives aimed at gathering data can also provide a social dimension to the data. The Guardian are, again, pioneers here, with their MPs’ expenses project and Charles Arthur’s attempt to crowdsource predictions about the specifications of the iPad. But there are other examples, too – especially when it is difficult to obtain the data any other way.

The connectivity of the web presents new opportunities to present data journalism in a social way. ProPublica’s app that provides results based on your Facebook profile (schools attended; friends who have used the app) is one example of how data journalism can leverage social data, and, equally, how communicating the results of data journalism can be geared around social dynamics, using elements such as quizzes, sharing, competition, campaigning and collaboration. We are barely at the start of this aspect of online journalism.

4. Humanise

Broadcast news reports often use case studies to get around the problem of presenting numbers-based stories on television and radio. If waiting times have increased, speak to someone who had to wait a long time for an operation. In other words, humanise the numbers.

More recently the growth of computer-generated motion graphics has relaxed that pressure somewhat, as presenters can call on powerful animation to illustrate a story.

But once again, the point of making stories relevant to people comes through. As I wrote in One ambassador’s embarrassment is a tragedy, 15,000 civilian deaths is a statistic: when you move beyond scales we can deal with on a human level, you struggle to engage people in the issue you are covering – no matter how impressive the motion graphics (that post outlines some other considerations in humanising stories, such as ensuring that case studies are representative).

So after being buried in abstract data we need to remember that going out and recording an interview with a person whose life has been affected by that data can make a big difference to the power of our story.

5. Personalise

One of the biggest changes in journalism’s move online is that it opens up all sorts of possibilities around interactivity. When it comes to data journalism that means that the user can, potentially, control what information is presented to them based on various inputs.

There are some relatively well-established forms of this. For example, when a government presents its latest budget, news websites often invite the user to input their own details (for example, their earnings, or their family make up) to find out how the budget affects them. A recent variant of this are those interactives which invite the user to make their own decisions on how they might cut the deficit (the FT’s version took this further, adding in party strategies and policies).

Another common form is geographical personalisation: the user is invited to enter their postcode, zip code or other geographical information to find out how a particular issue is playing out in their home town.

A third is simply ‘your interests’, as demonstrated by Popvox’s approach to political engagement and the LA Times’ Newsmatch.

As more and more personal data is held by third party sites, the possibilities for personalisation expand. The ProPublica example given above, for example, demonstrates how Facebook profile information can be used to automatically personalise the experience of a story. And there are various apps that offer to present information based on location data provided via GPS.

This also indicates that there may be various ways in which personalisation and social strategies might be combined. Personalised stories can, in many ways, be used as an expression of our identity: this is where I live; this is how I am affected; this is what I’m interested in.

And when the COO of Facebook is predicting that all media will be personalised in 3-5 years, it’s clear that this is something the social networks are going to drive towards too.

6. Utilise

The most complex way of communicating the results of data journalism is to create some sort of tool based on the data. Calculators are popular choices, as are GPS-driven tools, but there is a lot of scope for more complex applications as more data becomes available both from the publisher and the user.

Again, there is overlap here with personalisation – but it is possible to provide utility without personalisation. And quite often, the complexity and consequent barrier to competitors presents commercial opportunities too.

At Reed Business Information, for example, their model is geared towards this sort of utility: attracting users at various points of the communication chain – online updates, printed magazines, mobile news – and steering them towards the point where they are closest to a purchasing decision. The idea is that the closer your information is to their action, the more valuable it is to the user.

Creating utility from data is currently relatively costly – but those costs are going down as a result of competition and standardisation. For example, as increasing numbers of news organisations adopt standard ways of storing story data (e.g. XML files), it is easier to create apps that pull data from datasets. Meanwhile, app creation becomes increasingly templated (in many ways you can see the process following a similar path to that of web design) and platform independent.

A medium up for grabs

What all of the above makes apparent – and I may have missed other methods of communicating data journalism (please let me know if you can think of any) – is that there are whole areas of online journalism that have yet to be properly explored, and certainly most have yet to establish clear conventions or ideas of best practice.

I’ve tried to scope out an overview of those conventions that are emerging, and the best practice that’s currently available, but it would be great if you could add more. What makes for good humanisation? Utility? What are great examples of personalisation or data journalism that involves a social dimension? Comments below please.

Meanwhile, here are both parts of the model shown together (click to magnify):

The inverted pyramid of data journalism and data journalism communication pyramid



May 30 2011


Harvard Business Review - one and a half year later reinvention is paying off

New York Times :: Shortly after editors at the Harvard Business Review tore up their magazine in 2009, adding pictures to the cover, reader comments to their signature case studies and colorful illustrations — the horror! — cranky reader comments started coming in. But a year and a half later, the magazine’s editors say that worries about alienating its readers have proved unfounded.

[Adi Ignatius, editor of the Harvard Business Review Group] Newsstand is way up, renewals are way up, advertising is way up. And it’s not a situation where a rising tide lifts all boats.

