Category Archives: Uncategorized

Fact checking, words, images and stories

Charlotte has a starring role in a new video from Mitt Romney, focusing on jobs and unemployment. And that’s good: Voters have consistently said through polls and other venues that the economy is the most important issue for many of them this election season.

Here’s what’s interesting:

Media outlets and civic organizations have ramped up more fact checking this year of candidate’s claims, because in politics, spin and distortion are often the name of the persuasive game.

Online social sharing and the reach of Youtube make videos incredibly powerful, with views for that one video growing from 300 or so on April 18, (the day Romney visited Charlotte) to 6,000 or so on April 19 and 40,000 or so on April 20. (I’m not linking here, on purpose, to avoid becoming part of something I might measure for class work.)

The facts of jobs and unemployment in the video are fairly indisputable, though not the full story, as detailed by Kirsten Valle Pittman of the Charlotte Observer in an excellent fact check box on April 19. But the questions about how we measure economic health, jobs and unemployment are nuanced and difficult to explain in visuals, short headlines and blurbs. In explaining those nuances with words and narrative, the visceral emotions of the ad get lost. And the ad’s accuracy becomes difficult to question because it sticks to facts in its few words.

But our economy and our jobs have changed dramatically, and our measurements don’t tell the full story. When we focus on measurable facts, as candidates, as journalists, as voters, we miss the nuance of change. Some have said we become what we measure, or we encourage what we measure, and some have even suggested alternative methods. Chip Conley, in a TED video,  has examined the question of whether we should measure things differently, playing off the Gross National Happiness factor. Certainly that idea would get laughed out of the political arena this year as falling into the spin and distortion category, not quantifiable (yet).

As graduation season approaches, the stories of a couple of college seniors at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte strike me as more telling about our current economic uncertainties and likely won’t show up in the unemployment data: One has an occasional job laying carpet, and that pays the bills. Freelance journalism on the side feeds the soul and the resume. Another senior has occasional freelance assignments, but the gas costs to produce the stories eat up any profit. He wants a job, any job, that pays enough to give him economic independence. (I was at the same spot, long ago, for a couple of months right out of college. I was waiting on President Reagan’s words of hope to trickle down. They did, somewhat, eventually.)

But back to the video ad: The shareable, visceral appeal of video political ads has long been about audio and visuals, with techniques like foreboding music, heart beats, grainy black and white images contrasted with vibrant color. This ad uses some of those techniques, and connects North Carolina viewers with a familiar landscape, drawing contrasts from ugly, empty loading docks to shiny, crisp uptown skyscrapers. That contrast will be easy to find in Charlotte and North Carolina, over and over in this campaign season, and existed long before the current economic downtown. But viscerally, it tells a story that goes beyond data.

Melanie Green has written about a concept called “transportation,” or feeling immersed in a narrative story, and how that immersion builds trust and positive feelings. The Romney ad visuals have the capacity to transport North Carolina people (and Florida people, in another ad) by showing them familiar sights, and thus perhaps building trust and liking.

So while reporters and others in the civic arena rightfully draw attention to “facts” that are measurable and verifiable, the growing reach of video and visual messages can strongly influence trust of candidates in this campaign year. Fact checking narratives can’t address those video techniques easily. Presentation of narrative, pointing to specific methods in video ads and even linking to specific timed spots in ads, can perhaps increase critical thinking about the ads. But as always, dry narrative has a tough battle against emotional, visceral images. Qualitative storytelling is as strong as ever, perhaps stronger with video’s growth online, and emphasis on facts has a role but cannot tell the full story.

Rex Hubbke of the Chicago Tribune says Fact has died. Journalists will strongly disagree, and my professors will still strongly encourage quantitative measurement. But we cannot deny the growing power of qualitative, visceral stories. In 1974, Eudora Welty wrote a short critical piece, “Is Phoenix Jackson’s Grandson Really Dead?” I’m mining the online libraries to try to find a copy, but I think her answer to readers inquiring about the facts in a story she had written was this: It didn’t matter. Phoenix believed her grandson was alive, and that’s what the story was about.

