News Leadership 3.0

Posts tagged with: Knight Foundation

April 28, 2008

In Miami, a Reader Exchange Editor

New newsroom job tracks blogs, comments, online traffic
Herald becomes more sophisticated about the Web
How is your newsroom handling interactivity?

imageThe job title caught my eye right away. Reader Exchange Editor, Miami Herald. Exchange Editor. Exchange. It’s the first time I’ve heard a reader-related job title at a major news organization that captures the idea that digital interaction is a two-way, even multiple-way street. (Please let me know if there are others.)
The new Reader Exchange Editor, Shelley Acoca, got my attention quickly too. The challenge of user content and comments often induces eye-rolls, forlorn sighs or frustrated shrugs from those who have to manage it. Two minutes into a phone conversation with Acoca, I thought: She’s up to her eyeballs in this stuff and she’s loving it!
This is the second of two posts on the Miami Herald. As I explained here, Miami participated in Knight Digital Media Center’s Leadership Conference in 2007 and has implemented a number of organizational changes since then.
Like many news organizations, the Herald is learning an important new dance with readers. Rick Hirsch, Managing Editor/Multimedia, said creating the position was a recognition of the importance of user interaction to the future of the news organization.
“We feel pretty strongly here that the whole area of user content and comments and sharing of our our content, the desire people have to interact with our news is a really important part of our future. It’s an undeniable way things work now. We were moving into that space enthusiastically but randomly.” Hirsch said. So the Herald decided “We ought to have a really smart journalist engage with this content, interacting with people, studying how this develops, and really developing a strategy for us for this whole aspect of news and information in the digital space.”
Enter Acoca, who had shown her enthusiasm for developing user content in print and online with efforts including an art contest and a Hispanic cartoon contest as features editor.
Since taking over as Exchange Editor late last year,  Acoca has focused on:
- Bloggers. Hirsch said the idea was to elevate the quality of the Herald’s blogs, challenging bloggers the same way editors challenge other journalists. Acoca edits bloggers, as well as columnist Leonard Pitts. Her responsibilities include how-to coaching (what’s a widget?), working with journalists to develop concepts for successful blogs, and coordinating live chats. With the help of Mindy McAdams, Knight Chair in Journalism at the University of Florida, Acoca developed these guidelines for bloggers.
Acoca’s advice for new bloggers?
“Shout about your blog from the rooftops. Email your sources, other bloggers, bloggers you don’t know. Getting the word out is critical in insuring long-term success.
“And, oh yeah, have fun—this is *your* space in a way a traditional newspaper can’t be—the words, the pictures, the videos, the widgets. It offers a broad range of ways to express yourself. Experiment. Learn. Enjoy.”
- User comments. Under Acoca’s guidance, recently began requiring commenters to register, a switch that has mostly cleaned up offensive commenting and cut the total number of comments in about half. Based on the experience of other McClatchy newspapers, Acoca hopes that the number will slowly increase over time. “Mostly people have gotten it or they’ve gone elsewhere. It was very few people who were posting lots of bad comments all day long,” Acoca said. Since registration began in mid-March, Acoca said she has had to deny access to about one commenter per week for using offensive language after being warned.
Acoca is very enthusiastic about the value of commenting. Comments, she says, are a way for the public to get information that journalists might not be able to get.
- Online traffic. Acoca is trying to provide with a more sophisticated view of its online traffic, particularly tracking readers of different content seem to go onto the site so the Web site can serve up updates at times that make the most sense for different topics and readers.

Acoca is on the frontline of the changing role of news organizations in the digital age. “Part of it is community building. We aren’t the ones who are going to do that. We’re the facilitators. We should let other people take that ball and run with it. It’s worth reading the stuff that people put up there. they have some really good ideas. Newspapers lost ground for a lot of reasons. One of the reasons might be that we were victims of our own arrogance. we served up the same menu every day. The food we liked as opposed to the food they liked. Now we’re giving readers choices.”

Acoca also has a good vantage point for seeing change in the culture of the Miami newsroom. “We’re all learning together. That’s created a more collegial situation. It’s all learning from each other. There’s not big expert who can teach you everything any more. It’s a much more egalitarian thing.”

First, the leadership emphasized that she didn’t need to have all the answers right away. Rick Hirsch told her ” ‘Don’t worry if you have days when you don’t know what to do with yourself,’ ” Acoca recalls. I did have a lot of those days. There’s no map.”

