Dispatches from the living amongst journalism's walking dead

Month: September 2009

Who’s trying to save journalism this week

Following the News 2.0 Forum a couple of weeks ago and my (awesome) vacation, it suddenly seems like everyone is talking about the “future of journalism” right now, particularly when it comes to how to fund it.

Under the familiar topic of paid online news, the Guardian reported this week on a poll that found web users prefer subscriptions to micropayments. Of course, that’s all entirely based on the premise that they’d have to be paying for news in the first place, as there was no option for “I will do what I can to not pay anything”.

Anyway, the finding isn’t entirely surprising. Most people don’t understand micropayments in the first place and, frankly, it makes sense to those who may be more familiar with print subscriptions to buy all-access for one fee than buying content one piece at a time.

Meanwhile, back in the US, Jack Shafer at Slate made the case as to why Obama should stay out of the fight to save American newspapers. The real issue at hand is a bill from Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin that would allow newspapers to reorganize themselves as non-profits.

The reasons this could be a very bad idea are many. For starters, it seeks to only help newspapers and not any other media. Two, it doesn’t actually fix the primary problem, anyway. If newspapers were to suddenly become non-profits, it wouldn’t change the fact that they lose money. And three, it seeks to preserve a status quo in an industry that needs to be anything but.

A far better solution (IMHO) gets a spotlight from David Westphal at the Online Journalism Review: Creating revenue by selling our best skills as journalists.  Talk surfaced at a recent IRE conference about the prospect of selling journalists’ research skills on a “for hire” basis. This sort of thing has been done for years by the Economist and a few operations (like GlobalPost) have begun trying it out as well.

It’s a simple idea that could really have some legs if done correctly. It would take one of the most innate and specialized skills of investigative journalists – researching and reporting – and sell it to clients who want deep background on, say, a local company, an incident or a piece of legislation.  We all know that anyone can write a story these days, but it takes a certain kind of skill set to tenaciously chase a story in the way an investigative reporter might – so why not market that?

On vacation

I’ll be on vacation in San Francisco and Portland for the next ten days. So unless something pretty damn earth-shattering happens, I likely will not be blogging.

If you’d like to live vicariously through our travels, check me out on Twitter or keep an eye on our Flickr photo map. As a complete nerd, I plan to geotag most vacation photos so I can play with some Flickr map mashups when I get back. We’ll see if that actually comes to pass.

Feel free to continue submitting your own posts (on the right) in my absence. I’m still still testing out that app and will check in an approve stuff at some point over the week.

Presentation: Business models for online news

Here’s a Powerpoint of my presentation the News 2.0 Forum on 9/9/09: Buy this news, please?

(Right-click and download it if you want – just don’t steal it, man)


Here’s a big list of links to where I got the information included in the presentation. When I have time, I’ll come back and make this look a lot prettier.

ProPublica’s story on Memorial Hospital in New Orleans

American Prospect’s column on government-subsized news

MinOnline’s top paid models worth watching

Steve Outing’s thoughts on micropayments

Chat featuring Steve Outing and others discussing business models

Jeff Jarvis talks about online memberships vs subscriptions

Online Journalism Blog looks at the ad-supported model

Pew report on the drop in classified ads

A look at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s “freemium” site

American Journalism Review’s praise for pay walls

Neiman Lab looks at how paying for news is a new thing

Michael Kinsley’s column on how he believes asking readers to pay will not work

News 2.0 forum today

The much-ballyhooed (by me) News 2.0 Forum is going on tonight at the offices of Enquirer Media.

Local readers, I hope, will be there in person. If you’d like to attend in spirit – check it out on UStream (thanks to Cincinnati Social Media). We’ll be live from 5 to 6:30 or you can catch it after the fact.

Here’s the lineup of speakers and topics:

Buy this news, please? (business models for online news)

Mandy Jenkins, Enquirer Media – That’s me

The Birds and the Bugs (copyright law & the Marburger Plan)

John C. Greiner, Graydon Head & Ritchey, LLP

This Ain’t Sci-Fi: The Electronic Newspaper

Nick Hurm, Enquirer Media

What Readers Need

Jason McGlone, The Cincinnati Man

Bigger, Better, Stronger: Online Communities Shape the Future of News

Elissa Sonnenberg & Taylor Dungjen, UC Journalism

News 2.0: Personalized and Customized

Taylor Wiegert, Empower MediaMarketing

Back to the Future: Reinventing the (Print) Newspaper

David Holthaus, Enquirer Media

The Future (or Lack Thereof) of Local News

Brian Griffin, Cincinnati Blog

Reporters as Brand Managers

Dennis Hetzel, Enquirer Media

News as Community-Based Wikis

Bob Robertson-Boyd

Journalism: Is there an app for that?

James Pilcher, Enquirer Media

Your Facebook fan page might not be in your control

In the past year or so, tons of media companies have been setting up their Facebook fan pages (with varying degrees of success). In this time, media companies have also been shedding staff members by the hundreds.

