Tag Archives: technology

Supporting N.C. journalism through public notices and legal ads

So far, 15 bills mentioning the word “newspaper” have appeared in the N.C. General Assembly this session. They range from bills honoring the Rev. Billy Graham to bills allowing cities and counties to publish public notices digitally.

Legal advertisements and public notices, required by law, have been a little-noticed subsidy of local newspapers since Ben Franklin’s time. In the last few years, talk has increased about eliminating the requirement of placing some public notices in newspapers because of the cost to government and the dwindling reach of newspapers. Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute wrote a good roundup about legal notices a year ago. I wrote about legislative bills affecting legal notices in North Carolina in 2011.

Some N.C. towns have already eliminated required print legal ads. This year, more towns (Greensboro, Morrisville, High Point) and counties could join them. With the changing face of journalism, including new digital startups, enhanced TV station websites and pay models at established media outlets, North Carolina should rethink how we write laws that require public notices. Our government’s goals should be leveling the playing field, supporting strong independent reporting regardless of the source, and providing government transparency about how legal ads and public notices get placed. The original intent of the ads – notifying people efficiently about government actions that affect their jobs and lives – must remain a key goal. Government websites cannot reach that goal alone.

The word “newspaper” appears 310 times in North Carolina’s general statutes. Rules requiring public notices grew organically over time, lack uniformity and tend to favor established newspapers. Sometimes, another news organization has broader reach, more reporting resources or more local reader engagement. In many cases, the rules allow non-elected officials to choose winners from among news sources, possibly fostering a spoil system that erodes trust.

The North Carolina Press Association keeps its eye on legislation affecting newspapers, and it has opened its doors to new journalism startups including the nonprofit Carolina Public Press in Asheville and the Raleigh Public Record. It must consider its own members’ interests and will likely lobby for rules that continue existing subsidies through legal notices to newspapers, especially newspapers of a certain size. While that support could erode this year, that issue shouldn’t be the only question on the table. Figuring out how to foster the growth of new news startups should also be a consideration in the General Assembly.

Federal agencies like the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission are studying how to preserve journalism as old business models fail. Journalism school deans from across the country, including the University of North Carolina’s Susan King, have written a statement urging the IRS to quickly approve nonprofit status for emerging news sites as a way to foster innovation in journalism.

At the same time, our N.C. General Assembly members should bring independent, thoughtful approaches to encouraging quality, local reporting, from for-profits and nonprofits.

Steven Waldman, writing in a special report, “The Information Needs of Communities,” for the FCC in 2011, made one suggestion:

“One possible solution that would benefit all parties would be for governments to save money by hosting public notices on their own websites and paying a lesser amount to run banner ads on other sites about the notices and linking back to the government site. The municipality would be able to spread information about the public notices to a broader range of audiences than they would by just publishing them in a particular newspaper. They would generate more traffic for their own websites, provide ad revenue for local news operations and advance the cause of government transparency.”

Posting public notices and legal ads on town and county websites furthers open government. But to reach people in our fragmented information age, using multiple methods (including print for some areas), at lower costs, seems like the right solution. Our new laws should be fair, encourage innovation and provide flexibility as technology and news sources change.

Here are some samples of the words in existing bills filed this legislative session in the N.C. General Assembly:

“The County shall advertise a notice for interested parties to submit qualifications in such form as the County may require for possible selection as the private developer or private developers in the public‑private project in a newspaper having general circulation within the County.”

“Advertise the sale by publication in a newspaper having general circulation in the county in which the property is situated. [AND] Make the following information about the property being sold available to the public both on its Web site and by mail. …”

“…sealed bids shall be solicited by advertisement in a newspaper widely distributed in this State or through electronic means, or both, as determined by the Secretary to be most advantageous… .”

“The secretary‑treasurer shall annually, at a time and in a law magazine or daily newspaper to be prescribed by the Council, publish an account of the financial transactions of the Council in a form to be prescribed by it.”

