Skin in the media game: Smart investing in the attention economy

Ian Ransley, via Flickr (CC license)
Do you treat online media like a spectator sport, or do you really have skin in this game?

Recently, my Poynter colleague Roy Peter Clark caused a stir with his article Your Duty To Read the Paper. There, he wrote:

“I pose this challenge to you: It is your duty as a journalist and a citizen to read the newspaper — emphasis on paper, not pixels.

“…And here’s why: There is one overriding question about the future of journalism that no one can yet answer: How will we pay for it? …Until we create some new business models in support of the journalism profession, we’ve got to support what we have.

“…I have no proof, but a strong feeling, that even journalists, especially young ones working at newspapers, don’t read the paper. That feels wrong to me — and self-defeating. So join me, even you young whipper-snappers. Read the paper. Hold it in your hand. Take it to the john. Just read it.”

Oh yeah, that piece drew a lot of criticism. It’s also generated useful discussion, in the 83 (and counting) comments to that post and elsewhere.

This may surprise my regular readers, but I don’t think Clark is entirely wrong. Part of what he’s saying is that if you’re in the media business, eating your own dog food is crucial context. I’d add that you should not just eat one flavor, but the whole damn menu.

Here’s my take: If you work for a media organization that publishes a print product, you should indeed read the print edition regularly. You should also read the online edition regularly — including the comments and forums (if any), and explore the multimedia and interactive offerings.

But don’t stop there…

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Fixing Old News: How About a Corrections Wiki?

NYtimes.com
Any news org should be able to do more with corrections than this…
Denver Post 8/30/2007, p. 2B
Or this… What? You can’t see the corrections on that page?
Denver Post 8/30/2007, p. 2B
…Look way down here in the corner

Even the best journalists and editors sometimes make mistakes. Or sometimes new information surfaces that proves old stories — even very old stories — wrong, or at least casts them in a vastly different light. What’s a responsible news organization to do, especially when those old stories become more findable online?

On Aug. 28, Salon.com co-founder Scott Rosenberg posted a thoughtful response to a Aug. 26 column by New York Times ombudsman Clark Hoyt: When Bad News Follows You.

In a nutshell, the Times recently implemented a search optimization strategy that increased traffic to its site — especially to its voluminous archives. This meant that stories from decades past suddenly appeared quite prominently in current search-engine results. The Times charges non-subscribers to access archived stories.

Hoyt wrote: “People are coming forward at the rate of roughly one a day to complain that they are being embarrassed, are worried about losing or not getting jobs, or may be losing customers because of the sudden prominence of old news articles that contain errors or were never followed up.”

“…Most people who complain want the articles removed from the archive. Until recently, The Times’s response has always been the same: There’s nothing we can do. Removing anything from the historical record would be, in the words of Craig Whitney, the assistant managing editor in charge of maintaining Times standards, ‘like airbrushing Trotsky out of the Kremlin picture.'”

Hoyt’s column offered no options for redress. He didn’t suggest that the Times might start researching more disputed stories or posting more follow-up stories. Nor did he suggest that the Times might directly link archived stories to follow-ups.

Rosenberg asserts that the Times has an obligation to offer redress. Personally, I agree. Plus, I’ve got an idea of how they (or any news org) could do it — and maybe even make some money in the process…

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Feeds: Getting Pretty Mainstream

David Chief, via Flickr (CC license)
How many people use feeds? Probably a whole lot more than you think.

In my Aug. 21 post, It’s not about your site anymore, I talked about how web sites are becoming less important for online content distribution as RSS feeds (with their many uses) are enjoying increasingly mainstream usage.

Basically, the trend is that more people are more interested in getting the content they want delivered to them wherever they prefer to be, rather than having to make a special “trip” online to someone’s site. And they’re using lots of popular tools to do just that.

Reader Steve Sergeant (of The Wildebeat, a great podcast) responded with a perspective I’ve heard often. He said:

“I agree that this is true for the bleeding-edge, early adopters, among which I count myself. …But in my experience, the average news consumer and person with a non-media job often has no idea what an RSS reader or aggregator is. Sure, an adventuresome few have discovered iTunes for podcasts or some server-side aggregator, like My Yahoo.”

While it may be true that most net users aren’t yet using feeds (or perhaps most of them are, I just haven’t found current statistics on that), earlier research and current trends indicate that feeds may have already grown far more popular than conventional wisdom might lead us to assume.

Furthermore, I think general ignorance of the key role that feeds play in supporting many of today’s most popular online-media services and experiences may be causing significant harm — especially to journalism, and thus to democracy and other forms of self-determination.

Sounds extreme, I know. Hear me out…

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Teaching Online Skills: Journalism Prof Wants Ideas

ej.msu.edu
MSU prof Dave Poulson wants to lead his students into the murky waters of online media.

(NOTE: I’m cross-posting this from Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits, since I thought Contentious readers might find it interesting as well.)

Today I received an intriguing query from my colleague Dave Poulson, associate director of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University. With his permission, I’m excerpting and answering it here.

Poulson wrote: “…I’m going to take your concept of coming up with a toolkit of basic online stuff a reporter should know and turn it into some class assignments. I’ll have them pick a beat and set up Google Reader to [subscribe to] relevant feeds. I’m not sure how I’ll evaluate the result.”

That’s a great idea, Dave! Make sure they practice subscribing to search feeds (about topics), as well as feeds from specific sources (like blogs). And here’s a short video tutorial on Google Reader I made for one of my clients. The first half of it is the bare basics, most applicable to what your students would be doing.

To evaluate this assignment, you could have student export their feed list as an OPML file and send it to you. In Google Reader, that’s under “manage subscriptions,” then “import/export” (choose the “export” option there.) You can then import that OPML file into your Google Reader (or many other feed readers) to see what they’ve subscribed to.

Poulson continues…

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Interviewing a blogger? You’re BOTH on the record

Amy Gahran
Interviewing bloggers is a two-way street. Get used to it.

Almost daily I get interview requests from mainstream media outlets and independent bloggers. That’s fine, I’m happy to share what I know.

But — at least for me — it works both ways.

Just to be clear: If you want to interview me, my terms are that our discussion is on the record for you as well as for me. In other words, I get to blog it, from my perspective.

I may be willing to coordinate with you on timing so we’re not “scooping” each other, but I won’t have a conversation with you where you get to publish what I say, but not vice versa. Media doesn’t work that way anymore.

In my experience, most bloggers are fine with this. Also, about half the mainstream news orgs who request interviews with me also are fine with it.

The other half of mainstream journalists either claim that their corporate policy doesn’t allow such a level playing field, or they’re incensed and indignant that I’d presume to put them on the record. A few mainstream journalists also say “OK if you submit your post to me for prior approval.” Ha. Like any respectable news organization would agree to those terms.

Clear enough? Cool. Anyone else have similar issues or relevant perspectives? Please comment below.