If I were starting a new and challenging job, I think that’s one of the most helpful things the boss could say.

What are your strategies for engaging with the public online? Please join the conversation.

Patrick Hogan offered this comment when I mentioned the Reader Exchange Editor in an earlier post:
“The Reader Exchange Editor position is intriguing, although it’s something smaller papers (which you’ll find frequently have the same volume of comments or more), can’t afford”

That’s a very good point. At the same time, your newsroom might consider allocating even a few hours a week of a journalist’s time to reader issues that are a priority. For example, someone might be able to spend a few hours each week analyzing online traffic. Or developing resources on blogging and training bloggers. Try to identify the activity that will help your organization the most, right now. Set realistic goals and tease out a little time each week. I think you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.


August 21, 2008

Key performance indicators

Leadership report:
Analyzing numbers and ratios

This is one in a series of posts exploring key takeaways and tools from the Knight Digital Media Center’s recent conference, “Preparing News Organizations for the Digital Now,” and a follow up on yesterday’s post about the Web metrics presentation by Dana Chinn, a faculty member at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism,

An important takeaway from Chinn was the idea of the Key Performance Indicator for Web traffic.

Often, that KPI is not a simple number such as time on site or unique monthly visitors. Instead, the most meaningful information may be from a ratio or comparison of two different numbers. Chinn’s detailed report gives 12 examples of possible indicators:

Site health
1. Visits per unique visitor
2. Page views per visit

Driving traffic
3. Top entry and landing pages
4. Bounce rate
5. Conversion rate

6. Visitor frequency
7. Visitor recency
8. New vs. returning visitors
9. Most popular stories
10. Visits using internal search
11. Site exits after using internal search
12. Time spent during visits

Chinn has prepared a report, “Measuring Web Success in the Newsroom,” that gives details about each indicator on the list, including how to calculate it and how to make use of the results.

Here is one example: Visits per unique visitor

To calculate, divide the number of visits for a specified time period (say, one week) by the number of unique visitors for that time period.
An increase usually means users are coming more frequently. Frequency and recency indicators may give more detail.
A decrease usually means users are visiting the site less and becoming less engaged. There may be problems with content, design and navigation, refers from print or marketing efforts. Or new competition.

See previous posts about Chinn’s presentation here and here.

February 09, 2009

Ideas that get in the way of saving journalism, Part 1

First, we need to stop flatly equating good journalism with newspapers as more journalistic players enter the field.

We’ve seen a flurry of talk of late about ways to pay for journalism. (See Romenesko just about any day last week for a long menu.)

This is an important and urgent discussion. Important because good journalism is so valuable to our society. And urgent because the newspaper newsrooms that create most of the original reporting are struggling, caught in a vise of a declining business model burning in an accelerant of debt.

Like all debates, this one is generating some good ideas and some highly dubious ones. Ideally, a discussion like this brings the public to the table (since journalism is for them) and fosters experimentation with new models (since the old ones aren’t working).  Unfortunately, I am seeing time wasted on false premises that are more reflective of wishful thinking than reality. I want to explore three of them this week.

Here’s the first one:

Only the newspaper industry can create good journalism. (Related: Only large organizations can deliver quality journalism. Related: Information on the Internet is not credible.)

This conflation of journalism with the news industry is central to a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece by two Yale financial experts who contend that the way to save newspapers is to endow them as non-profits.

The piece starts by quoting Thomas Jefferson about the importance of newspapers to democracy in 1787: “If Jefferson was right that a well-informed citizenry is the foundation of our democracy, then newspapers must be saved.” The article never pauses to address new ways in which citizens can receive and contribute vital information more than two hundred years hence, except to note to assert, that “the Internet has the potential to be, in the words of the chief executive of Google, Eric Schmidt, ‘a cesspool’ of false information.”

There is a lot that is wrong in this article, and Dan Gillmor does a good job of probing its many flaws in “Endowing newspapers. What are we saving anyway?

Right now, the newspaper industry does produce the bulk of original reporting that we find in print and on the Internet. I think people appreciate that and feel a lot of sympathy for the struggles of newsrooms and the journalists who work in them.

But the superior performance of the Internet for a growing number of users and advertisers is transforming the journalism and the business model, and thought leaders in the industry itself recognize there is no going back.

