Content Ninja's Weblog

An exploratory journey on the edge of newspaper evolution

Frontier optimism November 12, 2008

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

Image via Wikipedia

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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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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WoW’ed by the model June 30, 2008

Filed under: community,journalism — contentninja @ 5:12 pm
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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.”



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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