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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Will newspapers stop publishing on Mondays and Tuesdays?

The question of whether or not newspapers are being bold enough in their efforts to adapt to the new publishing environment is one that comes up a lot.

I don't see evidence of particularly bold thinking in New Zealand yet, although to be fair papers here have a bit more leeway than their overseas counterparts given this is a less competitive market with relatively low broadband uptake (limiting, for the time being, the dominance of the web in a number of regions, especially rural).

This special report from Editor&Publisher looks at how US newspapers are adapting (regional as well as metro) and canvasses opinion on whether they're going far enough.

It's a nice wrap of the current market and hits on a few interesting points. Of particular interest to me was that while some newspapers are publising slimmer editions on slow days, others are cutting out slow days altogether. I've pulled out a few paragraphs below.

I once read a prediction, where I can't remember, that over time a lot of newspapers would evolve into weekly publications with daily news published on their websites. This has long struck me as a likely scenario. Is this the beginning of that process?

Tim McGuire, [a change expert and the Frank Russell Chair for the business of journalism at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications,] says his advice for newspapers now is to radically rethink what the newspaper looks like day to day.

Monday's paper might be just 16 pages, covering more sports than news. Tuesday, another loser for most dailies, might even drop sports. The Sunday paper would be almost unchanged, the product for mass distribution not only of ad inserts but as a "convener" of the whole community to have a conversation. And to get everybody in the door, he suggests dramatically lowering the price of that fat Sunday paper.

Some newspapers are already going the route of shrinkage. The San Jose Mercury News, for instance, is in the process of downsizing its Monday and Tuesday editions. "We are looking at trying to tighten up stories and see how we can convey more information in less space," says Editor/Vice President David J. Butler.

The Salt Lake Tribune, another MediaNews Group Inc. paper, is also greeting the beginning of the workweek with smaller papers, something Editor Nancy Conway says is a positive step: "The key is not to have fewer stories; the vision is to make them smaller."

The time could be ripe for fulfilling a longtime fantasy of some publishers — eliminating dog days like Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday. It's fueled by the obvious fact that in the U.S., at least, newspapers generally lose money during the week and coin it on Fridays and Sundays, says INMA's executive director Earl Wilkinson: "I know of newspapers that for 20 years have had blueprints for killing days of the week."

In recent weeks, two small GateHouse Media Inc.-owned dailies in Illinois actually implemented those plans. Tony Scott, publisher of the Daily Review Atlas in Monmouth, Ill., told readers that the paper had been thinking about eliminating Mondays for at least two years, and were finally pushed to do it by newsprint costs that soared 45% year-over-year and rising gas prices. Its sibling Kewanee (Ill.) Star Courier also dropped Mondays.

In Wisconsin, the Forum Communications-owned Daily Telegram in Superior went even further, announcing in July that come September, it was dropping four of its six publishing days while shifting daily reporting to its Web site. In making the decision to switch to a twice-weekly, paid-circ model, Publisher Ken Browall says all options were open for the 5,500-circ evening daily — from turning tabloid to going to free distribution.

INMA's Wilkinson is skeptical that larger-circulation newspapers will actually pull the trigger on the idea of eliminating Mondays. But Alan Jacobson, president and CEO of Brass Tacks Design, thinks it could become as widespread an industry practice as narrowing web widths.

"Staffing a newsroom seven days a week has been tough," he says. Newspapers, Jacobson figures, will drop a day following the same logic many papers are using in lopping off feature sections for low-circ days. "Reporters spend a lot of time on those feature stories," he says. "You eliminate that section, and you just bought yourself three days of reporting time — if you still have that reporter."

Telegraph and NY Times sign up for content

More from the web-to-print syndication files., a financial analysis website set up by former FT journalism Hugo Dixon, has done a deal to supply branded content to both Telegraph Media Group and the New York Times.

This is a Guardian report on the deal:

The long-term deal struck by TMG will allow the group to publish analysis on financial events on and in the print edition of the Daily Telegraph, augmenting its existing business coverage.'s deal with the NYT will lead allows it to carry a branded opinion column that will appear in all weekday editions of the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune from September 23. These columns will also appear online at and

"The column is a perfect complement to both our leading news coverage of finance and business and our roster of award-winning columnists," said the New York Times business editor, Lawrence Ingrassia.

The move by TMG to carry analysis from the financial analysis website follows the departure of four journalists over the summer, and the arrival of a new media editor, on the integrated business desk. This integrated operation oversees the production of business news across, the Daily Telegraph and its sister Sunday paper.

