News Leadership 3.0

Posts tagged with: Knight Foundation

May 15, 2012

At Content Creators, journalists practice their craft and get paid

By Julia Scott
Tim Collie stumbled upon a universal truth while building his news startup, Content Creators. “Most people don’t like their website.” The design is bad, or they don’t know how to upload videos. The content stagnates, and the site becomes a calling card appended with excuses.

Imagine then, that you get a cold call from Collie, 51.

“We’re story tellers,” his pitch goes. “We’ve looked at your website. We believe we can help provide you with content and videos.”

Talk about full service. Content Creators offers ghostwriting, editing, website design, photography, video, social media, and any other kind of content creation you can think of. Folks who design websites don’t typically follow up by providing content and keeping the thing bug-free. image

Content Creators does. In fact, it is rare that they are hired to create a website and not contribute the content.

It’s one reason why the start up, barely three years old, makes enough to pay out of state college tuition for Collie’s two sons.

“We are willing to work with people who have basic skills,” he said. Not that he and his two partners, photographer and videographer Andrew Innerarity and business manager Jodie Knofsky, have left their day jobs. Collie edits the political news website

Content Creators is based in South Florida and covers three counties, Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade. Instead of having a main office, Collie and his partners work from home and on the road. “We’re kind of virtual,” he said. “We can move anywhere.”

Eighty percent of the work is done by Collie and his two partners. The rest is contractors. Expenses are minimal. Gas money eats up a chunk of change. Indemnity insurance is another big ticket at a few hundred bucks a month.

Revenue streams are packed into each contract, which may cover a particular project or include monthly services. Individual videos run roughly $1,000 a minute. Monthly contracts range from $6,000-$10,000. Website creation costs between $5,000 and $10,000.

Bootstrapping means the marketing budget is non-existent. Marketing is not a skill inherent to Collie or his partners, and hiring a marketing professional is not financially appealing. So Collie does it himself.

“Our marketing is very primitive,” he said. “I literally printed out a list of non profits in South Florida and started cold calling. There wasn’t a methodical market research.”

When he gets busy marketing falls by the wayside, which leads to dead periods during which he restarts his cold calling. Many gigs are word of mouth referrals or through informal talks Collie gives on social media and storytelling. If Collie had to point to one failure, it would be running a business. He got into an entrepreneurial mindset at KDMC’s News Entrepreneur Boot Camp in May 2009, but struggles with cash flow. Tracking down bills is not a strong point. (Disclosure: I attended Boot Camp with Collie.)

“I think journalists should stick to being journalists, but find a business mind who likes journalism who can do the business,” he said.

Another tip Collie and his crew picked up early on is being involved in selecting subjects to be on camera. The person a client wants on screen may not be a great speaker, or particularly polished.

A perk to hiring Content Creators is that the firm works in two languages other than English, including Haitian Creole, and Spanish. Portuguese is next on the list.

Clients also get top access. It’s not uncommon for Collie’s cell phone to buzz with a plea to provide video coverage in a few hours.

Just as important, perhaps, as full service is the company’s focus on non-profits. Content Creators retains a journalistic sense of purpose to their work, an approach that dovetails with the non-commercial mission statements of its clients.

Content Creators covers many of the same subjects Collie dealt with as a foreign war correspondent for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the The Tampa Tribune: Islam and women, drug use, sex trafficking, human genetics, senior issues, HIV.

The videos are powerful stuff. One meshes five women’s voices to tell how each triumphed over dismal circumstances. Another juxtaposes one man’s vision of a drug high with the life-threatening reality.

It’s a kind of journalism that nods to the reality of our industry, where entrepreneurial news veterans can practice their craft and still get paid.

Julia Scott is the founder of the money-saving blog

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

June 19, 2012

Time for a better breed of local/mobile ad network for community sites

By Amy Gahran

Theoretically, community publishers and local advertisers have much to gain from the rise of mobile advertising. But so far there’s a huge practical obstacle: the way the mobile ad market works isn’t very friendly to the little guys. Yet.