Continue to read Jeremy W. Peters, mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com

February 09 2011


3 Key Topics for the NetSquared Community: Part 3, Network Narrative

Over the last two weeks, we have posted parts 1 and 2 in a 3-part series, sharing some of our observations and planning concepts, and hoping to gather feedback and ideas from you. The first part in the series focused on Local and Gloal and the second highlighted opportunities to Expand our Impact. This week, we want to examine the ideas and framing for a Network Narrative - a topic we really think you can help with! As we share our early thinking about these areas of our work, we hope you’ll help to shape our thinking and direction by sharing your ideas, feedback and questions in the comments, or directly with us at net2@techsoup.org

Creating a Compelling Narrative

There’s lots going on and lots to talk about - whether it’s Project ideas that emerge and change the world, or Local groups that create the first opportunity to share and collaborate in diverse regions around the world. So, how do we pull it all together into a compelling narrative? One for funders vs one for techies, one for activists and one for organizations, and beyond? What’s the story that supports our work? And, from a strategic development perspective, maybe we need to further explore the difference between the overarching narrative and the various stories that support it and match the different groups within the network. Your story is the one we want to tell and we would love to hear how you see the NetSquared programs helping you change the world!

We are so thankful to have members willing to make time to share, ask questions, and dream with us. And we are so thankful to community members like you who share your ideas here! We are looking forward to continuing this conversation and can’t wait to see what ideas you share.

Some questions to get you started:

  • What is the story you see of this sector and your work?
  • How can we capture a compelling narrative that empowers you to get involved?
  • How would you tell the NetSquared story - how are the community-driven programs helping you change the world?

December 07 2010


One ambassador’s embarrassment is a tragedy, 15,000 civilian deaths is a statistic

Few things illustrate the challenges facing journalism in the age of ‘Big Data’ better than Cable Gate – and specifically, how you engage people with stories that involve large sets of data.

The Cable Gate leaks have been of a different order to the Afghanistan and Iraq war logs. Not in number (there were 90,000 documents in the Afghanistan war logs and over 390,000 in the Iraq logs; the Cable Gate documents number around 250,000) – but in subject matter.

Why is it that the 15,000 extra civilian deaths estimated to have been revealed by the Iraq war logs did not move the US authorities to shut down Wikileaks’ hosting and PayPal accounts? Why did it not dominate the news agenda in quite the same way?

Tragedy or statistic?

Generally misattributed to Stalin, the quote “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic” illustrates the problem particularly well: when you move beyond scales we can deal with on a human level, you struggle to engage people in the issue you are covering.

Research suggests this is a problem that not only affects journalism, but justice as well. In October Ben Goldacre wrote about a study that suggested “People who harm larger numbers of people get significantly lower punitive damages than people who harm a smaller number. Courts punish people less harshly when they harm more people.”

“Out of a maximum sentence of 10 years, people who read the three-victim story recommended an average prison term one year longer than the 30-victim readers. Another study, in which a food processing company knowingly poisoned customers to avoid bankruptcy, gave similar results.”


This is where journalists play a particularly important role. Kevin Marsh, writing about Wikileaks on Sunday, argues that

“Whistleblowing that lacks salience does nothing to serve the pubic interest – if we mean capturing the public’s attention to nurture its discourse in a way that has the potential to change something material. “

He is right. But Charlie Beckett, in the comments to that post, points out that Wikileaks is not operating in isolation:

“Wikileaks is now part of a networked journalism where they are in effect, a kind of news-wire for traditional newsrooms like the New York Times, Guardian and El Pais. I think that delivers a high degree of what you call salience.”

This is because last year Wikileaks realised that they would have much more impact working in partnership with news organisations than releasing leaked documents to the world en masse. It was a massive move for Wikileaks, because it meant re-assessing a core principle of openness to all, and taking on a more editorial role. But it was an intelligent move – and undoubtedly effective. The Guardian, Der Spiegel, New York Times and now El Pais and Le Monde have all added salience to the leaks. But could they have done more?

Visualisation through personalisation and humanisation

In my series of posts on data journalism I identified visualisation as one of four interrelated stages in its production. I think that this concept needs to be broadened to include visualisation through case studies: or humanisation, to put it more succinctly.

There are dangers here, of course. Firstly, that humanising a story makes it appear to be an exception (one person’s tragedy) rather than the rule (thousands suffering) – or simply emotive rather than also informative; and secondly, that your selection of case studies does not reflect the more complex reality.

Ben Goldacre – again – explores this issue particularly well:

“Avastin extends survival from 19.9 months to 21.3 months, which is about 6 weeks. Some people might benefit more, some less. For some, Avastin might even shorten their life, and they would have been better off without it (and without its additional side effects, on top of their other chemotherapy). But overall, on average, when added to all the other treatments, Avastin extends survival from 19.9 months to 21.3 months.

“The Daily Mail, the ExpressSky News, the Press Association and the Guardian all described these figures, and then illustrated their stories about Avastin with an anecdote: the case of Barbara Moss. She was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2006, had all the normal treatment, but also paid out of her own pocket to have Avastin on top of that. She is alive today, four years later.

“Barbara Moss is very lucky indeed, but her anecdote is in no sense whatsoever representative of what happens when you take Avastin, nor is it informative. She is useful journalistically, in the sense that people help to tell stories, but her anecdotal experience is actively misleading, because it doesn’t tell the story of what happens to people on Avastin: instead, it tells a completely different story, and arguably a more memorable one – now embedded in the minds of millions of people – that Roche’s £21,000 product Avastin makes you survive for half a decade.”

