Is your news site the center of the local mediasphere?

John Wilpers is taking aim and taking names … he goes hunting for the top newspapers in the industry and asks if they’re really doing a good job at being the center of the local mediasphere.

And notice, I didn’t say “blogosphere,” because even though he concentrates on blogs in his post, the question really is — are you directing traffic for ALL of the media in your coverage area.  Blogs are a big part of it, and you need to really get John’s point if you want to get modern media, but we really need to think beyond blogs.

You should have policies, strategies and procedures in place to ensure you’re linking to all of the local media … TV, Radio, Blogs, wiki sites, craigslist … why should a reader need to go to any of those other sites FIRST to get news or information. Should you be directing traffic?

How good of a job is your web site doing at being the center of the mediasphere?

Schonfeld on making the switch from print journalism to blogging

I point to TechCrunch all the time — both in this blog and in my public presentations — as an example of a journalistic blog.

It is a blog that breaks news, real news, important news. It is also a blog that is full of opinion. It is also a blog that is winning in the marketplace of readers and revenue.

TechCrunch represents both the present and the future of online journalism, of a reinvented journalism.

Today, Erick Schonfeld, a respected and serious journalist who joined TechCrunch six months ago after his previous employer, the magazine Business 2.0, went out of business, blogs about blogging for TechCrunch.

Working at TechCrunch is a completely different experience. For one thing, I no longer write long-form, narrative journalism. There is not much time for story-telling (except for weekend posts like this one). It is mostly breaking news, reporting facts and providing analysis. At TechCrunch, I am completely focused on blogging, 24/7. With a few exceptions, no single post is very difficult to write (unlike an in-depth magazine article that can require 50 interviews and weeks of travel, for instance). But taken as a whole, blogging is actually harder. That is because the blogging never stops. Just ask my wife and kids, who now mock me by repeating back my new mantra: “I’m almost done, just one more post.”

TechCrunch succeeds because its bloggers do very good journalism — gathering lots of stories, getting them online quickly (if not first), and because its bloggers know what the hell they’re talking about, their commentary is respected.

There is always something else to write about, and not enough time to cover it. But we live or die by how fast we can post after a story breaks, if we can’t break it ourselves. We hardly have time to proofread our posts, as anyone who’s come across one of the frequent typos in TechCrunch knows. Luckily, our readers love to point out our mistakes in comments. They are our copy editors and fact checkers. (We love you guys). Our philosophy is that it is better to get 70 percent of a story up fast and get the basic facts right than to wait another hour (or a day) to get the remaining 30 percent. We can always update the post or do another one as new information comes in. More often than not, putting up partial information is what leads us to the truth—a source contacts us with more details or adds them directly into comments.

Every traditional journalist who reads this post just cringed. I expect angry comments. But this is why traditional journalism is failing — declining readership, declining revenue, declining trust — and blogs are succeeding.

Here’s something from Mindy McAdams:

What some newsrooms (e.g., The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) have done is turn the workflow around — in a way that makes sense when the number of subscribers to the print product is decreasing and the number of online visitors is increasing: Make “Web first” the rule, in all cases. Produce for online, write for online, shoot for online, design for online.

If you’re going to produce for online first, start by thinking and acting like a blogger. If you don’t know how to do that, start following TechCrunch. You’ll learn.

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,, 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 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, 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’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 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.

Why newspaper sites will continue to struggle with reader participation

We’ve spent many words recently debating the best way for newspapers to manage user participation, particular comments on stories and forum posts.

Most journalists value quality communication and are distressed to see rants, insults, cursing, lies and innuendo pass for online commentary, especially on their own

It’s an understandable position.

There are a number of strategies to try an elevate the nature of the discourse on a, such as enforcing real identity, or using a Slashdot/Digg-style reputation system, or pre-screening comments (my least favorite), to outsourcing the entire headache to Topix.

But have you ever stopped to wonder why quality blogs usually have quality discussions?

Consider, for a minute, how quickly a discussion on your would spin out of control if you allowed comments on a story about butts on TV.  Now look at the interesting discussion on this Lost Remote post (maybe not the best example I could find of a great conversation, but it is a logical contrast to what might happen on a typical

Some blogs get more and better reader discussion than others, but you rarely hear any more about bloggers debating whether to disable comments and wondering if this whole commenting thing is really worth it (as you do from some editors).

Sure, blogs use some form of pre-screen (first-time commenters on, for example, go into a moderation queue), but any filters on blog comments these days have more to do with trying to block spam than worries over the content of reader comments.

Why is that?

I would say, primarily because blogs get the close attention of their owners. There is little opportunity for trolls to get a foothold on a well-run blog.  Most blog owners apply high standards for the conduct they will allow.  They monitor closely. They participate in the conversation.  In other words, they are actively engaged and involved.  They are owners.

How involved are reporters and editors involved in participation on their web sites?

Not much.

And until we fix that weak link in our participation strategy, we will continue to struggle with developing the kind of online community our newspaper communities deserve.

Newsrooms need to develop an ownership attitude about participation on their web sites.  Only then will the technology solutions really work.  There is simply no substitute for real, sustained, dedicated participation in the conversation by editors and reporters.  Without it, newspaper sites will continue to struggle to grow and retain audience.

