Posts about newnews

Black and white and dead all over

Michael Kinsley writes a, well, cute column about the Rube Goldberg process that produces newspapers and how it’s likely doomed. Not sure what the news is there. In it, he asks:

No one knows how all this will play out. But it is hard to believe that there will be room in the economy for delivering news by the Rube Goldberg process described above. That doesn’t mean newspapers are toast. After all, they’ve got the brand names. You gotta trust something called the “Post-Intelligencer” more than something called “Yahoo” or “Google,” don’t you? No, seriously, don’t you? Okay, how old did you say you are?

The latest Ad Age, in a special issue with American Demographics, asks Americans just that question (no link, damn them):

What Web site provides the most reliable source of information on the internet?

Top picks were Yahooo (cited by 11.3% of U.S. consumers), MSN (10.4%), Google (9.9%), CNN (8%), AOL (5.2%) and Consumer Reports (3.1%). Google scored first among younger consumers, with 22% of the 18-24 crowd and 15% of the 25-34 group choosing to Google.

In Europe, no single media property emerged as most trustworthy and objective. But Eruope has a clear choice for most-reliable Web information source: Google ranked tops in France, Germany, Netherlands and Spain, and scored No. 2, behind the BBC, in the U.K.

Google’s strong showing in the U.S. and Europe as a reliable Web information source is intriguing since the site largely leaves it to users to figure out what in the sea of unedited search results should be believed or discarded. But that leaves consumers in control, and those consumers count on Google to lead them to the truth.

Behind these stats lie a few phenoms: Yes, online brands are trusted. And in a world of new ubiquitious and international uberbrands, it’s impossible for a local or niche brands to rise up in top lists such as these. But don’t get trapped into old, media 1.0 big-think: The aggregation of the smalls is the powerful force here. Small is the new big.

But the real lesson is what Ad Age said at the end: This is about control, about finding, packaging, editing, judging sources on our own.

The challenge for those black, white, and dead-all-over old properties is to find the ways to contribute to that new world and be found when Google is the front page.

The Digg society

Here’s a good exploration of the complementary species that make up the Digg ecosystem [via my son’s dugg links]. It shows how news organizations need to look at themselves — as ecosystems, rather than as manufactured products.

There are five groups of people who make digg.com what it is.

There are the readers: an educated guess would be that probably ten to twenty percent of those ever click ‘digg’, they are mostly just there for the end product of the digg machine: an array of interesting news and links often presented before the other news sources.

There are the diggers: some percentage of the readers, probably ten to twenty percent. They bother to vote for the stories on digg.com, which changes the numbers next to the stories and enables stories to get to another queue – the diggnation podcast.

Then there are the hardcore diggers – people who sit in the queue of submitted stories and watch for breaking news that should make its way up to the front page, or report stories as being spam or irrelevant.

An even smaller subset of users are the submitters: people who post fresh stories. It’s difficult to post a fresh story to digg at this point, it’s a competition for who can submit it first.

Finally there are the news publishers themselves, often bloggers who want to get readership for their content.

What’s really interesting about these groups is that each of them is required for the system to function, they all came together relatively quickly, and each of them have different and complementary rewards for what they do.

If a newspaper truly handed control of itself over to its community — Digg-like or Craig-like — then a similar society could emerge: reporters, on staff and off; contributors; creators; alerters; readers-now-kn0wn-as-editors…..

I feel like a crack dealer

Jon Friedman has a funny column watching a focus group put on for show filled with readers of Entertainment Weekly, my baby, who were forced to give up the magazine for a month.

It was endearing, even heartwarming, to observe the obsessive loyalty of these subscribers. The dinner occurred smack in the middle of a horrendous industry slump. Magazines are desperately seeking advertising dollars these days….

That said, I’d hasten to add that these 12 EW subscribers truly need to get out and smell the flowers once in a while, too. (One of them talked about renting a hotel room while in college so she could watch the Oscars ceremony without having her roommates milling around and distracting her from the broadcast. She said that, by the way, with a shrug, as if this amounted to perfectly normal behavior. I don’t know about you, but I could barely afford to buy a slice of pizza when I was in college)….

