What I’ve been reading

It’s been awhile so I’m going slow getting back into sharing some thoughts about what I’m up to. Here’s a quick post on what I’ve been reading recently.I recommend them all.

The Swerve – Ever wonder how the modern world came to know On The Nature of Things by Lucretius? This book, by Stephen Greenblatt, details the fascinating story in a narrative I couldn’t put down.

The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan – The story that brought down a general. The detailed account of the inner workings and politics or a U.S. Army general fighting the war in Afghanistan.

Enemies: A History of the FBI – The detail provided by recently declassified papers in this account of the FBI is somewhat frightening and encouraging all in one. If you read it, I think you’ll understand that.

Polemics – A hard read for me but eye-opening. A french philosopher reveals in great detail his thoughts on modern politics. I don’t always agree with his take but it has spurred me to think differently. For example: “We have the riots we deserve. A state in which what is called public order is only a coupling of the protection of private wealth and dogs unleashed on children of working people and people of foreign origin is purely and simply despicable.”

The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy

An audience-first approach

I want to nudge the conversation in what I hope is in a healthy manner, and hopefully along the way spur a five minute strategy session, even though that has become a dirty word it seems.

There is a lot of talk, actions and decisions being made at the media company I work at in Iowa because of the tactical and organizational approach of separating content from product.

The vision that spurs the strategy of the company is clear. Organize and act for speed and flexibility. We want to reach people where they want, how they want and when they want. We want to enable users to tune a device of their choosing to find information and engage with communities. We must play a focal point in the local information ecosystem, and a key part of that is creating and participating in many nodes within it.

The network is not one of stages but of tribes, and this is a better metaphor for new media. Tribes have leaders (or many leaders), and it is the leaders themselves, not their stages that give them authority. – Terry Heaton, March 2009

I am in no way implying that separating content creation from product development is a faulty approach. Quite the opposite. Collecting content in the first instance with key elements tagged to easily find relationships that can contribute to the nodes is one tremendous step in the right direction.

Information architecture for news by Stijn Debrouwere

But I want to nudge the conversation toward  a newer focus: collecting content for audiences. For example, media company A wants to participate and engage with audience and community B. How can the entire organization take a high level solution view to use our resources, skill, technology and the known and unknown platforms, products and devices to accomplish that goal? (Read a few lessons learned from an audience-first approach.)

But that’s only one piece, I admit. We ultimately want to have fun and make money, right? So we must look from the enterprise level at content as a way of doing business.

What would happen if a content strategist, content collector or information designer, user experience guru, influence marketer and product manager all got in the same room to tackle the example above? Five skilled people spending five minutes and are empowered to make decisions who then deploy, listen, adapt, deploy, listen, adapt, and so on.

Now that would be fun.

What do you think?

How would you implement the Complete Community Connection?

This post is aimed at the News Innovators including those I just met at BarCamp NewsInnovation Philadelphia. Yesterday, my colleague Steve Buttry published a blueprint for change in a concept called the Complete Community Connection.

I will embed the PDF below, but if 30 some pages are too much Mark Potts offers a good, condensed analysis called Inventing the Future in Iowa.

So let’s assume this blueprint is the way to go. How would you implement it? What would you build? What are the ideas do you have for applications, widgets and whatnot? What should the priorities be? Where would you start? I’m looking for specific ideas that you think can be implemented anywhere.

What would an organization with this mentality look like? If this is a startup, what would it be in the first three months? Six months?

I’ve just now read it and am beginning to digest it. (Even though we work at the same company, Gazette Communications, Buttry rolled it out to me like he did to everyone else via his blog. I’m not bitter, but it would have been great material to talk about at #bcniphilly.)

I will be working through it as I travel back to Eastern Iowa in the next day or so and I will post my own answers to the questions above by the end of Thursday (If I’m asking you to do it, I have to follow through as well).

