News Leadership 3.0

April 24, 2010

Recommended reading: Twitter myths

Sree Sreenivasan takes on major myths about Twitter in a post at DNAinfo.

Also, Clay Shirky on “Three Reasons Why a Small News Startup Couldn’t Break the Boston Globe’s Abuse Scandal” at Nieman Lab.

March 11, 2010

Year of the Pay Wall? Hardly. 2010 may be the Year of Participation

2010 was supposed to be the year of the online pay wall in the mainstream print news industry. But so far, we’ve seen little action on that front. (Among other things, the impending arrival of the iPad and the increasing urgency of mobile may be drawing news industry attention away from the idea that they might be able to charge people for access to content on their Web site.) At the same time, a different ethic may be taking hold. Happily, this one seems better suited to the Web.

It’s the ethic of participation and sharing.

A few examples from the past week or so:

ProPublica’s Reporting Recipe - ProPublica posted its Reporting Recipe, detailing how ProPublica and The Los Angeles Times pulled off an investigation that discovered serious breakdowns in the state of California’s regulation of nurses.

From the intro: “We realize that many newsrooms face competing priorities and limited resources, so we’re making our reporting recipe public ...  We understand that many reporters and members of the public will not be able to dedicate the same resources. Still, there are many things you can do to get a good understanding of how well your state regulators are performing.”

The note also includes contact info for ProPublica staffers and lets users sign up for a conference call about the investigation. Wow. What a gift!

Open311 - The cities of San Francisco and Washington, D.C. boosted collaboration on a shared, open standard for municipal information with the announcement that those cities would launch the Open311 API within weeks. 311 systems enable citizens to report problems such as pot holes or graffiti, to government via Web or texting. The systems promise to give officials access to more information and to make them more responsive without the need for more inspectors. The idea of the Open311 initiative is to give cities a boost in developing their systems, to facilitate improvements by the development community, and to give systems the capacity to work together (jargon alert: This is often referred to as making them “interoperable”).

Social media editors - Of course, sharing is alive and well on social media. Encouragingly, the American Journalism Review reports, that more mainstream news organizations are assigning staff to focus on social networks.  I hope these moves help traditional organizations move past their view that social networks are a one-way delivery system and I hope the journalists in these new roles invest some time in figuring out how do a better job of tending online comments and fostering a worthwhile discussion. Other sites manage to do this, and it’s a mystery to my why more news outlets don’t seize this opportunity to engage with their users.

Twitter - Twitter is my preferred social network, and, as I have pointed out, it’s my most significant source of news and information about topics I care about. Alberto IbargŁen, president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, emphasized a similar idea last week at Knight’s recent Media Learning Seminar for leaders of the nation’s community foundations, many of whom are stepping up to fund local and state news and information projects. IbargŁen noted that he’d heard some at the conference express skepticism that information delivered by new digital technology “couldn’t be taken seriously.” He showed slides of tweets by Jay Rosen and others to reinforce the idea that people are sharing serious information and discussion on social platforms. “They are real and they are useful and they are how we will continue to deliver information.” (Here’s the video of IbargŁen’s comments. He talks about Twitter from 8:00 through 11:14.) (Disclosure: I do some consulting with Knight Foundation.)

Reporter as host - John Temple, editor of the Peer News local start up in Honolulu, reinforced the idea of sharing and participation very aptly in job descriptions for the newsroom staff members formerly known as reporters. “Today it’s my pleasure to announce the names of the first people who’ll be joining the service as “reporter and host.” Yes, you read that correctly. The job profile for reporters at Peer News includes the role of host, reflecting our commitment to community engagement as a central part of the reporters’ role,” Temple said on his blog.

Local news partnerships
- The Pro journalism vs. Am(ateur) journalism argument has taken up a lot of bandwidth. That’s changing. Now it’s about Pro AND Am, working together to cover the news. Pro-am efforts are merging on many fronts. More on that in my comments on the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism‘s annual State of the News Media report, to be released Monday.

What is your news organization doing to foster sharing and participation online? Please post your ideas in the comments. Thanks.

Bonus link: Yesterday, Josh Stearns posted this list of collaborations among news organizations.

January 21, 2010

Don’t “over Twitter” and other social media tips for news organizations

Media strategist Steve Safran says news organizations must straddle two worlds - the traditional one of producing news and the new one as a player on social networks. Here are his tips for success.

(USC journalism graduate student Nikki Usher sat in on the Knight Digital Media Center’s Strategic Leadership Summit for Public Radio Stations, held last month in conjunction with National Public Radio and funded by Knight Foundation. I asked her to write about key takeaways.)

By Nikki Usher

Steve Safran, a media strategist at Media Reinvent, offered key take-home lessons for news organizations looking to improve their online presence:

1. The Twitter Effect.

Safran advised public radio stations not to get bogged down in numbers of Twitter followers. He highlighted Boston public radio station WBUR, which has 4,300 or so followers. But, Safran pointed out, Twitterers have “spheres of influence.”
The average twitter user, according to Safran, has 126 followers. WBUR has 4,385 followers, but if all of them retweet, that means another 552,510 people may pay attention to WBUR. In a magic world, if all those people retweeted WBUR, you could get 69 million WBUR mentions. “Small beginnings are OK,” he said.
Safran’s number one tip for Twitterers: don’t over tweet. Keep it short, and don’t over promote.
“Audiences want their information as micro as possible,” Safran said. “You are using other people’s mobile text money, so make it worth their money.”

