Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Broadcast media’ Category

In a world of dwindling newsroom resources, one of the harder questions is how much of your time and attention to place online. The view I tend to align with is that the future audience is going to be all-digital, and likely mostly mobile, so we need to make sure we are moving ourselves.

Then comes this new study that shows that when it comes to news consumption, a lot of what you put online may as well be wasted effort in comparison to how much use the print product gets: 92 percent of the consumption of news is on legacy platforms, only 8 percent on digital.

The temptation is to say that everyone should then devote 92 percent of their time and energy to the legacy platform. I know that’s too simplistic.

What if digital news consumption is relatively low because we just aren’t that good yet at grabbing digital users?

Or maybe the real message is to spend your online energies tailoring what you do present online to the on-the-run way that people use that medium, which in turn may mean there are things you are doing online now that you don’t really need to do, given how little use it is getting.

Read Full Post »

Here’s a little secret of the legislative process: Absolutely every time a legislative body convenes, anywhere, some of its members introduce bills that they know stand not a snowball’s chance in Hades of seeing the light of day.

Why would they do that?

The bill may represent a dearly held belief. Sometimes it’s just to please some folks back home.

No matter the motivation, though, at some point the legislator or legislators in question knew or should have known that the measure was fatally flawed – either impractical, unpopular or flat-out illegal and/or unenforceable.

Sometimes, they don’t even file a bill; all they do is stand up and make a speech that includes phrases to please certain audiences but doesn’t mean anything. In fact, North Carolina is the source for one term for this: bunk, as in “That’s a lot of bunk.” It is said that in February 1820, as Congress was debating the Missouri Compromise, U.S. Rep. Felix Walker, who was from the Asheville area, rose to speak but assured his colleagues, “I shall not be speaking to the House, but to Buncombe,” and went on to deliver a speech that had absolutely nothing to do with anything under consideration. Bumcombe became bunkum became bunk.

Which brings us to the measure that made North Carolina a national punchline this week.

When I was the state editor of the Winston-Salem Journal, our state capital reporter routinely reported to me on certain, well, unusual pieces of legislation. One that springs to mind would have mandated that prison inmates sleep in shifts around the clock – you could use one bed for three inmates, so each prison could house three times as many inmates as it was intended to house. My response always was to ask whether the bill in question stood a chance of getting anywhere. The reporter would check around, and almost without fail the answer was no, the people in charge knew the measure was impractical, or nuts, so it wouldn’t even get to a committee debate, it would just disappear into the archives.

Back then, before Facebook and Twitter, that would have been the widespread response to House Joint Resolution 494. Introduced by Rowan County legislators, it appeared to be crafted to satisfy folks upset about an ACLU challenge of local governments starting their meetings with an overtly Christian prayer. What made it stand out, and what made it spread virally across the Internet, is that the proposal declares that the U.S. Constitution prohibition against government establishing an official religion doesn’t apply to anyone but Congress, so that “states, municipalities, or schools” would be free to do so.

Imagine, if you can, the free-for-all of a United States where individual towns or even schools can declare their own official religions. Want an officially Muslim town somewhere? A mini-Israel in the mountains up North? An officially Buddhist village in the Carolina coastal plain? And then after the next election cycle the official religion could change again? This kind of idea would make it possible. It has all kinds of unintended consequences.

Aside from that, though, even as the resolution itself states, the nation’s courts at every level have consistently interpreted the establishment clause as applying to everyone, not just Congress. So, passing anything to implement the idea would have zero legal effect. None.

In other words, the legislators expressed support for something that on its face would be unconstitutional – violating not just the U.S. Constitution but the state constitution as well. And that is where the stuff hit the fan and splattered across Facebook, Twitter and all the tubes of the Internet. “North Carolina is going Taliban,” the commentary suggested.

But here’s the other thing: Because the legislative sponsors introduced it as a resolution, they never really intended to try to make their idea the law of the state. A resolution is more like standing up on a box and declaring to the folks all around, “Here is what I think is a really good idea.” They were speaking to Buncombe.

John Hood of the conservative John Locke Foundation said as much in a column Friday: “A resolution is not a bill. A bill introduced is not a bill enacted. And a bill enacted is not necessarily a major policy change that will affect the everyday lives of North Carolinians.”

That’s what I kept trying to tell people when I saw them flipping out on Facebook.

And on Thursday, what I expected came to pass: The House leadership declared that the measure would never even come to a vote.

So ends another week in the sausage-making business.

