News Leadership 3.0

February 11, 2010

From Chicago: A snapshot of online news experiments

Despite the demise of Chi-Town Daily News last year, Chicago enjoys a lively news environment. Chicago’s experiments may help us understand and shape an emerging new media landscape.

I interviewed operators of three Chicago online news sites - Gapers Block, Windy Citizen, and Chicago Talks - recently and found the mix of content and revenue ideas worth following. I’m adding several Chicago sites to my list of promising online news sites.

Gapers Block

Led by Andrew Huff, this site is aggregates and offers original content, mostly from about 80 volunteers (professional journalists, other professionals, students and others), edited by eight professionals who receive small stipends.  It is expanding its original offerings with a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.

Gapers Block, Huff says, is a Chicago expression for “rubbernecking” or stopping to take a look.

“We’re pulling out the news you may not have seen. We cover in brief ways the big stories of the day. What we really like to do is cover the stories that got buried and you have missed and bring them to the forefront. We’re trying to send people other media,” Huff said, who founded the site in 2003 after an unhappy stint in public relations.

The volunteer writers stick around for about a year, Huff said. The site relies on advertising revenue and Huff draws a small salary.

“We’re are a pretty collaborative effort. It’s a pretty flat structure. I’m writing constantly for the site so it’s not some guy up on high. Because we have such a good reputation in the media and in organizations we cover, (writing for the site) attractive. It’s a little bit of cachet to say you write for Gapers Block.”


Windy Citizen

This site, founded in 2007 by Brad Flora, aggregates links to the interesting stories of the day.  Flora and two interns prime the site. It has an engaged community of users who vote stories and comments up and down. User votes play a significant role in determining what stories rise to the front page of the site.

Advertising is the main source of revenue and Flora says the site makes $5-10,000 a month. In August, he hired two part-time advertising sales people. He thinks he needs to double or triple his user base to be a sustainable business and is using grant funding to improve his content management system to support more users.

Flora believes his two core user groups are attractive to advertisers - Young people in their 20’s or early 30’s who like the off beat news and 50-60 somethings who want a place to discuss politics.

In general, Flora says the discomfort journalists experience when trying to make money holds many sites back.

“The sites are too small. They are run by people who are afraid to ask for money. The journalism curse. My plan was to get big enough that I could attract someone mean enough to sell advertising. Journalists are not comfortable doing that. They can make a fine product, but they’re under pricing advertising, they’re not very good a presenting it, at working the phones. These are all things I struggle with personally.”

Flora also says he’s encouraged by the second wave of large non-profit news organizations such as Texas Tribune who are coming on line with the know-how to raise money.


Chicago Talks

This site draws most of its content from Columbia College students. The school provides support including editing by faculty and grad students.

Site content focuses on original news that others aren’t covering and aims to produce at least five original stories a week. Suzanne McBride, associate chair of Columbia’s School of Media Arts, said content is fairly traditional and consists of news, not opinion.

McBride said the site turned primarily to students after finding citizen contributors were difficult to rely upon on a consistent basis
.
With expansion grant funding, the site will pay teenagers and provide them with transit cards to report on the Austin neighborhood, one of Chicago’s most challenged.

McBride and Columbia College’s Nancy Day said the site ultimately must create an advertising revenue stream, which may prove difficult in neighborhoods such as Austin that have low income residents and relatively few commercial operations to form a pool of potential advertisers.


Chicago News Cooperative

While I did not interview anyone from the Chicago News Cooperative during my visit, I’d be remiss not to mention this newcomer. Funded by large start up grants from several foundations, the CNC employs professional journalists who focus on politics and policy in the Chicago metro area. It provides content for The New York Times Chicago edition two days a week. Launched in October as a not-for-profit, it fills the role of a traditional alternative to established newspaper organizations. The site promises to “introduce novel ways to connect the community with our news room in a two-way exchange of information.” I asked founder and editor James O’Shea via e-mail to elaborate on that and I’ll report back on what I learn.

(Disclosure: All four of these operations recently received expansion grants from the Chicago Community Trust as part of the Knight Foundation Community Information Challenge. I was on the CCT review panel as a consultant to the Knight Foundation.) Knight is opening another round of the competition and you can apply here.

None of us knows what models for providing news and information will survive. But I think these four sites—three of which have found very inexpensive ways to create content and attract a community of users and one that is attempting a focused professional model—underscore the idea that a diverse mix of media may serve the information needs of communities rather than one large institution.

For more information about the news ecology of Chicago, check out this study commissioned by the Chicago Community Trust, “The New News: Journalism We Want and Need.”

