Taking a disruptive path with video

OK GoLucas Grindley doesn’t like the Roanoke TimesCast very much. Regular readers know I do. Yesterday, I even gave it an award (which prompted Mr. Grindley’s response).

Lucas says:

For me, the TimesCast is an elaborate teaser fest. It’s a lot of effort to repackage the day’s news with what should be witty repartee. Except, it’s rarely witty. So what’s left is a nice looking, and superficial, video project.

For me, TimesCast isn’t funny or even witty. It’s goofy. Every time I pop over, usually just to link to it because I’m blogging about it, I get caught up watching it. It’s engaging. I can’t help myself. It has authentic personality. It is what works on the web. It is what people on the web seem to be saying they want.

Lucas makes a salient point in his comments:

But are lots of people watching the TimesCast every day?

Regardless of what I might think or the awards might say, if the section gets mounds of traffic, then that determines its success.

That is the most important question, and I would love for somebody from Roanoke to jump on one of our blogs and be completely transparent about TimesCast viewership. That would be a valuable service to those of us working hard to build great newspaper.com sites (BTW: I think Lucas is very much one of those people. I’ve only been reading his blog a few weeks, but he’s obviously one of the white hats in our industry, even though we disagree on TimesCast).

I think our disagreement is somewhat related to the Flash vs. Video debate of a couple of weeks ago. Since it’s my blog, I get to frame the debate a little bit (kind of hard not to do if I’m going to write about it), and how I see it is an argument over the definition of quality, and an argument over whether we respond to the audience or make some sort of journalistic ideal of quality paramount to what people seem to respond to.

One premise I must begin with, and regular readers probably already know this, is that my position in this debate is very much filtered through Clayton Christensen’s work (Innovator’s Dilemma and Innovator’s Solution). I define disruption and “jobs to do” along those lines.

I’ve also gotten over any Church of Journalism attitudes I used to have about giving people the castor oil they need rather than the candy they want. Castor oil only worked when people’s choices were limited. In the good old days, we could force people to buy a bunch of stuff they didn’t want because there was at least one thing in the newspaper they did want. Now, people have infinite choices, and more and more people are waking up to the power of those choices. If it means being a little less well informed, well, so be it. They would rather control their own relationship with media (see also, The Long Tail).

To paraphrase Dr. Phil: Would you rather be right, or would you rather have a relationship with your audience?

Where is the audience going? It’s not going toward quality, that’s for sure.

A lot of media people seem to totally misunderstand YouTube. They think that without the copyrighted material of big media, YouTube would have no audience. The only people I can imagine believing that are people who haven’t spent a lot of time on YouTube.

Take a look at the all-time most viewed YouTube videos. There isn’t a lot of ripped-from-TV video there. There are a couple of mash ups, such as this clip of two Israeli girls lipsynching to a Pixies song, which some would argue isn’t real user-generated content because it’s built on the backs of pros. I think that misses the point. People haven’t watched this video 11 million times because it’s just a fabulous song (which it is). The sisters are the stars here. And while the video is well cut, it isn’t exactly ready-for-MTV fare. It’s amateurish and goofy, but it is also engaging and full of personality. It’s authentic. Here’s a video of girls dancing that isn’t nearly as well done, but has been viewed more than seven million times. You can’t argue that the interest in these two videos is purient, because they don’t really show a lot. Besides, the most popular video is of a guy dancing. It’s now gotten more than 36 million views. On any given day lately, the ripped-from-TV stuff is quite popular (thanks largely to YouTube’s new partnership with CBS), but amateur video continues to draw in viewers. The most popular video of the past month is of a baby laughing (5.7 million views). If very smart marketers, such as Nike, can get it and produce hand-held videos (eight million views) for YouTube, why can’t newspapers learn a lesson and do something like TimesCast or what Bakersfield and IndyStar are doing with video?

This is disruption, people. This is building Toyota Corollas in the hope that some day you’ll be making a Lexus, even though tomorrow’s video Lexus may not necessarily look like today’s TV. We don’t know what the future holds, but we won’t be able to compete in the future if we aren’t building Corollas today.
Disruption is about coming in at the low end, being quick, nimble and good enough. Quality is fine — be as good as you can be — but don’t spend so much time perfecting your production that you are slow to post, or you post less than you should.