Read Full Post »

Catching up on some long-neglected reading, I just finished an interview with actor Frank Langella in the September issue of Esquire. At one point, writer Scott Raab asks Langella about his role as the vampire in the 1979 movie “Dracula,” saying, “Did you drag that around like a stone?” Langella answers that he didn’t in his head, but he acknowledges that the role probably cost him some other opportunities. That by itself is something we are used to thinking about actors, that one corny role or a movie that flops will hurt the actor’s career. Thinking of Langella’s career now — think particularly of “Frost/Nixon,” “The Box,” last year’s “Robot & Frank” — it seems crazy to think he lost roles in the early ’80s just because he played a vampire in 1979. You wonder how many of those producers or casting directors who passed him over would now, in hindsight, wish they had rethought it.

But then I thought of my own recent experience looking for a job. In the two months after I was laid off, I must have applied for nearly 40 jobs; none seemed like a stretch. I got just four phone interviews, three of which led to in-person interviews. But those four had two significant questions in common. The gist of the first was whether I was concerned that it had been nearly 12 years since I directly supervised reporters. My inner reaction roughly was, “What? Seriously?” The gist of the second was that my corporate job must have paid me significantly better than the job I was interviewing for, so how low could I go? My inner reaction wasn’t much different than it was to the first, because although it was a corporate job, it was still in news — the pay wasn’t as good as they assumed.

These publishers and editors were doing the same thing as those Hollywood producers — looking at the last thing I had done and extrapolating from that the entirety of what I then was capable of and expected. Given the common gravity with which the questions were asked all four times, I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that a number of people who never even called me had the same questions, presumed the answers and wrote me off. In fact, during my almost 12 years in a corporate news division, I had seen some situations where publishers simply wrote off potential hires without so much as an interview because they assumed, based on where the editors had last worked, that the editors wanted more money than the publishers were willing to pay.

Now that I am back supervising reporters again, I can confidently say what I believed before: If you were ever any good at supervising reporters, then it’s like riding a bike. You just don’t forget how to do it. As for the pay, obviously I was always fully aware, as a longtime reporter and editor, that the industry’s standard pay is awful.

Now, as I am trying to make a new hire I am trying to be sure I am not repeating the mistakes of those who interviewed me.

How about you? Next time you are reviewing applications, assess what you are assessing. When you place an application in your “No” pile, why did you put it there?

Read Full Post »

Sometimes it’s easy to feel down about journalism. It’s a little too easy. Yes, the collapse of advertising and the rapid pace of technological change are problems, but there is a lot in journalism still worth celebrating. Among them:

Technology. Yes, the industry is having trouble keeping up with what new technology is doing to the business model for news, but look at all that technology is making possible. At one extreme is the kind of rich storytelling experience exemplified recently by the New York Times’ “Snow Fall” (FYI, good info on that package from The Atlantic Wire). Even in small newsrooms with nowhere near that level of technological ability, new tools are enabling new forms of storytelling.

At the very basic level, technology allows reporters to be untethered from their desks yet still be able to reach sources at any time and also file stories and photos from almost anywhere, and it opens the possibility for new, deeper, stronger ties between news organizations and their communities. Technology is making access to records faster and easier, and giving us databases where once there only were farflung file cabinets of paper, if the information existed at all. It is easing and speeding communication of all kinds. All of this is good news if you believe an informed public is inherently a good thing.

Bosses worth working for. I have been lucky because I can count on one hand, and still hold a cup of coffee, the bosses I’ve had for whom I would not happily work again. One of my editors I actually did work for twice. There are editors out there who make their staffs feel good about their work, and some even make the workplace fun. Not only that, there are good publishers. True, I’ve met my share of underhanded, unimaginative or timid publishers, but I’ve met many more who believe that good journalism is good business in the long term. Just in the past month I met two who specifically said they want their news staffs to feel free to butt heads and do stories that might upset local officials. A good boss makes a world of difference, and there are a good number of them out there.

Staffers worth supervising. Journalists fancy themselves as crusty and cynical, but it’s hard to find a more optimistic group. Look at how they have watched their newsrooms dwindle, but see how many of them remain hopeful about the future of the business. In all my travels visiting newsrooms, spending time with a news staff has always left me feeling energized. Journalists just want to do a good job, and their job, when done well, helps the public.

Strivers and innovators. Although the traditional business model faces many problems, there are many people and organizations constantly trying new things. Just visiting the Nieman Journalism Lab site every now and then will give you some hope. If you’re like me, you can feel frustrated at either the pace of these efforts or the slow adoption of some innovations, but at least there are people trying new things. With enough people trying in enough places, good things have to result.

Thinking about things such as these make me feel better — as light as a feather, as merry as a school-boy, maybe even as giddy as a drunken man, Dickens might say. I should try to dwell on them more often.

Read Full Post »

I don’t use this blog to comment on issues outside of the news media, so I won’t address the gun-control debate that has come after the elementary-school shootings in Connecticut, but one that I first came across last night through a conservative friend’s post on Facebook, and which I subsequently came across multiple times, is the argument that the media should refrain from ever again using the name or photos of a mass killer because that would rob him of the infamy he craves.

