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 07, 2008

Should I stay or should I go?

It’s not easy to leave, but the “good fight” may best be engaged outside the newsroom
How can you fight for journalism?

The resignation of Steven A. Smith as editor of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash. last week doubtless got other top newsroom editors asking whether leaving was the best course while firming up the resolve of others to stay. Smith, whose newsroom faced major layoffs, said he left to free his voice and to look for other ways to fight for journalism. One of his top deputies also resigned, saying she had lost heart.

Roger Plothow, editor and publisher of the Post Register in Idaho Falls, offered one response—urging top editors to stay because their talents are needed more than ever in newsrooms. Plothow may have meant well, but I thought his response offered a “one-size” solution to a resignation question that has more than one answer—an answer that, as Smith said last week, “is always personal.”

I want to examine a couple of phrases that Plothow used (for context, read the full post here)—“the good fight” and “easy way out.” We use them a lot in different contexts, but I’m not sure we agree on what they mean when we talk about today’s newsrooms and traditional news organizations.

1. Plothow urged editors to stay in the newsroom “to fight the good fight.”

The “good fight,” I think, is for the pre-digital values of journalism that will help citizens understand their world in the digital era. It is not necessarily for all of journalism of the late 20th century. Some news organizations may be worth fighting for, but the good fight most certainly not is for news organizations that want to cut themselves out of the future.

When I hear the phrase, I think of all the editors who steadfastly fought a version of “the good fight” that helped lead the news industry to its current state. I am talking about those who ignored or resisted the Internet well into this decade, those who scoffed at efforts to make journalism more relevant (remember how the traditionalists pounded civic journalism in the 1990’s?), those who simply rejected change out of hand as bad for journalism they know, love and recognize.

Hindsight is 20-20 and other factors have brought the industry low. But it’s impossible for me to hear the phrase “good fight” without asking “whose good fight?” and “which one?” In one high-profile case, John Carroll and Dean Baquet epitomized the “good fight” during their tenures at The Los Angeles Times—They fought for staff numbers they wanted to produce prize-winning national journalism. But they arguably failed to pay enough attention to fundamentals (local news) and innovations (the Web) that might have prolonged the tenures of the journalists who lost their jobs this summer. Whose “good fight” was that?

2. Plothow’s letter fails to recognize that the “good fight” is taking place outside newsrooms as well as inside them. Walking away from the newsroom does not mean walking away from the “good fight” for journalism. The “good fight” is to deliver important and relevant news and information to citizens and their communities. That is happening all over the world and all over the Web. The idea that news will come only from traditional newsrooms is an arrogance we cannot afford. That is not to say print newsroom have not and are not still important sources. But the model is evolving. Many experiments are in play. Many people are taking risks. Journalists and news organizations should be part of this, and many journalists who have left their newsrooms are. News organizations that favor draconian cuts for short-term profitability risk taking themselves out of the future news game.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has recognized this by shifting considerable funding to programs and individuals that stress innovation in gathering and delivering news and information. The Knight News Challenge and the Knight Community Information Challenge recognize that individual innovators and entrepreneurs are a likely (or perhaps more likely) than a hunkered-down, slow-to-change news industry to serve critical information needs in a democratic society.

That doesn’t mean everyone should leave. I applaud the many newspaper editors who are pushing to innovate quickly across platforms—even when they take grief from all sides for doing so.

3. Plothow says: “In a way, resignation is the easy way out.”  Easy? It is never easy to acknowledge that you can no longer contribute to an organization you love.

Here’s my experience: I left The Oregonian in 2003 after 19 years. (Economic problems were just beginning, buyouts had not been considered so there was no pressure to help the organization financially.) I simply no longer felt I could contribute as significantly to the journalism that newsroom was producing as I had in the past. I needed to contribute in a different way, in a different place. I left behind a great news organization and people I loved. Easy? It might have been easier to stay in my comfort zone, collect my six-figure salary, build my job seniority, enjoy the gorgeous Pacific Northwest and hope that my motivation returned. But what about my colleagues who would have to dig deeper because I was contributing less? What about the editors who were ready to do my job better than I could? Easy to leave? No. But it was fair and right.