Small sites each scrambling to sell their own digital ads will probably never solve this revenue conundrum. But perhaps a new kind of mobile ad network—one that’s self-serve for small local advertisers and that pays off better for small local publishers who collaborate—could crack this market efficiently…

Selling ads is a perpetual challenge for community publishers. It takes a lot of work to sell a few small ads to local businesses and organization for relatively little money.

My Oakland Local cofounder Susan Mernit recently observed that community news sites can offer advertisers a significant advantage: relevance, which drives audience. But: “The bad news: it’s economically brutal. What newspapers have that the hyperlocals don’t is infrastructure and scale. ...A lot of the great money is in regional and co-op ad buys, which most hyperlocal sites are not set up to handle.”

Recently I’ve been researching mobile advertising and ad networks, ever since I read GigaOm’s excellent April 2012 report, The Promise of Hyperlocal Opportunities for Publishers and Developers (subscription required).

I see a gap in the market that could be bridged in a way to support community publishers and local advertises. Here are the pieces of this problem:

1. Local publishers have little/no ad salesforce. Most community publishers have a sales staff of one or two people, if that. That limits how many local advertisers they can contact and educate, and how many deals they can execute. It would be nice if more ads came to them—perhaps through a truly local-friendly mobile ad network.

2. Local advertisers lack knowledge, creative. Most potential local advertisers still don’t understand the value of online advertising on local sites. They also generally aren’t aware of how mobile media is booming and revolutionizing the way people discover local information.

Furthermore, the ads most local advertisers have created for print media generally don’t work well in a digital context, especially mobile media. It can be a big deal to expect them to generate new creative specifically for mobile—they don’t have the time, expertise, or inclination.

3. Most mobile ads stink, especially on the small screen of a cell phone. Tablets are great at displaying larger ads similar to what you’d see in print media, and even rich media ads with video or interactivity. But mobile is fast becoming the most common way people access the internet—and most of that is happening on smartphones, not tablets.

Most mobile ad networks serve banner or other display ads to appropriately sized slots in mobile websites and apps, where users hopefully will click on them if they’re interested enough. That’s a really big “if,” since a small banner ad on a small screen rarely conveys enough info to warrant a click.

Also, astonishingly, many mobile ads don’t link to mobile-friendly landing pages. This frustrates mobile users, and it’s part of why mobile display ads usually have abysmal clickthrough rates—which leaves most advertisers dissatisfied.

4. Mobile ad networks aren’t self-serve enough, yet. While more mobile ad networks are serving geotargeted ads from small and medium-sized local businesses, they generally don’t offer self-serve tools that help smaller advertisers create their own mobile ads. If you already have mobile ad creative ready to upload, fine—but that’s not the case for the vast majority of local advertisers.

5. Mobile ads and mobile landing pages are created separately. Mobile users want to do stuff, right away—not just passively absorb info. They typically want the kind of actionable information that’s found on mobile-friendly landing pages: clickable phone numbers, a map showing the location, business hours, a basic description of what the advertiser offers, current specials, etc.

There are several services (like and MoBistro) that make it easy and inexpensive for a small business to create mobile landing pages which can serve as the destination for mobile ads. But I haven’t yet seen one that also generates standard-size mobile display ads based on the content of a landing page.

6. Community publishers can’t easily join forces to create a local or regional mobile ad market. Right now, community news sites compete against each other—as well as traditional news outlets—for local advertisers. Community publishers can individually sign up to carry ads from mobile ad networks, but I haven’t yet seen a way for sites from a given area to form a local publisher group within a mobile ad network to jointly display ads targeted at a particular city, metro area, or other region.

If they could organize such groups within an existing mobile ad network with robust delivery and analytics capability, smaller publishers might become palatable for regional or other large ad buys—thus meeting the business need Mernit identified. This might help them attract more high-dollar ads from regional or national brands, as well as smaller local advertisers.


