Links worth sharing 10.09.09

Here’s a sample of what I was reading Saturday morning while having breakfast at Riley’s in Cedar Rapids.

The Goalpost problem – If you’re a manager, you must assume you have thoroughbreds working for you. Your job is to give them what they need to win their respective races, agreeing with them on the goal and rewards, but then getting the hell out of the way. Until they start jumping fences or attacking other horses, you have to let them run their race. – Adam Goucher

The importance of real-life relationships – It’s the twinkle of the eye or the arch of the eyebrow. The stammering speech or the blush of the cheek. Forgive the flowery prose, but that’s what makes humans so damn interesting: the little things that can’t be picked up through online interaction. – Mark S. Luckie

The Way It Is – No intro. Just click and read it. – posted by Scott Peters

Rescuing The Reporters – Clay Shirky

Why not take a moment to define success before you pursue it? – Because there is really only one definition that is put forward by society at large. Money. Ass loads of money. Don’t get me wrong here i think money is great. I like it a lot. But if you have the same definition as everybody else then you’re competing directly against everybody else. – Alex Bogusky

Serendipity… WTF? – The declinists point to a mythical golden pre-Web era of serendipity. They say that the way people read newspapers in the old days supported serendipitous discovery far better than a website can. They claim that the experience of discovering music through radio and club DJs was more serendipitous than the experience provided by online music sites. They seriously believe that bookshops and libraries made it easier to discover knowledge by accident than the Web can. – Tim from Made by Many

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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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Something did come out of the API summit. Do you see it?

By now we all know that on Thursday 50 CEO-level executives met in a room in Reston, Va., to figure out ways to respond to the crisis within the media industry by talking about new business models. It was billed as a closed-door, invitation only meeting. You can read thoughts on that which I tend to agree with here, here, here, here, here and here.

Thankfully, and I am not just being a fan boy because he runs the company, Gazette Communications CEO Chuck Peters, who was invited to the emergency summit, live blogged the event with his thoughts and created a conversation for media types like myself that turned out better than the one happening inside that room.

[Comment From Michele McLellan]
Wrong question, I think on CEO’s speaking freely (esp if they are just hearing a lecture…) Real question is whether opening the discussion would better inform possible solutions….

Chuck Peters: I totally agree, which is why I am live blogging. I am getting much more out of this because of your input.

Chuck Peters: One of the biggest problems CEOs have is getting straight feedback from all levels in the organization, and understanding who really buys into the new direction. Twitter and Live blogging is helping me greatly!

Mark Potts, who participated in the live blog, offers his initial critique. Peters put together some quick thoughts as well.

Tim Windsor wonders why more people in the media industry didn’t link to the live blog or aren’t linking to the replay.

What kind of coverage can you expect to get when 50 newspaper CEOs gather in one place to discuss the future of desperately struggling industry? Apparently, once you get past one brave soul with laptop and an EVDO card and some media-bloggers outside of the mainstream media, not much. What’s wrong with the U.S. newspaper industry? In this case, a stunning lack of curiosity, it would seem.

I know that many dismiss the conversation that occurred form the live blog as nothing but noise. I’ve had phone calls and conversations that say just that. I think you are dead wrong.

I agree that the wrong people to foster real change in our industry were in that room. Change in our industry is going to come in the form of each of us changing our behaviors and thinking and acting much differently.

But look at the example Peters set yesterday in that environment. If nothing else it was a change in behavior and a new way of dealing with a very important situation with the potential to influence others. How many of you are going to send an email or have a conversation with your CEO and ask them why they didn’t live blog the summit or interact with it? Luckily, I don’t have to have the conversation.

I think certain people are dismissing the conversation because they feel they are beyond it or above it. That kind of thinking is hurting our industry as much as the people who don’t yet get where we need to be.

How to make money on a digital-only community site

Let me state from the outset that I don’t know if anyone in our industry has completely figured out how to make money with a digital-only community information site, least of all me. But here are some of my thoughts, and I would love to begin a discussion that actually leads to some solid answers, so please comment.

My last post talked about an experiment in Batavia, NY, by Gatehouse Media, where a media company launched a digital-only operation in a market where it doesn’t publish a print product. I proposed that my company, Gazette Communications, do something similar in Iowa City, IA.

A friend, Elizabeth, commented with a great question: How does it make money?

