#162 – Media needs to catch the collaborative spirit

The good news is the murky world of online journalism is gaining some clarity.
The bad news is journalistic outlets haven’t yet embraced the collaborative spirit that has helped other industries thrive in the 21st century.

During a wide-ranging presentation at the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s annual conference, Elizabeth Osder, a 25-plus-year digital media professional and consultant, advised journalists and newsrooms to learn from companies like Uber and Airbnb. Their business models didn’t exist a decade ago, but they’re thriving now by not being held back by what used to work.

Elizabeth Osder is a digital media consultant with a 25-year career in journalism.

Elizabeth Osder is a digital media consultant with a 25-year career in journalism.

“All of a sudden we’re in a world where there are on-demand services,” she said. “The value of Uber is the number of people that participate,” while the value of Airbnb is determined by the value created by people who rent out their houses to people looking for a place to stay without limiting their searches to hotels. “We just haven’t been talking about it as it relates to journalism,” and that’s an opportunity that can and should be considered—quickly.

It’s time to consider what an on-demand journalism experience would look like, or what journalism would be like if newsrooms considered themselves part of a network, much like computer systems hooked up together to form a system for sharing information.

“You’ve been doing these things over the years in this room, in this conference,” Osder said. “Everybody comes here to share ideas, to talk about what they’re doing, to talk about best practices. … What would it be like to keep those conversations going throughout the year?”

After recounting a few of the presentations she’d heard, Osder issued some strong suggestions about the importance of knowing and reflecting your audience. She pointed to a project undertaken by a weekly newspaper in Boulder, Colorado, focusing on “reinvigorating Latino history, talking about the Latinos in the community, where they came from, how they got there.” The Latino readership of the publication, as a result of that work, increased from 2 percent to 15 percent.

The reporting “resulted in a more engaged and involved audience,” Osder said. It also changed the conversation in the newsroom: “Who and how do we do our work? What does it mean to our staff?” she asked. Are newspapers simply “the last bastion for everybody who has a liberal arts education and wanted to be a writer? Are we actually doing something that actually has an impact on a community?”

There’s a bigger lesson to be learned here, she stressed. “Fundamentally, there’s something going on right now: The doors of your offices have been blown out by the collaborative economy,” she said. “The people that used to not have a voice who relied to get into your channels through your newspaper have established their own. If you do not invite them in, they will find their own audiences and serve themselves and they will be entrepreneurs who service those audiences.”

Those entrepreneurs will have one big advantage over more traditional publications and platforms, she added. They will be more pragmatic from Day 1, “because they will be small business people who understand that the chicken-and-egg game of what came first, the ad or the editorial, that you better have some money in order to do something,” Osder said

Amber Healy

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#161 – Time to find some new revenue

Journalism has a revenue problem.

In an industry that’s still being disrupted daily by digital technology and mobile distribution, it’s critical for news outlets to evolve their business model in order to survive.

“You have got to figure out a way to let journalism stand on its own and do what it does well, which is represent the community and shed a light on issues in the community,” said Eric Bright, vice president of e-commerce at Deseret Digital Media. “Journalism does not make money. You have to figure out a way to make money so you can subsidize the really important need of journalism.”

Eric Bright is the vice president of e-commerce at Deseret Digital Media.

Eric Bright is the vice president of e-commerce at Deseret Digital Media.

Bright was speaking this past July to an audience of journalists and marketers at the Association of Alternative Newsmedia‘s annual convention in Salt Lake City.

“Content is not a business model,” Bright said. “The reason being is it’s really difficult to monetize content. You can do it, but we all spend all of our time monetizing around the content.”

Bright is not a journalist, though he works for an online media company. He has more than 14 years of experience in e-commerce, marketing and business management. So, when he talks about media disruption, he’s talking about shifting the focus away from advertising to new forms of revenue.

“It’s really the difference between an advertising paradigm and an e-commerce paradigm,” Bright said. “In advertising, you’re focusing on the advertiser. What does our advertiser client want to say to our audience?”

E-commerce, on the other hand, is focused on the end-user.