So have at it. Ryan Sholin asked me at the end of the day on Saturday what’s next for the BarCamp NewsInnovation crew. Could playing a role in forming some specific examples on how to implement this plan be a first step? I’m not sure, but it can’t hurt.

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Personal brand vs. institutional brand

To kick off BarCamp NewsInnovation Philadelphia, I was invited by Anna Curran – and by invited I mean I just happened to be standing next to her – to participate in a panel discussion on branding and whether the future relies more on the invidual than the institution.

A very timely discussion since organizations are looking at the separation of content creation from product development, and many journalists have lost jobs but have skills to collect content, create networks and gain dedicated audiences..

Review the session via the Twitter hash tag #bcnibrand.

The questions that started the session were this: How engaged are you with tweets from reporters as opposed to media companies. Where is that affinity going?


Julia Kaganskiy made a good argument from the outset saying personal brands have always existed as personalities that operate outside of an institution. What has changed recently, however, is that personal brands can now exist and thrive on their own.

With that said, most agreed it’s based on building a level of trust as to who you follow, who you read and who you interact with.

Howard Weaver said authenticity is what matters the most, not where the content originated from. The institutional tweets are less relevant to him than individual tweets, for example, he argued.

Kaganskiy asked a good question in reply. Is the institution part of a journalist’s personal brand? Is the institution the reason people engage with the journalists at least from outset?

So if the paradigm is shifting from personal brand to individual brand, how do they play together so the audience gets the best results? Do they play together at all?

One person said that journalists should operate under the philosophy that the media company they work for won’t exist in five years. His advice was to create your brand, your niche, publish, develop a specialty and do what you can to gain audience. Basically, make yourself indispensible because people want to connect with people, not institutions.

Here is how the session ended: We recognize that institutional brands are being broken down to individual brands. We’re not sure whether that’s good or bad, but we think we should salvage what makes since from the institution while given the personal brands the chance to thrive.

What say you?

You can do great journalism anywhere

About halfway through my freshman year of high school, I was approached by my English teach Mrs. Griffiths and asked if I’d be interested in joining the school newspaper. She saw something in my writing, but more intriguing to her – she would later reveal – was the way I asked questions.

Since that day in 1992 when I joined the East High Scroll, I have spent just about every day working for a newspaper, many of those days asking the tough questions.

I’ve never wanted to do anything else. I love news and have become an almost equally admirer of the news business. I still don’t want to do anything else, but I recognized about three years ago the way we do it has to change.

I don’t work for a newspaper anymore. I work for a media company. I’m not just a journalist anymore. I’m a publisher, a reporter, a web editor, a curator, a marketer, an audience expert, an adverting sales rep and a social media guru.

Last night, I watched “State of Play” with three others journalists. I think they’d all agree that I am more comfortable with the changes in our industry than they are, but a part of me has great admiration for those like the character Russell Crowe plays in the film, Cal McAffrey. I wanted to be him.

McAffrey is as old school as they get. He is a die-hard print journalist with the contacts, intelligence, ego and manipulative personality that is needed to always get access to the right information. Even the opening scene is dead-on: Eating a bag of Cheetos in the car, singing to a tune on the radio, driving a 18-year-old car, throwing the empty bag of Cheetos into the backseat filled with notebooks and more empty food containers.

Some of suggested this is the death of the hero journalist.

Watching “State of Play,” I couldn’t help but think that I was witnessing the dying of a cinematic archetype: the Hero Journalist. – From Simon Dumenco

But it doesn’t have to be.

I’ve said this before. I work for Gazette Communications, a family-owned media company that owns a newspaper, a television station, a state-of-the-art printing facility and a few digital products. We are under the same financial pressures as most media companies. Cedar Rapids, IA., also experienced a catastrophic flood last summer that had already weakened the local economy.

For about the past 18 months, the company has acquired a young group of journalists who love what they do and I’ve had the privilege of working with them and calling them my friends. Most of them shined brightly during the flood coverage last June, and have continued to do so. Some are comfortable with change in the industry and other struggle with it.

