Monday, July 23, 2007

The Tribune and synergy

Very long article from the December/January issue of AJR details what synergy and centralization meant at the Tribune. Some of the stuff they've been talking about, like standardized design of websites, seems to be hitting reality, and folks at Visual Editors are discussing it.

The AJR article also deals with calendar listings online, a la Event Tracker, and centralized and decentralized efforts.
Advice on the AJR article: scroll down to the first large W dropcap, and start reading there.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Defining design

Start with a look at Apple's product design evolution.
Then visit Core 77, and read about how to define the word "design."

The short version:

Good designers share these intangible skills, useful for cross-functional teams:
1. Interpretation: Many designers are multi-lingual in different fields, they are fluent in consumer trends, marketing, manufacturing, and technology.
2. Tangibility: Many firms are plagued by 'smart talkers' who sound good in meetings, but get bogged down in abstract complexities. Designers are good at 'making it real.'
3. Synthesis: Not only do designers specialize in being generalists, they tend to be good at making new connections, pulling together threads from different fields and integrating them into a new whole.
4. Resolution: Good designers are smart at turning knowledge into action—they solve problems, resolve tensions, draw tangible and practical conclusions, and hit deadlines. Designers (and copy editors, I might add) live by real world limits.

Advice, for designers and all:
1. Adopt an agile perspective
2. Spot gaps
3. Make new connections
4. Teach yourself
5. Expand the industry.

"There is no one future waiting to happen," Gary Hamel said, "the future is something you create, not something that happens to you."

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Political links added

Tech President and Open Congress are pretty interesting, in a geeky sort of way.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Backfence, from the horse's mouth, and LoudounExtra, from a resident

Mark Potts, the founder of Backfence, gives lessons for the next generation of hyperlocal websites.

As a counterpoint, it's worth visiting Loudoun Extra and reading Scott Karp's take on it. He lives there, and is one of the many online pundits these days telling us how to do our jobs. But he lives there, so his perspective is intriguing.

If you're like me, you might be a bit tired of "experts" focusing on the kind of work we do every day. (Have blog, will opine). Cutting through the noise to get to the knowledge isn't easy. I hope these links help.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Harry Potter and the Driver of Traffic

So "The Naked City's" transformation into the Potterblog has been highly successful, and I'm loving the content.
Reminds me of one cynical definition of a leader: Find out where the crowd is going, get in front of it, and say, "Follow me!"
In this case, I love where the crowd is going.
But as we focus on driving traffic, the old journalism ethics still apply: Just getting out in front of the crowd and giving them what they want can skew our coverage. One comment at the potterblog reflects this, but with bitterness.
"Congrats, Mary. You've gone from an active blog with 90+ posts discussing important issues that affect those who live and love Charlotte to one of hundreds of blogs that blather on about a book.
Is this part of the 'dumbing down' that the Observer (and most of McClatchy media) is doing? You know, more articles on paris Hilton and big pictures of kids and puppies that readers send in rather than good reporting on stories that affect people?
The results on your blog speak volumes for McClatchy/Observer's approach. You used to get 50+ posts and now you get 10...maybe."

Group psychology: It's intriguing that the potterblog draws more traffic, fewer comments. Some of the posters who regularly argued back and forth at the blog are upset that the conversation has gone elsewhere, but indications in the past were that many lurkers at the blog declined to enter the posting fray. What are the group dynamics of this? Is it a male/female thing sometimes? An age thing? How does a blogger engage the quiet readers and get them to post? Should a blogger even worry about that, as long as the traffic is coming?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pro-Am Journalism

This week, Wired's online site is publishing the inaugural project of Assignment Zero, Jay Rosen's "pro-am" journalism project. It was an experiment in building an Internet newsroom with professionals and citizen journalists working together.

As an editor on the project, I'm probably a bit biased. Most of the heavy lifting was done by Rosen and a group of 3 or 4 people who pulled everything together. That, of course, is a danger of opening up the floodgates to anyone: Someone has to control the gates.

But, it's an interesting topic. I learned a lot about some of the "crowdsourced" projects taking place online -- from iStockphoto to collaborative stock picking.

For more information, see Assignment Zero’s site.

News to Use

So, text alerts aren't just messages about boring traffic reports or sports scores. I just got an alert from the News-Press of Fort Myers, Fla., (for which I thought I'd opted out, but that's another story) that's really important news.

Text of the message:
All four 11:59 p.m. showings of "Harry Potter" for tonight at the Bell Tower Shops have sold out.