As long as people believe that only the news industry equate newspapers-only with good journalism, the debate is heading down a blind alley. It might be possible to raise an endowment for a beloved newspaper in a few communities. But I don’t see a lot of monied people—much less taxpayers if that is proposed—willing to underwrite a product that is only one player, albeit an important one, in the field.

The future, I think, is a yet uninvented network of news sources that includes diminished newspaper companies that produce good journalism online but is not consistently dominated by them. Nonprofits play a role as do small, for-profit community start-ups and perhaps even micro-funding models.

This network produces a more diverse, chaotic and ultimately satisfying mix that enhances public knowledge and journalistic accountability. It values professional journalists who gather and present information and help make sense of the cacophony of voices that now form the news and information stream.

So “saving newspapers” is not “saving journalism.” But if journalism is saved, you can bet many newsrooms will be along for the ride.

I’ve got a couple more of questionable premises I want to discuss here later in the week. In the meantime, please share your thoughts in the comments. What ideas do you think best serve the transformation of journalism and what ones risk holding it back?

March 05, 2009

ProPublica joins the pro-am journalism movement

Citizen journalists cannot replace professionals. But professionals and amateurs can form powerful partnerships to create important journalism.

I often hear journalists refer to a widespread belief that citizens can replace professionals in producing journalism.

Here’s just one example from a column in the Vancouver Sun after the Rocky Mountain News closed: “Meanwhile, blogosphere chatter responds with gleefully patronizing pronouncements on how the ‘old media’ are toast, about to join the pterodactyl. The ‘new media’ leads the way to a promised land of free information and citizen journalism.”

As much as I sympathize with the angry or frightened journalists who say things like this, I’ve got to point out a couple of problems with such statements.

First, I have never seen anyone advocate that citizen journalists can replace professionals across the board. The notion does not ring true that any one feels glee at the decline of the newspaper business model that supports so much good journalism. (If you have examples, please share links in the comments.) I hear worry about this from citizens, techies and other new media folks as well.

Second, this either-or framing gets in the way of seeing the potential for professional-amateur partnerships that can produce good journalism. So I am going to make this Part 4 in my series on “Ideas that get in the way of saving journalism.”

A better idea is to figure out specific ways in which partnerships might work—how citizen journalists can enrich information in concert with professionals.

ProPublica takes a step in the right direction with the appointment of Amanda Michel as Editor of Distributed Reporting. “Michel will initially use crowd sourcing and collaborative journalism methods to report on the impact of the federal stimulus bill. She will also help integrate these newsgathering techniques into ProPublica’s other investigative efforts,” ProPublica says. (Link via Jay Rosen on Twitter. Rosen is a leader in developing pro-am models, including OffTheBus.)

Michel recently was director of OffTheBus, which organized citizen journalists to report on the presidential campaign for Huffington Post. CJR has Michel’s report on that effort. (I worked with Michel on Assignment Zero, which teamed amateur reporters and writers with professional editors to cover the trend of crowd sourcing two years ago.)

Find more examples of how newsrooms are using crowd sourcing to inform their coverage at BeatBlogging. The site offers many examples of topic blogs that are “extending the circle of reportage to include more users in ways that are practical and effective for production on the beat.” On these blogs, a professional reporter might discuss stories she is working on and invite interested users to comment, pose questions they would like a story to answer or report information.

Tapping into the crowd to produce journalism requires new ways of thinking and organizing. Michel notes in CJR that OffTheBus had 12,000 participants:

“It sounds impressive: twelve thousand people. But the challenge was not persuading them to sign up. It was figuring out what they were willing and able to do after that, and then cost-effectively coordinating their efforts so that they added up to real journalism. By Election Day, we had solved enough of that puzzle that I can now say to professional journalists: we found a viable pro-am model for advancing stories both around the globe and in your backyards, and you should take a serious look at it.”

The total price tag for the six-month effort is impressive too: $250,000.

Are you experimenting with the pro-am model? Please share your experiences and ideas in the comments.




March 17, 2009

In Philly, trial by Twitter

Twitter in the court: A juror creates an uproar with a tweet on jury deliberations in a high-profile corruption trial and Twitter rescues The Philadelphia Inquirer’s live blog report on the controversy

The Philadelphia Inquirer provided live blog coverage of the corruption trial of a Philadelphia-based state legislator since October. Things got really interesting and Twitter was involved as the trial came to a close earlier this week. I asked Chris Krewson, executive editor/online news, to describe what happened in this guest post.