What if a mobile ad network decided to take full advantage of the long tail of both sides of the local advertising business: site/app owners and local advertisers. They could:

  • Offer easy web-based self-serve tools that let non-tech-savvy advertisers create mobile landing pages as well as standard-size mobile ads based on the content from those landing pages, with tracking and analytics for both kinds of assets. Pay a low monthly or annual fee to host the landing page (say $10/month), and you get the ad creative for free.

  • Offer programs that let local publishers join forces. Make it easy for community sites in a certain region (or serving communities defined by demographic factors such as ethnicity or country of origin) to self-organize into collective markets that offers high regional relevance. Promote these collectives to major brand advertisers seeking regional or co-op ad buys.

  • Enlist and reward publishers as educators/sales reps for the mobile ad network. Many national mobile marketing services already offer productive and lucrative reseller programs, through which local marketers educate advertisers about mobile marketing and get them signed up and set up to use the service, for a cut of the revenue. Community publishers already are talking to, and educating, local advertisers—but what they generally lack is an easy-to-use infrastructure to create, place, and target mobile ads that come from their community. This approach could help them realize more benefit from the efforts of their sales staff.

Together, this combination of tools and programs might more effectively serve communities—both by supporting community news and information, but also by supporting the local economy and local business ecosystem. And major brands could increase the relevance they offer to communities in order to get a better return from their advertising investment.

Also, community publishers would directly benefit from collaboration, rather than wasting energy competing against each other, and against major mainstream or legacy news brands. United we stand, divided we fall—or strength in numbers. Choose your preferred cliché of empowerment.

The question is: will a visionary mobile ad network with a mobile focus (maybe xAd, or others) decide to jump on this opportunity before too many of the best community publishers burn out? As Mernit noted, this business is economically brutal, and some vibrant community-based news startups have already folded under the strain.

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.

June 21, 2012

Non-traditional providers bring quality and dimension to community news

As more and more non-traditional actors take the stage in providing news and information in local communities, it’s valuable to get past the either-or journalist-vs-citj argument and look at who actually creates value. A new report for The Chicago Community Trust offers significant evidence that information providers outside mainstream media have much to offer.

The Chicago Community Trust‘s Local Reporting Awards project provided 31 small grants last year to “produce a burst of impactful, relevant coverage of, by and for” low income communities on the south and west sides of the city. Award winners included a mix of traditional and non-traditional information providers, journalists and non-journalists. Topic ranged from race and class to tax and health care policy to cyberbullying and other youth issues.

The evaluation by Janet Coats of Coats2Coats, found that journalistic quality was high across the board.

“We were blown away by the quality of the work,” Coats said in her report. “Across the board, the sourcing in this work is strong. There is an appropriate blend of the institutional and the grassroots in the sources the award winners used. We saw very little “he said/she said’’ structure in the coverage; sources are used to speak from their areas of experience and expertise, without a false confrontational construct. We also were pleased by the number of sources the award recipients used in their work. Even in professional reporting, it is all too common to see single- or two-source stories.”

Some credit goes to The Chicago Reporter and the Community Media Workshop in Chicago, which greatly improved editorial quality and distribution of the work, the report said. Still, it’s interesting that the efforts of the non-traditional sources were so highly rated.

Significantly, Coats found, the stories also were highly relevant and featured diverse voices and nuanced perspectives. “The magic of having deep knowledge of the communities do so much of the work is that they showed a great range of issues, people and concerns that make up daily life in these neighborhoods,” the report said. “These stories touched on poverty, yes, but also on environmental issues, cyberbullying among young people of color, class divides within the African-American community. These are not subjects traditionally covered within these neighborhoods by mainstream news organizations.”

The Chicago effort suggests that partnerships of professionals and non-traditional information providers hold promise for local community news. Traditional news organizations have long failed to consistently bring diverse voices and perspectives onto their pages or websites. Now, new tools and best practices enable more people to tell their stories. As Vivian Vahlberg, who manages the Trust’s Community News Matters initiative said: “If we want to stimulate a rich tapestry of work that reflects the diversity of the community we need to look beyond people with journalism experience and seek out other kinds of people with other kinds of relevant experience - and then help them with the journalism part and with distribution.”

