On the Internet, nobody knows you’re an editor

On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.

Try as you might to control the home page of a news site, to set the agenda, to drive readers to the stories you think are most important, readers can find what they want on the Web without your help.

They don’t need you, editor.

What they need is news. And by news, I mean useful information about the neighborhood and/or town and/or state and/or country and/or world they live in or care about.

Yesterday’s news is not as useful as today’s news. Take that as a given.

Enter the River of News, stage left:
nytimesriver.com

That’s the New York Times, stripped of all ornamentation and visual framing, spit back out in a form that screens and phones and devices can easily understand and display as best suits them, at a reader’s request.

You can thank Dave Winer for that.

Doc Searls periodically reminds newspapers that the first part of that compound word is news not olds, and he’s done so again today:

“News is a river, not a lake. It is active, not static. It’s what’s happening, not what happened. Or not only what happened. But what happened — news as olds — is how we’ve understood news for as long as we’ve had newspapers. The happening kind of news came along with radio, and then television. Then we called it ‘live’. Still, even on the nightly news, what’s live is talking heads and reports from the field. The rest is finished stuff.”

So how can newspapers move from dead trees to the live web?

If we can take the simple steps of stepping away from the automated nightly feed and make it someone’s job to handle, edit, and post breaking news as it happens, live, then like Doc says, “This distinction is what will have us soon talking about the life of newspapers, rather than the death of them.”

Bonus link: Patrick Beeson says newspapers can learn from Twitter’s simplicity.

It’s high time to send our pigeons out into the diaspora

Jeremy Wagstaff on the outdated definition of ‘news’:

“We journalists have been schooled in a kind of journalism that goes back to the days when a German called Paul Julius Reuter was delivering it by pigeon. His problem was a simple one: getting new information quickly from A to B. It could be stock prices; it could be the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.”
(via Techdirt.)

Wagstaff’s column goes a long way to explain the wall I’ve been beating my head against here for the last few days: It’s time for newspapers to step up their efforts to send their stories out into the diaspora.Pigeons

That means full text RSS feeds, active Facebook profiles maintained by real live staffers who drive discussions and answer questions, full-fledged mobile versions of newspaper.coms, Flickr accounts, YouTube channels, podcasts and videoblogs formatted for iTunes, and paying close attention to whatever’s next.

Start setting those carrier pigeons free, put down the flags, and get off the roof. They’ll get there. They’ll be fine.

Show off your front pages

David Weinberger describes the unbundling of media in clear terms:

“I’ve been saying for a while, and I think in Everything Is Miscellaneous, that the new front page is distributed across our day and our network. Much of it comes through our inbox. It consists of people we know and people we don’t know recommending items for our interest.”

If you still think ‘readers’ are dependent on ‘editors’ to filter the news for them… Actually, if you still think that, there’s not much that I can do. You should go explore Digg or the Huffington Post or Slashdot or whatever social media site you can find that interests you. Wire editors should check out Newsvine, for example. Actually seeing social media in action (extra points for participation) will make it seem a bit less nebulous, I promise.

My front page, in roughly the priority I cycle through it in the morning over breakfast:

  • Gmail
  • Google Reader
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google News, including sections for specific places and topics
  • My local online newspaper (This was much higher on the list when I worked there.)
  • My delicious network (I rarely get this far these days, but that’s where I just pulled the Weinberger post from, via Kevin.)

So what does your front page look like? Digg? NYT? YouTube? Netvibes? None of the above?
‘Splain yourself below…

Oh, and if you really need to see some well-designed newspaper front pages, have at ’em.

If you don’t get unbundled media, you’re not selling attention*

Command-and-control, top-down, masthead mass media is dead.

Seriously.

It’s over, and the readers/users/viewers won.

And without getting all “Information wants to be free,” I’ll just say that if you don’t get what Howard** and Zac are talking about here, it’s time for you to start understanding it.

Take Howard’s advice, young journalists:

“Blogs should be a daily routine for every dedicated journalist. They should read every blog related to their beats. They should read blogs about their own interests and hobbies. They should read blogs about their profession. To get blogging is to get how things have changed.”

Read blogs. Read everything you can get your eyes on about what you’re passionate about, whether it’s your beat or not. Are you into a concept, a game, a book, a movie, a tv show, a political candidate, a business? Really get into it.

Stop reading all those press releases in your inbox and find a slate of blogs that tell you things you need to know, everyday, to know everything about that one thing you’re passionate about.

Take Zac’s words to heart, newspaper publishers:

“Brand isn’t a name anymore. Brand is interface. Flickr is a dumb name. So is Twitter. So is Google. But we’re not looking for a name. We’re looking for usefulness. We’re looking for content. We’re looking for what we want.”

We’re looking for what we want.

Exactly. We don’t care what the name at the top of the page says, we’re your neighbors, and we’re looking for information, or entertainment, or a diversion — this isn’t new. This is why readers pick up a newspaper, in any form.

*Huh? Selling attention? What was that supposed to mean?

**Full disclosure: Howard is my new boss.

Mine, mine, it’s all mine!

Mine.

MyTimes. MyPost. MyThis, MyThat.

Without getting too far into slagging existing products for duplicating RSS readers or an iGoogle or MyYahoo or NetVibes personalized home page, let’s jump straight into a proposition:

If your newspaper makes me register and login to read stories, or participate in polls, or (important one here) add comments to stories, you’re going to need to give me something in return.

It’s a simple matter of give and take. I give you my personal information — even if it’s just an e-mail address — and you give me something — other than access, which I can get with BugMeNot if I really want it — in return.

And now, to the chase.

