Jim

Posts Tagged ‘venture’

Prescription for SND’s ills

In Biz, editor, Freelance, graphics, innovation, News, newspaper, publish, publisher, Publishing, Smartness, smartnews, startup, The news biz, venture on June 19, 2009 at 2:49 pm

Like many other news and former news folks, I’ve been unable to tear my eyes away from the Society for News Design trainwreck. (Charles Apple’s coverage here) And like many others, I’ve been involved in sotto voce conversations in the wings as the blood spread across the stage.

First, my background: I’m not now nor have I ever been an officer of SND. I let my membership lapse recently, as I’m out of the business. I’ve been a paying member off and on over the years, always (as far as I can remember) out of pocket. A Quick Course in Chapel Hill really turned my head around on newspaper design in the early ’90s and planted the seed for my career.  Many of my friends and most people I would call colleagues are or have been members. I’ve attended three annual workshops — San Jose, Houston, and Boston — on my own dime and felt they were worth every penny. My only other official connection was a lecture session I gave at a Quick Course in Salt Lake City. So, I’m a semi-active former member, not in any way an important voice.

Here’s the upshot: SND needs a wholesale reinvention. SND needs to get into the news business by promoting and incubating journalistic ventures that will eventually compete with the current mainstream press. Yes, I said it, it’s time for SND to bite the hand that’s fed it for decades.

The news industry has let us down. I can’t count how many of my friends and colleagues have lost their jobs or are just waiting for the axe to fall. And the axe appears to have fallen disproportionately on “visual” people. It’s time to fight back, and to do it in a way that genuinely supports the interests of members — by creating jobs.

Who is doing that, right now? A scattering of disconnected ventures, each hoping to be the next big thing, many with little or no money or support, just enthusiasm and big dreams. Those of you who’ve followed my Smartnews misadventures know all about that. These efforts need support: investors, clerical/intern help, good ideas, marketing. These are not necessarily SND’s strengths, but they need to be. News needs that. Those of us who believe in design as a journalistic tool, who love infographics and grids and, yes, even the Typeface du Jour need that.

Jay Small, whom you could call an important voice, is on the right track:

SND must represent the brightest thinking focused on innovation in communicating the news. Typeface du jour? Web width of the month? Hell, no. Attracting and engaging news consumers and enabling communities around the news? Oh, yeah!

SND needs to fill another leadership vacuum: The gap between so-called visual people and word people. Far too many designers, photographers and graphic artists have weak spelling, grammar and reporting skills. Way too many writers and editors have no clue about the synergy of their efforts with those of everyone else. Much has been said about bridging the worlds, but the silos remain. And toss multimedia and Web skills into the mix, too. There are just not enough jobs out there to justify separations of church and state, anymore. Anyone who’s lucky enough to have a newsroom position has to know it all. But so few of us do.

Some of SND’s training does address this: The folks I most respect get it about perpetrating good journalism, about making every word and image count. But it’s in our nature to go for the pretty over the effective. We’ve got to focus on changing that if we want to have a place at the table.

If SND were to do all that, I’m afraid that much of what it focuses on now — the big contest, the annual meeting — would have to take a backseat. It’d be the end of an era. But, let’s face it, folks, we’re at the end of a journalism era.

Want to get back at evil corporate greedia? Carving each other up ain’t gonna do the job

In Biz, editor, graphics, newspaper, Publishing, smartnews, startup, The news biz, venture on May 2, 2009 at 11:26 pm

Lots of bitterness and fury from people whom Tribune has canned recently. Hell, I just got a 10 percent pay cut in my non-newspaper job, so I feel — well, a sliver of the pain, myself.

It appears the head-rolling — which seems disproportionately distributed among “visual” folks — has brought long-built tension over how much value designers and copy editors add to a newsroom to a head. Couple that with resentment toward the survivors, and you’ve got a bloodbath.

OK. I get it. Newspaper owners don’t think we’re worth as much as writers (I say “we” because, though I have a writing job now, the better part of my news career was in layout, copy editing and design.) Many of our jobs have become, as The Yelv points out, obsolete.