“Create a really great experience for your customer and you’ll get results,” Bright said. “Optimize the funnel. Get people to your site and all the way through as fast as you can. Traditional media is get people to my site and then have them dilly-dally around, send them to as many page views as you can, cause I’m monetized around page views.”

The goal is to determine what your customer wants and then give them what they want.

“Listen to your customers,” Bright said. “That’s you’re only asset. That’s your golden goose, your customers. Listen to them. Solve for their needs, protect yourself from all those other people out there that are trying to chip away at your business and then evolve. Disrupt yourself.”

This week’s It’s All Journalism podcast features audio from Eric Bright’s presentation at the 2015 AAN Conference in Salt Lake City: “Best be finding some new revenue, son.” Bright is the vice president of e-commerce at Deseret Digital Media, which focuses on on marketplace commerce products such as Classifieds, Deals, Shops, Local and Utah.com. has more than 14 years of experience in e-commerce, online and offline marketing, and business management.

Michael O’Connell

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#160 – Melody Kramer reimagines public media

To remain viable and important parts of their community, public media stations need to stop seeing people only as contributors of cash and start embracing donations of time, service and talent.

Melody Kramer is a journalist and federal government employee. She was a visiting Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and writes a weekly column for Poynter. (Photo by Michael O'Connell)

Melody Kramer is a journalist and federal government employee. She was a visiting Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and writes a weekly column for Poynter. (Photo by Michael O’Connell)

Melody Kramer is a data journalist, who writes a weekly column for Poynter. Nieman lab recently published a paper she wrote on putting the “public” back in public media membership.

Kramer isn’t trying to downplay the importance of donations obtained during pledge drives. Instead, she’s encouraging NPR affiliates, in addition to PBS stations and other public media outlets, to allow people the opportunity to make a different kind of investment in exchange for a one-year membership. That way, those who might be interested in public media can feel involved and personally connected to the media outlet from the start, which could encourage them to give financially in the future when they’re able.

Membership donations are critically important for public media outlets, obtaining 36 percent of their annual budgets from membership donations, “The highest amount of any kind of funding public media receives from donors,” Kramer said.

Most of those donations come from people listening to NPR or other noncommercial broadcasts in their vehicles.

“What concerns me is that 50 percent of cars within five years will have Internet-enabled radio in the car, and by 2025, that will be 100 percent of cars,” she said. “People who typically went to their NPR member station as their default for good, high-quality radio will suddenly have 10,000 choices in the car and that won’t necessarily be the default.”

If public radio can’t articulate why it matters to its listeners, it’s a losing battle, Kramer warns. It’s time to get creative.

She mentioned the #MakeAlCare campaign from Southern California Public Radio, station KPCC in Los Angeles, a multi-part series in which one man who started out convinced he wouldn’t vote in an upcoming municipal election attended events, met the candidates and otherwise became involved in the process. Listeners became invested in whether Al Gordon, a chef in Los Feliz, voted in the election and likely felt a sense of accomplishment when he did.

Similarly, station WILL in Southern Illinois has an ongoing project in which seventh and eighth-grade students are invited to make a PBS documentary each year.

“It’s really neat,” Kramer said. “They pick a topic, they report on the story, they edit the story, they produce the story. The story airs on their local PBS station. Not only are they introducing these 12- and 13-year-olds to what public media is at a very young age, a lot of them have chosen to go into media as a result. A lot of them are more invested in their local community as a result, and their parents are more invested in the future of the station as a result.”

Amber Healy

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#159 – Local news in the rear view mirror

Jesse Holcomb doesn’t get the opportunity to travel out in the field much. As the associate director of research at the Pew Research Center

But, Holcomb was in Sioux City, Iowa, a few months ago, doing field work for a project on local news.

Jesse Holcomb is the  associate director of research at the Pew Research Center. (Photo by Michael O'Connell)

Jesse Holcomb is the associate director of research at the Pew Research Center. (Photo by Michael O’Connell)

“I stopped at a little steakhouse on the Nebraska side of the river, down last the Tyson plant, because I was told to get a steak in Nebraska or Iowa,” he said.

Holcomb struck up a conversation with the bartender, who asked what he was up to in town.

