Saturday, September 22, 2007

McClatchy's Howard Weaver on home turf

This Alaska panel on media gave me a flashback to Stanford in May, when McClatchy's Gary Pruit joined NYTimes Bill Keller and Harry Chandler, a former owner of the LA Times, and a young woman VP from Google, on a stage to discuss how the newspaper business was going to survive.

This time, McClatchy's Weaver, who was in the Stanford audience with other McClatchy-ites, was solo in his hometown of Anchorage, talking about the situation in which newspapers find themselves. He was joined by a local TV anchor, a radio producer, and a young woman who works in marketing for Clear Channel radio. Much like the woman from Google in May, other panelists looked at Clear Channel's Corinna Delgado as a spokesperson for anyone classified as young.

Weaver, known for inspiring news staffs, inspired his audience to consider the opportunity presented by the "phase transition" (think liquid boiling into steam) that the news business is undergoing. He talked about the opportunity, the scary but amazing opportunity, this era presents to news editors who make the right choices and help readers by sorting, routing, personalizing and adding value to information. He labeled the new morning newspaper as a "printed summary and orientation to the day" for the already news-saturated reader.

He encourages media participants not to buy into conventional wisdom that print is dead. Though a declining audience, it is still the largest. Half of all adults read a newspaper yesterday, he says. But he's also platform agnostic, subscribing to a point Delgado made -- deliver news when and how the consumer wants it.

One question the panel tackled briefly was young news consumers. Delgado confessed she's worried about the narrow information habits of young readers -- if it isn't pop culture, they don't care. This morning, I saw an announcement that may or may not counter her view. MTV is re-launching thinkMTV. They describe it on their site this way:
Think MTV has undergone a makeover. We have built a brand new community site where you can get informed, get heard and take action on the issues that matter to you most.

Register, and then you can sign up for news updates like these:
MTV News Daily Update
Never Miss A Top Story. Get the Latest Headlines Each Day, Plus Breaking News As Warranted.
think MTV
Stay in touch with the issues that concern you with this bi-weekly newsletter from think MTV. We'll update you on Sexual Health, Discrimination, Education, Environment, and Global issues around you.

All this brought up my own newspaper's staff of teen writers on Perfect World. As the digital natives, they may serve to guide us on news appetites in terms of content and delivery. The idea that young people don't care about news doesn't seem right. MTV seems to have an inkling. Social networking, a new way to make community, may be the ticket in.

MTV is soliciting teens as reporters for the 2008 presidential campaign. Now that's a heck of an opportunity for a kid to get involved.

And the Knight Foundation wants to deliver up to half a million dollars to anyone who can "figure out how to push journalism into the digital age."

Here's their pitch to kid innovators:
Believe it or not, people used to read newspapers! But now of course, we're all online and on mobile, logged onto our individual gadgets and disconnected from our community. So how can we use new technology to transmit news and actually bring people together? We've got some ideas, but we bet you've got some amazing ideas!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The messy public

I'm a fan of comments at the end of stories, anonymous, not even registered on the newspaper site. I'm a fan of engagement.

So it's disappointing to find out that the half dozen folks commenting at the end of a story are sniping at each other like unhappy siblings, or speculating about the sex lives of the subjects in the story. Tiresome hardly begins to capture the disappointment.

Where is the civic discourse? And how long will it be before my newspaper will adopt slashdot community self-policing of comments? I don't think newspaper editors are meant to be the only adult in the playroom, clicking off comments, cluck-clucking their distaste for the rabble.

So, tonight I watched the Jim Lehrer News Hour, and paid close attention to the interview with Andrew Keen, author of "The cult of the amateur." You can read the full interview here.

One taste:
ANDREW KEEN: The key argument is that the so-called "democratization" of the Internet is actually undermining reliable information and high-quality entertainment. By replacing mainstream media content, high-quality radio, television, newspapers, publishing, music, with user-generated content, we're actually doing away with information, high-quality information, high-quality entertainment, and replacing it with user-generated content, which is unreliable, inane, and often rather corrupt.

