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Why the top 12 best words to put in your headlines will unlock the secret to your future

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

I think, based on the accompanying video, Matt Thompson pulled this list of the “12 most interesting headline words” out of his proverbial ass. Whatever. In Thompson’s case, that’s regularly enough to make it gold.

  1. Top
  2. Why
  3. How
  4. Will
  5. Guide
  6. Best
  7. Secret
  8. Ultimate
  9. Your
  10. Worst
  11. New
  12. Future

Here’s a link to Thompson’s slideshow, titled “Dark secrets of the online overlords.” Like so many of the arguments I’ve found most persuasive in the last few years, much of this one consists of repeated examples of ways we should all do what Nick Denton is doing.

(via NiemanLab)

Where are all the local-stock-photo services?

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

greententEvery local-news company needs stock photos from their coverage area. Every local-news company takes stock photos in their coverage area.

Somehow, nobody has figured how to give all of us an incentive to let each other use the stock photos we’re already taking.

A couple months back I failed to fully communicate this concept to a friend at The Oregonian. Here’s another attempt:

  • Any news organization, large or small, can add photos to the pool.
  • Anyone can buy photos from the pool a la carte, or pay for a long-term membership.
  • Photographers get a cut for each download.
  • Regular contributors get discounted memberships.
  • Marketing types could buy and use the photos, too – though they couldn’t contribute, because only documentary-style work could be uploaded.

Click to continue »

Does reading a magazine affect your behavior?

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

Lucky MagazineTo paraphrase the great Daniel Okrent, of course it does.

But I need evidence.

I’m about to spend a few days scouring the country for signs that, for example, receiving your college’s alumni magazine makes you more likely to donate to your college. That receiving a AAA magazine makes you more likely to remain a AAA member. That receiving Lucky makes you more likely to go shopping.

Obviously all these things are true. But from the calls I’ve made so far, I’m starting to worry that this research has never been done, at least by academics. After a string of calls to the MPA, MMC, and my own j-school, the only lead I’ve turned up is some evidence that taking the newspaper makes you more likely to vote.

Aha, just what the industry needs: more spinach.

Sponsored print distribution is one of the few models for journalism that seems steadfastly profitable. Wouldn’t it be nice if, in addition to research demonstrating the civic virtue of the jobs they used to have, journalism professors were doing more research testing the commercial value of new ideas? If you happen to know of any who have, drop me a line.

Let readers see (and edit) their own data

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

Work’s been heavy lately. Tomorrow, a post on triaging limited programming resources. (As if there’s some other kind…) Today, a quick suggestion for winning trust: let readers access their own usage data.

Job one, of course, is to start collecting readers’ usage data. Seriously. Let readers know about it, tell them how they’ll benefit, let them opt in or out, but start it right away and do it any way you can.

Job two is inspired by this Fredshouse brainstorm (courtesy Lifehacker): Google should create a digital privacy tool for all its users that would let them view, delete and set expiration dates for all data that’s collected about them.

We should do that, too.

Closing the software gap

Friday, September 29th, 2006

Can newspapers maintain competitive software on a smaller, less Soviet scale than Tom Mohr would have us believe? Here are two signs that a few folks still think it’s worth a try.

1) Reviewing the API’s Newspaper Next study, Susan Mernit name-checks the two bits of software small newspapers probably need most:

- a self-serve ad platform
- a simple local listings service

And she wants it done in open source, so we can all share & improve. Right on, sister. (Tx Will Sullivan.)

2) The Des Moines Register is searching for a local search editor. Bully. A dozen such “editors” won’t do squat until the software is in place, but once it is, no set of editorial duties need more attention at mid-size metros, I think. (And nobody is better poised to see the benefits of that software than Gannett. Let’s cross our fingers, k?)

Poynter, day one: The dangers of print-bashing

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

It’s too easy, at geeky powows like this one, to merely nod solemnly to each other about the death of print. I don’t mean to say we should be blindly optimistic — just that over-the-top pessimism breeds complacency. We online news folks can’t afford to get all The Day After Tomorrow with our Cassandra duties. Two such cases:

1) For all their faults, today’s print newspapers remain the most successful business model the industry has ever produced. It’s nothing to be abandoned wholesale. (More on this in the next post.)