UPDATE: Adds correction about Twitter use in reporting from courtroom. Internet connection did not fail but the reporter on the move found Twitter handy way to file breaking news updates.

By Chris Krewson
A federal jury was in recess for the weekend after nearing the end of its deliberations in the corruption trial of former Democratic State Sen. Vince Fumo - a legend in Philadelphia politics - when Inquirer City Editor Julie Busby called me Sunday night.

One of the jurors has been posting about the deliberations on his Facebook and Twitter (pages),” Busby said. “We’re posting our story.”

This began a series of social-media-inspired events that kept our users riveted to their computers and televisions through Monday morning, after four months of The Inquirer’s
gavel-to-gavel live coverage of the trial and exclusive reporting when the jury quickly delivered its decision on 137 counts.

The back story

Former state senator Vince Fumo has been on trial since October. Editor Bill Marimow had long wanted the newsroom to do a live blog of a trial, so The Inquirer reported live from inside the courtroom every day, using the CoverItLive platform for the immediacy it allows.

We also collected the audio through the PACER federal court document tracker service, and posted after the court recessed each day. All that is available on the page that collected our coverage.

Reporter Bob Moran, who was behind the keyboard in the courtroom most of that time, has this to say about the experience:

“Cameras are not allowed in federal courtrooms, so this was the closest thing to “live” coverage that anyone could offer. I don’t know what numbers the liveblog generated (ed note: When big names were on the stand, the live blog often topped the list of most-trafficked blogs on the site), but it did have a core audience from local and state politics and from the legal community in Philadelphia. Also, many people close to Fumo, including prominent politicians, were on his list of potential witnesses. As a result, they were barred from attending court, but had access to the proceedings through the live blog. We needed to get permission beforehand from U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Buckwalter to transmit from the courtroom. The AP reporter would file stories and updates from the courtroom, so what I was doing was not unprecedented - just different. And more immediate.”

So we settled into a routine of covering the trial in a very 21st-century way. And we discussed how to present the verdict to our users, settling on a graphic presentation of the charges over a photo of the ex-senator.

Our plans were nearly stalled by a text message, by a juror, on March 5, to his Twitter account.

The social media aspect

Our Page 1 story in The Inquirer on Monday describes what happened:

“Defense lawyers for former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo moved late yesterday for an immediate halt in jury deliberations and the removal of one juror, contending that the juror posted oblique remarks on and - including one declaring, “Stay tuned for a big announcement on Monday everyone!”

“The petition, filed on the eve of the scheduled sixth day of deliberations in Fumo’s federal corruption trial, stated that there was “substantial evidence” that the juror, who was not identified, had violated admonitions not to disclose the status of deliberations.”

In the newsroom, we prepared for a delay. One theory held that the juror would be dismissed and an alternate juror appointed, which would mean the two weeks of deliberations so far would be tossed out and begun anew.

An alternate juror was summoned to the judge’s chambers. As Moran tried to update developments, he had to move around so much that he could not live blog from his computer. (Note: Earlier post incorrectly reported that the internet connection failed.)

Twitter connection

Bob broke news on Twitter from his iPhone: First, that the alternate had been called to the hearing. Then, that the judge was allowing the original juror to remain.

Bob clarifies the chaotic situation inside the courtroom Monday:

“I went to the courthouse expecting to cover a hearing on the Facebook juror. No one outside the jury expected a verdict. The courtroom was closed and there were only a few people present roaming the halls. Then there were developments on several floors of the court building. At that point, I was calling in updates to the City Desk and posting basically the same stuff on Twitter ... I could not liveblog at that point because I had to keep moving. Once it was announced that a verdict was reached, I went into the courtroom, sat down and started to liveblog using CoveritLive. ... (so) it wasn’t Twitter to the rescue because a connection failed. It was Twitter being handy while I was being mobile, which was also the case when I had to stand around outside afterward.”

Finally, that the jury was very near a verdict. As in, they were ready to announce it that morning.

Bob logged back into Cover It Live as the jury assembled, and then began his live blog again.

The verdict

We’d tested out the very elaborate Flash graphic (at the top of this page), which would update as the verdict came in. We’d assumed that would take up to two hours for the foreman to work his or her way through all 137 counts, and timed the Flash accordingly. (Post initially reported incorrect number of counts.)

