Content Ninja's Weblog

An exploratory journey on the edge of newspaper evolution

It’s alive! May 29, 2008

Filed under: innovation — contentninja @ 3:58 pm
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Ready Position

Image by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

Paul Gillin’s post Wednesday at Social Media Today is a nice string of briefs on innovative experiments in journalism today.

Among others, he highlights the San Francisco Chronicle’s success with user-generated content for money-making niche print products and the Hartford Courant’s reverse publishing of hyperlocal UGC from an online community. (Hmm. Smells like a ninja project.)

Also interesting is the Press Gazette (UK) plan to merge three newsrooms into a platform-agnostic workforce. This is the separate-content-creation-from-product-creation concept. Journalists from the Guardian, the Observer and the Guardian’s Web site will create content for department editors (product managers), who will push it out through various forms of distribution. The reporter doesn’t work for any one product; the reporter just gets the news.

Gillin notes: “One radical concept: Journalists will have the freedom to publish directly to their audiences on timely stories, without the intercession of an editor.”

This is taking the disruption of social media right down to the frontlines. As Clay Shirky argues in “Here Comes Everybody,” institutions were created to manage the output of large groups. Social media tools, however, make it possible for larger groups to manage themselves, thereby disrupting an institution’s management structure. In other words, we may not need so many managers.

Now’s a perfect time for our industry to re-evaluate every process, protocol and structure we have. If we make our newsrooms truly 24/7, tech-savvy places, then we don’t need separate online departments b/c every reporter is living it. And if we’re living in that space with our audiences, we need to talk directly with them, not just at them.

Am I saying we don’t need editors anymore? Not at all, but I do think editors need to get out of the way sometimes.

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Seeing is believing May 27, 2008

Filed under: innovation,journalism — contentninja @ 12:21 pm
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HKTVB Newsroom

Image via Wikipedia

Because I’m making up for the long holiday weekend, y’all get two posts today.

Last week, Paul Bradshaw, writing at the Online Journalism Blog, did the world a service by pulling together his diagram for “A Model of the 21st Century Newsroom” and author Charlie Beckett’s “SuperMedia” diagram, which builds on Bradshaw’s work.

What started as a p-ssing match between boys over giving credit where it’s due has since been resolved amicably. And it wasn’t the point anyway. What’s important is what a good job these diagrams do of visually charting what so many of us have/are coming to realize is reporting’s future.

Here we see how reporting will move from text alert to online draft to a contextual piece in tomorrow’s newspaper, with plenty of public interaction along the way that builds context at a wiki and then a database. Read the comments on Bradshaw’s original post, and you’ll be struck by how revolutionary people find this, but it IS where we’re going. I consider it a given even.

My one point of pushback is this. The diagrams chart “the big story.” Beckett’s example is a fire. It could be a-mile-and-a-half-wide tornado ripping through rural NE Iowa. OK, but news is maybe 3 percent big stories and 97 percent small stories. (The choice of terms is only to show the contrasting relationship and should not be construed to mean “small stories” have less worth. Quite the contrary, as a former features editor, I’d argue that the small stories and soft news are what differentiate newspapers and add the most value to the traditional product.)

It may not make sense to report the small stuff this way, too. Could the small stories bypass some steps, like analysis? Where does features reporting fit in this equation? Do features simply become the stuff of niche products, and news sites/newscasts/newspapers stick with big stories? And the small stories that fit neither mold live in company-sponsored online communities?

I don’t have the answers. Check out the charts, and tell me what you think.

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Eye of the storm

Filed under: community — contentninja @ 11:34 am
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creepy j

Image from Flickr

The concept of community ownership of the community keeps some people up nights, but it really is working for online communities.

Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang has a brief interview with Ellen M., a member of the Chicago Elite for Yelp, which is a location-based review site. (Yes, Yelp is already active in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.) Ellen is not paid for her reviews, does not accept special treatment from the businesses she reviews and the perks are modest (a couple of Elite party invites a year and some reverse publishing). So why does she do it?

She tells Owyang: “I love to write reviews, but I think the social networking and interaction with yelp friends is what really compels me to continue. There are certain yelp reviewers who are so entertaining that I could probably spend an entire afternoon reading their stuff – way better than television.”

Ah, shades of Clay Shirky’s “cognitive surplus.”

Ellen concedes that to become an Elite member, a newbie would have to spend a lot of time writing reviews, but says that for her, maintaining her status does not take much time at all. She’s what we’d call a community catalyst.

The key, of course, is that it’s all social. The doing (writing reviews) is not as important on the individual level as the connecting (being seen as an expert, building social status).

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Stone soup May 21, 2008

Filed under: content,innovation — contentninja @ 4:52 pm
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UPC-A barcode image

Image via Wikipedia

The Association of Food Journalists asked me to help judge its annual writing contest again this year. I was given my choice of categories, and I jumped at the chance to judge the online category.

Although I cannot give specifics (winners will be announced in October), I shall say I was rather disappointed. Entries were relatively few and — get this — on paper. It’s hard to miss the irony in that. Only one of the entries made reference to an alternate delivery form (audio) or clearly contained links for more and related information for greater context.

Only ONE.

And not one made reference to related video.

In fairness, it should be noted that the category is actually called “best food writing on the Internet,” not best online or multimedia food content, which is what I think the category should be.  (In my mind, traditional newspaper writing that just happens to pub online doesn’t warrant a separate writing category. Same stuff, different delivery.)

I’m told that the category will be reworked for next year. That’s great. AFJ is a group of earnest, sincere people with a love for food journalism. I’ve no doubt AFJ can see where it needs to go and is trying. Being ahead of the curve this year, though, would have been even better.

