Thanks to everyone who noticed the pillow-soft launch of 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.

Rethink carefully.

I’m posting the following as a comment on the Mercury News Rethink blog in response to Jay Rosen’s call for input as to how a Merc beatblogger on green technology could have covered the “Al Gore joins Kleiner Perkins” story this week.

I’m going to throw a monkeywrench at the Rethink works here, just to air out something that’s obvious to anyone who reads both the Merc and a raft of blogs about things like Silicon Valley, venture capital, and green technology.

This is part of the problem that Rethink and Matt Nauman’s role as a beatblogger will need to solve:

Merc reporters get their butts handed to them by blogs on a regular basis.

I don’t mean to put any reporter down when I write that, but the Merc’s audience for stories like “Al Gore joins Kleiner Perkins” read the story hours — sometimes days — earlier in their feed reader.

In fact, the Merc used to have the best blog on the topic — Silicon Beat — before Matt Marshall and company left the newspaper and it was reborn as Venture Beat, which I subscribe to, regularly reading timely, clear, well-researched reporting on green tech in the Valley.

Add to the mix the sources that fuel TechCrunch, Scoble, Engadget, Gizmodo, and even the swarm of rumor-powered Apple-adjacent blogs, and you get a social network that is well ahead of the Merc’s curve.

In my opinion, the Rethink strategy of a renewed emphasis on business and technology in Silicon Valley is a Quixotic exercise.

But I don’t live on their side of the hill, and I didn’t hand out Starbucks cards in front of Fry’s in an extended but informal Newspaper Next market research project, and I didn’t talk to their readers to find out what they want from their local paper.

If it were up to me, I’d take a rethought Merc in a direction heavy on neighborhoods and light on beats that already get saturated with blog coverage.

I’m off-topic, and I didn’t answer Jay’s question yet, so here’s how I think this fits into the beatblogger framework:

A Mercury News beatblog+network on green technology should aggregate the best of what’s already out there in the wild. Trying to shoehorn sources on this beat into temporary roles as ‘commenters’ or ‘members’ of a network or ‘friends’ or ‘fans’ won’t go as far in the long run as linking out to them. Don’t try to duplicate an existing network already saturated with coverage.

“We know what to do, but we can’t get it done.”

To elaborate on the somewhat derisive one-liner (about Jay Rosen’s New Assignment plan for beat blogging with a social network) that I dropped into a post a couple days ago…

I think it’s a great idea. It will work. Good stories will come out of the project.

And that’s where I get off the bus, because I’m hoping for something that goes beyond a “project.”

I want a hunk of code that professional or amateur journalists can use to build social networks around their beat.

That’s my reservation about the plan as it stands right now: Leaving the technical choices of how to get this job done up to news organizations seems like it leaves a major step unfinished.

For me, that step is leaving behind software that a news organization can use to build more social networks around beats.

I have yet to work in a newsroom where its technical needs were caught up to its philosophy. For example, it is much easier to convince editors that presenting information in databases online is a good idea than it is to actually code up an application to make it easy for reporters or online staff untrained in MySQL and PHP to do it.

A few ways New Assignment could leave behind some useful code:

  1. Offer the participating organizations or soloists a WordPress theme and plugins configured to highlight the posts and comments from registered members of the source/social network.
  2. Or do it with Drupal.
  3. Build a application in Django that collects data from a set of forms and feeds it into a database, making it easier to collect quantitative data from the sourc/social network, and readers in general.

Then again, there’s a chance I’m just completely misinterpreting the mission of New Assignment, but I’d like to believe that part of it is to enable the Pros to collect and surface information from the Ams.

Am I way out in left field on this one?

The title of this post comes from AP CEO Tom Curley’s much blogged-about speech:

“I’ve been inside many major news organizations the last couple years, and, invariably, I hear the same refrain. We know what to do, but we can’t get it done. Or, sadly, we’re in worse shape than we were two years ago because we’re spending even more proportionately trying to keep the old model functioning.”

What I’m looking for are ways that those who have the tools to “get it done” can help those who “know what to do.”

It can’t be that hard.