What I don’t get is journalists turning on each other.

If you want to make a future for yourself in news, you’re going to need every friend you can find. Now’s not the time to burn bridges — at least not with our colleagues. I will go so far as to say that corporate news has already burned our bridge — and this time, I mean “our” in the sense of all journalists.

I’m not saying this to be a pollyanna. I’m saying we need a better survival instinct.

I won’t lie; publishers and executive editors have disappointed me a little in the lack of enthusiasm for Smartnews. You would think that now would be the time they’d take an interest in something that could reduce costs. They are so shellshocked, however, they cannot even begin to look two steps forward in their game. And they don’t really have a lot of leeway; I understand the money is tightly controlled right now. No one wants to play guinea pig.

I can live with that. They don’t owe me anything.

Where I’m much more disappointed is in the utter lack of heart I keep finding among my colleagues to do something concrete about their predicament. Apart from a job search.

Look, it doesn’t have to be Smartnews. Maybe a journalist doesn’t see the value or the future, or doesn’t trust us. I can live with that, too.

Do something creative. We pride ourselves on our creativity, do we not? The possibilities are infinite. Do it yourself, like my friend Ernie with Short Form Blog. That’s a great example of a designer/editor redirecting his efforts to the Web. Before, he was a curator of news for print. Now, he curates for the Web. Get involved with Publish2. Take an ad sales person out for drinks and pick her brain.

Breaking out the machetes ain’t gonna work, folks. We’ve lost one war, already.

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Would news by any other name still smell as … inky?

In editor, innovation, News, newspaper, Politics, publish, publisher, Publishing, smartnews, startup, venture on April 28, 2009 at 3:50 am

I got an interesting comment on my LinkedIn status line, which is “Jim would like to collaborate (or just brainstorm) with you on putting laid-off newspaper journalists back to work.”

The respondent said “Create a Truth Syndicate. The day is coming when when consumers will pay for vetted information.” The comment sparked a minor mudslide of questions that I thought I’d allow to spill into this blog.

I wonder in what way would a “truth syndicate” be different from what we now refer to as news. Not that news or journalism has ever had the truth market cornered. One thing I’ve learned for sure in my time in the biz: Facts are slippery little bastards. And truth is bloody vaporous.

Even well-intentioned sources get things wrong. Even diligent reporters screw up, miss a crucial detail, misunderstand the context. And there’s the vast ocean of disagreement. Not just on politics. Hell, it might be disagreement on what happened during that shootout. Or whether the refs are biased (as a long-suffering N.C. State fan, I can attest that they are. Grossly. In favor of Kerliner.)

Meanwhile, we’ve all learned to suspect that the news media harbor serious political biases. What those biases appear to be may depend on your politics, of course. But it’s common wisdom that Fox News is in the pocket of the GOP and MSNBC is not-so-secretly Team Obama. An awful lot of the “news” comes to us through the distorting filter of pundits. It’s hard to find a story that touches on national politics that isn’t infected with talking points that originated in the DNC or the RNC.

So how would a truth syndicate operate? Would it fact-check the news of the day as reported by other outlets? Or would it break news like any news organ? Would it be strictly enterprise and investigation, or is there room for sports and that jumble of everything else we call “features?” Would it just be a news wiki?

I have heard tell of corporations hiring journalists; perhaps they are performing a similar function privately, helping the bosses slog through the mire of he said-she said to find the meaningful gobbets in the day’s news. (Or maybe they’re just hacking out lame internal newsletters, I really have no idea.)

I would love to read your thoughts on what a truth syndicate might look like. What would the market be? On which media would it thrive? What’s the truth syndicate’s business model?

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Daydreaming about a graphics-heavy newspaper (or Web site)

In editor, Freelance, graphics, innovation, News, newspaper, publish, publisher, Publishing, startup, venture on April 24, 2009 at 7:53 pm

I’ve been contemplating the rash of layoffs among the specialists who draw maps and charts and explanatory diagrams for newspapers: graphic artists and graphic reporters.

