News Leadership 3.0

March 05, 2009

ProPublica joins the pro-am journalism movement

Citizen journalists cannot replace professionals. But professionals and amateurs can form powerful partnerships to create important journalism.

I often hear journalists refer to a widespread belief that citizens can replace professionals in producing journalism.

Here’s just one example from a column in the Vancouver Sun after the Rocky Mountain News closed: “Meanwhile, blogosphere chatter responds with gleefully patronizing pronouncements on how the ‘old media’ are toast, about to join the pterodactyl. The ‘new media’ leads the way to a promised land of free information and citizen journalism.”

As much as I sympathize with the angry or frightened journalists who say things like this, I’ve got to point out a couple of problems with such statements.

First, I have never seen anyone advocate that citizen journalists can replace professionals across the board. The notion does not ring true that any one feels glee at the decline of the newspaper business model that supports so much good journalism. (If you have examples, please share links in the comments.) I hear worry about this from citizens, techies and other new media folks as well.

Second, this either-or framing gets in the way of seeing the potential for professional-amateur partnerships that can produce good journalism. So I am going to make this Part 4 in my series on “Ideas that get in the way of saving journalism.”

A better idea is to figure out specific ways in which partnerships might work—how citizen journalists can enrich information in concert with professionals.

ProPublica takes a step in the right direction with the appointment of Amanda Michel as Editor of Distributed Reporting. “Michel will initially use crowd sourcing and collaborative journalism methods to report on the impact of the federal stimulus bill. She will also help integrate these newsgathering techniques into ProPublica’s other investigative efforts,” ProPublica says. (Link via Jay Rosen on Twitter. Rosen is a leader in developing pro-am models, including OffTheBus.)

Michel recently was director of OffTheBus, which organized citizen journalists to report on the presidential campaign for Huffington Post. CJR has Michel’s report on that effort. (I worked with Michel on Assignment Zero, which teamed amateur reporters and writers with professional editors to cover the trend of crowd sourcing two years ago.)

Find more examples of how newsrooms are using crowd sourcing to inform their coverage at BeatBlogging. The site offers many examples of topic blogs that are “extending the circle of reportage to include more users in ways that are practical and effective for production on the beat.” On these blogs, a professional reporter might discuss stories she is working on and invite interested users to comment, pose questions they would like a story to answer or report information.

Tapping into the crowd to produce journalism requires new ways of thinking and organizing. Michel notes in CJR that OffTheBus had 12,000 participants:

“It sounds impressive: twelve thousand people. But the challenge was not persuading them to sign up. It was figuring out what they were willing and able to do after that, and then cost-effectively coordinating their efforts so that they added up to real journalism. By Election Day, we had solved enough of that puzzle that I can now say to professional journalists: we found a viable pro-am model for advancing stories both around the globe and in your backyards, and you should take a serious look at it.”

The total price tag for the six-month effort is impressive too: $250,000.

Are you experimenting with the pro-am model? Please share your experiences and ideas in the comments.




January 15, 2009

Who says news won’t pay?

Rich Gordon offers an excellent list of steps news organizations can take to improve their revenues

Medill’s Rich Gordon offers one of the bests lists I’ve seen of actions news organizations can take to set the financial ship right. Writing on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits, Gordon writes:

But amid the current journalistic gloom and doom, I can see the outlines of a successful business model emerging, if news organizations would consider these options:

  * Challenge cherished traditions that news organizations can no longer afford. The Detroit newspapers, for instance, have decided not to home-deliver print editions if there’s not enough ad revenue to pay for distribution. Is that a crazy idea? It certainly seems less crazy than cutting the investment in original reporting.

  * Adopt new technologies and workflows to make news production more efficient. Many traditional news organizations have redundant production processes for their traditional (print or broadcast) product and the Web. These must be consolidated.

  * Distribute professionally created content through as many channels as possible. Stories must go out in print, on the air, online, via mobile technology—and yes, on the Kindle or another “iTunes for news.” When appropriate, news organizations could share the cost of content creation with other news organizations. The Miami Herald and Poynter’s St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, for instance, already collaborate to pay for coverage of the Florida state capital.

