IFRA launches second vertical search engine for media

OK, IFRA, you’ve been pretty kind to me over the years, but I’m going to contradict your claim that your new IFRA Search is the first vertical search engine for the news industry.

IFRA Search, the search engine for the news publishing industry, officially goes online. With www.ifrasearch.com, IFRA is introducing the first professional research tool for specialised searching on to the market: by using IFRA Search, persons working in the media industry will find all information relevant to the news publishing industry drawn from IFRA’s own, partners’ and other high-quality sources.

Its vertical orientation ensures that the hits generated by IFRA Search offer quality instead of quantity – the result of a two-year development period based on more than 40 years of IFRA know-how in the news publishing industry. Thus the IFRA search engine offers the possibility to find important contents quickly and precisely.

Not so fast. I launched MediaGeeks.org Jan. 27. Beatcha by a month. But hey, since IFRA Search uses different technology (MediaGeeks.org is really just a subset of Google results, being built on a Google Custom Search Engine), it’s a good addition to media vertical search. It returns different results for the same terms

Kentucky lawmaker wants to ban anonymity

A government law requiring online posters to provide real identity strikes me as a tad unconstitutional, but it’s worth noting.

Kentucky Representative Tim Couch filed a bill this week to make anonymous posting online illegal.

The bill would require anyone who contributes to a website to register their real name, address and e-mail address with that site.

Their full name would be used anytime a comment is posted.

While I believe newspapers should know the identity of people posting to their site (or at least make an honest effort to gather real identity), it seems some level of anonymity on the Web is +1 for society.

Besides, the law would be unworkable.  It’s unconstitutional because it smacks of the government trying to prohibit speech it finds objectionable (going far beyond merely banning hate speech); it’s an unenforceable burden on publishers to expect them to enforce real identity with 100 percent certainty; and the way the web is built, it is absolutely impossible to require real identity.

A reminder about MediaGeeks.org

MediaGeeks.org is the media-specific search engine I created several weeks ago using Google Customer Search.

If you haven’t tried it yet, please do.

Personally, I’ve found it very useful for looking stuff I’ve read some place some time but forgotten where, or even if I can remember I read in in Romenesko or elsewhere, it’s a quick and convenient way to find the exact post I want.

Also, any bloggers who would be willing to add a link to their blog roll to MediaGeeks.org, that would be greatly appreciated.

Flickr reportedly nearly ready to offer video

If true, here’s a good move by Yahoo! They’re going to add video to Flickr.

Nobody should expect, I don’t think, for Yahoo!’s Flickr video to overtake Google’s YouTube any time soon, but sometimes being #2 isn’t a bad place to be.

Flickr has a huge user base. Certainly, many of them must be interested in video. Those users can jump-start Flickr video and help Yahoo! start ramping up some market share.

In an era when speed-to-market is paramount, taking a little time to get it right may not be such a bad thing.  If this is true:

Part of the delay may have been a long internal debate about how to make Flickr Video special and distinct from what YouTube already offers.

Innovation is never about big smash break-throughs.  It’s about iterating and re-imagining what has gone before you. And it can simply be sustaining innovation. There is a place for that, too.

There is no transition for newspapers, just constant, never ending change

Long, thoughtful, thought-provoking piece from Zac Echola. It’s a must read for any journalist with any doubt that the game has changed radically and forever. This isn’t a “transition period” for newspapers. It’s a whole new game.

See, I’m kind of tired of people talking about how newspapers are going through a “transition.” As in, “we just need to get through this transition.”

Transitions have beginnings, middles and ends. Transitions eventually stop and you get a chance to take a breath and say, “cool, we survived.”

This is no transition, because the changing will never stop. This is no transition because this is a radically different world from the one of mass-produced packages dumped on people’s door steps. The fact that there is still news on paper may be a mere echo of history.

It’s hard to believe news on paper will ever die. It’s also hard to believe news on paper will survive.

We just don’t know, but even if print survives, it will only survive because people in our news organizations become adapt at adjusting to constant change.

The print business, if it survives, will never stop feeling the increased pressure of competition, changing lifestyles and evolving audience expectations.

Print revenue is not likely to ever grow again. Digital revenue, at least, has no known ceiling.

If we expect print to survive, then we need to keep those products going while adjusting to change. But we also need to make digital a higher priority, because that’s the once chance we have to grow revenue and save, if not create, jobs.
Part of that adjustment is recognizing that digital media is fundamentally and radically different from packaged goods media. It calls for a different kind of journalism, and a different mindset from journalists.

