Newspapers & social media: CO Daily’s stupid Facebook trick

Facebook Friends box, Colorado Daily, May 13, 2009

Facebook Friends box, Colorado Daily, May 13, 2009=

I was just out to lunch with Tom Vilot, and he pointed out to me one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen a print newspaper do. He slapped the Colorado Daily onto the table and pointed to the upper-right corner of the tabloid’s table of content page. There, in that important bit of visual real estate, I saw this “Facebook Friends” box (see right).

OK, I snapped that picture with my crappy iPhone camera, I know it’s fuzzy. Here’s what it says:

“Status updates from Facebook users who’ve become friends of the Colorado Daily. To join, go to ColoradoDaily.com and follow the Facebook link.

  • Ed Post is kinda disappointed with his lunch.
  • Evan Taksar is already ready to go back to Boulder. WHO IS WITH ME?
  • Natalie Pritchett: Cookie dough for breakfast 2 mornings in a row can’t be good but gotta try it out b4 i pass it out! yum!”

I kid you not. This is, without a doubt, the stupidest thing I have ever seen a news organization try to do with social media.

What is the point here? It could have been, at the very least, to highlight some particularly intriguing things noted by the Colorado Daily’s Facebook friends. But instead it appears the paper went out of its way to choose the most inane comments, thus putting their worst face forward.

This, in my opinion, is worse than if the print edition of the paper ignored social media entirely. It’s using valuable print real estate to devalue that news brand’s print and online efforts. It’s almost as if someone at the CO Daily either really hates social media, or doesn’t get it, or both. This strategy is so bad that it nearly smacks of self-sabotage.

I applaud news organizations getting involved with social media, and integrating it into print efforts. And the Colorado Daily does a moderately decent job of communicating via Twitter. But this? Arrrrrggggghhhhh….

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Chicago Tribune Story Idea Survey: Good Idea, Poorly Executed

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 8:  Flags wave in the wind ...
(Image by Getty Images via Daylife)

The Chicago Tribune recently reported that it has halted a “short-lived research project in which the Chicago Tribune solicited responses from current and former subscribers to descriptions of Tribune stories before they had been published.”

The project — a collaboration between the paper’s editorial and marketing departments — was stopped because reporters raised journalistic concerns. Originally it had only surveyed selected “would-be readers” about general topics and previous Tribune coverage. But in the last two weeks, participants had begun being surveyed about their preferences on synopses of stories currently in the works.

In all, 55 reporters and editors voiced their complaint in a letter to Tribune editor Gerould Kern and managing editor Jane Hirt. The letter “expressed concern that providing story information to those outside the newsroom prior to publication seemed ‘to break the bond between reporters and editors in a fundamental way.’”

Here’s more detail about how the research was conducted: “Surveys were sent by e-mail to around 9,000 would-be readers on two occasions. About 500 responded to each, indicating which of 10 story ideas they preferred. Kern said the stories ‘tended to be news features,’ and the results never made it to him or had any impact in how stories were handled.”

I can understand the reporters’ complaint if their story ideas were shared outside the newsroom without their prior knowledge and consent. However, if that consent can be obtained, I personally think this type of research could be surprisingly useful. Especially if the people being surveyed truly represent younger people (i.e., the news organization’s future market) as well as demographics that historically have not been well served by the news organization…

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Do Newspapers Count Online Readers Fairly?

apples and oranges
The way many newspapers count print vs. online readers is like comparing apples and oranges. (Image by telex via Flickr)

Newspaper publishers and advertising managers routinely toss around print and online readership numbers — but sometimes in ways that don’t make sense, and that might even miss opportunities to build revenue, business, and community.

Yesterday Dan Thornton, community marketing manager at Bauer Media, explained why it’s dangerous to compare print figures to Web site statistics.