Belief matters, and story matters, and sometimes facts don’t. Regardless, we still need to check those facts, and perhaps we can find more persuasive ways to encourage others to do so too.

 

My next adventure with CJR

I’m spending much of 2012 reporting on media in North Carolina for Columbia Journalism Review’s Swing States project. CJR reporters in key states are serving as watchdogs for local press coverage of political rhetoric and money.

North Carolina is one of those swing states, has a governor’s race in play and also has a controversial proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The state has traditionally voted Republican in presidential elections, except in 2008. More locally, (in case you hadn’t heard) Charlotte is hosting the Democratic National Convention in early September.

I’m excited because the work fits with my studies through the University of North Carolina’s master of arts in technology and digital journalism. The program launched in August 2011 with a great group of about 20 students from across the state and beyond. (Learn more.)

The CJR work is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to study high-profile media stories in class and in real life, in my hometown and home state. I’ll stay in Charlotte, with road trips when appropriate. Last semester, I worked on a research proposal of how voters really get the information they use for election decisions, and the CJR work will allow me to keep focusing on that key part of our civic society. Pew research provides tons of information; I want still more.

Lots of people helped me make this move. In particular, thanks go to Fiona Morgan, research associate at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. Fiona has written a groundbreaking case study on the information ecosystem in the Triangle, and she continues to lead thinking on news ecosystems. She invited media leaders from around North Carolina to meet each other and Tom Glaisyer of the New America Foundation recently in Durham, signaling the growth of some interesting conversations.

Since starting the master’s work, I’ve also juggled a day job in the new production hub for McClatchy at the Charlotte Observer. Essentially, I’m used to a job and a half. The CJR work is a contract gig, so I’m talking with some people about other projects that fit well with my class and CJR focus without creating ethical conflicts. (The McClatchy hub is hiring. Email Hope Paasch.)

This move also gives me more time to continue work with the Greater Charlotte chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. We’re working on building a chapter that is platform agnostic, reaching out to existing groups with affiliated skills and interests.

In the past, my focus has been on community journalism (“hyperlocal” in some circles) and business models. I’ll always have a passion for those topics. But this year, in this place, politics offers the greatest opportunity for learning. Already, people like Dr. Michael Bitzer of Catawba College have helped me to study up with generous links on Twitter and elsewhere.

So now comes The Ask. I’m counting on y’all to share your thoughts on media coverage of politics in North Carolina. Some folks have started a Twitter tag, #unasked, that can help issues bubble up. What else should I know about? Reach me here, or soon at the Swing States project, or email me.

N.C. legislators turn back effort to take legal notices out of newspapers

screenshot of legalnotices.org
A legislative committee turned down efforts to stop requiring local governments to place legal ads in newspapers this week.

Polls in North Carolina of county plus town and city governments show local governments spent about $6 million last year on legal ads and public notices, according to the Associated Press.

Discussions about the notice requirements ran hot and heavy among Charlotte Twitter people. Discussions centered on the print and online circulation numbers for established media as well as the lack of online access for specific groups.

The Charlotte Society of Professional Journalists will likely put the issue on the agenda of a future meeting.

Here’s the full story on legal notices in newspapers in North Carolina.

TriadWatch has used freedom of information requests to gather some numbers about public notices and legal ad spending. Here’s part of what they found, matched up with audited print circulation numbers for the newspapers that benefited:

The City of High Point spent $49,000 on public notices in Fiscal Year 2009-2010.

The High Point Enterprise had a Sunday print circulation of 18,300, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation for the six-month period ending March 31, 2011.

The City of Greensboro spent about $128,000 in public notices in two local newspapers since January 2010.

The Greensboro News and Record, which has received about $96,000 from the city since January 2010, has a published Sunday print circulation of about 86,500, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation. Online numbers would be higher. (I don’t know if they provide legal ads online.)

