Posts about norg

Curley Q & A

Darned good story about Rob Curley, one of the two most creative people I know in the newspaper biz. Hyperlocal is where it’s at. And the big, old paper in the most trouble these days — the LA Times — reveals just why it’s in so much trouble. Read on.

: Speaking of hyperlocal, see this story about a trend in newspapers to get more local. At last.

The American newspaper is being forced to reinvent itself.

Virtually every major paper is making the shift to local coverage, often as it cuts deeper into editorial operations. Only recently, the Dallas Morning News announced it was closing its national bureaus while cutting 20 percent of its newsroom staff. It was becoming a local paper again after several decades of rising stature for its national and international coverage. More than 100 people were let go.

Similar, if less dramatic, changes are taking place at such papers as The Washington Post, New Jersey’s Bergen Record and Herald News, and the Richmond Times Dispatch. And joining them all is Gannett, the largest newspaper chain and publisher of USA Today.

“We’re going to get hyper-local,” says Tara Connell, a Gannett spokesperson.

WWGD: The news API

A throwaway line I used in a post the other day keeps repeating on me like pepperoni pizza: If you want to be big in media in the future, make yourself into an API.

I’ve been wondering what it would mean for a news organization to turn itself into an API — that is, a programming interface that lets the public use and remix and also contribute information. Or put the question another way: What would Google do (WWGD) if it ran a news organization? And I don’t mean GoogleNew but any of the reporting organizations it could afford to buy (though I’m not sure why it would): The New York Times, the LA Times, CBS News, CNN. Or, for that matter, what would YouTube do? Or Firefox? What would it mean to open up the news? I’ll start with a few answers of my own. Please add yours:

* Let people — no, encourage — people to distribute your stuff for you. You can no longer spend a huge marketing budget to get people to come to you. So go to where the people are, with the people’s help. That’s what got YouTube seen: letting people put players in their own space, which in turn drove people to discover and dive into YouTube.

* Think distributed in your business, too. That is how Google makes much of its fortune: by taking its ads to where the people are and sharing just a bit of that wealth.

* Let people — no, encourage — people to remix your stuff. They’re doing it anyway. They’re taking a paragraph from here and a quote from there — or video from here and audio from there — to tell the story from their perspective. Stop thinking of that as theft and start thinking of it as a compliment. If you’re not being remixed, you’re not part of the conversation. And the conversation is the platform of the today. So feel free to set some rules — it’s only polite to attribute and link — but then open the doors and let people create more great stuff on not only your finished product but also your raw material (your quotes, your data, your cutting-room floor). Look at the great things people have built on top of Google, YouTube, and Firefox. You want to be part of that construction project. The BBC has started down this path. So should others.

* So be a platform for news. Enable people to use you to make connections to people and information. Provide the means for them to record those school-board meetings and share the fruits. Give people tools and training to accomplish what they want to accomplish. Create networked reporting tools that let the people join together in acts of journalism (see:

* Experiment. Start labs for news and let the people in to create and criticize alongside you. Don’t be afraid of betas and don’t be afraid of failure. You can’t be perfect. You never could.

Whither news

At the Shorenstein Center at Harvard for a 20th anniversary session on the future of news, Prof. Frederick Schauer begins by talking about news as a public good like symphonies, parks, museums, universities — things that are needed but for which there may not be a commercial model of support. I hope we are not going to start throwing in the towel on the support of journalism via its value in the marketplace. I’m not willing to do that, not by a long shot.

And now we are hearing from consultant Scott Anthony, who’s heading up the Newspaper Next project, about which I have been less than enthusiastic. He’s going through their standard spiel (don” talk about readers, talk about consumers…. arrrgggh, no we are customers… as Rebecca MacKinnon, sitting next to me, says). So I’ll keep the snark gun holstered. But suffice it to say, this is a watery challenge to this group.

He added something new to the spiel: video of the participants talking about how wonderful the process is. That’s a shameless plug. But worse, I think, it indicates their blinders. My worst fear about this thing is that it is false comfort to newspaper execs: See, we’re changing. But not enough, not nearly. Bill Marimow, ex-head of NPR news and now its ombudsman (as of this morning’s news), argues that what bloggers write is not subjected to the same scrutiny as his reporters’ work; I’d say we are all subjectd to the same scrutiny: that of the public.

