News Leadership 3.0

November 04, 2008

Twitter is my election ‘newspaper’

Surprise! The social networking tool turns out to be my primary campaign news source

I have an Election Day confession to make:

In the final weeks of the campaign, I got most of my election news from Twitter.

That’s right. Not the New York Times. Not CNN. Not the local newspaper to which I dutifully subscribe.

Instead, my Number 1 news source was Twitter, the online blogging service that allows people to send short messages to the people who follow them and receive messages in turn from those they follow.

I’ve written before about the potential of Twitter and other social networks as a tool for newsrooms—both to gather news and to distribute it. Now I feel like living proof of the distribution part of the equation.

It didn’t happen overnight. I typically follow for headlines and for depth. As news coverage became increasingly formulaic and annoying (the hourly horse race gets old fast) in the last couple of months of the campaign, I found I was learning all that I needed by following links recommended by folks I follow on Twitter (I still glanced the headlines of major mainstream news sources just in case.)


- I got links to campaign analysis, campaign events and speeches minus the CNN-hype, plus links to off-the-beaten-track reports like this. (thanks @sjcobrien)

- I got links to contrarian analysis of the financial bailout and questions about the candidate economic proposals that weren’t finding their way into mainstream media (thanks @howardowens)

- I got running commentary and links on how the press was dealing (or not) with campaign stonewalling (thanks @jayrosen_nyu and your #spinewatch)

- I was the first on my digital block to know about the election polling site FiveThirtyEight, 10 days before it showed up on Poynter Online (thanks @matthewburton)

- Politics aside, I first learned on Twitter that the Phillies had won the World Series (thanks @ckrewson)

All this—and a few other of my pet topics—from about 30 people I follow on Twitter. In many ways, it’s a reader’s dream. You chose your “editors”, people who recommend news and information they think their followers may want to see. Their Twitter comments tell you where they are coming from and if you decide you don’t like their recommendations, you can turn them off any time. You get bragging points: My non-Twitter friends are astounded at the constant supply of interesting links I e-mail to them.

I’m not alone in my increasing reliance on digital media for news. The Pew Research Center just reported that more and more people are hitting the internet for campaign news:  “Television remains the dominant source, but the percent who say they get most of their campaign news from the internet has tripled since October 2004 (from 10% then to 33% now). While use of the web has seen considerable growth, the percentage of Americans relying on TV and newspapers for campaign news has remained relatively flat since 2004. The internet now rivals newspapers as a main source for campaign news.” (By the way, I got that link in a tweet from @jayrosen_nyu.)

Of course, Twitter is just one tool, and not a widely used one at that. Twitter itself is hardly the future of news, especially the future of producing in depth public service journalism. But Twitter illustrates a larger point about consumption and delivery of news. People increasingly believe that news will be there for them on demand or find them when they aren’t even looking.  Twitter and other social media tools (Delicious, for example) enable consumers to get recommendations from people they trust.

Selecting important news used to be the role of the local newspaper. Now anyone can do it. That doesn’t necessarily push traditional newsrooms out of the game. Any newsroom can improve on becoming its users primary trusted online source of recommendations. It’s another example of how aggregating and linking to other sources adds value to the news report.

Is your newsroom taking on this role? Please share your ideas and experiences in comments.

If you want to check out get Twitter, this post from Amy Gahran is a good first stop.

One way to check out its news-gathering potential on Election Day is the Twitter Vote Report, people can report problems at polling places. Kristin Gorski describes the idea here on the Huffington Post. (Yes, I follow @kristingorski on Twitter as well and she posted the link there.) Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits explores the effort as well.

October 31, 2008

On the other side of the burning bridge

As news organizations struggle to outlast a failed business model, the Monitor may breaks free to create a safe spot on the road ahead

On the “NewsHour” Wednesday night, Christian Science Monitor Editor John Yemma looked tired. Very tired. But his smile was the smile of a winner and rightly so—Yemma,  a longtime print journalist, gets to march toward a media future without a ton of newsprint strapped to his ankles.

The Monitor announced earlier this week that it would drop daily print publication starting in April, build up its Web site and publish a weekend edition. Rick Edmonds of Poynter Online details the changes here and here. My own initial thoughts are here.

Editors may focus on why the Christian Science Monitor’s plans are not immediately relevant to their world regional or daily newspapers. There are big differences. The Monitor doesn’t draw much advertising. It has expensive national distribution. It gets a multimillion-dollar subsidy from the Christian Science church ($12 million this year to be reduced with the shift to digital).

I would focus instead on this key difference: More than any traditional print news organization I am aware of, Yemma and the Monitor crew have a chance to envision a Monitor (dot com) that could be viable five or 10 years from now and make it so.

Howard Weaver, the Vice President News for the McClatchy Company, once drew on the image of a bridge afire separating traditional news organizations from their future:

“My current metaphor for our business is this: We have to move, and we can see a secure spot for ourselves right across the river. The good news is, there’s a bridge; the bad news is, it’s on fire. There’s time to get across, but not to [screw] around. I intend to get to the other side before the bridge burns up. Who’s coming with me?”

Reading this now, I see the flames rising and I wonder whether Weaver or anyone else can really see a “secure spot right across the river.” It has been more an article of faith than a proven business model that the future—that is, the future revenue to pay for future journalism—resides online.

Liberated from print, journalists at the Christian Science Monitor have a chance to define that ground across the river.

I fear, increasingly, that able and dedicated editors in many newsrooms are not getting that chance. Instead, their job seems to be propping up the flaming bridge for one day, one week or a few months at a time while the future races farther ahead.