Whenever I talk to them about leaving for a bigger newspaper or moving onto a different career, I always tell them this: You can do great journalism anywhere.

You don’t have to be at the New York Times of the Washington Post to be a great journalist or tell a great story. Likewise, great journalism isn’t just done in print. Today’s tools and reach of digital platforms and applications only increases the ability to do great work.

So remember, you can do great journalism anywhere. Be the Cal McAffrey of your community.

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One weekend, three NewsInnovation barcamps

3barcamps1In three corners of the country this weekend a tremendous opportunity will take place to help shape the future of journalism. But with that opportunity comes tremendous responsibility.

Journalists, technologists, web developers, students, tech business dudes, professors, professionals and others will take part in ad hoc gatherings for NewsInnovation barcamps in Portland and Chicago on Saturday, and in Miami on Sunday.

People have already submitted topics for discussion on the wiki sites for Chicago and Portland. But, as I’ve said before, it goes beyond just talking. The measure of our success has to be the number of actionable items that come out of our discussions, the number of ideas that lead to experimentation and the momentum we create to help move an industry that  needs our input, advice and ability to create cool things.

I, and others, like Greg Linch (Miami) and Matt Neznanski (Portland), will use the newsinnovation.ning.com community site as a way to communication and keep a record of the happenings at these events and offer ways for you to particpate and engage. Please take part where you can.

More about NewsInnovation

BarCamp NewsInnovation is a series of unconferences happening around the nation with the goal of bringing together energetic, tech-savvy, open-minded individuals who embrace the chaos in the media industry because the ability to do really cool things still exist.

We also need find those people outside of our industry who love to consume news and information and are great thinkers and innovators.

Other regional NewsInnovation BarCamps have been held in Columbia, Mo. and Washington, D.C.

A national event, BarCamp NewsInnovation Philadelphia, is  scheduled for April 25 thanks to the efforts of Sean Blanda. He’s done some great work on the site and in putting the event together.

And, I just found this today, there are plans for a  NewsInnovation barcamp in London.

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The “do” tank, not just a "think" tank

I’ve been talking a lot lately about the need to stop talking and start doing. We’ll here is some more of that as a list of projects to kickoff the Reynolds Journalism Institutes’ news collaboratory was put out by Amy Gahran.

In assessing the list of projects it’s important to keep in mind two things that were said at the introduction of new collaboratory.

The first came from Jane Stevens when she said journalism in this new era has to be participatory, contextual, solution-oriented and immediate.

“We are moving from news and information that is a mile-wide and an inch-deep to niches that are an inch-wide and a mile-deep.” – Jane Stevens

The example widely used – and there is much more evidence than what I present here – was West Seattle Blog. “People were blogging IN West Seattle; nobody was blogging ABOUT it,” says Tracy Record, editor, reporter and founder of West Seattle Blog.

The second important point came from Brian Boyer, who recently was a member of Team Crunchberry and helped built a series of fascinating conversation tools at NewsMixer.us. The exchange was shared in the event’s live blog.

RJI Collabortory:  Brian Boyer talking about “agile development” notes the need to start small and make it happen, rather than taking too long to build something that’s bloated

Mark Poepsel:  Brian Boyer: You know you’re going to screw up, so get it over with fast and move on, build half projects not half-assed ones.

With those two points being said, here is the initial round of projects, also found on the RJI ning site.

Relevance Matching: Map out what a taxonomy/relevance editor role is, how it can work in a news organization to better target coverage and enhance relevance-matching for ads.

Assessment: Community news business assessment tool: Interactive tool to gauge local info/news needs, local demographics, advertising potential, help figure out how to structure a local news biz, spot opportunities.

Apps & Widgets:  New apps or widgets would be more practical than efforts like better storytelling through multimedia

CMS & Mobile Alerts: How to connect your content management system to send out basic mobile alerts. Tutorial or recommended system.