“I tried not to come across as creepy anthropologist,” he said. “But there was one thing she said that got my attention. She said this, ‘Why should I bother with the local TV station when I’ve got Lock Up buzzing in my back pocket all day long?'”

It turns out that Lock Up was a Facebook page the posted the latest information about locals who were arrested in the Sioux City area. The page has since been taken down.

“In its heyday, the thing was this seething stream of mugshots and gossip, updates, police blotters,” Holcomb said. “And it was a primary source of news for my bartender and a way for her to connect to her community via mobile and social media.”

Holcomb sees this anecdote as a commentary on where local news is today.

“It’s not just that the pathways to local news are changing or that the form is changing, but also that these changes are not necessarily happening all at once in the same town,” he said. “There are layers and there are surprises.”

This week’s episode of the It’s all Journalism podcast features an interview with Holcomb and his presentation at the Association of Alternative Newsmedia‘s 2015 Convention in Salt Lake City. He discusses the findings of a recent Pew project comparing how local news was consumed in three cities — Denver, Macon, Georgia, and Sioux City, Iowa.

“If you spend too much time with national survey data like I do, you’d be forgiven thinking that local news trends in Jackson are the same as they are in Minneapolis or that what’s happening in New York is also what’s happening in New Orleans,” he said. “In certain ways, these trends they do hold. But in other ways, the idea of Any Town, USA, is just a little bit too simple.”

&mdash Michael O’Connell

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#158 – Free speech in the age of mass surveillance

The phone in your hand is not just a tool for staying connected and taking care of errands on the go. It’s also a big welcome mat to the “age of mass surveillance.”

David Greene, senior staff attorney and civil liberties director with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, addressed the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s conference in Salt Lake City recently, shedding some light on the covert and not-so-covert-anymore ways in which a person’s information and private habits can be uncovered, tracked and recorded with a few clicks. His group, based in San Francisco, works to protect civil liberties in the digital world.

David Greene is the senior staff attorney and civil liberties director with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

David Greene is the senior staff attorney and civil liberties director with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Mass surveillance — which Greene defines as “when the government just collects information about people’s communications in bulk” — has been going on for a long time, well before Edward Snowden fed documents to The Guardian, hesaid. It’s easy to see the difference between mass surveillance and targeted surveillance, which is when someone’s habits and communications are specifically monitored because they’re suspected of wrongdoing.

The reason there’s more attention paid to mass surveillance now, especially following the Snowden releases, is that it’s easier to do.

“Technology has really made it much more efficient for the government to collect, to store and to analyze massive amounts of data.”

“Technology has really made it much more efficient for the government to collect, to store and to analyze massive amounts of data,” Greene said. “The storage thing is one of the more recent technological developments. In this state, in Utah, the NSA has built a very large storage facility for the purpose of storing massive amounts of communications data it’s collected. A few months ago, we flew a blimp over it … with a big sign saying ‘Mass Surveillance Below,’ with a big arrow pointing to it.”

People might think they control their data, and to some extent that remains true. But mobile phones perform so many other functions and have so many other capabilities than in the past that the amount of personal information they contain is almost overwhelming.

“We use our telephones to do all sorts of things,” Greene said. “We communicate with our doctors, we make travel arrangements, we do banking, shopping,” and all this with a company that might have an agreement to provide that information to the government, no questions asked.

“It’s more efficient for the government to go to one entity and say ‘Give me all the information you have’” than trying to collect that same amount of data from a variety of sources.

And while Greene praised Congress for passing the USA Freedom Act in June, he stressed that it did not end bulk phone record collection entirely. Now, instead of collecting all incoming and outgoing call information from all phones on certain providers—the government admitted it had been gathering all such data from users on the Verizon Business Network Service and that other companies had been involved, but has not identified other participants — the government has to specify when it wants incoming and outgoing call information from a particular number.

Amber Healy

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#157 – Mark Goodman: Music journalists win online

As effective a tool as streaming services like Pandora and Spotify can be for introducing listeners to new music, a playlist designed by an algorithm is no comparison for suggestions made by a real live person someone has come to know and trust.