Here’s the hard part: For as long as it survives, your print product is largely fine. It could maybe use a nip and tuck, but the people who continue to get the print product like what you do and don’t want you to change.

Online, that’s a whole different story. You’ve got to be different, and radically so. You need to write differently, file your copy at different times, make sure to provide appropriate links, include some video or extra photos, make a map or two, respond to reader comments (correcting, amplifying or scolding), participate in blogs related to your coverage area, and you simply must be smarter and better informed about what you cover if you want to retain the respect of your readers.

The hard part is, you must do all this and keep your more traditional print product going in an era of diminishing resources.

I don’t have an easy answer, except “just do it.” It’s really up to each individual to figure out how to reconfigure his or her job to meet the demands of both the print and the online audience. The responsibility for change doesn’t rest solely in the publisher’s office. It’s also the responsibility of every reporter, editor and clerk.

I think it can be done. I see people doing it everyday. My concern is not enough journalists are even trying.

The main point is — stop calling it a transition. If there was a transition, the inflection point passed four or five years ago. We can’t keep calling it a transition hoping someday soon all this turbulance will end. It won’t. The fundamentals of the media business are altered radically and forever.

Video strategy session webcast live at 6 p.m.

I always figured some day I would get a chance to make history. It looks like it’s happening tonight.  For the first time ever, the NPPA Northern Short Course is going to webcast a session live.

It starts at 6 p.m. EDT.  It’s me and Chuck Fadely talking about video strategy.  Notice I didn’t say argue or debate. I’m going to try real hard to be nice.

Come watch live streaming video and count how many rotten tomatoes get tossed my way.

Journalists who learn to blog help their online sites grow beyond shovelware

There’s an old saying in computers — I first heard when I was in the Air Force 26 years ago — “crap in, crap out.”

In other words, if you feed a computer gibberish, that’s all you’re going to get back.

Until artificial intelligence really becomes something, CICO will be true.

The same could be said of blogging.

Blogging is only as good as you make it.

There’s a lot of bad bloggers out there. There are bloggers who don’t really have anything to say, but say it anyway. There are bloggers who are more noise than substance, and some how manage to get more attention than they deserve. And there are bloggers who are just plain dumb.

Most of the bad bloggers tend to gravitate toward current affairs blogging.

Unfortunately, political blogs are also the kind of blogs most journalists tend to read. So a lot of journalists have a very low opinion of blogging.

Those of us more immersed in blogging, or who have grown beyond merely the current affairs bloggers, know that there is more to blogging than rants and raves.

Crap in, crap out. You only get out of blogging what you put into Word Press, Blogger or Moveable Type.

Naive as it might be, I haven’t given up hope. I believe journalists can become good bloggers.
Learning to blog really takes turning one simple switch in your head: This isn’t print journalism.

It isn’t the journalism of your cranky old city editor or your sainted j-school prof. Neither of those old farts would approve of blogging in any form, even though blogging is now part of the legitimate media mix.

A lot of people like to say, “a blog is just a tool.” By that, they mean blogging software is just technology for a web-centric content management system.

While there’s some truth to that, the statement also sells blogging short. Blogging is much more than that.

Blogging is a mindset. It’s a way of approaching media communications that is different from traditional media.

Traditional media is really mass media. In mass media, the voice of the reporter is authoritative. It’s one voice speaking to many people, so there isn’t much room for nuance or alternative view points. In fact, you better make sure both the left and the right, the creationist and the evolutionists, the global warmers and the SUV drivers, get heard. You better make sure you get the story right and balanced and present it in a way that says, “this is definitive,” even if it’s not.

That’s why objectivity has been such a strong touch point for journalists over the past hundred years or so. Generally, especially in print, you get one chance to get it right, and your communicating with a blob of an audience, so you better check out whether your mother loves you.

On the web, audiences are more fragmented. People are using personal devices to communicate.

That means, what works best is the conversational voice, a personal point of view, and a mindset that says, “I’m sharing,” rather than, “I’m reporting.”

So-called objectivity is great for print, not so much online. Some snarkiness and observational prose is appropriate online in a way that is not necessarily so in print. In part, because online, our audience can talk back. We want to encourage that.

That’s not to say in print, or even online, there isn’t a place for shoe-leather reporting and traditional modes of storytelling. There is still a place for all the things the blustering managing editors value, because it is still important. It’s important for society and for civic engagement. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do journalism these days.

Too many publishers, or more to the point, the editors and reporters they employ, still see online as just another place to shovel the same journalism they’re doing in print or in broadcast.

Online is different, and blogging is the key that unlocks the kingdom of how online is different. If you can get blogging, you can get online.