If any of those companies are like mine, chances are they have allowed staff members to create these fan pages using their own personal Facebook access. After all, it is the easiest way to do it. Chances are, these companies have also let go at least one person who created a Facebook fan page for their organization. Unlike user access to your in-house publishing systems and intranets, you have very little control over who has admin access to your Facebook fan pages unless you yourself created the page.

If the ex-employee in question as the creator and only admin on the page – there’s really nothing you can do except ask them to make you an admin as well. If they are feeling charitable, they might actually do it. But then there’s another issue.

As of right now, it seems there is no way to permanently remove admin privileges from the creator of a fan page. Tons of Facebook business users have been trying to get an answer to this issue to no avail. As of right now, whoever created your fan page, whether they work for you or not, has full control. If the employee parted ways with the company in a negative fashion, imagine what they could do: Post nasty or libelous status updates, send messages to all fans, delete the page altogether. Yikes, right?

Until Facebook decides to answer this long string of help requests, the best thing you can do is to not allow employees to create Facebook fan pages from their personal accounts. Instead, set up a universal staff account can be set up to create and administrate fan pages. That way a mere password change once an employee leaves your company will solve this issue.

Recommended reading on the mysterious future

These are my recommended links for August 28th through September 3rd:

Seeking your input on business models

I’ve mentioned before that I am pulling together an event 9/9 at the Enquirer Media offices, the News 2.0 Forum, where people inside and outside our news organization will give five minute presentations on their perception of “the future of news”. We’ve got a great lineup ready from quite  few different perspectives (I’ll post it when it’s finalized).

Anyway, I’m preparing my own five minute presentation on possible future business models. For some reason, I was crazy enough to volunteer to set up this event, emcee it and do a presentation (all of this the night before I leave for a long vacation).

Because I know the few (but elite!) readers of this blog are pretty savvy folks, I figured I’d ask you for your input on my presentation.

Here’s the models I’m focusing on:

1. The continuation of an advertising supported model. Using examples like HuffPo, West Seattle Blog, Gawker to show that ad support can work – but you need to be pretty well streamlined to make that happen.

2. The grant-funded model (e.g Pro Publica, Common Language project).

3. The membership/subscription based model.

4. Micropayments of all kinds.

5. Offering other products/services to support news operations.

So what am I missing here? Remember, it’s five minutes, so let’s not get crazy.

How much does Facebook know about you?

Just how much do you tend to share on Facebook? Probably more than you think.

Facebook has recently been called onto the carpet by Canada (the country!) for violating their privacy laws. In particular, the Canadian Privacy Commissioner took issue with the social network’s often confusing privacy agreement, their retention of users’ personal data even after they’ve left the network and how third-party apps use members’ private info.

Facebook agreed to implement changes that would affect all users, but would get Canada off their backs. After the changes take place, FB will change their privacy policy to better explain to users how and why their info is used – and it will require apps to explain the same each time a user accesses them.

And it’s a good thing too. Recently, the ACLU has been trying to raise awareness about Facebook quizzes. Sure, they might seem harmless – after all, you’re just finding out what Simpsons character you are, right? Wrong. Actually these quizzes, in particular, can find out a ton of info about you  – like your political affiliations, sexual orientation, religious background, etc. – based on fairly innocuous questions (not to mention the info they are allowed to pull from your account when you activate them).

It’s great that Facebook will be forcing apps to explain what info will be taken and how it will be used – otherwise, where could private info about you end up? In the hands of your employer? The government? A debt collector? The possibilities are frightening to consider.

Even with these changes, Facebook will continue to expand the info it asks users to give up in efforts to expand their “real time search”, which allows you to search the entire network, including news feeds, status messages, groups and more. Just over the past few months, they’ve instituted changes that, depending on your privacy settings, can make your info available to anyone (not just those in your network like before). Even if you’ve got your privacy settings where you want the, take another look to see what’s changed. Need help? Here’s a guide for arranging your privacy settings.

Aside from Facebook’s policies and your privacy settings, you should always ask yourself  exactly what info are you sharing when you update your status or share a photo? Just think – when you share on Facebook or Twitter that you’re going on vacation for two weeks – who might find that interesting? A burglar of course! It wouldn’t bee too hard to figure out where you live (especially if you’re in the phone book), or even what house is yours (ever posted a photo online that shows your home?).

Now that I’ve got you all freaked out (I hope), get back to work.

Magazine writing/reporting: ‘Harry Potter Goes to College’

This enterprise piece, written in December 2000 and published in the May 2001 issue of The Burr magazine at Kent State University, placed in the 2001 Hearst Awards.

It’s sort of funny looking back, as this was written back before the books were super big – back  before the movies were even in production. Now, there’s about a million stories to be found on this subject of adults getting into Harry Potter. I guess it isn’t all that innovative now.

News feature: Do you wanna dance?

This feature was so much fun to write and research. I pitched this to my editors at the Enquirer when I was an intern – it was pretty much right in the thick of the Dance Dance Revolution craze. I spent a lot of time with my sources, but I’m still pretty terrible at DDR.

The story was published as a Weekend magazine cover story Aug. 22, 2003.

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