Instead, less than 30 minutes later, the jury convicted Fumo on all counts.

Our live blog provided us with an edge in posting this type of news that other local media could not match. While nearly every TV station broadcast news of the verdict shortly after we did, Moran’s rolling updates were far superior to every other report available.

Indeed, the Fox owned-and-operated station showed a reporter outside the newsroom reading our live blog on camera, with the anchor occasionally noting that the reporting was coming from a live blog.

(Local independent journalist Amy Z. Quinn chided them on Twitter and on her blog, Citizen Mom.)

The results

Our users were hooked. Twitter users re-posted news of the verdict and our coverage; viewership of the story and blog announcing the verdict were among the top 5 items viewed on through the day.

More importantly, The Inquirer’s newsroom was involved in breaking a story using Twitter, which will pay exponential dividends in our coverage over the next few months.

May 17, 2009

‘The thing we’re losing is far from perfect’

USC Annenberg journalism director Overholser offers 10 important observations about journalism today

Geneva Overholser opened Knight Digital Media Center’s News Entrepreneur Boot Camp Saturday with a terrific list of 10 observations about journalism. No. 3 resonated most with me. Here’s the full list:

1. “It’s the public. It’s the public, stupid.” Journalists need to hold themselves “accountable for the impact of what we do on the public.”

2. “Reinforcements are on the way” in the form of smart, creative students who are dedicated to journalism.

3. “The thing we’re losing is far from perfect.” The news industry “left out wide swaths of the community,” including women and people of color. “We didn’t listen. We created false equivalencies.”

4. “We need to keep the principles, not the rules.” And the last principle standing must be transparency.

5. “There are lots of legitimate ways of doing journalism.”

6. With props to Clay Shirky: “Nothing will work but everything might.”

7. Find ways to collaborate. Focus on what only your news organization can do.

8. Communities do need journalism. Play a leadership role in the community

9. “We are not alone.” Others, such as the film industry, are struggling with the changing media dynamics.
10. Help others report information, including non-governmental organizations on the frontlines.

Overholser closed with an admonition for those who are discussing the future of journalism:

“Resist the urge to pronounce. This is not a duel. It should be a debate about the next steps for journalism in the public interest.”

Overholser is Director of the School of Journalism at USC Annenberg School for Communication. KDMC is partnering with the USC Marshall School of Business and the Online Journalism Review to provide the intensive week long boot camp for more than a dozen journalists who are developing online news and information projects.


August 18, 2009

In California’s state finance meltdown, State Worker blog flourishes

Formula for success: Hot issue, big interest group and an inclusive approach make this blog’s most popular

The Sacramento Bee and blogger Jon Ortiz have a winning formula with the State Worker Blog, which recently passed its one-year anniversary chronicling California state government’s financial meltdown from the perspective of its employees.

It started with a hot running issue that’s lasted a lot longer than many expected. It has a well-defined constituency of about 240,000 state workers. It got 52,000 hits its first week in late July 2008, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger threatened to pay state workers only the federal minimum wage until he settled a budget dispute with the Legislature.

Since then, monthly hits have increased more than ten fold, it gets somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 unique visitors monthly and it’s the most popular blog on

Ortiz has taken those advantages a step further with the goal of covering “politics from the bottom up, instead of the traditional top down way” that focuses on officials,  press conferences and other events. “Instead my aim has always been to go from the ground up and talk about how the troops in the trenches see these battles.”

“It’s an exchange,” Ortiz said in an interview. “It’s not writing about them. It’s more than that. It’s letting their knowledge permeate the journalism.”

The result is a blog that attracts frequent comments. Ortiz said he also gets about 200 e-mails a day, many of them tips that turn into stories.

Ortiz estimates about half the blog commenters are state employees and about half are not. He targets a weekly print column at a more general readership.

He tries to post three times a day. “Many times the news will drive me beyond that.” Once he had 10 posts in a day. “The news just kept hammering me.”

Ortiz offered advice for anyone starting a blog:

1. Get to know your audience.
Get out and talk with people. Ortiz occasionally posts an open invitation to lunch on Twitter and 10-12 people may show up.

2. Pay attention to the comments.  Elevate comments that are particularly thoughtful or provocative into the main blog or set up a feature to highlight good comments. Respond to questions in comments. Let people know you’re looking at what they’re saying.

