Monday, April 30, 2007

What's missing from local news?

Ina, a fellow student in my new media entrepreneurship class, found this site -- called Topix: Your town. Your news. Your take. That handy "About Us" section on the site explains that Topix "links news from 50,000 sources to 360,000 lively user-generated forums. Topix also works with the nation's major media companies to grow and engage their online audiences through forums, classifieds, publishing platforms and RSS feeds." A few of the logos for partnering companies appear below; the site shows 20, and that's not the whole list.

A quick glance at the news release archive indicates the company got a start in 2002 by aggregating news and blog sources. But, as their April 2 press release indicates,
Even with 50,000 news sources, there just wasn't enough local news - and what news there was, couldn't be tuned finely enough with algorithms alone.

So, in April 2007, we decided to open up our site, and give anyone the power to discuss, edit and share the news that matters to them.

How do they do that?
Anyone can now submit local news for any U.S. zip code to Topix through an easy web form on the web site or from their cell phone. Participants can also become citizen editors, improving the news content on the pages they edit.

Finally, here is their embedded video, asking a variety of people what's missing from their local news:

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Tip sheet for the multimedia journalist

Thanks to rhernandez at MultimediaShooter for this handy cheatsheet on audio and video gathering. Click on the sheet to make it nice and big and readable.

Another cool student site to check out is Columbia University's multimedia page, host to student work and called NYC24. Find it here.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A smart wiki, and an unofficial and popular blog

Just about two minutes ago I got an email for something new at Stanford. It is the "Stanford Wiki." If you go, watch the little mini-intro movie, which will give you how-tos, and why a student would use this wiki.

Earlier this year, students created an "Unofficial Stanford Blog." Take a look at both. The blog is a general interest posting post -- I see calendar items, new student-generated businesses, and I saw close-to-immediate posts on Virginia Tech, well before the student daily could get it into its pages. The photo at left was posted yesterday because temperatures were very high and students jumped into a fountain in front of the book story. Immediacy, if not significance, is also an element of blogging.

Both of these examples illustrate how newspapers have to change. Both represent tools and information to share in the hands of the users/creators. Notice how quickly audience finds what it wants and uses it. If the need can be identified, users validate with use.

This makes me think of all our discussions in New Media Entrepreneurship. The audience model for newspapers (mass media) conflicts with the long tail notion of small, diverse but interested audiences. How about if a newspaper created a wiki site for its community members, and let them give it life? This could be a non-journalistic (in the sense that the newspaper would not stake its reputation on the accuracy of information delivered in these wiki pages) community information source. The interested parties would create the content. And of course the newspaper could monitor the wikis for stories that could benefit from a reporter. I can think of a million ways a newspaper could use this concept. It works to make your newspaper a "place" instead of only a one-way information product.

Listen. Listen. Listen.

If you are frustrated that your media organization isn't training you, please read this post from MultimediaShooter on "The Question of Training." I think creator rhernandez has it dead on.

(Funny Larson cartoon, courtesy of MediaShooter. Anything to bring a smile to your face!)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

My New Media Entrepreneurship class

So I'm in a class charged with launching a Web site in 7 weeks, serving the Stanford community. Most of our proposals were versions of Web sites that could host a central multimedia story, surrounded by an excellent calendar for this very decentralized campus (including where to graze for free food at conferences, seminars, and other academic sessions), blogs, and a portal into local student films that don't get wide venues, an overlooked but very contemporary niche.

The class took an odd twist, though. In our second meeting, the journalism grad students started calling instead for a marketing site for the journalism program that would ensure them a job. Not just any job, but a call from the Washington Post, wishing to hire them all. The concept of serving an audience went out the window.

I can see that an excellent site really serving readers could turn editors' heads. But a site with no readers filled with new media gadgetry? You lost me there.

The class seems to have stalled out. Or maybe this is just the way you work through entrepreneurship. I will say that students seem constrained. Our class blog is much less active than in winter quarter, and in my own work pod, kids are scratching their heads. In this group, the idea surfaced to narrow the audience to just grad students, since they feel more distant and disconnected from the campus, even though their population is fully half the student body (6,000 undergrads, 6,0000 grads,more or less)

We are reading "The Long Tail" (and serving just the grad students strikes me as following the long tail theory -- go for a smaller niche, forget about being all things to all audiences; pick an audience and s-a-t-i-s-f-y them as deeply as you can. Our other text is Guy Kawasaki (think Silicon Valley major success, venture capitalist etc etc)--his book is "The Art of the Start."