The Chicago Community Trust is a two-time winner of the Knight Community Information Challenge. The Trust has focused its work on studying and strengthening the city’s emerging local news ecosystem.

(Double disclosure: I am on the advisory committee of The Chicago Community Trust’s Chicago News Matters initiative and I reviewed and rated applications for Local Reporting Awards. Janet Coats is a colleague of mine at Block by Block and has been on the faculty of Knight Digital Media Center’s leadership program.)

From the report, here are summaries of some of the stories produced:

- The Windy City Media Group produced AIDS @ 30, a 10-month series that provided an “exhaustive examination of the history of AIDS in Chicago, how attitudes, treatment and programs have evolved and what is happening now. The stories included a wide range of voices and topics—young and old, scientific, historical perspective and impact on family and relationships.”

- Amandil Cuzan produced a video documentary on turnaround efforts at a Chicago High School. The documentary “successfully tracks the issues facing not just the school but the community it serves. The documentary tracks the history of the school and it evolution, as its demographics and those of the community changed over time. This is no puff piece, and Cuzan faced some pressure from the school when it became clear that he would take on the tough questions about whether this school can be turned around.”

- Austin Talks, a website operated by Columbia College’s journalism program, produced investigative reports on tax-increment financing in the Austin neighborhood. “Tax-increment financing is one of those topics that can cause the eyes to glaze - important, but not accessible. The AustinTalks work focuses on smart use of data to help bridge that gap, revealing how this program had done virtually nothing to assist the Austin community.”

- Working with young people, the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, documented neighborhood education challenges. “The power of this work is that it was done by young people and done very well. The stories and photos capture the frustrations and fears of undocumented youth, teens who are living and attending school here but face an uncertain future because of their immigration status.”

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 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, 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.

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.  

August 09, 2012

Journalism training and the digital revolution

What a difference a decade makes. A new survey of journalists trained in Knight Foundation-funded programs makes it abundantly clear that the digital tsunami that upended the news industry is remaking the journalism training landscape as well.

The survey of 660 trainees or fellows in Knight-funded programs is part of a report. “Digital Training Comes of Age,” which I co-authored with Eric Newton, senior advisor to the president of the Knight Foundation.

We sought to gain insight into the state of professional development for journalists through the survey and by looking at emerging training practices as well as the impact of training.

We wondered what skills journalists thought they needed, whether e-learning might provide some solutions, and whether news organizations were providing training to help newsrooms meet today’s digital challenges.

The report is the fourth in-depth look at journalism training in the past decade by Knight Foundation, which has invested more than $150 million in journalism education during the last 10 years. It focuses on the work of nine Knight-funded training or fellowship programs, including Knight Digital Media Center at USC Annenberg.

Key changes: Demand side

Fully 85 percent of the journalists surveyed this year said they would benefit greatly or very greatly from more staff development. Ten years ago, when Knight surveyed journalists for a study called “Newsroom Training: Where’s the Investment,” that number was 54 percent.

Digital-tools training is the most sought after training.  The journalists saw the greatest benefit in training in multimedia, data analysis and technology. Demand for these skills has soared compared to another Knight survey in 2006. This year, 60-70 percent of journalists want one or more of these skills; five years ago, 40 percent wanted more digital training.

Training remains a top source of job dissatisfaction - 24 percent said they were dissatisfied with training opportunities and only four in 10 gave their news organizations good grades for providing professional development.

(Not surprisingly, dissatisfaction over job security doubled, from 11 percent to almost 21 percent, another reflection of the crisis in the news industry.)

Supply side

Online distance learning, or e-learning, is growing in popularity. Seven in 10 journalists who participated in online learning said it was as good or better than in-person training. Those ratings were drive by strong approval from international journalists - eight in 10 liked e-learning. In the United States, only about a third of the journalists said it was as good or better.

Key factors in this shift? Training organizations are producing better e-learning today and most people, including journalists, are simply more comfortable doing things digitally and virtually.

