News Leadership 3.0

December 05, 2008

Weekend reading

Links: Crowdsourcing, story sharing, linking and tips for new media newbies

Resource-strapped news organizations must get smarter about how they use their resources:
- Daniel Victor looks at how newsrooms can get help from the crowd (sources) in “Crowdsourcing can lead newspapers through buyout blues
- McClatchy and The Christian Science Monitor share stories.
- Three South Florida newspapers experiment with sharing stories, including student work. (Link via Poynter Online.)

Mark Luckie at 10000words offers “What is…?” a guide for new media novices, complete with a pdf you can hand out in your newsroom and links to more good stuff for newbies.

Matt Thompson at offers a good discussion of the challenges of engaging comments on news sites along with some suggested solutions.

Nieman Journalism Lab offers a take on the scarcity of outward links from stories on major newspaper sites—and the notable exception of columnist Frank Rich.

November 19, 2008

Join an open conversation

At API, the fresh solutions were outside the room when key players heard more of the same behind closed doors

Way back in the day, when I was a newspaper ombudsman (The Oregonian, 1996-1999), I was stunned to learn how much our critics felt we left out of the newspaper when I, like most of my colleagues in the newsroom, wanted them to admire what we put in. We were capturing crime problems in local neighborhoods, for example, but missing community discussions about why crimes were happening and what citizens could do about it. We were capturing the angst of youth, but failing to give young people much of a role in the discussion.

The issue wasn’t so much to be nice or to be fair, although those are good things. The issue was to be relevant, to create a news report that was meaningful to people where they lived. That’s usually a very different place than the newsroom. Sure we would give regular people a starring role in our newspaper movie, but only if they followed our script.

I learned of these omissions, not by waiting for people to call and complain. Instead, I went looking for trouble, hosting and joining conversations around Portland and by strong-arming and sweet-talking other journalists to join them as well. Knowledge grew. Perspectives changed. And, key to change at that time: Journalists find a wider circle of sources upon which to draw. They get more comfortable with the untitled people and their unfamiliar points of reference and the important linkages of community. They let others write parts of the script.

These insights have stuck with me for more than a decade now. They have been refreshed by my old-journo efforts to learn about digital media and the untitled people and important linkages of the online world. They hit me hard last week when I joined a different conversation, an online conversation occasioned by a closed-door meeting of news industry executives hosted by the American Press Institute and the McCormick Foundation. The “Summit on Saving an Industry in Crisis,” apparently consisted of a couple of presentations by business experts (and, yes folks, the business outlook in the newspaper industry is dire) and a pitch by API for its Newspaper Next program (a useful approach to innovation that has not caught fire in the industry). You can read API’s report here and a follow-up by Amy Gahran on Poynter Online here.

The gist of the main presentation at API, by turnaround expert James Shein, is that there are five stages of industry decline and much of the news industry is in the fourth stage, crisis. The fifth stage is dissolution. Ominously, says the API summary, “failure to take action at any point on the curve means the enterprise inexorably moves to the next point. As an organization moves down the crisis curve, it will find executing a recovery plan more difficult, and will have less time to do it.”

Another Shein comment that resonated: “The biggest hurdles to progress the industry’s senior leadership, including some of the people in this room. I am not sure you can take a look at your industry with fresh eyes.

That’s pretty ironic, given an array of “fresh eyes” that were outside the room having an online debate keyed to the summit. One of the news executives in API’s invitation-only session was Charles M. Peters, president and CEO of The Gazette Company. Peters decided to try to blog the session live via CoverItLive on Twitter. Peters, who had never live blogged before (I have and I can tell you it is very demanding, at least at first.) What ensued was a lively discussion about moves the industry might make to rescue itself. Peters has posted an initial summary here and plans to write up highlights and I’ll post links as they come up. The transcript, all seven hours, is here.

What struck me about the online conversation was how similar it was to what I saw way back when as an ombudsman. This time, of course, I was outside with the untitled people and their unfamiliar points of reference and the important linkages of community. I didn’t presume to have answers—I don’t think any of the 30 plus people in that online conversation did. But there was a wealth of ideas. Some might have been worth a try by one of the organizations represented inside the room. Some might have sparked even better ideas inside the room.

The people inside might be playing the role of journalists in the newsroom—unwittingly trapped in their own self-reinforcing conversations with one another, failing to see the value of difference and change. Above all, failing to see a crisis in their growing (rightly or wrongly) irrelevance. I wondered how many of the ideas from outside they’ve already heard, dismissing them—like the newsroom often dismisses community suggestions—as too small, too different, too….
A lot of small and different could turn into something big. My idea in the conversation was that each company might take on responsibility to push one big experiment and then quickly share results with the others. Journalist (and Twitter friend) Tim Windsor said it well after API canceled a news conference because its meeting had failed to reach a consensus. There “shouldn’t be consensus,” Windsor said, “But a steady rain of divergent ideas to try.”

Peters attempted to bring his fellow executives into the online conversation. I believe it was displayed for a time on a screen in the conference room but it didn’t sound like the room layout or conference format encouraged engagement. I think it would be better for the executives to join online conversations and networks and participate in them regularly, if they are not already doing that. As I’ve said before, I have learned from blogging and being on Twitter that you only really understand how the Web works when you are there. You only learn the power of the network once you join it.