(Among the places I have seen this are the website created by a mass-shooting victim’s family; Steve Buttry’s blog; and by David Brooks in a segment of NPR’s Dec. 14 “All Things Considered.”)

I’m sympathetic to the argument, but ultimately I think it would be futile, for three reasons.

First, the one thing that people on all sides of the gun debate would agree on is that the people who have carried out mass killings are deeply unhinged. Is the argument, then, that although they are unhinged, they will pause in their determination to kill, put down their guns and go home quietly once they realize they won’t get their name on the national news? Explain that to me. Even if a craving for infamy is part of their motivation, and I think that’s an open question, you’re assuming a crazed mind can draw the straight line from a national boycott on that publicity to the futility of seeking that publicity.

Second, how exactly is this boycott to be carried out? As anyone in any news organization can tell you, the news media are as organized and monolithic as a herd of cats. In my last job, I couldn’t even get the editors at four newspapers in the same company that had a congressional district in common to have just one reporter instead of four do the quarterly story on the district’s campaign finance reports. How you could convince even the majority of major national news organizations – let alone not just the broadcast and 24-hour cable networks and all of the nation’s largest papers but ALL. OF. THEM, down to the smallest of the hundreds of mainstream print, broadcast and online news outlets that are out there – is beyond me.

Which leads me to the third, decisive reason: A huge number of people don’t really want you to keep the killer’s name secret, no matter what they think right now. My conservative friend asked me my take on the media’s role in this and other news events, and my take on the media’s role is that people get the media they deserve, which is demonstrated by the media they choose. (For instance, if you want to live in a world where science is optional and math doesn’t matter, there are outlets for that.) What the media does at a time of tragedy is try to answer the questions that the typical person has; if we don’t answer them, we get calls and email asking why, and people will seek out media that answer those questions. In greatly simplified terms, the nature of a free market drives media to answer those questions in order to retain audience, which pleases advertisers. If even one news outlet uses the name, that organization will see a surge in its audience, and one by one others will wonder why they are withholding a name that is rapidly becoming common knowledge.

In the 1990s, the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal ran a story revisiting a decades-old killing in which a woman took her young children down to a creek and one by one drowned them. It was chilling and riveting. Among the calls that came in to the newsroom was one by a woman complaining that the whole story was so awful it never should have been printed. The veteran reporter who answered the phone asked the woman, “Ma’am, did you read the story?” She answered firmly, as if scolding him, “I read every single word of it.” He replied, “Then you must have really enjoyed the story.” She hung up on him – but he was right.

Read Full Post »

Following are the notes I have passed to my colleagues on the Online News Association’s 2012 conference (and for more check the ONA Newsroom):

J-Lab’s “pre-convention” sessions on Thursday produced the information I thought was most immediately useful. In one, editors from The Seattle Times and KQED talked about their efforts to create a network of community news partners. The Times’ model was low-maintenance (requiring only “1 or 2 hours a week”) and easily replicable. KQED’s was much more difficult to get going and maintain.

The Times has 55 local blogs – from neighborhood blogs of the sort like the Church Hill People’s News or the West of the Boulevard News here in Richmond to single-issue blogs on things like beer or bicycling – signed up as “community news partners.” Essentially the blogs agree to let the Times aggregate their RSS feeds; the Times’ editors have a dashboard built in WordPress to let them choose what stories they think are interesting, and the headlines (ONLY the headlines) then appear on the Times’ website, with the links pointing directly to the blogs. The partners agree to give the Times exclusive access to any photos that they get (the Times’ hope is that in a giant, breaking-news situation one of the blogs will have someone there first). The Times agrees to let the blogs do the same kind of headline-linking to the Times’ site and agrees to provide any of its photos to the blogs for free upon request (with credit given). UPDATE: I forgot to mention that each Sunday the Times publishes a page of excerpts from top blog posts.

The Times has gotten news stories – including A1 stories – that otherwise would have been missed (the Times includes a note with the story saying the information appeared first in X blog), and there is survey evidence that the partnerships have improved the newspaper’s image among local residents.

KQED’s partnerships are much more complex because the station wanted full, content-producing (audio and video, since KQED has both a radio station and a TV station) partnerships. That meant avoiding any site that advocates policy positions (the Times has no problem as long as the blog is transparent about its advocacy) and providing training to get content that meets its broadcast standards.

I think the Times model actually exposes a vulnerability that newspapers ignore at their peril. If a TV station were to seek such an extensive, low-maintenance network, it could greatly enhance its website as a community hub, build on the station’s promotional and community-engagement efforts (which already exceed what newspapers do) and effectively corner the market on community news. Assuming newspapers continue to throw up paywalls and TV stations do not, the newspaper site retreats into niche status (though the niche is elite, high-information readers), while the TV station that harnesses the blog network cements itself as the go-to place for “what’s happening now?” information.

