News Leadership 3.0

July 25, 2012

The “Evening Edition” approach to community news curation

By Amy Gahran

Last week some web designers and an editor joined forces to revive the “evening edition” approach to news—long a staple of the newspaper business, which catered to news consumers’ availability and willingness to catch up on the news during evening hours.

The new Evening Edition website demonstrates a curation strategy that community and niche news publishers could emulate and expand upon in order to more effectively engage their readers, especially via mobile devices…

The idea for Evening Edition sprang from a July 9 tweet from former NYTimes.com design director Khoi Vinh: iPad suggests ‘evening newspaper’ habits; tablet owners consumer more news than those who don’t own tablets.”

The web designers at Mule Design took that idea and ran with it. Just one week later Evening Edition launched—with Paz on board as editor, and sponsorship from Mother Jones. And no ads.

Evening Edition is devastatingly simple: An experienced editor, Anna Rascouët-Paz, sorts through the day’s news and assembles a single page of news: six or so important stories spanning a wide range of topics, published on the web every day at 5 p.m. The design is clean, easy on the eyes, and loads quickly and well on a tablet or cell phone browser—no need to download an app, no sifting through voluminous bundles of stories under section heads. Links to the original stories are included, so readers who want more can get more easily.

This is truly a curation effort, not mere aggregation. ReadWriteWeb noted that Paz “often combines several sources into a concise summary. It draws on other people’s reporting, like just about all of what passes as news these days—but Evening Edition performs a critical journalistic function that often falls by the wayside online: It elevates the significant information above the noise.”

And that’s a significant bonus, since (as GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram observed):

“Sifting through vast quantities of information in order to show people the important stuff is what newspapers are supposed to do, but many newspaper websites and even mobile apps still shovel an enormous amount of content at users with very little filtering. ...Why do they do this? Because they have hundreds of reporters and editors whose job it is to pump out thousands of articles a day for the print edition, and the website gets all of that and more.

“It’s a supply-oriented approach to information, rather than a demand-oriented one. In effect, a newspaper website says to a reader: ‘Here’s all the things we came up with today, which you may or may not be interested in.’ Something like Evening Edition, however, says: ‘We know that you are busy, and overwhelmed with information, and we want to help you—here’s what you need to know.’”

This is a great idea, and the best part about it is this is not rocket science.

Any news publisher or editor could emulate this approach to launch a curated and highly relevant digital news product. In fact, community and niche news publishers might be in an especially good position to use this strategy to add value to readers and engage audiences daily via mobile devices.

Consider this: Community news editors constantly peruse a variety of news and information, and glean from that relevance to the communities they serve. They also have a strong sense of what matters or is most important to their communities—and often they also have a strong historical perspective on their community.

A community news site could launch its own “evening edition”—which might be a separate website, or a section of its current site. The design would be clean and spare, emulating Mule Design’s Evening Edition. The handful (three to six?) stories curated there could be a mix of the publisher’s own top stories, as well as top stories from other news venues (say, the nearest metro daily paper or network TV news affiliate) or other resources (state or local governments, local school systems or institutions, blogs, nonprofits, etc.). The editor could also add insight and context, highlighting the direct relevance to the community.

For instance, a community site in California might mention and link to the Oakland Tribune’s coverage of Pacific Gas & Electric’s new solar plans—and relate it to nearby solar projects. The community news publisher’s main site might not have a specific story on this—and might not even run one—but by putting this issue on the community radar, that publisher is offering a service based on context and convenience.

Who’s going to pay for this? I think Evening Edition is on the right track that ads would be a bad mix for this aesthetically spare service—but sponsorship might be an option. It’s a discrete project that could gain prime-time local popularity, and thus might be an attractive sponsorship offering for local businesses, foundations, or other organizations.

Since this publishing strategy relies on the web, rather than apps, to deliver a good mobile experience, that makes is less costly and technically simpler to implement. It could also be supplemented with an e-mail edition that would be pushed out at the same time the web edition goes live.

It’ll be interesting to see Evening Edition evolve. But for now, it’s an interesting option not just for the national and global news of the day, but for smaller more focused news audiences.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

July 18, 2012

Lobbying for online-only legal notices: How community publishers can take action

By Amy Gahran

In the recently concluded session of the NY State Assembly, two bills that would have allowed online-only publication of legal notices failed to pass—but that won’t stop Howard Owens, publisher of the online-only community news site The Batavian, from continuing to push for this potential revenue stream.

“If you decide to pursue this option, accept that it’s a multi-year effort,” he said. And he offered some insight and advice for other community news publishers seeking to lobby for online-only legal notices…

Dry, stodgy legal notices are not exactly compelling content for most news audiences—but at least theoretically they’re an important part of civil society.

States currently have a variety of laws require these noticed to be published in daily print newspapers, in order to give every citizen a chance to see them. The intent is to keep the public informed, but in practice these requirements seem to do more to fund print newspapers than enhance civic participation.

