Posts about norg

Mapping the future while underway

Dow Jones just set up a task force to figure out their future, with a senior executive, Paul Ingrassia, president of the newswires, and heavyweights from the various content companies, including my online pal, Bill Grueskin, managing editor of WSJ.com. Task forces can be hell. When I was there, Time Inc. was ruled by task forces, which were the lowest common denominator of finding reasons why not to do something. But this one sounds different. Every media and news company should have a group assigned to reinvent the company… or else.

I’d like to be a fly on the wall at their offsites. Dow Jones has unique challenges in the financial data business (where the information is a commodity with a shelf-life of seconds); it has unique strengths (no one else has — or, I believe, will — successfully build an online subscription business); it has unique opportunities (imagine what a distributed army of stockwatchers and companywatchers could create).

But it won’t be easy. In today’s report on its rival’s planning, The New York Times had this good bit:

As an example, Mr. Ingrassia pointed to how Dow Jones News- wires now uses breaking-news articles about earnings releases or dividend announcements written by reporters at MarketWatch, an online property. That has freed up wire reporters to write personal-finance articles, like how to use an exchange-traded fund as part of an investment strategy, which Mr. Ingrassia said helped distinguish the company’s offerings.

And this bad bit:

The largest union at Dow Jones last evening expressed concern about the formation of the news strategy project, unsure if this was just another effort to save money, like the smaller format of The Journal that will have its debut next year.

Steve Yount, president of the Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees, Local 1096 of Communications Workers of America and the Newspaper Guild, said in an interview that the union would like a seat on the committee to ensure against this. In a statement, he warned “management must take pains not to mistake attrition for efficiency, or sacrifice quality in the pursuit of cost savings.”

“Too often,” he added, “efforts to improve the quality or scope of Dow Jones publications — including the recent start of The Journal’s weekend edition and, before that, Personal Journal — have instead left new ventures with fewer staff and resources than they need or were promised, and came with short-sighted cost cuts elsewhere in the enterprise.”

Often, announcements to better coordinate journalism across various media come with staff reductions.

Earlier this week, for example, The Financial Times said the integration of its print and online operations could lead to the layoff of 50 people.

But Mr. Ingrassia said cost reductions were not the impetus for the news strategy project.

“This is not French for cutbacks,” he said.

No, but maybe it should be German for out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new.

What do you expect in a crumbling industry? See this lede in another Times story today:

The rising cost of newsprint, flat or falling circulation and sluggish advertising growth added up to discouraging second-quarter earnings results for several newspaper industry companies.

While executives blamed a weak operating environment for low earnings, they also vowed to cut costs and focus on Internet activities in the coming months.

If the journalists truly want to be involved in the reinvention, perhaps their starting point should not be trying to preserve the past but instead ideas for the future or else their union’s best hope is to wait for buyouts a la GM and Delphi… if they’re lucky. These strategic task forces can’t afford to be about resisting change. They have to be about making change happen, and quickly.

Back home

Tribune is closing the foreign bureaus of two of its papers: in Johannesburg and Moscow for the Baltimore Sun and Islamabad and Beirut for Newsday.

Whenever this happens, American journalists wring their hands and use such retrenchment as exhibit A in the decline of American journalism.

Pardon my blasphemy, but I disagree. I say that for these local newspapers, closing their foreign bureaus makes sense. Local newspapers are shrinking and have to find efficiencies. But more important, they need to focus on their key value, and that is serving their local communities and put their resources there.

The harsh truth is that for many local newspapers, foreign bureaus and assignments are merely ego deployments, just like devoting considerable staff to tracking heroin or meth or the root causes of poverty in 87 overlong parts to try to impress a Pulitzer jury. It’s about being the big shot at industry gatherings. It’s not really about serving readers, local readers.

The news industry is wasting a tremendous share of its ever-sparser resources on bylines: They have their own movie critics, though there’s nothing local about movies; they send their golf writers to the latest televised tournaments, though it is covered better and quicker on TV; they send their own team to the political conventions along with 15,000 more, in full knowledge that nothing would happen there and that they likely would not report anything that wasn’t reported elsewhere. Now I’m not saying that these aren’t talented people doing fine work. The Sun’s man in Johannesburg turned out good features and stories, a few a month — all that could fit. But that doesn’t matter. The point is that they’re doing what lots of other people already do.