“The Charter Board shall distribute information announcing the availability of the charter school process described in this Part to each local school administrative unit and public postsecondary educational institution and, through press releases, to each major newspaper in the State. … ”

Disclaimers: I am not employed or paid by any of the news organizations in this post. I’m a former employee of the Charlotte Observer, and I’m working on a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina in digital communications. These words are my own.

The Stop Online Piracy Act and U.S. Rep Mel Watt

Rep. Watt on Youtube

Rep. Mel Watt during SOPA hearings.

Congress is considering a bill that would place restrictions on the Internet, and Charlotte’s Rep. Mel Watt is one of the co-sponsors. Industry heavyweights like Google have lined up against the bill, which has other heavyweights like the Motion Picture Association of America on the other side.

Watt’s coming under some heat because of his statements during discussions about the bill, which could resurface Dec. 21. He has said, “It’s not worthy for us to be talking about who got bought off by whom.” That statement, of course, sent people to look at his political contributors. Here’s a summary.

From Phoenix Woman at Fire Dog Lake:
“Mel Watt Has Over 130,000 Reasons to Like SOPA.”

Alex Howard, government 2.0 correspondent for O’Reilly Media, reported in real time from the markup hearings on Dec. 15 for the bill. Here are two tweets of his from his @digiphile account, with more than 110,000 followers:

Alex Howard tweet 1

Alex Howard tweet 2

Others responded to Watt’s “I am not a nerd” statement during hearings:
“Dear Congress, It’s No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works.”

Here’s Watt saying, “I am not a nerd,” on Youtube, with reaction.

What the bill does: Lifehacker’s quick version: “All About SOPA: The bill that wants to cripple your Internet, very soon.”

The deep dive on the bill, from Zack Carter at the Huffington Post.

Discussions about the bill could resurface as early as Dec. 21. Here’s where it stands.

Current contributors to Watt’s future campaign efforts include the Communications Workers of America, Microsoft, Cisco, the Motion Picture Association of America, News Corp., Qualcomm, and the Recording Industry Association of America.

Here’s more from OpenSecrets.org on Watt’s campaign finance numbers.

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.

Print design in newspapers: Accept reality

photo of cogs
About seven years ago, I had long philosophical discussions with Ted Yee, a visionary design leader at The Charlotte Observer, about how web design would affect print. We thought about shapes, type and page orientations, but not about process.

We were so off base.

Now, it’s clear that the processes of the web have affected print much more than shapes and typography have.

News organizations have learned how to borrow processes from web production to make print less costly. Tribune, Gannett, McClatchy and Media General have all taken steps to somewhat automate print production and to streamline costs. The changes have pushed some design thinking earlier, to setup of templates for routine content, across newspapers.

That thinking has become more like wireframing for websites.

The Society of News Design wrapped up its annual convention in Denver this week, and one session focused on templates and print production hubs for newspapers. Gannett’s Kate Marymont was on the panel, which talked about the new hubs being rolled out by Gannett and the other legacy news chains. Print production for several newspapers will happen in a centralized spot, perhaps hundreds of miles away from the communities served by particular newspapers.

That panel discussion is important beyond newspapers, for people interested in journalism and in journalism education, because it opened windows to redefined roles at legacy news organizations.

Some traditional print jobs have permanently changed. We need to accept it and move forward.

Since 1999, I’ve taken special assignments at various times working on setup of the CCI content management system (pardon my jargon). CCI has evolved into a system for print and web production, and it enables the templating and sharing of news for Tribune, some of McClatchy, some New York Times properties and for Gannett. I know of one startup using it for sponsored local content.

I’ve emerged from that work (and after a year away, learning the freelance world) focused on niche community news without traditional job definitions, still using CCI. I work with a team where everyone knows how to layout pages, write headlines, crop photos and edit copy. Traditional desk jobs don’t exist. We’re not part of The Desk, but rather a separate operation focused on small zones, generally within 30 miles of the office.

But those on The Desk in some other newsrooms face a different reality, of more specialized roles, designed to streamline production in a Henry Ford sort of way. And much of our journalism vocabulary, our job descriptions and our education programs haven’t quite adapted. I salute SND for tackling the issue head on, in an earlier Q&A and an open letter, and I hope the organization can find ways to support those adapting to the new world.