Mark Goodman

Former MTV VJ Mark Goodman says music can still resonate online. (Photo by Michael O’Connell)

Mark Goodman should know. From his early career with a radio station in Philadelphia and his place as one of the first VJs at MTV to his current gig as host of a daily show on Sirius XM’s The Spectrum, Goodman’s insights on the importance of music journalism in local media outlets combine the changing tides of publication and the growing frontiers for music and listeners alike.

“The Internet is overwhelming but it’s where everything is already or is going to if it’s not there yet. Especially for music,” he said, during the Association of Alternative Newsmedia‘s conference in Salt Lake City. “We need a floodgate. People don’t know what to do with it. Journalists are setup perfectly to be that floodgate.”

Pre-Internet, music fans would turn to critics, whether in their local newspapers, alt publications or behemoths like Rolling Stone or Creem, to find out about the next big bands or to get the latest news about their favorite artists. Readers would eventually learn to trust a writer or DJ’s opinion on bands based on what they recommended or played, and those readers could check out a new band’s performance based on a critic’s recommendation.

Using a playlist devised by a computer program is nowhere near as effective, Goodman says. iTunes or Pandora might pull up a song by an unknown artist because the listener liked something the program believes is similar, and the listener’s reaction is along the lines of “What the hell is this? It’s crap, you don’t like it,” he said. “Journalists, people who you wind up trusting over a period of time, especially local because they’re part of the community, they know who’s been in town… that really is important.”

One of his first trusted publications, when he was working in Philadelphia, was an alt weekly called The Drummer. “As I got older, with other alt weeklies, I looked to people like many of you … to keep tabs on the music trends wherever I happened to be living at the time,” he said.

The path to success, for media outlets and musicians alike, might be online, but both need assistance from good writers.

“It’s clear to me that in order to survive and thrive, you have to embrace the Internet and find how to reach your readers through this technology as it proliferates around the world,” said Goodman, who’s in charge of content at the new online music venture, American Weekend Entertainment. “The Web may be vast, but it’s cold. It’s impersonal. Here is where journalism wins. This is where someone’s impression of you, your knowledge, your sense of humor, this can engage in a way an algorithm can’t.”

Amber Healy

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Learn how to podcast in 5 easy steps

This bonus podcast features audio from my Friday, July 17, presentation on podcasting at the 2015 Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s annual convention in Salt Lake City, Utah.

It's All Journalism Producer Michael O'Connell at the Great Salt Lake.

It’s All Journalism Producer Michael O’Connell at the Great Salt Lake.

Here are the updated pdfs from my presentation.

I tried to give a down and dirty, quick and easy guide to launching a podcast, including some of the technology you need to master.

There are lots of different ways to produce a podcast and there are lots of questions to think about beyond recording and posting audio, like:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What type of content would they be interested in listening to?
  • How much time are you willing to commit to a regular podcast?
  • How much money are you willing to spend?

This isn’t the first time our podcast has talked about podcasting. Here are a couple of related podcasts that touch on this subject:

Pop Goes the Podcast at Awesome Con

#114 – So you wanna podcast? Tips on how to be an online audio star

I also appeared on the JellyVision Show recently talking about podcasting:

Podcasting Will Change Your Life: Ep. 184 with Michael O’Connell of It’s All Journalism Podcast

My goal was to demonstrate that podcasting is really not that difficult to do, once you break down the basics. It’s also an incredibly flexible platform that allows for a great deal of freedom of expression and creativity.

Let us know if you launch a podcast.

Michael O’Connell

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#156 – ONA15 to shed light on online harassment

Trevor Knoblich, the digital director of the Online News Association, joined It’s All Journalism producer Michael O’Connell in studio this week to talk about the 2015 ONA Conference.

Trevor Knoblich, digital director, Online News Association (Courtesy photo)

Trevor Knoblich, digital director, Online News Association (Courtesy photo)

The annual event brings together thousands of digital journalists from around the world to talk about new technology and storytelling techniques. It’s a great opportunity to meet people, network and pick up some skills to use in your newsroom.

A variety of experts will be speaking at the conference on topics ranging from the trauma social newsgatherers face covering violent stories to pushing back against online harassment.