A few last notes on the Networked Journalism Summit

Thanks to everyone who took a few minutes to talk with me yesterday. The whole putting-faces-with-names bit is really underrated. In no order (I’ll give chronological half a chance), with no hope of remembering everyone, here are a few notes to folks I met in person for the first time at the summit:

  • Scott Karp: Eager to see your choice of features for Publish2.
  • Rick Burnes: 9Neighbors looks promising – why not feed those posts back to an Atlas map?
  • Derek Willis: Somebody should be building an open source form-to-database tool in Django for quantitative data gathering, networked journalism style.
  • Jeff Jarvis: Excellent work with the invisible gong, sir.
  • Jay Rosen: Please don’t let the NextAssignment be something meta about the media.
  • Lisa Williams: Placeblogger is looking good these days!
  • Steve Garfield: I wonder if I can run iMovie HD and iMovie08 at the same time, IE6/7 style?
  • Dwight Silverman: Seriously, if I ever finish the preliminary data gathering for my thesis, you’re almost certainly on my list for a case study interview.
  • Barry Parr: The Central Coastsider Network?
  • Travis Henry: Reverse publishing can’t be the only carrot to drive participation, can it?
  • John Hassell: There must be a few hundred BaristaNets in Jersey who have never tried blogging; give them a chance.
  • Dave Winer: I’m having a good time with Flickr-to-Twitter. Check your picstream for one of you.
  • David Stern: Do you think it would work for breaking news, a la Wikipedia on big stories?
  • David Cohn: See you on the West side.

More blog posts about the summit here. Posts on the summit blog by CUNY students here.

[UPDATE: I didn’t mention Jan Schaeffer or Chuck Olsen, both of whom I’ve met briefly once before, and Squared slipped my mind for no good reason. (What happens at the lunch table stays at the lunch table?)  I’ll see who else I can remember. Andy Carvin and I met in an amusing Tweettohandshake scenario.] 

A few ways to teach the Pro side of Pro-Am Journalism to J-School students

Jay Rosen was just on stage talking about (see his lessons learned post at PressThink), and one thing that comes up is training on both the Pro and the Amateur side to smooth the process of writing/editing stories and gathering/parsing data.

So how can J-School students who need to learn these new skills (this would be the Interactivity part of the trinity) pick them up in school?

A few ideas:

  • Create Facebook and MySpace identities for your student media outlet and then manage/promote them.  Start discussions about campus news and find the online communities that are already in your neighborhoods, then tie into them.
  • Create a Ning social network for a niche at your school:  Club sports not getting enough coverage in your paper?  Ning ’em.
  • Find a tool to gather data from your campus community.  It can be simple as a Google Map or as complicated as a database project, but take a common problem or question on your campus (parking, for example) and start asking your readers to contribute answers to those questions.

Does anyone have examples of student media taking these steps? (I know you do…)

And maybe more important, is this something you teach in a class, or are your students pretty much left to figure this out on their own?

Who’s your community site manager in the newsroom?

Questions I have coming out of the first session:

  • For newspapers with community sites, like Bakersfield and Raleigh, who is the go-to person in your newsroom for managing threads, policing comments, and general cheerleading for the site? Do you have a dedicated position leading it or is it rolled into other Web roles?
  • Is cloud-seeding on these sites only necessary in the early days of the site, before the crowd starts to manage itself, or is encouragement, seeding, and moderation from the newsroom an ongoing task?

A quick informal poll:  Who handles your community site, and is it an every-single-day job or just an occasional role?

Getting all networked up in New York City

I’ll be at tomorrow’s Networked Journalism Summit in beautiful scenic midtown Mannahatta tomorrow, completely amazed at the level of talent, skill and intelligence that will be around.

I plan to stare slackjawed at y’all like the upcountry yokel I am.

That’s not exactly true. I’m sure I’ll find something to talk about.

But I am particularly excited to hang around folks from all corners of the MSM/blog/citizen-journalism world. Here’s a list of 56 write-ups of attendees, and here’s the full list of people expected to show their mugs.