They dearly missed EW during their period of deprivation. Zoe, a charming lawyer-turned-aspiring-actress, confessed to the group: “I felt lonely,” before smiling gamely and adding reassuredly, “just to the not-pathetic-side of lonely.”

The other panelists nodded knowingly….

Juan commiserated with Kevin, saying: “It was like not having a pen-pal write to me.” He then paused and added sheepishly: “You probably think it’s kind of … freaky.”

I’d like to hear more from those fans and not about the magazine but about the movies. Did Zoe find King Kong sexy? Did Juan get into arguments about Munich?

The point of this little show Friedman attended was, of course, to show the wonders of magazines. It’s all about the magazine. But see the post below about newspapers and community.

EW, I’m glad to see, does exactly what we hoped it would do: It attracts an community of people who love entertainment. But the internet didn’t exist when the magazine was born. Now it does. So now they could bring those people together to share their reviews with fellow movie fans. The magazine has a community. The magazine is a community. So now what?

Nobody here but us chickens

Scott Anderson, a newspaper online exec at Tribune Co., writes an honest, sad, and true post at his blog, Online News Squared, about community and newspapers. Quoted in entirety:

A little compare and contrast about the NYC transit strike gets us quickly to the heart of a serious problem that faces newspaper.coms.

Visit here, our friend Mr. Newmark’s storied List. Feel your clicking finger go tingly as you navigate through page after page after page of people offering rides or looking for rides into and out of New York.

Now, visit here, the Ride Share board on Newsday.com, (part of Mama Tribune’s happy family). Feel how it’s about as lonely and forlorn as a subway platform during the strike.

Sigh.

Yet another crisis and Craigslist commands the community. Newspaper.coms command . . . Well, not the community.

Squared isn’t at all picking on his colleagues at Newsday; in fact, he’s very proud that they put the rideshare board into play. It’s just frustrating that even when we TRY, we more often than not find we are absolutely losing what may be one of the most important parts of the business as it more and more moves online — the ability to connect people to one another and to activate conversations. To not just be the deliverer of news and information with glitzy bells and whistles and more related content than you could shake a latte stirrer at, but the catalyst of connection.

How is it that a decade deep into the online news business that isn’t our franchise? Are we only about news, not about the people who consume the news? How come Craig organically can touch lives on so many personal levels — and Craig’s users can touch each other’s lives on so many levels? Connecting buyers and sellers. Connecting employers and employees. Connecting single men and women and combinations thereof. Connecting old friends. Connecting people who need a ride.

Nobody should know its community better than a newspaper.com. A community, to connect within itself, should need to turn to nobody but a newspaper.com. A decade in, we’ve mastered only the disconnect.

And I think the reason is clear and simple: It’s about control. My first law of media and life: Give the people control and they will use it. Don’t, and you will lose them.

Craig created a tool and stood back and, as I now quote him in every PowerPoint to which I subject people, followed one simple rule: “Get out of the way.” He handed over control.

Newspapers are allergic to that idea; they have defined themselves by their control: They report, they confirm, they edit, they package, they product, they distribute. We read. Oh, they’re trying to hand over more control. I was proud at Advance that, thanks to the insistence of our boss, we created forums where everyone had their say. But truth be told, that may have been ahead of other newspaper companies but that wasn’t saying much. The people couldn’t create their own forums, package their own news, use the site to congregate and conspire.

It’s a hard lesson to learn and I still learn it every day. I was working with some folks on a project and we had a light-bulb-over-the-head moment about handing over control. I spoke with a journalist I respect the other day about media today and we had to remind ourselves that the people package news now and don’t wait for us to.

The truth is that newspapapers have to recognize is that the people already have control. What can they do about that?

New News: The newsroom as classroom

This is the second in a series about suggestions on how to change newspapers.

After scaring the bejesus out of the newsroom and other departments in a paper, the next step has to pick up the pieces and educate the people there, to take the fear out of the unknown by making it known. I think that the newsroom should start to act like a classroom in three ways.

