What is a community? Paul Conley has delighted me many times with his writings about business (or “trade”) journalism and online media. This post is one of his all-time best.
Print is something that I read. A trade show is someplace I go. But a community is a place where I belong.
He’s writing about the multimillion-dollar sale of TreeHugger and making a comparison with the also-recent sale of Media Bistro. But the point he makes about sites offering “a place to be” really hit a nerve with me.
Amid a flurry of opinions about “hyperlocal” in recent days, Pat Thornton stepped up to compare some shoddy hyperlocal efforts (two sites from Gannett) with The Washington Post’s new LoudounExtra.com. He made some great points that I agree with wholeheartedly.
The Post put real journalism on LoudounExtra, while both of the Gannett sites are filled with fluff. …
That’s calling a spade a spade. I have been dismayed by a lot of newspapers’ sparse, sickly hyperlocal sites. The editors and publishers apparently think the audience is full of reptiles, slime molds, or maybe rocks — some combination of entities lacking human intelligence.
Jerseyshorenow.com has a restaurant guide, but when you search for food you often don’t get any more information than the restaurant’s name, address and number. The “details” link to get more information doesn’t work on any of the listings either (it produces an error).
In stark contract is LoudounExtra.com’s restaurant guide. You get all of that information plus hours of operation; price range; driving directions and a Google Map of the location; whether or not they accept credit cards, have a kids menu or wifi, to name some of the information. Plus, users can rate each restaurant on a myriad of factors and post comments. …
I’ve seen so-called restaurant guides like Jerseyshorenow.com’s at too many newspaper sites. They are completely useless. I have to wonder why a company wants to foist a useless product on its customers. Does the company think people like to waste their time? Does someone at the newspaper think a bad product enhances the newspaper’s reputation in the community?
Do you want to know how the Post created a successful site like LoudounExtra.com? They used a world-class CMS like Ellington, had a talented project manger like Rob Curley, staffed the site with real journalists to produce daily content, had talented programmers and designers to create a good looking and easy to use site and harnessed the power of internology to fill up several amazing databases. Yeah, it cost them a bit of money, but I guarantee you that LoudounExtra.com will make more money than morristownthisweek.com.
That’s the argument everyone needs to hear and repeat. It takes money to make money. Everyone knows that! If you invest smart, you get a good return. Invest poorly, and you lose your money.
While one newspaper is wasting the time of valuable staff people who are building and propping up a weak, shoddy site, another newspaper (or maybe another kind of company) might be spending more — but wasting less. Which site has a future?
Have the courage to call a spade a spade. Don’t complain that The Washington Post has more money than your newspaper. A big, fat, rich company owns your newspaper — and it could be investing in the future instead of making something useless.
In the software industry, there’s a saying: “They eat their own dog food.” It means the company actually uses the products it produces. Maybe this is a test that news organizations could adopt for hyperlocal.
I bet the Washington Post staffers who live in Loudoun County are using the LoudounExtra.com site. Not because they have to. Because it’s useful. Because it’s good.
Buzz words fly, collide, crash and burn. Microformats are gaining altitude. Widgets have somehow plopped onto the hairpieces of older newspaper executives and nested there. And now — micro media.
Jeremiah Owyang is one of those San Francisco-based Web strategy guys — the type who’s always on top of new things like Pownce (and back in the day, no doubt, Orkut and Friendster too). So now he’s talking up “MicroMedia,” which he defines as:
Quick audio or video messages published to a trusted social community. May be created and consumed using mobile technology, and often distributed using other social media tools.
I keep telling people that mobile is the next media explosion that will rock the world of journalism — but mostly what I get in response is raised eyebrows and skeptical little grunts.
I’m not saying I want to be texting tidbits all day long to all my many BFFs. No. I do not. My reasons for thinking “This is our future” lie in my environment: I am surrounded by 20-something young Americans in my everyday working life. On top of that, I have teenage godchildren who live in northern Virginia. Their lives and daily social practices are what lead me to believe that Owyang is correct.