The Carolina Peacemaker, which received about $31,000 from the City of Greensboro, appears to have a print circulation of about 5,000, weekly, though those numbers could be out of date. On its own site, it lists a readership of 60,000, likely including online numbers.

Circulation numbers, in print and online, are difficult quantitative measures of reach these days. Some news organizations have free print products with large circulation numbers not included in the ABC numbers. Many news organizations measure their online reach in ways that are not comparable. Much of the Twitter discussion in Charlotte the past week centered on these numbers; I’d suggest moving the conversation up a level or two to look at all the possible futures of public notices before focusing on specific ways to compare influence and reach.

Noted by TriadWatch: The Charlotte Observer partners with legalnotice.org to display legal notices in a somewhat searchable way, supported by advertising. The screenshot above is from a search through the organization. The “About” page gives little details about the company. The company also provides subscriber services.

Worth consideration: More granular, searchable, open information could enable more detailed search information, provided in more accessible, easy-to-use interfaces, available to more readers and new companies, perhaps even local startups.

Here’s traffic data from Alexa for legalnotice.org:

“There are 829,298 sites with a better three-month global Alexa traffic rank than Legalnotice.org. Visitors to the site view 2.9 unique pages each day on average. Visitors to the site spend approximately 45 seconds on each pageview and a total of two minutes on the site during each visit. Search engines refer approximately 22% of visits to the site. Legalnotice.org has been online for more than twelve years.”

Also from Alexa: 170 sites link in to legalnotice.org, and its traffic rank in the United States is 143,925.

For this legislative session, the issue is off the table. But it will arise again.

We should talk more and include experts in a variety of fields. We need to move beyond thinking the issue of the cost of public notices and legal ads is merely two-sided, with established media on one side and with cash-strapped taxpayers and governments on the other.

Privacy, sunshine and the electronic frontier: That slippery slope in North Carolina

Electronic Frontier logo

N.C. legislators have introduced a bill that would allow local governments across the state to opt out of providing copies of email lists they maintain.

Several other local bills specifically allow the governments of Charlotte, Cornelius, Huntersville and Greenville to opt out of providing the copies. The contents of the list would still be open to public inspection.

The statewide bill says this, in part:

“AN ACT to make effective statewide a local act providing that a list of the email addresses of persons subscribing to local government email lists is open to public inspection but is not required to be provided, and to provide that the local government may use that list only for the purpose that it was subscribed to.”

Under North Carolina’s open records law, governments must provide copies of the records they maintain. But in the Charlotte area, some people have expressed concerns about how copies of email addresses can be used for marketing.

Specifically, the Charlotte Observer came under fire after an open-records request for email lists maintained by the city of Charlotte, Cornelius, Huntersville and Davidson. Editor Rick Thames wrote a column responding to the criticisms.

It’s no wonder email lists and marketing nowadays make people nervous. The most recent visible case happened when hackers obtained names and emails from the marketing company Epsilon. Thousands of consumers had their email addresses stolen. Organizations affected included the College Board and Target.

But that’s just the most recent case. Consumer concern about the privacy of their data has been growing for years. They’ve joined email lists for one purpose and watched their addresses be used for a different purpose. And as political battles heat up for 2012, partisan groups are collecting email addresses as fast as they can, without clear direction on how those emails will be used in the future.

Still, the proposed N.C. bills and any move to greater secrecy should cause concern among citizens. Exceptions to open records have a tendency to grow, with open records statutes adding clauses for government agencies that feel they need to do their work in the dark.

Open government data gives everyone a chance to watch how government is spending money and time. And sometimes, that data also can serve to grow new, independent businesses, like the crime mapping company already used by the town of Cornelius. Access to that kind of data needs to be available to everyone on an equal footing, not only to specific firms that cut deals with local governments.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has wrestled with the balancing of privacy and sunshine for years. Formed in 1990, the foundation’s mission is to defend free speech, privacy, innovation and consumer rights.

In 2004, the foundation issued a white paper about email. The title: “Noncommercial Email Lists: Collateral Damage in the Fight Against Spam.”