* * *

First, I would train everyone in a newsroom — everyone: reporter, editor, photographer, artist, boss, clerk — on the lite content creation and publishing tools of online. I’m going to be involved with such a session for the faculty at the new Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY next month, showing everyone how to use blogging, podcasting, vlogging, wiki, rss, blog search, and other tools. I hope the lesson learned is as simple as, “is that all there is to this?” (Cue Peggy Lee.) I’ve seen it happen scores of times with publishing folks who are accustomed and resigned to long and complex processes to get their product out. It happened when I showed James Wolcott how to blog (but, of course, not what to say): He tapped out a bon mot and hit the publish button and then was amazed that his post was presented to the world: no senior editors, no copy editors, no production meetings, no delay. He grinned, devilishly.

Once these folks see how easy these tools are to use, it will help them understand why they’re proliferating like Tribbles and what the possibilities are both in the newsroom and in their communities.

And so I would tell newspaper bosses that they should not only allow but encourage — though not necessarily require — people in the newsroom to use these tools, to create and converse and publish and broadcast. Oh, no, I can hear them saying, without copyediting? Yes, without copyediting. You can’t copyedit a podcast but you can always take it down. You can put out a policy that boils down to this: Don’t be a stupid jerk. Oh, and start interacting with your public, who will warn you when you’re being a stupid jerk.

And then great and surprising things can happen. Newsrooms can be and should be creative and curious places and these tools can break out those instincts. I’ve seen that happen, too. I’ve seen still photographers get reenergized professionally and creatively when they can shoot video. I’ve seen reporters freed to publish quickly with links having a ball finding themselves in conversation — for the first time in their careers — with the folks who used to merely read them.

I think you’ll find most of the newsroom embracing these new tools. And in fairness, I think you’ll find many who’ve long wanted to try but they were stopped either by newsroom fear or by online folks, some of whom have started to turn their craft into a priesthood, just like newspapering. But there will be naysayers. Newsrooms are filled with them and in the culture of the place, their caution usually wins the day. I’ve seen that, too: One person can shake her head freetting about all the bad things that could happen if we actually link out to strangers and so it doesn’t happen because no one wants to be responsible. So managers have to ignore the naysayers and pay attention to the creators. This doesn’t mean that you have to love it all; quality matters and you should improve or kill the bad stuff. But you should concentrate on sharing the gems and the excitement.

The print and online folks should not get caught up in the respective niceties and intracies of their crafts. Don’t spend months designing new templates for podcasts, watching the work fall farther down the priority list at every meeting because “there isn’t revenue attached.” Instead, use the tools that exist: Put up blogs and let newsroom folks publish links to their vlogs and podcasts from them and then show them how to track the links to them via Technorati et al. Keep it simple because it is so simple.

* * *

Second, I would invite people from the community to come into the newsroom — or go out to them — to teach them whatever they might want to learn from you. I’m not sure what that is. So find out. Ask. Terry Heaton, who has done more to innovate in newsrooms than anyone I know, helped the folks at WKRN-TV in Nashville invite bloggers and vloggers to the station to learn how to shoot better video. It doesn’t much matter what the curriculum is, for the real lesson here is about sharing. We shouldn’t act as if we have the keys to the kingdom. But if people want to learn how to file a FOIA or create a news graphic or select fonts, then let them in on the knowledge.

* * *

Third, I would invite people from the community to come to newsrooms — or, again, go to them — to have them teach the journalists. Again, the syllabus doesn’t matter for the real lesson is that journalists want to learn and the community knows much worth teaching. So if financial people say we always mess up stories about P&Ls, then invite them in to teach us. If sports fans think we don’t understand what’s really happening in the local football league, then buy them a beer and listen. If religious leaders think they’re misunderstood, then have them explain their beliefs to us. It’s our job to listen.

If that works, then invite the whole community to come join in. And if that happens, then you’re starting to get to where I think a newspaper should be: Not a repository of knowledge, not a spout for it, but a — pardon the icky poetic imagery — fountain around which people gather to share. Once again, Hugh McLeod said it better than I just did: We need to think as “a point on the map where wonderful people cluster together to do wonderful things.” How do we help people gather to share what they know and need to know? How do we turn newspapers into newsplaces? This, I hope, is a start. More to come….