I got up and said just what you could expect; so did Anthony. He said we agree that this isn’t about consumers; it is collaborative. I asked him to rate the change undertaken by the organizations in the project (as they graded the industry in the report). He said the organizations were at 30 percent of the goal before the project and that the project moved them 10-15 percent. I think we likely disagree on the definition of 100 percent. I think the requirement for change is quite radical.

: Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation, gets a hand at lunch leading off with this: “I am here to today to discuss Americans as citizens rather than as consumers.”

After a tribute to the value of education — broad, not specialized education — he says, “We never teach people what to ask. And that brings me to journalism.”

He talks about the program that Carnegie and Knight funded for five journalism schools, saying that he is “not impressed with the names of the institutions; I am impressed with the content. . . You, deans of journalism, you, scholars, have a civic duty to educate our public.”

So is that the role of the journalist — to educate the public? Is the journalist qualified to do that?

Gregorian says the journalist is the intermediary and interpreter “between society and knowledge” and that the journlist is “the guardian of our democracy. . . . Yo are the ones who keep democracy alive. Economic institutions won’t.” He says that news media outlets need to be made invulnerable to economic interests. He says “we don’t encourage people to be in the truth business. We encourage people to be in the profit business.”

I am afraid we continue to try to insulate and separate the old ways of journalism from the market — from the public they are trying to serve. That is terribly dangerous.

Gregorian actually suggests making news organizations should be subject to maximum profit rates! Good lord, it that dangerous.

: Next, a panel on “traditional” news organizations. Rick Kaplan, ex-head of MSNBC and CNN, says that the public views news and information as different and values information higher. John Carroll, ex-editor of the the LA Times, says that 80-90 percent of the reporting in the country is done by reporters at mainstream organizations; don’t know how he calculates that.

I’m sorry that we’re separating “traditional” and “new” news. That, itself, is much of the problem today.

And we continue the discussion about profit margins as an evil and shareholders as the handmaidens. Carroll says that Tribune Company should have reduced its margin from 20 to 10 percent and then he would have had another $75 million to spend on journalism and make the paper bigger. Or $75 million to waste. See Michael Kinsley on the 15 editorialists. This is a hymn Carroll has been singing for sometime.

A journalist-turned-mutual-fund-manager says that what Wall Street celebrates and demand is not protecting the past but building for the future. Wall Street celebrated Google’s investment in YouTube.

Eric Alterman asks what’s wrong with the Economist model: an elitist model that charges more for a smaller audience. Apart from the irony of liberal elitism, I think he has a point: don’t try to serve everyone; be what you should be and make that work. (Yes, Alterman and I agree.)

The person I’m really liking on the panel is Robin Sproul, Washington bureau chief of ABC News, who talks about putting the World News up online in the afternoon so it can be downloaded as a wonderful thing. She pushes the panel to make news two-way. Marvin Kalb challenges that, asking her to prove that “reaching out” to the people would improve news — clearly, he’s dubious — and not sure how to do it. I’m ready to go into afib back here in the blogging gallery.

: Next came the panel I was on and having had red wine in the meantime, I’ll skip recounting it. Suffice it to say that we new-media folks were more positive about the future of news. Arianna Huffington called the argument about old and new media obsolete: “It’s like the old barroom argument: Ginger vs. Maryann. Let’s have a three-way.”

[Here’s Rebecca MacKinnon’s take. And Dave Winer joins the conversation from the other coast, via blog, looking at what comes next.]

What would you do with… the LA Times?

A favorite parlor game among fellow media blatherers these days is, “What would you do with _______?” Fill in that blank with the LA Times, any old newspaper, a TV station, a TV network, a cable network, a radio station, a cable company, a book publisher or any media company. The rules of the game are simple: When asked, sigh, shake your head, say you’re just not sure, and then come out with your personal prescription for the shrinking enterprise. The current round of the game is about the beleaguered, bedraggled LA Times.

Kit Seelye reports today that the LA Times just assigned a task force of reporters to a Manhattan Project to figure out their future. I wish them luck, but I fear they are off on the wrong if predictable foot: namely, preserving print and the past.

“We want to collect the best thinking on how to sustain the vitality and profitability of the print franchise,” Mr. Duvoisin said. “And we want to find the best thinking on how to transfer our journalism to the Web in the way most likely to grow audience and revenue.” But Mr. Loeb described the changes to come from the investigative project as a “reimagining” of the print paper in conjunction with the Web site.