In an ideal world, entries wouldn’t come on paper. Contest judges would get a list of links to interactive packages online, where not just the words would be reviewed. Audio and video tracks could be played, and links could be followed. THAT’S what an online journalism contest should look like.

Of course, there are issues. Like whether that awesome multimedia package from six months ago is still alive somewhere when a contest rolls around. And visiting the actual Web site would conflict with AFJ’s usual MO of keeping entries anonymous to the judges.

I’m hopeful, though, that as journalists embrace online delivery methods and multimedia tools, they’ll insist that their work be judged differently. And AFJ has an opportunity to drive that change.

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Feet of clay May 19, 2008

Filed under: innovation — contentninja @ 4:35 pm
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Collateral Damage Affinity GroupImage via Wikipedia

Good lord, I must sound like a Clay Shirky groupie by now. I’m not. Really. He’s just such a prolific writer that it’s taking me awhile to browse his stuff and share some things.

Today I found “Communities, Audiences and Scale.” In this 2002 article, Shirky does a great job of articulating the difference between a community and an audience.

It’s all about scale. A community is a smaller group by necessity, because a community is about interaction between individual members, many-to-many communication. An audience is larger and so the corresponding communication is one-way, center to edge.

Shirky points out that the larger a group, the more complex interaction becomes: “As group size grows, the number of connections required between people in the group exceeds human capacity to make or keep track of them all.”

In our context, our products (newspaper, TV, online, niche print pubs) have an audience and we communicate in what Chuck Peters has called the “megaphone” method — a centralized blasting of info to the masses.

What we must grow — what I am experimenting with — is a community, a smaller, originally recruited group of people to get talking and interacting around a slice of content. If we get it right, the community
will grow because people who care about it will join and run with it. The structure we build gives the community form and, yes, some boundaries, so it doesn’t implode from the forces of growth or group behaviors. See related post “Group Think” of May 12.

(Just to muddy the waters a bit, Shirky also argues in his book “Here Comes Everybody,” that social media tools make it easier than ever before for groups, large or small, to form, communicate and thrive.)

Now, the question is — with thanks to Chuck — how do we cross-pollinate? We’re a business, looking for revenue opportunities. Can we “tag” community members so as to target audience-advertising to them, too?

What do you think?

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Mama needs a new pair of shoes May 16, 2008

Filed under: innovation — contentninja @ 3:30 pm
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Craps DiceImage via Wikipedia

I was up past my bedtime last night playing craps with friends.

The last time I played craps was in high school algebra class. Like many a teenager I was bored and not really interested in the math behind games of chance, and so the rules of the game did not stick. I recall the boys in the class excitedly tossing the dice across the floor and against the classroom wall, yelling all the while. I thought they were morons.

Sorry, guys.

We had a blast last night learning the intricacies of the game and the lingo — boxcars, Johnnie Hix, hard eights — and how to bet. Our teacher, Mark, was incredibly patient with our little gaggle of women. We even got etiquette tips, like get your hands out of the way by the time the shooter throws the dice. Biggest lesson I learned is that craps is a great way to lose money fast.

Will that stop me from playing at a real casino craps table someday? No way. Life is too short not to try something new, even if it’s complicated (and craps is).

As is my way with personal ramblings, there is an application here for my worklife as well. There are days, living in this creative space, that I get frustrated. Why can’t the answers come easy? I want a perfect view of the perfect solution, but dammit, the path isn’t clear yet. Am I even on the right path?

As my friend Polly says, “You gotta start somewhere.”

So I’m going to throw the dice and see how they land. I’ll lose some and win some, and that’s OK. Taking the chance is the point of the game.

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Invest a little, gain a lot May 14, 2008

Filed under: content,innovation,social media — contentninja @ 5:04 pm
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AudienceImage via Wikipedia

I’ve been saying, “It’s not about us; it’s about the audience,” for a while now. Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang takes it a step further in a blog post today: “On the Value of Investing in Your Own Customers.”

Owyang is writing from a consultant’s perspective, but it’s interesting if we consider how journalism might apply the principle as well. He writes:

“By investing in your own customers, making them smarter, exposing them to best practices, and to let them form real relationships amongst each other, the benefits go beyond the pure relationship stated in the service level agreement, but bring an intangible human value that often can’t be measured.”

It seems to me that an online community is a great opportunity to invest in our customers. “Making them smarter, exposing them to best practices, and to let them form real relationships amongst each other” seem crucial to successfully engaging them in helping us build context around content.

I’ve been thinking about what features/functionalities a thriving online community would need and have come up with a list. It’s a pretty simplistic list, and nothing is presumed to be a given (because I don’t believe most items here have reached a saturation point for a majority of users). I have vainly titled it:

Content Ninja’s Wish List

  • Customizable interface: Lets users choose info that’s served to them. Require users to fill out a profile, and info is tailored to their interests? Or drag and drop content boxes, like iGoogle? Could advertising content be customizable, too?
  • Twitter feed. Twitter could be a useful tool for communicating with core group of activist members. Opt-in for others?
  • Content/context: Posting to the site must be super simple. User must register name to post, though.
  • One button “e-mail to a friend”
  • One button “rate this” polling
  • Comments: Easy to post, but not anonymous.
  • Build an event function: Like Facebook but better. Click “event” button, and it automatically pulls in calendar info for selected local event. Lets you invite friends. Lets invitees see who’s invited and who’s accepted/declined/pending.
  • Photo/video sharing: Must be super simple. One or two clicks simple. Or drag and drop simple.
  • RSS
  • Forums

What’s missing? What would you not include? What context can you add? Please share!

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