News Leadership 3.0

May 04, 2008

Inventing a new ecology for news

News Tools 2008 highlights rise
of the journalism entrepreneur

News Tools 2008 is now history. As Joe Grimm explains here, it was an unconference that eschewed expert panels and speakers and instead relied on participants to shape the agenda and convene sessions.

I saw abundant bursts of energy and creativity, rather than the carefully crafted storyline more traditional conferences seek to create.

That may also be an apt description for an emerging ecosystem for news collection and distribution in the digital age: Increasingly individuals and smaller collections of people will create significant amounts of news content and make it available to the public online.

Key to this new ecosystem is entrepreneurship. Journalists - many from downsizing newsrooms - are exploring ways to get paid directly by the public or by community foundations or even private investors.

How would this work? Here are a few experiments:

—Small payments or subscriptions that pay for journalists to cover specific stories or issues. Would parents in a local community, for example, be willing to pay small amounts for more detailed coverage of their children’s schools than the local metro newspaper is providing? Journalist David Cohn is working on online tools to help journalists monetize their efforts.

—In a similar vein, the just-launched ReelChanges Web site will allow people to make tax-deductible contributions to support production of documentary journalism.

—Could a community hire a journalist to provide local coverage? Journalism professor Len Witt has a grant to try that idea out in Northfield, Minn., where a “representative journalist” will be hired to add professional reporting to an existing community site.
These experiments are fraught with potential and with risks. The journalists will need to take care to protect their journalistic independence as they step into the world of fund raising.

All the same, experimentation and risk-taking may pave the way for future journalism that can supplement and enrich what traditional news organizations provide.

Dan Gillmor, who heads the new Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, says it’s a great environment for young journalists.  “What I’m telling students is that they chances that they would get on career ladder that people of my age got on are shrinking rapidly… That is not a problem because there’s never been a better time in journalism to invent their own jobs This is an incredible time of opportunity for young journalists”

These efforts may provide little solace to traditional news organizations coping with a digital tsunami and a diminishing bottom line.

Still, they may suggest opportunity. How will traditional news organizations interact with an increasingly diverse and potentially chaotic news universe? Do these developments suggest an emerging role for large traditional news organizations? As news system atomizes and diversifies, who is better equipped to synthesize as a more coherent whole?

April 28, 2008

In Miami, a Reader Exchange Editor

New newsroom job tracks blogs, comments, online traffic
Herald becomes more sophisticated about the Web
How is your newsroom handling interactivity?

imageThe job title caught my eye right away. Reader Exchange Editor, Miami Herald. Exchange Editor. Exchange. It’s the first time I’ve heard a reader-related job title at a major news organization that captures the idea that digital interaction is a two-way, even multiple-way street. (Please let me know if there are others.)
The new Reader Exchange Editor, Shelley Acoca, got my attention quickly too. The challenge of user content and comments often induces eye-rolls, forlorn sighs or frustrated shrugs from those who have to manage it. Two minutes into a phone conversation with Acoca, I thought: She’s up to her eyeballs in this stuff and she’s loving it!
This is the second of two posts on the Miami Herald. As I explained here, Miami participated in Knight Digital Media Center’s Leadership Conference in 2007 and has implemented a number of organizational changes since then.
Like many news organizations, the Herald is learning an important new dance with readers. Rick Hirsch, Managing Editor/Multimedia, said creating the position was a recognition of the importance of user interaction to the future of the news organization.
“We feel pretty strongly here that the whole area of user content and comments and sharing of our our content, the desire people have to interact with our news is a really important part of our future. It’s an undeniable way things work now. We were moving into that space enthusiastically but randomly.” Hirsch said. So the Herald decided “We ought to have a really smart journalist engage with this content, interacting with people, studying how this develops, and really developing a strategy for us for this whole aspect of news and information in the digital space.”
Enter Acoca, who had shown her enthusiasm for developing user content in print and online with efforts including an art contest and a Hispanic cartoon contest as features editor.
Since taking over as Exchange Editor late last year,  Acoca has focused on:
- Bloggers. Hirsch said the idea was to elevate the quality of the Herald’s blogs, challenging bloggers the same way editors challenge other journalists. Acoca edits bloggers, as well as columnist Leonard Pitts. Her responsibilities include how-to coaching (what’s a widget?), working with journalists to develop concepts for successful blogs, and coordinating live chats. With the help of Mindy McAdams, Knight Chair in Journalism at the University of Florida, Acoca developed these guidelines for bloggers.
Acoca’s advice for new bloggers?
“Shout about your blog from the rooftops. Email your sources, other bloggers, bloggers you don’t know. Getting the word out is critical in insuring long-term success.
“And, oh yeah, have fun—this is *your* space in a way a traditional newspaper can’t be—the words, the pictures, the videos, the widgets. It offers a broad range of ways to express yourself. Experiment. Learn. Enjoy.”
- User comments. Under Acoca’s guidance, MiamiHerald.com recently began requiring commenters to register, a switch that has mostly cleaned up offensive commenting and cut the total number of comments in about half. Based on the experience of other McClatchy newspapers, Acoca hopes that the number will slowly increase over time. “Mostly people have gotten it or they’ve gone elsewhere. It was very few people who were posting lots of bad comments all day long,” Acoca said. Since registration began in mid-March, Acoca said she has had to deny access to about one commenter per week for using offensive language after being warned.
Acoca is very enthusiastic about the value of commenting. Comments, she says, are a way for the public to get information that journalists might not be able to get.
- Online traffic. Acoca is trying to provide MiamiHerald.com with a more sophisticated view of its online traffic, particularly tracking readers of different content seem to go onto the site so the Web site can serve up updates at times that make the most sense for different topics and readers.