Broadcast journalism – with its regulatory requirement for impartiality, often interpreted in practical terms as ‘balance’ – is particularly vulnerable to this. Here’s one example of how the homeopathy debate is given over to one person’s experience for the sake of balance:

Journalism on an industrial scale

The Wikileaks stories are journalism on an industrial scale. The closest equivalent I can think of was the MPs’ expenses story which dominated the news agenda for 6 weeks. Cable Gate is already on Day 9 and the wealth of stories has even justified a live blog.

With this scale comes a further problem: cynicism and passivity; Cable Gate fatigue. In this context online journalism has a unique role to play which was barely possible previously: empowerment.

3 years ago I wrote about 5 Ws and a H that should come after every news story. The ‘How’ and ‘Why’ of that are possibilities that many news organisations have still barely explored. ‘Why should I care?’ is about a further dimension of visualisation: personalisation – relating information directly to me. The Guardian moves closer to this with its searchable database, but I wonder at what point processing power, tools, and user data will allow us to do this sort of thing more effectively.

‘How can I make a difference?’ is about pointing users to tools – or creating them ourselves – where they can move the story on by communicating with others, campaigning, voting, and so on. This is a role many journalists may be uncomfortable with because it raises advocacy issues, but then choosing to report on these stories, and how to report them, raises the same issues; linking to a range of online tools need not be any different. These are issues we should be exploring, ethically.

All the above in one sentence

Somehow I’ve ended up writing over a thousand words on this issue, so it’s worth summing it all up in a sentence.

Industrial scale journalism using ‘big data’ in a networked age raises new problems and new opportunities: we need to humanise and personalise big datasets in a way that does not detract from the complexity or scale of the issues being addressed; and we need to think about what happens after someone reads a story online and whether online publishers have a role in that.

October 04 2010


A brilliant Donald Duck mashup – Right Wing Radio Duck

Jonathan McIntosh of Rebellious Pixels has just published a mashup of Donald Duck cartoons matched to a mashed-up Glenn Beck (of Fox News) voice track, called “Right Wing Radio Duck”.

Jonathan has taken dozens of segments from the cartoon archives, and dozens of voice clips from Glenn Back, to create a new jigsaw from existing pieces, satirising the North American Right.

This is work of studio quality. Alternatively, it can be produced by an individual in their bedroom, and can potentially in this case be a career-creating “splash”.

Either way, it demonstrates how high the bar can be raised. It also illustates the advantages of having a liberal set of copyright laws. How difficult would it be to make this in the UK?

Here’s the Youtube blurb:

“This is a re-imagined Donald Duck cartoon remix constructed using dozens of classic Walt Disney cartoons from the 1930s to 1960s. Donald’s life is turned upside-down by the current economic crisis and he finds himself unemployed and falling behind on his house payments. As his frustration turns into despair Donald discovers a seemingly sympathetic voice coming from his radio named Glenn Beck.

“This transformative remix work constitutes a fair-use of any copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US copyright law. “Right Wing Radio Duck” by Jonathan McIntosh is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 License – permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution.”

As a contrast, this below is an agitprop video produced by Lib Dem campaigners within a few hours of Gordon Brown’s decision to back away from holding an Election in Autumn 2007. This one was made so quickly, that they used a US version of “The Grand Old Duke of York”.

This video did not circulate outside the political/media community.

February 01 2010


What does John Terry’s case mean for superinjuntions?

The superinjunction obtained by England Captain John Terry was overturned on Friday – and the case raises some interesting issues (cross posted from John Terry: another nail in the superinjunction coffin):

  • Ecen when the superinjunction was in force, you could find out about the story on Twitter and Google – both even promoted the fact of Terry’s affair – via the Twitter trends list and the real-time Google search box.
  • No one got the difference between an injunction and a superinjunction - the former banned reporting of Terry’s alleged affair, the latter banned revealing there was an injunction. They weren’t necessarily both overturned, but there was a widespread assumption you could say what you liked about Terry once the superinjunction was overturned. This wasn’t necessarily the case …
  • The Mail and Telegraph seemed to flout the superinjunction – as did the Press Gazette which decided if wasn’t bound as it hadn’t seen a copy. This seemed risky behaviour legally – which makes me wonder if the papers were looking for a weak case to try to discredit superinjunctions.
  • This superinjunction should never have been granted. What was the original judge thinking?

Google and Twitter ignored the superinjunction

Tweets from while the superinjunction was in force

Tweets from while the superinjunction was in force

The superinjunction was overturned at about 1pm or 2pm on Friday. Needless to say, the papers had a field day over the weekend.

But if you wanted to find out the story on Friday, it was relatively simple to do so. I typed John Terry’s name into Google on Friday at about 11.15am – long before the injunction was lifted – and saw the screenshot, above.

Google’s real-time  search box revealed tweets about John Terry and Wayne Bridge (and there were some giving full details of the affair – including the stuff that didn’t come out until Sunday). Later on Friday, Google pulled the real-time search box – whether this was algorithmic or for legal reasons, I don’t know. But if, spurred on by the clues Google was offering, you typed both Terry and Bridge into Google or Twitter search, and it was simple to find the full story.

And by Friday lunchtime, both John Terry and Wayne Bridge were trending topics on Twitter, raising the profile of the issue. If you clicked on either to see what was being tweeted, you’d have found out about the affair instantly.

Shortly after, a judge ruled there were no grounds for the injunction, super or otherwise.

Guardian links to Twitter search for John Terry

As an aside, I noticed that the Guardian, in its coverage of the superinjunction, even included a link in one of its pieces to a Twitter search on John Terry.

