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Archive for the ‘Innovation in the media’ Category

One of the most interesting sessions of the Online News Association conference in Chicago last week was a discussion of the New York Times Innovation report. Andrew Beaujon (a former TBD colleague) wrote an excellent account of the session for Poynter, so I won’t recount it here. But I’ll raise the question I didn’t get to ask. As my friend and former colleague Mandy Jenkins noted, I was lined up at a microphone to take my turn asking questions:

But Swisher and Jarvis both asked follow-up questions and we ran out of time with me at the microphone, next in line. Friends noticed.

Beyond the tweets, that was kind of the greeting for much of the rest of the conference, when I would encounter friends and even strangers (or Twitter friends I had not yet met). Again and again, people asked what I was going to ask.

So here’s my question:

Why didn’t the Times publish the innovation report itself? And what does it say about the issues the report was addressing that the Times did not publish the report itself and was even surprised that it leaked to Buzzfeed and created such a stir?

(Amy O’Leary had opened the panel discussion by telling of her surprise when Buzzfeed published the report.)

I’ve already blogged twice about the Times report, and I’ve blogged multiple times about the importance of transparency. So I won’t belabor the point here. But I’ll invite O’Leary (or anyone at the Times) to answer in a comment or guest post here, by email — stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com — or on a Times format (I’ll quote it and link to it).

Like Swisher and Jarvis, I’ll include a few follow-up questions, too: Why didn’t the Times publish the report? Was there even a discussion about whether to publish the report and what to do if it leaked? Was the committee satisfied with the watered-down summary that was published, and did anyone think that wouldn’t stimulate interest in obtaining the real report? Has the response to the report increased transparency to the point that such a report would be published today?

Looks like I’ll be getting an answer. I’ll update here when I do (or perhaps make it a separate guest post):

It was an interesting panel, but I want to know more.

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As I noted in yesterday’s post about crowdfunding, I was participating in a #MuckedUp chat on the topic last night. You can read a Storify curation of the chat if you missed it.

I made brief reference in the post to a community-funded project by the Pottstown Mercury:

Nancy March

Nancy March

Thanks to Nancy March, editor of the Merc (and a previous guest blogger here in our days as Digital First Media colleagues), for letting me use this email about the project as a guest post:

We extended a paid internship to our Chips Quinn intern Miica Patterson for an additional 23 weeks to work on this project. I don’t assign her any other work, and every story runs with a note at the end saying reporting is funded in part by the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation. She is learning new journalism skills and strengthening others — video, interviewing, engagement, writing, photography.

Miica Patterson riding for Bike Pottstown

Miica Patterson riding for Bike Pottstown

The work involves a lot of community engagement aimed at promoting cheap and accessible ways to exercise and eat right. Miica organizes and manages a “Mercury Mile” lunchtime exercise break every Thursday at noon to emphasize that you can get exercise in your work day.  Last week we did yoga in a downtown park.

We have had zumba and agility classes after work in public parks, features on the community garden and cooking with vegetables, and a wonderful community engagement effort in the Fourth of July parade in which Bike Pottstown, health and wellness foundation staffers, Stop the Violence marchers and The Mercury family joined forces to show off our causes.  Here’s my column about that.

We feature our Fit for Life coverage on a subsection of the website, and it has its own Facebook and Twitter identity.

Rather than a conflict of interest, the foundation funding is a joining of community interests. It allows us to report on and engage people in a project that we would not be able to manage with our staff resources.  The project was inspired by news — a health needs assessment that showed obesity and health-related concerns on the rise in the Pottstown tri-county area — and is intended to lead the community in improving itself.

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Can we combine a community-supported business model with the declining commercial model for news?

I’ve been mulling the idea of crowdfunded beats for a while, probably since the idea occurred to me while David Cohn was speaking by Skype to my class at American University in 2011. Dave’s business at the time, Spot.Us, was helping crowfund stories by journalists: A freelance writer would propose a story idea and a budget, and when people pledged the budget, the journalist would do the story.

I asked Dave whether he had tried the idea for a particular beat — maybe as a way to fund reporting of a topic that was important to the community, that some people might care greatly about but that wouldn’t generate enough traffic to survive the next round of budget cuts at a news organization.

He liked the idea, but didn’t know about anyone doing that. Laura and Chris Amico did something like that when they crowdfunded an internship to continue Homicide Watch while they went to Boston for Laura’s Nieman Fellowship. Only that was their whole business focused on a single beat, not a slice of a larger news operation.

I never fleshed the idea out enough to pitch it as something we should try at Digital First Media, where our newsrooms cut many jobs in my tenure. But when John Robinson recently blogged about his concerns about a community arts group funding arts coverage in the Greensboro News & Record, I shared it on Facebook, saying, “I’d be more comfortable with a community-based crowdfunding, where ArtsGreensboro would be one of many funders, with a ceiling on how much any one source could contribute.”

