Archive for April, 2009

This is the first part of the personal content section of the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection.

Births are huge personal news and they are spending occasions. More important, this is an opportunity for the Complete Community Connection to connect with a family.

We should provide the baby’s first web page, created automatically upon the blessed event. We should give hospitals gift packets of samples and coupons we have collected from businesses in the community for diapers, child care, formula, etc. The packet includes an invitation to the parents to use the baby’s new web site. (If they don’t within a week or two, we send email and/or snail mail invitations.) We prepopulate the baby’s web site with the basic public-record data: Name, date and time born, parents’ names. We invite the parents to add to it: photos, videos, gift registry, family comments, milestones such as teeth, crawling and first haircut, links to siblings’, cousins’ and friends’ pages. This becomes the digital baby book, sharing the infant’s story with family and friends around the world and connecting those friends and family to our content network, their convenient way to buy gifts for this child again and again.

Adding to the baby’s page involves registration, which gives us leads to sell to businesses in the community that cater to parents of children (and the cast of businesses changes as the child grows up). With registration, we have email addresses to use to remind parents to update periodically with baby photos. A month or so before each birthday, we send out email reminders to update the gift registry. We don’t generate content for this site beyond launching it and sending occasional automatic reminders. But the family makes it part of our content collection that tells more and more about the community. The aggregate birth effort generates leads for business customers and allows us to sell gifts from our business customers directly to family and friends not just in our community but around the world.

We also might be able to sell our own products directly to the family. For instance, we could sell the parents a custom-printed keepsake newspaper of the day the baby was born, with the birth as the lead story, using copy and photos from the family and filling out with the real news of the day. On the baby’s first birthday, we offer a newspaper using the content posted during the year (presuming the family has posted enough content). Or maybe we sell a DVD of the photos and videos posted to the site, with a sound track of songs the family chooses or of the family’s recording of the baby’s babbling, first words, etc.

Our goal is to make this the child’s web page for life, a site that grows with the child, providing fresh user-generated content and sales opportunities. We allow distant grandparents, aunts and uncles to receive email or text notification (a promising advertising vehicle) about milestones such as first tooth, first word, etc. when the parents fill them in.

With each of these personal-content areas, we need to watch for possibilities with our packaged products. Would an annual or quarterly “community baby book” section for The Gazette have possibilities? Or an occasional feature on best baby video clips on KCRG? Or would we give parents an opportunity to check off on posting baby pictures to a gallery of Iowa baby photos on Iowa.com? I won’t go through the product possibilities in each of the personal content areas, but I encourage product managers and planners to explore them.

With this as well as with other milestones, especially for children, we need to consider giving parents a way to limit access to content. Perhaps as with Facebook, we would offer a limited public profile, with more information available only to chosen family and friends who have the password. Or maybe parents would have the option to make personal content all password-protected. We also need to give parents the ability to opt out and remove a baby’s page if they don’t want to participate. But the offers from businesses should give most parents plenty of incentive to participate.

Continue reading the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection with Personal content opportunities: Growing-up Milestones.

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This is the sixth section of the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection.

A longtime contradiction of life in the news business has been that we ignore or downplay the biggest news in the lives of the people we serve. If someone in your family graduates, gets married, has a baby, dies or has a major illness or surgery, that’s the biggest news of the year in your family and often in a broader circle of friends and co-workers.

As I wrote in an earlier blog post, the biggest news in my family now is my nephew Patrick’s battle with leukemia (it looks like he’ll be ready to be released soon from a Boston hospital after six weeks hospitalized for a bone transplant). In other recent years, major news for our family was a son’s wedding or graduation, a niece’s baby or my surgery. 

Some of these events that are huge news in small circles don’t even appear in the newspaper and won’t make the evening news on TV. Some will be a line of agate in the paper or a formulaic announcement or obituary. Digital versions are usually little more than the same text (and photo, if a photo was even used) that we provided in the paper. The possibilities for community connection, personal storytelling and revenue generation around personal content are great and community news organizations need to recognize and develop these possibilities.

We are early in the history of social networking and we need to develop at the local level the kind of platforms that Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and other social networks are developing on a global level. Sometimes we will interface with existing global networking platforms, as on our Facebook page and adding Twitter feeds, but more and more we will develop community networks, doing the local connection jobs that we’ve always done with other tools and doing new connection jobs that were not possible before. Others are already entering this space and we need to pursue it swiftly. We can’t know now all the ways we can or need to serve the community through personal content. If we wait to see all the possibilities unfold, we will be too late. 

Life’s milestones, big events and different stages are a way to connect with people in the community and beyond, adding content that is newsy today but gains lasting value. In general, the approach for each milestone will be multi-tiered for both content and revenue. We need to offer a basic web page to celebrate the event (preferably another branch of the site we already have with this person, but if not, this should be the first of many). In each case, we would offer the basic site, with options for automated messages to family and friends, user-generated content, gift registries, direct venue and/or hotel reservations. We also could offer some upsells on the site that would make the design much cooler and personalized for a fee.