They’ve removed it now (well, I can’t find it anyway and probably for the best. You should either have the balls to run the full story or not. I don’t think publishing a link to a twitter search is a reasonable half way house.)

Confusion still reigned

Once news that the super injunction had been lifted, no one knew (or perhaps cared) where they legally stood on Friday afternoon (as I’ve pointed out before about blogs and reporting restrictions).

It was reported that the superinjunction was lifted – but not whether there was a separate injunction relating to the facts of the case (ie could you report that JT had obtained an injunction, but not say why?).

Despite this, everyone went ahead and shouted about it all over the internet. If there was a separate injunction, it was finished.

You can see the confusion in the comments on this Guardian story from Friday afternoon

Seastorm: I’ve no interest in gossiping about EBJT, but I am a little confused….is the paper concerned now allowed to go ahead and publish the allegations?

Busfield (replying to seastorm): The judgement means that we can now report that there was an injunction. The judge then says that the newspaper concerned will have to make its own assessment of the risks involved in publishing whatever the allegations may be, which will involve considerations of the laws relating to privacy and defamation.

Gooner UK (replying to seastorm): Nope, the removal of the superinjunction means that newspapers are allowed to publish the fact that an injunction is in place, and name the parties involved, but they are still not allowed to publish the subject matter itself.

The injunction still stands, it’s just that we now know an injunction is in place. A superinjunction is so damaging because it means we (the public) are deliberately kept in the dark as to the very existence of an injunction.

And bear in mind that an injunction is in theory an act of last resort anyway. A superinjunction adds another level to that, which can be very dangerous in terms of press freedom.

Busfield (replying to Gooner UK): my understanding, and I am not a lawyer but I have spent much of the day talking to one, is that both the super and the injunction have gone. It is up to the paper concerned to decide whether it can publish its story without breaking the laws of defamation and relating to privacy.

The background: two papers ignore the injunction

It’s also interesting that two newspapers decide to ignore, or sail very close to the wind with regards to, the superinjunction – ie they ran stories that appeared to be in breach of it.

Mail reports injunction’s existence

As the Press Gazette reported on Friday morning (ie before the superinjunction was lifted):

A new “super-injunction” has been used by a Premier League footballer to stop national newspapers reporting his alleged marital infidelity.

The Daily Mail identifies the man only as a married England international.

The Daily Mail today reports, in apparent defiance of the order: “So draconian is Mr Justice Tugendhat’s order that even its existence is supposed to be a secret.”

(It’s interesting that the Press Gazette felt able to run the story about the existence of the superinjnction stating “Press Gazette has not been served with the injunction.” – I would have thought that this was also sailing close to the wind. It knew there was a super injunction, and I’m surprised its lawyers didn’t make an attempt to find out the full details.)

The Mail’s piece had a couple of nods and winks to Terry’s role:

A married England international footballer was granted a sweeping injunction to prevent publication of his affair with the girlfriend of a team-mate … It could be anyone from the captain of the top team in the land …”

What, like the captain of England and Chelsea, you mean?

As does the Telegraph

On top of this, the Telegraph had run a piece, too, according to the Guardian:

Yesterday [Thursday] The Daily Telegraph technically breached the “super” part of the superinjunction by reporting that the courts were hiding the identity of a footballer and allegations about his private life. (This piece appeared in print but is no longer online).

Maybe since the Trafigura injunction, newspapers have been looking for a way to kill off superinjunctions. If they wanted a weak super injunction to pick on as a way to discredit them, this seemed a prime example.

Whatever their reasons, nothing seems likely to happen to the Mail and the Telegraph for breaching or nearly breaching this one – unlike in the Trafigura case, it seems unlikely John Terry is going to successfully sue anyone over this issue.


The Mail sums it up well:

In a scathing ruling, the judge made it clear he suspected Terry was more afraid of losing the commercial deals than anything else.

He said the footballer appeared to have brought his High Court action in a desperate move to protect his earnings – rather than the woman with whom he had been conducting his affair.

(And given this, it’s hard to see how the superinjunction was ever granted.)

There are legitimate reasons for injunctions and even superinjunctions.

But judges need to think very carefully before granting them. And the British courts and the right to privacy should not be used to protect the commercial interests of the “father of the year”.

January 18 2010


NUJ’s making journalism pay online: five points

NUJ logoThe NUJ’s New Ways to Make Journalism Pay conference on Saturday brought together a group of journalists and entrepreneurs who are making money through online journalism in the UK. Many of the speakers had toiled to build brands online, and those that had were now running sustainable businesses. If the future of journalism is entrepreneurial, then these speakers are evidence of it.

You can read a breakdown of all the speakers’ points at Ian Wylie’s blog and if you scroll back on my twitter account @Coneee. Here are five points from the conference that jumped out at me.

1. Getting to a sustainable position is difficult.

David Parkin, founder of Thebusinessdesk.com, took two years to raise the £300,000 he thought he’d need to survive an estimated 18 months of operating at a loss. In the end it only took 9 months after an expansion into the Northwest, but it was still very “hairy.” He had to “make noise”: put up posters, give away coffee on the street, and branded mints to posh restaurants where businesspeople dined. Daniel Johnston, founder of Indusdelta.co.uk, had to live off his savings for the first 18 months. The site is now profitable, and supports the salary of another staff member.