Carla Savalli, the Spokesman assistant managing editor who resigned shortly after Smith last week, expressed a similar loss of passion following the latest cuts (about 25 percent of the newsroom staff for a total of 50 percent since 2000). Savalli had led many of the newsroom’s innovation efforts that were part of a push to develop new revenue streams that would save journalists’ jobs. In an interview with Columbia Journalism Review., Savalli said:

“I didn’t resign to send a message. I resigned because it was the right time given the volatility of the industry and of the cuts in this newsroom. It’s a devastating cut and I didn’t feel like I had as much heart as I used to to keep going.”

I don’t assume Smith or Savalli or any other editor is taking the “easy way out.” And there is no shame for any editor (or any journalist for that matter) who does not feel he can lead to step away and make room for someone who will bring more passion to the task.

In 2007, Eric Newton, vice president/journalism programs for the Knight Foundation, offered this advice to journalists in his introduction to “News, Improved,” a book I coauthored with Tim Porter:

“If you are a good journalist, stuck at a news organization that doesn’t seem to believe in its own future, what should you do? Leave? Yes, actually. If reasonable efforts - such as those described in this book - are not being tried, train yourself as best you can and go. The 20th century killed 1,000 daily newspaper newsrooms and 1,000 radio newsrooms. Media evolution doesn’t favor the big or strong. It favors the nimble. Be nimble.

Newton was talking about professional development for journalists. Today, I would apply his words to larger questions that newsrooms and their leaders face. Here are questions I would ask myself:

1. Is the ownership of my organization looking forward, investing in the future? Can I see this in an R&D budget, in staff time devoted to innovations, in rewards for successful new ideas?

2. As a leader, am I moving the organization forward in spite of the business reality my organization faces? Am I a skilled enough leader or am I willing to learn to be one? Am I open to innovation or am I willing to be more open?

3. Can I bring passion to the job every day and move my newsroom into the future with fewer staff and other resources?

I hope as many committed journalists as possible stay in newsrooms and bring the best values of yesterday’s journalism into day’s world. I hope your answers are: 1. Yes. 2. Yes. 3. Yes.

If not? You can find better places to “fight the good fight” for journalism.

Should you (not the other guy) stay or should you go? What factors do you (not the other guy) consider in making this choice? Please share your ideas in the comments.

Update: David Westphal, who recently left McClatchy for USC, offers his take on this topic in post at OJR.

Westphal asks:

“Do newspaper editors have a special obligation to stay in their depleted newsrooms and continue the fight, even as staff cuts threaten to shrink legacy news-gathering operations? Or will newspapers and their Web sites be better served by new leadership that’s less wedded to the past and more inclined to see the future as hopeful?”

Here’s the full post.

October 04, 2008

Weekend reading: Beyond AP

Amy Gahran offers an intriguing vision
of one future model for sharing local news

Gahran’s “what if’s” challenge existing models and suggest alternative paths. A taste:

“What if a coalition of news orgs within a state teamed up with talented technologists, database architects, librarians, search optimization experts, ad networks, and maybe even print-on-demand pros to create a new type of news where packaged stories are but one resulting product?

“What if this kind of team built a replicable, open-source, customizable infrastructure that would make it easy for people to track any issue in the state—regardless of the sources of information (such as public utility commissions, local governments, transit organizations, sports leagues, school boards, citizen groups, or even those notoriously tortuous legislative information systems), and regardless of whether their topics of interest would traditionally make it into the paper?

“What if the core of a news org wasn’t only a staff of trained journalists and editors gathering information primarily to produce packaged stories based on just a small fraction of available info? What if librarians and technologists also were on the job, getting as much info as possible into useful, modular, searchable formats that could be easily searched and mixed according to relevance to particular communities, interest groups, or even individuals?

