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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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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