Well, Andrew Keen would be describing the forums on my newspaper. One of the main worries is that thoughtful people will be so turned off by the lowbrow nature of existing commentary that they'll bypass this opportunity to engage. I'm still thinking about all this. I have a great faith in the group to throw up a glint of genius, a profoundness that speaks to us all. Yet, I have seen plenty of evidence that the group fails to produce.

Still, I have faith. All true things are complicated, and the good mingles close by the bad. We need to talk about it and think about it and write about it before we understand.

So, even though I've been disappointed, I don't want to turn off public comments. I put my two bits on the cyber community to say out loud so as to be heard by all: We're talking seriously here. If you aren't, find someplace else to talk.

Here's Andrew Keen on a panel discussing the democratization of media. Think about it.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Quick observations before the week begins

See that white up high on the mountains? That's not a cloud up there. That's snow. Time is passing, the season is changing.

(Note to readers: Frankly, I think every blog post needs an image, and today this is mine for you.)

Here's a few observations from this week.
  • Print has authority.
  1. My newspaper invites readers to send in their "nice catch" fish photos. This is Alaska and we get a ton and post them online in a gallery that gets lots and lots of hits. We use these reader-submitted photos with the print solicitation to send in more fish pictures. Now, all the people sending images into the web are asking: "When will my photo run in the newspaper?"
  2. I was out at a local high school talking to some students who want to start a publication. There's already a student newspaper, but in their estimation, it covers only fluff. They want the freedom to report on issues that go beyond football, prom, homecoming. They want to write about their community. Because they are digital natives, I wondered if they wanted to create a Website for their stories. NO! came the answer. Why? I asked. "Because if it is in print, it has much more authority."
  • Multimedia has power.
  1. Alaska is in the midst of a political corruption scandal with many revelations emanating from courtroom proceedings. We've been working to obtain the court exhibits (which include undercover video and audio recordings) to get as much of that up on our Web site as we can. It's fascinating to hear a 70-year-old Bill Allen, who pleaded guilty to bribery, tell a courtroom which legislators he has bribed, and why. His testimony is slow and stilted, he suffered from an accident about five years ago that impaired his speech. The man sounds broken. Short of being in the courtroom and hearing him in cross-examination, listening to these audio recordings reveals a layer of tragedy worthy of a book. No entity but my newspaper is making the effort to listen to hours and hours of transcripts and prepare them to go online at our Web site. This is a huge public service. So, print may have power, but multimedia -- audio and video, seeing it and hearing it with your own eyes and ears, that is POWERFUL.
  • The two in combination? Look out.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Overdue update

So, you know your blog is hot when the only comment you have is from a guy named Adam who's promoting his abs exercise site. That's humbling.

To be honest, this site is like trying to learn to play the piano. You have to practice, even when no one is listening. So I can definitely take this. It's the practice.

Anyway, I've been carrying a potential good post around in my head for a couple of days. I think this item would work well here, a piece of philosophy from a Silicon Valley famous person named Guy Kawasaki. In one of my classes, entrepreneurial journalism, the professor required us to read Kawasaki's book, "The Art of the Start." In it, he suggests that a start up doesn't need a mission statement, it needs a mantra.

I liked the sound of that. The only mission statement I'd been a part of was pretty bad -- filled with dead words and 5th-grade earnestness. So I believed a mantra could be better than a mission statement.

Let me cut to the chase here....I liked Kawasaki, and then I found a podcast of his, speaking somewhere at Stanford. And what he said to young entrepreneurs seemed quite applicable to the times we journalists find ourselves in. We are at sea, a dark and stormy sea, and we hope for a break in the clouds to get a good reading on the sextant. Kawasaki offers one.

He says,

Don't work to make money.

Work to make meaning.

There are three ways to make meaning.

Improve the quality of life.
Right a wrong.
Prevent the end of something good.

Nothing I've heard recently sounded more like a mantra for journalists than that. Here is the very short YouTube link. See what you think.