Also, don’t miss the importance of being authentic and full of personality. That’s something TimesCast gets, and why I like it so much. TimesCast was almost certainly inspired by RocketBoom and the examples set by YouTube. People obviously want a sense that they’re dealing with real people. Look at the soaring popularity of American Idol as a big media example. Blogging’s continuing boom (does anybody still believe it’s just a fad?) is another example. Or consider OK Go, who’s recent success can be attributed to its intelligent use of inexpensive video production and YouTube. If you haven’t seen it, watch The Treadmill Video, or “A Million Ways,” the video that started it all for OK Go (probably the most imitated video on YouTube). Here is a band with big-label backing using very disruptive techniques to sell records and build relationships with fans. Investigate, newspaper people, and learn.

The web isn’t television, nor is it newspapers. We make a mistake if we try to apply the standards of either world to web publishing.

The lessons of disruption: Start at the low end, be good enough, be nimble (learn from your customers/audience/people — what are the jobs they’re trying to get done?). That is the approach, I think, newspapers should take with video.

(OK Go! Photo by David L. Coen)

Going back to Top 40 radio

I just happened across this post from Gil Asakawa about ReelRadio.com, a repository of AM radio history — Top 40 radio to you and me, at least if you grew up in the 60s and 70s.

Then I found the Reel Top 40 Repository, a treasure-trove of airchecks (recordings, often made by the DJs as part of their career “portfolios�). Many of the airchecks are “scoped,� so that only the DJ’s breaks and commercials are included, and you only hear the beginning and end of the songs. But some are full-length airchecks with all the songs. The site costs $12 a year (you can donate more), which is just $1 a month, to be able to listen to the airchecks, and for any boomer music fan or fan of radio as an industry, that’s a terrific price of admission to so much history.

You can search the repository for wonderful audio time-machines from major and minor radio stations from the early ‘60s to the ‘80s. You can search by city, year, DJ name, radio station call letters.

One of the most amazing recordings that I’ve found is a two-hour recording from July 20, 1969, of WPGC-FM, an FM station that at the time still played a Top-40 format. It was a Sunday morning broadcast featuring one of the station’s stalwart jocks, “Tiger� Bob Raleigh, riffing his way through the hits and also reading the news (in a much more subdued, serious voice and calling himself “Bob Raleigh, WPGC news�).

History buffs will recall that July 20, 1969 was just a couple of weeks off from Woodstock in August, but more important, that July 20 was the night that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

I grew up on Top 40 radio and listened to it until the day I bought my first Elvis Costello LP in 1977. Then the world changed and I realized there was a whole universe of music that was better and more interesting. I pretty much haven’t been much of a radio listener since (today, it’s my own MP3s on CD or iPod and the occasional tune-in to XM Radio). But ReelRadio.com looks like it will be a fun, nostalgic trip back, so I’m going to spend some time there when I get some time.

Also, note the user-contributed nature of the site — and how vast the collection it is. Most of the recordings seem to have been contributed by collectors, not the original DJs or radio stations. This should, I think, give you more appreciation for the nature of user-controlled sites and the power of the long tail.

BTW: Gil’s got a great blog. I need to add it to my blog roll.

Newspaper staffs blogging more

AJR has a reasonably good and long story on newspaper blogging.  For those who don’t usually follow the issue, it provides a good overview of current trends and practices.  It also provides some hope that there are editors out there who get it.

Some staffers have taken to the new medium with gusto, blogging so madly that they began to slack on other responsibilities, Willey says. Others have had to be guided into the habit, grumbling that they don’t know how to fit blogging into an already heavy workload. But the experiment is considered a success: The blog’s traffic is up, and the number of page views doubled from 2004 to 2005. The editorial board now gets far more e-mail from readers. And all of this was accomplished without any promotion or marketing effort.

Link via Steve Rubel.

The Times doesn’t need Eli Broad

Based on this quote, I think one of the worst things that could happen in Los Angeles is for Eli Broad to buy the Los Angeles Times.

It’s important that [LAT] be considered one of the four most important newspapers in America and that we as Angelinos ought to have a paper of that quality.