New news: The fear factor

Below, I promised to start making more tangible suggestions for remaking newspapers from papers into places. Here’s a start (they’ll all be tagged ‘newnews’):

The first job is to instill fear in the newsroom. Oh, there’s fear there now. But it is fear of the unknown. What we need is fear of the known: the facts about falling readership and advertising and the reasons behind both and about new competition. Fear alone won’t lead to a strategy, of course. But until there is an imperative to change inspired by that fear, it won’t be possible to move past the complacency and resistance that populate so many newsrooms now. In later posts, we’ll look at means to replace fear with excitement about new opportunities. But first things first.

So before doing any reorganizing, strategizing, or off-siting, the first thing I think a newspaper should do is report about the future of news. Assign your best reporters and editors — the Bejesus Task Force — to get all the prognostications about the future and all the data about the present — about where the audience and dollars are going, about new competition, about new technologies, about best and worst practices, about new definitions of news — and bring it together in a report for the entire staff. Make the assignment clear: Find the most frightening stuff you can. Now is the time to face every devil. Leave none unearthed.

This is for the entire staff. All of this is. If you do this just for management — or just editors, for that matter — it will not work. And it’s not just for the paper. You need to take that task-force report about the future of news and print it in the paper — and online, of course — and ask the people to tell you what to do. Know that you’ll be reaching only the people you reach now. But you’ll set a new tone in the relationship and will, I guarantee, get good ideas. So set up the means to capture those ideas: public forums, online and in person. Meet the readers.

Next, go talk to your former readers and never readers. OK, do some focus groups. But better yet, go out to folks you do not serve and meet them face-to-face, preferably over beer. Give managers and staffers strict instructions to listen, not talk. They may only ask questions, not argue and never lecture. Tell them to get answers to key questions, including how people define news today, where they go to get it, what their frustations are, what they really care about, why they don’t read newspapers, what they hate about papers, whether they trust us, what they know, what they can contribute.

Then you can bring in some prognosticators and bullshit artists (my current job description) to scare you, but judge what they say based on the reporting you’ve just done. Later, you can challenge them, as my editor friend challenged me, to get real. But now, treat them like horror-movie producers and ask them for their scariest stuff.

Now bring in your competitors: bloggers, podcasters, community organizers. Don’t kidnap and torture them. Ask them how and why they do what they do and what they need to do it better. Later, you’ll look for ways to work with them; in fact, that will be a key to any future strategy. But now, just look at all the ways they’re smarter and nimbler than you and how they’re having so much more fun. You need to know what you don’t know. Jay Rosen even suggests giving the staff a test — but he’s a tougher teacher than I will be.

Finally, have an open meeting about the numbers. Go ahead and show how profitable you are today. But show every bad number and every bad trend you don’t want your advertisers, shareholders, analysts, and bosses to see. If you don’t do this, it won’t work. You might as well call in the private equity firm and call it a day.

The idea is to make everyone in the organization understand the strategic imperative for change. If they think they can just sit back and do what they’ve done for years, then they won’t be doing it much longer. If they want to change, they will. The danger is that the smartest staffers will get so scared they will want to quit and blog for a living. That’s why there’s no time to spare getting to the next steps so you can hold onto them and harnass their iimaginations. More on that later….

One newsroom, two newsrooms, or none?

There is a debate in the land of newspapering: Should print and online operate separately or together? Jay Rosen argues today that in the recent kerfuffle at The Washington Post, he sees benefit in separation. And you’d think I’d agree, since I set up separate operations when I was at Advance.net. But I don’t think I do, not anymore.

The commonly held wisdom — or rationalization — among those of us who took separate routes is that we needed to create autonomous operations so that the online staff could do what was appropriate for this new medium (like enabling interactivity) and so that the online brand and bottom line would not be shortchanged in ad deals as merely value added. And I think that was true.

But it is also true today that if newspapers themselves do not change radically to embrace the future, they will become things of the past. So I have argued that newspapers have a choice: Either totally upend newsroom culture and get people to face the strategic imperative of gathering and sharing news in new ways across all platforms … or move most of the staff to online — where the audience is now and revenue growth, if not equivalent revenue, will be — and leave the dinosaurs behind. But if you take the former course, if you take the challenge of exploding the newsroom, then you probably have to give those people control for all the products and hold them accountable for audience growth and satisfaction and for keeping up with all their new competitors, small and smaller. And if they can’t do it, then you get new people who can. Quoth Yelvington once more: “It’s time to change your people, or change your people.”