  * Adopt practices to increase the loyalty of online audience. Despite their financial challenges, traditional news organizations have been very slow to adopt blogging, permalinking, article commenting, social networking and other approaches that are proven to bring repeat usage. The average user of a news site spends less than two minutes per day there; it’s no wonder there’s not enough revenue!

  * Improve online ad sales and targeting. Borrell Associates reports that top-performing local media Web sites generate two or more times the revenue of the average site. The Interactive Advertising Bureau reported last year [PDF] that publishers can earn 10 to 16 times as much money by directly selling an online ad themselves as by turning the ad over to a national ad network. And highly targeted online ads—now becoming possible through advanced behavioral targeting—can yield even greater revenue. (For more on this point, stand by for an upcoming report on online ad networks, which I’m editing right now for Northwestern University’s Media Management Center.)

I think the last two points represent particular opportunities. As I noted earlier, a report by the Bivings Group, lamented the lack of adoption of social networking functions on mainstream news sites. As Gordon notes, these features may be key to increasing user engagement and time spent on site.

As to the final point, the Web advertising may be more challenging in the technology and in the sell than print ads, but that doesn’t mean there is not unrealized revenue out there. I’m looking forward to seeing Gordon’s report and I’ll link to it from here.

Here’s Gordon’s full post, “Is an ‘iTunes for News’ Possible?

What do you think about the potential to increase ad revenues by growing user engagement and developing more sophisticated targeting? Please share your ideas in the comments.



January 09, 2009

Weekend reading

Links: Digital natives, online tools, online corrections

Tim Windsor has an excellent summary eight norms of the digital native generation from Don Tapscott’s new “Grown Up Digital.”
Chris Amico offers Tools for News, an impressive set of tool kits for digital journalists. Use this info. Add yours.
Doug Fisher gives some common sense practices for online errors and corrections in “Getting a different mindset about corrections and changes.”

December 08, 2008

Our new leadership report is out today!

KDMC offers a collection of tips, tools and takeaways from seminar experts for newsroom leaders in the digital age

The Leadership Conference is a highlight of Knight Digital Media Center’s annual training calendar. Newsroom leaders come to the center to hear from experts in digital media, innovation and newsroom change. They return to their newsrooms with strategies and ideas for moving online.

Today, KDMC is pleased to release a report compiled from the July 2008 Leadership Conference and an earlier leadership gathering in 2007. The report is organized as a series of lists and bullet points—tools, takeaways, quotes and action steps, for example—designed to spark new thinking among newsroom leaders and link them to resources that will help them develop their ideas.

I hope you’ll take a look at the KDMC Leadership Report. Here’s a sampling:

From Takeaways:

Stacy Lynch, a consultant and project manager for the Media Management Center, warns traditional news organizations against “the sucking sound of print” as they transition to online while attempting to maintain the newspaper.

“Print will take over every ounce of energy you have,” Lynch said.  The brutal truth is there’s nothing in print that has no value. Everything has a little bit a value. Every cut hurts. You just have to figure out what hurts less.”

From Tools:

Key performance indicators provide more meaningful information on site traffic than simple counts of visits or visitors. Dana Chinn, a faculty member at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism, details KPIs and their uses:

Often, that KPI is not a simple number such as time on site or unique monthly visitors. Instead, the most meaningful information may be from a ratio or comparison of two different numbers.

From Culture changers:

Change will only come from the bottom up. Command-and-control hierarchical systems of management have worked well for getting the daily paper out on time, but executive pronouncements do little to build long term change. The old structure burdens top editors with making too many small decisions instead of working on long term strategy. Perhaps more significantly, it discourages initiative - and possible innovation - from the ranks.

Also see Quotes, Reading, Action Steps

We envision a report that can grow and evolve as the challenges of newsroom leadership change. Please add your ideas in the comments.

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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).

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