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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Do something! April 21, 2008

Filed under: content,innovation,social media — contentninja @ 3:32 pm
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A personification of innovation as represented by a statue in The American Adventure in the World Showcase pavilion of Walt Disney World's Epcot.Image via Wikipedia

Lisa Williams and I talked last week about journalists innovating at the individual level. That may seem like an insurmountable task, but look at startups. What makes them work is not the grinding machinery of business processes; it’s people — a mere handful of people who roll up their sleeves and DO.

So we innovate on the individual level by thinking like a startup, but I concede that we won’t “turn the Titanic” (to borrow Williams’ metaphor) without management support.

Author Scott Berkun, interviewed for AIGA, puts it this way:

“Casual Fridays, innovation offsites or giving people copies of Who Moved My Cheese are all nice things, but have zero direct impact on creativity in the workplace. It’s the behavior of leaders and managers that determines how innovative a group is, and most of what enables creativity is entirely free. You can spend a zillion dollars on creativity efforts, but if the basic behavior of managers doesn’t change, you’re wasting your money.”

CEO Chuck Peters has been “walking the talk” for some time. He’s asking if I know yet how I will do this. I have not mapped all of the abyss, but in the darkness I can feel something taking shape, a mixture of content and context creation, aggregated community-generated context and social tools or their best functionalities used to connect with the community.

Every day I learn something from other voices in the dark. Take Furqan Nazeeri’s blog Altgate. His post, “10 Web 2.0 Tips: $75,” speaks to that entrepreneurial, startup spirit. He created a social network for Obama supporters to recycle used campaign material. He did it cheaply and quickly. No teams to build, meetings to hold or spreadsheets to fill out. It’s a beautiful thing.

Lesson for me? There are three types of community members (emphasis is mine): “My guess is that for every 1,000 members, about 900 are lurkers, 90 are participants and 10 are activists. Each of these segments has different needs. For example, blogs are great for activists, but polls can be a better way to engage participants. The lesson here is to think about these segments separately.

This is why audience discovery is so important and where I’m concentrating my efforts at the moment. What do people want? How can we help? Focus groups start tonight and go all week.

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A ninja has to focus her chakra April 4, 2008

Audience discovery is a part of what I have going on, too, and so I’ll be conducting some focus groups later this month. So I’m learning how to plan, execute and moderate focus groups. Mary Nesbitt (, a mover and shaker at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and its Media Management Center’s Readership Institute, was kind enough to FedEx me some textbook pages on the subject.

I found this point to be true far beyond focus groups: “… the discipline of listening and thinking simultaneously. It is not enough to be an empty vessel.”

Amen! And that doesn’t just apply to people. Traditional media have been unthinkingly using their Web sites as empty vessels, dumping grounds for anything and everything that didn’t fit in the newspaper and, perhaps worse, all the same ol’ same ol’ from the paper.

For a Web site to be successful at engaging its community, it has to have an intelligent audience strategy of its own (because its audience wants something different/more than a newspaper) and intelligent content decisions that point toward that strategy.

Does that include traditional reporting? Video? Audio? Slide shows and Flash? Probably, but don’t ask me. Go ask the audience.

Gazette Web guy Jason Kristufek has his finger on the proverbial pulse of Web 2.0 strategy. Check out his blog for insights: