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If papers stopped dumping their print products online they might just find a real business model

Newspapers have to stop treating the web as a dumping ground for their printed product.

Newspapers have to stop treating the web as a dumping ground for their printed product.

(Cross posted from ShiftLock, my tech column in the CNA paper, The Publisher)

How much are  you spending on your online news site?
Whatever the number – $50,000 or $5,000,000 – think of that number for a second and then answer this question: if someone gave you (insert your big fat number here) to launch and run a brand new, innovative online news website to serve your community, would you really have chosen something so cluttered, confused, ugly and stuffed with yesterday’s news?
I doubt it.
But despite more than a decade of trying, most of us are locked into our old print habits, like  “owning” our content, or believing we’re the experts, that people want to listen to us — rather than talk with us and each other. These habits are killing us.
While newspapers were early explorers on the web, we frittered away our lead in a foolish attempt to reproduce, not just our newspapers, but our old business model. We wasted more than a decade trying to get people to pay for content in a world where the digital explosion meant that the value of raw information was rapidly approaching zero, and the supply of advertising was expanding so rapidly its cost was dropping just as fast. All those years spent arguing whether we should charge for our newspaper content were wasted — because we were asking the wrong question.
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Three tools to encourage citizen journalism

I took a day away from building our massive, bloody, code-spewing, chain-spanning, content management system to get back to teaching last week and spent some time with the Metroland Editors at their annual “off-site” in Markahm, just outside of Toronto.
I sat in on several sessions and taught one: Citizen Journalism and Community Engagement, the latest in my ongoing efforts to subvert the creative stranglehold our templated websites place on local newspaper editors. Hmm. Better remember to rephrase that….
You can see my slides below – and I’ll offer some links below as well, but I thought it might be worth putting some of the very basic points down here in text.
After looking at the bad (False Steve Jobs heart attack report) and the good (coverage of a recent explosion at an urban propane filling station) of citizen journalism, we engaged in a discussion of just what the hell citizen journalism was and why they were so afraid of it. Many of them aren’t, as it turns out, and with good reason:
Local papers have been running citizen journalism since the day they opened their doors – the web simply offers more and different opportunities to continue this grand, and vital, tradition.
For this session I zoomed in on three simple areas: Blogs, Photos and Wikis.
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America’s most popular news blog goes local, takes on Chicago

Huffington Post – the fast growing US news and politics aggregator and blog machine – has launched a beta version of their new local news model.Here’s how cheif Huffer, Arianna Huffington, described the new site:

HuffPost Chicago is part local news source, part resource guide, and part virtual soap box — featuring a collection of bloggers who know and love Chicago, and are looking to share their takes on everything from the Cubs to City Hall to the hot new local band to the best place for Greek food (and I can testify that there is a

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What the propane depot explostions taught me about coverning breaking news on the web

Here’s probably the key lesson I learned from closely watching the Toronto media race to cover Sunday morning’s propane depot blast, a breaking news story that killed two, destroyed five homes and rendered 10,000 people temporarily homeless:

Speed of delivery ain’t the biggest change the web brings to the news game – duration is.The story lives in time, and your job changes as you move further away in time from the event.

This was not the case in the days of the 2x daily newscast and 1X daily press run: breaking news happened, we scrambled like hell to

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Propane depot explosions expose newspapers’ online shortcomings

Photojunkie_2

photo courtesy http://www.photojunkie.ca/

About two hours before this morning’s grey dawn, a series of explosions tore through a propane depot in the northwest corner of the city, shaking buildings and homes, shattering windows and waking people as far as 10 kms distant from the scene. Fire and smoke shot to heights equal to a 20 or 30 storey building and led many to think (worry? fear?) that a jet airliner had crashed, a terrorist attack had  taken place, the city was being bombed.

This was breaking news with a capital ‘B’ and at this point, six hours distant from that 3:30 am blast, it offers some intriguing lessons in how coverage of these events is evolving in a world where digital cameras and web access are almost ubiquitous.

Bottom line – in aggregate, citizens journalists out-performed their professional counterparts getting news out faster, offering more details, and better images and videos. They also made more mistakes and had a high noise to signal ratio. Mainstream media were slow off the mark and while they depended on the citizen journalists, they failed to make the most of the possibilities that material offered. See the bottom of the post for my thoughts on how to do that.