It would help newspapers.com tremendously if more reporters and editors would not only start blogging, but learn to do it well.

It’s a fact, blogs help grow audience. Blogs, however, can also help us produce online products that are different from our print product, giving consumers more choices and maybe, just maybe, a reason to make a habit of both print and online.

I say, it’s worth a try, cause the way we’re doing things right now ain’t working out so well.

In case it’s not obvious: There are lots of different kinds of blogging. This post might be an example essay blogging (if I were to be that pompous about it). There’s also link blogging, and commentary blogging, and news blogging. The kind of blogging a journalist might do depends on the situation, the purpose and the goals. The purpose of this post is merely to say — get over your objections to blogging and start exploring how you can use it in your newsroom to grow readership.

For a related post, see Ryan Sholin’s list of example blogs. (And yes, it’s no coincidence the Ryan and I — we work together — are posting nearly simultaneously along such parallel lines. GateHouse Media readers, are you paying attention?)

Some related links from me and elsewhere:

Mark Cuban hits nothing but air in his stance on blog media

I’m preparing a post on newspaper blogging … it was partly inspired by something Mark Cuban wrote recently, but addressing Cuban’s rant has really more of a sidebar to my main point (I hope to finish that shortly), so I’m spinning it out here:

Newspaper blogging is probably the worst marketing and branding move a newspaper can make. The barriers to entry for bloggers are non existent. There are no editorial standards. There are no accuracy standards. We bloggers can and do write whatever we damn well please. Historically newspapers have set some level of standards that they strived to adhere to. By taking on the branding, standard and posting habits of the blogosphere, newspapers have worked their way down to the least common demoninator of publishing in what appears to be an effort to troll for page views.

CICO (Crap in, Crap out — see my coming post for how this fits). Some newspaper bloggers (most, probably), aren’t very good. But that doesn’t mean newspapers should not hire and promote bloggers. Online isn’t news print. You would think a man of Cuban’s background and blogging prowess would get that. And there is no reason to assume that a newspaper-affiliated blogger would adhere to the low standards Cuban assigns to bloggers. CICO. Newspaper bloggers can and should do better.

Besides that, I can think of several bloggers who demonstrate higher ethical standards than some of the people employed at the New York Times or CNN.

So Cuban sells bloggers short, sadly. And with that said, his space limitation problems are his problem, not the media’s. He has an obligation to accommodate all legimate media, whether the output is to print, broadcast, a vlog or a blog. If he needs to build a bigger locker room to do it, then he should start calling contractors.

For more on this topic, check out Beth Lawton’s post.

Cyndy’s rebuttal to Andy

I didn’t bite when Andy Dickinson posted his rather cheeky “video strategy” videos. They’re well produced (Andy has a great narration voice) and funny in their way, but also (especially on the point-and-shoot side) spoiled by a few red herrings.

I just found that Cyndy Green (who we hired a while back to do video training in Canton, Ohio) produced a red-herring-free rebuttal.

I applaud Andy for his creativity in tackling the “make it great” vs. “just do it” debate, but Cyndy’s rebuttal is spot on. Be sure to listen for the tag line.

With video, show me something interesting and check your storytelling at the door

Angela Grant:

While I do agree that photographers are uniquely qualified to enter the video world, I know for a fact that reporters can do it too. I did it myself! Reporters must learn how to tell visual stories, but they already know how to craft a narration to tell a story. Photographers already know how to tell visual stories, but they must learn to play a more active role in using narration to tell a story. Everyone has something to learn. We can all do it. (Bold added)

Of course, Angela is right — up to a point.

Every time I read Angela or any other video blogger talk about “telling visual stories” or being “narrative,” I recoil.

Screw the story.

Show me something interesting.

It takes a damn lot of talent to tell a good story, and to really make a story sing, you’ve got to get into that whole production value thing, which as we know, has damn little ROI on the web.

If you’ve got the talent, great, but even getting to the point where you can unlock that talent takes years of practice.  We’re not there yet.  What we need right now is lots of video that people actually want to watch.

As YouTube and other video sites have proven, they’ll watch something interesting, whether it has a story or not, whether it has high production quality or not.

Compare web video to music. In the music business, tens of thousands of songs are cut every year. A large percentage of them are very, very good songs. Unfortunately, only a very small fraction of those great songs ever become hits.

Fortunately for the music industry, even in these more constricted economic times, a few hit singles can make a few people very rich (and not just from the song sales).

So all of the effort on songs that never will become hits is still worthwhile. The ROI on one hit is so tremendous, that it makes the gamble worthwhile.

