News Leadership 3.0

July 01, 2009

Hello micro local! EveryBlock code is public

EveryBlock, which aggregates news and data at the neighborhood block level, makes its source code public so developers in any community can make it their own

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. Developed with the help of a $1.1 million grant from the Knight Foundation, It’s online in more than a dozen cities.

EveryBlock developer Adrian Holovaty announced publication of the code.

Over the past two years, EveryBlock has been funded by a grant from the Knight Foundation. The purpose of the grant was twofold: to launch this experiment in “micro-local” news, and to release the source code. Today, as our grant period comes to an end, we’re fulfilling that second purpose.

“You can read more about the open-sourcing and download the code at our source code page. (Keep in mind it’ll probably make sense only if you’re a web developer/programmer.) We hope this extensive code base helps spark lots of great work.”

Holovaty said EveryBlock would continue operating as a private company. But he wouldn’t say more about plans for now.

 

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.

 

 

July 30, 2008

Newspapers “do it right”

Editor & Publisher’s annual list
of innovative news organizations

Editor & Publisher has announced its annual “10 That Do It Right”—news organizations that are innovating in today’s tough media environment. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tops the list for its investigative team that blogs and focuses on quick hit projects, databases and consumer protection issues.

Other winners got props for revamping their circulation systems, experimenting with social media, using reader forums to localize international and national issues, innovating with online video, creating a reader rewards program and developing job recruitment sites.

For more on the winners, you’ll find a quick list of the 10 at Journalistopia. Editor & Publisher has stories on the winners here and here.

 

July 15, 2008

Editors: Determination, not desperation

Knight Leadership Conference:
Top editors chart a path
to journalism’s digital future

With all the grim news from the news industry—staff reductions, top editor resignations—it’s easy to fall into a state of hopelessness. Certainly journalism’s most widely read news aggregator—Romenesko—often feels like a relentless chronicle of malaise and decline.

So it has been very encouraging—and enlightening—for me to speak with and exchange e-mails with the two dozen editors who are participating this week in Knight Digital Media Center‘s annual Leadership Conference, “Transforming News Organizations for the Digital Now.” Like their peers across the industry, they face struggles and challenges both within their organizations and without. They are far from naive. But they are very determined to take their organizations across the digital divide. We’re hoping that determination—and the advice of a couple of dozen experts who are joining the conference—will help them draft bold plans for reorganizing and re-energizing their organizations.

A team of two people - the top editor and the top online editor—from 12 traditionally print organizations will participate in the conference, which starts today and runs through Friday. Participating organizations: The Commercial Appeal, the Dayton Daily News, the (Rochester) Democrat and Chronicle, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Journal-Gazette (Fort Wayne), the Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Ga.), the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Orange County Register, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Seattle Times, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane),  and The Wichita Eagle.

I’ll make a brief introductory presentation identifying some of the patterns and issues that cropped up in my pre-conference interviews. (Later in the evening, we’ll hear about the digital audience from Amy Mitchell of the Project for Excellence in Journalism and then we’ll explore “Seven Deadly Myths of Innovation” with Krisztina “Z” Holly, Vice Provost for Innovation at the University of Southern California, where the Knight Center is based.

For now, here are a few trends from participating news organizations:

- They’ve reorganized in the past year, mostly to do a better job of getting breaking news online by dedicating reporters and editors to the Web. Those moves are showing results in increased Web traffic.Some of the newsrooms have undergone more radical changes—Rochester adopted Gannett’s Information Center model; at the Orange County Register, two-thirds of the newsroom reports to the online desk.
One editor: “Our priority is to create a fast and flexible culture in which we think online first, then print. Ultimately, it is to transform our newsroom into a 24-7 news organization. We must deliver news and information to readers and viewers when they want it and how they want. We integrate our approach. Our editors plan online coverage AND print coverage. We want to be first and we want to be best. We must continually be changing jobs and approaches. We did this a lot last year; we must do more this year. We do not believe in a big “ta da” approach. It should be organic but should also be urgent. Our survival is at stake in this competitive world we live in.”

- The culture in their newsrooms is improving, with more journalists adopting a Web-first mantra.Still, few believe they have achieved critical mass for a more nimble, online-adept culture. There are fewer pockets of resistance. But traditionally print-centric groups—in some cases copy desks or assignment editors—lack online reflexes.
Here’s one editor: “It’s like most places. There are 30 percent who get it, 30 percent who aren’t sure and 30 percent who are resistant. It’s a mixed bag. Some people are unhappy because they feel like it’s more work. Some people are really enthusiastic about it.”

- Culture aside, newsroom production systems and processes remain still highly print focused.  As their staffs contract, newsroom leaders are pressed to re-evaluate the print-online balance. How will they support both a robust print product - since it still pays most of the bills - with more aggressive moves online. Dayton, Rochester and Orange County have begun systematically repurposing (yes, I hate that word too. Alternative?) online content for the next day’s newspaper.
Here’s one editor: “Print is going to be around for a long time. It delivers 90 percent of our revenue. That’s the difficulty, trying to start this new business and keep the old one going. It’s going to be a struggle. We could do one or the other very well but to do both is a real challenge—especially with considerably fewer resources.”

- Newsroom staff cuts in these organizations range from about 10 to 40 percent from peak. Twenty-five percent is the norm.
One editor: “My goal is to continue to leverage my news staff across as many platforms as we can manage ... The only way we can sustain a newsroom of this size is to master all of these platforms.”

- Newsroom leaders also are frustrated by problems with technology and a general lack of technological resources. Competition for programmers is fierce—within news organizations and in the larger marketplace, which pays better than newspapers. One oneline editor: “It is difficult to attract Web developers because of the perception that the print industry is in decline. Web developers would bring the expertise that is currently lacking as we rely on converting print journalists into online specialists.”

- These problems notwithstanding, these editor report a dizzying array of accomplishments on the Web. From photo galleries, to databases, to videos, to interactive graphics, to broadcast programming, to affinity sites, the migration to online in these newsrooms is going full force. But few think they are ahead of the curve. Social networks, search and mobile delivery loom large on many horizons.

From an online editor: “I try to help quickly move our operation toward a better understanding of audience needs, and a workflow that is multimedia centric. I do this with the realization that we’re asking a shrinking staff to do more every day. The key is in identifying those areas where we can pull back and relax standards or output, and those areas where we must press harder to gain traction.”

Do these newsrooms, taken collectively, sound fairly typical? Please reflect on your challenges, experiments and solutions in the comments.

(Note: I will not be quoting specific conference participants by name or by the name of their news organization without their permission. It’s a tradeoff. We want to make as much information from the conference available as possible. At the same time, we do not want participants to feel inhibited in the discussions. All expert presentations and comments will be attributed.)

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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.

Get in touch with Michele at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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