"At such a difficult, but fascinating time in global markets, the Telegraph newspaper and online readers will be able to benefit from's insights," said the TMG editor-in-chief, Will Lewis.

Breakingviews founder Hugo Dixon spent 13 years at the Financial Times, during the last five of which he headed its Lex business column, before setting up the website in 1999.

The financial analysis website has syndication deals with other leading newspapers including Le Monde in France, Spain's El Pais and Italy's La Stampa.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Making better audio slideshows

More from Mastering Multimedia (loving this blog at the moment), this time top tips on making better audio slide shows.

  • I shoot the photographs for my slideshow like I shoot a video sequence–by taking wide, medium and lots of tight shots. This gives my shows visual variety and allows me to cover my audio by opening with a wide shot, then transitioning to a tight shot of the same scene.
  • It’s best to open your show with a bit of natural sound rather than with a subject talking. The ramp up into your story is important. If you don’t pull the viewer in fast they will bolt. Natural sound eases the viewer into your story without jolting them with dialogue.
  • Stop having the subjects introduce themselves. Really, stop it! The biggest cliché in audio slideshows is the “Hi, my name is…” intro. Instead, use a lower thirds title.
  • Use passionate subjects for the narrative of your story. If your subject has a boring monotone voice, then maybe you should write and voice some narrative bridges yourself to help move the story along.
  • Like video, try to match up photos to what the narrator is talking about. The same goes for the natural sound. When you do this, your story will really start to crackle.
  • Get yourself a decent flash card recorder. The cheap one makes your show sound amateurish. You use a $3000.00 digital camera to shoot the pictures. A $200.00 recorder is a small price to pay for decent sound quality.
  • When you record an interview, make sure to do it in a quiet spot. Then add your natural sounds (at a reduced level) under the narrative to give it sound depth.
  • Record a minute of room tone wherever you are taking photographs. Use it to cover the sound gaps between or under the narration.
  • Never, I mean NEVER have dead air sound gaps in your audio narrative. Cross-fade your audio between clips or add room tone to prevent this at all costs.
  • Your final audio edit should be as smooth as butter. Nothing should take you out of the moment.
  • Make sure your show is paced correctly. Too fast and you make the viewer mad, too slow and you bore them visually.
  • Use music for a reason, and not because you need to make a boring show more interesting. Don’t use music to manipulate emotion. If it is not in the narrative or photos, don’t force it with music.
  • Finally, create what I call a nat/narrative weave with your audio edits. Start your show with natural sound, and then weave your narration and ambient sound in and out.
More at Mastering Multimedia.

Ten questions newsrooms should ask themselves about video

From the Mastering Multimedia blog, in a post about the quality versus quantity debate, comes a list of 10 questions to ask yourself about how you're using video on your news website.

It's an instructive list, I think, and the post's worth a read too.

  • What is the overall vision for video in your newsroom?
  • Why are you doing video in the first place?
  • Is quality video valuable to your viewers?
  • Has video gained traction on your website over time? If not, why?
  • Has your paper invested in training that empowers your video producers to be able to tell and edit a story effectively?
  • Do you have (need) a web-savvy management structure in place to filter out bad video ideas and is an advocate for video based storytelling?
  • If you are producing lots of video, do you have a website that showcases this valued web-only content?
  • Can viewers find your videos quickly if they land on story page and not of the home page?
  • Can lower levels of video quality be acceptable if they meet a high news value bar?
  • Should small papers with dwindling resources really be adding poorly produced video to their already bleak shovelware websites?

The inky days of journalism

For the nostalgics among you, here's a cracker of an educational video from the days when women worked on the social pages, typesetters ruled, sub-editors wore visors and syndicated copy was mimeographed.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

ReadWriteWeb signs syndication deal with New York Times

Not at all surprised to read tonight that ReadWriteWeb has done a deal with the New York Times to provide syndicated technology stories.

It's a terrific achievement for ReadWriteWeb, showing it's well and truly come of age as an authoritative source of technology news. And it's a smart move by the New York Times to accept it can't be all things to all technology readers and join forces with another supplier.

The deal follows a similar one a couple of months ago between the Washington Post and Techcrunch.

This is how ReadWriteWeb announced it:

The New York Times announced today that it will syndicate ReadWriteWeb content, as part of a re-designed Technology section on its website. Over the coming weeks you will see ReadWriteWeb content incorporated into the Technology section front.