2. The rules of the journalism game aren’t changed by the internet.

Paul Staines of the Guido Fawkes blog gets up at 6.30AM, and is still up when Newsnight is on in the late evening. He hasn’t got any ins with big politicians, and most of his news comes from disgruntled interns. No wonder! David Parkin found that for him, starting a successful venture was still “very much about contacts.” Daniel Johnston, although professing to not know whether he was a journalist, borrowed the principle of independence from good journalism: providing a counter point to the Government view (which he said was “gospel” before he came along) of the welfare-to-work industry also allowed him to build a sustainable business.

3. Traditional media doesn’t do investigative journalism.

Gavid MacFadyean, director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism, said 75% of investigative journalism is now done by foundations or NGOs. This is because of cost cutting at newspapers and in TV, but also because foundations offer a far more effective environment for investigative journalism. Gavid said: “Foundations say just do your worst, and we’re trying! It’s no strings attached money,” which seems to be bliss compared to less independent advertising-supported models.

4. Email is important.

Many of the speakers had collected the email addresses of their readers in the tens or hundreds of thousands, allowing them to quickly notify readers of news, while also opening up possibilities for making money. David Parkin recalled success with sending emails when the interest rates changed. By providing this information within 2-3 minutes (speed which the BBC and “big media” don’t bother with) after it had happened, businesspeople could be more informed. Angie Sammons of Liverpool Confidential said having an email list of interested individuals means you can directly provide them with sponsored offers, making you money and also helping your readers.

5. Local freelance journalism is dying.

Since this was an NUJ conference organised by the London freelance branch, it’s not surprising that the room was full of freelance writers, many of them used to pitching stories to editors of local newspapers. Note that many seemed to be “used to” doing this. A combination of a crash in rates, an unwillingness for local editors to commission work and the virtual impossibility for newcomers to get their first (paid) start gave me the impression that it’s never been harder to get work as a freelance local journalist. Fortunately, the overriding message from the day was it’s never been easier to make it online.

Also see:

January 10 2010


iPhone News Apps Compared

We’re all being told that mobile is the next big thing for news, but what does it mean to have a good mobile news application?

Just as an online news site is a lot more than a newspaper online, a mobile news application is a lot more than news stories on a small screen. The better iPhone news apps integrate multimedia, social features, personalization, and push notifications.

Not all apps get even the basics right. But a few are pushing the boundaries of what mobile news can be, with innovative new features such as info-graphic displays of hot stories, or integrated playlists for multimedia.

Here is my roundup of 14 iPhone news offerings. I’ve included many of the major publishers, some lesser known applications, and a few duds for comparison.

The New York Times Company

The New York Times iPhone application

The New York Times iPhone application

The Times doesn’t do anything new with this application, but they do everything fairly well.

The app is designed around a vertical list stories, with a headline, lede, and photo thumbnail for each. Stories are organized into standard news sections, plus the alway interesting “Most Popular.”   Banner ads sometimes appear at the bottom, plus occasional interstitial ads when appear when you select a story.

The focus of the news is of course American. There’s no personalization of news content based either on interest or location, which may well prove to be a standard feature for mobile news applications. Fortunately, the app includes a search function, though it only seems to go a few days back.

Downloaded articles are available when the device is offline, which is a useful feature. Favorites stories can be saved, or shared via email, text message, Twitter, and Facebook.

The UI has a few quirks. The “downloading news” progress bar is expected, but the sometimes equally long “processing news” phase makes me wonder what the app is doing. The photos in a story very sensibly download after the text, but the scroll position jumps when the photo appears,which is hugely annoying.

There’s little innovation or differentiation here, but the experience is smooth.

Daily Zeitgeist
Sharpest Cookie

The Daily Zeitgeist presents the headlines in a visually innovative way

The Daily Zeitgeist displays headlines visually

The Daily Zeitgeist tries something completely different, and it works well.

The app draws news from a number of different sources, such as Google News, Digg, Reddit, and Yahoo Buzz. Headlines from each source are displayed in text panels on an uncluttered screen. The size of each panel indicates the story popularity and the background color indicates the freshness, with stories gradually fading as they age. Tapping on a panel brings up an info window with a thumbnail photo and the first few lines of the story. Doubling tapping on the info window loads the story from the original source in the integrated browser.

From within the browser view, stories can be loaded into Safari, emailed, or posted to Facebook.

That’s it. The entire experience is clean, simple, and fast. It’s possible to get an immediate, at-a-glance sense of what is news from the clever infographic-like interface, and I really enjoy the addition of user-curated news sources such as Digg and Reddit.

The implementation is not without its flaws. Less popular stories are displayed very small, necessitating zooming with two fingers, or by double tapping. It’s annoying to need two hands to zoom, and sometimes the zoom limit isn’t high enough to allow reading of the smallest headlines. Because the stories recede into one corner, I find myself imagining a one handed, one-dimensional zoom gesture.

I’d also like to see better customization of sources, such as the ability to display specific sections of Google News, or read the news in different languages. Nonetheless, The Daily Zeitgeist may well evolve into my favorite news application. It’s definitely something different and innovative.

NPR News


NPR's iPhone app features an integrated playlist

The NPR news app, from the American public radio station of the same name,  has a lot of audio as one might hope. In fact it’s the only news app in this roundup to include an integrated playlist manager.

