Archive for the 'web 2.0' Category

Can the San Jose Mercury News save itself?

December 19, 2007

“We all look at our slumping circulation and revenue numbers and wonder what kind of changes it will take to grow — or even keep — our audience. The good news is that we can find out. The answers lie in the people who walk, talk, drive, shop, and read among us every day.”

“The Merc” is trying to radically redesign their paper as a response to the declining circulation that afflicts almost every newspaper in the country. Being in Silicon Valley, though, they’re doing it the “open source” way, by blogging about the experience as it goes on (and soliciting feedback through the blog).

Here’s a post from last month that lays out the current prototype. The idea is that 70% of the staff would post news online, and 30% of the staff would dedicate themselves to making three really good section fronts for the print edition every day. The rest of the print paper will be plucked from online.

At the same time, the paper’s vowing to up its “personality.” Matt Mansfield, a deputy ME at the paper, wrote: “We repeatedly heard that people felt the writing and storytelling was flat, monotonous. They wanted some more lively pieces, with more flair. Our writing needs to reflect the personality of our community.”

Another post, musing on the impact of all this: “Are we zagging when everyone is zigging? Under this concept, we are becoming more a magazine, moving away from breaking news.”

You can follow the redesign/revamp as it progresses here.

New blogging endeavor

October 29, 2007

Just more shameless self-promotion today: I’m blogging with my compatriot, the very talented Chris Combs, over at Scrapple Spring Rolls (a delicious foodstuff). You’ll still get five posts a week here, but if you’re interested in tidbits (the leftovers of the leftovers, if you will) of DC life, bookmark Scrapple Spring Rolls as well.

Interviewing by instant message

June 18, 2007

Leann Frola, a Naughton Fellow at Poynter, posted an interview she did with a MediaBistro blogger who’s been hired by the New York Times. The content of the interview is interesting; I always love to hear about bloggers who’ve been snapped up to teach mainstream media what’s what (hint, hint!), even if more questions are raised than answered in this specific interview. What’s unusual about this interview, though, is that Frola conducted it by instant message and simply threw the transcript, slang, interruptions, and all, onto the site.

lfrola (1:07:33 PM):what are some of the things you’d like to do?

lfrola (1:07:39 PM):maybe that would work better?

lfrola (1:10:01 PM):brian?

thebump (1:11:40 PM):Sorry — girlfriend on phone —

lfrola (1:11:58 PM):oh np!

thebump (1:11:56 PM):Hmm, so what would I like to do

lfrola (1:12:17 PM):yes

lfrola (1:12:24 PM):i’m curious

I dont know how I feel about this. I love the transparency of putting an AIM interview up as an AIM interview, but it seems so…unfinished. Unpolished. Is this what all our news will look like in 20 years? A journalist’s job is to filter, to weed. At one level this means deciding what to cover, at another level it means taking out insignificant information, even down to the word. (That is, after all, what ellipses are for.) AIM chats by nature are unfiltered and unfettered. The freedom is great, and I’m sure–if used properly–this could be a great way to report. But it’s also possible that a lot more work needs to be done in this area, and reporters and editors need to have a lot more chats about how to make chat work.

Tapping into the power of the masses

March 22, 2007

Broadcast media can’t just be a bullhorn anymore; it has to be an invitation, or it misses out on some of the best stuff happening around it.

Radio is so boring, isn’t it? All the commentators on the morning programs sound exactly the same (this is a proven fact, look it up) and the rest of the time you hear the same old tired mix of music, news, traffic and weather. If you have a question or a comment or a song request, you’ve got to sit on hold, or worse, sit listening to the phone ring, wondering if anyone will ever pick up. Sometimes, since ClearChannel owns all our radio, you can sit, receiver to ear for hours, waiting for someone to pick up, but no-one ever will. (Not to compare this disaster to one’s inability to request “Flashdance” for the fifth day in a row. But you see the point.)

Now there’s a new kind of radio in town. Radio Open Source, hosted by the man who delivered the world’s first podcast, Chris Lydon. Four times a week, ROS releases hour-long radio shows on tons of diverse topics. What got me listening was an archived show on the literature of 9/11; what I’m excited to listen to in the future is the Passion Thursday series, where Lydon interviews average folks about their passions. One week it’s the tuba, the next it’s candy, the next it’s birdwatching. All the shows are freely available online, in streaming and in podcast form, and are syndicated on public radio stations in ten states.

But here’s the fun part: Before, during, and after the show, Lydon and his staff solicit comments through ROS’s blog. “[Commenters] give us their reading lists, suggest sources, and tell us what to ask,” goes the pitch. “You can call this citizen journalism, or you can call this lazy.”

It’s not lazy, of course, though it isn’t exactly citizen journalism, at least by the definition I was taught. What it is, is a smart way of using technology to make intelligent products that (I hope) people want to hear.

Lydon adds that ROS tries to get at least one blogger on every show:

We look at every blogger as a “fixer,” a journalist”s term for someone with local knowledge, someone who speaks the language and can tell us who to talk to.

(Caveat: Radio Open Source is not “new.” But I’d imagine their subscriber base has really taken off in the past few months. I’ll report back to you what I find!)

This is very similar to what Wired magazine is doing with Assignment Zero : they call it “crowdsourcing.” According to the New York Times, after about two months, Jeff Howe, the contributing editor at Wired who coined the term, will “draw on the reporting from AssignmentZero to write a feature article in Wired about the phenomenon.”
Gosh, I hope the Times got something wrong here. I love all this Web 2.0 junk, but if it takes two months of work by the plebian masses to produce one story, perhaps we’re not going about this the right way.

On the other hand, all the information collected, even if it doesn’t make it into print, will remain archived on the Web, easily accessible by Google. The information at Radio Open Source (such as the “extra credit reading,” links to relevant information that appear before the show airs) will still be there. The work won’t be wasted. This is akin to a “traditional” reporter making his or her notes available after a story’s been written; maybe there were a few good anecdotes that didn’t make it into the profile, maybe some important background information on an issue that was cut for space. I’m hopeful that the crowdsourcing concept can also filter through all the extraneous materials of differing importance after the really important stuff has been published; Digg.com seems to be doing a fairly decent job at this.

Even keeping this in mind, though, it seems like an enormous amount of work for what will be, in the end, a small finished product. The costs are immense–sure, Wired and Radio Open Source get free labor, but they and other similar organizations have to employ editors, tech people, and reporters to make these things work well. Not to mention fact-checkers. It is a pain, I’d guess, to separate the wheat from the chaff. It is a lot of work to open your newsroom to the average person.

But I don’t think journalists can afford not to.