Spinning off that SND panel, here are a few realities about design in newsprint now:

  • The definition of “designer” remains in flux. Pay attention to the skills and responsibilities within job listings rather than titles. The bulk of the jobs at Gannett’s future print “design” hubs and at other editing and design hubs could include responsibilities and be on a pay scale more appropriate to those trained at community colleges than at traditional four-year journalism or design schools. That’s reality. The print production hubs remain here, in the United States, instead of overseas because the pay scales in some U.S. locations can compete with internationally outsourced work.

  • Future good, creative jobs will emerge for developers, collaborators and trainers who specialize in content management systems for print newspapers. Gannett’s MaryMont said during the SND panel that she hopes for a clear career path for those working in the new Gannett hubs. Those with futures and interesting jobs will have collaboration skills, coding skills, process management and documentation abilities, troubleshooting skills and comfort with databases and continuous learning. (Sounds similar to web skills, right?)
  • Front-line editors and reporters will need new (or old?) skills in design principles, basic layout and visual thinking. Budgeting stories and meeting pre-set story lengths in visual building blocks will matter.
  • Specializing in print design is a dangerous path. Freelance designers will tell you the same. Some sweet, creative jobs will survive, for those who are exceptionally good or exceptionally cheap. Are you as good as Martin Gee? Then go for it.
  • If I were a new journalist interested in design now, I’d grab the skills needed for tablets and phones and would not invest my time solely in legacy print software. Likewise, legacy news companies that want to attract design talent for new platforms will need to decide whether to define or preserve jobs that attract that talent. But their bankers might not let them.
  • Balance sheets and debt payments matter more at publicly traded companies than good intentions.

The SND panel on print design templates came a day after Block by Block, a gathering in Chicago that supported new local news websites, and it preceded the annual Online News Association meeting at the end of October in Washington, D.C. The best thinking for the future of news and its presentation will bridge ideas from all of those conferences, across platforms. Those who can relearn fast and look forward clearly will survive.

Honest, open words will help.

Photo credit: kevinzim, through Flickr, with a Creative Commons license.

Edupunks or the new schools?

Dandelion weeds

Dandelion weeds

Here are links to go with a presentation that looks at open education outside traditional institutions. The work was gathered for a class through Peer 2 Peer University, on digital journalism, taught remotely by Joi Ito, in the summer of 2010.

I dug into the subject after making a proposal to the Knight News Challenge for an open journalism class and pitching the idea at the Knight Digital Media Center’s news entrepreneur bootcamp in May 2010.

You can read more about that idea and free online journalism classes at a post by me at PBS MediaShift.

You can also see on Scribd one of the presentations created by a group of students in the class, covering the class.

On to links, many pointing to sites in the slides:
Nixty.com
Peer 2 Peer U
Hacks and Hackers
Mozilla Drumbeat and P2PU
Amazon site for “DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education
Moodle
Open Study
List of similar endeavors to P2PU, compiled by P2PU’s Michel Bauwens.
Michel Bauwens’ Delicious links on learning.
My Delicious online learning links

Free online journalism classes gain ground

Edupunk image

Edupunk

The head of Creative Commons, Joi Ito, is teaching a free online journalism class through Peer 2 Peer University. The online class syncs with a graduate-level class Ito teaches at Keio University in Japan, with a UStream presentation and IRC chat once a week.

IRC chat? Yes, the class glues together tools like UStream and IRC, and the platform continues to evolve, using a base of Drupal. P2PU’s organizers make it clear they know the tools aren’t perfect, and they’re refining as they go with feedback from participants.

I joined the class at the last minute. The New York Times had written about P2PU, an online community of open study groups, in April, as well as other open learning communities outside of traditional institutions. I stumbled across the article while searching the word “edupunks.”

The concept of coaching outside traditional educational institutions has fascinated me for almost a year, with a focus on how professional journalists can share their knowledge with new creators of online content, be they “citizen journalists,” neighborhood activists or seasoned newspaper people working on building online skills.