John wrote about my suggestion, then Columbia Journalism Review’s Corey Hutchins wrote about it. Now Muck Rack has asked me to discuss the idea in a #MuckedUp Twitter chat this coming Tuesday (8 p.m. Eastern time/5 Pacific).

So maybe it’s time I fleshed out this idea. (more…)

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Patch logoA colleague asked for my thoughts on the latest round of Patch layoffs and the decline and possible demise of the company.

My first thought is sincere best wishes and empathy for the hundreds of Patch employees losing their jobs (and those who earlier lost their jobs), including some friends.

Patch hired a lot of good journalists and did an excellent job covering a lot of communities (including the area where I live and many communities covered by my Digital First Media colleagues). We just hired Don Wyatt, a Patch editor, as our vice president for news in Michigan. Whenever journalists lose jobs, I hope for better opportunities around the next corner.

I won’t pretend that I ever studied Patch closely. When it launched, I was focused intensely on the launch of another much-hyped local news product, TBD. When a member of our TBD Community Network expressed concern about competition from Patch, I blogged about the possibility of collaborating with competitors, but otherwise I haven’t had much to say about it.

From TBD I moved to DFM (then the Journal Register Co.), where I had a similar intense focus on my duties on this job. So Patch has always been on the edge of my consciousness, but never a topic of concentration.

Granting that I didn’t study it closely, it always appeared to me that Patch was more innovative and experimental in trying to develop a new approach to local news coverage than it was to developing a new approach to local commerce.

I thought Patch had the potential to develop and succeed at moving beyond advertising into more meaningful revenue sources. I thought its national scale and digital roots gave it potential to develop some of the revenue sources I have encouraged news organizations to explore, such as databases, local search, direct sales and commissioned obituaries and other life stories.

If Patch tried any such innovative approaches at generating revenue, I never became aware of them. And they certainly never succeeded in building a sustainable business.

I welcome a guest post from anyone who has watched Patch closely or who worked for Patch. Maybe you can answer better than me: Why didn’t Patch succeed?

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I couldn’t resist aggregating Erik Wemple’s post on aggregation and the Washington Post.

Erik, who blogs about media for the Post, contacted me yesterday asking for a reaction to this statement by the Post’s soon-to-be new owner, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon:

The Post is famous for its investigative journalism. It pours energy and investment and sweat and dollars into uncovering important stories. And then a bunch of Web sites summarize that [work] in about four minutes and readers can access that news for free. One question is, how do you make a living in that kind of environment? If you can’t, it’s difficult to put the right resources behind it. . . . Even behind a paywall [digital subscription], Web sites can summarize your work and make it available for free. From a reader point of view, the reader has to ask, ‘Why should I pay you for all that journalistic effort when I can get it for free’ from another site?”

It was a bizarre statement, sounding as though it came from a longtime newspaper publisher, shaking his fist at those damned Internet disruptors on his lawn, rather than coming from one of those disruptors, supposedly offering hope by bringing new ideas and a new perspective to one of the most treasured newspapers. (more…)

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In my years discussing disruptive innovation while teaching Newspaper Next concepts, I often said that newspapers’ advertising/circulation blinders kept us from developing a digital marketplace such as Amazon.

Well, now, we finally have Amazon’s disruptive founder in the newspaper business, with the Washington Post’s announced sale to Jeff Bezos.

I don’t have time to analyze the deal today — and wouldn’t trust such swift analysis if I did — but I am glad to see such a disruptor coming to the newspaper business. I think we can count on the Post moving beyond the narrow advertising/subscriptions model that is collapsing.

To see Bezos bringing his disruptive approach to the newspaper of Katharine Graham, Ben Bradlee, Bob WoodwardCarl Bernstein, Dana Priest, Carol Guzy and Gene Weingarten is exciting and intriguing. I look forward to it in anticipation.

It’s not what Matt Thompson and Robin Sloan forecast in EPIC 2014, but that did forecast an amazing Amazon merger. So I’ll post it here as a reminder.

Disclosure: My wife, Mimi Johnson, published her novel, Gathering String, using Amazon’s self-publishing services.

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In the past 20 years, a great American newspaper has lost 96 97 percent of its value.

The New York Times bought the Boston Globe in 1993 for $1.1 billion. The Times today announced the sale of the Globe and related New England properties to John W. Henry, principal owner of the Boston Red Sox, for $70 million.

I used the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator to figure that $1.1 billion in 1993 is worth $1,777,540,000 today. And $70 million is less than 4 percent of that. (more…)

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