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Archive for the ‘Innovation in the media’ Category

I am saddened by the news that GigaOm has shut down its operations, burdened by debt.

I regard Mathew Ingram as one of the most important, insightful commentators on digital media (and not just because we often agree). I hope he continues blogging under his own banner or gets snapped up quickly by another media outlet that recognizes the importance and value of his voice.

More on Mathew shortly, but first a salute to Om Malik, the founder of GigaOm. I admired what he built and salute his entrepreneurial spirit. Like Dan Gillmor, I am sad that this venture appears to be ending. (I didn’t use the word “failed,” because Om succeeded journalistically, and because he had a nice nine-year run. When afternoon newspapers closed in the 1980s and ’90s, I didn’t say they failed. Like GigaOm, they succeeded for years. Life cycles of successful ventures may be shorter in the dynamic digital age.)

I was pleased to meet Om over breakfast last year at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. I hope I told him how much I admired the business he built. What I remember best about the conversation is Om’s great story about how he came up with the name GigaOm for his business. I won’t retell it here, because it’s his story and I won’t do it justice (if you have a link to somewhere he’s told it publicly, let me know and I’ll link to it).

March 11 update: I didn’t originally address the business aspects of this in depth because I don’t have much expertise in the area of venture capital. But I highly recommend Danny Sullivan’s post comparing the VC approach with what he calls the “Sim City” approach of bootstrapping a company and growing slowly, which is working for thriving Third Door Media. (And, he notes, other digital media companies are thriving on VC investment.) There are multiple paths to lasting success. Back to my original post’s salute to Mathew Ingram:

I also met Mathew in person at the International Journalism Festival. He was a keynote speaker at the 2013 festival and I was a panelist. We had been digital friends for a few years and both were pleased to finally meet in person. It was in joining Mathew and his wife, Rebecca, for breakfast last year that I met Om.

Rather than gushing my admiration of Mathew at length here, I want to show by links to some of his posts that have caught my attention through the years (and some of mine that have cited his work). Mathew would approve of a tribute in links, I’m sure, because one of my dozens of links to him was in my 2012 post about linking that linked to his post about whether linking is just polite or a core value of journalism. (It’s a core value; we haven’t won that fight yet, but we will.) (more…)

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I offer mostly curation, rather than fresh commentary, on the New York Times’ move from a daily page-one meeting to a daily meeting focused on digital platforms:

Poynter’s Ben Mullin explains the change, including Executive Editor Dean Baquet’s memo to the Times staff.

Mathew Ingram of GigaOm has a thoughtful commentary on the change, including how overdue it is.

I blogged about newsroom meetings last year when Margaret Sullivan reported the first steps toward a digital focus in the morning meeting.

I blogged some advice on leading newsroom meetings in 2013.

Changing newsroom meetings is hard. As I noted yesterday, I was not successful in changing meetings as thoroughly as I wanted when I was editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

I don’t say this to criticize Baquet or the Times, just to note how deeply entrenched meetings are in a newsroom culture and how hard it is to change them: The Times Innovation report, recommending a digital focus to the meetings, was completed last March. The change is now being implemented 11 months later. Of course, many other changes recommended in the report have already being implemented.

I’m not banging on the Times for taking 11 months to change its morning meeting, just saying this is a big and difficult change. I wish Baquet and the Times well in executing this change and in using it to continue culture change in the newsroom.

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Melody Kramer asked a smart question this week about value in legacy media:

Update: Melody also did a longer post about the value of archives.

I have long felt that newspaper archives were a wasted asset that exposed our legacy mentality, always focused on the expensive task of producing new content while failing to think of new approaches to our business and failing to extract full value from content we’ve already paid to produce.

With the increasing value of video, TV station and network archives are similarly valuable. In both cases, older archives that haven’t been digitized present a cost-benefit consideration: You need to develop an effective way to generate revenue from your archives to justify the cost of converting old content from its original formats to digital. But I think archives have serious revenue potential that would cover the costs of converting and preserving archives. And much of your archives are already in the digital formats we’ve been using for years now.