We need to develop the tools and opportunities to generate revenue from personal content on four levels:

  • Direct sales opportunities of gifts, flowers, reservations, etc.
  • Targeted advertising based on the event or life stage itself.
  • Targeted advertising based on what we know about the person from previous activities, preferences and information registered.
  • Customized products such as a four-page newspaper with a person’s graduation or retirement as the lead news story, with supporting stories and pictures provided by the family and friends.

Cradle-to-grave observance of big occasions can be a huge opportunity for building audience and generating revenue that we barely tap now. Other solutions are already operating in some of these spaces, but they often are not community-based solutions and we can offer solutions with local connections and other benefits that will help us be disruptive. In other cases, these are “blue-ocean” opportunities where we can build audience with little or no competition.

News has always been our core job. We need to take advantage of new technology and new social tools to help people make a big deal of each event. We can become the place where people find out what’s happening with people they care about in the community, where they celebrate, worry and mourn. And many of these events are occasions of big spending that we can accommodate. 

Continue reading plans for types of personal content:

Continue reading the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection with Personal content opportunities: Births.

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This is the fifth and final part of the community content section of the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection.

An important aspect of the Complete Community Connection will be to develop the place where people of our communities and perhaps across Iowa turn for answers to their questions about this state and its communities: databases, community resources, services, history, unique aspects of local life (attractions, institutions and events) and a user-generated encyclopedia of local knowledge.


I have detailed the possibilities for databases in a separate report for Newspaper Next: Be the Answer: Using interactive databases to provide answers and generate revenue. We will develop databases to provide content throughout our digital products as well as to provide information we would use in print and broadcast. Interactive databases would be the cornerstone of the a massive answer center we would develop where people in the community could seek answers to nearly any question at the state or community level.

Zack Kucharski is off to a strong start developing such an answer center in the Data Central portion of GazetteOnline, providing answers about such matters as flood buyouts, Hawkeye  football history and salaries of government workers. We need to continue development of this resource, both through answerbases we develop ourselves and through links to answerbases provided elsewhere. For an in-depth look at the possibilities for anwerbases, read the full N2 report. (API charges $19.95 for the report; Gazette Communications staff who haven’t read it can see me for a copy.)

Some topics on which we need to develop answerbases (priorities and needs will vary for each media organization; you need to provide information that’s important to your community):

I have detailed the possibilities for databases in a separate report for Newspaper Next: Be the Answer: Using interactive databases to provide answers and generate revenue. We will develop databases to provide content throughout our digital products as well as to provide information we would use in print and broadcast. Interactive databases would be the cornerstone of the a massive answer center we would develop where people in the community could seek answers to nearly any question at the state or community level.

Neighborhood resources

This content differs from at least two other types of content that might also operate at the neighborhood level: hyperlocal talk sites and news sites. These would be places you can go to learn useful timely and evergreen information about your neighborhood. The content could follow a combination of existing models such as EveryblockWashingtonpost.com Local Explorer  and CinciNavigator (described already in the section on homes) and Jacqueline DuPree’s JDLand’s Southeast Washington, D.C., development site.

Local Explorer, CinciNavigator and Everyblock are great examples of how we should be able to assemble and present databases to provide lots of answers on the neighborhood level – crime, schools, home sales, services, restaurants, local calendar, local news, basic local info, local photographs, permits, etc.

JDLand is a great example of using citizen journalists to present the information that many of them already are gathering out of self-interest. This site is more sophisticated than most will be, because of DuPree’s skill as a professional journalist in her day job for the Washington Post and because she happens to live in a neighborhood that’s undergoing such dramatic change. But lots of neighborhoods have activists, busybodies and gadflies with similar passions whom we can recruit and provide a forum to build rich, lively, detailed neighborhood sites.

Especially in neighborhoods rebuilding after the flood, connections to neighborhoods are strong in the communities we cover and we can provide forums and tools for people to compile and share information. Depending on the neighborhood or the source, we may bring some of these folks onto our sites as participants or we may link to their independent sites. Either way, we become the place to find all the neighborhood resources.

We will need to brand our own content separately from the user-generated content, and to provide ways for the community to rate the credibility of the content.


Between the iGuide and annual publications such as Explore and Discover, we already compile a great amount of information to help people with the needs and chores of daily life. We want to compile and provide information and services that will be valuable to newcomers to our region as well as to longtime residents. We need to tell how to get your driver’s license, start utilities, start the newspaper, find schools and places of worship and so on. Where you can do this online, we must help you do that right from our site or connect you to the agency’s site. We have to become the place to connect with services in the community. Of course, a print version of this will have value as well, but the digital version will always be current. 

As we develop products from this content, we need to offer abundant opportunities here for search, direct sales, self-serve advertising and targeted advertising. If we develop the place people connect when they are coming into the community or changing their level of involvement in the community (for instance, when you develop a new interest or your children reach school age), we have tremendous lead-generation opportunities. We can provide one place to start your paper, hook up your power, register children for schools, etc., collecting fees from the businesses and schools. And it’s such a useful tool that you keep coming back as long as you live in the community.


We have long called newspapers the “first rough draft of history.” We need to dig up the historical work we’ve already done on important events and anniversaries for Cedar Rapids and other communities, presenting .