Your newspaper-produced web video has a very slender chance of becoming a hit (even less than a song in this analogy). And even if it does, it’s not going to lead to riches for you or your publisher. We haven’t built, at least so far, the economics around video to make that possible.

Storytelling video takes a lot of time and talent to produce.

“Show me something interesting” video — well, anybody can do that. All you need is a cheap camera and enough smarts to go, “wow, that could be really interesting on video.”

Think relevance, immediacy and fascinating.  Things like beginning, middle and end are not intrinsically interesting or valuable to a web audience.

Keep it short and sweet, and do it often enough, you might actually get people to start visiting your newspaper.com regularly for video.

And FWIW, before anybody starts in with the old red herring about promoting crappy video, don’t bother. If you think that’s what this strategy is about, you’re approaching this idea with more ego than business sense. I don’t buy into the false dichotomy.

Just show me something interesting with your video.

If you’re in the Rochester, NY area on Thursday, stop by the Hyatt to hear me and Chuck Fadely discuss video strategy. It might be entertaining.

Previously: Video can’t win on production quality alone

Newsweek tries to take down UGC and embarresses itself

Any time you come across an article that favorably quotes Andrew Keen, start running … fast … naked, if necessary, down the street.

Keen has made name for himself as an expert on amateur content and its danger to society. The funny thing is, Keen is himself nothing but an amateur who happened to get a book published.

Newsweek (hat tip, Lost Remote), has built an entire article around the many faulty premises of Keen’s work. It is written by Tony Dokoupil.

By any name, the current incarnation of the Internet is known for giving power to the people. Sites like YouTube and Wikipedia collect the creations of unpaid amateurs while kicking pros to the curb—or at least deflating their stature to that of the ordinary Netizen. But now some of the same entrepreneurs that funded the user-generated revolution are paying professionals to edit and produce online content.

Here’s a problem, Wikipedia and YouTube are hugely popular, and continue to get more popular by the month.

And here’s the other unexamined aspect of the Newsweek premise: The reason so-called expert-vetted sites are getting funded is because they’re differentiated from existing sites. No smart VC is going to fund a copycat business plan.

In short, the expert is back. The revival comes amid mounting demand for a more reliable, bankable Web. “People are beginning to recognize that the world is too dangerous a place for faulty information,” says Charlotte Beal, a consumer strategist for the Minneapolis-based research firm Iconoculture. Beal adds that choice fatigue and fear of bad advice are creating a “perfect storm of demand for expert information.”

Here is a perfect example of sound-bite journalism. The quotes sound great. The problem is, the assertions are based on poetry, not facts. Where are the stats? I mean, on the web, just about everything is measurable, and there are an endless stream of firms that can provide research on audience behavior. Where are the facts to support the assertions?

MySpace and Facebook have started to level off, but they remain hugely popular. That hardly equates to “choice faigue” or a “demand for expert information.”

In December, Google began testing Knol, a Wikipedia-like Web site produced by “authoritative” sources that share ad revenue. The sample page contains an insomnia entry written by Rachel Manber, director of Stanford’s Insomnia and Behavioral Sleep Medicine center. In January, BigThink.com, a self-styled “YouTube for ideas” backed by former Harvard president Larry Summers and others, debuted its cache of polished video interviews with public intellectuals. “We think there’s demand for a nook of cyberspace where depth of knowledge and expertise reign,” says cofounder Victoria Brown.

The faulty comparison here is to assume that none of the experts who contribute to Wikipedia are any less qualified than Rachel Manber, or that only credentialed experts can contribute to Knol. Both are bad assumptions. As for BigThink — sounds like a great idea. Niche sites work very well on the web, but traffic-wise, it isn’t exactly causing Jimmy Wales any lost sleep. I mean, seriously, the site did 60,000 visitors one month, 16,000 the next, and we’re supposed to view it as a harbinger of the next big thing?

Meanwhile, Mahalo just launched the final test version of its people-powered search engine, which replaces Google’s popularity-based page rankings with results that the start-up says are based on quality and vetted by real people.

Mahalo is an interesting idea, and is gaining traction. There is most certainly a market for vetted search and expert advice, but it’s a long way from being anything more than an interesting niche vertical search engine. Even Maholo does not support the faulty premise of the article.

Old standbys are also vying to fact-check the world before it reaches your fingertips. The decade-old reference site About.com says its traffic has jumped more than 80 percent since 2005, thanks to a growing network of 670 freelance subject experts called Guides. They include Aaron Gold, an automotive journalist whose picture and bio accompany his chirpy self-introduction: “Hi, I’m Aaron Gold, your Guide to cars!”

