Wick Communications

Archive for the ‘Innovation’ Category

The future is coming…

In Innovation on 13 Oct 2017 at 7:28 am

The Future Today Institute issued its report on tech trends for journalists heading into 2018 and it should make us very nervous.

Let’s start with this: The institute would have us believe the smartphone is dead. That would be the same mobile technology most of us are still understanding.

The future, say many smart people is in conversational interfaces with zero UIs. Right. If you don’t know what that means, you are not alone. It means the future will not have a touchscreen. Or typing. Or writing of any kind. You will talk to your new overlord. Think voice control or artificial intelligence. The report predicts that by 2023, half of our interactions with machines will be using voices — ours and the machine’s. It predicts massive upheaval as a result. For instance, when you type nyt.com into your browser you know you are dialing up a trusted brand. But how will you know the “sound” of, say, the Sierra Vista Herald?

Speaking of artificial intelligence: “It is vitally important that all decision-makers within news organizations familiarize themselves with the current and emerging AI landscapes,” the report states. Are all of our decision-makers current with emerging AI landscapes? (Luckily, the report includes a primer for the one or two of us who may have fallen behind on our study of the future. The report is long and the format takes some getting used to, but it’s super interesting.) … Read the rest of this entry »


A new ‘Co/Lab’ in Arizona

In Innovation on 5 Oct 2017 at 3:30 pm

Many of you have probably been reading about an exciting new project that has brought some of the brightest minds in the industry to Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of journalism. It began with a question: Can news literacy be made universal?

Obviously, that is a tall order when literacy is low by many measures. I think the fundamental challenge is that so many of us just don’t want to hear about complications. We’ll take 140 characters and a photo, please. To be literate is to be curious and to put our mind to tasks.

Anyway, this collaboration is sponsored by Facebook. I know. We’re letting the fox in the henhouse. One of the project idea men is Dan Gilmour, who is a very well regarded former newspaperman who benefited from being at the right place at the right time as a columnist in Silicon Valley at the turn of the century. He says in a blog post that he trusts Facebook to do the right things now, having done so many wrong things then. We’ll see, I suppose.

Dan is right about the problem, in my view. We’ve ignored the “demand side.” We were arrogant. We owned the means of production of the news for so long we just thought folks valued us for that reason alone. Not so much, it turns out. … Read the rest of this entry »

Report for America

In Innovation on 21 Sep 2017 at 3:07 pm

There is a new idea afoot that seeks to make explicit something we all know intuitively: Journalism is as important to the republic as military might and the ready availability of quality, low-cost donuts. Kidding aside, it is heart-warming to see the unveiling of a program that will be known as Report for America.

The concept is simple, though execution might not be. A partnership between Google News Lab and a non-profit called GroundTruth seeks to put local civics journalism on par with organizations like the Peace Corps and Teach for America. It would work like this: New reporters who need the experience and mentoring would apply for positions that are funded 50 percent by Report for America, 25 percent by the local newspaper and 25 percent by local donors the newspaper would help find. These reporters would agree to stay for a year in exchange for inclusion. Sorta like a paid internship making real money.

I was particularly heartened by what one of the program’s founders had to say about the importance of mentorship and the fact that many good, young journalists are now lucky enough to skip the ladder through the ranks of the profession and that that sometimes leads them astray.

“What I think a lot of emerging journalists are missing these days is the experience of being lied to on a local level,” he told Poynter. “You need to go into storytelling and you need to know what it’s like to be misled.” … Read the rest of this entry »

Working for the government

In Innovation on 21 Sep 2017 at 2:54 pm

Eli Sanders is a journalist and writer for The Stranger. It’s an online publication in Seattle and one of the very best city news sites of its kind.

This week, he announced that he was working on a most unusual project, and I thought it was an interesting idea. What if we tried to find an opportunity like this? Might it be a win-win?

“So,” Sanders writes in his explanation column, “I’ve accepted what may be my least undercover assignment ever.” The job: Work in the mayor’s office for 10 weeks and then return to the news site to write about what that is like. What sort of challenges does a new mayoral administration face? Is the politician and his staff altruistic, or are they just aiming for the next election? Does local government work? How hard is the actual work? Imagine the questions you could answer first-person if you really knew what it was like on the other side of the pen and microphone?

