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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Monthly Archives: April 2007
I’ve got another speaking appearance coming up.
May 9 in Indianapolis, Indiana at the Inland Press Foundation’s Small Newspaper Workshop. My topic: “A Step-By-Step Approach to Building a Future in New Media.”
My description: An overview of how to run a newspaper web site for the new to intermediate site manager at a small- to medium- circulation newspaper.
Topics I’ll cover:
- Business strategies (innovation and competitive advantage)
- Usability, site structure, design
- Audience Development
- Sales and Negotiating
- Personnel (hiring and staffing)
- Vendor Relations
- Changing Technology
- Project management
Doug Fisher riled up a group of copy editors. How? By suggesting they blog.
Objections ranged from “nobody will read it” to “competitors will learn our copy editing secrets.”
Objections, in other words, that to anybody who really understands the web are utterly nonsensical.
Doug refutes them all in an update to his post.
The thread reminds me of an observation some of us interactive veterans have shared over the past few months: There is a growing number of journalists who just woke up to the web and think they have all the answers.
A newspaper executive at another company recently said to me, “The newsroom just discovered the internet in January and suddenly they’re all geniuses.”
He then added, “Be careful what you wish for,” to which he refers to how for years those of us on the interactive side have begged our newsroom colleagues to take an interest in the web. Now they are and they want to drive before they’ve even looked at a map.
You know what, it’s great that newsrooms are seeing the importance of the web. We need it. It’s the only way we’re going to survive, but before making judgments and strategic decisions about content and audiences, it would be helpful if newsroom types would spend a little time absorbing what the web is about.
Blogging is a big part of doing that.
Of course, taking up a blog and using it to learn and get the web only works if you jettison everything you think you know about newspapering.
The web isn’t about control, or ownership or one-way communication. It’s about participation, collaboration, sharing and communication.
Web publishing is very different from putting out a print product. You’re not trying to reach a mass audience with a single message, and you’re not limited to only one chance each day to get it right. The web is more fluid and more dynamic. You can publish any time, will probably reach only a slice of any given audience, and can fix it later if needed.
This is a more profound difference than you might think. It changes more than just what you publish. It changes how you work.
For any one who might think I’m complaining. I’m not. I’m just sharing what I find to be an interesting observation.
One clear advantage of this shift in interest is that it does force those of us who have been doing online for a while to constantly re-evaluate some of our assumptions. That is never a bad thing. Continue reading
It looks like Angela Grant is moving her blog: News Videographer. Good, smart move.
News Videographer is meant to fill the gap in training and provide a robust feedback forum. The main service of this blog is to provide honest critiques of online news videos and related multimedia content. These critiques will be blunt, but they will always be constructive. Such feedback can help the videographer improve his or her work and can also help others develop their own shooting, editing and storytelling skills.
My advice would be concentrate on making better web video, not on trying to shoehorn old video conventions and traditions into web video. It’s about producing video that people watch, not the equipment or the time spent on it. Continue reading
Here’s the problem with her argument: Nobody listens to podcasts.
Any news site manager who has tried podcasts and video need only look at the download stats. Video wins. Podcasts snooze.
Fox argues that podcasts work better in a our multitasking lives. I think the opposite is true. To really absorb a podcast, you must LISTEN. Personally, if I’m going to multitask, I want music blasting out of my iPod, not some pundit pontificating. I’ll save that for when I have time to listen, and I never have time to listen.
Sure, video demands my attention. It isn’t as conducive to multitasking, which is why I save video for those times I have time and want to take the time for just video.
If a podcast is on, I find it hard to sit still and just listen. Video can engage me more fully and quiet my compulsion to multitask.
Video, as I’ve discovered, is great on an iPod, and I subscribe to several vodcasts now, because it becomes video entertainment I can carry with me and use in airports, on planes, while waiting on things when there is otherwise nothing else to do but wait.
The other advantage of video is that it is more portable — it can be watched on computers, televisions and moble devices. The same could be said of a podcast, but it doesn’t work quite as well on TV, and getting IP video on TV is a pretty significant step forward for online video.
No, video is definitely where newspapers need to be investing multimedia resources. Continue reading
All my life in California, I met people who moved from other parts of the country and they would say, “I miss the four seasons.”
To me, what I heard them saying is, “I miss fall. I miss the change of colors. I miss the leaves.”
I never thought about spring.
In California, spring is just another time of the year. Not much happens. Sure, some flowers that only bloom in April and May add some color, and baseball starts, and you might get a little more sun without it being too hot, but in Southern California, spring isn’t too much from winter.
This weekend, spring came to Western New York.
It’s very different. Within 48 hours we saw a dramatic shift from winter and death to spring and life. There are more birds, more bugs, more hum and buzz. In the harbor behind our apartment, the fish or jumping and the ducks are bobbing.
It’s a real transformation.
My first winter in New York wasn’t bad. The cold and the snow hardly bothered me.
I think I’ll like it here. I better. I expect to be here for a while.
Speaking of staying, we’re just entering into escrow on a house. It’s another mid-century modern, built in 1959. It’s on more than half an acre and offers good gardening opportunities. It has two fire places, including one in the basement, which also has a wet bar. Continue reading
Tish Grier says some nice things about me, but that’s not why I’m linking to her post. She makes some good points about not forcing the “journalist” label on independent content producers who are clearly uncomfortable being put into that category.
By tussling over who’s a journalist and who isn’t, both Newspapers and the Rabble get distracted and pulled into a useless argument that ends only in “I know what you are but what am I?”
Though I’m not sure if I totally agree with the second half of that same graph.
Newspapers should view the new media landscape like bloggers–choose who you want to link to, but don’t insist they write the blogs *for* you. That’s utter nonsense and to echo Owens’ assessment, doomed to fail.
I see nothing wrong with a newspaper web site creating a blogging platform for the local community and allowing users to create and manage their own blogs. That’s not “insisting” users create content for you. It’s providing another tool for conversation. However, the other vital tool of conversation is not ignoring bloggers who are not on your platform. Newspaper sites need to surface the conversation of all bloggers relevant to the location, the story or the issue, no matter where the link leads.
Relevant to another of Tish’s points: I probably shouldn’t comment on Triblocal, since the product is a direct competitor with my company’s web sites, but I will say, their model is not what I would do. Continue reading
Well, the newspaper world could do with a glimpse of hope. And there it came: after all the signals of steady decline, at least in the industrialised world, digital paper finally offers a perspective for innovation and growth of the beleaguered sector. The digital paper technology combines the best of two worlds: the look and feel of the traditional paper and the versatility of the online editions (see ‘E-Readers, Background’). The promise it offers is mind boggling: a newspaper era without newsprint, rotation presses and complicated distribution lines: all serious cost factors. The practice however is less convincing. The enabling e-ink technology is around for several years, but its application is still scarce and purely experimental. That is, until now.
While Chainon, in part 2, acknowledges that the best use of the new technology isn’t necessarily a repurpose of current print approaches, and while I’ve previously been optimistic about the arrival of e-paper, I’m going to now play the part of the skeptic.
One of the first rules of innovation is to pay attention to the job people are trying to get done. The infamous Cue-Cat is a classic example of technology trying to solve a problem that doesn’t seem to exist. While advertisers and publishers might have a problem with driving more consumers directly to advertisers’ web sites, consumers didn’t perceive the cue-cat as a solution. Heck, they weren’t even convinced there was a problem.
So, is e-paper more about solving a problem for publishers than a problem for readers? What “job to be done” will e-paper help consumers solve?
Sure, there are benefits for consumers — fewer trees killed, less pollution, no papers piling up or cluttering the house, an end to inky fingers, but none of those issues are necessarily the cause of circulation decline.
So what is the benefit to readers?
And why would readers choose e-paper over a good mobile device? Mobile content delivery and display gets better and more ubiquitous every year. I love mobile video now. I read a lot less when traveling than I used to, thanks to my video iPod. I’m sure others will like mobile video a lot, too. Can e-paper really find a market in a world increasingly saturated by mobile content?
And what about interactivity? Increasingly, users want to be part of the conversation. Will e-paper allow comments on stories? Easy access to blogs? Links to supplemental information? All of those things and more are now essential to the digital experience. How many consumers will chose a seemingly more static (unless I’m wrong about this) experience of e-paper over a computer or mobile browser?
Finally, what about the advertising? Consumers have repeatedly rejected disruptive advertising on the web and mobile. Will the same hold true with e-paper? Without a sustainable advertising model e-paper will do no better for newspapers than the web has done so far (and let me emphasize so far, because I believe online advertising models will improve and soon).
Presumably, e-paper will offer a more customizable experience for users, which means, potentially, advertising could be customized out or marginalized. Without that user control, e-paper might face a tougher adoption rate.
I’ve said before that publishers might drop print editions when the day comes where they could deliver the same product without the cost of printing and delivery, but I also wonder if that will work.
If consumers buy their own e-paper devices, then publishers are still faced with a pull rather than push delivery model, which means paid subscription isn’t likely to work.
If publishers supply the devices (either for free, or for fee), consumers are likely to reject anything that allows them access to only one publication. They won’t want to carry multiple devices. That puts publishers back in the pull business rather than push, because consumers will still own all the power for which publications, stories and ads they see.
Also, the trend in consumer devices is toward small, mobile and multitasking — web, video, e-mail, SMS, calendar, phone, etc. all in one device.Â Where will e-paper fit in the mix?
I applaud publishers for experimenting with these devices, but I think the best chance for success to is think of the reader/user/consumer first — what do they want, what problem can you solve for them, what job do they need to get done, and then design a content and revenue model that helps consumers first and foremost. If publishers put their own needs, wants and desires first, e-paper will do no better than the Cue-Cat. Continue reading
I’ve said it before: Be the platform.
Rich Gordon has a lengthy, comprehensive essay that advises newspapers to be the network, not a destination. You must read the whole thing. It’s full of the right ideas.
Same thing. Different words.
I’m going to suggest a different approach: Instead of trying to build the best destination, build the best network.
The kind of network I’m referring to is a web of interconnections — links between content and between people. In essence, I’m arguing that on the Web, news organizations — perhaps, all media — should focus on building themselves “into the clickstream.” The goal: make your Web site a network hub that connects content and conversations.
If you’re not linking in, linking out, joining the conversation, telling people what’s good on the web, you’re making mistake.
Newspaper managers have traditionally believed they needed to build “sticky” sites and try to capture people and pretend the rest of the web doesn’t exist. That is a strategy doomed to fail. Only by being part of the clickstream can you hope to succeed. Continue reading