2) Even more importantly, we should never say “Look, the Web, unlike print, shows high approval ratings among youngsters! Let us therefore expect future profit from our Web site!” Platform isn’t the issue — features are. The next generation of readers is not lured to their desktops by the glow of the cathode rays or the comfort of the chairs involved. They’re going to the Internet for its features: timeliness, personalization and interaction. If newspapers want to reap the benefits of young folks’ love for the Web, they need to start delivering content in Webby ways, not print ones.

It’s not a long list: hyperlinks, multimedia, social interaction, customization, searchability. (Right around the corner: portability.) Online news people absolutely need to push tbese basic Web concepts onto their sites. If they don’t, newspaper Web sites aren’t going to last a day longer than their parent papers.

As the New York Times reminded us last month, reproducing your full print product on the Web is pointless if it’s the same as paper. I’d rather have the newsprint between my fingers, thanks.

Practical advice from APME

Monday, April 17th, 2006

The other day, the Associated Press Managing Editors put out a practical, accessible cluster of pieces about newspaper Web sites. I especially like the ones about putting your Web site on the offensive and the strong competition to come. More below the fold.

The first advises that newspaper sites:
1) Radically simplify their front-door pages. “Count the links. You probably have 200 or more. It’s insane, stupid and lazy. On the web, simplicity sells.”
2) Load the site with photos and videos.
3) Let visitors customize.
4) Allow user contributions, but use a heavy-ish hand in editing them.
5) Sometimes, be unpredictable and funny. Change the front-door layout to reflect the news.

I do have qualms with some of these (customization of news content should be done only with a reader’s permission; changing home-page layouts should only be done by people who really know what they’re doing, usability-wise).

The second lists five sorts of competitors that local papers will face for the first time in the next few years, thanks to users’ migration onto the Web:

1) Local broadcast outlets.
2) Big national portals, scaling down to our level.
3) Hyperlocal, user-generated startups, such as Backfence. “They are getting big venture money and we are their prime targets. … Imagine what will happen when they partner up with cable networks or local weeklies or phone directories or someone else.”
4) Local chambers of commerce and the like, creating free, functional search sites. (Good call, man, good call.)
5) Just about anybody with a server, a keyboard, and a lack of caution about libel suits.

The second list, really, is the driving force for the first. Big-city editors are still trying to get used to the end of their monopoly. Small papers need to prepare for competition faster than the big ones did.

(Hat tip: cyberjournalist.net.)

Using tags in local newspaper archives

Sunday, February 26th, 2006

How can small papers get the most out of their archives? Folksonomy is sexy, but most Web audiences are too small for it to work well. However, old-fashioned, top-down tags can be a useful tool for the many local papers that, like many Web newcomers, still sort their Web content with print principles in mind.

(Yes, Washingtonpost.com has added del.icio.us links to all its stories. Yes, this is a terrific promotional move for a national paper. No, it’s doesn’t add as much to local papers, because they aren’t looking for national readers. But yes, local papers ought to consider offering it merely as a service to readers.)

But here’s something more important that small papers could easily do with minimal staff effort: make a list of a couple dozen possible “tags” for stories. When any story is sent to the Web, a staffer can glance over the list of tags and check any that apply.

A newspaper in North Carolina might write frequently about the pork industry. Does the print edition have a section entirely for the pork industry? Of course not. And as a result, the paper’s Web site doesn’t, either. But it should! A small set of staff-written tags are easy ways to build topical archives — whose index pages (available in RSS, of course) can then be used to cluster non-news content for the target audience, such as topical blogs, off-site links, and of course targeted ads.

What’s more, a tag system, unlike a print-style tree categorization, lets stories fall into multiple categories. And it can be used to easily locate similar articles, which have similar combinations of tags.

Readers should be able to navigate newspaper Web sites in various ways: search, vertical brosing (feature section->movies page->Brokeback Mountain review), and horizontal browsing (Brokeback Mountain review->Oscar preview). A staff-maintained tag system is one way to facilitate that.

Walling off the local news garden: A-OK

Sunday, February 5th, 2006

Unlike national news outlets, local papers have good reason to be tempted by last week’s talk about withholding news content from search engines.

The story stirred up a predictable tizzy among futurists. Newspapers’ job is “to inform the public to what’s going on,” wrote Chris Tolles in an intelligent but presumptuous post (not pegged to the search engine story, but quite applicable). Search engines, wrote one Techdirt contributor, are merely “making that content more valuable by making it easier to find.”

Alas, these generalizations don’t fit small markets.

