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
TagsAdvertising Audience Growth blogging blogs Books Business comments Community disruption ethics film Gadgets GateHouse Media history Home Towns Innovation Journalism local news Media Movies MP3 of the Day Music news news business newspapers Paid Content participation Patch Personal Appearances photography point-and-shoot publish2 Reinventing Journalism reporting Site Design Society Sports Strategy Tech topix Video Web-First Publishing web2.0 web navigation Writing
Monthly Archives: October 2007
So, you would think that a site that is so clearly aimed at a younger audience wouldn’t need to create a tutorial on how to use the site and participate, but that’s what Current.com has done.
It would be easy to assume that Current is just being condescending, but it’s not like the people behind Current are inexperienced. There’s some smart people running the site.
So, the next question might be — if Current thinks it’s net-savvy audience needs some pointers, why wouldn’t a newspaper.com?
As for the site itself:Â The first thing that jumps out at me is the navigation.Â The “explore,” “connect,” “contribute” and “watch tv” nav elements make it very obvious what this site is about.Â From a usability standpoint, Current.com is doing a lot of things right — there’s multiple ways to find content and people, and every piece of content is clearly identified by type (thumbnails have little icons in the upper right).
The FAQ is one of the most useful ones I’ve come across.
Current has also provided a place for uses to share tips on production and gear.
There’s no real point to this post … I just landed on the site and noticed some interesting things. Continue reading
From Melissa Worden:
>> Don’t count newspapers out, says Richard Siklos, Fortune editor-at-large: “What is often overlooked is where newspapers rank, at least for now, in overall spending in the pantheon of media industries fighting for dollars from consumers and advertisers. They are number one, ahead of TV networks, magazines, billboards, you name it. And it’s instructive that no legacy medium has been obliterated by a new technology: consumers simply adjust and adapt. In the era of DVDs and downloads, we still go the movies and listen to the radio.”?
First, if technology were to remain static, meaning nothing would change from what it is today, half of the challenge to newspaper survival would be solved. (The second problem is that we’re not creating new readers and eventually current readers will all die). There is no doubt that newspapers today are in much better shape than conventional wisdom says, but this isn’t a static world.
Second, the assertion that new media doesn’t replace old is a shallow evaluation of history of media. Previous challengers to newspapers were more like newspapers than non like newspapers — they were all mass media, packaged goods media. Digital media is distributed media, it’s social media, it is personal media. It’s the opposite of mass media.
It’s important not to get too comfortable in our assumptions. Continue reading
Building on the success of AmplifySD radio, SignOnSanDiego.com launched a new online radio station during the wild fires.
Here’s what Ron James, content manager, told me about it:
SignOn radio has proven to be a powerful new channel to reach a group in a way that newspaper sites couldn’t do. During the first week we had over 60,000 streams from around the world and callers from as far away as Australia, Guam, Sweden, Germany and England. We found callers helping other callers, some who were in other states who had friends and information we couldn’t have gathered as a news organization. The radio also provided a very human and personal way to reach a new audience.
During the biggest regional story in a decade or more, SOSD also launched a home page redesign that follows many of the best practices being established by many other newspaper sites. It’s nothing ground breaking, but a big improvement over the previous page, which I found cluttered, and they’re definitely doing many things right.
SOSD’s fire coverage has been outstanding.Â The new design has helped there, a lot.Â If you click through to other sections, however, you’ll see the rest of the site hasn’t been changed. Ron says they started the redesign three weeks before the fire with no plans to launch it so quickly.Â The rest of the site probably won’t change until a new CMS is in place. Continue reading
Scott Karp tackles “the myth of UGC.”
The reality is that “average people”? don’t create a lot of content — at least not the commercially viable kind. Most people are too busy. Those that do “create content” — and who do it well — are those who are predisposed to being content creators. The have some relevant skills, training, raw talent, motivation, something.
“User-generated content”? sites like YouTube are much less a platform for armies of average people to create mountains of content and much more a platform for real talent to be discovered.
I think this is far too complex and nuanced a subject to generalize into “the myth of UGC.”
I long ago realized that YouTube was a great outlet for aspiring media producers. I found there a community of people with aspirations to audience and discovery. They were developing either segmented productions or mini-documentaries.
I also saw a lot of conversational video (there are people who seem to do nothing but record video responses) and random bits of cheaply and hastily produce video, some of it entertaining, most of it horrible.
There’s more going on at YouTube than obvious assumptions reveal — more than aspiring professionals, more than random UGC, more than stolen content, more than viral productions — it’s more stone soup than Cesar salad.