It all boils down to this…

Thornton points out that in the UK, sales figures for print copies of the Guardian and Observer newspapers typically are multiplied by three to take into account shared readership, based on circulation research. However, online readership statistics generally fail to account for online reading that happens beyond the news organization’s Web site…

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What’s “Media?” Time to Update Default Assumptions

Yesterday it occurred to me — as I heard about yet another “multimedia workshop” for journalists — how dated and useless the term “multimedia” has become. It’s now normal for media content types to be mixed. It’s also normal for anyone working in media to be expected to create and integrate various types of content (text, audio, photos, video, mapping/locative) as well as delivery channels (print, Web, radio, TV, podcast, social media, e-mail, SMS, embeddable, mobile applications, widgets, e-readers, etc.).

Ditto for the terms “new media” and even “online media”, which imply that channels other than print and broadcast are somehow separate or niche.

The best take on why it’s important to update and integrate assumptions about the nature of media (and how that affects news) is shown in this hilarious skit from Landline.TV:

Here’s where media is at today: In the current integrated media ecosystem, every print and broadcast organization has an Internet and mobile presence — and most of these now go beyond bare “shovelware”. Also, more and more of these organizations are distributing their content online first, making print and broadcast secondary channels (if not secondary markets). In contrast, most media outlets and public discussion venues that began life on the Internet do not have a print or broadcast presence. These vastly outnumber print and broadcast media outlets.

Consequently, when you consider the number and diversity of media outlets, print and broadcast media have become the exception — not the rule…

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Avoiding Online News Biz Pitfalls with Better Skills and Tools

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer recently went online-only.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer recently went online-only.

Recently in Online Journalism Review, Dave Chase (owner and publisher of Sun Valley Online) offered a considerable amount of specific advice on running the revenue (advertising) side of an online-only news operation — with an eye toward what might help the Seattle Post-Intelligencer succeed in this field.

Even if your feet are firmly planted on the editorial side of the traditional newsroom/advertising firewall, this is context that everyone in the news business should know. Updated journalistic skills and newsroom tools (especially your content management system) might better support online ad sales…

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MediaCloud: Tracking How Stories Spread

Last week, Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society launched Media Cloud, an intriguing tool that could help researches and others understand how stories spread through mainstream media and blogs.

According to Nieman Lab, “Media Cloud is a massive data set of news — compiled from newspapers, other established news organizations, and blogs — and a set of tools for analyzing those data.

Here’s what Berkman’s Ethan Zuckerman had to say about Media Cloud:


Ethan Zuckerman on Media Cloud from Nieman Journalism Lab on Vimeo.

Some of the kinds of questions Media Cloud could eventually help answer:

  • How do specific stories evolve over time? What path do they take when they travel among blogs, newspapers, cable TV, or other sources?
  • What specific story topics won’t you hear about in [News Source X], at least compared to its competitors?
  • When [News Source Y] writes about Sarah Palin [or Pakistan, or school vouchers], what’s the context of their discussion? What are the words and phrases they surround that topic with?”

The obvious use of this project is to compare coverage by different types of media. But I think a deeper purpose may be served here: By tracking patterns of words used in news stories and blog posts, Media Cloud may illuminate how context and influence shape public understanding — in other words, how media and news affect people and communities.

This is important, because news and media do not exist for their own sake. It seems to me that the more we learn about how people are affected by — and affect — media, the better we’ll be able to craft effective media for the future.

(NOTE: I originally published this article in Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.)

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Google News Archive Search: Old News is Good News

Space Shuttle Challenger
Old news still has value, and can draw traffic. (Image via Wikipedia)

News is never just about what’s happening today — it’s also about context, including what led up to this moment. That’s why lately I’ve been intrigued by the Google News archive search. This feature, introduced September 2008, its worth a look — and maybe worth including in order to make more money off your historical archives, or to augment current coverage.

The Official Google Blog explains in Bringing history online, one newspaper at a time that this service presents archived news articles online — either as they were printed, preserving original format/context (including, in some cases, surrounding stories); or with a link to a news org’s paid archives. It also presents a timeline, showing how popular a search term was in news from past years or decades.

For instance, a Google News archive search for “space shuttle” yields a timeline with significant spikes in 1981 (for the first shuttle mission), 1986 (when the Challenger exploded after launch), and 2003 (when the Columbia broke up on re-entry).