Much of the paper deals with the technical issues some email list owners face with spam filters, but it also includes strong recommendations for best practices for those owners.

It also highlights an important principle:

“Individual recipients should have ultimate control over whether they receive the messages they wish to receive. They can be assisted by software or anti-spam services, but knowledge of and control over receipt of email should remain with recipients and end users.”

The most relevant best-practice recommendation in this case: Allow the consumers a chance to opt in to email lists. That’s a basic principle of good marketing firms that work to protect the reputation of the companies they represent.

The specific words:

Senders must ensure that recipients have taken positive action indicating that they wish to be signed up for a mailing list.

More from the paper:

“While this problem is less of an issue with noncommercial lists, recipients do report that they have been added to noncommercial mailing lists without their consent. Sometimes this happens after they participated in a single call-to-action or responded to an issue online. Other times, organizers use or purchase a mailing list set up for one purpose as a ‘starter list’ for another, with the incorrect assumption that the people on the first list are likely to be interested in the second.”

The paper from EFF is worth reading for anyone owning and using email lists and anyone who signs up for a list. But the best practices aren’t law, and they won’t stop marketers, politicians or community organizers from using open records laws to obtain email lists when they can.

So should North Carolina limit access to copies of email lists compiled by local governments?

If so, N.C. legislators should proceed cautiously and choose the law’s words narrowly to avoid shutting off access to information that doesn’t threaten personal privacy. The proposed laws do take a step in the right direction by limiting government’s use of email lists for purposes different than initially intended.

But the contents of emails sent to subscribers of government lists should remain public and should be able to be copied electronically for data analysis.

Also, the number of subscribers to the government email lists should be easily available and easily duplicated. Any other data about the data that the government collects and that does not threaten privacy should be available electronically. As technology evolves, the value of that data about the data can grow in ways that are unclear now.

Any law to protect privacy that affects sunshine should be written narrowly to allow the value of information in the future to grow. Legislators should also proceed cautiously with granting exceptions to the N.C. open records law. Exceptions have a tendency to grow as well.

Sources:
Statewide bill: House Bill 544, sponsored by N.C. Reps Ruth Samuelson, Tricia Cotham, Frank Iler and Joe Tolson.
Local bills:
Charlotte: House Bill 543, sponsored by N.C. Reps Ruth Samuelson and Tricia Cotham.
Huntersville: Senate Bill 270, sponsored by Sen. Malcolm Graham.
Cornelius: House Bill 441, sponsored by Rep. Tim Moore.
Greenville: Senate Bill 182, sponsored by Sen. Clark Jenkins, Louis Pate and Richard Stevens.

Disclosure: I work at the Charlotte Observer as a community editor covering an area that includes Davidson, Cornelius, Huntersville and parts of the city of Charlotte. Opinions here are my own and were written on my own time.

How to increase the number of news sources

Dave Cohn of Spot.Us asks this question as part of the blogging Carnival of Journalism for this month:

Considering your unique circumstances what steps can be taken to increase the number of news sources?

For me, the first small steps will be more links, to primary and secondary sources, in fact boxes with stories for community sections in The Charlotte Observer.

One specific example:
Cabarrus News is following the story of a charter school. Some parents are concerned about oversight, a concern reflected in debate about a N.C. General Assembly bill that would raise the state’s cap on the number of charter schools.

Finding background ain’t easy. Quality curation ain’t easy. For some stories, it can add 15 minutes to half an hour to the reporting or editing process.

But for the full news ecosystem, it’s important to create and curate quality pointers that let readers choose to go deeper, on government sites, community sites, legacy media sites or blogs. It’s the old-school layering concept from design. It’s the academic concept of citing sources. It’s a technique I admired when used by David Boraks, spouse of a professor, on some of his early stories at DavidsonNews.net.

It’s not new, but it has become exceeding rare, especially when details about things like state legislative bills get buried in sites seeking traffic with sexier stories. Google’s cluttered search results, influenced by SEO, make it tougher as well.

It’s one small step. But each step counts.