Earlier this year, legal blogger Kevin O’Keefe recalled: “I bought a ton of legal notices as a practicing lawyer over almost 20 years, whether it be of a foreclosure, service of process by publication, or the seizure of assets. I was then required to file proof of publication with the court. It seemed like an outdated process even 30 years ago. I don’t ever recall anyone responding because they saw a notice in the newspaper. I skimmed the notices to see the work my competitor law firms were doing. I’m not sure who else read the notices.”

Aside from NY State, in recent years there have been similar efforts in New Jersey, California, North Carolina, Michigan and other states.

The NY State bills only addressed legal notices placed by governments (such as city councils), not by attorneys. But still, it was an effort to overturn the monopoly print newspapers have had on online legal notice publishing for many decades.

“If these had passed, it wouldn’t have meant a ton of revenue for us, but it would have been something extra,” said Owens. “Around here local governments are spending $2000-4000 per year on legal notice. That’s not enough to hire a full-time reporter, but this business is all about cultivating multiple revenue streams. It all adds up.”

Traditionally journalists shy away from lobbying activities, but publishers have always been involved with lobbying efforts. “I’m not doing anything that’s not standard business practice,” Owens said. “And I’ve learned a lot about how NY State law works.”

The first step in lobbying for online-only legal notices, said Owen, is to involve your direct state representative. Two years ago Owens had his initial contact on this topic with his NY Assemblyman, Stephen Hawley. “He introduced the bill that year. It failed to pass, so he reintroduced it for the 2011-12 session. It was essentially the same language,” said Owens. Another Assemblyman, Democrat Kevin Cahill, picked up Hawley’s language in a separate bill.

Predictably, print newspapers tend to lobby actively against such measures—even at the local level. “Our direct competitor sent a letter to city council and legislature opposing it. Tom Turnbull [publisher of the local paper, the Batavia Daily News] sent a letter urging the Batavia City Council to oppose these bills. But they voted unanimously to support them. That’s amazing. It used to be that city councils would never blatantly oppose the local newspaper,” he said.

If your state rep doesn’t want to take on this issue, Owens advises working with online-only community publishers in other parts of your state whose reps are more interested.

It also helps to educate local governments and other stakeholders in how allowing online-online legal ads can benefit communities. In May Owens published an FAQ for local governments in the Batavian’s coverage area, explaining the bills then before the legislature and their possible benefits. For instance:

Q. How will citizens benefit from online legal notices?

A. Online publication opens up a wealth of opportunities for legal notice enhancements, from maps, links to related data, searching, greater and wider distribution (think Google), and continuous archives.

Q. But not everybody has access to a computer or the Internet. Won’t this deny those people an opportunity to view legal notices?

A. The flip answer is, not everybody reads a newspaper. The truth is, neither paper nor online have a monopoly on readership…

Owens also observed that allowing online-only legal notices could also help keep afloat newspapers which have to cut back on daily print publishing—as long as they keep publishing legal notices daily online.

Recently Poynter reported: “With The Times-Picayune planning to stop printing daily on Oct. 1, the clerk of civil district court for Orleans Parish has named Gambit, the weekly newspaper, its official publication for notices related to its proceedings. The change is effective Aug. 1.”

What’s next? Owens said that his representative plans to introduce this bill again in the upcoming legislative session, and he notes that some other community news sites in NY have expressed support. Politics keeps changing, and a new session may bring new receptiveness.

According to one online-only community publisher in NY: “I spoke to a local legislator a year or so ago who initially said this bill had a fat chance in NY State. I looked at his campaign contributions and found the publisher of my dead-tree competitor, who he mentioned had spoken to him about the issue, had contributed thousands of dollars to him over the years. He had a laundry list of phony excuses, too. This year I saw him again and he seemed more, uh, optimistic. And I noticed, too, that the publisher had not contributed that year.”

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.    

The Knight Digital Media Center at USC is a partnership with the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. The Center is funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.  

July 11, 2012

How RJI’s mobile news research could expand to benefit community news

By Amy Gahran

This summer, Roger Fidler of the University of Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute has been releasing the results of his detailed research into how people are using mobile devices to access news.

This is an excellent resource for major national and metro news organizations. Here are a few thoughts on how this kind of research might be extended to also benefit community and niche news outlets—an important emerging part of the digital news landscape…

From January through March, RJI staff interviewed more than 1,000 people contacted via randomly selected phone numbers. More than half were cell phone numbers. The results were published in three parts:


This was an appreciable undertaking, and the results are useful, especially to large news outlets. But to benefit smaller community news outlets, more examination of nuance would be helpful. If this research project is to be continued or extended, RJI might consider adding questions to explore three vital topics:

1. Distinguish between national/metro vs. community/local news. According to RJI’s survey, 63% of mobile device owners use these devices to “keep up with the news”—and these people spend an average of five hours per week doing this.

However, RJI apparently did not distinguish between national, global, state, and metro area news vs. community or hyperlocal news. Asking specifically about how people use mobile devices to access community news might be revealing.