Nation and world news is a commodity. There are too many companies doing it, it’s too easy to get, and the New York Times and Washington Post have cornered the market on quality. It’s not fool hardy to compete on quality, but why, when LA so badly needs great local coverage? LA is such a huge market with so much potential for great local coverage, and big revenue, — why not focus on that? Why worry about being a great journalistic institution on the world stage when you can just own your monster local market?

2006 Media Blog Newspaper Site Awards

These are the first-ever Howard Owens Media Blog Awards.

Why should I give awards? Why not? Besides, I just wanted to highlight at the end of 2006 some of the best work of the newspaper industry online. If you don’t like my awards, give your own. If you do, let me know and I’ll link to your post. If enough bloggers give these awards, maybe we’ll arrive at some sort of consensus awards.

I’m making up my own categories and my own rules. I’m ignoring circulation categories and generally only naming one winner per category. Because of my conflict of interest, sites associated with my present employer as well as Bakersfield.com and VenturaCountyStar.com are not eligible.

The Awards:

Best Overall News SiteWashingtonPost.com. While the WaPo’s home page, like pretty much all newspaper.com sites, is over cluttered with links, the Post is doing a lot of t hings right online — lots of multimedia, blogs, chats, trackbacks, tagging and good story-level navigation, not to mention the generally high quality of the Post’s journalism. Close second is KnoxNews.com. I love KnoxNews video and the great site design, but the site still lacks the level of interactivity on WaPo.com.

Best Site DesignTCPalm.com. It’s pretty much impossible to find a newspaper site that doesn’t try to shove too much on its home page, so we’ll overlook that flaw on the TCPalm site and recognize it’s general excellence at providing a lot of information at the top of the page in a clean, well organized manner. The site is both attractive and functional. It’s easy to navigate and highlights news, what’s inside and the local communities well.

Best VideoIndyStar.com. The site uses the standard Gannett video player page, but more than any Gannett site I’ve seen yet, they do a lot of local video. They find a wide range of interesting topics to cover and keep personalities well in focus. I especially appreciate their emphasis on nightlife and sports.

Best Vlog or Web NewscastTimesCast from Roanoke.com. Roanoke serves up a nice recap of the news in a well-done, professional manner that makes no conscience attempt to be like a television broadcast. It’s fun and full of personality. Roanoke’s player is also well conceived, with the ability to share related links in a side pane.

Best BlogsChron.com. The Houston Chronicle offers up a full slate of staff-written blogs, and also invites outsiders into its blog realm. The quality of the blogs is mostly pretty good, and readers can leave comments.

Best User ParticipationSpotted. The web is a visual medium. Spotted makes it easy for users to share photos and view photos. It’s a natural fit with the visual nature of the web and the desire of content contributors to see themselves in the content. Spotted is an application of Morris Digital Works and runs on several sites, and in some cases under different brand names. (Disclosure: I do have a business relationship with Spotted/Morris.)

Best Entertainment SiteLawrence.com. Still king of the hill after all these years. The site Rob Curley started still can’t be beat for its local focus, edgy style and functional content.

Best Calendar SiteVita.MN. Rumor has it that much of the credit for Vita.MN goes to whiz-kid Matt Thompson (co-creator of Epic2014). This site, not even a month old, is smart and hip and filled with events. It’s also on its way to being a contender for best user-participation site and best entertainment site.

Best Classified SiteWashingtonPost.com/Jobs. This award can go to either a general classified site, or a traditional vertical. In this case, I’m selecting WaPo’s job site because not only is it functionally pure, it has a range of high quality content that make it exceptionally useful for job seekers and those seeking career advice. It shows what a newspaper vertical can be and should be.

Best Vertical SiteHartford Courant Pets. If newspapers are going to succeed at creating new revenue streams, they need to break away from traditional ways of viewing their customers and concentrate on people’s interest and advertiser needs. The pets category is a natural fit. Hartford has done a great job and leveraging existing advertising against great content and user participation.

Best ContestCourierPress.com with Karaoke Idol. What a great idea. Here’s a contest that plays off one of the hottest shows on television, people’s natural desire to show of their talent (or lack of it), user-generated content and bring forward the names and faces of people in the local community. Smash hit with a bullet.

Please argue in support your favorite newspaper.com sites and efforts in the comments.

UPDATE: Lucas Grindley doesn’t like TimesCast much.