Stories appear in the usual vertical list, with those that include audio clearly marked. Within each story page there are buttons for “add to playlist” and “listen now.” Wisely, NPR includes comprehensive text summaries even for its audio stories.

The app includes a “programs” screen where listeners can queue up popular NPR programs such as All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Planet Money. The “stations” screen allows users to find programming produced by NPR affiliates all across the US.

Radio is different from print, and NPR has done a good job at imagining how mobile radio consumption should work. The integrated play list is a welcome innovation, and the programming selection features are thorough and well thought out .

A few obvious audio features are missing, such as the ability to seek to an arbitrary time in the program, and integration with the iPhone’s volume buttons. It should also be possible to play programs in the background while using other apps, though this is a limitation of the iPhone OS. Helpfully, the NPR app includes a “Go To iTunes” button for programming that is also available as a standard podcast.

NPR includes some non-audio stories from the Associated Press in its article list. Banner ads sometimes appear at the bottom of the screen. Stories can be shared via email, Twitter, and Facebook. There is no search feature.

The app is not quite perfect, but it’s useful and unique. NPR is definitely on the right track.

AP Mobile
The Associated Press

The Associated Press' iPhone app

The Associated Press' iPhone app pushes breaking news

AP’s global network produces a huge amount of news, and their content forms the core of more newspapers and television reports than most people realize. Their app is therefore a welcome addition to any serious news junkie’s iPhone, but seems to miss one of the AP’s key strengths: comprehensiveness. The content is really a very narrow selection of AP’s stories, and there’s no search feature.

The interface is list-based, with a “Front Page” category that shows a couple hot stories from each of a customizable list of sections, including “Headlines”, “Most Recent”, and “Most shared”. There is a Photos button for some sections which leads to an attractive grid of clickable thumbnails, and a video button which leads to a list of video reports that play in the iPhone YouTube app.

The AP app is one of only two in this roundup that does push notification. When enabled, AP sends big headlines to your phone even when it’s off, which arrive much like text messages. I appreciated this for some stories, but found other headlines a waste of my time (another Tiger Woods story? Really?) The ability to customize push content is badly needed.

Kudos also for localization, though it’s incomplete because it is based on zip code — useless to the majority of the world, which is strange for one of the most global news organizations.

Stories can be saved to a favorites list, or shared via email, text message, Twitter, Facebook , or Evernote. Banner ads sometimes appear at the top of lists and stories.

The AP application feels a little clunky, with a somewhat cluttered UI and several incomplete features. That I can live with. What I’d really like to see is a much broader selection of AP’s huge output, combined with strong filtering and search features.

Thompson-Reuters News Pro

Thompson-Reuters' iPhone app

Thompson-Reuters' iPhone news app also provides market data

News Pro knows what it’s about: business and financial readers. The app includes comprehensive market information, and a scrolling ticker at the top of every screen.

News is presented in a list of selections from the full wire feed, at the bottom of which are category choices. There is nothing like a “most popular” or “trending” category, but business news is broken down finely into sections such as “Corporate,” “Market Report,” and “New Issues.” The coverage is nicely international, and the app gives the user a choice the US, the UK, Canada, and India on first invocation.

News Pro includes attractive photo and video sections, but where the app really shines is its market information. All of the standard indices are updated in near real time, as are exchange rates. The stocks section allows quick checks on any ticker symbol, and a user-defined watchlist. Any index or stock can be graphed within a fairly sophisticated interface.

Text size is adjustable and stories can be shared by email only. There is no favoriting feature.

This application is not the greatest for general news, but then it’s clearly not designed for the general reader. Thompson-Reuters knows their market, and understands that stories are just part of what a mobile application can deliver.

TIME Mobile

Time Inc.

Time Mobile in the iPhone

Time Mobile in the iPhone

Where TIME Mobile shines is the interface. Of all the apps tested, it has simplest, slickest, cleanest interface. Or maybe the black background just makes it seem glossier.

The app is very much oriented around photography. Instead of a vertical list, the user is presented with a smoothly scrolling row of large thumbnails, much like iTunes’ “cover flow” interface.

Rather than the traditional news sections, Time’s categories are “News”, “Lists”, “Quotes,” “Popular,” and “Media”. In the era of 24 hour news, Time’s weekly format is ill suited to breaking stories, and they have wisely elected to focus on a different sort of content.

The app also supports favorites, sharing via email and twitter, text size adjustment,

TIME Mobile is pretty, and well suited to those looking for more of a magazine reading experience.

The Guardian
Guardian News and Media Limited

The Guardian UK's iPhone app

The Guardian UK's iPhone app

The UK’s famous newspaper has done well with its iPhone application. The app is based around the usual vertical story list, yes, but it is well implemented and supplemented with multimedia features such as photo galleries and integrated podcasts. The usual sections are available, but “Latest” and “Trending” are the home screen options.

The search function stands out. It finds topics, sections, and contributors, not stories, but the archive seems to go back a full year, unique among iPhone news apps. A topic search for “plane” brings up “Hudson river plane crash”, “Plane crashes (world)”, and “Lockerbie plane bombing (uk)”. Each of these categories expands into a long list of previous stories.

Stories can be favorited, or shared via email and Facebook. Text size is adjustable.

The Guardian’s app is cleanly implemented, the multimedia features are welcome, and the archive search function is innovative and useful. Well worth the low cost.