I’d say it has nothing to do with the medium you’re in and everything to do with your essential value. And I find it surprising that I find nothing under “Manhattan Project” or its boss’ name at the LA Times. I’d think the first, best thing to do is to get the ideas from your public.

Meanwhile, ex LATimesman Michael Kinsley writes a column in the paper arguing that it should become part of parent Tribune Company’s national newspaper, creating a national brand with national content wrapping around local content in company’s juicy markets — Chicago, LA, Long Island, Baltimore, Hartford, Orlando. It’s a neat idea. I like everything about it but the paper part. I have long believed that there is an opportunity to start a new national newspaper — online. But I agree that sharing the national (read: commodity) content makes a lot of sense. This also focuses the paper on what it should do — local. I also applaud Kinsley for saying this:

L.A. Times journalists are not entirely blameless for the chaos and carnage. Journalists know how to stage a great hissy fit. And I’m not sure a fit was really called for in the initial staff reductions. On the editorial page (I can reveal, from the safety of hindsight) we initially had 15 people producing 21 editorials a week! So now cries that Tribune Co. has moved from cutting fat to cutting bone ring a bit hollow.

See also Doc Searls’ 10-pill prescription (and Doc is also trying to figure out what to do with the local paper near him: the Santa Barbara mess). And see smart newspaper consultant Juan Antonio Giner’s list accompanied by Juan Luis Cebrian’s. (See, I told you it was the hot game.)

I was going to take a turn at the buzzer with my to-do list but, frankly, I found myself going over the same territory I’ve paved here before — in these posts, for example, so I’ll hold that for another day. What would you do with the LA Times?

: See also a vision of the future from Shane Richmond of the Telegraph here and here.

: Matt Welch opens a blog discussion about the Manhattan Project on a Times blog.

: LATER: See Jon Fine pondering the future of the LA Times.

ONA: A lesson in journalism

The last panel at Online News was supposed to be about new frontiers in technology and news. I was on it and for the first time talked publicy about Daylife, the soon-to-launch news company I’ve been involved with. I joined Mike Davidson of Newsvine (doing very interesting work in reputation systems), Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, and Adam Yamaguchi of Current.

But the event quickly turned into a circus — and, I hope, a journalism lesson — when Arrington launched attacks on news media, contending that journalists will be losing their jobs and that reporters are fools if they don’t quit and start blogs. He then tried to sucker-punch The New York Times, arguing that the only reason the paper could have written a favorable story about the startup Inform was if the reporter or editor had ties, financial or otherwise, with the firm. I challenged him immediately, saying that this is a grave charge and that he clearly had no facts to back it up; he said as much. I also made it clear that Inform is, in some ways, a competitor with Daylife and that Arrington is also an investor in Daylife. It didn’t stop him. He repeated this attack, among others, on The Times. It was most uncomfortable, even embarrassing. I couldn’t sit there letting his attacks go unchallenged (all the while needing to be transparent myself about my consulting relationship with NYTimesCo). But challenging him, I found myself descending into some two-bit TV shout show, which got me accused of joining in his blowhard game.

Now The Times is frequently the punching bag of convenience for people who want to complain about any generalized sin they see in the news business; this, apparently, is the price of publishing from the top of the heap. I’ve been at plenty of events like this when darts are thrown at The Times, and Timesmen, as a rule, sit stoically and don’t rise to the bait. But I am very glad that Jim Roberts, former national editor and now continuous news editor of The Times, rose to the microphone and called bullshit on Arrington, demanding an apology. As Staci Kramer reports at PaidContent, Arrington backed down immediately, as bullies do. He said he was just trying to be provocative. He admitted he had no facts and apologized.

The stinky-cheese irony of this is, of course, that even as he tried to cast aspersions on The Times, he only succeeded in shooting his own credibility — and with it, likely, the credibility of fellow bloggers — in the foot.

This comes at the end of a conference where I was delighted to see, as I wrote over the weekend, that the wars seemed to be over. I saw no print v. online, no amateur v. pro, no blogger v. journalist. I saw constructive, imaginative efforts to share success stories about 24/7, omnimedia, cooperative, imaginative journalism. But all it takes to ruin things is for one guy to pull out the mortars. The ballroom in D.C. suddenly looked like Lebanon.