In the fall, I submitted a Knight News Challenge proposal for an online class, 260 Open, with face-to-face components. Students would have been required to produce coverage of civic events, and experienced journalists would edit their work closely. The concept was designed to not only spread civic knowledge, media literacy and strong journalism skills but also to increase the amount of news coverage in particular communities.

I proposed that the class use Moodle open-source software, a learning management system that is has been adopted for institutional use in many places, including the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Central Piedmont Community College.

Then in May, I pitched the concept at the news entrepreneur boot camp through the Knight Digital Media Center at the University of Southern California. One strength of that pitch was that many others at the boot camp are building news organizations with education components to broaden capacity of communities to help cover their own news.

What I needed, however, was a proven business model, with customers who can pay.

Certainly many large media companies are seeking community help covering the news these days, and the need exists to improve skills in broad communities that have lost local news coverage. But finding actual paying customers willing to support classes for the public good is a tough nut to crack. As large companies rush to create content to wrap around new local ads for small businesses, though, perhaps that business model will become clearer.

By contrast, P2PU isn’t focusing on the business model at the moment. Instead, organizers are building a community, refining their tools and experimenting. That’s inspiring.

In fact, Mozilla has teamed up with Hacks/Hackers in a collaboration launched at Knight’s Future of News and Civic Media conference to use P2PU to allow programmers to teach journalists and journalists to teach programmers. Mozilla and P2PU are also launching the School of Webcraft, with a call for course proposals by July 18.

P2PU’s current journalism class has shown me that perhaps we just start, with imperfect tools, even before funding or business models are clear.

In Charlotte, media folks have shown a commitment to peer coaching and support with some journo/bloggers meetups. We just started, with little regard to organizational structure. Dave Cohn of Spot.Us showed up via Skype for one meeting.

P2PU shows that the possibilities exist, spread across the globe. It demonstrates the power of asynchronous communication and online tools for learning, as students in Japan go to class at 9 a.m. on a Monday and I listen and watch at 8 p.m. on a Sunday, at the same time. It’s quite a time shifter, right out of Harry Potter.

What I’d like to see next: Taking the concept of online tools to teach journalism to local communities, with tools that individuals can use for independent courses, simply. Those classes could be augmented with local meetups to strengthen ties and build strong networks. Local journalists familiar with the civic and social nuances of particular communities would add great value.

Perhaps there’s a business model in there somewhere. But more importantly, the concept provides more tools for journalists to share knowledge and perhaps help sustain themselves as teachers and coaches, while broadening the capacity for communities to write their own stories.

Maybe we can make it so. Thoughts?

Image credit: Image via Flickr from bionicteaching.
Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Building an open Carolina news network

Chip Oglesby's Publish2 links for Boeing

Chip Oglesby's Publish2 links for Boeing

Warning: News geek alert. I hope this post will be of great interest to a small group of people, but I’m throwing out ideas that might be filled with jargon.

The recent rains that paralyzed Atlanta taught a lesson: Building a network before critical need arrives can make the sharing of news and information faster, more powerful and effective.

In the case of the Atlanta flood, local leaders in the Twitter community brought together people by advocating the use of a tag on Twitter that was easily searchable.

But we have more network tools than just Twitter, and the principles of networking apply across social networks.

One emerging news tool is Publish2, which is a for-profit company that allows journalists to bookmark links and tweets and share on their websites with widgets. The company also has widgets that allow website managers to add a request for tips from readers.

The New York Times uses Publish2 to aggregate “What we’re reading” posts. The (Columbia) State’s Chip Oglesby used Publish2 to aggregate stories about the Boeing move from Seattle to South Carolina, including posts from Seattle that gave a different perspective on the move. The screenshot above shows his work.

But Publish2 also has the ability to let journalists collaborate across newsrooms, building lists of links about a particular topic in newsgroups. Then different newsrooms (or blogs) can share the crowdsourced links with widgets on their own websites.

That’s a powerful tool, as illustrated with the crowdsourced use of hashtags on Twitter during emergencies and breaking news. And in the Publish2 case, the crowdsourcers are all pre-approved, theoretically “reliable sources.”