—Buyouts in 2006 and 2007 cost newsrooms valuable experience and institutional memory. Bad enough. Now layoffs increasingly take the new hires—predominantly the young, digitally saavy journalists newsrooms need to shape a viable future. In Spokane, innovative leaders Steve Smith and Carla Savalli saw this non-future very clearly and left. Just today, I scratched my head when I saw several online producers would be part of the latest round of layoffs at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis.
—Tribune’s much publicized newspaper redesign efforts have a decidedly 1998 feel to them. They may slow readership losses but they are unlikely to staunch the bleed of advertising. How much does tinkering with print take away from moving more aggressively online?
—Progressive editors talk about a goal of 50-50 effort for print and online effort in their newsrooms. But even in 2008, they’re hard-pressed to tell you even 25 percent of their staff time goes beyond print.

Mindy McAdams recently reported: “Yesterday a journalist who (still) works at a big Florida newspaper told me, ‘Last year we were trying to shoot as much video as possible. This year, we’re trying to save the paper.’ “

That is sad. And scary. It heightens my fear that we are at or close to a tipping point where demoralized news organizations will stop trying to innovate and will simply man the waterhoses while their owners stoke the fires of the burning bridge.

Update: Here’s an interview with Yemma about plans for the Monitor.

October 14, 2008

Rebuilding the news

Jarvis’ notion: Replace the article
with a richer, more useful source
What are your ‘building blocks’ for news?

Jeff Jarvis has suggested news providers must come up with new building blocks for news that replace the article.

Jarvis instead would organize news and information around topics and take full advantage of the Web to create spaces that pull together news, history and context, discussion and other contributions by users and experts alike. It’s a promising take on the power of aggregation—a power most news organizations have yet to tap.

Here’s Jarvis:

I think the new building block of journalism needs to be the topic. I don’t mean that in the context of news site topic pages, which are just catalogues of links built to kiss up to Google SEO. Those are merely collections of articles, and articles are inadequate.

“Instead, I want a page, a site, a thing that is created, curated, edited, and discussed. It’s a blog that treats a topic as an ongoing and cumulative process of learning, digging, correcting, asking, answering. It’s also a wiki that keeps a snapshot of the latest knowledge and background. It’s an aggregator that provides annotated links to experts, coverage, opinion, perspective, source material. It’s a discussion that doesn’t just blather but that tries to accomplish something (an extension of an article like this one that asks what options there are to bailout a bailout). It’s collaborative and distributed and open but organized.

“Think of it as being inside a beat reporter’s head, while also sitting at a table with all the experts who inform that reporter, as everyone there can hear and answer questions asked from the rest of the room—and in front of them all are links to more and ever-better information and understanding.

“This is the way to cover stories and life.”

This is a very smart idea. It’s got great utility and information value. It needn’t rely on sophisticated Web tools. It holds great potential in the realm of local news.

To explore that potential, I have tried to envision an online space devoted to a local news classic—Street Repairs in Your Town. Here’s what the site could include:

—A searcheable database that shows what streets have been repaved and when, what streets are scheduled to be repaved and when, or what streets are not on any schedule.

—A map created from the database.

—A feature that allows users (journalists too) to post comments and upload photos on the state of their neighborhood streets. Bonus points: This material is integrated into the map.

—A short article (yes, still) that frames the issue, gives key history (say, citizens have voted down the last three street levies and why), and links to the most important resources.

—Links to recent news articles about the issue on your news site and others.

—An archive of relevant city resolutions and ordinances and city council and any local board meetings. Bonus points: Organize or tag material for easy search. Perhaps this is a wiki to which all users can contribute links and other footnotes.

—Featured links to information on Web sites that describe how other localities keep their streets paved.

I’m not a Web producer. But none of this is Web rocket science. Pretty much all of this material could feed the print newspaper. So the “too busy putting out the paper” rationale doesn’t seem to apply. Think about it. A repository for news and understanding that just keeps giving. Bonus points: Transparency helps make the process of street-paving more fair and better understood. That would be journalism.

Of course, street paving may not be a burning issue in your community, but there must be others. Perhaps it’s time for a page on gasoline prices and ways to save gas. Or information how to live on a budget in a tough economy—generic and readily available links combined with local journalistic effort and user discussion?

What do you think of this model? What issues in your community might benefit from this approach and how would you address them? Please share your ideas in the comments.



October 13, 2008

Link: Innovation lessons for newspapers?

Amazon soars, eBay struggles -
Chris O’Brien explores lessons
for the newspaper industry

I suggested recently that newsroom executives look, among other things, at whether their organizations were investing in R&D and in staff time to innovate.

Now comes Chris O’Brien with an interesting post on the role of innovation in business success. O’Brien cites a piece on the rivalry between Amazon and eBay— “Amid the Gloom, an E-Commerce War,” by Brad Stone in the New York Times on Saturday.

Says O’Brien:

“As I read the piece, I was struck by some of the ways eBay’s problems mirror those of newspapers: They had a legacy business (auctions) that once made them dominant, but was now falling out of favor among consumers. Despite the obvious warning signs, executives repeatedly refused to fundamentally re-examine their core business model.’‘

Meanwhile, as Amazon boss Jeff Bezos explains in an interview with Stone:

“Mr. Bezos credits Amazon’s tolerance for risky, expensive bets like the Kindle electronic reading device. “Our willingness to be misunderstood, our long-term orientation and our willingness to repeatedly fail are the three parts of our culture that make doing this kind of thing possible,” he said.

Is your organization an eBay or an Amazon? What experiments look promising right now?

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

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