social

...now browsing by category

 

Sun Tzu says: social networks before A/V

Wednesday, May 17th, 2006

A chorus of my peers yesterday afternoon failed to overturn a pet iconoclasm of mine: unless they’re affiliated with radio or TV stations, most local newspapers should not be dumping lots of money into audio and video. It doesn’t dovetail with our current work, and it dovetails perfectly with the work of our biggest news competitors’ — local radio and TV stations.

Video is more compelling than print, no question. And newspapers have the dominant local Web sites. (I desperately hope we retain them.) So why shouldn’t we introduce video in order to serve and retain our visitors?

Because, in short, it’s not our specialty. We’ve got newsrooms of word reporters. We can find a bunch of great ways to reorganize those words for the Web. We can arrange data in nifty graphics and tables — numbers are a lot like words, really. We cannot, without a lot of training and capital investment, put up a short video of reasonable quality.

If video, like interactive graphics, were a new medium, that’d be different. Nobody has yet institutionalized the delivery of infographics for profit. But video and audio are hugely profitable and masterfully done by very close competitors.

And yet — those competitors aren’t simply better than us. They’re better at different things. The customizable print experience (more on that soon) has given us a newsgathering depth that broadcasters can’t match. We should build on our strengths, not push to provide redundant video services that local broadcasters could do better if they merely lifted a finger on the Web.

I’m not saying that no newspapers should be experimenting with this stuff. But smaller local papers, working with smaller scale economies, have higher priorities, like catching up on search, organizing data into parcels and improving social network functions.

One powerful counterargument that wasn’t quite enough to bring me around to video: our competition here isn’t really local TV; it’s the rest of the non-local-news media landscape.

There are surely times when video, especially, is so compelling that it demands to be included. But we should remember that we can’t, as they say, deliver all things to all people. We should pick our battles.

Saving the suburbs from bowling alone

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

The Web gives local newspapers a chance to fill a social vacuum that’s arisen in small towns and suburbs across the United States. One Illinois paper is setting out to do it.

The (Arlington Heights, Ill.) Daily Herald is the quintessential suburban newspaper. Penetration is weak, but they make up for it on volume, distributing more than 20 zoned editions to a sprawling footprint across Chicago’s wealthy west and northwest suburbs.

Character? Some. Soul? Um.

Beep, the family-owned paper’s new publication for 18-34s, wants to give the suburbs a soul. Not only does it aim to introduce local folks to one other online — log in to see the pleasantly quirky user profile page — it wants to become a social resource for hundreds of thousands of young suburbanites who feel alienated or lonely in the atomized modern world. It wans to let them know that they aren’t alone, that things are happening near them. And it knows that — unlike in the big city — the perfect distribution model for the car-addicted, shrub-encrusted suburbs is the Web.

This is not a trivial service to readers, or to society.

Though the who-attended-whose-party “community pages” of newspapers across the country are treated like vestigal organs, just waiting for their elderly readers to go blind, local papers shouldn’t turn up their noses at the past. Those were — remember? — the glory days, for newspapers as well as American society. The social institutions of the 20th Century have crumbled, but human thirst for physical interaction hasn’t. As the prime clearinghouses for local information, newspapers can use the distribution power of the Web to help people find each other again, and build institutions for the next hundred years.

Beep and its peers have an inspiring vision for the Web, and though I’m not affiliated with Beep, I’m proud to say I played a part in its creation.