UT-Austin Conference: Journalism and Citizenship

Thanks to for this link:
University of Texas conference starting Friday on Journalism and Citizenship. Pretty impressive looking list of scholars who'll be speaking. Good stuff's sure to come out of these discussions. Including:

“What the Blogger Knows: The Emerging Knowledge Practices of Personal Journalism”
“Media on Media: An Analysis of the Relationship Between Professional Mass Media and Bloggers”
“History Writing 2.0: Journalist and Citizen Agenda-Setters in the Coverage of Hurricane Katrina’s Anniversary”
“Important News but Complex: How the Web Generates Public Interest in and Understanding of Science, Health and Technology”

Monday, July 9, 2007

Do in-paper refers drive traffic?

Not for a blog about Harry Potter, at least not by 9:40 a.m. on a summer morning, even though a front-page story had a refer to this blog.
(Re-editing this post as new numbers come in. Certainty fades to uncertainty, the more facts you have).
By noon or 1 p.m., traffic had rebounded some, possibly because a link to the blog was posted at the very top of our website in a Harry Potter visual package.
Eventually, the day's numbers surpassed the 818 visitors that came on Saturday, just after the first Harry Potter post went up. Eventual number was 838.
In this case, it looks like many blog readers are using RSS or some other blog-watching software. The blog writer, Mary Newsom, believes the in-paper refer from her Saturday column was a major force in driving the Saturday morning traffic. The post was posted Friday night at 11:35 p.m., and the flood of hits came about 8 am. to 10 a.m. the next morning. I suspect it was a combination of RSS readers and the in-paper refer placed with her op-ed column.

To quote the Dayton managing editor awhile back: "Google is now the front page of the newspaper."

I think it's gone beyond that, to software that monitors particular sites and updates readers with headlines pointing to new content (often called RSS, but not all the software is "real" RSS, and not all of it is complicated).
But that software isn't perfect: The latest posting to Mary's blog was up about noontime. My Google Reader did not update with the new posting until 3:30 p.m. That lag might not mean much for overnight postings aimed at readers' morning reading habits, but for real news monitoring, it's unforgivable. There might be settings at Blogger or elsewhere that can speed this up.
Update: I created a Facebook group, Potterblog Fan Club, to push the blog, as an exercise in driving traffic. It brought a couple of hits, one at 10:40 p.m. Monday night. The timing seems obvious, for anyone who knows teenagers. I have a hunch that traditional newspaper readers are the ones logging in and reading in the morning, and the non-traditional younger readers are primarily the ones visiting later at night. Generally.
The Facebook group is up to five members as of 10 a.m. Tuesday -- obviously, the key is connecting with those viral folks who have lots of friends, not Facebook newbies like me.

Designers rule, others drool?

I know a designer who suggested this link, but was concerned about sharing it because of designer-hate backlash.
But hey, now Howard Weaver has it on his "I'm reading..." list, so here are a couple of quotes and a link:

"CEOs and managers must know Design Thinking to do their jobs. CEOs must be designers and use their methodologies to actually run companies. Let me be even more precise. Design Thinking is the new Management Methodology."

"Innovation is no longer just about new technology per se. It is about new models of organization."

--Bruce Nussbaum, BusinessWeek

Friday, July 6, 2007

Walk the walk, and walk the line

The Washington City Paper writes about The Washington Post's 10 Principles for The Post on the Web. They're worth reading.
The most intriguing and difficult ones, I think (oops, there's an opinion):

Accuracy, fairness and transparency are as important online as on the printed page. Post journalism in either medium should meet those standards.

We recognize and support the central role of opinion, personality and reader-generated content on the Web. But reporters and editors should not express personal opinions unless they would be allowed in the newspaper, such as in criticism or columns.

Rich Rubin walked this line beautifully in his Q&A as Dr. Traffic. He maintained his credibility as a reporter by keeping his opinions out of his dialogs with readers online, but he fostered transparency and fairness and a look inside his notebooks with his answers. I hope someone has archived that work to share with others who try the same thing. Rick Thames does a good job with his Q&A online as well, and that format gives some control over the space that a blog doesn't.

Line editors as well should take care in blogging opinion on the web, lest they erode the credibility of their editing. (Oops, another opinion).

Newspaper staffing levels

Jack Shafer at Slate compares staffing levels at The Washington Post and The New York Times in 1972 and now. Credit goes to Trent for finding the article.
One quote:
If hard-news sections take a disproportional hit as papers rescale, all the iPhones and Googles in the world won't matter.
The full story.
Read the comments too. It's worth pondering how our new technology has broadened the work of newsroom employees, not just made it easier. And is it more efficient to have mojos who do everything vs. assembly-line jobs? Indianapolis is outsourcing photo toning; but if someone sends a reporter an emailed mugshot, should that reporter be able to put it into production herself, or should she hit the forward button through three other people to get it in the paper?