Another example: The hearings about former N.C. Gov. Mike Easley have generated widespread coverage, and interest, across the state. Mark Binker of Greensboro is generating amazing quick coverage on Twitter, and the Greensboro News and Record is using Cover it Live to aggregate those tweets. Raleigh is taking a different approach, using live video, live blogging and comments on the News and Observer site.

News organizations across the state have interest in the hearings but can’t always afford to staff them. Publish2 could help them work together to aggregate coverage and link out to original sources from their own websites.

Admittedly, Publish2 is a for-profit company. Where this goes, I’m unsure. Perhaps Google Wave will make this collaboration easier in a different form in the future. But not yet, and hey, Google is a for-profit company too, just like Twitter (some day).

It’s past time to try out Publish2 collaboratively and learn some broad principles that can apply to networking the news. Let’s build a North Carolina network and a Carolinas network before we get hit with a hurricane or some other big news event that will need all our resources, collaboratively.

Perhaps some day, we’ll find similar tools that are open source and free.

Let’s experiment and iterate now. I’ve created the groups and seeded them with some Carolinas journalists on Publish2.

I have to acknowledge this: I’m throwing out this idea from outside any legacy newsroom, and I understand the heavy competitive pressure within those newsrooms. Perhaps this idea won’t fly in those newsrooms. But then, it might fly among the growing ranks of independent journalists. And as we experiment, other projects like the J-Lab Networking the News effort are encouraging cooperation among independents and legacy newsrooms in two N.C. cities, Asheville and Charlotte.

Ryan Sholin and Greg Linch of Publish2 are behind this idea and willing to help.

If you’ve already used Publish2 and want to join the North Carolina or Carolinas networks, let me know. If you want to be an administrator, let me know. If you think it’s a dumb, stupid idea, let me know.

Update from comments: If you’re not already on Publish2, send the email address you want to use to sign up in a direct message to Underoak on Twitter (me), or email it to me at akrewson45cATmacDOTcom. It looks like that method will automagically put you in the newsgroup or groups.

Try. Try again. Repeat.

Standardize basic hashtags for Charlotte

Statistics from what the hashtag wiki for #chs

Statistics from what the hashtag wiki for #chs

“People want to slice information for local cultures; this means that the local cultures need to be able to do the slicing rather than rely on institutions that are more likely to create universal organization schemas. No organization has the diversity necessary to build all of the different glocalized systems that people desire.”
danah boyd, 2005

It started with #tacos and #pbr08.
Charlotte people on Twitter early used hashtags, those words preceded by the # mark, to make jokes and organize drinking parties.
It evolved into #snOMG, a snow event in pre-Oprah 2009.

Now Dan Conover and others in Charleston have shown a way forward, a way to filter the noise of Twitter, from the beginning of the message, enabling better manual search and better search on clients like Tweetie and HootSuite. It’s a folksonomy, or agreed-upon naming convention for tags, which helps people find and share specific information. In this case, keeping it local is key.

Don’t let “folksonomy” scare you. It just means keywords that a community chooses. Charlotte already has #charlotte, used in at least one RSS feed on a commercial website for tweets from Charlotte. It used #cltgas during a shortage in the fall of 2008, borrowing from Atlanta, which invented #atlgas and, most recently, #atlflood.

Charlotte also has #cltcc for the city council, although perhaps it’s sometimes overused by some candidates running for election. It was documented by Brandon Uttley on what the hashtag.

Of course, Twitter itself is working to enhance filtering, creating lists, in which people will be able to group sources together.

Even so, power remains in shared, collaborative keywords, first developed on Twitter during the San Diego fires of 2007 and popularized after a post by Chris Messina.

Conover’s story shows that a filtering method is available now, controllable in a shared way by individuals. He told the tale at Columbia’s Social Media Club on Thursday about a hashtag summit, in which local media representatives and bloggers met at a bar and agreed upon basic hashtags for the Charleston area. And they discussed principles, like uniform length (short) and amount of total tags.

As of Friday night, the basic tag, #chs, has been used in 722 tweets, with 242 contributors, for an average of 103.1 tweets per day, in the past week.

