Content Ninja's Weblog

An exploratory journey on the edge of newspaper evolution

WoW’ed by the model June 30, 2008

Filed under: community,journalism — contentninja @ 5:12 pm
Tags: , ,
WoW Screenshot 3-24-2007 10-28-18 AM

Image by Harmoney via Flickr

I’ve written before about Dan Schultz’s thoughts on recruiting participants in online communities. In a Friday post at MediaShift Idea Lab, he tackles it again. This time he’s writing about giving back to the folks who are graciously creating free content for you.

Schultz argues that giving credit isn’t enough, and he recognizes that media companies cannot afford to pay cash (at least not to everybody or for long). So, he asks, why not borrow from the World of Warcraft model? Participants earn clout the more they participate and the better their contributions are, and that clout lets them do things better and easier.

His theory relies on an automated system that tracks this stuff and can recognize or assign value to a person’s work. I don’t believe artificial intelligence is there yet, but as our Information Architect Matthew Manuel tells me, “Annette, you and I won’t see ‘I, Robot’ in our lifetimes, but you’d be surprised what a good piece of software can do.” So we’ll assume that it can be done someday.

The comment thread that follows tackles the appropriateness of the example and the dangers of creating an “in-group.”

Clay Shirky does an excellent job of outlining the known pitfalls of group behavior and why a core group with powers to defend the community is a must. See my post “Group think.” I think he’s right; the core group of activist users should have rights that lurkers do not.

And I’m not bothered with the WoW comparison, and I’ve never even played. There’s nothing wrong with pop culture metaphors, says this former features editor. If journalists/newspapers/TV news are going to survive, we cannot be snobbish. It’s just not a good way to connect with our audiences.

There’s concern, though, about applying the model to public spaces created in the public interest. Then again, other voices have posited the radical notion that there’s nothing particularly democratic about the Web, and don’t delude yourself otherwise. Digg being a primary example.

The ugly underbelly of user-generated content, the thing the media industry has been generally dancing around, is that companies making money off UGC contributed for free could be seen as, er, unscrupulous. Editor N’Gai Croal suggests “The Internet is the New Sweatshop” in a post for Newsweek. Croal concludes that “as long as so many of you are willing to work for free, the proprietors of these virtual sweatshops will happily accept.”

I believe that, to build thriving online communities, we must embrace a core group of activist users and recruit them to not only contribute but protect, by giving them some tools and rights to help control poor group behavior; that we come up with a system for users to earn rankings and rights; that we must not choke the conversation by speaking down to the community from a central or expert position. Yes, we can be part of the conversation, but it’s from a “we’re in this together, so tell us what you need” position.

Thanks to Matthew Manuel for the Croal link.

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Gimme your lunch money, kid June 26, 2008

Filed under: community,journalism — contentninja @ 4:06 pm
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Meetings are sometimes held around conference tables.

Image via Wikipedia

Today started with a meeting in which, among other things, we discussed how some startups have taken our lunch in the flood-related community-building arena. Yep, I know that.

We spent time talking about branding and promotion and six-month strategies.

At least one of those startups,, already has a successful brand, viral word-of-mouth promotion and a clear-cut strategy — to serve the community faster than the official organizations could. It also has a limited lifespan. It meets immediate needs and will probably not remain relevant for the long haul.

What these little startup Web sites do better than we do is quick launch. Where they struggle is maintenance. We are good at that. So perhaps the question is not “How do we do it better and squeeze them out?” Perhaps it should be “How do we get our hands on that successful brand and take it to its full potential?”

And although I use the word “brand” here, it’s not about making money, not for the ninja anyway. A ninja community is about connecting members to each other and the relevant information they need and want. Call it a service, if you like, but the community directs it.

In the meantime, we’re planning more meetings.

Interesting reads today:

Nicolas-Kayser Bril has a good piece at the Online Journalism Blog on semantic journalism. He does an excellent job of explaining how the semantic Web solution, if found, might apply to journalism. It involves artificial intelligence, and it’s rather cool. It’s also “in English” and easy to understand.

Benjamin Melancon discusses the new responsibilities of digital journalism at MediaShift Idea Lab. In a world where (hmm, sounds like a movie trailer) online stuff lives forever and where search engines can find it, we have a responsibility to correct and update reports.

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Something old, something borrowed June 24, 2008

Filed under: journalism — contentninja @ 3:29 pm
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I’m in Iowa City this week, filling in for a traditional-newspaper colleague. It’s odd. I left the newsroom less than four months ago, but it feels like a lifetime. Coming back is daunting, but, like riding a bike, it’s coming back to me in a hurry.

The parts I always liked, I still like — interaction with reporters, brainstorming stories, making them batty with my questions and insistence that we write for Joe Sixpack, not ourselves, and editing that copy to be its sharpest. And the parts that long ago lost their appeal? Well, the romance is still over.

That’s OK. It’s a brave new world, and I’m hopeful that the changes coming will push some of the dysfunctional things to the side. Will change fix everything? No, and that’s not the point. Seth Godin says it best in a blog post this week:

“The object isn’t to be perfect. The goal isn’t to hold back until you’ve created something beyond reproach. … Our birthright is to fail and to fail often, but to fail in search of something bigger than we can imagine. To do anything else is to waste it all.”



No looking back June 19, 2008

Filed under: community — contentninja @ 4:57 pm
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Sandbags on the Burlington Street Bridge

Image by Heather Lucille via Flickr

Recovering from the Iowa floods of 2008 may be more difficult than the flood itself.

Red Ninja of the East — also known as Mary Nesbitt, whom I dare to call my friend and mentor at Northwestern — spoke with me by phone today about whether the arduous flood recovery ahead of us might hold opportunities for online community-building. We answered our own question with a resounding YES.

Mind you, this isn’t about creating branded products to hang advertising on. It’s about giving distinct communities with distinct concerns (think Time Check, Rompot, Normandy Drive, small business, big business, etc.) a place to meet and share online. It’s not about US telling THEM what they need to know. It’s about giving community members a place to talk among themselves and to help shape the larger discussion.

Red Ninja, er, Mary and I think a good way to start would be to invite each community’s members to contribute their flood stories. Give them a platform for cathartic writing. Help them through this stage of grief. Build a relationship.

Then we invite the participants to keep the conversation going. What does their community need? What should be done next? And what participants have to say in this community space can be used to help shape the reporting our products provide.

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High tide June 16, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — contentninja @ 11:14 am

Today is a gift — a beautiful, soft spring day. The sun is warm when we lift our faces to it, and the breeze is cool against our skin. The world is saturated with color, like a new box of crayons. 

Perhaps this glorious day is nature’s gesture of apology to Eastern Iowans who have stoicly watched, helpless, as floodwaters washed away livelihoods and lifetimes’ worth of memories in homes and neighborhoods.

Today has significance for me. It is my sister’s birthday, and nine years’ ago today I went home from the hospital after a two-week stay and nearly dying while bringing my daughter into the world.  I’m not a spiritual person, but I was comforted then by author Squire Rushnell’s little book, “When God Winks.” In it, he argues that life’s little coincidences are signs from whatever higher power you choose that things are gonna be OK.

I choose to believe that this gorgeous day, whose date already has significance for me, is a sign that it’ll be OK. And I hope that those who have lost so much in recent days will find the signposts in their day and their lives that bring them comfort as well.

I’ll end today with kudos for my colleagues in the company’s two newsrooms who have demonstrated, and continue to, what the best of multimedia journalism can be. See their work and excellent flood coverage at and, as well as the daily Gazette newspaper and coverage on KCRG-TV9. 




Merge ahead June 10, 2008

Filed under: community,journalism — contentninja @ 5:23 pm
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The Schuylkill Expressway, approaching Center City from the North.

Image via Wikipedia

OK, our future is going to include citizen journalists in our communities contributing side by side with professional reporters, but sometimes well-meaning folks get stuff wrong or they’re reporting unverified information. How do we separate rumor and myth from reliable, relevant content?

(Don’t get your knickers in a knot. I’m not suggesting the pros always get it right. We are paid to make the effort, however.)

Dan Schultz, writing Sunday over at MediaShift Idea Lab, has a plan. He envisions a five-step process that pairs the critical thinking of the community collective with computer smarts. It looks like this:

“Technique 1: Purgatory – New articles of any type will start in a section of the site dedicated to unchecked information. This content will not be ‘elevated’ to the mainstream area until it has been collectively rated and categorized, and meets a certain quality threshold. By placing content here the users’ critical abilities will be explicitly triggered, they will be reading the content specifically to judge it.

“Technique 2: Context – The system’s tagging process will make it possible to display potentially related articles for curious readers. During article purgatory this will help inform critical ability; a lone report about a huge explosion in Montana might not be credible, but seeing that there are 500 of them alongside links to a breaking story from the AP would make the piece much more believable.

“Technique 3: User history – Has the user contributed anything in the past? What is the average quality of those contributions? Has the user tended to write opinion or report pieces? The system can provide this information to readers, once again in the name of empowering critical ability.

“Technique 4: Intelligent systems – Spam is automatically caught by mail and forum filters all the time. Although our situation will still require human input, the system could flag particularly suspicious-looking or particularly good-looking content in order to help guide purgatory readers.

“Technique 5: Targeted moderation – Since people will define topical and geographic interests, new articles can be targeted during the moderation process. This would mean that Philadelphians would have higher clout when judging a story that is relevant to Philadelphia and that those who like nanotechnology would be more trusted to review the latest report on the nano-bot 5000.”

My first reaction was, wow, how time-consuming. Not necessarily, Schultz argues. “This probably all sounds like a lot to ask of Joe User, but it actually isn’t so bad. It will just involve spending a minute or two reading an amusingly bad or refreshingly good article about a topic that is likely to have been targeted (i.e., of interest) to them.”

A wiki-type interface for the ninja communities has been one option from the beginning. I believe Schultz’s system just might work with a wiki. What say you?

Oh, and lest anyone think it’s all doom and gloom in the journalism biz these days, Paul Bradshaw and his Online Journalism Team have started, which celebrates all the reasons it’s a great time to be a journalist.

Bradshaw and team even posted their Top 10 list of reasons on the blog. You can add your reasons at JollyJournalist. Go on. Spread the enthusiasm.

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Rules of engagement June 9, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — contentninja @ 6:41 am

Content Ninja finds herself needing to set a few boundaries this morning. Since an immature, cowardly little troll has found us and sullied a comment thread by slinging mud, let me explain what will get your butt kicked off this space.

… THAT kind of behavior will.

The rules are simple. All comments are welcome as long as they are on topic, and the topic is exploring the evolution of newspapers and journalism. Comments that are not on topic will be removed upon discovery. Participants in good standing here also are invited to let me know of violators if you spot them first.

As my mother used to say, play nice. And if you can’t, get your own sandbox.