Using Storify to gather information

Here’s a quick test of Storify, using a quick Twitter meme that popped up in Charlotte on Saturday.

A group of local folks launched a meme about advice for the Democratic National Convention, being held in Charlotte in September 2012.

Storify is getting lots of attention because of some people’s use of it to gather information from social media out of Egypt.

Another similar tool, Intersect, out of the Seattle area, is out there as well. Both tools look promising; I hope both tools keep in mind the importance of visuals as well as words.

For searches out of Storify for specific images in Flickr, I was a little frustrated. I could find specific, Creative Commons images from a Flickr contact within Flickr, but couldn’t find the same image quickly in Storify’s search. Still too early to tell what was going on there: my unfamiliarity with the Storify tool, or perhaps an incomplete database of available Flickr images.

One more note: Storify gives an embed script. A quick trial in WordPress.com shows the script getting stripped out. Perhaps it works in WordPress.org.

Click locally and originally: Linkjacking, fair use, RSS, autofeeds and ethical linking

chains from Andy Ciordia

The shop local campaigns are everywhere. Let’s apply it to the link economy.

I link a lot, on Twitter, a private company that yes, is using my volunteer labor to help curate online information.

But Twitter is incredibly useful as a way of using humans to filter the onslaught of online information. Long ago, it replaced my daily practice of sitting down with a daily newspaper. I count on links, keywords and well-written headlines to help filter information (sometimes even on Facebook). I love the art of a well-written headline and tweet in all forms.


But I’m fed up with linkjacking and algorithm-using automatic feeds that clutter and slow my search for information.
I’m especially fed up with faux local companies that aggregate the work of others and do no reporting or human curating themselves. They’re stealing traffic and sometimes advertising revenue from the original, local sources who add value by real work. Some are also trying to take the money of local people through dubious franchise agreements. Most follow the letter of the law, but they push boundaries, and if we all embrace the idea of shopping ethically and locally and supporting local businesses, I’d like to ask people to click ethically and locally to support real journalism and information.

Don’t get me wrong: I respect the value of a quality aggregator that uses human filtering to add news judgment to feeds. I’ve been a fan of outside.in for years. I suspect that sooner or later, a business model and more jobs will emerge for such organizations. Such a function existed in the past: Wire editors and news designers and copy editors helped people navigate through the onslaught of information, which has always been overwhelming but was curated and focused for readers. Those traditional jobs are fewer these days, but the need for the function remains.

I also greatly appreciate those who retweet and point to the originators of content and I try to reward those who find and curate the best stuff, no matter how deeply buried it might be on originators’ website. @acmunn, or Andy Munn, has done a great job of sending focused links to local development news in the Charlotte area, no matter the source. And he was rewarded eventually with a new job, at Ingersoll Rand.

But certain practices that add only clutter should end. Consumers of links and news online can help by choosing carefully and being mindful. Ethical consumption and linking means clicking and pointing to the people who are creating value and not those who are merely repackaging in machine-generated blobs.

Ethical, mindful consumption and creation of links can help, over time, by rewarding those who are producing valuable information. The more of us who are mindful of how we consume information, the faster we’ll evolve new models. The more of us who put our money on those who do real journalism or who produce unique, trusted information, the better our information will become.

And a caution to those who want to become the media: Some national and international companies are offering franchises to local people, selling the idea that they can create local services to generate traffic and ad revenue, with little to no time spent on reporting or curating. Caveat emptor. Journalism, whether it be reporting or curating, takes time and skill. You can learn and do it yourself, but don’t assume it will be easy without work of your own.

Three case studies:

The @charlottelocal Twitter account: This account aggregates headlines from Fwix for Charlotte, spitting out tweets and links about every 20 minutes, using other people’s headlines. Links send you to the Charlotte Fwix site, which excerpts headlines and tops of stories, which then link to the original sources. That’s a good thing for generating traffic for originators, but the volume and lack of human value in trimming the firehose or in refocusing headlines is a drawback. Lag time appears also to be as much as three hours between the time original content is posted at the source and the time the headline is sent out. The account now has 1,679 followers on Twitter. Experience from some legacy news organizations has shown that firehose Twitter accounts attract fewer followers than accounts with more curation and personality: See @ColonelTribune, @ajc and @theobserver for examples. @theobserver account has 8,875 followers; its firehose counterpart, @charobs, currently has 1,167 and appears to have stopped on Nov. 8.