Mobile App Standards: The Collaboratory can work towards creating standardized platform of mobile applications/interfaces

Twitter Business: Help Cedar Rapids Gazette figure out how to channel local businesses through twitter effectively

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Help for entrepreneurial journalists

Missouri Tigers
Image via Wikipedia

This might have come at just the right time as many media organization, including the one where I work, continue to transform.

Today, my friend Tom and I are attending the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s news collaboratory at the University of Missouri. You can be a part in the live blog beginning at 9 a.m.

The idea behind why we are here is to create a news incubator to help web-based entrepreneurial journalists. The reason is due to the increasing number of layoffs at media organization and the tremendous opportunity presented by the web.

We work with entrepreneurial journalists, citizens and organizations to create strategies and tools for high-quality Web-based journalism.

The people attending today’s talkfest will focus on four topics: building and integrating community, web-based news entrepreneurship, advertising and marketing and mobile.

You’ll here more from me as the day goes on.

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At the forefront of change

In about a week, I will be taking part in an ad-hoc, open discussion with interested folks about solutions and tasks that can help media companies transform.

On Saturday, Jan. 24, the first BarCamp NewsInnovation (#newsinnovation) will be held at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute on the campus of the University of Missouri.

One big reason for the event was an inquiry from convergence journalism student Kelsey Proud.

It seemed like a perfect opportunity to bring something positive and innovative to Mizzou, and to people in the middle of the country who, I’m sure, have ideas that no one has heard before, or questions that are unique to the region and need to be addressed by those who know the situations best.

Kelsey is a representative of a journalist being trained for a world living in the new information ecosystem. She doesn’t live in the same arena that editors and reporters currently do. We have a lot to learn from people like her.

Journalists are saying that the younger generations will be leading the way in the next few years in our industry, and by bringing a BarCamp NewsInnovation to Missouri, I hoped that I could help bring a forum to some of those younger minds, hear everyone’s ideas (not just those from the younger people), and hopefully spark some neat new ideas of my own.

As I’ve said before, and many people have said, journalism isn’t dying, it’s just changing, and entering a new phase. I want to be on the front of that change, and I felt that having BarCamp NewsInnovation at Mizzou was a great place to start.

I realize, now more than ever, that simply having these types of discussions and listening to new voices is not enough. There is a lot of inertia working against the transformation of journalism, and there is plenty of corporate fossilization that stands in the way.

I am very open to ideas on this, but my hope is to come away from these ad-hoc discussions with firm tasks or new tools that can be pursued through evangelism, but most importantly by action. Please, share your thoughts on that with me by commenting below or via email.

Here are a few of the topics that Kelsey, I and others will likely be talking about and presenting at BarCamp NewsInnovation. The nature of a barcamp means that the topics aren’t really decided until the day of, but this may get us started. You can add your topic to the wiki.

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BarCamp NewsInnovation, Columbia, Mo., Jan. 24

A friend recently used the example of how Napster blew up the music industry by changing the paradigm, saying the media industry needs to find its own Napster.  Sean Blanda described a similar example as the “kite moment.”

However  you look at the state of the industry and what steps will lead to the transformation of organizations, mindsets, business models, collaboration and content curation, the time has come to do something. One action you can take is to participate in BarCamp NewsInnovation.

I am happy to announce that a regional event, BarCamp NewsInnovation-UM, (#BCNIUM) will be held Saturday, Jan. 24 at the Fred W. Smith Forum at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute on the campus of the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo.


A big thanks goes out to Kelsey Proud, who spearheaded the idea. The location was secured with the help of Jane Stevens and Hannah Jackson.

So now my attention turns to getting people in the room. Please help spread the word. Use the wiki to let people know you will be attending. Submit a topic to discuss. Got a presentation you’d like to showoff, post the idea.

Not sure what a BarCamp is? Use these links to find out. What is it? What to expect. Here is  a link to What worked/What can be improved from CopyCamp.

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