Please join the conversation about online news start ups and new models for news. If you have suggestions for my list, please add them in comments below. You’ll find my list of promising sites here and the criteria for the list here.

(This is cross posted in the Reynolds Journalism Institute blog.)

January 21, 2010

Don’t “over Twitter” and other social media tips for news organizations

Media strategist Steve Safran says news organizations must straddle two worlds - the traditional one of producing news and the new one as a player on social networks. Here are his tips for success.

(USC journalism graduate student Nikki Usher sat in on the Knight Digital Media Center’s Strategic Leadership Summit for Public Radio Stations, held last month in conjunction with National Public Radio and funded by Knight Foundation. I asked her to write about key takeaways.)

By Nikki Usher

Steve Safran, a media strategist at Media Reinvent, offered key take-home lessons for news organizations looking to improve their online presence:

1. The Twitter Effect.

Safran advised public radio stations not to get bogged down in numbers of Twitter followers. He highlighted Boston public radio station WBUR, which has 4,300 or so followers. But, Safran pointed out, Twitterers have “spheres of influence.”
The average twitter user, according to Safran, has 126 followers. WBUR has 4,385 followers, but if all of them retweet, that means another 552,510 people may pay attention to WBUR. In a magic world, if all those people retweeted WBUR, you could get 69 million WBUR mentions. “Small beginnings are OK,” he said.
Safran’s number one tip for Twitterers: don’t over tweet. Keep it short, and don’t over promote.
“Audiences want their information as micro as possible,” Safran said. “You are using other people’s mobile text money, so make it worth their money.”

2. Media 1.0 vs. Media 2.0

News organizations are in a funny spot. They are original content providers and they must play in social media.
Media 1.0 is: one way, mass media, top/down, a closed network,  (e.g. not sharing APIs, no comments on a site), hierarchical, passive, macromedia, and bundled.
Media 2.0 is: interactive, direct, bottom-up, open network, collaborative, active, micromedia, and self- bundling.
News organizations shouldn’t get rid of media 1.0 - that’s what audience come to them for - but they do need to change. Safran offered the word “simulpath” - how to keep changes occurring while things are already in progress.
He suggested:
* Unbundle content for consumption anywhere
* Build interactive applications into brand extension platforms
* Make content available for mobile distribution
* Create widgets to provide content on other Web sites in the market
* Own RSS and offer many feeds
* Launch a branded RSS reader

3. Connecting outside the news organization

News organizations, thanks to the world of Media 2.0, aren’t in their own mass media world anymore. Instead, they are part of a larger information ecosystem. And they are also part of a local community.
Safran stressed the importance of a news organization becoming a local information hub as well as an aggregator for content by users.
He suggested news organizations organize local bloggers and the local Web, build and maintain a database of local Web sites, help users create participatory content, and build standalone, niche web sites.
Niche channels are key, as Safran pointed out. “Blogs are the single best search engine optimized content out there.”
His final suggestion for news organizations was to “aggregate, aggregate, aggregate.”

4. Building hits and attracting users

“You don’t want to be best radio web site - you want to be best multimedia outlet,” Safran told public radio executives.
What does that mean for news organizations? It means giving audiences news as it happens in new and novel ways - especially in times of breaking news. Consider new blogs, mashups, and simply blowing up home pages, as CBS8 did with the California Wildfires a couple of years ago. 
And news orgs shouldn’t be afraid to be the gathering place for competing information sites, such as adding feeds from the LA Fire Department.
The web also means writing differently. Search engine optimization, according to Safran, isn’t a magical science. It’s just using easily googled words over and over again so that your site comes up first - if you’re writing about a local fire, include the name, place and site of the fire so anyone searching for information will stumble upon it.
“Keywords are marketing,” Safran said.
He offered some key suggestions:
* Write literal headlines
* Think: How would my friends search this?
* Link out like crazy: Start with two links per story
* Keep updating as the story changes
* Use lots of RSS feeds
Safran reminded public radio leaders most traffic comes from search or aggregators, not from using the home page as a destination. So news outlets are really competing to be the RSS feed of choice.

January 13, 2010

Community foundations invest in news and information

The Knight Foundation’s Community Information Challenge grants $4.3 million to 24 more projects that are sponsored by local foundations. Here’s an overview of the projects.

Earlier this week, Amy Gahran posted “Tips for seeking local news funding from community foundations.” Knight Foundation just announced 24 new grants to that shed more light on the types of news and information projects Knight and local foundations think have value and may have legs. Knight and a local foundation provide matching funds for these projects. (Disclosure: I will work with some of these grantees as a consultant to Knight.)