CNN Mobile

The CNN iPhone app

The CNN iPhone app has lots of video

The CNN app is slick and complete. Really complete. The app includes custom search, GPS location-based content, gobs of video, and the ability to upload photos to CNN’s iReport citizen journalism website.

The headlines pages is divided into categories, and features a story list below a large photo. Stories within a section can be browsed by sliding horizontally between pages, which has a lovely magazine-like feel. Every story has a large photo, and many of the stories have associated video, streamed as usual through the YouTube player.

The video page features even more multimedia, also broken into one list per category, including the venerable “Most Popular.”

The MyCNN page allows content customization. The app can choose local stories based on your GPS location or zip code, which means it only works inside the US. It also supports topic searches by keyword, which are saved into custom news sections.

The “iReport” page features selections from CNN’s iReport citizen journalism content, plus the ability to submit your own text and photographic reports. Most intriguing of all, the “Assignments” page provides detailed suggestions on submission topics, such as “Winter weather near you” and “Tsunami: Five years later.”

The app rotates into landscape mode when the phone is turned. Banner ads appear in story lists. Stories can be saved or shared via text message, email, Twitter, and Facebook.

The CNN app is a monster in terms of functionality, yet the whole feels uncluttered and functional. The content is good, the customization is good, and the iReport features are on the cutting edge of web-enabled journalism.

The Independent
Missing Ink Studios Ltd.

The Independent's iPhone app works much like an RSS reader

The Independent's iPhone app works much like an RSS reader

The Independent’s main screen is a graphical topic page showing unread stories in each category, with all content from the UK newspaper of the same name. Thankfully, you don’t have to wait for all stories to update before you can read those already downloaded. The total number of unread stories appears as a tag on the app’s icon in the iPhone’s home screen.

Within each category is a list view. Most story items have thumbnail photos. Banner ads appear at the top of both the story list and individual articles.

The font size is adjustable and items can be favorited, but shared only by email.

This is a bare-bones app that feels more like a sharp RSS reader than a news organization product. This simplicity is not entirely a bad thing, but the app misses many mobile possibilities.

Al Jazeera English Live

The Al Jazeera English Live app does exactly what it says

The Al Jazeera English Live app does exactly what it says

The Al Jazeera English Live app streams the AJE broadcast feed to your iPhone. It is produced by LiveStation, whose desktop player can be used to watch Al Jazeera and other stations on your computer.

Video quality is quite good over wifi, but much lower resolution over a 3G connection, as might be expected. In my tests around Hong Kong the video often stuttered or froze and was not really watchable without wifi.

And that’s it. This app is a viewer for the Al Jazeera English television channel, no more or less. It’s exciting to be able to watch it from my phone, and as 3G networks improve we can expect the experience to be more reliable. Al Jazeera is to be commended for leading the charge to mobile video broadcast. But the internet is not television, and I’d like to see the ability to select programming, as the CNN and NPR apps do so well.

Jakarta Globe
Equinox Inc

The Jakarta Globe iPhone app includes no Jakarta-specific features

The Jakarta Globe iPhone app includes no Jakarta-specific features

Disclosure: I have been  a contributor to The Jakarta Globe.

The young Jakarta daily comes to the iPhone in minimal form. The interface is the standard news list, divided into categories such as City, National, Business, Sports, and Life and Times.

Stories can be favorited but not shared  – a problem for users and publisher alike. Banner ads appear at the bottom of story pages.

In the era of aggregation and global reach, local news is under-served. This creates an opportunity for focused reporting. The Jakarta Globe application is a good example of a local news application, but it lacks compelling city-and country-specific features. For example, why can’t I look up Jakarta movie listings?

Ultimately, users will install this application only because there are few other mobile sources for English-language news about Indonesia and its capital city.

Fluent News Reader
Fluent Mobile
Free, plus subscription for some features

Fluent News Reader aggregates from many sources in a customizable fashion

Fluent News Reader aggregates from many sources in a customizable fashion

Fluent News Reader aggregates stories from a user-defined list of sources, by default including the RSS feeds of the Washington Post, the New York times, the BBC, NPR, USA Today, Al Jazeera, Reuters, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, the Economist, Fox News, and several dozen others. Duplicate stories are removed, much like Google News.

The app comes with a standard set of sections such as “Business”, “World,” and “Sport”, but Fluent differentiates itself through the ability to make custom sections. Sections are defined by keyword searches, which are extremely useful in their own right. The balance of results can be adjusted by promoting or demoting individual news sources.

But only up to a point. Fluent wants you to subscribe at $1.99 for one month or $2.99 for three months for “premium” features including the ability to create an unlimited number of sections, promote more than one source, and remove the banner ads in article lists.

Stories can be saved, or shared via email, Twitter, and Facebook.

Fluent news is perhaps the only truly comprehensive news aggregation app for the iPhone. Its search and custom sections features are very useful, as is the ability to adjust the importance of sources. But when the most expensive iPhone news app is selling for $4, dishing out $1 every month just to keep features unlocked seems a bit rich.

BBC News Mobile
Joseph Nardone

The BBC needs to make their own iPhone app

The BBC needs to make their own iPhone app

This application, which does not seem to be supported or authorized by the BBC, is one of a several in the BBC fan creation category. The interface is simple, with a list of stories in each of three sections: “World News,” “World Sport,” and “World Business.” Choosing a story simply brings up the appropriate bbc.co.uk page in the integrated browser. The “Share Story” button sends an email.