Here’s what I want:

I want to save my favorite stories, right here, at your newspaper.com. Because really, what’s the sense in Digging a story about my neighborhood? There’s no value in that, and it’s pushing it to say that Delicious or Reddit or any of the other social bookmarking tools we offer to readers have any real value to them at all — perhaps excluding Facebook.

When I share a local news story, I want to share it with my neighborhood. Hence, Facebook might still be useful to me to get a local news link in front of a classmate or a colleague or a friend from around the corner.

So why don’t newspapers offer something like a Digg profile, that keeps track of the stories that I save.

Then, instead of using a clumsy ‘e-mail this story’ function or copy/pasting an elaborate URL, I could just click the [save this story] button and point my friends to an URL like “newspaper.com/readers/gort581.”

Consider this a feature request, developers.

Three blog posts I haven’t had the time to write yet

These are not un-busy times.

Without further explanation or caveat, here are a few things kicking around in my head, if not necessarily in pixels just yet:

  • What Are You Reporting On?: An explanation of the idea and how the Twitter ID, the Facebook group, the WordPress.com blog, the Knight News Challenge grant application, and the allusions here all come together in my head. I won’t post more about it until I’ve drawn something up, because without that, I’m not sure anyone is really understanding what I’m talking about.
  • Mine, mine, mine: A simple Digg-ish profiley vision for what a user’s digital identity should look like at a newspaper.com. All I really want are bookmarked stories, because most newspaper.com readers actually don’t use Delicious or Digg or Reddit, etc. Give them somewhere to save stories on your site, and tie that ID in to the registration and login you require for everything else. This is a key feature that will get users to follow your reg/login rules for commenting systems, says I.
  • Cheering up SJSU’s photojournalism majors: Prof. Michael Cheers, one way or another, appears to be getting things done at SJSU. I’d love to interview him in something as simple as e-mail or complicated (and suitable) as an audio slideshow (when I have time) about changes, additions, summer programs and partnerships. Good things are cooking there, I hear.

If you’ve got ideas or input about any of these ideas, feel free to start blathering on about them before I do.

The long tail is a newspaper video strategy

Because I just can’t stay away from this topic…

Last time we talked about this, I wrote a post shooting down anyone who says we shouldn’t shoot newspaper video unless it’s top-quality stuff we’d, more or less, centerpiece on A1.

The responses from my friends in the multimedia blogosphere who shoot stills and video for a living at mid-to-large circulation papers in major cities ranged from irrational cynicism to completely rational pleas for me to watch some high-quality documentary style video and thank expensive cameras and dedicated video shooters for their work.

And I thank them.

But do you really think a photog carrying an HD cam (even if it shoots print-quality stills) is a viable (or rational) use of resources for a small community newspaper?

Here’s the deal:

Your big documentary video shot with a $2,000 camera and embedded in a big Flash package about a big issue is wonderful big-J Journalism. And appropriate. But it’s not something a small paper should be spending its time on with any sort of regularity.

Because we have inexpensive ways to gather and distribute video in larger numbers to our readers and viewers and users in a fragmented audience, equipping a larger number of reporters with easy-to-learn, easy-to-edit point-and-shoot cameras is a logical choice that makes sense for our readers.

Frankly, the fact that this might make good business sense for our publishers doesn’t really come into play when I think about this. If more community members watch more video on our site because there is, well, more of it that has a chance of interesting them, and that happens to mean more advertising revenue for us — or our corporate parent — who am I to argue?

Looks like I buried the lede again. Blink and you missed it:

“If more community members watch more video on our site because there is, well, more of it that has a chance of interesting them … who am I to argue?”

In an unbundled media universe, which is what you’re getting into when you take your online newspaper any further than shovelware, a big video documentary is an A1 centerpiece. It’s there, and it’s gone, and you can bring people to it from the wider Web if you archive it intelligently, but for all your readers who don’t happen to be affected by the issue, or interested in their story, that was either the only or one of a very few video options on the menu that day.

If YouTube has taught us anything, it’s that video users could care less about what you’re ‘Featuring’ or pushing on your home page. Just get me to the page with 50 thumbnails and headlines on it, and I’ll browse around for quite awhile. Show me one big video and little else, and you’ve lost me.

Why?

That’s where the long tail comes in, if you didn’t see it in the background of everything I’ve said about this so far.

A refresher:

The Long Tail
No idea where this particular LT image originated, but thanks to the Guardian and Valleywag for republishing it in a useful way.

On the left, up high with the mass appeal, that’s your A1 story.

Way out there on the right, those are all the tiny little stories that newspaper editors traditionally assume no one cares much about. They end up on inside pages, relegated to the crime blotter and the community calendar, but if you add up the number of people who are interested in those little stories, they give your big blowout Flash package a run for its money.

This is why topical blogs succeed, why categories and tags are useful things, and really, this is how Web 2.0 works. Individuals find what they’re interested in, and if your A1 isn’t it, they’re turning to the section with their neighbors in it in a heartbeat.

They’re doing the same thing with your newspaper video.

If I weren’t already knee-deep in an increasingly outdated thesis (a nearly approved proposal and vapor-research only at this point, I’m afraid), I would choose newspaper video is the variable and go out to do case studies of notable papers who have adopted different video strategies and figure out why that had done what they did and what the benefits have been, so far.

So far.

Those are two key words here. So have at it. I’ve argued both sides of this by now, and I’m still not tired of it, frankly. It’s fun to try to figure out because it’s something new an old medium can do to try and get a little, uh, newness.

I’ve also argued that every news organization should do what it can with its resources. If you’re at a big major metro working for a company with a video strategy that says Go Big or Go Home, more power to ya. You do beautiful work. I hope millions of people watch that video. I hope you win awards. I hope you change the world.

The rest of us are just looking to inform our communities, one little clip at a time.