News Leadership 3.0

February 02, 2009

New open source tools for news

News organizations and entrepreneurs take note: EveryBlock and News Mixer - products of Knight’s News Challenge - make their code public.

Journalists or citizens who want to offer neighborhood-level news and information and to improve online comments have powerful resources coming their way thanks to the Knight News Challenge.

Later this year, Everyblock  will publish the open source code for the application that already powers its “micro news” engines in 11 U.S. cities. 

EveryBlock scrapes the Web for content of interest and makes it available by neighborhood down to the block level. Simply input an address and it will show you links to news, links to public data such as building permits, rezoning proposals, liquor licenses, restaurant inspections and, of course, crime reports.

The project, with $1.1 million from Knight, has been a powerhouse so far. As Wilson Miner noted at the one-year anniversary earlier this month:
“There are lots of ways to measure how far we’ve come since that first day. We launched in three cities, and today we cover eleven cities across the U.S. We started with 37 types of data, and today we have more than 130 unique data types, with 602 different sources of news and blogs alone.”

That EveryBlock has a track record in so many cities may make it particularly appealing to established news sites and start ups. Now, EveryBlock leader Adrian Holovaty notes it is time to go public with the code as part of terms of the Knight grant. “Thanks to our out-of-the-ordinary funding—a generous grant from Knight Foundation—our team has been given free rein to invent a new form of news, and, more importantly, iterate on the concept. ... But now we’ve reached an interesting point in our project’s growth: our grant ends on June 30, and, under the terms of our grant, we’re open-sourcing the EveryBlock publishing system so that anybody will be able to take the code to create similar sites.”

This puts Holovaty and his crew at an interesting crossroads: “EveryBlock’s philosophies and tools will have the opportunity to spread around the world much faster than we could have done on our own, but it puts the six of us EveryBlockers in an odd spot. How do we sustain our project if our code is free to the world?”

Holovaty and crew are looking for ideas and partners to continue their project without depending on grants. Ideas include “building a local advertising engine and/or selling hosted versions of the open-source software, but we’re sure there are other ways for EveryBlock to be a successful business. “

Interested? Here is Holovaty’s contact information. And watch this space and the EveryBlock blog for more on the code release, due by the end of June.

Also on hand is News Mixer
, developed by a cadre of Medill journalism students - some of them programmers learning journalism under a Knight grant. News Mixer is another open source project that opens new possibilities for news and social media. NewsMixer attempts to make commenting on news articles more pertinent and focused, avoiding the problem of long, diffuse threads that mix comments that relate to a story or post with comments that have little or nothing to do with the topic at hand.

Medill professor Rich Gordon reports that two organizations already are using the News Mixer code:

“There are now at least two separate organizations actively working with News Mixer’s open-source code.

“One is the (Knight News Challenge-funded) Populous Project, which announced recently that it will incorporate News Mixer’s functionality into the Populous open-source publishing platform for collegiate newspapers.

“And just this past week, e-Me Ventures (a Chicago-based technology firm affiliated with Gazette Communications, which sponsored the class that developed News Mixer) announced it had deployed a portion of the News Mixer code as an add-in to a test site, powered by WordPress.

” ‘The News Mixer idea was huge. I was really blown away by the work that [the students] did,’ said Abe Abreu, CEO of e-Me. ‘We wanted to be the first to do something with it.’ “

On the Idea Lab blog, Gordon describes options for organizations that want to deploy News Mixer.

So get going. Do either or both of these products seem useful for your Web audience? How will you use them on your site? Please share ideas in the comments.

(Disclosure: I do some consulting for Knight but not with the News Challenge.)

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 18, 2008

What does ‘online first’ mean in your newsroom?