Now here was an odd harmonic convergence between entrepreneurship and good old-fashioned long-form storytelling:

I am sure many saw Gene Weingarten's "Pearls Before Breakfast" long form feature with video added? Did I say this story is l-o-n-g, and rich in philosophical and literary threads. It tells of Gene Weingarten's plot to post a truly world-class violinist, Josh Bell, in a D.C. transit station busking during rush hour. Would he stop crowds, or would people rush by without even noticing him?

Some in the class commented that no one would read anything that long; some said they surprised themselves by being drawn all the way through.

Now leap forward (or back to) entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki. The story caught him so much that it made his personal blog, How to Change the World, including an invite to readers to vote on whether they thought commuters noticed or didn't. Kawasaki got almost 1,000 people to vote (93 percent said no one would stop....)

He also quipped that he had happy visions of Steve Jobs selling iPods in South Dakota .

But then he got serious, and said this:
"The lessons that I gleaned from this story are:

Don’t let the absence of trappings and popularity make you believe something is bad.

Don’t let the presence of trappings and popularity make you believe something is good.

Don’t pass by life much less let life pass you by.
He never mentioned the length of Weingarten's piece. That's the power of story.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

One of my heroes

I stand in awe and wonder at our luck at having the First Amendment and its subsequent body of law to protect free speech and, as partner to that, a free press. And I stand in awe and wonder at the teacher I had this semester. Professor Kathleen Black, center, welcomed a fistful of Knight Fellows into her constitutional law class, and held us gently accountable for the actions of our news organizations. It was a wonderful opportunity for a signficant overview of First Amendment law from one who knows it well, and at a time when many long-standing and comfortable accommodations of press freedom are in question.

My Knight buddies in the photo are John Briggs,Yahoo; Eric Schmitt, New York Times; Prof. Sullivan, Stanford Law School; me; and lawyer Liz Schalet, a Knight affiliate whose partner is a radio reporter in NYC.

It was a great class, and a great opportunity to learn/refresh the finer shadings.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Will work for (red) T-shirt

Today I spent about three hours at "Media X: Research, Collaboration, Innovation," a conference at Stanford on the direction of new media. It was made up of 20-minute presentations from all over the media map, from a doctor showing advancements in virtual surgeries (See a mummy in 3-D!! See a missed polyp in a virtual colonoscopy!!) to why Second Life is beating out the game of Everquest. (Answer: Because you own everything you create in Second Life. Instead of signing the Terms of Agreement for Everquest -- you know, the small print you don't read -- which indicates that anything you create in Everquest is owned by....Everquest.) Citizen journalism and multimedia training Web sites duly were noted. Two unexpected things:

1) A discussion on how e-mail is damaging your closest relationships. B.J. Fogg, a professor at Stanford, spent a year interviewing 112 women living in Sonoma County about their relationships and e-mail. He chose women, he says, because they care about relationships, nurture them, and are articulate about them. Plus, he lives in Sonoma County, so it made it easy for him to get the interviewing done over such a long stretch.

After six months, he realized what the women were telling him: E-mail is no good for close personal relationships. It isn't intimate enough. For those you really care about, get back on the phone, send letters, meet up for coffee.

He even says your close working relationships are too important to handle by e-mail. This realization led him to create a new way to communicate with your voice via computer, a widget you can load onto any Web page that will allow instant voice chat, called YackPack.

2.) A fun talk by Paul Saffo, on sabbatical from the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto. Saffo explained that Silicon Valley is built on failure, not success. Interactive TV failed so big in Silicon Valley "you could see the crater from the moon." All those talented people were sitting around when the 20-year-old Internet came along and they decided, What the heck, let's give that a shot. Look what happened: a giant success built on the previous failure.
So he encouraged the audience to "cherish failure," because the next big breakthrough will come from something that has been failing for about 20 years and is about to break open to success. His forecast: robots. Why? Because of how people are reacting to something as simple as the Roomba vacuum cleaner. Two/thirds of owners name their Roomba, and one/third take theirs on vacation.