We have a responsibility to do more than just build it and hope they will come… how could a site like this serve the other, and equally important, constituency – local advertisers? We will need to be just as innovative in creating, er, fostering, the buyer/seller community as we are in creating new forms of journalism.

She makes excellent points. My expertise, if you will, is more on the content and audience than on revenue, but I’m going to give it a shot.

First off, we have to change the expectations. Twenty-eight to 30 percent profit margins are not realistic. A journalist – in this type of environment with this type of assignment – has to have an entrepreneurial mindset. Build everything in an open-source environment. Do something crazy like offering free classifieds. Draw audience by fostering those community and civic needs that are not being met. And, most importantly, be open to experimentation in revenue streams and content.

It’s a newspaper company thinking and acting like a startup – which is what every media company needs to do to survive the digital transition. – Scott Karp

I strongly feel this experiment will require thinking in terms of micro-pennies, or small amounts of revenue from new businesses that normally wouldn’t or couldn’t afford to advertise in a print product.

Online advertising means that small businesses who previously were not typical print or broadcast advertisers can now afford to advertise. In other words, there is a potential long tail of small advertisers that could prove a significant source of new revenue. – 10 ways that ad sales people can save newspapers

One idea my friend Tom is big on is in creating a revenue sharing network with other local bloggers. I think someone needs to run with that idea.

Here is another resource for disucssion purpsoses that Tom sent me: Counting your piles of Benjamins.

So those are just a few ideas I could come up with in the 15 minutes I dedicated to thinking about this today. What are your ideas? What have you done that is working? What have you done that has failed?

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An experiment that would make Walter Lippmann cringe

There has been some pub recently about an experiment by Howard Owens and Ryan Sholin working with Gatehouse Media to launch a website in a place, Batavia, NY, where Gatehouse doesn’t publish a newspaper. You can read more about it here, here and here.

Here are the basics:

  • Set up an office on Main Street
  • Have one hired journalist/lead blogger in town everyday to connect with the community
  • Build a site around a blog
  • Allow any registered user to submit content, seek them out and promote them as much as possible
  • Offer all the standard community tools
  • Think about hiring a journalist to cover local sports
  • Link liberally to other local blogs and content
  • Post videos of events and breaking news
  • Pull in feed from several sources

Here are a few of the comments being circulated about this experiment.

. . . the strategy is to launch an innovative news and community site that will eat the lunch of an incumbent newspaper that has ignored the web.

The Batavian is an experiment in whether a new web-native journalism can better serve a community. Here’s Howard on “Exploring the complexity of community issues as a community

The Batavian lets any registered reader contribute posts, and it treats all registered readers as equals. One full-time reporter, and a couple of other Gatehouse employees who contribute occasionally, make sure The Batavian has new posts every day. The rest of The Batavian’s content comes from residents.

The company I work for, Gazette Communications, is based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The company owns a TV station, a newspaper and a commercial print operation. We have a bureau with a few reporters in Iowa City which is about 20 or so miles to the south, and Iowa City also has its own newspaper, as does the University of Iowa.

All of these traditionally run media sites, including the one I have some influence on, operate on a print-centric workflow, philosophy and approach. The biggest argument for doing this experiment is that a digital-only operation will not operating under any rules or constraints.

A lot of people in the building at Gazette Communications believe there is tremendous opportunity in the Iowa City market. I feel those opportunities, however, go beyond entertainment and University of Iowa students.

Digital communication allows all members of the public – the press, the politicians, the government agents and the citizens – to discuss choices, consequences and conditions as equals. Reporters need no longer be bound by the limitations of print and present just the so-called objective report, but rather explore, examine, raise and answer questions, and start conversations.

So what do you think? Can this type of experiment work in Iowa City? Anyone willing to try it?

Note: Howard Owens on Walter Lippmann: Lippmann was an elitist. He believed that the modern world was too complex for the average citizen to grasp, and that Joe Public probably didn’t care anyway. Modern democracy worked best, he argued, if the governing class was comprised of experts and professionals who set the policy and then manufactured public consent. The role of the press in this model was to merely transmit the decisions and actions of the elites  in simple terms, with little questioning or interpretation, aiming to maximize emotional impact.

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Way to go Amy

We need more people in this industry like Amy Webb. If you haven’t heard about the 30-Day Newsroom Innovation Challenge which she announced on her site the other day, you have to check it out. It’s a fantastic idea.

And, remember, a while back when I wrote a post about kicking Rob Curley while he’s down. This is exactly the sort of thing he should be doing to avoid being kicked again.