Now there was a bit of personal irony in my role here. At last year’s conference, I moderated, if you can call it that, a similar panel and pushed the crowd to stop being so mopey and get to work graspking new opportunities for news and online newspapers. I was supposed to provoke and I did. Some liked it; some didn’t. This year, many noted after the panel, I was the conciliator. But not really. If I was trying to defend anything both times, it was the growth of journalism. I keep harping on the notion that anyone can commit an act of journalism, that we must embrace new partners in our enterprise, and so it is in all our interests to see journalism not only grow but improve. But what happened in this panel did little to improve things.

Arrington does, I think, care about journalism. He works hard for his scoops. All this comes the day after he broke the big scoop that Google was negotiating to buy YouTube and, as Steve Rubel points out, other media picked up the story and credited him for it. Of course, he wants to be right. Before the panel began, the two of us talked about how to handle one of his stories; it was a journalistic discussion. So at the panel, why did he then chose to show so little respect for facts? I don’t know. Perhaps it was just to be provocative, as he said, to entertain. But the entertainment comes at a price.

Part of the problem is that it’s just too fun to maintain the fight story; it’s unproductive and damaging, but it’s a weakness in journalism’s character. So we had Mark Cuban poking the media business one day and the would-be Cuban Jr., Arrington, lobbing bombs the next. At least Big Cuban is charming. When he was booked for the panel, there was no predicting that Arrington would go ballistic. Oh, some might stay we should have known; he blogs, after all. But truly, blogging itself brings no baggage; it’s only a tool. Just as print confers no authority, blogging confers no disrepute. The tool is as good as its craftsman.

In any case, far more valuable than any of these speakers, present company included, was a panel of teens brought in to tell us old media farts how they really interact with our products. Hint: They don’t watch live TV. This made me think that every newspaper and network and station should invite in a panel of young people to scare the bejesus out of the staff and then make them want to find new ways to do their jobs.

And far more valuable than continuing this old fight is finding ways to work together to expand and improve journalism. We can’t afford the fight anymore. And beside, the fight is old news. So give it up. Move on.

: Here is Arrington’s take on the session. He says it was a waste of a weekend.

I could have, and should have, sucked up to these people. Others at the conference were. They still command a lot of traffic and a link thrown our way is always helpful. But I didn’t do that. I never do that, and I’m told that its bad for my career. I made enemies this weekend. Most of those people will never look at TechCrunch without thinking about the things that I said, and judging me for those statements.

Will I do this again if invited? Yes. But I will make sure that I prepare my statements in light of the fact that mainstream media is not prepared to discuss their shortcomings. That’s the path that other new media representatives took at the conference, and is obviously the way to win the game. Tell them what they want to hear, even as they lie dying on the hospital bed.

He misses the point and, sadly, the lesson. I criticize these companies plenty and came back for another round and I now find them quite eager to discuss their shortcomings and figure out what to do about it. The problem wasn’t criticizing them. The problem was ignoring the facts.

Mike says in his comments that he and I agree abot much but say things differently. We do agree about much. But I think that in a crowd of journalists, the way to win is to commit better journalism than they do. That, I’d hoped, would be the lesson learned.

:’s Dwight Silverman reacts to Arrington:

Don’t be surprised if, when you start throwing bombs, your targets pick up the explosives and hurl them back at you. Arrington said things that have been said umpteen times at other conferences — most notably by Jarvis — but they were said more thoughtfully and with more respect for the immense job journalists have for navigating a major sea change in their industry.

Arrington in his post accused journalists of not having a thick skin. But it sounds like he’s the one who can’t handle it when his insults and contempt aren’t accepted with gratitude and graciousness.

By the way, the last person to suggest he’d “dissolve the company and return what’s left to the shareholders” [which was what Arrington said about the Times and Post] was Michael Dell, speaking disdainfully of Apple in October 1997. And we all know what happened there . . .

: Dave Winer says:

…nothing is accomplished by prolonging the animosity between bloggers and pros. There was a time when the bloggers wouldn’t throw any punches, I’m sorry that this time, apparently (I wasn’t there) it was a blogger that provoked a fight. We all can do better, that is inclusive of both pros and amateurs.