Training organizations are adapting. Notably, the online News University has some 215,000 registered users and about 275 online classes. The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas trained 2,500 Latin American and Caribbean journalists online in 2010 and 2011.

A recent report from the Pew Research Center reinforces the idea that academia is a next frontier for e-learning. The survey of technology stakeholders predicted that by 2020 opportunity, economic concerns and student and parent demands would cause university-level education would adopt new methods of distance teaching and certification, driven by opportunity, economic concerns and student and parent demands.

A “do-over moment”?

In our report, we ask whether growth in acceptance of e-learning suggests a “do-over moment’’ for news industry training. News organizations have been notoriously stingy when it comes to funding training - a situation that cannot have improved recently at most organizations.

But e-learning offers a lower cost option for training in many topics and skills. Will news companies take advantage of that?

It appears that some are, but most are not. Fewer than four in 10 journalists in the new survey gave their newsrooms good marks for providing training and professional development. The grades have declined steadily in Knight surveys of the past decade.

Time and time again, we’ve seen the impact of training - raising skill levels and helping organizations and teams become more adaptive and innovative.

As we note in “Digital Training Comes of Age,” participants reported a wide range of impacts from their training:

“Some deepened their reporting on important topics and drove change and reform. Others built or revamped websites or started new sites that fill gaps in community news. Some developed new understandings of the digital media environment and used them to shape the strategy of their news organization. Others developed multimedia skills that enriched their reporting or learned social media techniques that help them deepen their connections to communities.”

The report makes clear that training works and that it helps journalists and journalism organizations find their footing and move forward across a dynamic news landscape.

Training won’t answer all the woes of the news industry. But it is clear that news organizations that are not training are trying to adapt with at least one hand tied behind their backs.

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

August 29, 2012

Curating Twitter? Watch out, the rules are changing

By Amy Gahran

News outlets of all kinds increasingly have been aggregating or curating Twitter content to augment news coverage and liveblogs—but Twitter is changing the rules. If you plan to keep using Twitter content on your website (or hope to start), it helps to understand what’s changing at Twitter, and where things are heading…

As Twitter gets more serious about its search for a long-term business model, it’s started limiting how third parties are able to access and use Twitter content. On Aug. 16 Twitter announced upcoming changes to its application programming interface (API), the “firehose” which supplies Twitter content to third-party tools such as Storify.

In particular, Twitter’s existing guidelines for how Tweets can be displayed will become requirements.

They sound pretty serious about it. According to Twitter: “If your application displays Tweets to users, and it doesn’t adhere to our display requirements, we reserve the right to revoke your [API access].”

Yes, they can do that. This would be more likely to directly affect popular Twitter-powered tools (applications) and perhaps large media outlets, but indirectly it would affect any news publisher using these tools.

If you use Storify a lot, don’t panic, yet. Storify is saying everything is fine, because Twitter platform chief Ryan Sarver tweeted that Storify is a “good example” of how to adhere to Twitter’s new requirements.

...At least so far. But the catch is that Twitter can change its mind at any time. Users and journalists may have come to think of Twitter as a kind of public utility, but in fact it’s a private organization that can pretty much dictate how its service gets used.

This underscores the risk involved in investing too heavily in any one social media tool or system. It’s always possible that someday Twitter might not be so happy with Storify, or ScribbleLive, or Facebook, or Tumblr, or any other tool that’s become important for storytelling and engagement.

At the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, Zach Dyer wrote: “Beyond the recent API announcement, Twitter has seen a progression of censorship as the company matures that may threaten its credibility as a news source. ...These events highlight the conflict between the ideal of Twitter as a natural extension of journalism’s democratic goals and the profit-driven business reality.”

What could this mean for journalists and news outlets that use curation platforms?

Hypothetically, if someday Twitter decides that it doesn’t like how Storify is accessing, handling, and displaying Twitter content, Twitter could completely shut out Storify. Were this to happen, Storify founder Burt Herman says that tweets would not vanish from existing curated stories. “Those Tweets are saved in Storify stories and are still there even if a user deletes them. We treat them as quotes in the public sphere, so just as you can’t erase something you’ve said in public, the same goes for public Tweets or any other public quotes online.”