Toronto’s a media-rich city: four paid dailies, two free dailies, several city news blogs in addtion to more than a dozen local radio and television stations. I can’t cover them all, but took a look at the four dailies (The Globe, The National Post, The Star, and The Sun) and the two big place blogs (Blog.TO and Torontoist).

I did a similar comparison earlier this year (when the transit union launched an unexpected, but legal, strike on a Friday night at press deadline time) and the results are pretty similar – none of the dailies have figured out yet how to blend the strengths of their newsroom (speed, accuracy, access) with the new possibilities opened up by an always connected citizenry – but most of them are trying.

Star

The Star, with the city’s biggest newsroom (although I can’t imagine they had more than a single person on duty when the first blast hit), produced the fullest account, with pretty admirable speed. Police, fire, eyewitness reports, plus links to two of the eight or so citizen videos of the blast I found online. The article had commenting enabled (they don’t always) and you got a bit of a flavour of the impact on the city, which is useful, if basic.

Globe


The Globe and Mail
seemed entirely asleep at the switch, relying entirely on Canadian Press for it’s text story, still photos and video. (CP’s video was quite good actually, blending citizen video with their own images and overlaying professional reporting and a very competent voice-over.) The Globe (and the Star) both appealed to readers to send them stories, videos and photos, but if they got any, neither acknowledged it.) Lots of comments, though, including people offering links to other sites with video of the blasts, the Toronto Fire Dept’s live response web page, even academic and news references to other propane explosions and the risks the storage depots pose. Good stuff that a smart web team might have referenced in the story – but their readers did it for them. It’s a stark demonstration of how people use — or want to use — the web: to share information, to learn more by sharing what they know, using the familiar web tools Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia, the collective memory of the web itself.

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NY Times Top Twitter-er, But Newspaper Readers Not Flocking to Sign-Up For The Service

Twitter has been called everything from a game-changing microblogging tool to a mind-boggling waste of time. 

Here’s how Wikipedia describes it:

Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to send updates (otherwise known as tweets) which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.

But the key to Twitter’s success lies in the fact that users can subscribe to each other’s tweets and receive them via their PDA’s, their smart phones, as text messages, or in emails, or via the web.

It’s an odd idea, but the funny (and with

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Is it time to buy newspapers? Or say bye bye?

It’s either a very, very good time to buy newspaper stock – or time to put us out of our misery. The Washington Post fell into the red this past quarter for the first time in like, what? 30 something years? A one-time charge of $87 million to pay for layoffs is getting the blame, but newspaper sales were down 13 per cent, print ad revenue was down 22 per cent and even without counting the layoff costs, earnings per share dropped sharply from over $8 to under $6. Across the US the credit crunch, the flight of advertising dollars

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My four step plan on becoming a digital journalist – boiled down to a 90 sec video

Last month I was invited to speak at the Mags University, an annual conference for Canadian Magazines, to offer a Digital Survival Guide for Editors. I blogged about it including posting my presentation slides and appropritate links back in June. After the session one of my hosts, Stan Sutter, a journalist with, among other things, a long history at Marketing Magazine, approached me and asked if I’d sit (stand, actually) for a video interview for his own blog.

He used a simple Cannon (I think) point and shoot, urged me to be brief and to-the-point, asked me couple

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Tribune chain boss endorses the river of news as online model

Sam Zell, the real estate billionaire who snatched up the Tribune newspaper chain, took it private in an $8.3 billion buyout, shocked tender journalists with his forthright manner,  promised to build newspapers, not slash them, was hailed (nervously) by some as a saviour, cut staffing levels across the chain,  shrank newsholes, started burning the furniture to heat his house, mused about (horrors!) counting bylines and setting copy quotas for reporters, ain’t backing down none. In a joint conference call with his chief operating officer Randy Michaels, and staff at the Hartford Courrant newspaper, Zell and Michaels defended their decisions

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The biggest mistake online news sites make: creating their own content

One of the big things that most newspapers (i.e. all of them) don’t get about the web is that it’s not all about creating (and owning) content. Pointing to good content is just as important.Data from the Project for Excellence in Journalism‘s latest State of the News Media report shows that all of the top ten online news sites use newspaper content (from wire services or via the web) – but only three of them are newspaper (or newspaper chain) sites. Yahoo, MSNBC, AOL, Google etc. all produce no or very little original content, and use and rely on

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