Established news outfits in these communities might want to explore collaborations with these projects, perhaps giving wider distribution to some of their content.

The projects fall in three broad categories:

1. Professional journalism projects. These projects will employ journalists to produce professional news content. Several focus on state or regional issues such as statehouse coverage rather than on local communities. Examples: Connecticut’s ctmirror.org, news service for the statehouse, Florida Independent (Sarasota area), Health News Florida (Southern Florida), a public interest news service covering the New Jersey statehouse), WyoFile, Write for Arkansas.

2. Citizen contributor projects. These projects will engage citizens in producing news and information. Most are local and/or target a specific group, such as youth or seniors as major contributors and users. Examples: Gables Home Page (Coral Gables, Florida), Neighborhood News bureaus in six Detroit neighborhoods, TheDuSu (Duluth, Minn. - Superior Wisc.), Beyond Bullets (New York City,  Digital Media Center in Akron, Ohio. Also, the Chicago Community Trust will use its grant to give minigrants to projects that strengthen the news and information ecoysystem in that city.

3. Civic engagement projects. These projects provide information and actively seek citizen engagement outside traditional news frames. Some are issue specific, such as environment, and some are specific to a place. Examples of environmental projects: GreenSpace in Southeast Michigan, Envision Bay Area in California, and the River Partnership in several states along the Mississippi River. Place based projects: Data visualization in Massachusetts; We the People forums in North Florida; an education awareness program for Latinos in Boulder, Colo.; a public forum partnership with NPR in Rhode Island; Be Counted Be Represented to encourage Latinos to respond to the 2010 Census in Los Angeles, as well as projects in Chautauqua County, NY; central Pennsylvania; South Woods County, Wisc.; and Alexandria, Virginia.

Here are fuller descriptions of the projects.

November 11, 2009

Six trends in community journalism

American University and J-Lab produce a study about how the movement to create entrepreneurial community Web sites may changing the rules of engagement with news.

American University just completed a mini-study of women news consumers and women who have created news Web sites. The research, by Assistant Professor Maria Ivancin in partnership with J-Lab, offers an intriguing glimpse of changes under way as a new ecosystem of news forms online.

Ivancin described these findings (based on focus groups and interviews):

1. Community journalism is evolving as an exercise in participation, not merely observation. “It’s not just covering community, it’s actually being the community,” Ivancin said this week at J-Lab’s New Media Women Entrepreneurs summit.

2. The traditional emphasis on objectivity is giving way to a focus on broader definitions of news and the inclusion of different voices. New media site founders often felt “objectivity really is not truthful. Top down objectivity you really don’t have an understanding of what’s happening in your community. They felt objectivity can come in a different way, from participation,” she said.

3. Building community rather than simply covering community is the impetus for launching community news sites. “It’s not just looking at what’s happening. It’s doing things to change that community, help that community.”

4. Community news sites rise to fill gaps in news coverage. “There is an unfulfilled need. Whether the local paper was not covering it, or no longer covered it….  The need can be geographic, the need can be audience based or interest based,” Ivancin said. One news site creator called it a need for “a community water cooler.”

5. New media entrepreneurs are motivated by a frustration with old media’s pace of innovation and change. “New media creators saw the changes as opportunities whereas they thought traditional media saw them as threats,” Ivancin. “The competition did not look kindly at these” news startups, including one outlet that r an editorial attaching the new site.

6. News site creators and consumers express excitement and regret over changes confronting established media. People said they “miss the pleasure of reading the newspaper,” and worry that the ability to select news will mean people don’t get the fuller picture provided in the newspaper, Ivancin said.  Also, it’s more difficult to to judge credibility. New media creators are concerned about losing investigative reporting. Benefits include speed and convenience, more voices and perspectives, selectivity and ability to get depth on topics of most interest, she said.


It will be interesting and important to see whether these trends hold true as traditional media outlets shrink and new experiments come onto the field. Certainly developments in community media are important to established news organizations. The start ups change the playing field of media in many communities and they may be harbingers of new attitudes and practices that traditional journalists and news outlets will want to adopt to stay relevant and fulfill the role of town forum.

Page 1 of 2 pages  1 2 >

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

Get in touch with Michele at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

More Leadership at KDMC:
Leadership Seminars | Annual Leadership Reports

Support is provided by:

John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

USC Annenberg School for Communication

McCormick Foundation

Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute

Research

@michelemclellan on Twitter

Recent Entries

Categories

Archives

Feed

Blogroll

Tag Cloud