For instance, the full content of the “Epic Surge” book and DVD and the Iowa City tornado book should be part of the history section, along with the Gazette’s 125th anniversary issue. We can present the archive on topics or issues in town. We can make this a wiki, too, inviting each faith community, school or civic group and neighborhood association to post its own history or asking for people’s remembrances of big events in the community or of the community’s experience in big national or world events. Whether we write them ourselves or invite community members to write them, we need histories of the communities and neighborhoods most impacted by the flooding — Czech Village, Time Check, Palo, etc.

Much of this content can draw on our archives. For instance, we might not immediately write histories of important local companies such as Rockwell Collins, AEGON or Quaker Oats, or they might not provide their own histories. But at the least, we can compile links to important stories we have written through the years about those companies. Even where we do have current histories, the archives will let people get more information and spend more time digging through our content.

Maybe we don’t have huge revenue opportunities in compiling the community history, but we might have some targeted advertising opportunities. And we can do direct sales of books relating to community history, tickets to museums, etc. Even if we don’t develop strong revenue from this, the audience we build here, by adding to our image as the source for all answers and information about Iowa and its communities, builds audience for the more lucrative parts of the site.

Attractions, events and institutions

The Tacoma News Tribune’s Mount Rainier guide, Cape Cod Times tourism guide and Orange County Register beach guide provide several strong models for us to follow in becoming the authority on our local attractions, institutions and events. We can do this in partnership with or in competition with the attractions and institutions themselves and the organizations sponsoring the events.

We already produce lots of content about these attractions, events and institutions. Instead of getting one day’s value out of that content, we need to aggregate it, add to it and organize everything into a community resource that provides easily searchable answers to everything you want to know about this attraction, event or institution. Our database on Hawkeye  football history and dining guide are examples of the kind of content we want to develop here. Topics or institutions on which we would want to develop deep, detailed resources might include the University of Iowa (and parts of the university, such as the Writers Workshop and Hawkeye sports teams), Amana Colonies, Hoover birth site, Iowa caucuses, Rockwell Collins, Quaker Oats, the Czech and Slovak Museum and African American Museum.

Of course, with all of this, we should start with our core communities and the region where our brand is the strongest, but Iowa.com gives us a brand with statewide potential and this is certainly an example of an area where we could expand into statewide content.

The revenue possibilities here are extensive: selling tickets to events and attractions as well as reservations for nearby lodging; selling books, DVDs and other informational items, whether we produce them or retail them for the attractions themselves; selling memorabilia, logo clothing and so on.

User-generated Encyclopedia

Wikipedia has had some credibility issues, but it presents a lot of accurate information that is useful to a lot of people and we can apply the same model on the local/state level. We will need to address some labeling and credibility issues so that we present the “collective wisdom” (which sometimes is the collective ignorance) separately from the authoritative, verified information we compile. We would require only users whose identification has been verified to contribute to this wiki. We need to design it so that contributions are attributed to people, linking to their profiles citing their claimed credentials (and the model would allow participants to challenge or support the credentials of people who were being unduly boastful or modest).

We should prime the pump here, inviting known experts on topics or officials of organizations to start entries in their areas of expertise.

Continue reading the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection with Personal content and connection.

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This is the fourth part of the community content section of the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection.

The unified calendar we launched this year at Iowa.com, serving all our company products, has barely begun to tap the possibilities of an interactive calendar. It’s providing content on events effectively, but the Complete Community Connection needs to pursue revenue possibilities.

An effective calendar will provide some strong paid search opportunities, but also some direct sales opportunities, to sell tickets, make reservations and register participants directly online. When users sign up for email reminders of events or email notices to friends, those emails need to include targeted advertising. We use mapping to show the venues of events, but the map also needs to locate restaurants and bars nearby (a targeted advertising opportunity that would help you plan where to eat before the event or where to meet for a drink afterward). Our calendar entries also need to grow, aggregating videos and news reports relevant to events.

Continue reading the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection with Community-content opportunities: Local knowledge.

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This is the second part of the community content section of the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection.

The experience of MonroeTalks.com, detailed in Newspaper Next 2.0, shows the potential for community conversation platforms. The Iowa.com iTalk section has barely begun to explore the possibilities that the Complete Community Connection must pursue.

A community conversation platform needs to be engaging, with opportunities to post photos and videos, with easy-to-follow directories and easy-to-use search windows to help users find the niches and discussion threads that most interest them. We should offer blogs to people in the community, organizing them by type — community affairs, club news, family blogs, politics, sports, neighborhoods, congregations, etc.

We should integrate our conversation content with BlockTalk, so people are able to quickly find the conversation and news happening closest to them. While the content will be user-generated, an editor (and/or software) should monitor to highlight new content and interesting content, so the conversation constantly has a fresh look and keeps people coming back to see what’s new. Monitoring software should highlight the most popular discussions. Just as the small-town paper for years paid stringers to supply chicken-dinner sorts of news, we might pay some local discussion leaders to spur the conversation by frequently posing questions or posting some of that chicken-dinner news online. The conversation site should present a host of targeting, search and direct sales opportunities.