This is great news for us, because it brings our brand of web technology news, reviews and analysis to a much wider audience. It also means that the innovative and often little known startups we write about daily get a chance to be seen in a mainstream publication. The New York Times has a reputation for quality and in-depth journalism, attributes that we strive for on ReadWriteWeb - so we're excited about this partnership.

This is also further vindication that blogs are increasingly being accepted as mainstream news and analysis providers. Indeed the NYT is beefing up its own tech blog, Bits - it's being "more prominently displayed, highlighting its role as the main spot to find breaking tech news and analysis on"

Along with ReadWriteWeb, The New York Times will also syndicate content from our friends at VentureBeat and GigaOm. The New York Times re-design is now live, although syndicated content won't go live until October.

Congratulations all round.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

'We need to be skeptical of everything, but not equally skeptical of everything'

More from Technorati's State of the Blogosphere 2008. This time a few words of note from journalist Dan Gillmor on how we decide who to trust as we become swamped with information from an increasing number of diverse sources:

“From a journalistic perspective: Blogging and other conversational media are entering a new phase when it comes to community information needs — they're growing up.

"Traditional media are using these tools to do better journalism, and are beginning to engage their audiences in the journalism.

"Entrepreneurial journalists are finding profitable niches. Advertisers are starting to grasp the value of the conversations, and so on.

"The big issues remain, including the crucial one of trust. Here, too, we're seeing progress.

"The best blogs are as trustworthy as any traditional media, if not more. The worst, often offering fact-challenged commentary, are reprehensible and irresponsible.

"But audiences are learning, perhaps too slowly, that modern media require a more activist approach.

"We need to be skeptical of everything, but not equally skeptical of everything. We need to use judgement, to get more information — and to go outside our personal comfort zones.”

Dan Gillmor
Director, Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship
Kauffman Professor of Digital Media Entrepreneurship
Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication, Arizona State University

Blogging is niche, and slowing, says RWW

ReadWriteWeb posts about Technorati's latest breakdown of the blogosphere and disagrees that the figures show blogging has become mainstream.

Here are the figures from Technorati:

And here's how ReadWriteWeb sees them:

Of those 133 million blogs that Technorati has indexed - guess how many of them have been posted to in the last 7 days? 1.1% of them, or 1.5 million total.

Just for context, 1.6 million people in the US have defaulted on their mortgages last year. In 2005 there were 1.6 million people around the world who could speak Esperanto. 1.6 million people went to the Minnesota State Fair last year.

Is blogging mainstream? Globally, fewer people are posting to their blogs each week than go to the Minnesota State Fair or speak Esperanto.... Trying to blog (as 130 million+ people have in the past 6 years) may be somewhat mainstream, but actually blogging does not seem to be so yet.

ReadWriteWeb goes on to say that:
Reading blogs is becoming increasingly mainstream and the line between a blog and another kind of website is growing increasingly blurred. Writing full length blog posts even as regularly as once a week is hard, though.
Too right. It takes considerable time and effort, which can be hard to sustain.
We expect that microblogging may become more popular than blogging, if it hasn't already! From updating your status message on Facebook or MySpace, to posting 140 word updates on lunch or politics on Twitter to offering truncated public religious testimonials on a site like Gospelr (Twitter for Christians) - there are a whole lot of people already microblogging, if you will.
I agree, as do a number of the notables who commented on the Technorati research. Here's Michael Arrington, founder of Techcrunch:
Microblogging platforms like Twitter and Friendfeed are the fast food equivalent of the blogging world, and continue to gain popularity because they let people update multiple times per day with 140 characters or less on what they are doing, how they're feeling, etc. Not only is microblogging a terrific method of self expression, the value of the raw data that's created is enormously important. The Twitter messages I read during the two presidential conventions gave me a good idea on how people reacted to the various speeches. It's not statistically relevant, but pollsters will be watching that data more and more closely over time.”
And here's New York-based venture capitalist, Fred Wilson (who has invested in the two microblogging sites he mentions):

“Blogging is getting easier and easier and some day, we'll all have blogs of one sort or another. Most won't look like my blog, maybe more like mytumblog or my twitter feed, but even more likely they'll look like something else.”

“Earlier this year I wrote on my blog [], ‘Honestly I am not envisioning anything other than this; every single human being posting their thoughts and experiences in any number of ways to the Internet.’ That's where we are headed and blogging is a big part of that.”