If you’ll check that link, in the comments, Michael Dabrowa daydreams about a paper that converts to an exclusively infographics format. I’m no graphics whiz, but I’ve dreamed that dream, too. I once imagined that the ideal staff for SmartNews (back when it was a newspaper) would be a graphics reporter, a features reporter and a copy editor/designer. (And me, of course.) I just have a tremendous feeling for the power of polished, well-thought-out explanatory graphics. Done correctly, they provide insight at a glance that might take 500, 1,000, 20,000 words.

Graphical reporting is gravely underrated. If you want to make efficient use of shrinking newshole, build a graphic.

We have so many talented visual journalists already on board with SmartNews — really, a surfeit of skill and passion. Would love to find a way to get them involved in a salable project.

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Pondering the economics of making a news startup work on the Web

In Biz, Freelance, innovation, newspaper, publish, publisher, Publishing, smartnews, startup, venture on April 18, 2009 at 7:18 pm

I ran a cross a comment on this thread that breaks down the dilemma that faces Internet startups.

It’s a great idea to have journalists curating the best tweets about a story or topic. That’s a solid content model. Now, if you want to make a living at it, you need to sort out and execute a business model.

You have two options:

1. Get massive traffic, 2MM+ pageviews/month while keeping costs low, low, low, such that you can use existing advertising networks to make a living. Their rates are insultingly low, but if you can break a million pageviews without having to pay for content or help, then you can make that work possibly.

2. Build it out into a brand with a defined, die-hard niche audience that specific types of businesses will pay a premium to reach. What about approaching the makers of some of the Twitter clients out there? They’re always looking for new users and your audience consists of super-active Twitter-users who are likely always one step ahead of the game. What if Twirl or Tweetdeck sponsored you guys for a month or two?

Very difficult for any individual journalist to drag in 2 million page views per month (I’m astonished at how few even this blog gets, even though I make almost no effort to market it. You’d think that random chance would drag in more useless, accidental traffic.) And there are only so many valuable niches around. I think of my friend Charles Apple who’s absolutely got the “visual journalist” market nailed down — but what is that worth to him or to Visual Editors in terms of advertising? I don’t see Adobe ponying up oodles of ad money. (Maybe as we all get outsourced and have to buy our own equipment and software, that’ll change.)

As publishers and executive editors have not exactly been beating down our doors, I’ve been thinking off and on about how we could grow Smartnews into it’s own direct-to-consumer Web experience. The result would probably be something like True/Slant. But probably more open, using that rating system to direct eyeballs and presumably ad revenue to journalists. I’m open to your suggestions.

Big thanks for a small post*

In editor, Freelance, innovation, News, newspaper, smartnews, startup, venture on April 10, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Thanks to Ernie at shortformblog for the shout. Smartnews thinks shortformblog is smart news. Smartnews is biased. Ernie is a good friend. Seriously, you should bookmark shortformblog, and follow it on Twitter. Ernie has a great voice and distills the news of the day beautifully, skills he learned at now-defunct Link (a young-adult oriented news tab) in Norfolk, Va.

I could imagine, down the road, a site like shortformblog that distills the content from an institution like Smartnews. Throw in some Facebook-style app-madness and “social networking” and you’ve got the Next Big Thing™. Yeah, all you venture capitalists take a number, all right? Our people will get in touch with your people.

Heh. If you’re gonna dream, dream big.

Well, back to the gritty reality of writing about colonoscopy coding.

*All of the posts at Shortformblog are small, so we’re not denigrating the chunky-text mention.

Check out this new online pub: The Paris | SF

In editor, innovation, News, publisher, startup, venture on April 9, 2009 at 3:09 pm

I ran into Jes Alexander, the publisher of The Paris | SF, in a LinkedIn.com discussion on the future of news. I was intrigued by the format of the model for The Paris, l’Herald de Paris: essentially, a free newspaper online. But built from scratch instead of on the back of an existing print version.

Alexander also runs Irreverent Homemaker, an online magazine.

I can’t tell you how successful these products are or will be, but I’m fascinated that folks are trotting out new online ventures with original content underneath the din of ad revenues plummeting, publication staffs being laid off, newspapers crashing and burning.

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