Posts about newnews

School’s open

I just spent two days teaching the light tools of new media for the future faculty of CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism with Will Richardson (whose book is coming out soon), Saul Spicer of CUNY TV, and my son, Jake. It was exhausting, challenging, and fun. The faculty was eager, curious, and tolerant of my learning about teaching while teaching.

Here’s an outline of what we covered. We didn’t concentrate on the tools that allow news sites to add bells and whistles — the usual definition of new media — but, instead, on the tools that allow anyone to report, edit, add to, challenge, and organize news across media. The most important message I wanted to leave with the group — the headline of the PowerPoint overview at the start — was that these tools really are as simple as they look; that’s why so many are using them. The question is how we take advantage of this to expand and improve journalism and journalism education. What was best about all this was the discussion of the new opportunities made possible by these new tools — and no small debate about the dangers, which is where I always find journalists, in the classroom or the newsroom, approaching this phenomenon. A year ago, those fearing danger drowned out those seeing opportunity; today, everywhere, that tide has turned.

I think this sort of session would work well in newsrooms to bring out creative ideas for using these tools to find new ways to gather and share news: Get the bloggers to show everyone how to blog, the podcasters podcasting. Turn the newsroom into a classroom.

: Here’s Will Richardson’s take on the day. I’ll know I’ll have succeeded in corrupting our world when I can also point to 20 faculty blogs with their takes.

Interaction vs. reaction: But enough about you…

The problem with media’s definition of interactivity is that’s all about controlled reaction to media’s agenda: Come talk about our stuff. It is designed like a children’s museum, with buttons you can push to keep you busy and happy. That may not be the intent, but it is the result and message of forums and chats and blogs that are about what the newspaper publishes. And it misses the point.

Interactivity is about more than reaction. It is about creation. It is not about controlled authority. It is about sharing authority.

That is a lesson newspapers and media companies need to learn. And that need is evident in the kerfuffle over interactivity and invective at WashingtonPost.com. In my earlier post, I addressed two fundamental misunderstandings of interactivity that this incident exposes: that people are concentrating on the negatives (the misuse of interactivity by a few blinds them to the value of the whole) and that they think we need someone to tell us who the bozos are (aka, enforcing civility).

But it struck me after writing that that I was missing the forest for the kudzu. The real value of interactivity is that it empowers. The real potential of interactivity is that it extends news and journalism and news organizations and communities to create. It’s fine to have forums to argue over ombudspeople, if that floats your boat.

Among the ways that interactivity can be used to empower the public and create value:

* Hyperlocal reporting: You know the drill — NashvilleIsTalking, Baristanet, NorthwestVoice, and my wish that somebody will podcast my local school board meetings so I can listen since I can’t attend. Newspapers can’t be everywhere, but readers are.

* Collaborative reporting: The community can join together to throw their information into the crockpot. Maybe everybody shares their horror stories with dealing with town hall and building inspectors to throw the bums out or they create a data base of health care hassles to build a case for change.

* Problem solving: The crowd is wise and our crowd is wiser, every media brand should believe. So why not throw problems out to the people when the experts we go to all the time fail: What should we do to fix that health care mess? Define a school that works.

* Aggregated smarts: Why not have our audiences Digg our stories — and others — to create the front page of the people? Doesn’t mean the editors can’t have one, too. But why can’t and why shouldn’t the people? See also Flickr interestingness for the aggregated taste of the crowd. The crowd is smart if you know how to count them.

* What’s missing: Rather than making interactivity about what we’ve already written about, wouldn’t it be better to find out what we’re not covering? Ask and listen.

* Shared knowledge: See an earlier post about turning the newsroom into a classroom. Why not create the means for people who know what they’re talking about to teach what they know?

* Social moments: Any friend of mine is a friend of yours, eh? So shouldn’t news and media be hosting Meetups so folks can meet each other? In the old days, we didn’t want to meet our readers. Now, we want our readers to meet each other. And who knows what wonders will ensue?

I know that’s amorphous, but I’m trying to assign buckets. What have I missed? What examples can you throw in? What should interactivity really mean?

: SHAME ON ME: In my standard lists of interaction locally I should always include Phillyfuture, which Karl Martino start and which is even endeavoring to help save a paper.

The real news algorithm

Doug Petch reports that the Lexington Herald-Leader cried uncle when readers bitched about a shrunken TV book and they expanded it again. Petch asks:

So, what’s a publisher to do? Follow Jarvis’ recommendation and do away with the TV Book altogether, or attempt to placate the paper’s dwindling readership by giving it a widely requested feature?

My response:

I think the gutsy calcuation is this: If you killed the TV book and lost N readers as a result, does the cost of losing them (N * (circulation net revenue per lost reader + net contribution to CPM per lost reader)) exceed the cost of producing the book ((paper + ink + syndication fees + staff) – measly tv advertising)?

Yes, you’re going to piss off some readers when you make any change. That is the first rule of newspapering. But the necessary calculation — for parts of the product that are not profitable and are not key to the paper’s journalistic mission and value in the community, which precisely describes TV books — is whether that part of the product costs you more than it gets you. That’s the calcuation you should make if, that is, you are brave enough to shrink the circulation to save the business and invest in new growth, if you are not merely hanging on for dear life and milking the cash cow.