There's some really interesting nuggets in the Technorati State of the Blogosphere 2008 report. Well worth dipping into.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

What Samuel Johnson has to offer the news business

It strikes me as timely to ponder this, from British essayist and lexicographer Samuel Johnson:

What is written without effort is, in general, read without pleasure.
Samuel Johnson

While we're on it, here's a couple more...
Without credible communication, and a lot of it, employee hearts and minds are never captured.
John Kotter (author of Leading Change)

I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I'm going to learn, I must do it by listening.
Larry King

*Quotes from The Book of Political & Business One-Liners.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Justin's survival guide for sub-editors

I've been meaning to point to this for a while. It's a post from Justin Williams, workflow guru and assistant editor at Telegraph Media Group in the UK.

He talks about the decline of the role of sub-editors, or rather an evolutionary blurring of the lines between what a sub, a news editor, commissioning editor and web editor does.

"If I was a reporter now and an old hand sidled up to me and suggested that I might like to retrain as a sub, I’d run a mile. And as for joining one of the nationals’ subbing schemes for graduate trainees … fugeddaboutit."
And he makes some recommendations for how working and would-be sub-editors can start updating their skill sets. Here's a few....
  1. Accept that your job is not a long-term or even a medium-term proposition. You’ll find that acceptance of reality is an enormously liberating thing.
  2. If subs start being co-opted onto the newsdesk to work with the editors, hassle and cajole whoever does your rotas to be given the same chance. If this is happening, it won’t be an experiment, merely the start of a process which will see the two roles - news editor and sub - become one and the same.
  3. Learn to use your company’s content management system (CMS). Do this in your own time if you’re not offered formal training. Come in a couple of hours early for a week. It’s a blast.
  4. Learn about search engine optimisation (SEO). Become an expert on it. Constantly check the most popular section on Google News to see what’s playing well. Use Wordtracker to find the most-searched-for terms and tell the reporters and the desk when they’re getting it wrong.
  5. Sign up to Digg, Reddit and six or seven of the other aggregators and start seeding your website’s content. Build networks of friends on the aggregators. Make sure you seed plenty of other stufff, too - you’ll find that other seeders will ignore you if you only propagate one site’s content.
This is worth a read. It gives a good insight into current thinking at the Telegraph, one of the more pioneering media groups in the area of web-first publishing and newsroom integration, and raises plenty of grounds for discussion.

Times Online to charge for archive access

It's a question newspaper sites eventually face: do we or don't we charge for access to our archives? Assuming, of course, that they have a searchable archive.

Times Online, the website of the Times newspaper in the UK, launched its archive in June on a free trial basis and has just announced it is putting much of it behind a paywall, according to the Guardian:

An email to users described the first three months of the archive as the "free introductory period" and explained that although featured articles on the archive homepage would remain free, access will be charged at £4.95 for one day, £14.95 for one month and £74.95 for one year.

"On Thursday September 18, the free introductory period will end, so we're writing to let you know how you can continue to enjoy this wonderful resource," Times Online told its readers.

"All the featured content on our archive home page and on Times Online will remain free to view, but if you wish to search the archive there will be a charge to view the results."

Times Online editor-in-chief Anne Spackman said,"The trial allowed us to see what [kind of content] people were coming in for."

The archive attracts around 80,000 unique users each month, she said, with each visitor accessing between seven and eight pages on average.

Spackman said between 3,000 and 5,000 articles would be available for free at any one time, linked from an index page that connects archive stories with current events, such as the Wall Street crash.

"The only people who will be paying are the people pursuing a personal journey," said Spackman, adding that the new rates for the archive would be less than the Guardian with special offers for existing newspaper subscribers.

The 200-year archive includes news stories from 1785 to 1985 including the Battle of Waterloo, the arrival of convicts at Botany Bay and the execution of Marie Antoinette, all in the original page layout.

Times Online, as with other online newspapers, has had to decide whether to monetise its extensive archive by opening pages for free and relying on advertising, or whether to stick to traditional business-to-business revenues from libraries.

Introducing paid access to consumers means sites can preserve their existing contracts with library firms, while keeping the service available to consumers and is likely to be seen as a more stable revenue stream in the current economic climate.

The move follows a major announcement by Google last week, which is working with 100 newspaper partners, mostly in the US, to digitise and index their archives.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

VCs give free advice for startups on Twitter

I love this: a group of venture capitalists have set up a Twitter channel, VCTips, to give advice to startups who are trying to raise seed money.