Thursday, July 5, 2007

pod and paper

This small paper's Web site has a feature that allows you to download stories to your iPod.

Go here for an example:

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Copy Editors and the Web

Pam Robinson has started a series of potentially revealing interviews talking with copy editors about what (if anything) they're doing as their papers shift more emphasis online.

She starts with Jonathan McCarthy, editor of Highlights:
  • Many copy editors are already doing the work that helps make web sites go; they just may not realize it. Good web sites rely on good headlines and tight copy. In our case here at Newsday we have asked copy editors to think a little differently about how headlines work and what might make a good web story. Aside from the copy, anyone in the newsroom should take some time to find out as much as possible about their site’s audience. That will aid them in understanding what works and what doesn’t.
  • By relying on the Web for breaking news, stories for the print edition should be more analytical, longer and useful. In its best model, a good web site makes a good paper better.
  • The best thing anyone can do to take control of his or her work on the web is to become engaged with the Internet. See what your competitors are doing. Think about who might want to read your work and how they might find it. Promote your work on the web by getting it linked in blogs and message boards. Suggest multimedia ideas (videos, audio, photo galleries).

The 3 a.m. shift

E&P has a pretty good look at how Gannett's much-touted "Information Center" approach is faring a year after being rolled out. The papers say the approach -- more updates to the Web, a renewed focus to be ultra-local, inviting readers in on conversations -- has generated much more Web traffic. One paper says it's up 72% month to from last year.
  • I liked this quote from a Merrill Lynch newspaper analyst:
    "They are giving the reader something rich. People who might not go to the site for news will go to find out home prices. It is an opportunity to serve advertisers better by connecting with the local audience and a number of local advertisers."
  • The article does allude to concerns within a few of the operations that each newsroom is being asked to do too much, but there isn't a lot of explanation.
  • In Rochester, N.Y., the paper is learning that the online features can drive print circulation. Editors discovered this in September when they prepared a multimedia package on local sex offenders, which included a database of registered felons and various audio and video reports.

    The Web package was prominently placed on the home page on Sept. 28 to promote much of the same material in a Sunday print presentation three days later. The effort resulted in the biggest Sunday single-copy sales of the year, with 4.9% more than any other Sunday. That record was broken two months later when the same approach was used for a report on police overtime.
  • In Phoenix, the paper partnered with Arizona State University to pay 15 students $10 an hour to cover local news online during early-morning hours.
  • In Parsipanny, N.J., where a Web editor works the overnight shift to keep feeding the Web and trying to grow the overnight audience, the editor says the approach has changed the mind-set of staffers.
    "It is less of a print-driven approach," he says while chatting in his office, "being absolutely as local as we can be and getting readers involved as often as possible." The early jump on the Web is key, he adds, noting that the paper's monthly page views jumped from 3.3 million in March 2006 to 4.9 million in March 2007.


Not only are we not getting that nasty warning when we go to Flickr from inside the newsroom, but folks on the Charlotte Flickr group are posting links to our news website from their pictures. Somebody did this for the business story about South 21 at this Flickr space.

Now we can do that too and drive traffic from Flickr to, even at work.

Better navigation, fewer page views?

Some folks are wondering why traffic as measured in page views has dropped off at
Could be the companies doing the counting, or it could be the way page views are counted, or it could be faster, easier navigation, suggest a couple of new comments at Howard Owens' blog.
Analogy: planned obsolescence? If we let traffic metrics drive our decisions too much, we'll make our pages more complicated to drive up page views. (We'll make cars that don't last so customers will buy more replacement cars.)
Honda and Toyota didn't go there.
I wish there was a way to measure quality time and satisfaction of visitors as well: did they spend lots of time reading and viewing, or did they spend lots of time trying to find what they needed? Sounds like a graduate degree research project, or Eyetrack study.
Can we quantify satisfaction? I.E., does a 1-minute visit mean a visitor was dissatisfied, while a 3-minute visit mean they found what they needed?

Monday, July 2, 2007

BBC experiments

A BBC reporter uses social media to drive readers to the BBC, and to tell the story behind the story.
Read here.

Can't find it?

One other small thing we can do now:
If you read something in the paper, but can't find it on the website, email the online message group.
If you see a misspelled headline or a missing headline, email the online message group.
That group is responsive, even early in the morning, and they appreciate the extra eyes. Diedre McGruder made a fix this morning to post online Lisa Zagaroli's Inside Washington column, which is important to me and my neighbors as 8th District residents.
And you'll feel better, knowing you did what you could. If you know the editor or reporter who initiated the story, you can let them know their story was missing from online, and perhaps they should check how they do webcodes in CCI.
Along the way, you can hope for a better way. But for now, this is something we can do.