Yes, Virginia, blogs are a competitive threat to MSM businesses

There was a time when I considered CNet the go-to place for technology news.

It’s been three years at least since CNet was a habit.

And I’m not alone in concluding that CNet is now largely irrelevant.

“There are other sites now where you can get serious technology news,” says CNET user Alan Wilensky, a San Mateo, Calif., analyst who advises companies on their Internet strategies. He used to read daily but is now more likely to go to rival tech sites such as TechCrunch and Engadget. “I’ve gone totally cold on CNET,” says Mr. Wilensky, who has no link with CNET or the dissident investors.

What’s killing CNet: Blogs.

You could even make the case that blogs killed Business 2.0 (link to historical artifact — note no updates since October, decades ago in Internet years).

The tech sector was the first media sector where we saw blogging really take hold — in pre 9/11 days, which spurred political blogging. Since then, we’ve seen an explosion in blog growth, both in shear numbers and in the large volume of quality blogs covering a wide range of topics.

Local blogging has been growing. Some of it is very good.

Journalists shouldn’t be too quick to conclude that blogs are not a threat to their local newspaper monopolies.

Yet, we continue to hear from MSM journalists who dismiss blogging, such as this from a reader calling himself Tito:

A blog is no more than an online journal or column, if you want to use an industry term. A blog doesn’t make me a better journalist nor does a blog make you a journalist and blogging is certainly not where the industry is headed.

Such a narrow view of blogs is to completely fail to understand blogs.

And to so easily dismiss blogs as a competitive threat is to fall on the wrong sword in the name of “quality journalism” (whatever you may mean by that).

And as the WSJ link above notes, more and more bloggers are figuring out how to generate handsome revenue to off set their low overhead.

The modern journalist just gets the job done

If you don’t know Dan Kennedy, you should.  He’s a former media critic and current journalism professor in the Boston area.

He runs a great blog called Media Nation.  Mostly, he blogs about New England politics and civic affairs, but he also covers local media.

Today, he did a post about a GateHouse Media reporter, Cathryn Keefe O’Hare.

He tagged along with this modern journalist as she covered an MLK-day event. She took notes, shot video and stills with her Casio, and posted story and video to her site.

Dan writes about the process.

Is it a great video? No. Does it help get names and faces online? Yes.  Does it help provide some context to the story? Of course. In other words, it does its job.

Dan’s concludes:

“The thing that remains true, whether it’s in print journalism or the Internet or video, you have to tell a story,” says O’Hare. “And you have to tell it as true as you can make it. And you have to try to speak for those people who can’t tell their story.”

The modern journalist just gets the job done.

And, most importantly, learns along the way.

MSM and the struggle to balance user participation

Mark Glaser has a good post up summarizing the various positions and approaches media companies are taking to user participation.

“I think quality is more important than quantity,” Landman said. “You have to create a space where the conversation is the kind of conversation that appeals to the people in your world. There are places where the conversation gets really ugly and people don’t go to the New York Times to get yelled at.”

Mark was kind enough to include a couple of words from me.

Suggested RSS feeds

We’ve discussed before that journalists need to get an RSS reader and read it.

Over on Back Channel, I offer a list of ten RSS feeds that should be in your feed reader.  I didn’t post it here, because the list isn’t intended to be just for journalists, but for anybody who values being a well-rounded person, which we would hope would apply to all journalists.

Contrary to Askimet’s belief, I am not a spammer

Askimet thinks I’m a spammer.

Thankfully, Scott Karp, among others, knows I’m not a spammer. But he has had to hassle four or five times recently to fish my comments out of Askimet’s spam bucket. That led to this post.

On any blog that is using Askimet’s spam filter, if I leave a comment, my comment goes into the spam bucket.

Why? Apparently, it’s related to the fact that my site was hacked twice. One of those hacks involved putting a redirect page in one of my directories, and then the spammers sent traffic from hundreds of other hacked blogs to that page.

That was great for my technorati ranking, not so great for my reputation with Askimet.

I’ve written to Askimet and asked to be taken off the back list. So far, the request has been ignored.

I pretty much hated spammers before these incidents. My inclination to think they should all be shot on sight is hard to resist, even as much as I strongly believe in full and fair trails for all accused criminals. Here’s to hoping people like Alan Ralsky, assuming he’s convicted, get punished to the full extent of the law. We need thousand more prosecutions like this, but then I suspect most spammers reside in countries where the government could careless. Hopefully, someday, those governments will join the civilized world and come to hate spam as much as the rest of us do.

UDPATE: Afternoon of Jan. 9, 2008.  I just got an e-mail from Askimet saying I’ve been unblacklisted.

So many blogs, so little time

It seems like there are lots of new journalism/newspaper blogs popping up.  It’s great to see, but I can’t keep up.

If you own a blog focused on media, especially newspapers and newspaper-style journalism, I would be happy to add you to the blog roll.  And I’ll also subscribe to your feed.

A link back to is always appreciated.  You can subscribe to the RSS feed here.

I can be reached at howard owens (oneword) at gmail dot com.