We should seek ways to encourage full, accurate identification of people in the community conversation. We can do this multiple ways:

  • Bloggers will need to use their real names, subject to verification, and to complete accurate user profiles.
  • We should News Mixer with its Facebook Connect interface, which will encourage identification (of people who use real names on Facebook).
  • We will encourage users to register by name, giving more prominent placement to all comments and other contributions from people who submit to a verification process.
  • We might seek some commercial sponsors for our efforts to encourage more identification in public contributions. They would provide some sort of gift certificates or other incentives for people who register and submit to verification of their identities.
  • We can develop two levels of user profiles: One completed by the user voluntarily (again, we might use incentives) and whether the user completes a profile or not, we would hyperlink every user’s name to a collection of all his/her past comments, so you can view each comment or other contribution in the context of all contributions from that user.

Continue reading the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection with Community-content opportunities: Calendar.

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This is the second part of the community content section of the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection.

Real estate advertising is a long-time staple for newspapers that is collapsing under pressure from multiple directions. Real estate agents increasingly are reaching customers directly. Other digital advertising sites are attracting some of the dwindling real estate advertising dollars. And the turmoil in the housing and banking markets has slowed home sales.

Newspapers historically have provided more useful content about homes to support the print section housing real estate ads, at least on Sundays. But we haven’t approached the possibilities for providing day-in-day-out valuable information for homeowners.    

As with cars, the principle here is to broaden the homes-related jobs that we already do for homeowners and renters across the community as well as helping the businesses that want to help people do those jobs. Most real-estate verticals do just two jobs: Help me find a home to buy (or rent) or help me sell a home (or find a renter).

We must consider using answerbases, community engagement and other tools to expand our real-estate vertical and do more jobs relating to people’s homes. If people turn to us frequently for the jobs that come with being a home owner, this will be the first place they look (and thus the first place real estate agents will want to be seen) when they are ready to move to a larger or smaller home. (Admittedly, many home buyers are just moving to the community, but an effective site that people are using regularly will generate referrals from new co-workers. And if these resources are part of a community answer center for newcomers, we will connect with new people before they arrive, identifying us right away as the all-purpose answer source.)

As with driving, some of the best existing answerbases for home owners are typically found in a news site’s data center rather than in the real-estate vertical. We need to develop and present answerbases that answer questions about such home-related issues as property taxes, property records, property sales, property assessments, mortgage foreclosures, tax delinquencies, contractor violations and annexation.

We need to develop a multipurpose answerbase like EveryBlock, The Washington Post‘s Local Explorer and The Cincinnati Enquirer‘s CinciNavigator show how you can use one tool to search multiple databases, answering a wide range of questions at the neighborhood or block level about crime, schools, home sales, events, new businesses, recent news, restaurants and other nearby businesses and attractions. Under the terms of the Knight Foundation grant that funded his project, Adrian Holovaty will soon release the code for EveryBlock. Zack Kucharski and I have already discussed the importance of bringing the EveryBlock approach to Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and possibly across Eastern Iowa or statewide. When Holovaty releases the code, we need to make this a top priority for Zack and our data team as well as for our IT staff.

 Again, we need to follow the approach suggested for the driving vertical by engaging homeowners in community forums where they can tell stories, swap advice and share pictures of first homes, dream homes, remodeling projects, flood-recovery projects, landscaping projects and so on. Using BlockTalk (our hyperlocal mapping tool using Newsgarden from Serra Media), we can engage leaders of neighborhood associations, inviting them to engage with each other and their members in blogs.

As with the driving vertical, real estate ads are not the only revenue source. We must enhance our homes vertical by cross-referencing appropriate categories from iGuide. This helps both products, providing another avenue into the iGuide and giving continuing value to the homes vertical. As with driving, we could develop an emergency-services database, where contractors available on short notice that day might register their availability. Or we could make this email-driven: Instead of calling around for a plumber in an emergency, the home-owner enters an address and we send out emails to plumbers (or whoever; it would be easy to send out notices by category) who have asked to be notified of jobs in that part of town. Those who are available and interested respond by an email that goes through our site. Businesses could pay either for the leads or the actual jobs or, in a two-tiered fee structure, they might pay a small fee for the email contact and a larger fee if they land the job.

Continue reading the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection with Community-content opportunities: Conversation.

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This is the first part of the community content section of the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection.

Newspaper companies have gone about trying to protect the automotive vertical all wrong. We have tried to compete head-on with the other sites focused on the rare job of buying a car (I did that job last summer for the first time in more than five years and don’t expect to do it again for several more years). If your value in the cars vertical is something the consumer rarely sees, your competition is not based on a steady relationship but on ability to attract attention. You are just clamoring for attention along with Autotrader, Cars.com, craigslist, eBay and all the other places selling cars. And let’s be honest: Lots of young people buy cars and they aren’t buying newspapers and we aren’t winning the battle to become the online destination for car buyers.

Instead, the Complete Community Connection should focus on the daily and weekly jobs that can help drivers and car owners regularly over time. We need to develop a place where drivers in our community want to check in before (or during) their daily commute, each time they drive to a Hawkeye game, during inclement weather and every time they fill up their gas tank.

We already have a valuable map of gas prices and offer text alerts on traffic but we need to do more. When the city installs red-light cameras, we need to aggregate those feeds, so people can check traffic and road conditions at any time throughout the city. Other driving-related answerbases establishing us as a one-stop place for all jobs related to owning or driving a car: gas pump inspections, bridge inspections, parking offenders, vanity license plates, parking meter citations.