* * * *

Amy Webb, Webbmedia Group’s Tech Trends (Storify coverage, and video of the session)

Amy’s job is to spot trends in technology and media so she can help her clients adapt to disruption. The bulk of her talk was on the broader process for how her company does that. But for ONA she devoted a lot of attention to the issue of online video by news organizations, who she says are awful at online video. The problem we have, in her view, is that we are content-oriented people, so we focus on the content, not the online experience. That is backwards of how it should be. She says you should focus on creating an online experience, not on the content. As an example she pointed to is HuffingtonPost Live: The video is extremely forgettable at this point, but the online dashboard provides a web-native experience, geared for the multitasking that people do online. She says that the video inevitably will improve, but having the best video-exploration experience puts the site in the driver’s seat.

Key quote: “Don’t replicate the TV experience.” People online don’t want to just sit and only have the video play.

Near-term trends she sees for news/content:

–“Atomic”-based news. That is “atomic” in the sense of news being broken into its component bits for better personalization. In other words, for any given story, there is a basic story for the casual reader, a version with more context for those with a higher level of interest, and an expert-level package. This is made possible by rapidly improving algorithms, such as are used by Google and Amazon, tracking the user’s history and interest.

–Algorithm-created content. This would be the automated translation of spreadsheet-based information into full sentences and paragraphs. The algorithms are increasingly sophisticated and produce better and better results. I think something like this could be huge, cost-wise, for such things as sports and cops, so you could hire data-entry people instead of writers. (10/9 UPDATE: This is a company that sells the software.)

–There’s a huge opening for verticals targeting women – but NOT “mom blogs” or “mom” anything, which is overdone and misses the majority of women. She means mainstream topics but reported with a female audience and women’s particular concerns in mind. In the bulk of news, women are an afterthought or absent, so women are hungry to see themselves reflected in the world of news and information.

–Apple vs. Android: Google has a new version of Google Maps coming for Android phones (you may recall that Apple booted Google Maps from the iPhone, with poor reviews for its replacement – one tech guy I talked to in SF says his iPhone can’t even map his home address in NYC). It’s called Google Now. She thinks it will be huge for Android and tilt the field against Apple. Quote: “Google Now will make Siri look like somebody’s high school project.”

–Wearable technology. She brought in a prototype of a purse that recharges your phone. You just drop the phone inside. There’s no plugging it in, no special place to put the phone. She says you probably also will see the same technology incorporated into clothes so that you will have a phone-charging pocket.

Longer-term trend:

–Augmented reality. You may have seen the online demonstration of Google glasses, a pair of glasses that gives the wearer a display of information about things the person looks at. She has seen similar technology in contact lenses.

* * * *

The opening day’s keynote speaker was José Antonio Vargas (Storify coverage, video), the former Washington Post reporter who revealed his illegal immigration status. His main point was an argument to stop using the term “illegal alien.” He made a good point, partly on the legal/semantic issue of it being a civil violation to be in the country without documentation, not a criminal one, and partly on the basis of this: “In what other context do we ever describe a person as illegal?” Someone who drives at age 14 has broken the criminal law but is described as an underage driver; someone who drives drunk has broken the criminal law but is described as a drunken driver; neither is an illegal driver. He advocates using the term “undocumented immigrant,” which is both more precise and accurate.

(Poynter rounds up some of the counterarguments.)

* * * *

The Friday lunch “keynote” was an interview of Twitter’s CEO, Dick Costolo. Excellent interview. (Coverage, if you’re interested, or video.) One big bit of news: Twitter is developing tools to make it easier to curate event-oriented tweets. Also, pretty much all of Twitter’s development efforts are targeted at mobile users. Tweetdeck is its desktop tool and the only thing for desktops that is contemplated. (Costolo actually referred to it as something like “Twitter Pro for journalists.”)

UPDATE: Jeff Sonderman at Poynter.org has a list of 12 bite-size takeaways from the conference, largely different than mine.

Read Full Post »

screenshot
It’s not at all surprising that Phoenix TV station KPHO is running an ad poking plans by Gannett properties The Arizona Republic and KPNX-TV to charge for online news (I would embed it here, but embedding has been blocked on that one). What’s surprising is no other TV station in a competitive market has run such an ad (as far as I know). The ad claims that KPHO’s website has “even more” information than the Gannett site, azcentral.com, which sounds patently ridiculous on its face — but how many people who aren’t devoted daily newspaper readers know that? I know some devoted newspaper folks whose first instinct when local news breaks is to go to the leading TV station’s website, not the newspaper’s site. This ad just takes aim at that type of impulse and seeks to build on it. It is the leading argument in my mind for why no news site should be 100 percent behind any sort of paywall. If you have competition that’s free, you need to offer at least breaking news, something to keep them coming to you for free so that you can then attempt to lure them to pay for your fuller coverage and extras.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »