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.
- Fred Donaldson on ‘Lede’ vs. ‘Lead’
- Wordpress Arena on Migrating from Drupal to WordPress
- Howard Owens on My evolution as a photographer and thoughts on the Chicago Sun-Times
- Patrick Thornton on My evolution as a photographer and thoughts on the Chicago Sun-Times
- Howard Owens on My evolution as a photographer and thoughts on the Chicago Sun-Times
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Daily Archives: March 11, 2007
I don’t think Howard Weaver set out to present a trio of inspiring posts, but taken together, they give us something to think about:
- We need everybody’s â€œAâ€? game now
- Mac Ad – think different – apple
- ‘Think different’ about design
â€œVideojournalismâ€? was launched to educate folks who want to know what news photogs really do or who want to learn how to become videojournalists. It also allows me to look at a media that has to completely reinvent itself for an audience that is dissatisfied with traditional media. Working on this blog has allowed me time to explore and rethink my perceptions of news and what people – the audience – deserve. Kathy and I have spent hours talking and emailing each other, whistfully dreaming about how a news program might look if we were in charge. A news site that would examine issues/stories from a reflective, thoughtful stance rather than using hype and personality to attract an audience. So weâ€™re working on our baby – our dream now.
Most of us have seen the cattle drive video by now. I look forward to seeing more work along these lines from Cyndy and Kathy. Continue reading
The first two of 10 reports commissioned by the Digital Media Federation’s Audience Development Committee have been released.
In October, Spotted generated 12.2 percent of all page views on Morrisâ€™ newspaper sites, according to data provided by Coyle. In some markets, such as Yankton, S.D., Spotted generates more than a quarter of all page views.
And each visitor to Spotted generates an average of 27 page views per month, compared to 5.5 page views per month for each visitor to Morrisâ€™ online news sites, Coyle said.
That’s impressive. Spotted is one of my favorite newspaper.com initiatives. It was the right product at the right time and well executed.
Last week I met Bret McCormick, the new VP of Web Enterprises for the Tyler Morning Telegraph. He told me Spotted has been a huge success for his site. I’ve been meaning to drop him an e-mail so I can get more details. (BTW: I happened to check out the Tyler site last summer and it was a real dog. Bret has done a great job of advancing a small-paper site. I’m not sure it’s an award winner yet, but Brett’s making great progress).
Because the Spokesman-Review changed its traffic-analysis systems in 2006, it is not possible to compare audience data earlier than April of 2006. But data provided by Sands for April and November 2006 shows dramatic growth in traffic for the paperâ€™s blogs. During that period — page views for the rest of the paperâ€™s Web presence increased 17 percent — blog page views increased 73 percent. In November, blogs received almost 500,000 page views, about a sixth of total Web traffic.
The paperâ€™s audience data does not indicate the extent to which the blogs are attracting people not already visiting other parts of the subscriber-only Web site. But since traffic to both is growing, and blog traffic is growing faster, there is at least circumstantial evidence the blogs are finding a following among people who donâ€™t use the paperâ€™s main Web site.
The evidence is mounting that blogging drives traffic to newspaper sites.
Rich Gordon is doing a great job on these reports. The goal is to find the best audience growth practices and share with the industry what is working and why. To be considered for a case study, the site managers must be able to share hard data that demonstrates real growth. If you know of or involved in a qualifying project, you should contact me (I’m chair of the committee), the NAA or Rich Gordon. Continue reading
I’ve been concerned for a while that newspaper.com publishers can be lulled into a false sense of security by their current audience size. The industry makes hay over increased reach of online and the 30-day audience metric, but I worry that many of the prevailing measurements mask some real weakness in daily numbers.
Either way, I think we need to spend more time and effort on audience growth.
Nick Carr points us to new research on the value of “non-paying” customers and how the network effect makes intangible customers more valuable than in previous models.
In an interview about the study, Gupta notes that the model applies only to fairly simple two-sided markets. But on the Net today, of course, nonpaying, “free” customers are also critical to other businesses with more complex network structures, from YouTube to MySpace to Skype to an open-source software company like Red Hat or MySQL. If you have a “community,” you likely have “free customers.” Gupta says that he’s currently
working on understanding and modeling complex network structures such as those of MySpace. Here the issue that we are grappling with is the tangible and intangible value of customers. In other words, customers provide tangible value to a firm through direct purchases but they also provide intangible value through network effects or word of mouth. It is quite possible that some customers have low tangible but high intangible value. Traditional models would label such customers as low value and would miss a huge opportunity for a firm.
This also says something about why paid-content models are a bad idea. A pay wall inhibits audience growth; it means you miss out on the networked opportunity. Publishers have much more to gain by continually growing audience than they do by squeezing a few dollars from a restricted and constrained group of people. Continue reading
Harken back to Robert Niles on bloggers as parasites.
I hear the frustration behind the comment. You bust your rear to get stories in the paper, then watch bloggers grab traffic talking about your work. All the while your bosses are laying off other reporters, citing circulation declines, as analysts talk about newspapers losing audience to the Web. It’s not hard to understand why many newspaper journalists would come to view blogs as parasites, sucking the life from their newsrooms.
Still, the charge riles me every time I hear it. To me, it’s a poorly informed insult of many hard-working Web publishers who are doing fresh, informative and original work. And by dismissing blogs as “parasitic,” newspaper journalists make themselves blind to the opportunities that blogging, as well as independent Web publishing in general, offer to both the newspaper industry and newspaper journalists.
And my response.
The best way to understand blogging is to blog. Thatâ€™s why I say: All journalists should blog. You canâ€™t get modern media without understanding blogs, and you canâ€™t understand blogs unless you do it.
Now comes Nick Carr who says, not only are bloggers parasites, but it’s an honorable appellative.
Bloggers blog for a whole lot of reasons, of course, but what I think sets blogs apart, as a literary rather than a technical form, is that they offer the opportunity for a writer to document his immediate responses to his day-to-day reading. The continuous flow of text through the eye and mind is a characteristic of many people’s lives, but the experience has never been able to be captured in the way it can through blogging.
As a young writer, I kept a journal, and I did so off and on for many, many years. Since I started blogging, I haven’t been tempted to start again. While my blog isn’t personal, I really have no interest in documenting my life in the way one would with a journal. It’s much more interesting to have an outlet for frequent “thinking out loud” and reacting to items and issues I find important. The process is improved by the fact that other people can read and respond. Comparing journal writing to blogging is like comparing Pong to World of Warcraft.
The process of blogging has taught me more — both about the world around me and about myself — than I ever gained through a private diary.
Carr’s post is one of those tightly crafted essays that is hard to quote only in part and capture the true import of the message. You must read the whole thing, especially the bit about old London. That’s the essence of why he thinks being a parasite in the world of media is a good thing, and journalists should be happy the parasites are out there. Continue reading
In the midst of a very busy schedule this past week, Doc Searls did me the honor of linking to one of my posts as part of a longer essay about the web being a giant zero.
Only now have I had the time necessary to devote to a full reading of the post. I wanted to give it some time, because of who Doc is and the fact this was obviously an important post.
The Net is a giant zero. It puts everybody zero distance from everybody and everything else. And it supports publishing and broadcasting at costs that round to zero as well.
Regular readers know I agree with the sentiment here, but it’s worth parsing this statement a little bit to see how well it holds up.
Yes, Doc is zero distance from me and I am zero from him (if you count one or two clicks as zero distance), but how often do we read each other? He as much as admits he doesn’t read me, and his blog hasn’t been a part of my regular information diet for a few years. So, are we really a zero distance apart? In an era when even for the most rabid media consumer, there is wide and torrid fire hose of information (if not a literal Niagara Falls) to consume, one person can’t possibly get to it all. We all need to make choices.
Physical distances are removed in a distributed media world, but the price to be paid in the attention economy remains high, and gets higher all the time.
As for the second half of his statement, the net supports zero cost production, but it doesn’t necessarily reward it. Let’s face it, the vast majority of non-professional content is utter crap (and some portion of professional content as well).
While quality content can be produced on a near zero-cost basis (nothing is entirely free), it is no accident that the majority of the best content is produced by people who get paid to create it. There is a high volume (at least high enough that it remains impossible to keep up with all of it) of quality coming from non-paid producers, but professionals or aspiring professionals create the majority of the best content.
Because of MP3Caravan.com, I surf around a lot looking for free MP3s. There is an amazing number of great songs available in the digital world. The vast majority of it is obscure and probably only ever heard by (at best) a hundred people or so. This is stuff that is obscure as it gets. It couldn’t possibly be even more obscure in a world without the web. These songs mostly remain hidden little treasures tucked away in forgotten corners of the digital world. I bet for every good song I find, there are 10 I’ll never find, just because the web is so sprawling and some of great stuff remains buried deep in the vast Milky Way of 1s and 0s.
That is not, I think, a zero-distance existence.
Part of the reason I created MP3Caravan.com is because I saw some value in a reasonably well versed music consumer like myself acting as a filter to help other people find worthwhile music.
So much content, so little time.
An then there is the free stuff.
As Scott Karp alludes, there is no evidence that there is mass demand for people to create their own content. I bet if you added up all the people who regularly create unpaid content on the Web, it would amount to about 1 percent of the total web audience. Now, that’s a huge number, and I think quite sufficient to justify all the hoopla about participatory content creation, and enough of an audience to justify MSM sites getting into “social media,” but there remains a large part of the web audience who remain and always will be lurkers.
(I’d say this about the lurkers — probably 50/50 between those who value contributions from participants and those who don’t, and I would further lay money that the 50/50 split skews along age lines, with younger users preferring personal-voice participation and older generations longing for the good old days of packaged goods media. That’s all just a guess based on experience and observation in this realm.)
At even 1 percent, with maybe 1 percent of the 1 percent being worthwhile, that is a lot of content to sift through and deal with.
The next strand in the thought process here is a quote from Chris Hendricks: “Everbody loves an editor.” What I think Chris meant by that statement is the same thing I’m getting around to saying: There’s so much content to consume, people who filter it for you provide a valuable service.