And there is a whole community of video and audio content producers, let alone bloggers, who operate outside of YouTube or other aggregation platforms.
The motivations for why people do what they do are as diverse as the human psych and vagaries of natural talent. There are people who can produce slick video with no aspirations to quit their day jobs, and people devoid of charm and wit who think they might become the next Jon Stewart.
Then there are people who amuse themselves cruising around the net dropping their insights and opinions where they seem to fit, and they would not think of themselves as content producers at all.
There is a myth that publishers think of UGC as something they can get for cheap/free to replace/supplement staff-derived content, but I’ve never met one of those publishers (and I’ve met dozens and dozens).
We are developing a “ugc platform,” but we call it that not because we’ve bought into some UGC myth, but because we believe in the democratization of digital media, the lower barriers to entry, the idea that good stuff can come from anywhere, that community engagement is a win-win for society and our business, and because if we don’t, somebody else will.
There is tendency among some pundits to speculate whether YouTube or Facebook or MySpace are just fads.
While it’s possible that any one of those sites might blow up under the weight of trendy backlash, by concentrating on the spikes in popularity, or hipness of particular brands, critics miss the fundamental truth that for the past four decades of digital history, networked communication consistently gravitates toward community, collaboration and communication.
That’s why I think wedding community and conversation tools to established media brands, such as our small community newspapers, is a long-term EV+ bet. The UGC/community tools mesh with what people clearly want, and the established brands lend stability and trust.
It’s really a rather obvious thing to do. Continue reading
A couple of weeks ago, we brought Cyndy Green into Canton to train photographers and reporters on video basics.
The photographers were working with Canon HV20s, and the reporters with Casios.
The staff in Canton continues to consult with Cyndy, and Cyndy is sharing some of the things the staff is learning and dealing with.Â Here’s her latest post.
I know that a lot of journalists object to the video strategy I advocate, because it doesn’t stress “quality.”Â But as I told the Canton staff when I met with them a week or so before Cyndy’s training — you’re not going to be like TV, don’t even try, especially since that isn’t what the online audience wants or expects.Â You’ve got to learn video before you’re ever going to produce quality video, and we’ve got to start at whatever level we start at, so we’re embracing the low end (inexpensive equipment and quick-to-produce videos) with a commitment to grow.
Cyndy did a great job and it’s going to be fun to watch Canton grow as an online video team. Continue reading
I haven’t had time to follow the news of the fires in my native Southern California as closely as I would like, but it’s a major story.
On the time scale, I need to rush through this post, so just some random things.
My friends at SignOnSanDiego.com, LATimes.com and VenturaCountyStar.com are all doing a great job.Â Each site has their strengths.Â I’m particularly impressed with the 10K + views some of Ventura’s videos have received.
I was going to comment on why the newspaper sites weren’t blowing out their home page to fire-only coverage, like CBS 8 in SanDiego did, but within the past 15 minutes, SOSD has done just that.
Recently I tried experimenting with some point-and-shoot cameras to see if we wanted to use something besides the Casios.
Kodak seemed like a good choice to experiment with, since it’s a local company.
Problems: The QuickTime video is harder to convert to Flash than Casio’s AVI format, and you can’t (and this is just insane) get the pictures or video off the camera unless you install Kodak’s EasyShare software.
At least the video is entertaining.
And think about this — it cost Kodak very little to produce this “commercial” and it’s already been viewed by more than 300,000 people … all without buying space or time in traditional media. Continue reading
Yesterday at the closing panel of the Online News Association conference, Anil Dash and Josh Cohn of Google talked about the newspaper industry’s failure to embrace change.
Anil made this astute observation, “Journalism is the culture of infallibility.”
Josh said, “The fear of failure can stall innovation.”
Recently, the online-news e-mail discussion list sprang back to vibrancy after years of near dormancy. Some of us made the public observation that, “wow, there hasn’t been this much activity on online-news in nearly a decade.”
And this prompted the question, “so what have we accomplished in the last ten years.”
It’s easy to conclude, not much.
Sure, there are newspaper companies out there who have tried many interesting things, and some ideas have helped grow both audience and revenue.
But there are two areas of concern. On one hand, those innovations remain relatively isolated instead of widespread, and second, it’s still legitimate to ask, “Where’s the break-through?”
Even the most innovative newspaper companies can’t point to a product or project that is such a huge success it would be stupid for other newspapers not to try it.
As I’ve said before, game-changing ideas may not be required. We can do a lot with a little, but I can also look back at a decade or so of insider experience and see how entrepreneurial thinking is often resisted by otherwise forward-looking people.
There are online leaders who think every project requires a business plan, or a clear path to revenue or some other guarantee of success.