Chris O’Brien: Jobs and practices that reflect a truly online newsroom

Chris O’Brien is business columnist for the San Jose Mercury-News and is wrapping up The Next Newsroom Project. While working on that project, Chris frequently offered insightful comments about news organizations and how their practices and attitudes must change if they want to thrive online. So I’ve asked Chris to write an occasional guest post for this blog and I’m please to offer the first one today. Here’s Chris:

Thanks to Michele for inviting me to join the discussion here. I hope some of the lessons I’ve learned, and continue to learn, at The Next Newsroom Project will be valuable to this community.
In getting started here, I wanted to pick up on a thread that Michele has been talking about lately involving the relationship between print and online in the newsrooms. I couldn’t agree more with her sentiment that it’s time to “shove the print newspaper off center stage.” While I think print will have a long future, it needs to be one of many platforms, rather than the primary one. Digital is the future, and it’s well past time for newsrooms to be thinking online first.
But here’s the next question: What does being an online first newsroom actually mean? It seems that everyone now claims their newsroom is online first. In reality, for most newsrooms that means they post their content online first. Otherwise, it’s business as usual. The newsroom, the conversations, the planning, the jobs, and the culture are all still organized around a legacy designed to create the print edition of the paper.
Being online first requires far more change. If you’re wondering whether your newsroom is online first, ask yourself how you measure up against the following criteria:
Planning and Workflow: Are the morning budget meetings and planning decisions still being driven by the need to create centerpieces and fill this section or that section? Are your critiques still driven by hanging the morning paper on the wall and discussing story placement? If these are the central conversations that are driving newsroom planning, then you’re not online first.
Instead, the discussions about content creation should start with the subject and then explore whether to tell that with text, audio, video, or some data product. The critiques should be a continual process throughout the day of evaluating traffic, comments, and updates. There should be a team dedicated to taking all this content and turning it into a print version, but they shouldn’t be driving the process.

If someone asks when deadlines are, do you still say 5 p.m.? Time to turn that on its head. For most folks, their Web traffic peaks around 9 a.m. or so, when their community wanders into work, powers on their computers, and browse the news before getting on with their day. What they find on your Web site has to be more than the articles your staff filed the previous afternoon. To change that, there needs to be a big push early in the morning to get more folks in creating fresh stuff and then updating throughout the day. According this post from Shannon Bowen, an online journalist at the Wilmington Star in North Carolina, the newsroom there has adopted the mentality of an afternoon paper, requiring the bulk of the staff to be in early and file in the morning by 11 a.m. It’s a good start. But it needs to be even earlier to hit that traffic peak, which means getting more folks in even earlier.
Jobs: Are the type of jobs in the newsroom much different than they were 10 years ago? If you’re an online first newsroom, they should be. To optimize the online experience, it takes a whole different set of jobs. Get a community manager to moderate comments, solicit the best contributions from community members, and generate a lot of conversation. Get a multimedia editor who can really build the audio and video contributions from the whole staff. Get a couple of programmer journalists in the newsroom to build everything from news widgets to Flash presentations to data-rich products like this Campaign Tracker that The Washington Post created for the recent election season. These types of information products are great journalism and they fit the way people like to consume information online by allowing them to click around and discover things.
And remember that it’s not about getting folks to come to your Web site. You have to get your content out into other people’s networks. Get a network manager whose role is to promote content using social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, building relationships with bloggers, and in general thinking past the Web site and finding ways to get content into streams where the potential audience resides.
Linking: Are journalists able to create links in the stories they file? Does your content management system even allow reporters to create links? If not, it’s time to get a new content management system. And looking at this from the other end, can the audience link to your content? Are your archives free? This seems to be a harder change for many newsrooms, which in some cases have contracts with third parties to operate paid archives. Even worse, many news sites intentionally break their links every few days in order to drive folks to these paid archives. Which means that essentially they’re not letting other people link to their content. 
I’ll end with this thought: In truth, we all should be thinking about moving toward multiplatform newsrooms: print, radio, online, mobile. Wherever your community is, you need to be there. And be prepared to embrace new platforms that are bound to emerge over time.
But first things first. Let’s get the transition to online right, and then go from there. These are my criteria. What are your criteria for an online newsroom? And are there any newsrooms out there that folks believe have really, truly become online first?

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.

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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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