Howard Owens is a digital media pioneer. He started publishing local news online in 1995 when very few local news outlets had web sites. The header image on the site depicts the film camera he used early in his career and the press pass from his year on the staff of the Carlsbad Journal. For more on Howard's professional background, read his LinkedIn profile.
HowardOwens.com is the personal web site of Howard Owens and covers his range of interests -- political localism and libertarianism, music and personal interests, as well as his professional interests.
Howard is currently publisher of The Batavian and lives in Batavia, N.Y.
- Bob Netherton on Why I’m rooting for Vance Albitz
- seagazer101 on ‘Lede’ vs. ‘Lead’
- Pamela Lagahid on IFRA launches second vertical search engine for media
- kapiyo on My new Nikon F4
- bradleyplunk on Chris Tolles brings some stats to the anonymous vs. registration debate
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Daily Archives: September 13, 2006
Nick Carr was interviewed by WSJ recently about his notion that some companies have made a religion out of innovation, and that isn’t a good thing. The WSJ piece isn’t online in a free form, but Nick discusses it a bit in this post.
I’ve been a big fan of the whole Innovator’s Dilemma/Innovator’s Solution camp since I first discovered it in 2004, but I’ve also never bought into it whole hog. I’ve always seen a place, especially in the newspaper business, for sustaining business models. For example, newspapers have tremendous market strengths that can be used profitably in pushing classifieds to the Web and up selling print advertising. That revenue can serve as powerful seed funding for more innovative projects, so why not grab it?
In a recent piece in E&P, former Knight-Ridder Interactive executive Tom Mohr (who shares with me a common Bakersfield lineage) issued some pointed criticism of the newspaper industry about the lack of innovation, the over reliance on the local advantage, and the need for development of a common content platform.
I’m not sure he’s right on all his points. Reading the Carr interview helped me formulate some thoughts about where he’s wrong.
First, as Carr says, breakthrough innovation is not always the ticket to long-term success. Dell has done very well in innovating the consumer experience and fulfillment process, but that hasn’t prevented a recent decline in the company’s fortunes. Apple has always been a leader in product development, but hasn’t always been a market leader. When Dell was at its best, though, it innovated in process and copied Apple in product development. In recent times, Apple has been a monster in product innovation, but its success has also been fueled by what it’s been able to learn from Dell about process.
In both cases, these two tech innovators figured out where they had competitive advantage and then persuade innovation where they already led the pack.
So what are a newspaper’s advantages:
- Local information
- Local advertiser relationships
- The ability to gather and disseminate massive amounts of information on a daily basis
If newspaper companies copy wisely from market leaders in search, social networks, user-generated content and multimedia while concentrating its R&D efforts on information delivery, then there is no reason to believe newspaper journalism on the Web is doomed.
As Carr points out: Being first is not necessarily a competitive advantage. Being a smart second or third can be better.
I’ve heard one or two colleagues brag about how they don’t look to other newspaper industry leaders for ideas. They make a point of dissing various industry confabs (but never turning down a speaking invitation, of course) while claiming that their best ideas come from outside of the industry. I’m not sure that’s an accurate claim, but when I look around the industry, I find a lot of smart people working very hard to solve industry-wide issues. I never miss an opportunity to pay attention to what they have to say. Sure, we should know all we can about what else is going on in cyberspace, but you pretty much have to be a dunce to miss the biggest (and even minor) innovations. So, why can’t all of these smart people come up with good and appropriate facsimiles? Some companies, in fact, are doing it. More need to. There is reason to hope. I’m not sure Mohr’s Switzerland Inc. is our salvation.
The Salt Lake Tribune has launched a redesigned Web site.
If you’re a fan of newspaper branding, you will love the masthead. Circ directors will love the prominent play to the subscribe link. The nav is horizontal, as it should be. Of course, tabs would be better. I love the right-side special features nav – good looking, essential information with nice icons. The play of text stories is reasonable, both for top stories and other coverage (side note: I can’t let it pass without notice – they have a whole section dedicated just to polygamy). The calendar placement is appropriate. Finally, search is nice and big and at the top of the page.
Unfortunately, the search is not integrated. My test search terms are always “ford mustang,” which should return both articles and classifieds. Sltrib.com returns only articles. The results search page is attractive with a cool tree view of the results set on the right side of the page, but that doesn’t help me if I’m trying to find something in classifieds. And if I want to navigate to obituaries through search? Forget it. It won’t work.
And there are other problems, as I see it: The feature/photo story rotates through too many choices. I question the whole rotation without letting users decide if it should rotate. Tabs would be better. Verticals (cars, housing, jobs) are pretty much lost on the page. Also, multimedia is nothing more than a link to photos – no video or Flash I could see. Video should be linked right from the home page. Kudos to the Tribune for a number of staff blogs, but where are the citizen blogs?
Overall, great color scheme and nice layout with a quality visual treatment.
So how big is MySpace? Well, check out what HitWise says are the biggest successful search terms.
There are a few books that I think every programmer should own, no matter the favored language. One of them is Mastering Regular Expressions. This Slashdot post, then, was heart-warming to find. Personally, I never mastered RegEx, but I learned enough to be awed by the power of the concept.
Wired writer Jeff Koyen ways in with some positive thoughts on the new NYT/Microsoft News reader:
BuzzMachine blogger Jeff Jarvis was notably hostile. Without previewing the software, Jarvis wrote, “The only reasons to do this are to feed editorial ego, to think you’re maintaining editorial control.” Jarvis is working with craigslist’s Craig Newmark on a yet-to-be-released software platform to organize daily news.
However, it could be argued that someone should maintain editorial control. While some news organizations are grappling with fantasists, plagiarists and Photoshoppists, that doesn’t make a trustworthy journalist of the kid with a SureShot and a laptop. As ever, the best news diet boasts traditional outlets, independent publishers and maverick journalists. Appreciating one needn’t discredit the other.
Many smart bloggers acknowledge the importance of professional journalism, which predisposes some form of hierarchical editorial decisions. It’s hard to believe that sort of publishing will ever recede completely. The question is, how will it be different, if different at all, from what we have today?