Conover made it sound so simple, but I suspect it was more like herding cats, in a day when many people are seizing branding opportunities in social media. Getting competing media to agree on using standard hashtags isn’t necessarily easy. Conover and others in Charleston deserve credit for a strong example of cooperation.

“During the boom, there was a rush to get everything and everyone online. It was about creating a global village. Yet, packing everyone into the town square is utter chaos. People have different needs, different goals. People manipulate given structures to meet their desires. We are faced with a digital environment that has collective values. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in search. For example, is there a best result to the query “breasts”? It’s all about context, right?”
danah boyd, 2005

Conover said cities like Louisville, Ky., and Vancouver have adopted similar practices since Charleston’s effort. And in Charleston, “even the police use it,” he said at the social media summit. On the panel with Conover, discussing the future of journalism and social media, was Charlotte’s Jeff Elder, who took this video afterward of Conover explaining Charleston’s efforts.

And in Asheville, Jeff Fobes of The Mountain Express announced a change on Oct. 7 from branded #mxnow tags to community centered #avl tags. The Mountain Express is a weekly paper that embraced hashtags early on its website, allowing community members to tweet information and have it appear on the site easily.

To be effective, the hashtags need to be well-known, documented, shared and short. Getting buy-in from others also seems to require a bottom-up, collaborative approach. So, to get things rolling, I’ve added to Uttley’s documentation of the #cltcc tag on what the hashtag, borrowing liberally from Charleston.

Here are Charlotte’s proposed tags, many of which are already in widespread use but weren’t necessarily documented previously:

  • #clt A short general tag for Charlotte. It’s been around awhile and echoes the airport code. Use of it doesn’t mean #charlotte goes away, especially if RSS feeds have been built on the longer tag. But it’s a suggestion for a shorter, standard tag that already gets used fairly often, going forward.
  • #cltvote A tag for tweets about voting and elections in Charlotte.
  • #cltwx Proposed tag for tweets about Charlotte weather. Local TV weather guy @wxbrad is promoting the use of the tag #severeweather, but #cltwx is consistent with others’ use, could provide more geo-specific information and be shorter.
  • #cltbrkg Proposed tag for Charlotte breaking news, copying Charleston’s similar tag.
  • #clttrfk Proposed tag for Charlotte traffic.
  • #clteats Proposed tag for food and drink in Charlotte.
  • #cltdeal Proposed tag for deals in Charlotte.
  • #cltbiz Proposed tag for business news in Charlotte.

Remember, what the hashtag is a wiki, so if you think that list excludes a tag you want to see, you can add it yourself. In addition, you can edit existing entries. Certainly it seems Charlotte needs a documented school board tag, and it would be great to create #cltneeds to help with efforts like Mission Possible. I suspect we need to add tags for Ballantyne, Plaza Midwood, the Eastside, Uptown, etc.

Hashtag conflict.

Hashtag conflict.

Of course, the shorter the tag, the more room you have for your tweet or other tags. At the same time, the shorter the tag, the more likely it will conflict with someone else’s use.

Specifically, #clt appears to be used in India as well. What the hashtag makes a graph of the number of times the tag is used and who’s using it, so the wiki can be used for data analysis and conflict resolution as well as documentation. And sometimes collisions happen: #cbj apparently stands for the Columbus (Ohio) Blue Jackets as well as the Charlotte Business Journal. But that’s why a wiki matters: It can help sort out conflicts.

Few of these tags should be static; our world is constantly changing. We can at least begin. If you want to talk more, I plan to be at BarCamp Charlotte on Oct. 17.

“It’s important to realize that Web2.0 is not a given – it is possible to f*** it up, especially if power and control get in the way.”
danah boyd, 2005

Further reading: danah boyd.

What is journalism, and how to pay for it

Journalism is like a fully loaded hot dog at Fenway Park.

Or at least that’s how one friend and “citizen journalist” described it for a paper I wrote in late 2007. I  interviewed some new “citizen journalists,” surveyed the history of the business of journalism and looked at some new experiments in paying for journalism.