I think press associations or media groups could hire developers to make do-it-yourself tools that allow users to make customized products such as front pages, newspapers and videos using content about themselves, their teams and their organizations. The ideal tool would provide search access to archives, with templates that offer basic products or some drag-and-drop options, giving the user flexibility choose or rearrange content, make simple edits and add original content.

Here are some ideas I hope legacy media operations will try to add value to their archives (if you’re already trying these or other ideas, please send me information, including links, and I’ll highlight them here): (more…)

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I can’t believe it’s been five years since I left Iowa. In some ways, my adventure at the Cedar Rapids Gazette seems like it was only a year or two ago. In other ways, it seems a lifetime ago. But it ended five years ago today.

My departure from the Gazette was awkward. More on that later. But the circumstances inhibited me from reflecting at the time on lessons from a job that was simultaneously one of the most rewarding and frustrating experiences of my career. But maybe distance gives you better perspective on those lessons anyway. So here are those belated reflections.

I want to keep the focus positive here: sharing lessons that I learned or relearned in challenging times. Because the lessons are not all positive, I want to make one thing clear: I have no regrets about the Cedar Rapids experience and I applaud my CEO there, Chuck Peters, for attempting innovation at a time when most of the newspaper business was shamefully timid.

I’ll share my lessons in these categories: career, newsroom leadership, disaster response, leading innovation, managing upheaval. (more…)

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Jon Stewart cut his old friend Brian Williams a break, making some really big media news to overshadow the story about the possible death blow to Williams’ career.

A suspension of the leading anchor of the old Big Three television networks for embellishing stories is a big deal. But the departure of the king of fake news is huge. Whom will we turn to now to learn what the news really means? Well, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Larry Wilmore and whoever replaces Stewart on The Daily Show, but more on that later.

The dual career moves — a suspension following an apology that only made things worse, contrasting with lavish praise following an announcement of a voluntary departure at some vague point later this year — were loaded in contrast and irony that tell us so much about television news and entertainment today:
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Jay Rosen

Jay Rosen

Jay Rosen may have overstated when he told journalists to quit their jobs if they can’t understand their organization’s business model. But Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan way overstated in telling journalists not to listen to Rosen.

I highly recommend reading both pieces. Rosen’s post is full of good advice for understanding the path your business is taking and contributing to making progress along the path. Nolan’s post is fascinating, the kind of scornful dismissal of Rosen’s visionary digital thinking that I normally expect from those clinging to legacy media, not one of the digital upstarts that the troglodytes are so scornful of.

Jay made 15 points that I recommend reading. I’m going to address seven points, somewhat repeating and overlapping with his:

  1. Journalists should absolutely try to understand your organization’s business: how you deliver value and how the company plans to make money from that value.
  2. Business models change, sometimes with little warning, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. You won’t always be informed immediately of the changes.
  3. Colleagues need to understand and believe in the value you provide.
  4. We can protect our integrity and still discuss and understand the business.
  5. Learn the language; you always have.
  6. Leaders are critical to the success of a changing organization.
  7. Business model issues are worth changing jobs over, but I recommend trying to change the organization before quitting it (and finding another job first, too).

I’ll elaborate shortly, but first I’ll defend Rosen against Nolan’s anti-intellectualist insult. Noting the New York University professor’s brief career at the Buffalo Courier-Express before joining academia, Nolan said Rosen “makes money by producing proclamations about journalism rather than by producing actual journalism.” (more…)

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My latest post on the INMA Culture Change blog asks 8 questions about your organization’s willingness to risk failure, and what you’ve learned from your failures.

 

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Homicide WatchBusinesses don’t last forever.

I come from the newspaper business, where I worked for papers that boasted of roots in the 19th Century and visited a Digital First newsroom that traced its lineage to Benjamin Franklin.

In that context, you might think of Homicide Watch DC as a failure when founders Laura and Chris Amico announced its closing last week:

I think of Homicide Watch as a success story and will continue to cite it in classes and workshops where I discuss media entrepreneurship.

Here are some ways Homicide Watch succeeded: (more…)

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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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