Revenue 2.0: Practical solutions

My apologies to regular readers for the scarcity of posts at this blog lately. Being “communities editor” at the Globe is taking up every minute I have and then some. I realize it’s not much, but here’s a recent post I wrote for the Nieman Journalism Lab

As almost everyone is well aware by now, there’s been a never-ending roll call of doom in the newspaper business for some time — papers closing, companies filing for bankruptcy, massive layoffs and so on. Some have chosen to deal with this by clinging to the old “accentuate the positive” approach, but the most optimistic signs by far have been the journalists who are forging ahead (such as the InDenverTimes, an online startup staffed by laid-off Rocky Mountain News reporters and editors) and trying to come up with concrete solutions, instead of moaning about how much better everything would be if we could only convince people to pay 50 cents every time they read a story on a newspaper’s website.

One of the most recent efforts at developing practical solutions was the Revenue 2.0 project, which came together for a brainstorming session last weekend in Washington, D.C. aimed at revenue-generating ideas that newspapers of all kinds could implement right now. The project started with a manifesto, in which the group declared that “unlike recent confabs of executives, editors and academics, we are hands-on professionals charged with delivering media solutions every day” and added:

We reject the belief that media companies should pursue models based on pay-for-content plans or philanthropy. The latest report from Pew concurs. Instead, we believe the best hope for media companies to make money is the old-fashioned way — by earning it from advertising.

The group was brought together by Alan Jacobson of Brass Tacks Design and Matt Mansfield of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, a former deputy managing editor of the San Jose Mercury News. They set out four practical goals.

(read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab)

Mesh ’09: An all-star lineup and a special guest

There are plenty of reasons to be excited about the lineup at mesh ’09 in April, but we are pleased to announce another very special one: a surprise appearance by Toronto mayor David Miller, who will be doing a one-on-one interview on April 8th, the second day of the conference (there’s a full version of the two-day schedule here — and be sure to register soon, because tickets are going quickly).

Mayor Miller will share with mesh attendees some of his thoughts on the idea of an “open city,” with all that that implies about issues such as civic transparency, data sharing and connecting directly with citizens. Toronto has made some major strides in that area recently, including some ongoing steps by the Toronto Transit Commission to open up and share its data, as well as the Mayor’s own use of Twitter to connect directly with residents.

This conversation with Mayor Miller fits right in with one of the themes of mesh ’09: the rise of what might be called “politics 2.0” — a move towards more transparency, more direct civic engagement and the use of social-media tools as a way of empowering citizens to speak out about a host of important issues. Much of this wave is due to the success of the Obama campaign in the U.S., and that is a topic one mesh panel will be discussing in detail: how the campaign took shape, what it is like to cover the new politics from a media perspective, and what it suggests about how politics as a whole is changing.

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The Guardian ups the ante on APIs

The New York Times was the first major newspaper to take its cue from Google and open up its data via an API (which stands for application programming interface). In a nutshell, this allows developers to write programs that can automatically access the New York Times database, within certain limits, and use that data in mashups, etc. Now the Guardian newspaper in Britain has upped the ante: not only has it opened its data up via an API, but it has also done two things that the NYT has not — namely, it provides the full text of its articles to users of the API (while the Times restricts developers to an excerpt only) and it also allows the data to be used in for-profit ventures, while the Times restricts its data to non-profit purposes.

As Shafqat at NewsCred notes on his blog, these two differences are pretty important, and I would argue that the Guardian has really put its money where its mouth is in terms of turning its paper into a platform (to use the title of a blog post I wrote when the NYT came out with its open API). Not to denigrate what the Times has done at all, mind you — an API of any kind is a huge leap, and one that many newspapers likely wouldn’t have the guts to take, limits or no limits. But to provide full-text access to all Guardian news articles going back to 1999, and to allow all of this data and more to be used in profit-making ventures as well, takes the whole effort to another level entirely.

(read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab blog)

The Agenda: Transparency and government

I’m on vacation at the moment, so blog posts — which have been all too infrequent of late — are likely to be even more infrequent, and may contain pictures of beaches and other non-work related content. In the interim, I’ve embedded in this post a clip of my recent appearance on The Agenda, the excellent TVO show hosted by Steve Paikin and produced by Mike Miner. I was joined by Anthony Williams, co-author with Don Tapscott of the recent book Wikinomics; Leslie Harris of the Center for Democracy and Government in Washington and Maryantonett Flumian, a former deputy minister with the federal government who now teaches public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa. We talked about governmental transparency, and whether governments both north and south of the border will be able to follow through on the promise of greater interactivity that the Obama campaign brought with it.

Are comments valuable or a waste of time? Yes

A column by Judith Timson in the Globe and Mail this week got me thinking again (not like I ever really stop) about comments on blogs and news stories and other places, and the value that they bring. Judith’s column was in many ways a lament for the death of civilized discourse, and a criticism of the no-holds-barred comments that appear at many media sites — including the Globe’s. Not surprisingly, she mentioned the book Snark, by David Denby, which is concerned with the same decline-of-civilization-as-we-know-it kind of argument. As you’ve probably guessed already, I disagree with that view.

In many ways, comments are like version 1.0 of community — the lowest common denominator of community, at least for a mainstream media site like the Globe’s. You can post a comment, never really engage with anyone, say whatever you want and not have to reap the consequences (at least with an anonymous system like we have, which I have defended before for a variety of reasons), and so on.

I would be the first to admit that our comments don’t always achieve the level of discourse that I — and the Globe as a whole — would like them to. We get a lot of “drive-bys,” as I like to call them, in which people just spray-paint offensive comments or insults directed at the subjects of a particular story, or in many cases the writers. We are working on ways of dealing with that kind of thing (as I’ve described in previous posts on the subject), including comment voting and other “reputation management” tools that I hope will allow our community of readers to promote the positive and de-emphasize the negative. But I think there is an important principle attached to having comments, and not just having them but actively engaging with readers who make honest and well-intentioned comments.

Continue reading “Are comments valuable or a waste of time? Yes”

NYT, Google exec go hyper-local

There’s an interesting battle shaping up in the “hyper-local” online journalism market, at least in the New York and New Jersey area. The New York Times confirmed on Monday that it is launching a new project called The Local, in co-operation with journalism students at the City University of New York. The network of local blog sites will reportedly start with Clinton Hill and Fort Greene in Brooklyn and Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange in New Jersey, and will apparently cover the usual neighbourhood fare such as schools, restaurants, crime and government. After the launch was mentioned by a local blog called Brownstoner (and also by PaidContent), blogger and journalism prof Jeff Jarvis wrote a post describing how he was working on a local-blogging project and happened to run into someone from the NYT, and the two agreed to co-operate on a joint venture. As Jarvis describes it:

In each of these two pilots, they’ll have one journalist reporting but also working with the community in new ways. The Times’ goal, like ours, is to create a scalable platform (not just in terms of technology but in terms of support) to help communities organize their own news and knowledge. The Times needs this to be scalable; it can’t afford to – no metro paper can or has ever been able to afford to – pay for staff in every neighborhood.

A spirited battle subsequently broke out in the comments section of Jarvis’s post, and on Twitter, between the blogger and Howard Owens — the former head of digital media for GateHouse Media (which recently settled a contentious lawsuit with the New York Times over one of the “hyper-local” sites run by Owens said he was skeptical of the plan, in part because of the failure of previous local journalism networks such as Backfence and YourHub, and made the point that local staff need to be in each community. Jarvis and Owens then got into a debate over (I think) whether the staff working for such a hyper-local site should be primarily professional journalists or people who emerge from the community itself.

(read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab blog)