But true innovation doesn’t require a “can’t miss” plan.
Most ideas fail. Entrepreneurs know this, and realize that the true path to success is often strewn with mistakes big and small, many changes in direction and few missed opportunities.
On the other hand, even if you’re the most entrepreneurial person running an online operation, if there isn’t an understanding of innovation at all levels of the organization, it’s very hard to propose ideas that are unproven or have no obvious return on investment.
Seat-of-the-pants ideas lack gravitas and therefore rarely get prioritized or funded, even if the necessary expenditure is $100 and a day’s worth of staff time.
Too many “let’s try this” ideas get strangled by the minutia of metrics and measurements.
There’s a tendency to see the forest and not the trees in strategic planning sessions. We’re so busy concentrating on thinking big, that we miss the small-ball opportunities. And even if the idea has the potential to produce a home run, we fail to take the big swing because we think the circumstances aren’t perfectly aligned.
I’ve been guilty of this myself.
Somehow, we need to get around the culture of infallibility and find ways to move faster and do more.
If true innovation means a willingness to risk failure, then we’ll produce more mistakes than successes, which means if we want to guarantee the survival of this industry, we better get busy. We need big ideas. We need small ideas. We need to try all we can, then change, discard or embrace them as required. Continue reading
Consider this from Andrew Grant-Adamson:
At this time of year I ask new students about their primary sources of news â€” where they normally look first. Is it radio, TV, newspapers or the web? Over the years the web has grown to be the first choice but last week newspapers did not feature at all among a group of around 20 students. It is the first time that has happened, not one hand went up.
I tend to be amazed by newspaper journalists who still seem to think they have a job for life — “newspapers won’t die in my lifetime.”
You may conclude, like Andrew’s students, that newspapers will live until the last reader dies, but business economics doesn’t work like that.Â At some point,Â it is no longer economically viable to keep a dying business alive — and that point is long before you lose all of your customers.
Let’s say you operate a 250K circ paper, and you lose 10,000 subscribers in a year, you might be able to sustain that lose and keep advertisers, but what about 20K, or 30K or 50K … in one year, or 50K or more over two years.
At some point, the slide becomes impossible to stem and advertisers won’t be happy.
I don’t care who owns the newspaper — a publicly traded company, a family, a non-profit — a newspaper that can’t turn a profit has no future.
Right now, profit margins are slipping but still potentially acceptable, and maybe at some point, the slide stops, but I wouldn’t count on it.
If your core customers are dying and you’re not creating new ones, how do you stay in business?
I’m not predicting that newspapers will die — I love newspapers (though I no longer regularly read any paper), and hope they’re always around, but it just seems insane to me that if you’re journalist that you organize your work day around putting out a print product. You should organize around the web and squeeze in enough time to keep the print product alive.Â The future is almost certainly digital. If we don’t figure out how to make money online (which begins with audience growth), then the future of quality journalism is in doubt. Continue reading
In an e-mail to Poynter’s Online-News list, Philip Meyer alerts us this post on objectivity in journalism.
Meyer makes the valid points:
- In the pre-digital age, information was scarce, so reporters were fact gathers and objectivity was based on “getting both sides.” This is an attempt to make objectivity a result, not a process.
- Today, information is abundant and easy to get, so what we need are subject matter experts who can distill information and provide an informed, objective analysis of the facts. This is a methodology, like science.
In the age of the Internet, mere transmission no longer adds value to information. The way to add value to the surplus of data is to process it to help the reader select it and make sense of it. That requires interpretation, and interpretation requires objectivity in the scientific sense. I call this objectivity of method as opposed to the he-said/she-said objectivity of result. In other words, journalists should act more like scientists: collect information, look for patterns, construct a theory, and then provide an objective test of the theory. Objectivity in this sense means asking a question of the data in a way that will protect you from being fooled by the answer.
Journalism, like science, is tentative in its conclusions. It should be as transparent as science, leaving a paper trail of data that other investigators can retrace and arrive at the same or better conclusions.
To me, it’s clear that journalism needs to evolve rapidly into a profession that values subject matter expertise over generalization. The real value a journalist can deliver to a reader is being fully immersed in the subjects he or she writes about, and that isn’t something the average beat reporter really does. If you’re a crime reporter, for example, you should really be an expert in police practices and procedures and relevant law, theory and application. If you cover city hall, you should know everything there is to know about municipal governance. And rather than cozy up to sources to get stories, possess the expertise to get behind the story so that sources diss you at their own peril (general beat reporters tend to overly rely on getting along with sources, which tends to warp their ability to remain detached from the subject matter). Continue reading