Jay argues persuasively that in l’affaire Froomkin, the ability of online monarch Jim Brady to make appropriate decisions for the dot-com apart from newsroom king Len Downie is productive:

They’re not equals (780 in one newsroom vs. 65 in the other; fewer than one million subscribers vs. eight million users), but Washington and Arlington have their own spheres. Over the newspaper and reporting beats Len Downie is king. Over the website Jim Brady is sovereign. Over the user’s experience no one has total control. There’s tension because there’s supposed to be tension. It makes for a more dynamic site.

Well, but it also makes for blinders aside the eyes of the newsroom princes. That is why Post political editor John Harris thought he could be so haughty as to publicly scold his online colleagues for not following his rules and for embarrassing him with his White House, even snaring the — what shall I say, unsuspecting? — ombudsman in his crusade.

No, Harris and company do not need to confront the online people. They need to confront the future. They need to confront the fact that more readers read the online product. They need to confront the fact that the economics of news are changing, whether they approve or not.

I once had an argument with an editor of People who wanted a redesign to do what technology at the time — and logic — could not do. He kept stomping his foot: If I want it, it must be so. Make it so! I kept explaining why it could not happen. Round and round it went until finally I snapped, “Jim, damnit, I’m not your enemy, reality is.”

The people in the Post print newsroom acted as if the online newsroom were their enemy. No. Reality is.

: So are The New York Times and USA Today right to combine newsrooms? Only if they blow up the newsrooms in the process and force every journalist at every desk to reinvent not only the product but also the process of news — and reinvent themselves as they do it. An organization chart is not the answer. An attitudectomy is.

When I visited with The Guardian’s management, I found an impressive cultural change already underway: The print folks and online folks together worried that they were behind,that the digital age was well underway and they were still trying to hop on. They didn’t try to alter reality. They wanted to get ahead of it.

That cultural change is what matters, not whether there are one or two newsrooms.

In fact, I’ll argue that there should be no newsroom. Now you may have thought that the reference to no newsrooms in the headline above was another smart-assed prediction of the fall of papers. Not at all. Instead, it’s a suggestion: Just as you should stop thinking of your product as paper, as a thing, so should you stop thinking of your operation as a room.

The old saw in designing space for a business is that you should give the sales department as little space as possible — or no space at all — because, after all, aren’t the sales people supposed to be out there, selling?

So shouldn’t the same be true for newsrooms: Give the reporters no space, have them live out of their laptops, so they are out there reporting? Now go the next step: What if some and soon much of the news doesn’t come from reporters — allowing the reporters to concentrate on what they do best, on their real value, reporting — but from the people we used to call readers? And what if the people help edit too (see: Digg)? What if there is no newsroom? Or rather, what if the newsroom is the community and the community is the newsroom.

OK, I just went to far. It’s what I do now: I push the point to make a point. At a recent breakfast with pr execs, a sage news exec — guess who — defended me at such a moment, saying it’s now my role to push the imperative and it’s still their job to get their jobs done. I was grateful for the defense, particularly from him.

But I also went to lunch last week with a print editor/friend I now like to call Fred Flintstone who challenged me back and said, ok, after resisting the Gospel according to Jetson, he was now ready to sign up and build a new future. But how? How, exactly? It’s fine to talk theory but what’s the reality?

He was right to push back and since I now spend so much time in this space with abstractions that will make fine book chapter titles but not blueprints — but since I also have faced the specific practical challenges of merging newsroom views if not newsrooms — then I need to get more practical: Mouth, meet money.

So I hope to start writing a series of posts with explicit suggestions for news organizations. Take them for what they’re worth. Oh, I’ll argue that there are actually lots of practical suggestions amidst the 9,009 posts that precede this one (yow, that guy can blather!). But I can see how the forest can get lost for the kudzu. So I’ll write some posts that are at least more direct. Starting shortly with suggestions about how to merge those newsrooms… but first, how to scare them….