Among the words of wisdom articulated in 140 characters or less (the limit of a Twitter post is 140 characters):

  • Having your PC bog down in the middle of a presentation is a bummer. Come into the meeting on a clean boot. (@robhayes)
  • It's perfectly ok to make mistakes in running your start up, just don't make the same ones twice (@aweissman)
  • this is for everyone. not just entrepreneurs. don't ask for advice if you really don't want to hear it (@bijan)
  • no powerpoint slide should ever have 26 bullet points on it. (@bfeld)
  • when I ask for your revenue model four times and receive four different sets of hand waving I am going to get suspicious. (@robhayes)
  • trying to be "X done right" when X = an unproven service is not a compelling way to frame your business. (@bryce)t
  • he trend is your friend; demonstrate how a market is or will be growing in alignment with your business. timing is everything. (@aweissman)
  • if you haven't bothered to run your presentation through a spell checker I am likely to make the assumption that you are not detail oriented (@robhayes)
  • words to eliminate from your vcpitch - "space" (@bfeld)
  • another word to abolish from your vocabulary: "traction". That's what you are in when you have a serious accident. (@bfeld)
  • If the VC has a blog, read it. It should give you some good insight into how they think... (@joshk)
Want more? Join Twitter and follow VCTips.

Fairfax Australia to outsource sub-editing

Fairfax is outsourcing sub-editing from its Sydney and Melbourne flagship papers to Pagemasters, the same company that handles pages for the NZ Herald and other APN titles.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Lifecycle of a news 2.0 story

UK journalist Alison Gow does a nice job breaking down the lifecycle of a news story - how we used to do it in newspapers and how we can do it now using web2.0 tools and networks.

Here's an excerpt:

Step One
Reporter gets potential story (Web 1.0)
Via: Phone call or meeting with contact; letter to the editor; email; comment on the newspaper's web forum; item in a publication or website; video on YouTube; punter walking in to the front office and asking to speak to a journalist.

Reporter gets potential story (Web 2.0)
Via: Any of the above PLUS link posted on a social network; RSS feed of news and message board posts;status update or link on a micro-blog; Twitter search;search of blog posts;comment on the reporter's blog; online forums; email/post/link via the reporter or newspaper's Facebook page; a podcast; online searches;threaded video debate; an incident live-streamed onto a website.

Step Two

Reporter researches story (Web 1.0)
Phones/meets contacts to verify information; searches Google for background/experts; finds expert and emails questions; includes response in article; sets up photo opportunity with picture desk; writes article and sends to newsdesk.

Reporter researches story (Web 2.0)
Crowdsources idea using social networks; uses blog searches and blog translators to find posts and experts worldwide; uses own blog to post developing and ask for input and suggestions from readers; sets up online survey and poll (promotes these using links to it from own blog, Facebook page and online forums); posts links and questions on specialist messageboards; searches social bookmarking tools for related issues; uses video discussion site to seek views; records telephone interview for podcast; collates findings and discusses package with print and digital news editors; films video report; begins writing detailed, analytical article for print product, accompanied by quality images - some found by picturedesk searching photo-sharing websites' Creative Commons pool.
Read the rest here.

How to sell newspaper ads online

I've touched before on the need for newspaper ad sales teams to get better at selling ads online. This post from Paul Bradshaw at Online Journalism Blog is a must-read on the subject.

He offers up "ten ways that ad sales people can save newspapers":

1. Stop treating web ads as second class
2. Stop selling adverts on static pages
3. Sell advertising against search terms
4. Give ad sales people access to the internet
5. Enable the long tail of small businesses to advertise without you doing it for them
6. Think beyond the banner: get creative about online advertising
7. Think about vouchers/coupons
8. Sell advertising aimed at the non-local market
9. Sell video ads, as well as the production of video content
10. Work in networks

Give it a read.

Friday, September 12, 2008

'Content is no longer king; Context is'

Food for thought from BusinessWeek, a US publication experimenting with involving readers in magazine issues from conception through publication and subsequent debate. Thanks to Nat Torkington for the link.

