ReportingOn.com

Thanks to everyone who noticed the pillow-soft launch of ReportingOn.com in the only link in my Resolutions post, and especially to those of you who commented, e-mailed, tweeted, or blogged about the project.

At the moment, it’s just an URL, an idea, and a comment thread, but it’s building momentum, and that’s pleasant.

A few thoughts:

  1. I’m not doing this for any sort of financial gain, although I may get a grant or two to help pay the server bills, if there ever are any.
  2. I am hoping to use this as my Master’s Project to finish the graduate program I’m (still) enrolled in at San Jose State University.
  3. I’m no one’s competition. I’m doing this because I want to, because I think it’s necessary. If it’s successful, I’ll be happy; if no one ever uses it, I will have had a good hunk of practice at trying to do this sort of thing, and hopefully learned quite a bit in the process.

Initial feedback on the idea:

David Cohn:

“Ryan’s idea, as I understand it, is to take the new found obsession with instant conversation (and gratification) and aggregate these conversations in order to improve local reporting.”

Greg Linch:

“I’m a competitive being, as most journalists are, but the purpose of our profession is to inform. If you don’t want to be scooped, don’t give away the scoop. We must continue to adapt how we do our job to better inform readers and this site would be a great way to help do so.”

As the idea evolves, I’m thinking strongly that the Twitter tie-in and a Facebook application are the two places to start.

Dave Cohn is right: Herding a boatload of journalists – pro or amateur – over to a redundant social network feels forced. I’m not going to encourage reporters to seek out their sources in popular social networks in one breath, then ask them to join another network in the next.

Or maybe I will, I don’t know yet. Tell me, what would you want out of this?

My basic thought, the tagline for the site, service, app = The backchannel for your beat. I want this to be a place/way for reporters in far flung places to talk to each other – quickly and relatively publicly. A rising tide lifts all bylines. Seriously.

A wildcard: Poynter Groups?

I’m not sure the Poynter idea is exactly what I’m picturing — actually, I know it isn’t, but I still think it’s a good idea. Is Poynter the best possible place for a social network for journalists?

Many questions. Answer what you can. Thanks.

Manifestology

{In the spirit of the journalism blog carnival, I’m linking to posts by some of my fellow barkers on display today as I have time.}

Pat Thornton lets fly with a manifesto + examples in “The Web is the greatest thing to ever happen to journalism.

A clip:

Go local – Many papers are adding more and more wire content. That’s not why people read local newspapers. They come for local stories. If you don’t deliver what people want, why would they come to your site? Don’t try to out-CNN CNN, because you won’t. Own your local stories, and people will come. You can only own the stories within your own sphere of influence. But you should rock those stories to the core.”

Go read the whole thing. It’s a nice time of year for manifestos. I might have to pen another one. 😉

If it weren’t for those meddling Montana kids…

The funny thing about disruption and disintermediation is that you never see it coming if you’re the incumbent, the old school, the big slow mover lumbering into the future baby step by baby step.

Know what I mean?

Wes Eben, publisher of the Big Horn County News in Hardin, Montana knows what I mean. Well, he does now.

Eben’s small, rural, community paper is suddenly getting its butt kicked online by a J-School project running out of the University of Montana’s “Rural News Network.”

The site, CrowNews.net, is updated with content produced by the community and students in the program.

Eben’s complaint, lodged in an interview with the alt-weekly Missoula Independent, is that the school should have found a community more in need of extended coverage instead of muscling in on his territory.

But looking at the Big Horn site, and others owned by the same company, I can’t help but think that these communities are clearly not getting the coverage they deserve.

Without delving too far into the particulars, I’ll just give you a feel for the quality of the sites by pointing out that many of them feature a Comic Sans-like font and frames. I did manage to find some photo galleries two clicks deep, which isn’t bad at all.

Compare that with the blog-software powered CrowNews.net, with audio slideshows, video, and comments front and center.

The message to community newspapers, often with a long-held monopoly on news and advertising in rural towns:

Move first, move fast, and be the dynamic news source for your town before someone else launches a disruptive project in your neighborhood.

(Missoula Independent link via Journerdism and Romenesko.)

Meeting story hydraulics

John Robinson, editor at the Greensboro News & Record, on stepping away from the “meeting story”:

“Welcome to the world of hard choices. It’s always been this way. We don’t cover everything. We don’t even cover what we used to. Newspaper staffs are getting smaller, yet the number of meetings and events, of commissions and government agencies grows. Partly as a result, newspapers are also moving away from devoting as much energy to covering “buildings.” Not only are there fewer reporters, but there is evidence that readers aren’t as interested in what traditionally is produced by that coverage: stories about meetings and bureaucracy. For every big scandal story, there are 100 smaller process stories required to get there.”