“There’s a lot of flaming between commenters, and sometimes they take shots at my journalism, but I view it all as part of the conversation,” Ortiz said. “And I sometimes get good tips or suggestions in comments, so I always read them.”

Ortiz is enthusiastic about the way the blog enables users to participate. “There’s no way we can learn everything there is to know about state government. There are people who know more than we do. We can fight that or we can embrace it and I chose to embrace.”

September 07, 2009

Growthspur: Help for revenue-challenged journalists?

In a guest post, news entrepreneur Michael McCarthy takes a look at Mark Potts’ new effort to help small local sites and blogs be financially sustainable

Michael McCarthy is editor of Seattle/LocalHealthGuide, which covers health care issues in Washington. McCarthy is a KDMC news entrepreneur fellow this year. I asked him to post occasionally on what he’s learning as he works to make his site a going concern.

By Michael McCarthy

Recently, an advertiser called me and asked if she could advertise on my site. And, frankly, I didn’t really know what to say. Since I launched 10 months ago, I’ve been concentrating on creating content, establishing credibility, and building traffic. My plan was to go to advertisers when my monthly uniques hit 20,000, which it should do this month. But right now, I don’t even have a rate card.
Pathetic, I know.
So I may well be the ideal customer for the services of a new company called Growthspur, which was launched a few weeks ago. The company aims to make small local sites and blogs financially sustainable by providing training, tools, and a network that will allow them to sell ads and develop other revenue streams.
“Ad sales is not your area of expertise,” Mark Potts, Growthspur’s CEO, said diplomatically in a phone interview, “you’re a journalist, you know how to be a journalist, and you’ve stayed away from that dirty side of the business that was ad sales.”
“But now you’ve to learn about it if you want stay alive. And you’ve got to know about ad serving, you’ve got to know about coupon technology, mobile technology, analytics.”
This, I’m afraid, is true.
Pott has put together a team with considerable experience in developing Web sites, in particular local sites.
* Potts, Growthspur’s CEO, was co-founder of Washington Post Digital and and is now a consultant who blogs at Recovering Journalist.
* Dave Chase is a former marketing and management executive at Microsoft including its early local effort, and now a partner at the consulting firm Altus Alliance and owner and publisher of the local news site SunValleyOnline. (Chase is also a contributor to the Knight Digital Media Center’s Online Journalism Review.)
* Tom Davidson, who advises start-ups and academic institutions on digital strategies and a former VP, Tribune Interactive, became a program consultant for the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism this summer.
* Mel Taylor is a Web ad sales consultant and trainer, who develops online revenue strategies for broadcast, print and online-only publishers.
There is a wealth of news content being produced by small local sites, Potts said. “Any good-sized city you could mention now has 20, 30, or 40 interesting blogs covering everything from sports to parenting to personal injury law” but most are struggling to survive. Many new media journalists have “have plunged in without fully realizing what it takes to do it on a sustainable basis,” Potts said. “And that’s the opportunity we’ve identified.”
Pott believes there are local advertisers who want to reach the local audiences these sites attract and he estimates that a well-run local site in a mid-sized city should be able to bring in more than $100,000 a year in revenue from advertising, e-commerce and other sources.
The challenge is to bring these advertisers and Web sites together.
Growthspur will provide the training, tools, and networks that will make that possible, Potts says.
The training will include an operational manual, a “cookbook that explains everything you need to know about monetizing a site,” Potts said, and seminars “to teach people what it is to sell ads, how you identify prospects, how you develop your rate card.”
Growthspur will also provide access to an advertiser-management platform and other tools, such as applications that allow advertisers to create and place their own ads automatically, greatly reducing the cost of ad production for the Web publisher.
Finally, Growthspur will develop metro-wide Web networks creating a one-stop shop, where advertisers can easily buy ad space across the network’s sites with one transaction.
While one local site might have relatively few visitors, a network of sites could provide the kind of exposure many advertisers would be happy to pay for, Potts said.
And what will Growthspur charge for its services? That’s yet to be determined, says Potts, but it will be based on a percentage of the Web sites’ ad sales and there’ll be no up-front charges.
“Our belief is if we can significantly increase their revenue, they’ll feel our service fee is very well justified,” says Potts.