This could complement the excellent September 2011 Pew Internet report, How People Learn About Their Local Community. It included a section on the role of mobile devices and social networks, which noted that 25% of all adults said they use mobile devices to get news about their local community.

2. Ask about text alerts. A simple text message is more like “lean media” than “rich media.” RJI’s research focused on mobile media devices—a key characteristic of which was that they “are designed primarily for consuming and interacting with mixed-media content.”

This definition left feature phones and texting out of the picture. But according to comScore’s latest estimate, over half of U.S. mobile handsets in use still are feature phones.

Aside from the fact that feature phones remain popular in many communities (particularly for low-income households and seniors), and that many models now come with web browsers, virtually every mobile phone can send and receive text messages. And aside from voice calls, texting is the most popular thing that mobile users in all demographics do with their phones—even on smartphones.

Opt-in text alerts can be a powerful tool to drive mobile users to mobile news—mixed, rich, or otherwise. And they can be particularly useful for community news publishers.

3. Ask about sharing or posting photos or video. People use their phones (even feature phones) to take and share photos or videos of what they see around them. This is an inherently local activity, usually with far greater relevance to local publishers and communities than mass media news outlets.

RJI’s survey inquired about “creating and managing content” which they defined as “creating, editing or managing non-work or education-related content such as documents, photos, videos, music.” This is valuable, but within that large category it’s photos and videos which are most likely to have specific news value or community relevance. Understanding more about mobile users’ propensity to create or enhance news coverage, as well as consume news, would benefit all news outlets—but probably especially community news publishers.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The Knight Digital Media Center at USC is a partnership with the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. The Center is funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

July 03, 2012

Baltimore Fishbowl: Newspaper, not

By Julia Scott
Tearing away the boundaries of her newspaper mentality - all that’s fit to print - enables Susan Dunn to create engaging content that mattered to readers on Baltimore Fishbowl.
Tidbits on where regular folks eat lunch? Yes. Looky loo real estate porn? Absolutely. Creative non-fiction? No joke - the most popular content on the site.

Dunn’s Baltimore Fishbowl doesn’t make much money, but with readers, “it kills.”

The site gets 25,000 unique monthly visitors and more than 60,000 page views in a month.

Ad sales - $300 for a month-long display ad on the homepage - don’t yet cover expenses. Dunn, 49, knows she needs three times her current roster of advertisers to be profitable. Hiring a full time ad sales rep is a priority. Rarely do ad sales “just happen,” Dunn said. “Someone has to make a concerted effort.”

But her business plan gives the site plenty of time to grow - three years to be exact - before the investment money runs out.

Baltimore Fishbowl is Dunn’s second entrepreneurial jaunt. She bounced between writing gigs, a cancer scare, and motherhood before pitching her idea to a friend at a Baltimore Ravens game in 2009. The friend, who Dunn insisted remain anonymous, became her only investor.

A year and a half later, in May 2011, she launched the culture-focused online magazine.

Her first mistake?

“I really wanted to honor the writer,” Dunn said. “I paid them way too much.”  Rates ranged from 35 cents to as much as 50 cents per word, while newspapers paid 10 cents. “I wanted quality. I still want that. But you need to last. You need to be judicious about how you spend your dollars.”

Now Dunn is the only full timer, with a handful of contributors and columnists.

The site is updated 12 to 15 times a day, a reflection of Dunn’s philosophy: “The more content you have, the more traffic you have.”

She pays $20-$25 a post for freelancers while core team members earn $850-$1,200 per month. Her expenses add up to a few thousand a month.

Dunn bristles at the suggestion that press releases do not belong on a news site. Releases are cheap (Dunn edits them herself) and are quick to post.  And besides, she gave up on trying to be an online version of a newspaper long ago.

“I really do not think like a newspaper,” Dunn said.” We do not think there is anything too precious to print. I really don’t feel guilty or try to measure up to what a newspaper does.”

The upside to Dunn’s broad definition of what belongs on the site is that she can more actively engage her readers. The site is a place to have a conversation with her Baltimore community. She trashed the typical newspaper approach - that the writers and editors fill a superior role of “knower of all.”

Other lessons Dunn passed on:

* Social media works more than you think. Require writers to “push out” their stories through Facebook and Twitter. For your own stories, set aside an hour a week to email links to online publishers who might be interested in linking back.

*Use tools (such as Google Analytics) to analyze where your traffic is coming from and what stories are popular with readers. What topics get clicks time and time again? What time of day do readers go online? How long do they stay on your site?

*Commit to writing a lot or to hiring other writers. Relying on free content from volunteers gets old fast. A minimum of 10 posts a day is essential, Dunn has found. She also publishes everyday to build a consistent track record with readers.

*Don’t spend a lot of money building a custom website. Dunn hired a local firm to build a Drupal-based site but the project became so complicated that she switched to WordPress, which has many tools and software available.

Julia Scott founded the money-saving blog, BargainBabe.com. Scott and Dunn are alumni of KDMC’s News Entrepreneur Boot camp, Scott in 2009 and Dunn in 2011.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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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.

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