Of course, I’m not saying that all foreign bureaus should close. But how many dispatches from Moscow bureaus uncover more important news and how many repeat what the others are all repeating from the local media? And these days, there are new ways to cover the far-flung places for your readers. One way is to syndicate the coverage of other, bigger papers, thereby supporting their journalism (though in a world of free links, the syndication model is questionable). Another way, then, is simply to link to other coverage from those bigger papers (sending them traffic and, indirectly, support for their journalism). Or why not read, summarize, and translate the local coverage you can now find online? Wouldn’t it be useful for the Miami Herald to assign an editor/blogger to find and point to the best coverage from Latin American media? Take a page from Global Voices and get bridge editors to find, organize, and share the best coverage not just from bloggers — my second blasphemy of this post — but also from local journalists?

Journalism is essentially local.

But thanks to the internet and the age of networked journalism, you can connect those local reporters and witnesses to the world and end up with something much richer than a few features a month.

: SEE ALSO: Roy Greenslade quotes Sun editor Timothy Franklin saying:

“We’re competing in a different environment than we were five, 10 years ago. International news is more of a commodity than ever because of the internet.

Greenslade starts a discussion about whether it is, indeed, a commodity. He says:

Surely it’s not so much that news itself is a commodity as the fact that news-gathering is becoming too costly for news-gatherers at a time of rapidly falling revenues. The transformation of news into a commodity was achieved long ago – due entirely to the nature of the capitalist economy – and the internet has made it more available.

In Greenslade’s comments, Simonh says this talk of commodification is “rubbish” and the real issue is:

What [the Sun editor] is really complaining about, did he but realise it is that the internet is removing the cross-subsidy that news (expensive, not always well read, often hard to sell advertising against) has long received from features (cheap to produce, easy to advertise against). So business managers realise what news costs and start to close bureaux etc. In doing so, they destroy newspapers’ raison d’etre. If they get all their news from wire services, what’s to distinguish them from the likes of Yahoo! and AOL?

Forever thus

Mark Thompson, head of the BBC, has warned his staff: “We are going through a big process of change that will continue probably forever.” Kind of sad, really, that change forever wasn’t what news organizations should have assumed long since.

Remix me

The BBC just announced the winners of its competition to redesign the BBC home page. Here’s the winner and here are the runners-up.

The winner is called Malkovich because its’ about “seeing the BBC through someone else’s eyes, fascinating perspective.” The creataors recognize the important reality of the world now: that there is “a network of people that make up a layer over the top of the BBC architecture.” The page’s cool gadget lets you slide the view of content from you … to the BBC … to the world.

What’s more important than the winner, of course, is the openness of the competition itself. Now if this were just an exercise in openness — here, kids, you go play here — then it would be a cynical ruse. But what it really is, instead, is a way to tap the wisdom and imagination of the smart crowd gathered around the BBC. Not doing that is being deaf to the possibilities. The BBC has been trying to open-source itself. This is one good step in that direction.

By the way, one good line informing one of the runners-up: “I don’t want a portal, I want an information workspace.”

(I get in trouble sometimes when I link to things and don’t mention that I’m mentioned there. I think doing so is more egotistical. Others argue with that. So beware that I’m mentioned in the BBC team’s rational for their winning pick…. and I’m humbled to be there. No, really….)

Amateurs get paid

When people ask me for the most forward-thinking news organization in the U.S. that has actually accomplished things in this new world, I point to WKRN TV in Nashville, run by Mike Sechrist, and Terry Heaton’s work with them. They’ve listened to their community via bloggers (in meetups) and shared knowledge with them (teaching them how to shoot video) and promoted them (in the station’s blog) and supported them (with an ad network).

This week, they announced an important next step: valuing the work of these amateurs. Terry reports:

…WKRN-TV announced tonight that it would begin paying local bloggers for approved video stories they submit and running those stories on its Website and in its newscasts. WKRN president and general manager Mike Sechrist told a “meet-up” of local bloggers that he could envision the day when a daily program would be made up entirely of material submitted by the community. . . .

Sechrist told the group of bloggers that they had already had a significant influence on the news programs the station produces, simply by doing what they do. The station has pursued stories first raised in the blogging community and has used local bloggers as a sounding board at various times. . . .

I’m sure that we’ll hear plenty of bitching about this from the trenches of the TV news business, but the truth is this was inevitable. Stations have always employed “stringers” or “freelancers,” but most of their work was raw video that station reporters used to tell stories. This takes the concept a step further and taps into the knowledge, passion, brainpower and, yes, skill of people in the community. This a fruit of the personal media revolution, and it will be interesting to watch. . . .

Bravo.

Networked journalism

I think a better term for what I’ve been calling “citizen journalism” might be “networked journalism.”

“Networked journalism” takes into account the collaborative nature of journalism now: professionals and amateurs working together to get the real story, linking to each other across brands and old boundaries to share facts, questions, answers, ideas, perspectives. It recognizes the complex relationships that will make news. And it focuses on the process more than the product.