Now, two years later, we’re still asking the same questions: What is a journalist? What is journalism? How do we pay for it?

Instead of referring folks to a PDF, herewith is the analysis section of that paper. It’s still relevant, and it’s interesting to see where progress has been made, and where we’re still struggling.

Analysis

“Something is happening out there, and if we don’t understand it, it’s not just the newspaper business that is in peril.”
Bill Keller, editor of The New York Times, in the Hugo Young lecture in London in late November 2007.

What is the best way for societies to pay for their journalism?
And what is journalism anyway?
Here are a few juicy words from John McBride, who produces the “Under the Water Tower” blog for a small Charlotte neighborhood.
He’s also a co-worker at The Charlotte Observer focused on technology development for newspapers. He’s also a father and husband of a teacher:

“I would make a distinction between journalism and community or other information. Journalism is information with extra value. Kind of like a hot dog with sauerkraut and spicy mustard at Fenway Park on a warm summer night instead of just a hot dog. The first one isn’t by definition better, but it allows for a more fulfilling experience.
“Anybody can recite information about what the city council did last night. A journalist will add value to that information, enriching it with context and perspective. But there’s another requirement to journalism.
“Plenty of people online enrich information with context and perspective. Too many of them don’t go to the council meetings and don’t talk to council members and don’t talk to city policy stakeholders. You have to be a player to do journalism. Not that distant observers can’t add context and perspective. But if all you have is distant observers your diet will be just a hot dog.
“In a perfect world the practice of journalism would be protected from corrupting influences by being placed in a trust of some kind. I don’t know the details or how to get there, but something like the arrangement the St. Petersburg Times publishes under.
“Capitalism is a wonderfully efficient economic system. But like teaching children, the practice of journalism isn’t necessarily improved by the capitalist model. I’d like to see journalism (and public education) protected from bottom-line mentality somehow.”

These days, consumers don’t rely solely on traditional media monopolies for information, and that’s a good development. But some of the new alternative voices bubbling up from “citizen journalists” lack traditional journalism training and also face the same funding questions that traditional media face.
Many sources are experimenting with new methods of crunching data and funding their reporting. The data is ubiquitous; adding analysis and meaning to that data is the hard part. Actual old-fashioned feet-on-the-street work and interviews with hard questions for sources seem to be rare, while easy opinion flourishes from numerous sources online.
Owning a printing press is no longer an obstacle. Finding the time and having the guts and experience and intellect to ask hard questions is.

From (David) Boraks, the local news blogger at Davidson News:

“One final thought: The operational expenses side of the equation here is very simple. It costs practically nothing to run this site, apart from human capital. My costs for domain names, web hosting, site tracking, possibly eventually an email service will never be more than a hundred dollars a month.  It’s my time and the time of my associates that is the big expense.
How long we do this is entirely depending on how energized or weary we become about it.”

Here are some recommendations, for organizations and individuals:
1.  Look for partners and multiple sources of information. New media organizations can learn from the traditional news organizations, finding out more about reporting and hard questions, in exchange perhaps for the technical tools that the new groups are so good at developing. Perhaps traditional media can exchange information or tools with newcomers, instead of spending too much time trying to catch up on the technical side. And traditional journalists should find more ways to pass on the long-term values of truth, fairness and balance to organizations using new methods of sharing information. Consumers should remember to get information from multiple sources. If one only relied on email bulletins from Outside.In from certain neighborhoods, the crime coverage would overwhelm other news and skew one’s perspective on reality. One prolific source feeding an aggregator can skew the headlines. Be aware of that and holistically examine information from providers.
2.  Carefully examine the background and funding of partners and sources of news. Journalism has always had to worry about losing credibility through guilt by association, whether it comes from a newspaper owner or a blogging individual or a nonprofit foundation. Beware conflicts of interest, even if it’s just making news judgments about a story from which you can later benefit
personally.
3.  Avoid partnering or gleaning all your information from sources that seem to have a political stance. Or balance them with other partners or sources that lean the other way.
4.  Find multiple methods of funding. Other businesses from freelancers to large companies know the axiom that one main income source weakens one’s independence and sustainability. It’s past time that traditional journalism
organizations learn that lesson and actively, consistently broaden their income
base beyond advertising.
5.  Consider broader sources for information and encouragement of the people that produce it. The federal New Deal model during and after the Depression is inspiring for the history it recorded and the creativity it harnessed. Find a way to encourage that kind of explosion of creativity now, everywhere, without making it too dependent on one particular political party, government entity or new-media business. Perhaps fund young people studying abroad more deeply and pay them for their writing and photography.
6.  Keep a close eye on the new experiments, to find out what works, what doesn’t work and where individuals’ money – and taxes – should go.
7. Remember that quality counts, and reward it. From Picard: “Protestations of journalistic purity and piety will produce few results unless they are accompanied by true commitment to producing quality material that serves more important interests than titillation, voyeurism and sales.”