Also, it’s not really so clear whether curation tools like Storify and ScribbleLive truly do adhere to Twitter’s requirements. Alfred Hermida, associate professor at the Graduate School of Journalism of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, explains why Twitter changes should concern journalists:

“The guidelines on the timeline say that ‘Twitter tweets that are grouped together into a timeline should not be rendered with non-Twitter content. e.g. comments, updates from other networks.’ In other words, don’t combine tweets with material from Facebook, YouTube or anywhere else. Yet this is exactly what many news organizations do when they cover breaking news, using tools such as ScribbleLive or Storify.”

On GigaOm, Mathew Ingram observed that Twitter’s relationship with the media has gotten “complicated”—especially for big news outlets, but this might also trickle down to cause problems for small community and niche news sites that use Twitter for aggregation or curation.

This year Twitter formed apparently lucrative partnerships with MTV and NBC to present special Twitter-powered tools to augment events coverage such as the video music awards and the Olympics.

“Given the way that the network has changed its modus operandi recently, by closing off external services such as Tumblr and Instagram and removing referrer links [denoting third-party Twitter apps which generated specific tweets], it’s difficult to know how long that stay of execution might last for something like Storify,” Ingram wrote. “If a newspaper or media outlet has made that a key part of their journalistic process, they could be in for a rude awakening.”

How can news publishers of any size adapt to this shifting curation landscape?

First, recognize that Twitter isn’t just a platform; it’s a media company that published tons of content, and it has its own competitive concerns regarding media. So enjoy Twitter while it’s useful and playing nice, and look for ways to work around Twitter if it cuts off one of your favorite tools.

For instance, it helps to have enough basic tech skills to know how to grab a screenshot of a tweet, manually link to it, and insert it as an image into a conventional article or post. This wouldn’t replace the ease of curating with a tool like Storify, but in a pinch it’s better than nothing, and it can help you highlight the most crucial tweets related to a story.

Second, watch for Twitter to release its own aggregation and curation tools—or perhaps to acquire some of the most successful ones. Twitter has already been buying some of the most successful third-party Twitter-based tools, such as Tweetdeck. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Twitter make a move to buy Storify or other platforms.

Whichever curation and aggregation tools Twitter acquires or builds, be sure to learn how to use them—because someday you may have no choice.

Third, screenshot your curations. When you create curated works that include content from platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, etc., always screenshot the finished product, so you have a record of it. If need be, you can refer to this in the event of a failure or shutdown. As with manually embedding tweets, this isn’t as easy or functional as simply embedding the output from a curation platform. But it saves a record—which is crucial to the mission of any news organization. You can’t be the first draft of history if you don’t possess a copy of it.

Finally, Test and examine the export functions of your favorite curation tools, to make sure you have your own copy on your own machines in case of a service outage or API. Earlier this summer, archivist Ben Fino-Radin wrote:

“Storify does not let you locally save and archive any of the content you create with it. They do provide an ‘export’ feature, which embeds your Storify on a site powered by WordPress, Drupal, Tumblr, (and a few other platforms). While at first glance this looks great, it is entirely misleading. ...Taking a look at what Storify actually posts to your site, every last bit of it (from js, to images, and css) is hotlinked. Meaning: when Storify goes down, so will the content you’ve “exported.” ...If they were to provide a true ‘export’ feature that allowed users to locally backup their Storify content, they would be in the position of being one of the most comprehensive personal digital preservation tools for Twitter.”

Storify founder Herman counters this: “We do have open APIs so you can export all the data from your stories if you want to preserve it elsewhere.”

Herman doesn’t believe screenshotting your finished Storify stories has much value, because those images would lack metadata. This is a fair criticism—but at least this would give you some record of the content you published ,on your own computer and under your own control. It’s a minimal backup, but it’s probably better than nothing unless you confirm that you can archive your curated content completely through other means.

NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect technical clarifications from Storify. Thanks to Burt Herman for supplying that information.

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.

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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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