That’s it.

What we can learn most from the existence of this and similar applications is that the BBC has not satisfied pent up demand for an iPhone app.

The Huffington Post

The Huffington Post app allows commenting from your phone

The Huffington Post app includes comments and tweets

The Huffington Post looks like a mobile newspaper should. The design is clean, with their trademark headline photo up top. The interface is simple, with the usual sections including a “blogs” category. There is a well-stocked video section which makes use of the iPhone YouTube player.

Where the Huffington Post stands out is its social media integration. There is a “comments” button on every page, and new comments can be posted from within the app. The bottom of each article also includes a selection of recent tweets on the article topic, complete with a “reply” link for each tweet that integrates with a user-selectable iPhone twitter client (though not Tweetdeck, which is annoying.) All of these features are unique among the apps in this roundup.

Font size is adjustable and stories can be shared by Email, Facebook, and Twitter.

There is no search function. Otherwise, the app is full-featured, good-looking, multimedia, and actively social. The Huffington Post continues their embrace of the web with their thoughtfully designed iPhone application.

November 05 2009


Five factors that foster innovation in the online newsroom

I recently heard a newspaper chief editor say something quite shocking. I attended a meeting arranged by the Norwegian consortium New Media Network where the chief editor of the second biggest national tabloid in Norway, Dagbladet, was to give a speech. And believe it or not, chief editor of Dagbladet, Anne Aasheim, said: “I have been a media executive for 20 years now and I must say; it’s more fun today than ever before!”

More fun today than ever before?  Everybody at the meeting knew that Dagbladet has suffered massive losses in recent years – much more than their competitor VG, which is the flagship of Schibsted, one of Europe’s most successful and innovative newspaper publishers, according to The New York Times. Dagbladet is probably the newspaper that has suffered the most in the Norwegian newspaper market in recent years. What could possibly be fun about that? Was Anne Aasheim joking?

Anne Aasheim wasn’t joking. She soon explained what she meant: “When the crisis becomes big enough you no longer just mend things. Your tear everything apart and then you re-construct it. We are now searching for the power to do disruptive innovation. It’s going to be a cut-throat competition to have the greatest power of innovation.”

Then she smiled before exclaiming: “And we are gonna win that competition!”

I thought this was an interesting argument – especially since I have conducted much research in the Dagbladet newsroom during the last four years. Dagbladet is one of those newspapers that always wants to be the first mover. When new technology comes around Dagbladet jumps on it. Dagbladet was the first Norwegian newspaper to launch an online edition, it implemented bloging as the first online newspaper in Scandinavia, etc, etc. Dagbladet’s position in the shadow of the bigger and more successful newspaper VG has forced it to push for innovative initiatives.

The key question for Dagbladet and any other firm that push for successful innovations, is of course: How do you know if a innovative initiative will be a success? I shall not claim that I have the answer to that question (if I did, I would probably be very rich man). However, I have done some research in order to pinpoint the factors that influence processes of innovation in newsrooms. In an article in the current issue of the journal Journalism Studies I argue that there are five factors that affect whether an innovation is diffused successfully or not in an online newsroom:

  1. Newsroom autonomy: are innovative projects initiated and implemented within an autonomous newsroom and with relative autonomy within the online newsroom? (If not, the project is less likely to succeed)
  2. Newsroom work culture: does the online newsroom reproduce editorial gatekeeping or are alternative work cultures explored? (reproduction of “old media” work cultures is likely to prevent innovative initiatives from being successful)
  3. The role of management: is newsroom management able to secure stable routines for innovation?
  4. The relevance of new technology: is new technology perceived as relevant, i.e. efficient and useful? (New technology can be costly and time consuming to utilize)
  5. Innovative individuals: is innovation implemented and understood as part of the practice of journalism?

These factors derive from an ethnographic case study of a process of innovation in dagbladet.no – the online edition of Dagbladet. The findings of this case study are compared to all other research on innovations (or lack of innovations) in online newspapers. This body of research consist of – among many other studies – the research done by Pablo Boczkowsi in his book Digitizing the News: Innovation in Online Newspapers; David Domingo’ Ph.D-thesis Inventing online journalism: Development of the Internet as a news medium in four Catalan newsrooms (which can be downloaded here); Lucy Küng’s When Innovation Fails to Disrupt. A Multi-lens Investigation of Succesfull Incumbment Respons to Technological Disconuity: The Launch of BBC News Online; and Jody Brannon’s quite old, but still very interesting Ph.D.-thesis Maximizing the medium: assessing impediments to performing multimedia journalism at three news web sites (parts of it available on here website).

One last point: Innovation and crisis tend to go hand in hand. Businesses, organisations and nation states alike have always pushed for innovations in times of crisis. There are two reasons for this assumed causal link between recession and innovation, according to an article by Geroski and Walters published in The Economic Journal. First, in times of recession the value of existing rents usually falls, thus making it more attractive for firms to implement new products and processes that hopefully will yield higher returns. Second, to invest in innovations requires a firm to divert resources from activity/production to product development. Such a diversion of resources is more likely to be feasible when the current production is less profitable, e.g. in times of recession.

No wonder why the chief editor of Dagbladet, Anne Aasheim, was so enthusiastic about the opportunities for disruptive innovation…

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