Content Ninja's Weblog

An exploratory journey on the edge of newspaper evolution

Crunchberry Project rolls forward November 18, 2008

Filed under: innovation — contentninja @ 1:35 pm
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Drawing of an early Pelton wheel (also known a...

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Word came Friday that the Crunchberry Project application for a Knight Foundation News Challenge grant is moving forward to the next step in the application process.

This doesn’t mean that we get a grant. It means I get to fill out a longer application. :) Due date is Nov. 30. Winners won’t be announced, however, until summer 2009. When you consider that more than 2,300 applications were made for $5 million in grants, we’re incredibly lucky to still be in the race.

Crunchberry is, of course, the name given to the project by professor Rich Gordon‘s master’s students at Medill, the J-school at Northwestern University. We partnered with them this semester for Gordon’s innovation class.

The students are Brian Boyer and Ryan Mark, recipients of Knight scholarships for programmer-journalists; Kayla Webley; Angela Nitzke; Joshua Pollock; and Stuart Tiffen. Pay attention to those names; they’re gonna go places.

What’s the project (besides cleverly named after one of Cedar Rapids’ signature scents)? The students have been exploring how news Web sites can improve upon community conversation around content. By the final presentation in early December, they will have prototyped three new styles of commenting, all using  Facebook integration via the developers’ beta Facebook Connect. Those comment structures are, in highly simplified terms, Q&A, short-form and letters to the editor.

One semester isn’t much time, actually, and while the project is off to a kick-butt start, it won’t be finished. That’s why we asked for a grant — to help fund the next phase of development. Things like bug fixing and integration with our clunky, er, fantabulous legacy systems. Even without the grant, though, we’ll test the features in some way on our content and collect user feedback.

I’ll be learning a handful about grant-writing in this application process, and our friends at Northwestern — Gordon and Medill Associate Dean Mary Nesbitt — will be helping. (To prevent me from messing it up too badly, thankfully.)

It’s important to note at this point that we (read: Gazette Communications Inc.) do not “own” this project. We sponsored the class and we’re applying for the grant, but the project is the result of the students’ hard work. We gave input that helped them determine a direction and focus for the project, but the ideas are theirs.  And the project is built on the promise that the end result is open source, meaning anybody can have the code.

I think the results of the Crunchberry Project will be impressive, and I admire the students’ entrepreneurial efforts. The speed at which they are delivering is enviable. (If only companies could be this nimble, eh?)

So keep your fingers crossed for the Crunchberry Project and the grant app.

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Frontier optimism November 12, 2008

Filed under: innovation,journalism,social media — contentninja @ 7:00 am
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Winter scene in Yellowstone

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Is the vision just crazy talk? We talk about being digital first, separating content from product and fostering relationships with and among our communities, but c’mon. Can we really change the world from Cedar Rapids-Iowa City, Iowa? Can one little ol’ regional paper stumble upon a solution to the newspaper industry’s woes?

Maybe we can’t find a solution that fits the entire industry, but I believe we can find the solution that fits us and that serves as an example for companies like us.

Still skeptical? Find inspiration in this guest post by Shelli Johnson from on Chris Brogan’s blog.

She has a small, independent company in Wyoming — a Western state that’s still classified by the Census Bureau as “frontier” and that boasts an average population of five people per square mile.  She and her colleagues were smart enough to recognize back in the mid-’90s the importance of the Internet and, later, the importance of Web 2.0. They embraced the disruptive technologies and built a successful tourism company “in the middle of nowhere.”

“It was mid-2006” she writes, “when we realized that the customer would be increasingly in charge and that they would be all that mattered in the new landscape.”

Most of the news industry has yet to figure that out, but I’m thinking that if a ’90s start-up in Wyoming can make it, so can we.

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Embrace the disruption and win the war November 11, 2008

Filed under: innovation,journalism,video — contentninja @ 1:56 pm
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My New Video Camera

Image by Ezalis via Flickr

Brit Paul Bradshaw attended the Society of Editors 08 meeting in the United Kingdom recently and posted at his Online Journalism Blog video of Michael Rosenblum’s presentation.

Rosenblum is a former CBS news producer turned independent video journalist.  Bradshaw presents Rosenblum in three videos, totalling roughly 20 minutes. Yes, it’s linear video, and it’s worth every minute. (There is some blue language about halfway through first video.)

Rosenblum rocks the boat, and it’s a wonderful ride.

I’ve been chided for not exploring the future of TV news enough in this blog. Rosenblum takes it on, no holds barred. His point is that TV news, as it’s always been done, is ridiculously overpriced. You no longer need all those editors, producers and $500,000 editing bays, he says. Hire six quality journalists,  outfit them each with an $800 point-n-shoot video camera, teach them to edit on a Mac laptop and send them out the door to find stories in their communities. Heck, they can even work from home. It’s not just talk; he’s doing these things.

Are you listening, newspapers? Rosenblum says newspapers need to stop fighting that disruptive technology known as the Internet and start doing this, too — because the Web demands video, that’s why. “You are not in the newspaper business!” he says, explaining that we’re in the business of delivering stories to our communities and charging advertisers for the eyeballs. And we can still do that on the Internet, he says, and save money, too.

And lest we get all dismissive and elitist about those less-expensive VJs — as we journos are wont to do with experimental stuff (see mainstream media’s hypercritical response to David Cohn’s crowd-funded — Rosenblum points out that there are talented journalists who can be tapped for these jobs and that mainstream media companies will attract them.

“Journalists aren’t made; they’re born,” Rosenblum says, quoting a colleague. Damn right we are, and we can do this.

Still have doubts? Rosenblum points out that embracing disruptive technology has been a winning strategy since 1356. Listen to his Edward III story in second video for details.

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