Acoca is on the frontline of the changing role of news organizations in the digital age. “Part of it is community building. We aren’t the ones who are going to do that. We’re the facilitators. We should let other people take that ball and run with it. It’s worth reading the stuff that people put up there. they have some really good ideas. Newspapers lost ground for a lot of reasons. One of the reasons might be that we were victims of our own arrogance. we served up the same menu every day. The food we liked as opposed to the food they liked. Now we’re giving readers choices.”

Acoca also has a good vantage point for seeing change in the culture of the Miami newsroom. “We’re all learning together. That’s created a more collegial situation. It’s all learning from each other. There’s not big expert who can teach you everything any more. It’s a much more egalitarian thing.”

First, the leadership emphasized that she didn’t need to have all the answers right away. Rick Hirsch told her ” ‘Don’t worry if you have days when you don’t know what to do with yourself,’ ” Acoca recalls. I did have a lot of those days. There’s no map.”

If I were starting a new and challenging job, I think that’s one of the most helpful things the boss could say.

What are your strategies for engaging with the public online? Please join the conversation.

Patrick Hogan offered this comment when I mentioned the Reader Exchange Editor in an earlier post:
“The Reader Exchange Editor position is intriguing, although it’s something smaller papers (which you’ll find frequently have the same volume of comments or more), can’t afford”

That’s a very good point. At the same time, your newsroom might consider allocating even a few hours a week of a journalist’s time to reader issues that are a priority. For example, someone might be able to spend a few hours each week analyzing online traffic. Or developing resources on blogging and training bloggers. Try to identify the activity that will help your organization the most, right now. Set realistic goals and tease out a little time each week. I think you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.

 

April 27, 2008

Location-based media: Take the survey

Medill grad students survey newsroom use of new media
Newsroom folks are invited to participate here

Paul Lamb points to a survey that Medill graduate students are conducting to find out more about how newsrooms are using location-based technologies such as GPS-enabled devices, mobile phones, interactive maps and audio tours. If you’re in a newsroom, you can help by filling out the quick survey here. I wrote more about the Medill project here.

April 17, 2008

Mobilizing for mobile: Consumers go mobile, will the news follow?

News industry looks to mobile delivery for advertising revenue
For journalists, it will require new ways of thinking about content

Much buzz this week about delivery of news and advertising to mobile devices. Poynter’s Rick Edmunds says it was the hot topic among people with dollar signs in their eyes at the NAA-ASNE Captial Conference. The Associated Press announced it is developing Mobile News Network that will deliver news to Apple’s iPhone—and allow AP member news organizations to sell advertising to mobile users.

What does this mean for the newsroom? The opportunity to reach more people (and perhaps more of those younger folks) is exciting. The challenges go well beyond learning to apply new technology.

Here’s a caution from Paul Lamb:

“Unfortunately, most media still view mobile as only a way to shrink down their existing print, broadcast, and online offerings and re-format them for a smaller screen. And that’s one important reason why they are not having much success to date. It’s time to start thinking outside newsprint-wrapped boxes and to imagine what can be done altogether differently via emerging platforms.”

Medill’s Rich Gordon is thinking along the same lines. Gordon points to a Guardian article, “Why mobile Japan leads the world.”

“...  journalists and media companies would be wise to start thinking about the threats and opportunities presented by a world where cellular phones and other portable devices have pervasive, high-speed Internet connections. The Guardian article illustrates clearly why this world is likely to arrive: the business and revenue possibilities are enormous,” Gordon says.

Like Lamb, Gordon says the challenge will be to quickly create new forms of content that take advantage of mobile technology and its users.

“There also seem to be some interesting parallels between the evolution of the “desktop Web” and the “mobile Web.” The early years of the Web featured “repurposed” content originally created for other media and the growth of new e-commerce businesses such as Amazon and eBay. It took some time before content creators and media companies started figuring out what kinds of content were most appropriate for the Web, and the most valuable for consumers. The same pattern seems to be playing out in Japan: repurposed content and “m-commerce” first, with original content created for mobile devices lagging behind.

“What kinds of content will be most successful for mobile devices? As with the Web, there will be some value to using these devices to deliver the same content (say, video or news headlines) created for another medium. But it also seems reasonable to assume that winning mobile content must take advantage of either or both of these two important attributes of mobile devices: first, that they are portable (and therefore, always in easy reach); and second, that their geographic location can be known (so content can be customized based on the user’s location).”

Gordon has a team of Medill master’s students looking at the issue. In June, they will deliver “a report about the state of U.S. mobile technology and content (intended as a resource for journalists and media companies), and at least one example of a journalistic story or service that takes advantage of the unique capabilities of mobile media.” Meanwhile, Gordon’s students are blogging their project here.

Is your newsroom working on mobile? Please share insights and links.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

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

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