What Tolles describes is the job he thinks newspapers should do . . . in the future. But don’t mistake his prediction for a sustainable business model. Today, newspapers do much more than provide news content: they sort, prioritize and distribute it; they pair advertisers with content that fits their needs; and in small markets they even design the damn ads.

Someday, maybe, a model will arise to support pure newsgathering operations of decent quality. But until then, mere reporting simply doesn’t pay for itself, especially at the local level, where there aren’t enough rich people to support philanthropic drives like NPR’s or enough outlets to support economies of scale like the AP’s.

Moreover, whatever Techdirt may assume, local newspapers have a very different relationship with Google News than Agence France Presse does. Unlike national outlets, local newspapers have little use for non-local traffic. Non-local readers who stumble in from national aggregators don’t fit a local newspaper’s niche; visitors won’t be buying locally, so they only dilute the value of the paper’s pageviews.

As I wrote yesterday, local papers need to become the dominant information-and-connection brand within their communities. They won’t do that with news alone, and they certainly won’t do it with news outside their niche.

So what’s the harm in opening local news content to search engines and news aggregators? Don’t laugh: competition. Unlike national outlets, local papers retain near-monopolies on original reporting within their niche. This eliminates a major value aggregators and search engines provide consumers: diversity. Until local papers no longer have the dominant local news brand, small papers who hand their headlines to a local aggregator are asking people to start turning to another brand for the news.

As Carl Howe argues, newspapers provide the increasingly valuable service of cutting through all the crap. (Several of these links, by the way, come courtesy of Howe’s own post on this subject.) Newspapers judge what’s important to their audiences, and arrange it accessibly. This is as important as newsgathering itself. But aggregators like Newsvine aim to do the same thing better and cheaper. If they succeed, they’ll use that advantage to demolish the brands of local papers. And when that happens, Newsvine won’t be paying for the level of newsgathering that newspapers now do.

If, however, local papers can quickly co-opt the innovations of aggregators and search engines and tweak that technology for local use, they have a fighting chance at remaining the dominant local information brands. That should be their goal.

The local future of vertical search

Saturday, February 4th, 2006

There’s a key difference between local and national news outlets that has so far insulated small newspapers from online competition but which will eventually leave them even more vulnerable than their bigger brethren.

Unlike national and regional papers, local papers are niche media. They cater to the tiny number of people who care about, for example, Gadsden, Alabama. Nobody else in the world keeps as many boots on the ground in a small- to mid-size community as the local newspaper.

That’s why many newspaper corporations are urging their editors to emphasize local news on their Web sites even more than in their print products. Simply: on the Web, we have competitors for our national and global content. But in small towns, local news content is still back in the happily monopolistic 20th century.

This brings us to search. Search engines let you keep a few big brands in your head, and rely on them to find content from lots of other brands. But Google and the other general-interest search kings don’t target niches well. Yes, googling “gadsden auto sales” is easier than tracking down the Gadsden Times’ classifieds, but the quality is inferior: anyone with an ad in the paper has their information up to date and tells you exactly what they’re selling. And a Google Local search is good at tracking down retailers, not connecting you with local peers.

Local news is even harder to get from a general-interest search engine. (Aggregators like Newsvine may one day have enough users to work in smaller markets, but they’re not very useful when there aren’t very many news outlets to grab from.)

So search is a great way to find things, but general-interest searches are too imprecise to seriously compete with local newspapers. What will threaten local papers–or, phrased differently, what people want but aren’t getting–are “vertical” local search engines, which are engineered to turn up local results for given searches. Search engines that users visit in order to find local results.

Vertical search is hot in niche media, and rightly so. “If Google is going to be CBS, I want to be Turner Broadcasting,” says LookSmart CEO Dave Hills, whose company offers engines for subjects like sports, food, and fashion as well as a few big metro areas. Existing vertical services like LookSmart, Oodle, the still-primitive Google Base and even the ugly, user-unfriendly Craigslist are all quite scalable. They will take over small markets eventually if local brands don’t own those markets first.

And if they do move in, small papers will be devastated, because local advertising, unlike national or regional advertising, is seldom about brand-building, which can occur through accidental encounters with display ads on a news page. Local advertising is about connecting people with stuff they’re looking for. Someday soon, somebody will build a better Craigslist, and the bottom will really fall out of classifieds. But major metro papers can weather that collapse more easily than small-town papers.

For now, those small newspapers have the dominant online mindshare in their communities. There’s no reason they can’t use this–quickly–to dominate local vertical search.