Something I’ve heard more than a few times, wise advice from experienced editors: If you can’t find the photo in your story, you might not have a story.

My version: If there’s a meeting in your lede, you need to find a person in your community affected by the decision made at the meeting, then rewrite your lede to include them in it.

The trick: Getting the photo to be of the person in your lede. Never as easy as it sounds.

None of these tips, of course, address the issues of how to cover local government with a shrinking staff.

A scorecard graphic? Still takes reporting time to boil down to facts.

Stringers? Still costs money.

Reader blogs? Works well enough to get the information from meetings to the Web, but this can’t be the best way to give your community a voice.

Video? This can work really well, but it’s time consuming to find the highlights, much like editing lots of football game footage late on a Friday night. But it can work. Check out this h2otown clip.

Now that’s clearly a story about something that happened AT a meeting, which is exactly the opposite of what I’m advising, but would you have a feel for all that emotion in print? Depends on the town and the writer, I suppose.

Thinking out loud about this; feel free to join in.

All I’m going to say about the Google/AP thing

Google News now links to wire stories from the original source (AP, AFP, etc.), hosted by Google, in addition to the 5,137 versions of each wire story posted at individual news sites.

Three reasons why this is good for newspapers:

  1. Newspaper.coms no longer have to spend time, money, and resources on trying to build the best semantic, SEO-friendly code for their wire stories that are the least unique content on their sites.  They should work on doing that for local news and information anyway, but stop worrying about how you host AP stories and what that does to your placement on Google News.
  2. The rewards that newspapers with higher PageRank and more incoming links get on Google News might slowly diminish as the Google-hosted wire stories draw more attention.  Again, worry less about SEO and more about creating local content for local readers.
  3. The page view spikes from getting a wire story or an editorial on a national issue to show up on Google News are nearly worthless, anyway. A reader from Poughkeepsie who clicked on the AP story hosted by your newspaper.com in Jackson Hole isn’t coming back to find out how the rodeo turns out.

See Weaver and Hartnett for more rational thought.

Rearranging the lipstick on a sinking pig

Mark Potts, fresh from the demise of Backfence, rolls out a to-do list for newspapers who actually want to re-invent themselves — as opposed to those that want to have lots of meetings about re-invention.

A few of these I’ve been throwing in your face for quite some time, dear readers, so I won’t give you the blow-by-blow, but obviously one of my favorite bits is the one about giving readers what they can’t get anywhere else:

“Get local. Very local. Does every paper really need to have the AP story on Iraq or Bush or Paris Hilton on Page One? That news is available all over the place. Bring your readers something they absolutely can’t get anywhere else–news about what they care most about.”

Lots of good ideas, of course, if you can get your organization, or corporation, or mega-conglomerate to implement any of them.

But that’s the catch, isn’t it?

Are news organizations just too damn big to turn around at this point?

In the comments on Mark’s post, it looks like Christopher Mims, a blogger at Scientific American, has this to say:

“In other words, no institution as hidebound as a newspaper can possibly have the agility of the nascent startups that are going to replace them.”

Yikes. He’s right, of course.

So here’s the mission: Make your newspaper function like a start-up. How would you serve your community if you were the small, agile online news site in town?* That’s the question we’re all trying to answer — that we must answer — if we want to survive.

Get busy re-inventing, or get busy making plans to get out of the business.

*Credit where credit is due: I didn’t use this “let’s pretend we’re a start-up” bit until one of my bosses said it. In a meeting. About re-invention. I’d love to hear some real answers to that question.

Will the real online news business model please stand up?

Terry Heaton’s take on the Yahoo/Amigos deal and other attempts to make up for lost print revenue with online advertising dollars turns on this point:

“…the essential problem for all local media companies is their insistence in the belief that a model of scarcity online will generate the kinds of revenue needed to offset losses to legacy platforms.”

For as long as I’ve been interested in this business, I’ve thought local advertising is the way to go at local online news organizations, but Terry’s counting out even that seemingly-obvious model, taking fragmentation and the unbundling of news as a given. Which I do. But I still think branding is a big part of unbundled content, feeds, and widgets.

We give away information so that we can increase the presence and prominence of our brand, get the newspaper’s name out in front of more eyeballs, and draw attention to any and all baby-step innovations we have to offer.

Making money off that is, of course, a long-term proposition.

Some more from Terry: “The longer we wait to aggregate the local web, the more we accelerate our own demise.”

“…aggregate the local web…” Now we’re on to something here.