Content Ninja's Weblog

An exploratory journey on the edge of newspaper evolution

Shameless begging October 30, 2008

Filed under: innovation — contentninja @ 4:45 pm
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A Crunchberry Donut. Yes, That's Right.

Image by Basial via Flickr

Please pardon me for being needy.

I’ve been awfully quiet this week, and when I show up it’s to ask you for something. We’re applying for a Knight News Challenge grant to help fund Phase II of the Crunchberry Project. The Medill students graduate in December, and there isn’t time for them to do everything they have in mind.

Thing is, competition for the grant money is steep. The Knight Foundation is giving away $5 mil total, and hundreds of journalists worldwide will apply. Some folks say that ratings can help a project’s application.

So I’m asking you to please go to Read our application and rate it. If you haven’t been following the project to date on Twitter and related blogs, the application does a good job of explaining what’s going on and what will still need doing.

Thanks, and one more thing. Cross your fingers!

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A vote for progress October 23, 2008

Filed under: innovation — contentninja @ 11:34 am
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vote yes on bubble-girl

Image by teejayhanton via Flickr

I voted today.

Some people see voting, especially for the empire’s next leader, as an event. I hold no romantic notions, though, about standing in line on Election Day, rubbing elbows with my fellow citizens and trying to chat up the cranky senior citizens at the front table. (And believe me, by the time I would get there in the evening, they are cranky.) Absentee ballots have been my MO for years, but today I decided to try a satellite voting station.

During the five-minute wait in line and another five minutes at the registration table, while the young man behind it struggled with an unstable Wi-Fi connection, I caught up with e-mail via my BlackBerry.

Finally, after verifying my home address in two places and signing off (in pencil?!) in two places, I was handed three pieces of paper and directed to a cubby to vote with that pencil.

All told, it took me 25 minutes to vote. Not bad for such a momentous decision, eh? Wrong. I think the voting process would benefit from a little digital disruption, too. I want voting to be faster and more convenient. I want it plunked in front of me, at my convenience.

I want a ballot e-mailed to me, and I want to vote from by BlackBerry while standing in line for coffee. THAT’s what I want.

B-but, Ninja, you say, there are security issues and control issues in voting that way. I don’t care. I want voting to join the 21st century. Don’t tell me no. Tell me when we’ll get there.

It’s not unlike what’s happening to the media business. A lot of people no longer want the old model, and they’re not interested in sputtered excuses. Yep, change is a lot of work and it’s hard work, but we need to get over it and make faster progress toward what comes next.

Just imagine what digital change could do for turnout — voters’ and media consumers’.

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What a porker October 15, 2008

Filed under: social media — contentninja @ 7:00 am
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Piggy bank from German bank HASPA, around 1970.

Image via Wikipedia

One of the things I admire about Mzinga’s Rachel Happe is that the woman has a sense of humor. Her “This Little Piggy” set of slides is fun, fast and makes a memorable case for why we must all learn to work/play/live in digital space. Check ’em out here. And a warm shoutout to @Alexa, who did the slides for Rachel. (Especially note the fine print on final slide.)

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iJournalism? October 14, 2008

Filed under: journalism,newspapers — contentninja @ 7:00 am
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Into the woods

Image by ~jjjohn~ via Flickr

What if newspapers could adopt the iTunes business model?

Leonard Witt, lead blogger at the Public Journalism Network, wonders about that.

“What if  — and this is really a big ‘what if’ — what if news organizations put together divisions that worked at producing blockbuster productions that people might actually want to download via iTunes or something similar. What if you had produced a video or audio production that was so popular that 100,000 people downloaded it at 99 cents. Getting 100,000 sales would pay for one journalist.”

Witt speculates that such content would not be hard news and not made by the newsroom. His “pop culture division” would live separate from the news operation, like today’s advertising department. And like advertising, the division’s revenues would support hard news journalism.

This former features editor finds it heartwarming to think that features content could be the salvation of newspapers. It’s good work if you can get it. :)

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In the Ning of things October 13, 2008

Filed under: community,social media — contentninja @ 3:59 pm
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Tutto mi conduce a te

Image by .chourmo. via Flickr

I’m a snob.

You may have known this already, but it has come as a revelation to me.  What I’ve been a snob about is Ning, a super-simple social network in a can.

I have unkindly described it as “stupid-proof” and “social networking for the technologically intimidated.” Then I put on my fortune teller’s hat and decreed that it’s neither “robust nor intelligent enough to meet all our needs over the long-term.”

Geesh. What a snot I can be.

Ning is exactly what it promises to be — so easy to use that anybody can build an online community with it in about 20 minutes and so open that folks with the know-how can tweak it to be more than what it started as.

We have, in fact, launched The Fan Zone, the community component of, on Ning. I actually like that it’s easy to use and that it can be tweaked. I’m already asking developers here for more stuff, like the ability for users to flag comments for moderation and a place to put the forum code of conduct.

So why did I say such mean things about Ning? It never did anything mean to me. My best guess is that I’m really dissing on an online community I met that was built on Ning. It was my first encounter with Ning many months ago, and I was turned off by the people I encountered there. Some real stuffed shirts.

So, in the name of self-awareness and self-improvement, I’m casting off my snobbish gloom and admitting that Ning is alright.

Don’t believe me? Check out The Fan Zone, or see Beth Kanter’s blog post in which she interviews a non-profit Ning user/fan.

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City of 5 smells October 7, 2008

Filed under: community — contentninja @ 10:40 am
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I love this! The Medill students are calling the partnership with us the Crunchberry Project, because of Cedar Rapids’ breakfast-cereal aroma, courtesy of Quaker Oats. They’re blogging about what they’re doing at Professor Rich Gordon also blogged an introduction to the project at—-i.html


Life of the party October 2, 2008

Filed under: community — contentninja @ 7:00 am
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Josh Bancroft uses the metaphor that having online communities is like hosting a party.

And to have a great party you have to be a good host. He notes that companies that have online communities often think they own the communities and often behave like dictators. Tsk, tsk. Here are Bancroft’s “rules” for being a great party host:

  • Think of yourself as an equal member of the community, with some special responsibilities.
  • Remember, you’re throwing the party. You built and “own” only the party venue.
  • Invite interesting people to the party and have interesting people for them to talk to and interesting topics for everyone.
  • Provide amusements, but not stupid, mandatory party games.
  • You’re there in case something goes wrong and needs to be addressed.
  • Enjoy the party for yourself, but don’t make yourself the center of attention the whole time.

The concrete example Bancroft gives is comments. He recommends that the community have clear rules for comments and only those that break the rules get pulled. In other words, a critical comment that’s within the rules gets to stay, even if it’s critical of the party host.

This isn’t just a great how-to point for online communities. It speaks to a fundamental problem for journalists as we move forward into a digital-first world. WE have always owned the party and been the center of attention. Or we thought so.

It’s not “all about us,” anymore. I’ve been saying that for months, and I’m not sure anyone’s listening. After all, I’m still hearing objections to allowing comments because “they might get ugly.” And?

Maybes and what-ifs cannot be reasons for refusing to change. To every what-if we should respond, “Then we’ll …” And since we aren’t going to be dictators or the center of attention anymore, we can ask the community for help, too, in finding solutions.

Will it get ugly? We hope not. Will it be messy? You bet. And have you noticed that real life is, too? Welcome to the party, my friends.

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