Saturday, February 23, 2008

Design, function and congratulations

Congratulations are in order for some Observer folks who won awards in the recent Society of News Design competition: designers Luke Trautwein, Jason Benavides, and alum Leslie Wilkinson, plus photographers, photo editors, editors and copy editors Wendy Yang, Todd Sumlin, Theoden Janes, Bert Fox, Barbara Russell and Chip Wilson.

But why should design matter at this time in our industry?

It matters more than ever. Read a smart McClatchy Interactive guy, Darren Abrecht. He writes about why haircuts matter, why design matters and how words like digitization, functionality and interfaces affect people, emotions and art.

Check him out.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Another Twitter victim

Succumbed to the pressure of Twitter to keep in touch with Leslie in L.A. and Rogelio here in Charlotte.
Ran into an unexpected success story right away.

Ro had emailed me a link earlier this week to Tommy Tomlinson's blog, which I admit I don't regularly visit. Tommy was asking readers to describe Charlotte in six words.
I couldn't visit at the time, but came back Sunday morning to see 193 comments. That's bigger than anything I've ever seen at blogs.

Had chosen on Saturday night some different people to "follow" on Twitter that I don't normally read via Google Reader. There's a small group of incredibly wired folks who travel in the same circles on the web, and one can fall into the trap of reading the same people all the time. This time, I chose Jack Lail as one to follow, from just over the mountains in Knoxville. He's more from Neil Mara's or Ted Mellnik's generation of wired journalists, and I wanted to hear a new, "old" voice. Within the hour, Lail started following my "tweets" because I was following him.

I "tweeted" early Sunday about Tommy's 193 comments, and Lail picked up the idea on his blog. How cool: Tommy's idea leaped the mountains.

So, in the spirit of Twitter, some small, further thoughts:
--Twitter is a great signpost to other content, in combination with tiny urls.
--It's a great playground for headline writers and others who enjoy the challenge of conveying information in tiny bits. Copy editors can rule there.
--Busy moms trapped in cars schlepping children are there. (Steve Gunn note.)
-- Newspapers are there. The smart ones fragment their feeds. NYT lets me follow arts coverage only, or business, or metro.
--Some content ideas are perfect for Twitter when they wouldn't find an audience elsewhere. Charlotte's feature pages are soliciting emails from readers on their six-word descriptions of their lives; I'm betting Twitter would've been a better tool.
--Twitter can be one tool to help give a voice to those who only have cellphones to get their word out.

Others have written plenty about Twitter and "micro-content." Posts worth revisiting include Rich, here, and Howard Weaver, here and Weaver on the six-word game, here.

Like other new tools, Twitter likely will have explosions of interest and then settle down, with many orphaned accounts. It's possible mine will be one of them. Life intrudes.
Still, it's a powerful, fast way to share ideas with little maintenance, and something else journalists should put in their arsenal.
It seems to work best bite-sized, like the New York Times feeds. So I'd love to carve up and start hurling tiny urls, instead of one big lump feed. But I do have that day job and some other stuff to do, so we'll see. Thanks, Jack, for giving me a success story. Thanks, Paul, for making me laugh at Austrian sock puppets discussing the plight of workers. Thanks, Leslie and Ro, for dragging me into Twitter. I think.

"Stop talking, start walking."

--Jimmy Carter, 1980

Friday, February 15, 2008

A cautionary tale - at the Washpo

Very long story by the Washington City Paper, worth the read, about the divide between digital and paper at The Washington Post.

Summary quote:
"It’s all about control—the news people and the Web people are grappling over who hires whom, who edits what, who pays for what, and who gets what first."

The story offers specifics, deep within, about technical and workflow barriers, particularly with photos.

There's no mention of the departure of technical whiz Adrian Holovaty from The Post, but you can read more about his thoughts on the divide via the long tail of the web here. Holovaty himself showed class in his departure announcement.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Kansas City wins at SND

Congrats to sister paper The Kansas City Star for winning an award of excellence in SND judging in Syracuse.
Results for other papers are unclear at the moment: the SND judges are designers, not database experts, and they want some time before posting the full results database. They're great at posting pictures though.
Please note: Kansas City uses CCI to produce their paper. The winning front page uses a tried-and-true formula for breaking news: great photos, played well; a locater map, a breakout box. What looks like the planned centerpiece was squished downpage while retaining its graphic elements.
Six of the Top 10 list of winners use CCI: the Los Angeles Times; The New York Times; The Boston Globe; Hartford Courant; Chicago Tribune, and the San Jose Mercury News.
Thought for next year's SND judging: invite a database geek or two to help get the full results posted faster. It's possible, as The New York Times demonstrates with election results.
Or develop one from within. Avoid fields; jump fences.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Of prom dresses, chicken and journalism

Shopped for prom dresses last weekend. All dresses were made in China. Had a minor discussion about the likely sweatshop conditions behind those swirling, sparkling swaths of beauty, then moved on.
Then read about chicken and saw Ro's tweets about considering vegetarianism. Recalled visceral reaction after reading "Fast Food Nation."
Then read Carl Lavin on a journalist finding funding for her own investigation about the cost to Chinese workers who are making products for us.
Maybe we should make our own prom dresses, grown our own local food and find money for our own journalism? Take a cue from the local food movement and our parents or grandparents in World War II?
But then when would we blog, Twitter, Ning and Facebook?

Friday, February 1, 2008

So about that business model...

Former Observer business editor Jon Talton rants about what's really wrong with newspapers.
He got a link from Romenesko, so you've probably already read it, and it's not the business of this place to focus on the negative.
But Talton is worth a read not only because his words can be so biting but also because he approaches the topic from a business point of view.
And many discussions are finally moving beyond lamenting the death of a business model to looking for solutions. Online advertising might not be enough (Project for Excellence in Journalism).

Let's hope the vision is broad and progress has begun.
Other links:
American Journalism Review on nonprofit journalism.
TechCrunch on whether government should support media companies.
Columbia J-dean's response.

Really want to dig deep and be surprised? Go to Charlotte's Urban Planet forum for outsiders' views. As always, consider the sources, put on your thick skin and look for the hope.