That’s another small suggestion, and one that demands time and attention—both in short supply right now in the news industry. It’s time well spent for those who want to build tomorrow’s news organization. Hard to say how people will be getting their news five years from now. But you can bet it will be on some Web not yet imagined, not on dead trees. If you understand how it works now, you’re that much more able to keep up. If you don’t bother, you’re that much farther behind. Shein’s curve may apply: The farther behind you get, the bigger the solution must be and the smaller to time available to find and implement it.

Here are two additional posts about the API meeting that I found interesting:

Jane Ellen Stevens offers a “10-Point Road Map for API Execs
Steven A. Smith gives a newsroom editor’s perspective in “The secret API meeting: Do we laugh or cry?

November 13, 2008

Six competencies of news organizations

Media Management Center presentation outlines jobs for news providers of the next generation of news (which is here now)

I sat in on a Webinar by the Media Management Center at Northwestern University this week. Annette Moser-Wellman presented in information-rich outline of “Six Competencies of the Next Generation News Organization.”

Moser-Wellman’s list provides a great blueprint for organizations that are looking beyond the next round of cutbacks to becoming an organization that can thrive five years from now. To set the stage, Moser-Wellman gave an overview of just-around-the-corner technologies. She gave particular emphasis on the growing role of mobile in virtually everything we do, including the way we consume media and the way advertising finds us.

Here’s my shorthand version of her list of roles for the next-gen news organization:

1. Platform strategist. Know the platforms, know the players, know how users consume information and what content works best where. Start by looking at what people need and develop strategies to meet those needs.
2. Marketer. It’s all about establishing your brand by showing how your content is different and targeting information to specific groups.
3. Community builder. The traditional role of the news organization in a community is changing online. It requires the ability to connect people with like interests and to engage them in news gathering.
4. Data miner. Organizations must build capacity to store, access and retrieve information through meta data such as tagging. Organizations can develop new revenue streams by repackaging information in different ways. Semantic technology on the horizon will increase the potential for properly tagged content to find interested users.
5. Complete storyteller. Communication is becoming more visual, as evidenced by maps and timelines and interactives that report news and put it in context.
6. Entrepreneur. News organizations must operate in a selling environment. “News organizations will need to figure out what the end consumer is going to want and what they are willing to pay for.”

Which ability is most likely to separate successful news organizations from an unsuccessful one?
“My personal penchant would be this ability to be an entrepreneur and think like an entrepreneur,” Moser-Williams said. “What that means it the culture has to have a certain tolerance for risk,” to take on innovative projects and “throw a little bit of money at something that might not pan out.” Organizations “that focus best on the entrepreneurship will be the winners.”

This list seems like a great starting point for a discussion of emerging roles of news organizations. What do you think? Are these or other roles important in your organization’s future? What roles will you emphasize? How will you help your organization take them on?

Moser-Wellman has put together an indepth report on the “Six Competencies.” She blogs about emerging technology and media practice at Media Management’s Media Info Center. Vivian Vahlberg, managing director of Media Management Center, said Moser-Wellman will do additional Webinars for interested companies or associations. Contact Vahlberg at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 847-467-1790 for more info.

November 10, 2008

Spot Us: Re-connecting the public to local journalism

The experiment in ‘community funded reporting’ invites the public into journalistic decision-making and asks the public to underwrite stories directly.

Spot Us, which officially launches today, is a Web site where people, including journalists, propose reporting projects in the San Francisco Bay Area, and members of the public vote with their pocketbooks on which ones get done. The project is the brain child of journalist David Cohn and is funded with a grant of $340,000 from the Knight News Challenge.

The process is simple: People offer story tips and journalists propose stories, pledges of contributions to pay the reporter determine what stories get done, and the stories are distributed via the Web.  Here’s the New York Times writeup.

Example: A pitch from one reporter to explore “How safe are San Francisco Bay beaches and water a year after the Cosco Busan oil spill?” carries a price tag of $445 and it’s about 75 percent funded. Another pitch—“When The Longevity Revolution Hits Your Town.” A three-part series—is asking $330 for the reporter and has a ways to go.

I like Cohn’s idea because it:
—Tests the notion that people will pay for journalism, one story and one small contribution at a time. This approach reduces the cost of journalism to its essence—a transaction between an information-seeking collection of people and an information-finding journalist.
—Injects community priorities into a decision-making process that has been dominated (and not always to the best effect) by a professional class of journalists. In a way, the process gives journalism access to a broader group of community sources and a way to gauge which issues are most pressing. As more people in a community vote for certain stories—and perhaps reject some journalist pitches—journalism gains a window into community concerns and priorities.

Spot.Us is piloting in the San Francisco Bay area, and by definition, the experiment is local. The model might work at a national level too—I cannot count the times I have been willing to contribute a few bucks upon reading a really good New York Times investigation even though I do not want to subscribe to the newspaper. But I think the local focus promises the truest test of the ability of the model to work and to create journalism that reflects community concerns and taps a local market of freelance journalist expertise. Cohn says the project is committed to local journalism and San Francisco is just the start.

Local news organizations can be part of the effort as well. Most stories will be available for publication at no charge. A contribution of 50 percent assures first publishing rights to a story. A contribution of 100 percent assures exclusive rights.

Spot Us, like any big experiment, is bound to engender skepticism, especially from established news organizations. But Spot Us seems like a worthy partner for organizations that are now struggling to cover local issues. I hope some Bay Area news organizations will join the promising experiment.

Update: Amy Gahran addresses skepticism about community funded journalism here.

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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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