One hundred and ninety three. That’s the number of navigation links our website is displaying today … on its home page alone. Nearly two hundred clickable links, choices for you to make, that take you deeper into our site – or spin you off elsewhere in the chain where you can begin the link roulette all over again. 193 links. Hell, most days our newspaper prints fewer than 100 pages, it’s hard to imagine why we need all those links each day. Links to sections and subsections of content. Links to searches and sorts. Links to features and topics.
Rarely have I been so conflicted as while trying to evaluate Apple’s much-hyped iPad. On the one hand I can see the real potential in an instant-on, beautifully-engineered, letter-sized touch screen device that plays videos and music, that replaces books, magazines and newspapers, and offers print publishers the same simple digital storefront that music and video folks have had for years with iTunes Simply put — I want it. On the other hand, I look at Steve Jobs, loose and lanky on that Moscone Centre stage, smiling lightly and offering the world his latest shiny steel and plastic fetish
Why are we always aiming at yesterday’s readers? I’ve spent the better part of the past year and a half building and installing a sprawling content management system at one of our larger newspaper chains. Eighteen months. And the entire time I’ve been beset by the nagging, gnawing worry that I’m just bolting a big shiny brand new anchor to the belt of a powerful — but aging — swimmer who even now is floundering in rough waters. These enterprise systems, even the newest releases, are inevitably constructed with layer upon layer of legacy code, programming bloated by years
(Hint – there’s only one correct answer and it’s got more than 2 letters)
(Cross-posted from Shift Lock, my column in The Publisher)
This past fall thousands of football fans in a dozen U.S. cities sat down to take part in new twist on a familiar ritual — Friday Night Lights, the much-hyped high school gridiron battles popularized by the 2004 movie and the more recent TV series of the same name. What’s that got to do with newspapers? A lot. These fans weren’t watching fictional football, they were watching the the real thing, with real kids — their kids — playing their hearts out down at the local high school field. Moreover, these fans weren’t watching the games on local TV, they were watching it on their computers via a live video stream over the internet; those games were being “webcast” by their local newspaper. (And, you’ll be happy to know those newspapers were making money on at least some of those webcasts right out of the box.) Welcome to your newspaper’s future – live TV coverage of local news and events. “Whoa!” I can hear some of you saying. “Not so fast. We can’t afford to compete head to head with local television. We don’t have the skills, the equipment, the staff, the time, etc. etc. etc.” Wrong.
There was a big turnout for Wordstock, the annual journalism conference held at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism in Toronto this past weekend, an encouraging sign in troubled times. Attendees seemed about evenly split between working, full-time journalists, and freelancers, and students. After a morning keynote (which I was lucky enough to deliver) the day was divided into three sessions offering 5 different workshops in each – a pretty jam-packed day. In addition to the keynote, I ran sessions on Blogging (jointly with Spec city hall blogger, Nicole Macintyre) and internet tools.
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.
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.
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.
Maybe the march to mobile is finally picking up steam.Last month saw the wildly successful Apple iPhone 3G launch (1 million sold in one weekend – alhtough the activations were a technical nightmare) and perhaps more significantly, the opening of their "Aps" store (an iTunes for mobile applications). And now author Stephen King is releasing his latest bit of fiction via a 30 day series of short videos streamed to cell phones.
Drawn by award-wining comic book artist Alex Maleev, and colored by famed comic book colorist José Villarrubia, the episodes were adapted by Marc Guggenheim, co-creator of the
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
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