Anyway, the point of the contest is to help one newsroom, free of charge, who is struggling to innovate. Webb is a consultant to online media companies and organizations and has been working in the digital realm for more than a decade.

It’s 4th of July weekend. In the spirit of unshackling the newspaper industry from the tyranny of outdated business models, I’ve decided to hold a contest. I’m proposing a 30-Day Newsroom Innovation Challenge. I’m willing to offer my consulting services to help a beleaguered newsroom through the process of innovation. I will meet with your newspaper’s publishers, editors, web-site and print-side staff and even your local readers. I’ll facilitate brainstorming sessions and devise a set of strategies that you can implement right away to help monetize your content and motivate what’s left of your staff. At the end of our 30 days together, we should hopefully have short-term and long-term plans for publishing your content and for stabilizing your resources.

She is doing this, it appears, in the wake of news about media companies making huge cutbacks in staffing levels, which she argues may not be necessary. She places a high priority on local reporting. But, like everyone else, she recognizes that the business model we all apply is not working and won’t work as more of us enhance  our digital presence.

I believe very strongly that if newsroom culture changed for just a month, to allow free-flowing brainstorming and fast-track implementation of new strategies, we might just find a workable business model that doesn’t necessarily involve scrapping entire sections of the newspaper or laying off a quarter of your staff.

The rules and how to enter the 30-Day Newsroom Innovation Challenge can be found here. Good luck.

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Make the Sunday print edition free

During the recent flood disaster that struck Cedar Rapids, the role of a media company and how it relates to the community it covers so deeply has become increasingly clear based on lessons learned. Now the role for media turns into one of responsibility. We know we have a tremendous opportunity, but what we do from here will define us for the next several decades.

The Gazette, the newspaper where I work, put out incredible print editions throughout, and continues to do so. It’s been chronicled here by Alan Mutter and here by our still fairly new editor Steve Buttry as to how well the online edition and breaking news text alerts aided people near and far with timely, relevant and contextual information on digital platforms. Both links also mention how the newsroom, as a whole, has operated fantastically throughout the disaster.

This disaster and recovery, for the first time, has shown the company what we already knew: There is tremendous power in delivering news and information on multiple platforms to serve multiple audiences with the idea of bringing a community together.

Since the disaster has turned from breaking news into a years-long recovery process, many people in our building are discussing and planning where we go from here and how, as our CEO Chuck Peters puts it, we become the keel of the community.

Keel: a central fore-and-aft structural member in the bottom of a hull, extending from the stem to the sternpost and having the floors or frames attached to it, usually at right angles: sometimes projecting from the bottom of the hull to provide stability.

Buttry this week offered a tweet to link to a speech given by Tim McGuire at the American Association of Independent Newspaper Dealers Speech, June 23, 2008, Baltimore, Md. The speech is titled “Visions of a future for independent newspaper distributors”. Content Ninja offers her review here.

In the speech, McGuire offers a few paragraphs about the Sunday print edition, which for many newspapers is still the most cherished edition. I think those paragraphs are important to share here, if for no other reason than to further my point in the headline.

That Sunday newspaper and that mass distribution element are so important I think we should seriously consider LOWERING the price. Let’s make it a buck. That’s not an effort to chase new readers; it should be an effort to make the Sunday newspaper available to everyone who still wants to make a newspaper a part of their life.

The content of that Sunday newspaper should be premised on the assumption this is THE mass product of the week. It should be a powerful week in review and week-ahead product designed to create knowledge, guide readers to the vast information resources of the web and to entertain.

It is essential that the newspaper of the future be a convener of people online and in print. This Sunday product should be the center of that convener activity. Newspapers must convene all sorts of audiences in all sorts of imaginative ways. In a fractured media world it is incumbent on the democratic responsibilities of newspapers that newspapers lead, guide and direct everything from democracy to knitting clubs.

One of the greatest threats to democracy is that our long-tailed world might destroy all sense of community. It should be newspapers that save us from that fracture and that Sunday newspaper can be the mass product that serves as a community rallying point.

I am proposing that media companies do something even more radical than what’s mentioned above. Make the Sunday edition – once its revamped based on what I think are good ideas above – a  free publication.

Locally, what better time to bring people together than to give them a free resource of news and information during this trying and difficult time. If we promote the Sunday edition with goals similar to what’s mentioned above everyone in our community wins, not just those hurt by the flood.

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