What qualifies Aaron Gold as an auto expert? He was an intern at a British auto magazine a few years ago. Now, I have no doubt that since joining About.com, Aaron has become quite knowledgeable about cars, but like most About guides, he has no more expertise in his field than the best bloggers are the most dedicated Wikipedia contributors. The fact of the matter is, About is not a shining example of the rise of the expert. About made its name by getting cheap labor from amateurs looking for a steady free-lance gig.

Fueling all this podium worship is the potential for premium audiences—and advertising revenue. “The more trusted an environment, the more you can charge for it,” says Mahalo founder Jason Calacanis …

Really, and the proof is? Outside of About, none of the sites mentioned in the article have any significant revenue, and About only does well because of great SEO and a huge volume of page views, not because it is a go-to destination for expert advice.

User-generated sites like Wikipedia, for all the stuff they get right, still find themselves in frequent dust-ups over inaccuracies, while community-posting boards like Craigslist have never been able to keep out scammers and frauds.

And so-called expert publications such as the New York Times never have dust ups over inaccurcies? And while I’m a frequent critic of Craigslist, many of the sites that fly under that banner are significantly popular. Overall traffic continues to grow.

Last summer researchers in Palo Alto, Calif., uncovered secret elitism at Wikipedia when they found that 1 percent of the reference site’s users make more than 50 percent of its edits. Perhaps more notoriously, four years ago a computer glitch revealed that Amazon.com’s customer-written book reviews are often written by the book’s author or a shill for the publisher.

Apparently, Newsweek has never heard of the 1 percent rule, so to them, this is news. As for the Amazon.com assertion — where’s the link to back it up. I can recall only one such instance from many years ago. It’s a completely unverified assertion.

And people wonder why I think journalism needs to be reinvented. When unexamined blather like this Newsweek piece can see the light of day, there is something seriously wrong with journalism. And there should be no surprise that its ilk is losing ground to blogs, UGC sites and social networks. This piece is just laughably bad.

Also read Terry Heaton‘s takedown of the piece.

Journalists should pay attention to successful blogs to understand web journalism

Michael Arrington started TechCrunch in June, 2005. It’s now the second most popular blog in the world. According to Compete.com, it is read by at least 900,ooo people per month, but that wouldn’t include the reported 500,000 RSS feed subscribers.

As TechCrunch has risen, Business 2.0 has gone out of business, while CNet and Ziff-Davis have hit financial hard times.

Arrington, when asked about blogs taking page views away from traditional news media, had this to say on Charlie Rose the other night:

It’s a very raw, very quick form of journalism. It’s not editing, it’s not balanced, it’s opinionated. A lot of people really want that.

I read TechCrunch everyday. The blog, now a group blog, breaks a lot of tech news. But every news worthy item contains what some might call opinion. I call it informed insight. Arrington and his team know what the hell they’re talking about and I value and trust their point of view.

TechCrunch has become popular because it is credible. It’s credible to its readers because over time they’ve learned that TechCrunch gets right more than it gets wrong, and it’s never proven itself untruthful, and when they’ve made mistakes, they’ve corrected them quickly. TechCrunch readers don’t look for fair and balanced. They look for relevance and understanding.

Before TechCrunch became a go-to blog for tech news, it had no brand. Arrington, who was pretty much an unknown outside of small circle of Silicon Valley insiders before starting the blog, made it credible; he made it a brand.

The next time some journalist talks about how important their newspaper brand is, think about TechCrunch, which demonstrates that brand isn’t about what you’ve done over the past 100 years — it’s about what you’re doing today.

While talking about journalism and blogging, I need to quote this Romenesko post, because it’s lingered in my mind for several days:

Many bloggers see Josh Marshall‘s Polk Award as vindication of their enterprise, writes Noam Cohen — “that anyone can assume the mantle of reporting on the pressing issues affecting the nation and the world, with the imprimatur of a mainstream media outlet or not.” Marshall says of bloggers: “I think of us as journalists; the medium we work in is blogging. We have kind of broken free of the model of discrete articles that have a beginning and end. Instead, there are an ongoing series of dispatches.”

Many times I’ve written about the need for journalists to blog because I think journalists need to get away from — at least online — from just repurposing what they do in print into the new kind of web journalism.

Web journalism is more raw, more conversational and makes immediacy and relevance more important than crafting the perfect, complete package.

Previously: Video can’t win on production quality alone (because of Chris Anderson’s quote about relevance vs. quality).