Paying for news in 2009

newspapersareforsale

The health of traditional media simmered under the surface at SoFresh, a new social-media marketing conference in Charlotte on Monday, as businesses studied strategies to spread their messages directly.

Interest in the business of journalism and news organizations goes far beyond news industry circles. Discussions have spilled into civic and business meetings as people try to figure out a new ecosystem for delivering messages.

In particular, the question of whether and how people should pay for online news has become quite heated. But if you only listen on Twitter to @jayrosen_nyu with more than 25,000 followers, and @jeffjarvis with just more than 24,000, your picture of the thinking in the industry will become skewed.

Using the same disrupting tools of the new ecosystem, anyone with time can go back to school to study the field from a broad range of voices. Twitter discussions about journalism break out at all hours. Some carry the humor and conflict of skits from “Saturday Night Live.”

Remember the phrase, “Jane, you ignorant slut?”

Others conjure up visions for me of thoughtful editors sipping coffee, reading their morning “papers” and discussing news and theory respectfully. Some are scattered in unlikely places, like Iowa, Upstate South Carolina and North Dakota.

Be careful as you read. Lots of emotions swirl because people’s livelihoods and reputations are on the line. Plus storytellers know that conflict sells. But emotions are contagious, and the questions about news and journalism should not be a battle of us against them.

The discussions often happen virtually on Twitter, and you can listen. Keep in mind, though, that many of the true innovators are out doing, and walking the walk. Judge them by what they make.

Others are teaching, and sharing online in various ways, for free. Find them by looking at sites associated with journalism foundations or colleges.

So now on to practical matters about how you can further the conversation:

  • Find voices on Twitter. Poke around in list of people that @underoak follows on Twitter. That’s my personal account, and it’s heavily skewed toward journalism. I tried making a list, but it’s too long and I’m afraid I’ll leave someone out and hurt feelings. Be mindful of the diversity of the voices you choose to follow. It will broaden your thinking.

  • Use hash tags when you share links or your own thoughts. Brandon Uttley of Charlotte reminded me at the @sofresh conference that he briefly used the tag #localpaper, and discussions gained traction for a while. Perhaps it’s time to renew the tag. Many in Charlotte and elsewhere have also used the tag #FoJ, for future of journalism. The tag has stuck, though the future indeed is already here.
  • Do the reading. Many of the current debates are reflections of discussions that have been going on for years. Start with Phil Meyer’s “The Vanishing Newspaper.” And a self-serving note: My research project for a UNC class in the fall of 2007 was focused on how society should pay for news. There’s a PDF (free!) available from this post. It’s enlightening to go back in time and see which experiments have lasted. Davidsonnews.net is one inspiring local example.
  • Create and attend some real-life meetups to barter skills and ideas with others. Social Media Charlotte has a Bloggers and Journos group. Rhi Bowman and I plan to talk about the freelance life on Sept. 14. Dave Cohn of Spot.Us dialed in via Skype for one meeting. If you’re local, come on by. It’s free. If you’re not local, use your own existing groups or start new ones if none exist.

The industry is changing quickly, and those changes affect many other institutions and businesses. It’s refreshing to see a broad community focus on how information can and should be shared sustainably. Eventually, we’ll find the answers.