It’s an extraordinarily weird period in Seattle politics. One mayor has resigned in disgrace. (Repeated allegations of sex assault on children will do that.) Two politicians are vying for election in November. Until then, one city council member will serve as mayor and he invited Sanders to spend that interim getting a first-hand look at how the city works.

Sanders will apparently help write speeches and craft policy proposals through November. Afterward, he says he will come back to The Stranger to write about all of it. … Read the rest of this entry »

Alexa, tell me the news

In Innovation on 11 May 2017 at 2:13 pm

I don’t have a voice-activated device like Google Home or Amazon Echo. In fact, I live in Silicon Valley and I’m not sure I know anyone who has one. That said, these things are coming and they may well turn out to be useful home appliances and not simply parlor toys.

That is why some smart organizations — including Gatehouse Media — are experimenting with producing audio news reports that can be read on these things. The idea is that you might tell Amazon Echo to read your local news and it might deliver a news summary from your local newspaper. NPR has secured the default placement with Amazon and now a familiar human voice reads that news rather than the weird robot voice you would expect from these things.

The potential is huge; the known is nil.

Gatehouse Media’s Bill Church told Rick Edmonds at Poynter: “It’s product first, then audience, and monetization later.” Hmmm… where have we heard that before?

I have a bias against audio reports of the news. I find print, video or photo presentations a lot easier to skip through and past. I open a newspaper and I get clues by placement, headline and photos about whether the gatekeeper thinks this is important for me to know or whether it’s something of lesser importance. I listen to NPR for hours on end in the car, but that’s because can’t do much else. When I hear a podcast, it is an immersive experience. Unfortunately, I don’t have time nor inclination for too many immersive experiences. What about you? … Read the rest of this entry »

The future is collaboration

In Innovation on 11 May 2017 at 2:06 pm

When I got into the business 1,426 years ago, “cooperation” was a cuss word and “collaboration” was just plain blasphemy.

When newspapers were fiefdoms that had a monopoly over the means of production of news, we were knights of the realm. We jousted with competitors. We donned our figurative chainmail armor and we sought to tame our rivals. We beat the other guy — to the source, to the document, to the story. We wanted scoops and exclusives. We (often wrongly) thought that readers appreciated this fighting spirit. It was a whole lot of fun.

Those days are largely over. It’s still fun to score a scoop, as the Green Valley News did with the source of the Sawmill fire. But it’s not the burning core of our business model. More and more, we will be collaborating to accomplish things we can’t do alone. That is because we don’t have the resources we once did and also because everyone is a publisher. No one is waiting for us to get around to tell his or her story.

Media consultant Tim Griggs does a wonderful job laying out the opportunities and challenges of the cooperative ventures we need in his longish post at Nieman Lab. If you do nothing else, scroll down to the part about localization. I say that because that is an age-old concept that doesn’t really require cooperation, but would enrich our papers bigly. Add context. Use a national story as a springboard for your own. Localize the data. … Read the rest of this entry »

SaaS and what it means to us

In Innovation on 27 Apr 2017 at 4:41 pm

Ever seen the funny-looking acronym SaaS? Last week, I read a fascinating post by David Skok that explained those four letters might be the future of our business. I figured I had better get up to speed.

Skok is on the board of directors of the Online News Association and is formerly of the Toronto Star and Boston Globe. He’s been a Harvard Nieman Fellow and is one of the thought leaders of digital news. SaaS normally stands for “Software as a Service” and refers to companies that license and deliver their software on a subscription basis. Think of the way you can pay for the Adobe suite monthly, for example. (Tech geeks also talk of Platform as a Service, Infrastructure as a Service and other such things.)

Skok wants us to think of Stories as a Service. In fact, he says that describes the current era, one that supplanted the “social media era” that he says sort of ended in 2015.

From his piece:

Those who own the relationship between the story and the reader will be at a distinct advantage over those who own the production and platforms of newsgathering and distribution.