We’re not a huge, congested metro area where traffic is a nightmare, but I heard Gazette Publisher Dave Storey complaining about the traffic on his daily commute just in the past week. Washingtonpost.com, Eastvalleytribune.com, MercuryNews.com, PalmBeachPost.com and Boston.com provide their communities with real-time traffic maps, showing locations of accidents and construction projects. You can turn on state traffic cameras and see what the traffic looks like right now.

We need to help drivers connect at our driving vertical with discussion forums, sharing photos of souped-up cars, contests and advice. We need to invite drivers to swap stories on topics such as winter driving, first cars, teaching teens to drive and so on. Like the Bakersfield Californian, we can develop a map where users enter locations of bad potholes, both warning the public and automatically emailing the city. During a big snowstorm, we can ask users to enter the time when plows reach their streets (this could provide a strong front-page story for The Gazette and a lead story on KCRG’s newscast).

Driving is an area where we can call on the community to provide much of our content. We can develop a map where drivers vote on the slowest or most dangerous intersections (we could start by mapping where accidents occur) or call attention to the roads most in need of repair and invite motorists to vent their complaints about them.  

Once you start identifying the jobs and questions and providing solutions and answers, you will provide the place for drivers to turn every day. (This site would be a great place for drivers to buy their insurance online after comparing rates from different companies.)

We need to present the auto-services portion of the iGuide here. We’ll provide a place where you can enter your need for urgent service (using your phone, because many times this need arises from the road) and quickly get email, text or telephone responses from repair services who can get you in that day. We’ll be the place that you compare and buy insurance and accessories. In some cases, we may have an opportunity to provide a service where none exists. In others, we will provide an essential place to do business for those who already provide such services.

Of course, services related to buying and selling cars will be part of this information channel as well, ranging from ads to reviews to financing to product information. This has always been the heart of our automotive vertical and it left us more vulnerable to disruption. Buying a car is a big enough purchase that it doesn’t have to be a local transaction and that local sellers have a huge incentive to work through national sales vehicles. But driving and owning a car are deeply based in the community and present an extraordinary opportunity for a creative, visionary C3 organization. If we create a place where Eastern Iowans come routinely as drivers and car owners, that will be the first place they come when looking to buy a new car (and the first place dealers and private sellers will turn to advertise when selling). We will not only protect and regain our business in auto classifieds, but we may have a chance to attract revenue (in particular from video, mobile and local search) from repair shops, insurance agencies and companies, tire stores and other businesses that may not advertise much in newspapers.

An effective content channel focused on driving would serve a variety of products. Of course, a driving site (and possibly a print product drawing from the content) could be niche products, providing the place to do all the jobs for drivers. But that content will feed several, if not all, of the company’s products. The content on traffic could be a staple of KCRG’s morning show. A weekly column in The Gazette might draw on a variety of information, reporting on progress of construction projects and fluctuation of gas prices and highlighting a pothole of the week chosen by the community. And, of course, the auto classifieds will remain important parts of The Gazette and GazetteOnline, serving the people who still look for cars there and gaining new momentum as sellers do more business with the vertical that serves drivers’ everyday needs. Iowa.com could have a whole driving section that would include all of this content, as well as aggregating driving-related content from other sources. A Hawkeye site might draw from the driving site for game-day traffic and parking information. (I won’t run through the product possibilities in each section of this blueprint, but product managers and product planners should think through the possibilities in this way for each content area.)

Continue reading the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection with Community-content opportunities: Home.

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This is the fifth section of the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection.

 The Complete Community Connection will always have its roots in news and we must maintain a strong commitment to news. But much of our future success will come from our ability to develop useful community content whose value is timeless, rather than timely.

C3 must develop community content in five different (though often overlapping) categories:

These content areas will require decisions and provide opportunities as we decide when and whether to focus on Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and our core market, or whether we have some valuable opportunities to pursue at the statewide level (or at the hyperlocal level).

Continue reading the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection with Community-content opportunities: Driving.

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This is the fourth section of the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection.

Before I go into much detail in this blueprint, I need to address the underlying assumptions: Whether you are an employee, a consumer, a business in our community or a colleague in some aspect of the media industry, your assumptions about the future are generally based on the past. We need to sever that connection.

As you read this blueprint, don’t assume anything based on how media companies have traditionally operated or how we currently operate. That economic model is collapsing and this is a blueprint for a new way of doing business — new relationships with the community, new relationships with business customers, new relationships with business partners and competitors, new tools and technology for doing business, new structure and organization for doing business.

For instance, I will write at times about our possible opportunities to connect with customers and provide services on a statewide basis. In the past, many would have assumed this was a shot across the bow of the Des Moines Register, our longtime competitor which once (when I worked there) provided aggressive statewide coverage and still boasts that it was the “newspaper Iowa depends upon.” We still compete in ways, but perhaps we also should consider partnerships with the Register and other Iowa media organizations to collaborate in serving customers and businesses across the state. We all are facing the same sort of disruption in our business model and we may find solutions together that benefit all of us and all of our communities.

