News Leadership 3.0

March 13, 2009

Weekend reading

Links: The power of linking, the paid content debate

Tim Windsor asks “Why won’t news sites link?” It is surprising that news sites do not provide more links to content off their sites; it’s in their interest because outbound links make the site more useful for readers and they increase inbound traffic.
Steve Yelvington has a much needed reality check on the paid content idea with “Eight barriers to local paid content” and “Why didn’t newspapers try charging for online content? Well, they did ....

February 28, 2009

Weekend reading II

Link: Aggregation

Howard Owens explains “Four Types of Online Aggregation.”

January 26, 2009

Citizen news sites: Friend or foe?

As citizen-run news organizations work to fill gaps in local coverage, established news organizations can approach them as potential partners rather than rivals

In “The New Metros,” Jane Stevens offers a scenario for how news will be covered as multi-faceted local newspaper organizations diminish or close. It’s unpleasant reading for any metro newsroom.

But I recommend Stevens’ post nonetheless because hers and other emerging scenarios suggest opportunities that traditional news organizations would do well to recognize early on.

Oh, and “early on” is already well under way in many U.S. cities.

Stevens believes metro coverage will atomize - I love her phrase “nichification on steroids”—as newspaper organizations either draw back from extensive local coverage or close their doors and their Web sites entirely. Stevens is a fellow at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri.

Here’s her take:

A large metro area comprises several communities, each made up of several neighborhoods. These communities may be municipalities within a county—or perhaps a part of a city represented on the city council. A small—two- to four-person—news organization covers each community in a collaborative, serial method, 24/7, along the lines of At first, these news organizations are financially supported by advertising from the local businesses who couldn’t afford the high ante to get into the metro news organizations’ publications.

Those community-based operations can cover their local schools, roads, health, events, etc., extraordinarily well, and will bring the community’s voices to bear on local public policy. But they won’t have the resources and depth to cover regional issues, such as education, transportation, the environment or growth. Issues in those areas are usually resolved at a regional or state public policy level. In a metropolitan area, these topic-based news organizations might be supported by those who sell products and services related to that topic. I’m going to try it here in Columbia, MO, with a local health site.

How will people find information across this new news universe? Stevens:

The daily conversation and the community’s collaborations will be embedded in a contextual Web shell of information that the community uses—databases, backgrounders, wikis, aggregations of local blogs, forums, and—yes—news and information from those in the community who sell products and services. These sites will be the go-to place, the starting point, for most of the people in the community.

But these enterprises won’t operate as the metros have in the past—standalone operations in competition with every other news organization. They’ll be part of a network in which they can exchange information and help each other cover stories (check out an early start to this approach in Washington State where reporters used Twitter and Publish2 to share the best information about a regional storm) horizontally, across the communities, as well as vertically, with the organizations that focus on regional topics. That network can also be used to distribute information from people in a community who want to sell products and services across several communities.

In cities that have long been dominated by metros, scenarios such as this one feel inevitable. I don’t quite share Stevens grim vision of decline of traditionals to a metro Web site that suddenly vanishes overnight or is “so pared down that only tatters remain: entertainment, some sports and a small continuous news desk operation.”

Still, metros are contracting and citizens, including journalists who have left newsroom jobs, value news and will find other ways to find it and distribute it it. Stevens cites in a town where one of two major newspapers, the Post-Intelligencer, is on the block and the verge of folding or going entirely online and the other, The Seattle Times, struggles to find financial footing as well.

Seattle is not alone, of course. That begs a question established news organizations need to answer about community start ups: Friend or foe?

An initial response may be concern, even frustration as community organizations tread on the turf that established organizations believe is theirs. That would be the “foe” response.

I suggest this alternative response to that community upstart: Ask, “Can we network?” That would be the “friend” answer, the one that recognizes a traditional news organization can no longer do it all and welcomes help.

And what would friendship look like? That’s a story for partnerships that emerge. But as traditional news organizations survey the horizon and identify community efforts with valuable information to share, here are a few places to start:

1. Get to know them. Find out their mission and their plans. Agree to keep in touch.

2. Train them. Share what you know about community journalism so that together you enhance the quality of reporting available to your citizens. This need not be time consuming; think about a brown bag lunch once a week or every two weeks.

3. Link to them and assess their credibility for your users (and theirs!). Let your own beat reporters who blog include relevant community site links in their reports. Recommend the good stories. Truth-squad the bad. Add context and explanation.

4. Let their work help you decide what you do best. Established news organizations that survive can embody the broad journalistic goals and expertise in ways more focused citizen sites may not be able too. Investigative reporting is one example. If the education reporter who took your buyout is doing a good regular report on her new blog on the doings of the local school board, why not link to her and use the lone education on your staff to investigate school spending or explore larger issues in that are relevant?

In the emerging news network, there will be a hub that aggregates the news and information the community needs to function. There will be a place where people go for information that reflects traditional values and helps them understand the dizzying information on the Web. That can be the traditional news organization. Or not.

What’s your vision of the role of the traditional news organization in the emerging network of news sites? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

(Thanks to @jayrosen_nyu on twitter for link to Stevens post.)

(Disclosure: I am an adviser to the Knight Information Challenge but I do not speak for the Knight project and I offer these views independent of that role.)

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.



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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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