"[The idea] is to reinvent journalism as a process that involves the reader in the front end, to advocate story ideas; in the middle, to inform the reporting of a story; and in the end, to expand on the conversation a story creates. That latter conversation is not a letter-to-the-editor monologue, but rather a dialogue between the professional writers and the audience."
In a post that I found well worth the read, executive editor John A Byrne expands on the background and concept:

"In the early 1960s, Tom Wolfe and other talented writers created the New Journalism. It cleverly deployed the techniques of great fiction to news and feature writing. Today's direct engagement with readers is the antithesis of Mr. Wolfe's self-centered narrative inventions. Call it the "New" New Journalism.

"It fully embraces its readers, treats their opinions and beliefs with respect and dignity, and leverages the intelligence of the crowd to create a more valuable outcome for all. It recognizes that content is no longer king; Context is. In a world of commoditization, where too much news and opinion already chases too few eyeballs, this new loyalty-inducing journalism builds community and relationships."

BusinessWeek published a user-generated issue, called Trouble at the Office, which posed considerable challenges including...

  • The "New" New Journalism takes work, a lot more work than traditional writing and editing.
  • Soliciting participation was hard; vetting and structuring it was even harder.
  • It was tough to get the flow going. Readers are busy people doing other things – that is, things other than reporting, thinking deeply about a narrow subject, and writing cogently about it.
  • We should have started earlier and seeded discussions with our own provocative essays, podcasts, and videos to give people an idea of what we were looking for.
  • A reader's ability to offer a smart, impassioned response to a problem... rarely translates into an ability to write a long-form piece.
  • We had too many editors wanting to rewrite the voice out of the contributions. It's more important to preserve the readers' voice and the passion.
  • Participatory journalism works best for subjects on which readers have authority. The workplace was a fertile area ... asking our readers to write on how to fix the subprime mess might not add much.

Byrne's closing comments, however, focus more squarely on the upside of building reader communities around news sites:

"We've learned that they are passionate, willing to share valuable thoughts and insights, generous with their effort and time. What's more, engaging users in the reinvention of our craft has led to the discovery that our readers are exactly like us: They share a common goal to improve life, not merely bringing issues and situations to light, but sharing and working toward common solutions. That is the true essence of community."

Hear hear.

I'm not aware of experiments like this in New Zealand, on mainstream news sites at any rate. Have you seen any?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wish my schools had a newsroom like this

Can't help but be impressed by the scope of this school newsroom at the City University of New York.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Whirlwind tour of web2 journalism at eFest

Here's me sharing my Facebook page (among other things) at the eFest education conference in Auckland earlier today. The picture comes courtesy of Thom Cochrane, academic advisor at Unitec, who was in the audience, snapped the pic on his Nokia n95, posted it to his blog and referred to it in his presentation which followed.

Thom and colleagues have armed Unitec design students with n95s and encouraged them to use the phones to blog, vlog, articulate and collaborate as they study. You can see an outline of the programme on a wiki Thom used during his presentation and get a feel for his teaching/learning style at his blog. It's worth a visit.

My presentation constituted a whirlwind tour of the bigger changes we've seen in the news media since 1975, a year when we woke up to Merv Smith on 1ZB, put an ad in the paper on Saturday if we wanted to sell something, and came home at night to Dougal Stevenson's dispassionate delivery of the 6pm TV news.

These are my slides. I didn't manage to attach the notes to them, though, so who knows whether they'll make any sense.

Stephen Harlow, my co-conspirator in introducing a group of Wintec communication students to web2.0 tools and concepts, then took over to talk about how we're encouraging our students to blog, link, use keywords, experiment with audio, video and images, try out tools such as and RSS readers, and get used to talking to each other online.

There are many challenges in starting a course like this. Among them are knowing what to introduce first, having the patience to let new bloggers find their voice, being persistent in encouraging more considered writing, and waiting for the penny to drop about the value of things like RSS feeds, social bookmarks and good use of keywords (hard concepts to understand if you generally only look at five websites and don't go looking for anything in particular).

But we're well on the way, learning as we go, and enjoying watching the likes of Media Witty (aka Rhys's blog) and Sarah Byles' Motorsport blog develop.

Watch this space.

'My blog is a way to pitch stories for the newspaper'

The Beatbloggers - a group of US journalists experimenting with using social networking tools such as Facebook, Google groups, blogs and Twitter in their reporting - have posted an interview with New York Times writer Brian Stelter.

He talks particularly about how writing a blog differs from writing a print story. This is a subject that's come up a lot in conversation recently with journalists and journalists-in-training, so I thought I'd post some of his comments here.

"When I was first starting, it was a challenge to figure out what is a blog post versus what is a print story," he said.