Those solutions may still leave plenty of room for healthy competition in news coverage of such shared interests as the Iowa Hawkeyes, state government and the Iowa caucuses. But don’t assume even that. Maybe those are areas of potential cooperation, too (we’re already operating our Des Moines bureau jointly with Lee Enterprises).

The point is: Don’t assume anything based on the past. We are proud of our past and cherish our heritage, but we want to honor that heritage by pursuing a future that isn’t limited by assumptions from the past.

My new title, information content conductor, is an example of our need to break away from assumptions of the past. Editor is a title with a long and proud history and a title that carries many assumptions that can interfere with understanding of the new direction and the new challenges.

Please note that I will not talk much in this blueprint about specific products, whether they would be venerable products such as The Gazette or KCRG, fledgling products such as Hoopla or IowaPrepSports or revamped products such as Iowa.com. We need to provide and manage effective products to help make the connections. But products will come and go. We may eventually develop a communication network where people can reach the information they need effectively without the packaging we do in preparing each of these products. Or we may develop more efficient products that we cannot envision now because the tools that will enable them have not been developed yet.

I also won’t focus heavily in this blueprint on the use of social media in building this community network. I have written and spoken extensively about the value of Twitter and other social media and I believe they are valuable tools that we will need to use effectively. But like products, social tools will come and go, becoming essential as they provide effective solutions and obsolete as something better comes along behind them.  

This blueprint will focus on development of the community network and the content and connections that will make it important in people’s lives.

Continue reading the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection with The C3 approach to community content.

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This is the third section of the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection.

Revenue generation traditionally isn’t a journalist’s job, but helping develop a business model for the future of journalism is every journalist’s job today. The job cuts throughout our industry (including here) have done too much damage to journalism to cling to our long-nurtured disdain for the economic facts of life. Journalists can protect our integrity and still collaborate in developing a new business model.

Content and revenue must be planned together, so any innovation plan must address both needs. While I know big parts of the solutions here will and should come from colleagues in other departments, revenue generation must be part of the vision and I discuss it extensively throughout this blueprint.

The Newspaper Next 2.0 report released last year cited the importance of developing the potential of email, video and search advertising opportunities for businesses and of assigning specialists to the distinct challenge of selling digital advertising. I affirm that approach and will mention aspects of it frequently here but will not develop it in depth because that report already detailed those points extensively and effectively.

I will cite specific examples as I explain details of this blueprint, but those examples are only a start of the model I envision for C3 to move toward results-based performance of jobs for businesses, including conducting transactions for business customers. We need to connect the business with the customer and collect the money, taking a reasonable cut for ourselves.

  • Gift registries for weddings, anniversaries, graduations, babies, retirements and holidays are important opportunities.
  • Obituaries offer chances to send flowers and contribute to memorial funds.
  • Our products and content relating to the arts and entertainment must include opportunities to buy tickets to movies, concerts and other events online or to buy books or download songs.
  • Sports sites will offer chances to buy tickets, clothing, memorabilia, etc.
  • The calendar will offer registration for events and classes, ticket sales and so on.
  • Dining content will include opportunities to make reservations or buy gift certificates.
  • For Hawkeye sporting events, community festivals and University of Iowa events such as graduation and orientation, we will offer chances to make reservations online for lodging, meals and entertainment.
  • Our iGuide business directory needs to include options for coupons, gift certificates, direct purchases, making reservations, placing orders, requesting information.
  • When we use traditional ads priced by how many thousand people see them, we should seek to include options to click to download a coupon, buy a gift certificate or order a product, delivering more value for the business and a bigger pay-for-performance cut for us.

E-Me Ventures or other vendors may be able to develop these solutions for us or we may need partnerships with PayPal, Ticketmaster, Amazon, iTunes and so on, probably a combination. But somehow we need to become a sales channel, not just an advertising vehicle.

With online advertising rates low and print advertising revenue declining precipitously and local broadcast revenue also in decline, newspapers need to broaden our vision of serving business customers and move swiftly into direct sales and other business services such as lead-generation and email marketing. This may be a phased process, where we start with lead generation, coupons, inquiries and links to business web sites as we work out the technology challenges of interfacing with the inventory and ordering software of other companies or find a vendor who has already figured that out. Of course, as we work those challenges out, we will have tremendous economic opportunities in selling our solutions throughout the industry.

Our approach will offer businesses a chance to pay based on performance, which gives them higher confidence as well as higher value. More important, it turns our company from an expense line in its customers’ budgets to a revenue line. The current advertising decision is a choice of making a commitment up front to a substantial investment based on the hope of generating significant business. In this recession and in the economic vise of a community recovering from disaster, we are seeing that when businesses are cutting expenses, advertising is a large expense without an obvious dollar-for-dollar connection to revenue. It becomes an inviting place to cut. But advertising works, so the business that cuts advertising sees its revenue decline (but may not recognize the decline’s relationship to the decision to cut advertising, since the economy is such a handy scapegoat). So the business needs to cut expenses again and there is that advertising expense line — a bit smaller than last time but still inviting.