An example of the early shuttle coverage I found here includes this March 24, 1982 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story: NASA sees little problem with lost space shuttle tiles. That’s actually a jump from a page 1 story. Other stories also appearing on the page include: “Begin to stay on after Knesset vote,” “Will match missiles with subs, Soviets say,” and “Military coup ousts Guatemalan government” — an intriguing glimpse into the tenor of that time.

That archived story was available for free — but my search also pointed to several articles for sale from newspaper archives. For instance, the Christian Science Monitor is selling its July 21, 1975 story Space shuttle to involve Europe, too for $3.95.

Not every news org’s historical archives are available in the Google News archive. Apparently Google strikes partnerships with news orgs to scan and serve their archives, or to link to existing online archives.

Participating in this service could be a way to turn your history into traffic. The Official Google Blog noted: “Over time, as we scan more articles and our index grows, we’ll also start blending these archives into our main search results so that when you search Google.com, you’ll be searching the full text of these newspapers as well.” This means that participating news orgs could find their historic wealth increasingly findable, and thus potentially more compelling and/or lucrative.

(NOTE: I originally published this article on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits. Thanks to Tech.Blorge for the tip.)

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Hearst plans its own e-reader: Good idea, sort of…

Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, and Everett Sloan...
Times have changed since Citizen Kane. How well can Hearst Newspapers adapt? (Image via Wikipedia)

Last week, Hearst Newspapers made two big announcements: That Hearst intends to begin charging for some of its online news, and that it plans to soon launch its own e-reader device to rival Amazon’s Kindle 2.

Gawker cynically decries Hearst’s plan as The Last Stand of a Doomed Industry, but I think this is a step in the right direction — although I would encourage Hearst to think carefully whether it really wants to be in the device business.

We’ve seen how well grasping too tightly to the “paper” part of “newspaper” has worked out from a business perspective. I don’t think getting into the “e-reader” business is a better plan. When news companies get bogged down with manufacturing and owning the delivery vehicles for their content, they lose flexibility and start making backwards-focused business decisions.

It might make more sense for Hearst or other news publishers to partner with the maker of a popular, user-friendly e-reader to create a special-edition product for news. Here’s why…

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News on the Kindle 2: Some Glitches, Lots of Potential

kindle at breakfast

News on a Kindle 2: Part of my balanced daily breakfast.

Last week my Kindle 2 e-reader from Amazon arrived. I swore to my brother a couple of years ago I’d never buy 1.0 of anything ever again — and I’m glad I waited. I played briefly with a friend’s first-edition Kindle last year and was intrigued. The new version has a better display, better form factor, and better usability.

This device is far from perfect, but it’s impressive. It’s pricey ($359) — but I still think even the most cash-strapped newsroom should acquire one and make it available so journalists, editors, designers, and news technologists can play with it. If you can’t or won’t buy one and you’re in the online news biz, go buy a Kindle 2 owner a beer and play with theirs for an hour or two at least.

Why? Because I seriously suspect devices like this could become game-changers for online and mobile news — perhaps surprisingly fast. That is, if online news operations start taking e-reader technology seriously and work with Amazon and other e-reader makers to improve e-reader news delivery. We still have a way to go, but I see significant’s potential.

Currently Kindle is mainly intended for reading books. But Amazon has always sold newspapers and magazines (one-offs and subscriptions) since it launched the Kindle Store. Yes, that’s right: sold. As in: revenue.

This week I bought a couple of issues of Technology Review, and I even subscribed to the San Francisco Chronicle. (Yep, subscribed. Paid for it. Me. $5.99 per month. Imagine that.) Generally, I like getting news via Kindle, but there are some glitches.

My observations so far… Continue reading

Letters to the Editor Blog: Why didn’t you just say so?…

One of the things I’ve liked about Boulder’s Daily Camera is that on their site they run an unfiltered Letters to the Editor blog. Unlike the letters that get published in the print edition, every letter the Camera receives gets posted to this blog — where (unlike comments left on Camera articles) they can be found via the site’s search engine.

And look how easy they make contributing your letters! All you have to do is send an e-mail to openforum@dailycamera.com.

Well, almost… Continue reading