“What if news orgs’ core offering was not a basically one-size-fits-all newspaper, but rather a statewide or regional “relevance window” service that could be tailored to meet the needs of lawyers, businesses, property owners, schools, activists, healthcare providers, parents, teens, etc.? What if news orgs became very, very structured and flexible about how they collect, collate, and distribute information? What if, as a result, citizens, organizations, and communities could easily stay better informed than was ever before possible?”

Here’s the full post, and it’s worth a read.

October 02, 2008

ReportingOn: New tool for journalists

Web site aims to connect reporters
to others with expertise, experience

Ryan Sholin is up an running with ReportingOn, a place where reporters can get together online to pool expertise.

Here’s the intro:

“Welcome to the backchannel for your beat.

“ReportingOn helps journalists of all stripes find peers with experience dealing with a particular topic, story, or source.

“Everyone’s welcome. Are you a reporter at a major metro newspaper? An editor at a small community newspaper? A blogger working a story about local politics? A cable news anchor looking for national trends bubbling to the surface?

“It’s a simple question: What are you Reporting On?”

As reporters find less time to go deep, ReportingOn aims to put in place a network that will help them find information and learn from others. Less re-inventing of the wheel. It’s a great idea and I hope editors will encourage their reporters to jump on board and help Sholin refine and grow this resource.

I signed up this morning in about four seconds and entered my reporting topic for this blog:
What are you reporting on?
Ways to make newsroom culture more receptive to change, more innovative, more ready to embrace opportunities of the Web.

Anyone working on a journalism project can post a message of up to 140 words (same as on Twitter). Each query can be tagged with multiple topics (mine were “Innovation,” “Culture,” and “Newsroom.”) Users can search tags to find queries and responses of interest to them.

So far, the site boasts more than 70 journalists registered with more than 40 updates. As those numbers grow, the usefulness of the site promises to grow as well. Users must register with an e-mail address and create profiles.

I did a quick review of the posts this morning and found the usual mix of serious items (mostly) and online clutter-talk. Here are some examples of reporting queries and their tags:

“I’m compiling a list of the most innovative beat reporters in the world.” Tags: beat_blogging
“The problem of our electronic waste being shipped overseas to places like India where it’s harvested by impoverished towns.’’ Tags: business columnist silicon valley
“a decomposing head found on a hiking trail, murder suspects in court and the police getting a zippy new Segway-on-steroids vehicles.” Tags: courts crime
“Cambodian secretary of state returns from the UN Assembly in New York, and giving up my weekend to cover a French-Cambo military exercise.” Tags: borders Cambodia military
“New tools for journalists and newsrooms.” Tags: journalism
“Journerdism: Prepping for the VP showdown in our backyard at Washignton University.” Tags: politics
“Tuition predictability plans at public universities.” Tags: education higher

One thing that may hold journalists back is fear that competitors will take their stories. Here’s what Sholin says about fears of giving too much away on ReportingOn:

“You’re still worried about the paper across town? OK, no problem, just don’t included much specific information in your updates.  But really, ReportingOn is probably going to work much better if you’re writing an investigative/enterprise story or a feature.  I’m not sure how well it’s going to work for breaking news, unless you’re just looking for a source or some help making sense out of freshly released data.”

ReportingOn is funded by the Knight News Challenge. Here is Knight’s description of the project. (Note: I work as a consultant for the Knight Foundation on a separate project.) Sholin’s day job is director of community site publishing at GateHouse Media. Sholin blogs at Invisible Inkling and you’ll find him on Twitter at ryansholin.

Here’s a Q&A from July by Sholin. He hopes to post on “What’s Next” later today and I will update this post with a link.

Like much on the Web, ReportingOn puts the tools out there. As Sholin notes, it’s a 1.0 version right now, an experiment, an incomplete application. So users have an opportunity to decide how it will work and what will make it most effective for them. Have at.

 

 

 

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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