We can’t afford to be in that cycle in these times, especially with cheaper advertising options as plentiful as they are now. On the other hand, if our payment is a cut of revenue generated for a business, the business is happy to pay it. In fact, since we are collecting the money for the business, it doesn’t even write us a check. We become like payroll taxes to the individual, a huge expense that you don’t really feel because you never had the money in your hand. We send the customer money after taking a cut. So when the business needs more money, it starts thinking about how to do more business with us, so we will send more money.

Of course, traditional advertising will still do important jobs for some of our business customers, so we hope to be both an expense line and a revenue line for many businesses. In these cases, the cut in advertising expense in difficult times may actually be a shift into our pay-for-performance products.

Continue reading the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection with Assumptions of the C3 blueprint.

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This is the second section of the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection.

I don’t know whether I’m the right person to help guide Gazette Communications into a challenging and uncertain future. But I do know that I am here because of a vision for the future of what we now know as newspaper companies that I shared with Publisher Dave Storey and CEO Chuck Peters last year as Storey was seeking a new editor.

Both in interviews and in writing, I shared an earlier version of this vision with them. That was about the second draft; this collection of blog posts is at least the fifth draft. I wrote the first draft in the summer of 2007. I had spent most of that year working on the Newspaper Next project at the American Press Institute, teaching a new model for innovation to the newspaper business. Partnering with Harvard Business Professor Clayton Christensen, the world’s foremost authority on disruptive innovation, N2 developed a new process for newspapers to use in innovation projects and a new strategic framework for transforming newspaper companies. It became the buzz of the industry and colleagues and I taught the concepts of N2 across the country and around the world.

Most of the industry barely budged, falling deeper and deeper into classic patterns of disruption that Christensen has described in industry after industry. The typical response to N2’s call for fundamental transformation was enthusiastic affirmation, then launching a good project or two or a few, but not addressing the need for thorough organizational transformation.

Our industry seems to be clinging to Darwin’s theory of evolution, hoping that gradual adaptation to changing environment will be enough to help us survive. That works in biology, but in today’s disruptive business world, survival of the fittest is a matter of revolution, not evolution.

This series of blog posts is my call for revolution in media companies, starting at Gazette Communications.

Interestingly, most of the most innovative work we saw in response to Newspaper Next focused on developing new ways to provide content that helped people do useful jobs in their lives. We weren’t seeing many creative ways to develop new revenue streams. And as the traditional revenue streams began to decline, the need for revenue grew acute and obvious.

At API, we began discussing the need for a new vision for the future of newspapers, a community-based communication company for the digital age. We recognized the need for a second Newspaper Next report, sharing the stories of innovation and partnering with Borrell Associates to provide some advice on developing new digital revenue sources. Steve Gray, managing director of N2, developed a vision of expanding our reach in the community and becoming a local information and connection utility. Steve saw newspaper companies growing into a multi-function operation that would be essential to community life for consumers and essential for businesses seeking to connect with consumers.  

I didn’t think the utility vision went far enough. After all, in our heyday, newspapers had a personal, possessive relationship with our consumers. Maybe we were a monopoly, like most utilities, but to the consumer we were “my newspaper,” a phrase editors would hear emphatically when we published something offensive. That’s a different relationship than any utility has with its consumers. Utilities may be necessary and I shared Steve’s vision of a company that was useful in multiple ways to consumers and businesses, essential to community life. But I thought we needed to make that connection deeper and more personal.

I offered the first draft of this vision, a Word document about 30 pages long, in the summer of 2007, while Steve was working on the report we eventually called Newspaper Next 2.0. I can’t recall the name I initially gave to the concept, but my API colleague Mark Mulholland, who liked my vision, came up with a better name that we’re still using: Complete Community Connection.

For a variety of reasons, we didn’t include C3 in the N2 2.0 report. I wasn’t and am not bitter about that. I remain affiliated, leading API ethics seminars and occasionally speaking at other API programs. But I also wanted to see whether I could find a newspaper company that wanted to make C3 a reality. My API colleagues had talked frequently about the need for a laboratory newspaper company that someone would donate to API, where we could work our transformation and then showcase our achievements and teach our lessons. That wasn’t working out, so I decided to find a company willing to hire me and take a chance on my ideas.

I should stress here my deep and thorough gratitude to my friends and colleagues at API for their leadership in efforts to transform this industry. Steve Gray and Drew Davis, API’s president who conceived and launched Newspaper Next, are true visionaries whose teaching and inspiration led directly to the ideas presented here. I don’t fault them for not adopting my ideas as their own; I thank them for providing the foundation for these ideas and the freedom to develop and pursue them. They will share in any success this blueprint achieves. I should add that colleagues at API – Mark, Carol Ann RiordanElaine Clisham, Mary Glick, Mary Peskin and Noel Burkman — also helped shape my ideas and contributed to the creative and collegial environment that produced them.    

While at API, I also did most of the research and writing for Be the Answer: Using interactive databases to provide answers and generate revenue, published by API late last year. That research contributed to the C3 concept as well. A few passages of that report have been adapted and rewritten as part of this blueprint. But I encourage reading the full report to understand all the possibilities for C3 in effectively using databases (I like to call them answerbases, as I explain in the report, because consumers don’t often go looking for data, but frequently need answers, which data can provide.) 