People, he says, want to have a new relationship with technology.
Oh, and the red shirt? I volunteered at the conference, and got a red T-shirt!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Classes this quarter

Here's one worth mentioning. My digital journalism class from winter quarter is back, but has morphed into "new media entrepreneurship." The class is taught by former Wall Street Journal reporter Ann Grimes, who covered Silicon Valley in all its entrepreneurship glory. The entrepreneurial here refers more to the commitment of the team -- everybody is invested in the success of the enterprise -- than figuring out a business model or funding. That may come later, however, as business school students are considering taking on the financing as a project. In the meantime, Stanford will fund it.

The aim is to create a news Website out of a site the communication graduate students formerly used to post their stories assigned out of various classes. It got little readership outside the communications department. It correctly has been identified as a missed opportunity, and now a handful of students, in 10 weeks, hope to transform it. The first class session left students divided: should it become an excellent aggregator of calendar and Stanford news and local blogs (valuable because this place is very decentralized; nothing is aggregated), or should it become host to a new media journalism site by the grad students. The obvious answer is it needs to be both. Be useful (with aggregation) and be surprising (with good journalism).

The reason I like the class is it's another heavy dose of the world of new media. So weekly we take tutorials in Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, Flash etc. Plus, Stanford hired one of UC Berkeley's multimedia professors to come over for this quarter. I'm grateful for another dose. We've been introduced to a subscription site called that has good tutorials. More as I learn more here. I am finding that some of the tutorials require no sign up; I am guessing the better ones will require the $25/month subscription. But if you made it your mission, you could learn a lot in a month. There may even be group-use discounts, for a newsroom, for example.

Another class that is interesting to me is out of the GSB, graduate school of business. It's called high-performance leadership, and it is introducing a new model. Gone is the "heroic leader" (sort of like Mom or Dad on the job, the one you expect to have all the answers). So is the participative leader, who gets lots of input from staff but makes the final decision. The new form of leadership is "shared responsibility." Here's the description from the course catalog:
Although many leadership approaches will achieve good performance, it is the premise of this course that the assumptions underlying traditional approaches to leadership frequently block excellence. This course will present a new approach that sees leadership as a joint responsibility of members and the leader. Implementing this new definition requires strong teams, shared vision and mutual influence relationships. Class time will be spent describing this approach and exploring how both leaders and members can build such teams, make vision real and relevant and develop mutual influence relationships.
The main role of the leader is not to think up the answers, but to create an environment that draws out the best from everyone, because survival in a competitive environment depends on it. Another tenet of this approach is that leadership comes from everywhere in the organization, if the ecology is healthy. That's the path to survival in the complicated times we live in, or so the MBAs at Stanford are learning. Sounds true in the news biz.

I'm also taking Islam and the West, taught by a fascinating professor, Abbas Milani from Iran, a true scholar who puts today's Middle Eastern awkwardness (that's putting it too mildly) into context historically. In two class sessions I've learned more about why the West and the Orient look askance at one another than I have gotten reading all the news accounts of the war.

I was unceremoniously bounced out of a class today; even Knight Fellows have limits. It was US Global Decisionmaking; the prof, a very famous guy here, decided no auditors. The class is small, there's no hiding from him, so I guess I'm out.

But it's not all books. I'm back in sailing this quarter, taking racing; I hope I can stay in the boat! And wine tasting 2. More of those good California wines.

Oh, one more item in a full day. At lunch I caught half a session on Creative Commons, a form of licensing that allows photographers, writers, musicians to share their work for non-commercial use, while retaining control over the material for commercial use. It's a big global movement, because the creative tools are in so many hands now. You can search the Internet for creative commons licensed-material, which you can use free for noncommercial purposes. Read about it here .

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Sam Zell at Stanford: Trib buy, Google

Curiosity brought me to the law school today for a talk by Sam Zell, the business dealmaker who is hoping to clinch his latest -- the purchase of Tribune. The title of his talk was "Make me an offer," and he was here to discuss the $39 billion buyout of Equity Office Properties.

But the first question out of the box came from my Knight colleague, Kevin Fagan of the SF Chronicle, asking Zell to talk about the Tribune buy. Zell deferred, saying the deal was not finalized yet. But questions persisted from around the room.

