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 publish2.com.

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!

Why shoot newspaper video?

Have I been over this ground before? Not sure. I think I’ve thrown around some adoption steps for newspaper video, and I’ve spouted all the necessary YMMV caveats for news organizations of varying resources.

But here’s the deal:

Not so far in the future, you’ll be sitting in a conference room trying to show a group of reporters how to use a point-and-shoot camera to shoot simple video. With any luck, you’ll even be training them to edit the video themselves. Best of luck.

What happens next, is that being good reporters, they have questions that cut a little deeper than “What does this button do?”

And the question they will ask, if they have any curiosity left in them, is the following one:

Why?

Why are we shooting video?

The short answer:

Because we can.

No, Virginia, it doesn’t matter that video isn’t terribly interactive, and I realize that to those used to opining on the state of the international media, what a paper like Bakersfield Californian does with video must seem like country bumpkin stuff.

Frankly, I don’t think the people who say video is the wrong track work in newsrooms. I don’t think they understand what the average paper with the average corporate parent has at its disposal as far as video resources go. (Read as: funding, gear, training.)

Here’s a missive from the camp I’ll call BiggerBetter, from Patrick Thornton, in a post about how not only is video not “new media,” but how we shouldn’t even be bothering with it if we’re not going to treat it with as much care and reverence as we treat the print edition:

“Doing video for new media, means taking the same standards you had for print and applying it to video. The video should look good, be edited well and be compelling. It should do something that a print story couldn’t.”

So there’s them, the BiggerBetters, who — best case scenario — would have everyone shooting HD and printing frame grabs, making big dramatic video packages with slick graphic logos dancing across them. For a small number of papers, this is an award-winning strategy that works, at places like the Washington Post and New York Times with the money and staff and travel budget to make documentary films halfway across the world. And it’s great journalism.

And in the other corner — the one I believe makes sense for pretty much any paper with a circulation under 100,000 or so, to pick a rough number out of the air — we have the FasterMores.

The FasterMores get that the ship is sinking, which makes it all the more difficult to turn around. It’s hard enough to get people to agree on a plan to adopt a new technology to reach readers in good times, much less when the layoffs come.

The FasterMores understand disruptive technology, and know that to succeed in Internet time, a news organization simply has to move faster than a printing press.

That means short video stories, in volume, shot by existing staff who are already at the scene of local news events.  Sometimes they’re called “reporters.”

Howard Owens casually posted some notes on a disruptive newspaper video strategy.

If you read that and still don’t understand why low-end online video serves most newspapers best, just think of how YouTube has disrupted network television business models.  Is it by emulating well-lit police dramas with great actors and impressive camera work?  Or is it by offering a multitude of choices for a fragmented audience?

So yeah, I’m with the FasterMores on this one.

The answer to “Why shoot newspaper video?” is clearly “Because we can.”

I’ll elaborate on that in comments and future posts, I’m sure.

So, are you a BiggerBetter or a FasterMore?  Choose one – “It’s a false dichotomy” is not an acceptable answer, unless you really want to spend more time in meetings debating it.

Meta notes: Where to find my microchunks

If you get the feeling I haven’t been writing here as much lately, you’re right.

But I’m still out here, reading everything I can get my hands on and throwing up links left and right.  They’re just not always where you’re expecting them, eh?

So then, if the meager postings to Delicious you find on the right sidebar and in the usual spot aren’t satisfying your link-devouring needs, take a glance at my shared Google Reader thingie from time to time (three-month-old + keyboard shortcuts = happiness).  Those also show up on my Facebook profile, along with just about everything else I do in the known online universe.

And yes, you can easily find me on Twitter and/or Pownce, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Find yourself a nice comfortable niche and sell it like blueberry pancakes

Did ya catch that headline? Don’t sell it like hotcakes, sell it like blueberry pancakes. Be specific.

Let’s put that another way:

Don’t be an international news service that decides it wants to appeal to the demographic of roughly 18-30.

Sell to a niche, not a demographic. Local moms are a niche; Women are a demographic.

Kansas Jayhawks fans are a niche; teenagers in Chicago are a demographic.

Many many bonus points if you can find the niche in your town full of people with no outlet, no forum, no place that gets them together to share their experiences:

Somewhere, I like to think, there is or will be a network comprising only those who can find it. And when I finally stumble in there, they’ll say, “We’ve been waiting for you.”

That’s Sheila Lennon, found by way of Steve Outing today.

Find the unserved niche in your town.

Here’s a hint: If your newspaper isn’t covering it, it’s unserved.

Hope for mobile news

I’ve gotta admit, when it comes to the question of newspapers adopting new delivery systems, I’m usually the one wagging my finger and saying “You better…”

But John Duncan over at The Inksniffer has a far more hopeful approach when it comes to the prospects for cutting deals with cell phone carriers and getting headlines from newspapers to mobile phones:

“There will, I’m sure, be Powerpoints. I think big cellphone operators, who like to do business with big brands and who can tailor their products by geography, will seek out local newspapers as partners very quickly. Readers may tell researchers about how little they trust newspapers but big telecoms trust us a lot. They advertise with us already. Newspapers know them. Newspapers play golf with them. Newspapers used to carry their books to school for them when they were young.”

He’s probably thinking of larger papers and larger newspaper companies, but the message is clear — this is one area where newspapers can play a few pieces of capital they’ve built up over the years.

As an added bonus, it’s not rocket science. Get your text headlines out on a mobile screen. It’s not difficult. After that, move on to pushing your video content out to iPods. Plenty of instruction booklets sitting around about how to do that. (Note to self: Do that.)

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.

Don’t get wrapped up in the ‘so-called pajama media’

In this wide-ranging interview with Bryan Murley of Innovation in College Media, Gatehouse Media’s Howard Owens points out what I battle through in conversations with both journalism school faculty and students over and over again:

ICM: Which leads a little bit into my next question … The online media universe has been changing dramatically over the last two years. What parts of that change do you think are most crucial for student journalists to comprehend?

Owens: Blogging and video. I don’t think many people grasp how much we can learn from blogging about how the way people consume information is changing. Those wrapped up in the Packaged Goods Media paradigm only see the so-called pajama media, and aren’t paying attention to what the real attraction to blogging is: authenticity of voice, relevance of subject, frequency of publishing, ease of consumption.

And then with video, a lot of the same applies, but visually, which has it’s own draw and engagement. [Emphasis mine, link Bryan’s]

Blogs aren’t just about politics, folks. Go find a blog about something you like, and read it. Click on the links, look over the blogroll, find out who else links to that blog, leave comments, sound off, and eventually, you’ll want one of your own. When you do, try Blogger or WordPress out – they’re both free and easy. Get started.