Early in 2008, when I decided to seek opportunities outside API, I updated and polished the C3 concept and began seeking such an opportunity. I discussed the concepts with Dave, Chuck and other company leaders through an interview process that started in February and continued through April.

I became confident that Gazette Communications and I would be a good match when I saw a presentation Chuck made at the Newspaper Association of America convention in Washington last April. From the beginning, I recognized that my vision was at best a description of what the newspaper company of the future should become and do. While I was confident that I was articulating the right goal, I was less sure of how to get there. As I heard Chuck discuss his idea to separate development of content from management of products (a concept that was thoroughly confusing to most of the newspaper executives in the room), I realized that his how-to ideas matched up well with my what-to ideas.

By May, Dave and I had an agreement that I would come to Cedar Rapids as editor and try to make C3 happen in Eastern Iowa.

Over the next few weeks, as I wrapped up my API business and prepared for my move here, I worked on rewriting the C3 vision, updating to add new ideas and to make them specific to the communities where I would be applying them. I was about a week from finishing that third draft by the time I reached town. I figured I would share it with my staff and colleagues throughout the company in a week or two, after we got to know each other a little, and then we would roll up our sleeves and get busy on the work of transformation.

In transformation as well as in comedy, timing is everything. Too much has already been written about the timing of my arrival at The Gazette, two days before the June 12 flood inundated so much of this wonderful city. My focus shifted immediately from the innovation challenge of a lifetime to the news story of a lifetime. While the staff of GazetteOnline was already using new digital tools and techniques, we used more and more in covering the flood and its aftermath. We also excelled in traditional journalism, winning community, state, regional and national awards. And I recognized that I needed to update my vision to address the unique disaster recovery our community faced and the role that we could play in that process. Sometime in July I shared that fourth draft of the C3 vision with the newsroom and with the executive team. Chuck started using Complete Community Connection as the title for his blog and that’s what we started calling the division of the company once known as Gazette Publications.

I don’t know of a 126-year-old company that changes its organization and culture swiftly, and I’m quite sure Clayton Christensen would affirm that they are rare, if such a company exists. In many departments throughout the company, we were working through the fall to make changes through a laborious process called workforce development. By late November, Chuck grew impatient with the pace and direction of change, an impatience I shared (though in truth, I’m sure I contributed at times to the pace). In a couple of blog posts and in some meetings with executives, Chuck exhorted us late last year to develop a new mindset and tried to help us understand the fundamental changes we were undertaking.

The last few months have been wrenching for this company. Recognizing the realities of a national recession piled on top of a local disaster and the disruption throughout the advertising business, we have had to eliminate some jobs and reduce our staff by about 100 from the pre-flood levels. The long-haul work of transformation cannot ignore the here-and-now realities of cash flow. An unpleasant reality of transformation is that you learn as you are working and you make adjustments, sometimes changing directions dramatically, even though you’re still pursuing the same goal. We have done that a time or two, most recently deciding that separation of content from product needs to be a companywide venture, transforming the work of KCRG as well as The Gazette and our related products.

Chuck and I were discussing my role here recently and he described me as an architect, designing our future. So this series of blog posts is the blueprint. We decided it was time to update this vision again, sharing it with the whole company and with the community and with colleagues around the country and beyond who are watching our efforts. Please read and comment. If you don’t feel like commenting publicly, please feel free to ask questions and make suggestions by email or personally.

Whether newspapers as a product survive the current turmoil or not, communities need to connect and they need news and information. We hope and believe we are transforming our company to develop and provide a community network that will help our communities, our region and our state connect in meaningful ways long into the future, sharing big and small news on all levels, connecting individuals with each other and connecting businesses with customers.

While I address our company’s particular local situation and our unique challenges and opportunities, I believe the Complete Community Connection approach is the right model for media companies to follow in revolutionizing to pursue a prosperous future. I invite other community news organizations to try the C3 approach, to share your stories on this blog and help us all in the revolution. I am pleased that Gazette Communications is working aggressively to innovate. But we have limited resources. We can’t do everything that I propose here at once and we are bound to make some mistakes along the way. We hope to have some success stories to share with our colleagues (and probably will share some lessons learned from those mistakes). But we also hope to learn from your successes and mistakes.

Continue reading the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection with C3 needs a new revenue approach for the digital marketplace.

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This is a vision for transformation of our media company and of media companies in general. A vision like this needs lots of detail and I’ll provide plenty of that in related posts. But most important, it needs a simple proposition — how consumers and business customers will see us:

For consumers, we will be their essential connection to community life — news, information, commerce, social life. Like many Internet users turn first to Google, whatever their need, we want Eastern Iowans to turn first to Gazette Communications, whatever their need. For businesses, we will be their essential connection to customers, often making the sale and collecting the money. We will  become the Complete Community Connection.

Our company will provide an interactive, well-organized, easily searched, ever-growing, always updated wealth of community news,  information and opportunities on multiple platforms. We need to become the connection to everything people and businesses need to know and do to live and do business in Eastern Iowa. We need to change from producing new material for one-day consumption in the print product or half-hour consumption in the broadcast product to producing new content for this growing community network of information and opportunities. (more…)

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