The ideal platform for all these bits and bursts has got to be the device in your pocket or purse, or clipped to your belt — the one that buzzes or vibrates so warmly whenever someone has sent you a little something. I agree that very few people will want to read 10,000-word stories as text on their phone, even if it’s as sexy as the iPhone. But these micro-thingies that my students are sending and receiving all day, every day? You betcha.
Jason Pontin (writing in The New York Times on Sunday) anointed Pownce as the next great online thing:
What struck me most was the site’s potential to be powerfully disruptive. Most file-sharing occurs on public sites, which can be monitored by media companies; if the users violate copyrights, the sites or the users themselves can be threatened into compliance or litigated out of existence (as happened with the original Napster). File sharing on Pownce would be difficult to police. (Story reprinted at CNet.)
I have six Pownce invitations. I will give them to the first six people I know who post a comment on this post (don’t forget to enter your real e-mail into the form; it’s safe with me). If I know you only online, that’s okay (Ryan? Mark? Melissa?).
So far, I don’t see the appeal. But then, I’m a once-a-week Facebook user and only an occasional Twitter user. Don’t count on my judgment in this case.
Update (6:21 p.m): I think Pontin must be mistaken. Ten hours later, I still have two invitations left (out of six). But I do have 15 friends on Pownce. Aww …
There’s a discussion over at SportsShooter.com that started when someone asked a question about Flash. The answers to the question (posted there) are good, but they got me thinking about something that bugs me a little.
A lot of people think they can learn a little Flash and then build a project right away.
I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it might not be the most effective approach for you to take.
What happens to a lot of people who do that: They get into a mess, and then — they quit.
That’s why I’m writing this. I don’t want you to quit, to give up on Flash, because you think it’s too demanding or too hard to learn.
I also don’t want you to pick up a sledgehammer to use on a thumbtack. If all you want is a slideshow with audio, for heaven’s sake, download Soundslides and use that.
If you want to build a project with Flash, and you’ve never used Flash before, the first step is to storyboard the heck out of the thing. Sketch little rough thumbnails of every single thing you think might be in the package. Write notes to yourself. Your sketches should look like these.
You now have a roadmap for the project. Use it. Figure out which assets you will need. Figure out which piece to build first. Figure out what you need to learn to make it all work.
You can’t really jump-start a Flash project. That would be your first mistake. Take 10 minutes to complete a tutorial first, and get your feet planted firmly on the ground. I realize I’m mixing my metaphors like crazy here (sorry!), but in the martial arts, your stance is everything. If your stance is wrong, you’ll be defeated. Flash is like that. The mistakes will mount on top of each other, and you’ll be crushed under them.
I’m suggesting that you set yourself up to succeed, not fail. And that means maybe you shouldn’t plan to finish that project on deadline, and then rush and gnash your teeth and feel stupid — and quit. If you’re a photographer — was your first roll of film worthy of Page One? If you’re a designer — was your first information graphic suitable for a section front? And if you’re a reporter — surely your first story was completely rewritten by your editor?
Why should learning Flash be any different from other storytelling practices?
The managing editor of a medium-size daily newspaper recently asked my advice on how to train editors to mentor their reporters who are gathering multimedia assets for their stories. One bit of the advice I gave:
“A lot of breaking news is not going to warrant multimedia unless it’s, like, giant smoke clouds billowing out of a fire. Floods. Dramatic pictures.
“If you have big billowing clouds of smoke or raging flood waters (stuff that moves), then video. Avoid talking heads. Totally boring. Avoid scenery. Use stills for scenery. Video demands movement.”
Watch this video from Colin Mulvany of The Spokesman-Review, a newspaper in Spokane, Washington. ’Nuff said!
The fire started about 5:30 p.m. Colin posted his video at 8:59 p.m. Wow! Way to shoot and edit, man!
The Pew Internet & American Life Project published a 28-page report about online video this week, and posts by Melissa Worden and Steve Yelvington sum up some of the most interesting findings. The survey was conducted in February and March 2007, and almost 1,500 people took part.
For me, these findings about participation are very interesting. I think it makes sense for news organizations to make their videos embeddable in other people’s Web pages — as well as making it easy to e-mail direct links to specific videos and also bookmark them.