It’s hard to cherrypick names from the list and say ‘Darn, I sure hope I get a chance to talk with ______,’ but if it gives me a leg up and reminds them of who I am when they spot my name tag tomorrow, let’s just throw a few names out there:

  • Dwight Silverman of the Houston Chronicle
  • Dan Pacheco of
  • Lisa Williams of H20Town
  • Derek Willis of the Washington Post
  • Rick Burnes of FMAtlas
  • and of course, the hosts, Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine and David Cohn of ‘OMG I can’t believe we still have to write a thesis after all this.’ 😉

Track me down, send a Tweet @gort581, leave a comment here, find me on Facebook, or just look for the guy with the, uh, gray shirt, and glasses, and hair. Yeah, I’ll just find a sharpie and write my URL on my forehead or something. We’ll chat. It’ll be fun.

I don’t care what journalists are reading; I care what they’re writing

Scott Karp and friends (and those are some pretty smart friends) are up to something interesting, but I sure as heck can’t tell what it is based on a rambling post at the new

It sounds like something that’s supposed to clean up all the doubling and overlapping of social networks the media blogger scene is enmeshed in at the current moment.

Whatever it is that Scott’s up to, while I was trying to figure it out, an idea popped into my head. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, because I feel like I heard this idea passed through the filter of something like New Assignment at some point:

I want to know what journalists are writing.

Right, right, I know, I can scan Google News and read the papers and all that, but what I mean is I want to see trends develop on a large scale across the country (and yes, world) by tracking what stories journalists are working on.

And then I want the people formerly known as the audience to have a space to vote for what they wish journalists were working on.

Picture it as a mashup of Twitter and Digg, where reporters are constantly answering the question “What are you working on?” in a broad way so as not to tip off their competition — or editors. 😉

For example, I might post something like “Organic certification” without much detail about who I was pulling FOIAs on and what hunches I had about what I would find.

The algorithm (which someone else would program, eh?) would find common terms in other journalists’ posts and move topics up the list on the homepage a la Digg based on the number of reporters working on a topic:

::::::23 journalists are working on stories about organic certification.::::::

With space for comments, folks to add links, reporters to talk to each other about past stories, non-reporters to add information, etc. Suddenly there’s a thread of conversation built up for everyone working on a given topic to play with.

On the other half of the homepage, everyone answers a question like “What’s missing from your news?” to basically request coverage on a certain topic or issue.

And yes, users vote topics up and down the page, add comments and links and conversation a la Digg.

Fact is, there are a million little aggregators out there for the news that already exists, to filter information and bring the good/important/weird/salient stuff to the surface.

I don’t need another filter — I need a sounding board and a request line.

If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll pursue this a little further down the line, or maybe you’ll just point me to the place where this already exists. Either way, I think it’s an idea worth chasing down — even if it were just internally at a newspaper company.

How would that be – a network of news organizations full of journalists that actually talk to each other! Ha!

Just the FAQs, please

Jeff Jarvis on the Local Challenge:

“The biggest challenge facing local news organizations today is figuring out how they can gather more and produce less. That is, how can they help other people produce, so the news organizations have something worth gathering?”

Gather more and produce less, indeed. It’s hard for lifelong newsroom types to see layoffs one day and reader participation initiatives the next and not feel a bit slighted. But we’re not just talking about event calendars and little league reports here, although I love ’em, we’re talking about your newspaper as the platform for local information and interaction.

So it’s not just “send us your events and we’ll shovel them where they belong,” it’s “post your own events on your calendar which other users can add to their calendar, and tag your event with a number of useful categories that will help others find it.” Then let readers add their write-up of the event, and photos, and video.

This isn’t new, and it’s obvious enough. Apply that model to any information you want the community to have: Reviews of local businesses, parking lot maps or detailed notes on bus routes. (Did you know that if you’re quick about it, you can snag some free wi-fi access at one of the Scotts Valley stops on the Highway 17 Express Bus? It makes for a good moment to refresh your RSS reader.)

And a thousand other things. What are the frequently asked questions in your community? Answer those questions, and write a FAQ for your newspaper site that answers them with articles from your archives, links to all those maps and databases you’ve created, and aggregate local blogs that answer some of the same questions. Your reporters are resources here, as gatherers of information and mainlines to the institutional memory you’ll need when you try to answer these questions.

Jarvis goes on to say that one platform might not be able to handle all the hyperlocal information your town needs. I disagree. I think your newspaper can, should, and will be the information aggregator for your community. If that’s not our function, then what is?