This journalism era, paid for by readers, for readers, will result in quality journalism, trustworthiness and the building of new communities. For almost a century, journalism — in all its forms — has been funded by advertisers, and not by consumers. By having readers pay for their own journalism and using the data publishers have to listen to what their readers really want, news organizations can focus on accountability metrics like loyalty, retention and churn in ways that resemble SaaS instead of a singular focus on CPMs…

He suggests that traditional media companies like ours are now positioned to disrupt the disrupters who earlier provided platforms and search capability. What they did was amazing, but we own the relationships. … Read the rest of this entry »

Crowdsourcing a story

In Innovation on 15 Dec 2016 at 2:00 pm


Savvy news organizations are using an evolving, blog-like, approach to coverage of rapidly changing events. The way it works most often is that you post a lede to breaking news and then top it in tick-tock fashion with new information as it arrives. I suspect we will all adopt this approach at some point in the coming year.

The latest incarnation might be the way The New York Times has covered the tragic fatal fire in Oakland earlier this month. It’s interesting work and I’m excited to see how it’s received.

In the old days, a Times staffer would have parachuted in to the fire scene, talked to the mayor, the fire chief, the guy who owns the next building over and a survivor or two. Then she would have written a 35-inch takeout with a clichéd lede reading something like, “City officials, artists, musicians and the rest of Oakland’s shocked residents are struggling to reconcile support for a quirky artists’ community with the need for a safe place to sleep after 36 lives went up in smoke in the Bay Area’s other city on …”

You know that story. You’ve read it a million times. Well, not this time. In a story front and center on the newspaper homepage, the newspaper announced:

We are going to share regular updates on what we uncover as we do our reporting.

We’ll tell you about the interviews that our journalists conduct, the documents we obtain and what we learn as we learn it — as part of our effort to piece this story together. …
Read the rest of this entry »

Deadlines are good for you

In Innovation on 26 Aug 2016 at 8:17 am

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 7.22.27 PM

We all have one thing in common: Not enough hours in the day.

You get up before the sun, shower and brush your teeth. You plan dinner, put out the trash, pay a couple bills over a bowl of cereal. Maybe you have kids to rouse and rush to school. You fight traffic. … All this before you land at work for a full day.

And work is filled with dozens of tasks that conspire to keep you from your bliss. If you are a writer, you probably have a story that has been rolling around the back of your mind but just can’t seem to get to it. If you are a manager, you want to spend more time coaching and helping your direct reports succeed. If you are a publisher, you could be shaking hands with advertisers or soliciting testimonials or planning the next magazine if not for all this busy work.

But there just is no time. Right?

This isn’t a guilt trip. You really are as busy you feel. Yet…

When the race is run, you might not be remembered so much for all the little things you do throughout every day as for the true accomplishments that stand like peaks in your life. It might be running a marathon or writing a novel. It might be redesigning the front page of your newspaper. You might feel like there is no time for any of that. The truth is, there is time for nothing else. And you know what? If you had more time, you likely wouldn’t reach any more of those peaks. … Read the rest of this entry »

What if we had a paydike?

In Innovation on 25 Mar 2016 at 8:42 am

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 8.35.56 AM

This literally stopped me in my tracks. It’s Blendle and I’d never heard of it until I browsed newspaper topics on Medium. Then, this week, the app makers announced they were running a beta test in the United States.

It’s an app, that began in the Netherlands, that claims to give consumers a single news source that will (could, anyway) act as a paywall for every publisher in the country. Is this the holy grail? Take a look at this YouTube explanation and see what you think.

To me, the biggest stumbling block to having consumers pay for news they want online is not the payment itself, but rather the hassle inherent in doing using it. You have to register and make payments to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Sierra Vista Herald. Then, dang it, it turns out the story you want right now is in the Houston Chronicle!

But what if you registered on this one app, linked it to your online wallet (think your Starbucks or iTunes accounts) and were free to read anything, any time? Blendle says it will include all those things that are recommended by your social network, by celebrities, by me on The Kicker. You only pay for what you click on. You might not pay for an online subscription to 15 newspapers, but maybe you would go for this.

Blendle founder Alexander Klopping explains what might be the coolest feature: … Read the rest of this entry »