October 22, 2009

At Slate, small is the new big

Editor David Plotz sees a future with a smaller, highly engaged audience for the online magazine

I took heart from a talk this week by Slate editor David Plotz, who suggested a viable revenue future for his online magazine lies not in its approximately seven million unique visitors but in about 500,000 loyal, engaged users who want quality, long form journalism.

Plotz spoke at the Missouri School of Journalism, where I am a Reynolds Journalism fellow this year. Missouri awarded Slate an Honor Medal this year.

More sophisticated ways of measuring usership and engagement will change focus from mass audience, Plotz believes, and that will make journalism better. Raw numbers create “pressure to produce one kind of story” that will draw hits. New metrics of engagement and behavior offer a “tremendous opportunity for Web journalism to escape the traffic” trap. He believes that will liberate Slate to “make a magazine that recognizes those dedicated readers.”

“Until now we’ve been selling to the mass audience. Now once you have this abiltity to target you can really target your core audience… This creates strong incentive to create durable journalism,” Plotz said. “That one curious reader is worth 50 times the value of the drive-by reader. The person who makes a commitment to your brand, if you’re a quality brand….. if you can get those readers, a smaller set of readers, who come to you three or five or 10 times a week, you don’t have to go after that huge other set of readers.”

So forget celebrity and outrage stories. For Slate, this focus means a commitment to long form journalism such as a recent series on the American dental crisis, which Plotz estimates was read by 400,000 people. Slate has started a “Fresca Fellowship” that requires each reporter and editor to spend a month each year on a long form journalism project. Advertisers have begun to sponsor specific projects and they are paying for themselves, he said.

“Advertisers want to be around some ambitious project more than they want to be around some snarky political column,” Plotz said.

While excited about this new opportunity on the Web, Plotz cautioned Missouri journalism students that they face a career path that will require them to know more than journalism: social media, audio and video production, even some coding and fluency with content management systems. The new journalists may have to fight for time away from breaking news to focus intensely and develop projects.

Plotz thinking about a smaller engaged audience is similar to what could emerge in local news markets as news organizations pay more attention to small, under served advertisers. Serving up big numbers of unengaged users won’t ultimately help these advertisers. Developing loyal, engaged user communities holds more promise.

What do you think? Are mass metrics on the way out in your news organization? What are you measuring as an alternative?


November 09, 2009

Good ideas from J-Lab’s New Media Women Entrepreneurs summit

Dozens of women gather in DC to hear ideas and best practices from women who have started community news Web sites and are learning how to make them thrive

I’m at J-Lab‘s New Media Women Entrepreneurs 2009 Summit in Washington, D.C., where women who have started community news Web sites are talking about what they’ve learned and what works. It’s a packed room packed with great ideas. Here are some that I’ve heard so far:

* The way to get people to cover community events is to let them know that an event they want covered won’t be covered unless they do it. Several speakers emphasized this, including and
* Edit them so they don’t need to feel self conscious about coming off as bragging about their kid or an activity they’re involved in., edits all stories, often asking for revisions, and then copy edits them.
* At the beginning, people are suspicious when someone from a new community news site shows up to cover a meeting or event. Later, if someone from the news site doesn’t show up, people ask where they were. This is the case at
* Founders are often most concerned about opening up community debate in small towns where the power structure is fairly closed. say this was a primary factor in their starting up. also sought to open political discourse and participation.
* These sites often are all or mostly volunteer, a mix of non-profits and sites that sell advertising. Those who sell ads say they have to educate those who use print advertising about how interactive online advertising will work for them. One site, made $50,000 the first year
* Prospective citizen journalists do not have time for deep journalism training. At minimum, train citizens who want to report in basic journalistic principles of fairness, accuracy and transparency. If they want more, offer training in constructing and writing stories. also offers training in opinion writing for those who want to write blogs. training includes how to cover government, how to do podcasts.
* Training for citizen journalists is as much about bettering civic discourse as it is about recruiting contributors for the site at Training that focuses on doing works better than training that focuses on learning.
* Transparency is important with citizen reporters. They often will want to write about something they know a lot about. Make sure their connection to what they are writing about is disclosed.
* In larger communities such as Madison and Twin Cities, community sites aggregate and republish in addition to creating their own content. aggregates and curates content tries to feature good blogs and nonprofit reports on the front page of the site with permission.
* Unedited reader contributions are labeled as such. puts these contributions in a “Free Speech Zone” with a disclaimer.

(Please excuse mislinks. Terriible wifi here so I’m not checking them before posting.)

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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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