He said his blog is a way to pitch stories for the paper, and to report out stories for the paper. He can write a short post for his blog and gauge the reaction. He can also spend days, weeks or even months reporting little tidbits before he puts it all together into a large story for print.

"It's frequently an archive for when I'm writing a story for the paper, so I can go back and use some of the thoughts I had three months ago for a story," he said about his blog.

Stelter has never known a non-wired world of journalism. He can't imagine not be able to use tools like his blog, Twitter or other social networks to help get instant feedback from readers. He really values the connectedness and feedback he gets from being wired.

"I think the big and most general advantage is it kind of makes it easier to share stories, ideas, links and to be able to ask for advice, contacts and sources," he said about being a wired journalists. "When I go on Twitter and post about what I'm writing about, I'm opening myself up to opinions, more points of view and more sources. That's almost always a benefit."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

If you find any of those website elves, send them my way

Is it just me, or do you find in your organisation that people expect websites to mushroom by magic, as if little elves were at work while you slept?

I've lost count of how many newsrooms I've come across which rely on the efforts of a single, young, overworked web editor to monitor and update their website 24 hours a day, seven days a week (impossible, of course, they just do their best Monday to Friday and hope nothing breaks on the weekend to make them look like muppets).

And then there's the large institutions which have nothing - NOTHING - in the budget for maintaining some of their websites. Nothing. Nada. No one to make sure the sites are up to date, clean, free of dead links, lovely to look at, useful.

Did I nod off and miss the memo that said websites are for free?

Here's the way I see it:

1. Publish a magazine/newspaper... it costs you money, you get sponsorship/sell advertising, you pay people to produce it.

2. Publish a website... it costs you money, you get sponsorship/sell advertising, you pay people to produce it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A few words on the Herald's little blue box

One of the things I like about is the blue tinted panel that appears in story pages and lists other headlines you can click directly through to.

I like it because I can work my way through a dozen stories without having to click back to the homepage or section page in between each one - something that drives me nuts on other news sites.

It strikes me as a rare example of a feature that works as well for users as it does for the publisher - the user gets a seamless reading experience, the publisher gets increased cross-site traffic. I genuinely do read more stories in a single session on than I do on other sites because of this little blue box.

There are a few kinks in the feature, though, which I'd love to see ironed out.

The panel includes 'Stories you might be interested in', which is a great idea in theory but this morning while reading about why Oprah Winfrey won't interview Cain running mate Sarah Palin, the panel suggested I read 'Clinton turns guns on surging rival'. I clicked to find out why Clinton was in the picture at all at the moment, only to find the story was seven months old. Not helpful - perhaps time period could be added as a parameter for these otherwise useful suggestions?

Another irritation is the way the blue panel defaults to headlines for the current story's section (News, World, Business etc). So if you are reading through the main News stories of the day and click through to one that is categorised as World, the blue panel will default to World headlines and you have to click back to the homepage to pick up the News thread again.

This would be easily fixed by adding a link to News Headlines (or headlines from whichever section you were last in) somewhere in the panel.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Crowdfunded journalism site raises $2,500 for story, a San Francisco website experimenting with a new business model for local news, has cranked up a notch after successfully raising US$2,500 from the community to cover the costs of a reporting team to check facts used in political advertisements.

The premise of the site is this:

Citizens suggest story ideas and pledge money towards stories they would like to see investigated and published. If a selected story idea raises the requisite funding, the site managers employ a journalist to research and write the story. This is not only the community setting the news agenda, but the community paying for it too.

Founder David Cohn talked to the New York Times about the concept.

“Spot Us would give a new sense of editorial power to the public,” said David Cohn, a 26-year-old Web journalist who received a $340,000, two-year grant from the Knight Foundation to test his idea. “I’m not Bill and Melinda Gates, but I can give $10. This is the Obama model. This is the Howard Dean model.”

Those campaigns revolutionized politics by using the power of the Web to raise small sums from vast numbers of people, making average citizens feel a part of the process in a way they had not felt before. In the same way, Spot Us hopes to empower citizens to be part of a newsgathering enterprise that, polls show, many mistrust and regard as both biased and elitist.

The site hasn't formally launched yet but there's been a fair amount of activity on its blog and wiki and it's definitely one to watch. The image below, taken from the blog, is a mock-up of what the site's homepage is likely to look like when it launches and there's also an example of a crowdfunded story about ethanol use in California, written by Wired reporter Alexis Madrigal.