Here’s an example from another medium: Magazines got addicted to giving away premiums to get subscriptions. Sports Illustrated was famous for its sneakerphone (and I used to work with the guy who did that). But it became clear that some readers were buying subs for the phones, not the magazines. Those subscribers were an expense. So are TV book fans — people who get the paper only to get that book — an expense?

: A Paltry Thing says I missed the real value of newspapers: Ads!

Why are newspapers doomed? They’re doomed (among other reasons) because the people running them no longer understand – if they ever did – a critical role their papers play in people’s lives and how “readers” use newspapers.

Take Jeff Jarvis’ recent posts, and the comments on them, as an example. The posts, and the responses to them, add up over time to a serious, carefully considered and far-ranging attempt to understand the reasons for newspapers’ decline and venture prescriptions to reverse it by an individual and an audience who genuinely care about newspapers.

The whole effort is as irrelevant to the real reason for newspaper decline as newspapers are becoming to their readers.

Not a single commenter has noted one of the simplest and most basic truths about newspaper readership: people need, want, value and use local advertising and commercial content. Skimp on the ads and the readers go away….

Listen up: it’s the ads, stupid. If you don’t believe me, go ask Craig. You do know who he is, don’t you? The guy who’s taking your readers?

That’s not at all wrong. When I was Sunday editor of the NY Daily News during a horrible strike in the ’90s (I had just quit Entertainment Weekly in a public snit and a wag on the city desk at the paper, just before the strike, shook his head and told me, “Man, you just went from the frying pan to the microwave”) we lost our coupons during the strike and after we came back under the ownership of robber baron Robert Maxwell. Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch hated each other and Murdoch controls newspaper coupons (aka FSIs, or free-standing inserts, in the jargon). The week that they found peace and we got our coupons back, the circulation jumped, as I recall, more than 100,000.

People buy ads, indeed.

: MORE FOLLOWUP: The Dallas Morning News blog has comment and commentoncomment on my post:

Monkey news!

The Ricky Gervais podcast has passed 2 million downloads:

“Usually, in order to be heard by millions of people you have to do a show on Radio 1 or Radio 2,” said Gervais. “The problem is, those stations expect you to be competent and professional. We had to find a way around that.” …

“To have such a huge success with a podcast so early in the medium’s development is enormously encouraging,” said Emily Bell, the editor in chief of Guardian Unlimited.

“Guardian Unlimited’s approach to podcasting, as with all new opportunities that the internet opens, is that we want to challenge assumptions and exceed expectations of what a newspaper website is and what it can deliver.”

Challenge assumptions, indeed.

: And by the way, a great new line from Pilkington delivering monkey news in the latest ‘cast: “A chimp off the old block.”

The ghosts of newsrooms present and future

When I worked at the New York Daily News, I used to say that the place was ruled by its ghosts: ghosts of the past, whose haunting refrain was, “we do that because we’ve always it it that way,” or, “you can try that, but we tried it once — ’56, I think — and it didn’t work.” That was the authentic voice of many newsrooms.

Last night, Tim Porter linkedas did I — to Debbie Galant’s wonderful essay at Pressthink on what it’s like to be a hyperlocal journalist-blogger-entrepreneur-proprietor-gossip-gadfly. He said hers is an authentic voice of the newsroom and it is: The ghost of newsrooms future.

Tim also quoted from another authentic voice of the newsroom, the voice of newsrooms present: a heartfelt and frustrated — but, I’d argue, ultimately encouraging — email from David Hawkins of the Star-Ledger (I used to work with the paper; didn’t work with Hawkins). It’s an email filled with frustration about trying to get to the future and all the speedbumps, barriers, and bodies that lie in the way. But I find it encouraging because he cares so much and recognizes the need for change — that, alone, is a big deal in newsrooms. Responding to another essay of Tim’s about the mood of the newsroom, Hawkins writes: “But it seems like you are missing a significant group in the nattering nabobs you mention. Namely the 40-50 year-old mid-manager type who isn’t afraid of change, but doesn’t see it happening as a positive process where he works. The frustrated, soon-to-be-middle-aged people who feel powerless to help save their listing ships.” He’s saying that newspapers need to change and that he’s not alone in seeing that. Good news, I call that.

Hawkins complains about frustrations trying to get video content online and I should bear some responsibility for that, having been the online content exec. And if I try to foist off that blame by explaining about resources and staffing and revenue and politics and priorities, I’d only be proving his second complaint about “institutional and corporate mentality” and “fighting over who gets the credit or will be in charge.” I can’t argue, so I won’t.

As I’ve said before, I left my full-time job at a news organization because I am addicted to change and I believe news must change, but I am not confident it can happen from within. So I went out. But that’s me.

My fear is that if Hawkins and his fellow nabobs leave out of frustration or fatal intertia, then the news business will be in trouble. And it is a risk. He wrote to Tim:

I would love to embrace the future if someone would come up with a good plan at my place…..

So I complain after a fashion. I tell the people in charge, when they will listen, and my colleagues, when they aren’t rolling their eyes, that we have to change now. I cite proofs and examples. I admit to not having a lot of answers, but offer up what I’ve got, often focusing on how they could be done with little money and no additional personnel.

I’m all for creative solutions. But I am beginning to think I will have to pursue them elsewhere. And I hate that thought.

I hate that thought, too. This is an authentic voice of the newsroom today, of a love for journalism, and of the need for change and that is incredibly valuable. The question is how we get the present and future to meet.