The conference will also spotlight The Boston Globe’s award-winning investigation into abuses by the Catholic Church.

ONA15 takes place Sept. 24-26, at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles. For more details, go to the ONA15 website.

Michael O’Connell

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Hanging out at the JellyVision Show Podcast

I had a fun time this week talking to my buddies Tim Trueheart and Jennifer “Jelly” Crawford on the latest episode of the The JellyVision Show Podcast.

We talked about how entrepreneurs can use podcasting to promote their businesses.

We’re all members of the DC Podcaster Community, a coalition of podcasters in the Washington, D.C. area. We meet monthly to swap ideas and share podcasting strategies.

DC Podcaster is sponsoring the first ever DC PodFest, which will take place Nov. 6-8, 2015, at The Wonderbread Factory in Washington, D.C. You can find out more about the event at the DC PodFest website and you keep track of updates by following us on Twitter: @DCPodFest.

Michael O’Connell

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#155 – Long-form writing and avoiding a terrible lede

A barber once rescued Stephen Fried from a terrible lede.

Fried, an author and long-form writer, was struggling to come up with a good beginning for a story he had written, a personality profile of Ricardo Muti, the former conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

“I wrote this sort of terrible lede, which my editor crossed out. He said, ‘Go find another lede,'” Fried said.

Stephen Fried

Stephen Fried is an author and long-form journalists. He teaches writing at Columbia University’s school of journalism. (Courtesy Photo)

There was nothing in the story that fit the bill.

“Ricardo Muti was known, besides for all his musicianship, he was known for his hair,” Fried said. “And so, out of utter desperation, I called the Philadelphia Orchestra and asked who cut his hair. And I went and, out of just complete fear of my editor and losing my job, I interviewed his barber. I attached the best part of the interview as the lede of the story to the rest of the story.”

Fried’s editor was satisfied and praised his ingenuity.

Sometimes, a solution is just an act of desperation.

Other times, according to Fried, it’s the writing process itself that can save the writer. This is especially true when it comes to thinking too much about a story.

“Thinking is not useful before writing,” he said. “Thinking is useful after trying the writing. Thinking about the writing doesn’t always make the writing any better. So what I’m saying is, especially when you have to build something big, that has a lot of foundation and you might have to tear out part of the foundation and build another way, outlining and thinking it through is not gonna solve the problem.”

The longer a story is, the more problems a writer can encounter.

“It’s not part of the reporting process,” Fried said. “It’s part of what your brain brings together when you’re writing. So, there’s no substitute for writing, even to have what you’re writing suck, but for you in understanding why it sucks, understand what you have to do. And you think that you can avoid that step by thinking really hard and not writing the thing that sucks, and that’s the big lie. Because, you should always just try to write.”

A common trap for writers is fixating on the lede. They write and they rewrite, trying to get it perfect.

“We write the beginning over a million times and then we don’t write anything else,” Fried said. “And one of the things that I’ve taught myself when I catch myself doing this is to stop writing the beginning, and to just start writing at chapter two and come back to the beginning. Because, in reality, a lot of times your lede is something that you find as you write in. The chances of it coming to you at the beginning before you start writing are much lower than if you start building. And you will either find it while you’re building or it will make more sense what it needs to be once you’ve built the rest of the draft.”

Enter Ricardo Muti’s barber.

Michael O’Connell

On this week’s It’s All Journalism podcast, producer Michael O’Connell talks to writer Stephen Fried about long-form journalism. He will be talking about long-form journalism and presenting a writing workshop at the 2015 Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s Convention, which takes place July 16-18, in Salt Lake City. Fried is an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s graduate school of journalism. He’s also a non-fiction author. His books include Husbandry, The New Rabbi, Bitter Pills: Inside the Hazardous World of Legal Drugs and Sex, Lies & Dirty Laundry — Inside the Minds of Married Men. The Wall Street Journal and the Philadelphia Inquirer named his latest book, Appetite for America: Fred Harvey and the Business of Civilizing the Wild West — One Meal at a Time, one of the top 10 books of 2010. For more about Fried’s work, visit his website.

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