PaidContent and those who rip off its tweets and keywords: PaidContent covers the business of digital content. Its Twitter account is focused, targeted and adds value by its dependability, sending out a link to a news summary every morning, with the same headline, “The Morning Lowdown.” Readers get a fast, focused summary with one click over their morning coffee. But others have seen that value and have begun to rip off the key phrase “The Morning Lowdown” on Twitter, generating their own links to their own sites, which then click through to PaidContent. And guess what? Those links seems to generate few to no clicks, and certainly little to no value, only cluttering the stream. There’s little that PaidContent can do when the linkjackers are pointing back to Paid Content after routing it through their own sites. But readers can do something by refraining from clicking on links that do not point directly to PaidContent. Advertisers can avoid those sites that linkjack. Other copycats for other content generators are likely out there; click carefully and give your traffic to the originators.

Those who count on RSS feeds from curators or originators to make their own money at their own sites, without linking back, and then whine when the originators’ RSS disappears: I’ll be a bit vague on this one, because I don’t want to call someone out without all the details. But I’ve heard that some creators of content espouse taking down their own RSS (real simple syndication) because it makes it too easy for others to repurpose content for their own gain without some kind of return to the creator. That’s sad, because many consumers count on the RSS to make their reading and photo viewing more efficient. It’s difficult to blame content creators and curators for ditching RSS when they see their work reused at other sites with ads and with appeals for donations. One site currently is hiding behind a fair use statement for content gleaned from other sources, all the while taking Groupon ads and donations, and then whining about a broken RSS feed from a real curator who actually pays the sources of its content. I’m getting out my tiny violin.

To close, and repeat: Aggregators with human involvement add value. But we’re in a link economy, and copycats proliferate. Consumers can exercise their power by clicking and linking responsibly and rewarding quality creators and curators. Be mindful about who your clicks and links are rewarding.

Photo credit: Andy Ciordia, through Flickr, using Creative Commons

The local news and ad battle: A dispatch from the front

competition bike race photo

“As usual, competition lifts the whole game.’’
Rick Daniels, chief executive of GateHouse Media New England, talking about AOL Patch at Boston.com

Or maybe not.

Polly Kreisman, founder of The Loop in Westchester County, N.Y., has written a post over at Lost Remote about how AOL’s Patches are popping up in her territory. And she, as an embedded resident and journalist, is fighting back with her own site against all competitors.

AOL Patch is launching local news sites across the country, and it appears to be aiming at the same territory sought after by legacy media and other companies seeking local advertising dollars: well-off towns and suburbs. Those areas are filled with what Carll Tucker, the founder of Main Street Connect, calls “Main Street moms.”

Those moms are the economic engine of retail, Tucker says, and they draw advertising that supports media. If you’ve had children or have them now, you know it’s true: No matter your best intentions, you accumulate and consume lots of stuff. Retailers and their ads love you.

I’ve seen this kind of hyper-competition for ads in the past, and in some markets, it continues in print to this day. I worked at a newspaper when large news companies tried to knock out suburban competitors by pouring in tons of resources to local news (and I still work in niche local news at a newspaper now.)

We swapped ‘til we dropped, adding lots of weight in our news judgment to local datelines. The editor and the publisher delivered newspapers personally. The local papers responded by accusing us of being out-of-town carpetbaggers.

So we have been through local advertising battles before, and the local news competition fueled by it. I’m hoping that we’ve learned enough, this time, not to waste precious resources.

I was lucky to meet Polly in person at the Knight Digital Media Center’s news entrepreneur boot camp in May, and I wouldn’t want to tangle with her in a business fight. She has the commitment and courage to fight for her local news site, The Loop.