2. Media 1.0 vs. Media 2.0

News organizations are in a funny spot. They are original content providers and they must play in social media.
Media 1.0 is: one way, mass media, top/down, a closed network,  (e.g. not sharing APIs, no comments on a site), hierarchical, passive, macromedia, and bundled.
Media 2.0 is: interactive, direct, bottom-up, open network, collaborative, active, micromedia, and self- bundling.
News organizations shouldn’t get rid of media 1.0 - that’s what audience come to them for - but they do need to change. Safran offered the word “simulpath” - how to keep changes occurring while things are already in progress.
He suggested:
* Unbundle content for consumption anywhere
* Build interactive applications into brand extension platforms
* Make content available for mobile distribution
* Create widgets to provide content on other Web sites in the market
* Own RSS and offer many feeds
* Launch a branded RSS reader

3. Connecting outside the news organization

News organizations, thanks to the world of Media 2.0, aren’t in their own mass media world anymore. Instead, they are part of a larger information ecosystem. And they are also part of a local community.
Safran stressed the importance of a news organization becoming a local information hub as well as an aggregator for content by users.
He suggested news organizations organize local bloggers and the local Web, build and maintain a database of local Web sites, help users create participatory content, and build standalone, niche web sites.
Niche channels are key, as Safran pointed out. “Blogs are the single best search engine optimized content out there.”
His final suggestion for news organizations was to “aggregate, aggregate, aggregate.”

4. Building hits and attracting users

“You don’t want to be best radio web site - you want to be best multimedia outlet,” Safran told public radio executives.
What does that mean for news organizations? It means giving audiences news as it happens in new and novel ways - especially in times of breaking news. Consider new blogs, mashups, and simply blowing up home pages, as CBS8 did with the California Wildfires a couple of years ago. 
And news orgs shouldn’t be afraid to be the gathering place for competing information sites, such as adding feeds from the LA Fire Department.
The web also means writing differently. Search engine optimization, according to Safran, isn’t a magical science. It’s just using easily googled words over and over again so that your site comes up first - if you’re writing about a local fire, include the name, place and site of the fire so anyone searching for information will stumble upon it.
“Keywords are marketing,” Safran said.
He offered some key suggestions:
* Write literal headlines
* Think: How would my friends search this?
* Link out like crazy: Start with two links per story
* Keep updating as the story changes
* Use lots of RSS feeds
Safran reminded public radio leaders most traffic comes from search or aggregators, not from using the home page as a destination. So news outlets are really competing to be the RSS feed of choice.

November 03, 2009

Social media, Spider Man, and the new journalism

A list of five lessons in social media and how they translate for journalists today

I really enjoyed the post “Everything I Needed to Know About Social Media I Learned From Spider-Man.” After you read it, here’s the look at the lessons (bold face) with my thoughts (regular type):
1. Listen first. How many news organizations are using social media to push out your headlines but neglecting to find interesting community conversations that might inform news coverage? Success on social media requires abandoning the traditional idea of one-way media (from news organization to the public) and finding ways to tap into conversations and learn from them without intruding.
2. Be real. This remains a tough one for traditional journalists who came up on a notion that objectivity was a primary goal. Being “objective” often meant being detached and hiding personal perspectives (different from partisan opinion). Authenticity is a key requirement on social media. That doesn’t necessarily mean taking sides. It does mean being forthcoming about views and connections that underlie how you approach a story or issue.
3. Engage your audience through dialogue. For journalists, this means reconsidering your role as an information provider by adding the role of information facilitator. As I’ve said before, few of us who entered journalism in the last century knew much about participating in, even fostering conversation. Our job was to get the quote and write it up. But the Internet makes the playing field more level. Your users, or community, have something to add and journalists need to learn to hear them.
4. Involve your audience and use their feedback to improve your product. The days of building the perfect project (remember those print redesigns that took a year or more?) are over. Don’t wait, iterate. Assume your users will show you how to make your project better.
5. Build a community.Take some of that great effort that goes into creating quality craft and invest it in fostering conversation and community. Ultimately, it will make your journalism better because you’ll know more about the community you serve and what it needs from you. And you’ll strengthen you brand where it matters—on your home turf.
As Sven Larsen, the writer of the post, points out: “... the principles behind Social Media have been around for decades (and we should focus on those principles and not the latest flashy tools that help us put them in to practice).”
These principles are pretty simple. They do require a re-imagining of the role of the journalist and, as a practical matter, re-imagining by newsroom leaders of the priorities for the staff.
In a different post, Kevin Marks explains an emerging role in online community: “The communities that fail, whether dying out from apathy or being overwhelmed by noise, are the ones that don’t have someone there cherishing the conversation, setting the tone, creating a space to speak, and rapidly segregating those intent on damage.”
Who does that in your newsroom? It may seem daunting as resources dwindle. I think it’s necessary. Don’t wait. Iterate.

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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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