Finally, he said he bought Tribune because he thought running that company would be a "fantastic challenge," especially since he doesn't see that others have succeeded. Under his tutelage, he would not allow the kind of infighting that happened between the Chandler family and the Tribune company, which he said has hurt Tribune for the past 2-3 years. He said the LA Times buy didn't look like a bad idea, but it turned out that way.

Asked whether it might have been smarter if he could have purchased a media company like Google, Zell said:
"What would happen to Google if the content they get from newspapers was no longer available? They'd have nothing. The content on Google is being paid for by newspapers, and stolen by Google. The boys at Google get this. You're going to see new deals and formulas..."
Perhaps not unlike the new coordination between McClatchy's foreign bureaus and Yahoo announced recently.

Zell ragged on Stanford Law School for not admitting him as a young man. He confessed to hating law school, but finished it and passed the bar. Despite the pain, he said he's glad he did. "Law school shapes how you think. Everything today is legal. You've got to understand it."

Meanwhile, he was so bored in academia, he said, that as a senior in law school he made $150,000 running his own real estate company on the side. Law students sitting in front of me shook their heads in disbelief.

He railed against Sarbanes Oxley (Public Company Accounting Act of 2002), then invited the audience to his Web site where he archives his annual "holiday message" to the world. This year's was devoted to his disdain for "SarBox." Even he is into multimedia.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Not your father's TV

I was noodling around a site with multimedia tutorials and blogs, a place where new creators learn from each other, thinking it would be a good resource for transitioning journalists who want to follow new storytelling paths. The site is MultimediaShooter, billing its role as "keeping track of multimedia so you don't have to."

In its tutorials section, you can link to Current TV's own production training page with sections on storytelling (what makes a good pod), journalism (case studies to learn from), to gathering and editing video. MultimediaShooter gives Current TV's video-editing section high marks. Current TV is an Al Gore effort in which one/third of what is aired comes from viewers. They call this VC2, or "viewer created content." Hence, the training modules to bring in work from The People. Up since August 1, 2005, "Current is the first TV network created by, for and with young adults."

Monday, April 2, 2007

Buck up

These journalism times are indeed unsettling, with shrinking newsrooms and all. So learning why one newspaper editor is optimistic is worth your time and trouble. John Robinson of the Greensboro News & Record has three reasons why he's optimistic now. Go read them yourself here, but the first one surely will make you sit up straight and feel good, so I'll tease with it.
1. The reporters are better. I'm speaking of reporters like this who are paid for their work and reporters like this who aren't. The professionals are smarter and quicker, and more fluid and more diverse than any in the 30+ years I've been in the business. They are innovative and open to change. We're in good hands. The widespread entry of non-pros is a splendid development, bring new eyes to old and new topics. When I was editorial page editor, it was a daunting challenge to write on complicated issues day after day, knowing that there were dozens of people in the community who knew the topic better than I. Now they have access to a megaphone to inform those of us who care. How can that be anything be a valuable complement to democracy?
The tip for this came from Jeff Jarvis' BuzzMachine blog, where he cites his own optimism and that of a few others. On a Monday, that's worth reading.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Consider reading this

"This" is a report from the Center for Citizen Media about how news organizations can forge tighter relationships with their community of readers. Download it here and give it a read. More after I read it.

The blogging-as-journalism debate

I found a post on the Cairns Blog that I thought others would find thought-provoking. Should bloggers get first amendment protection? The blog writer asks Kevin Blangston, a staff attorney for the Electronic Freedom Foundation, who responded:
“Yes. A blogger is a journalist if they are doing journalism.”

The writer notes that this shifts the inquiry away from who is a journalist to what is journalism. And he quotes Stanford University journalism professor Ted Glasser in support of this idea:
“We shouldn’t have a two-tiered First Amendment that gives more protections to some individuals than others,” he said. “We are much better off defining the act of journalism rather than who is a journalist.”

Read blogger Anthony Sanchez' full account here.

A bit of multimedia that Al's Morning Report highlighted recently. It is a Sarasota, Fl. Herald Tribune report on 150 teachers still in state school districts despite serious issues with their behavior around students. It's called "Broken Trust." Al likes the idea that readers don't have to scroll down the page to continue reading; they get to flip a page. Check it out for navigation ideas.