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Archive for the ‘Innovation’ Category

Alexa, tell me the news

In Innovation on May 11, 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 May 11, 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 April 27, 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 December 15, 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. …
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Deadlines are good for you

In Innovation on August 26, 2016 at 8:17 am

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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 March 25, 2016 at 8:42 am

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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 »

Goodbye, City Room

In Innovation on December 3, 2015 at 2:48 pm

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Recently, the New York Times announced it was discontinuing its City Room blog. The blog was a creature of the newspaper’s Metro department and a place for tidbits that might not otherwise make the newspaper. All that color made it feel very different from the gray lady of American publishing. It may feel a bit of a dinosaur today, but the blog represented a big step forward in the digital space when it debuted in 2007.

It’s funny and a bit daunting to think of the speed at which things come and go these days. A blog that was launched eight years ago simply ran its course, but in so doing, it taught a legacy media organization an awful lot about the tone, speed and quirkiness of successful publishing online.

“If it were 100 years ago, this would have lasted for 50 years, but the way technology changes and the way reader nature changes every five years now, its lifespan was just so much shorter,” New York Times metro editor Wendell Jamieson told Joseph Lichterman in a provocative piece written for Nieman Labs. (The piece itself is very interesting because it is presented as a sort of oral history of the project from the perspective of many players in City Room. You should check it out for its format if nothing else.)

I was really struck by two things. First, many of the early adopters at the Times have gone on to really interesting things both in legacy media and in other forms of publishing. Take Jennifer 8 Lee. She was one of the best-known young voices at The Times until relatively recently and she was a contributor to City Room. Today, she is CEO of Plympton, which is an online book-publishing platform that sends serialized fiction to digital devices, among other things. Here’s what she says in Lichterman’s piece. … Read the rest of this entry »

Virtual reality changes everything

In Innovation on November 12, 2015 at 6:23 pm


The New York Times completely rocked my world on the morning of Nov. 8. I waddled to the driveway, cup of joe in hand, and picked up the thick wad of newspaper that always greets me on Sunday mornings. It wasn’t until I got inside and unwrapped the thing that I noticed the cardboard box.

What’s this?

It turned out to be a virtual reality machine, for lack of a better term. The result of a partnership with Google, the box unfolded to form something that looked a lot like the Viewmaster from my childhood. A sheet that came with it instructed me to download the NYTVR app on my cellphone. After that, I clicked a link to a video – a 10-minute documentary really. I put the phone in the cardboard and …

There is really no way to describe the experience, but here goes: The New York Times, through a phone app and a piece of cardboard, transported me to war-torn Africa, a Syrian refugee camp and into the ravaged Ukraine. I was alongside three of the 30 million children worldwide who have been displaced by war.

I will never think of video or news the same way again. Period. Here’s the Times announcement.

Of course, I knew about virtual reality. I was vaguely aware that it was being used for gaming and all sorts of training purposes. It seemed to require big, bulky headsets, fancy cameras and who knew what all. It just didn’t seem like something I would be interested in. And I wasn’t alone. … Read the rest of this entry »

Design thinking and you

In Innovation on October 22, 2015 at 3:43 pm

A quick sketch of me made by AP’s national political editor, David Scott, during a workshop at the d.school.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend a joint conference of the APME, ASNE and APPM held at Stanford. Some of the most important people in journalism were on hand, including top editors from the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and National Geographic.

While I enjoyed the usual panel discussions and opportunities to meet with peers, the highlight for me was a chance to peek into the university’s famed d.school.

The school, more formally known as the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design within the university’s Engineering school, was founded 10 years ago. It was and remains a recognition that modern real-world problems require complex solutions that pair talented individuals across disciplines. How important is the concept? Melinda Gates, one of the world’s leading philanthropists, has said that “design thinking” is the most important innovation in years.

So what is it and what does it have to do with running a newsroom? I didn’t really know, either. … Read the rest of this entry »

Creating a productive culture

In Innovation on May 28, 2015 at 4:56 pm


This week the American Press Institute released a report calling for human-centered design in newsrooms, and for those newsrooms to give a lot more thought to the structures and processes that form the basis for newsroom culture. The implication is that the resulting culture will impact everything we do and whether we are adaptive enough to survive in a digital age. It released a simultaneous sort of nuts-and-bolts set of guidelines for managers to follow and it’s written by a really innovative journalist named Craig Silverman.

There is a ton of information in these reports and it’s hard to synthesize and do justice to the project. Some of it will look awfully familiar to anyone who remembers API’s Newspaper Next project a decade ago. Apparently, we didn’t all climb aboard that train and now we need to catch up at the next station.

At its core, the project is about creating a cooperative culture that acknowledges our business is evolving rapidly and our survival depends on our response to that call for change. There are many impediments to creating that positive culture – in our newsrooms and in our company generally – and often they come down to a human tendency to cling to the familiar.

Take an example. Think about the way you write up crime news. There is a process. Maybe you call the PIO or check the jail log or look for press releases or read the sheriff’s reports. Have you been doing it that way for a long time? Might there be a better way now that we are in the digital age? Here’s a paragraph from the API report:

Any one process, viewed in isolation, appears to be just a mundane part of getting the day’s work done. But these simple routines that occupy daily life easily evolve into rituals that define it. With time they take on tradition and significance (“that’s the way we do things around here”). We are what we repeatedly do. …
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