I carry some of the blame for pushing “citizens’ media” and “citizen journalism” as terms to describe the phenomenon we are witnessing in this new era of news. Many of us were never satisfied with the terms, and for good reason. They imply that the actor defines the act and that’s not true in a time when anyone can make journalism. This also divides journalism into distinct camps, which only prolongs a problem of professional journalism — its separation from its public (as Jay Rosen points out). In addition, many professional journalists have objected that these terms imply that they are not acting as citizens themselves — and, indeed, I believe that the more that journalists behave like citizens, the stronger their journalism will be.

In networked journalism, the public can get involved in a story before it is reported, contributing facts, questions, and suggestions. The journalists can rely on the public to help report the story; we’ll see more and more of that, I trust. The journalists can and should link to other work on the same story, to source material, and perhaps blog posts from the sources (see: Mark Cuban). After the story is published — online, in print, wherever — the public can continue to contribute corrections, questions, facts, and perspective … not to mention promotion via links. I hope this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as journalists realize that they are less the manufacturers of news than the moderators of conversations that get to the news.

This came to me on the drive back from Media Giraffe with Jay Rosen: the mobile master class. Somewhere in midConnecticut, we were talking about how journalism can, should, and will work when we can all join in and it hit me like a lightning bolt: this isn’t about citizens or amateurs vs. professionals. We’re all in this together. Journalism is a collaborative venture. Journalism is a network.

: LATER: Terry Heaton points us to earlier thinking in this vein. Just to be clear: I’m by no means trying to claim any provenance in this, only indicating a shift in my own thinking.

: LATER STILL: Chris Nolan adds in email:

Stand-alone journalism depends on an audience of people who understand that connection. The web is a flexible medium so readers come and go quickly. So there’s a contradiction: The newsroom has left the building but no one site can really stand alone and prosper by demanding that readers come to it. The business challenge is to make that flexibility part of how we do business if we’re going to grow and keep readers, Smart guys like WashPo’s Jim Brady and Yahoo’s Neil Budde know this; that’s why they’re not demanding exclusivity. That’s also why Spot-on’s pushing the syndication part of our business ahead of everything else. We want to go to our readers wherever they are, rather than wait for them to come to us.

Julian Sanchez of Reason said in email that he’s using “distributed journalism” and I agree with that. I use it, too, in certain company. Only problem is, when I say that in front of newspaper folks, they think trucks.

See: I’m not antipaper

In London, two former execs from the Swedish Metro free paper started a daily freebie targeted at finance, and the Guardian reports that City AM will be distributing more copies than the paid circulation of the Financial Times by year end. The niche freebie strategy makes some sense. In New York, you could tackle the financial markets with geographic ease and advertisers will follow. A free sports daily would get audience; not sure about the advertising. There already are free entertainment weeklies; they used to be called alternative papers. I could see lifestyle weeklies with food, home, parenting, and other content and endemic ads. Unlike City AM, whose only digital outlet is a podcast, I’d have online, audio, and mobile components for each. And so, voila, you’ve created the custom newspaper company: take the sections you want, in the medium you want with lower physical costs and greater advertising efficiency and greater advertising revenue since the guys with the money still put more money into print. Of course, there’s no circulation revenue and, yes, these are smaller and liter and won’t support big newsrooms. But hey, don’t blame me. Blame the Swedes.

: UPDATE: Thanks to a commenter, I corrected the first sentence above; they’re not now but predict they will beat FT paid circ.

Paper to wires to wireless

Way back in the beginning of newspapers on the internet, my children, lots of companies thought they’d make their money as ISPs. It was the clearest demonstration that they thought of themselves as distribution companies rather than trust companies. One of the biggest efforts at starting a newspaper ISP was Infinet, which was offered by lots of papers, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, but not by the papers I worked with. I argued against it. There was no way that papers could compete at scale with giants like AOL. And I said that the economics would be a killer because of subscriber acquisition costs, churn, and big investments in both technology and customer service. This, I argued — successfully — is not what a newspaper is about. For once, I was right. Newspaper ISPs died, one by one. Note the irony that Philadelphia will now be one of the first cities to offer free and ad-supported municipal wireless across the town.

Now Paid Content reports that The Pilot in North Carolina is going to offer wi-fi access from its headquarters and then in public places across its market. So a newspaper is in the distribution business again. But there’s a difference: This time, it’s not an effort to get the online version of circulation revenue from consumers. This will be free.

Is it smart? Dunno yet. On the one hand, a newspaper would be damned wise to find ways to provide extra service to local users: ‘Get my free wi-fi and get my local content and take my ads.’ On the other hand, it’s just another distribution play in a world that will value distribution less and less and newspapers have tried this before. What do you think?