But I wish it wasn’t a fight.

Journalists have long sought work in towns with news competition, because resources pour in. And competition makes us all better at our craft. Many journalists pour their souls and lives into the battle, working 70-hour weeks for little pay, without the time to lift their heads and find a better, sustainable way.

But I worry about the journalists long term, and about the many different kinds of businesses and organizations fighting over one small piece of the market: the Main Street mom, leaving many in society without adequate news sources while news organizations bleed money into certain ZIP codes.

I wish news organizations of all kinds could find ways to spread resources and not be dependent solely on advertising, so that people in markets that are less attractive to advertisers could get the information they need.

And I wish the journalists in those markets could lift their heads and see the long view and perhaps find ways to make sustainable commitments to local news.

People like Polly don’t just face competition for local ad dollars from Patch and Main Street Media.

Competitors include sites run by visitors bureaus that sell ads and are financed by government taxes paid on hotel rooms.
Competitors include sites that offer shopping deals, unbundled from news or information beyond press releases.
Competition comes from new niche experiments or recommitments from national legacy media companies (raises hand).
Competition comes from local television websites, using people far away to take phones calls placing ads from local businesses, meanwhile cranking out stories based on datelines, swapping ‘til they drop.

The pie, based on local advertising dollars just isn’t big enough. So the competition becomes a fight unto death. And I suspect tons of local advertisers still aren’t being served well.

That other customer, the reader?

If they live in a ZIP code sought after by a retailer, they might have some options for local news. If they live elsewhere, though, they might be stuck in a local news desert.

We have to find better ways to work together and to finance news and information. I think it’s way too early to vilify Patch, or Main Street Media, or the other big competitors. They’re putting journalists to work, and maybe they’ll find business models and serve readers and advertisers well.

And maybe, just maybe, we can think long term, to find sustainable ways to deliver local news to everyone.

Background:
Hard times working the Patch

The Jersey Tomato Press on Patch

Leaders of AOL Patch and Main Street Connect talk at MediaShift

Photo credit: tj.blackwell, licensed through Creative Commons

About those three-a-days: Admitting future failure

Just three days ago, I started on a challenge to post three times a day here.

Now I’m acknowledging future failure, as I look forward to a short, full workweek ahead elsewhere.

So far, I’ve learned:

  • There is no shortage of ideas.
  • There is a shortage of good ideas and unique, researched content with context.
  • There is a shortage of time. I don’t have Hermione’s Time Shifter.
  • Frequency matters for traffic. Promotion matters. The time allotted to marketing and promotion should equal the amount of time creating content. That’s a scary thought.
  • Unlike two-a-day sports practice, you can bank things online. That will guarantee I can at least do one-a-days.
  • “Feeding the beast” is an appropriate term whether you’re talking daily newspapers or blogs.

Forget two-a-day practice; three-a-days will either kill you or get you in game shape

Two-a-day football practice

Two-a-day football practice looks easy compared to three-a-day blog posting

The latest class assignment from an online journalism class through P2PU involves posting three times a day on a blog.

The assignment reminds me of the approaching intense summer high school football practice in the United States. And it’s not just football; soccer players at summer camps, track team members and other young athletes commit to twice a day practices in the off season.

It’s hot; it’s hard, and it separates the serious athletes from everyone else.

I suspect this class assignment will do the same. Posting three times a day online is often billed as a way to drive traffic; I have long suspected it changes the content as well, encouraging lightweight, easy posts without much depth. At the same time, perhaps it encourages quick thinking and sharing of those thoughts without too much self editing.

In that respect, perhaps the assignment encourages the kind of sharing that Twitter has captured. Some have questioned whether Twitter or Facebook are killing blogging. The assignment gives me a chance to convert some Twitter time to creating something of perhaps longer lasting value. Or perhaps not.

Either way, it’s worth a start. The assignment comes from TokyoMango, or Lisa Katayama, who also edits BoingBoing.

Photo credit: kaiju, from Flickr, licensed through Creative Commons.