Sure, with RSS and TiVo and other distributed media tools, along with an army of bloggers, it’s never been easier to consumer filtered information without the aide of a professional editor, but that doesn’t mean paid editors don’t have a role in distributed media.
In fact, I’m rather hopeful (as an MSM guy) that over time the value of filtering content for consumers only increases.
In my media world, there is no one way or one right way to filter content. Filtering is a distributed process, and just as i wrote in “We Are the Media,” professional editors are as much a part of the filtering process as volunteers.
Doc’s right when he says “UGC” is an ugly term.
Framing is a huge issue here. We have readers and viewers, not just “audiences” and “consumers”. We write articles and essays and posts, not just “generate content”. “User-generated content”, or UGC, is an ugly, insulting and misleading label.
“Content” is inert. It isn’t alive. It doesn’t grow, or catch fire, or go viral. Ideas and insights do that. Interesting facts do that. “Audiences” are passive. They sit still, clap and leave. That might be what happened with newspapers and radio and TV in the old MSM-controlled world, but it’s not what happens on The Giant Zero. It’s not what happens with blogging, or with citizen journalism. Here it’s all about contribution, participation. It involves conversation, but it goes beyond that into relationship â€” with readers, with viewers, with the larger ecosystem by which we all inform each other.
In the end, I think Doc and I are saying the same thing: It’s all a conversation, and MSM is as much a part of it (both in creation and in filtering) as anybody else, and MSM managers need to get that.
I guess my concern is that Doc makes it all sound so easy and so obvious. I don’t think it is. I think it’s a very complex ecosystem where the paid side stands on equal footing with the free side. For the MSM, I think we need to build content models that breathe deeply the air of that ecosystem, but on the flip side, the non-paid producers and editors would do well to see themselves not as something apart from the MSM, but as fellow travelers.
God, how egalitarian of me. Continue reading
Matt Waite’s blog post headline really caught my attention: Stop trying to find the next Adrian Holovaty.
Sorry, I almost never rant on this blog, but I canâ€™t take it anymore: Stop trying to find the next Adrian Holovaty. You wonâ€™t find him, like you wonâ€™t find the next Michael Jordan or the next Wayne Gretsky. He is one in a million.
I don’t really know Adrian. I’ve never met him. We’ve exchanged friendly e-mails a couple of times, and that’s about it. I know his work. His work is impressive. If I met him, maybe I’d put him in league with Jordan or Gretsky. Right now , I don’t. I put Page and Brin in that league, but not Adrian.
Having said that, hope I don’t offend him with this post.
Adrian’s work stands out more for the opportunities he’s had more than the fact it is really anything truly innovative. Mashups, for example, where nothing new when he launched ChicagoCrime.org (NOTE: Adrian corrects the record in the comments — ChicagoCrime.org wasn’t the first map mashup, but it was very early in the game). The project caught the eye of newspaper people because it was new to them, but it wasn’t new to people familiar with the Google Map API (NOTE: Adrian corrects the record in the comments: The Google API didn’t exist when he created ChicagoCrime.org). The work Adrian did in Lawrence is truly remarkable by newspaper standards, but it stands on the shoulders of a lot of other developers from outside the industry.
Again, I hope I’m not offending Adrian, but my guess is, he would largely agree. Most programmers I’ve known over the years are quick to acknowledge their predecessors. To me, that’s part and parcel of the open source community.
There is a real poetry in what Adrian does and it takes a truly creative mind to see the potential of various parts, various technologies and bring them together in a different environment in a way that is unique and useful, but I also think there are a lot of people in our business who can, given the opportunity, do the same. Really good reporters do that every day.
Those of us who have followed Rob Curley’s steller career know that one of his bits of magic is to find really good, energetic, passionate people and then turn them loose. That is why Curley and Holovaty stand apart from the newspaper crowd. It’s not that their ideas are so much better than the ideas of a 100 other smart people in the newspaper business — it’s because they’ve been given the freedom to pursue those ideas, and given the freedom, they haven’t dropped the ball.
Contrary to Waite, I believe newspaper publishers can find the next Holovaty. In fact, I bet every newspaper of 50K circ or better probably has a potential Holovaty already on staff, and those people have been on newspaper staffs for 10+ years. But because most publishers are risk averse, tight-fisted and clueless about innovation (or have been), the best and the brightest haven’t been given a real opportunity — in fact, I bet there are dozens of potential Holovaty-like programmers out there who don’t even know themselves what they are capable of, because they’ve never been given the opportunity to learn and explore.
If publishers want the next Holovaty, they need to tap the right person on the shoulder, then say, “here’s a computer, come back in six months and show me a prototype of something fabulous.” The nature of creativity being what it is, there would probably be more misses than hits, but some publishers would truly strike it rich.
Again, I’m not trying to slight Holovaty and his accomplishments. But I think publishers need to realize that the secret sauce of Lawrence and its spinoffs isn’t one or two individuals, but it goes hand-in-hand with a culture of innovation.
The flip side is that thanks to Holovaty, Curley, among others — there is already a pretty clear road map of what needs to be done, and there is plenty of work to do just getting up to speed. That work can be done by any number of capable programmers. The trick is to hire them, pay them, tell them what to do, and then get busy. Continue reading