Chicago, Cambridge: A June Travel Blur

The Tumblr-sponsored green room at MCON14. There's our pal Azita in the middle, and at left is record exec Todd Moscowitz. Pizzas just cause.
The Tumblr-sponsored green room at MCON14. Pizzas just cause.

Between my day job and teaching our master’s program journalism class at Georgetown, somehow I squeezed in a few trips. Was delighted to moderate the final on-stage chat at the Millennial Impact Conference in Chicago, in which Warby Parker and Harry’s co-founder Jeff Raider and I joked around about beards. We followed that up in Tumblr’s green room, in which we made a shitty gif.

Goofing off with Jeff Raider after closing out #MCON14.
Goofing off with Jeff Raider after closing out #MCON14.

When I tried to go home from Chicago, your standard incompetence at O’Hare (which they called “weather” — a huge affront to actual weather situations) led to the cancelation of my flight home. So I stayed an extra night in Chicago, in a lovely boutique hotel called the Ivy. My only beef with it was the mattresses there rest on these dark wood bed frames that jut out to stab your ankles when you’re not careful. I am pretty banged up from my bed.

Spent one night at home before flying to Cambridge for the Knight/MIT Center for Civic Media’s annual Civic Media Conference. That conference is always special because of the sheer brain power and wit that gets squeezed into an overly-air conditioned room. And it’s a reunion, of sorts, for a lot of the Knight family of friends and advisers.

This year I also got a story out of it, when Friend Noah laid out the complexities of a legal debate over whether a burrito qualifies as a sandwich. Seriously.

All of this was punctuated with you sending me Yo’s at random times. Thanks, yo.

Some Notes and Photos from NewsFoo

The spawn, the spouse and I just got back from NewsFoo, an unconference put on by O’Reilly Media and the Knight Foundation. The 150-ish attendees are all involved in technology and/or journalism in an interesting way and I’m certain I was the dumbest person there.

If you’ve never unconferenced, the main idea is that at more traditional and scheduled conferences, all the best connections and interesting conversations end up happening at lunch or during coffee breaks. So unconferences aim to foster the coffee break vibe for an entire weekend by only setting session start and end times — the session topics are all pitched and plotted by the attendees after they arrive. No Powerpoints, no formal presentations, no nonsense. Below, some photos, and after the jump, notes from the Foo and links from my animations session.

Continue reading “Some Notes and Photos from NewsFoo”

Boston With Some Big Brains

Over the past couple of days, the Center for Civic Media at MIT and the Knight Foundation gathered about 200 of the brightest minds in media and technology to talk about data, algorithms and how they’re changing storytelling. (It was also a chance to announce the winners of the Knight News Challenge, which I helped judge this spring. Congrats to the six inspiring winners!)

One of the takeaways from our two+ days together was that in discussing the future of news we are in many ways arguing for a return to the past — a more distributed one, before media producers were aggregated at gatekeeper institutions, and back to a time when storytelling was produced slower, with more context, as exemplified by the presentation of Paul Salopek‘s fascinating plan to spend the next seven years on a slow-reporting journey around the world. And with the big trend toward more data journalism, AP’s Johnathan Stray and others reminded us that data has fingerprints all over it — that data journalism requires many selective decisions by humans, which means “there’s no such thing as objective data.”

Chatting with Michael Maness and Joi Ito at MIT’s Center for Civic Media.

Monday, I sat down for an on-stage chat with Knight’s VP for Journalism and Media Innovation Michael Maness and Joi Ito, a Knight trustee, venture capitalist, early tech pioneer and the director of the MIT Civic Media Center. During the conversation about funding trends for information efforts, Michael announced Knight’s new Prototype Fund, part of a a new effort to fail fast in funding new ideas by giving out 50-60 smaller grants for innovative ideas each year. Both men both delivered some memorable gems, and I got to wear one of those motivational speaker type headset microphones, which was the highlight of my week. (You can’t even tell it’s there, it’s so skin-colored and invisible!)

Michael wrapped up some of the big themes that came out of the conference in his closing session on Tuesday. Check out the notes from the liveblog. And Stiles did some great data visualizations on the attendees and the Twitter volume during the confab. More resources/coverage of #civicmedia after the jump:

Continue reading “Boston With Some Big Brains”

AAJA 2010: Present/Future of Online News

“This is the most exciting time ever, to be in journalism. More people are consuming more content in more ways than ever.” -Mike Allen

This morning’s conversation featured Manav Tanneeru, wearer of many hats at CNN.com, Dave Morgan, Executive Editor of Yahoo! North America, Mike Allen of Politico and John Bracken, Director of New Media at Knight Foundation (Knight is one of Tribune’s generous benefactors, and we love Knight. Shoutout.)

Create Content with Value, Cause It’s Competitive Out There

The success of Politico (which started with 30 employees and is now nearing 200), is based on the premise, “What if we did a paper with only interesting stories?” The changing habits of consuming news (less loyalty to the major papers, brands) has been a benefit.

“Traffic is one of the attributes we consider, we don’t even tell our reporters our traffic because we dont want them to value that above our audience. We’re not there to serve a mass audience,” said Allen. “Think about ‘if i didnt write this story, or made this video, would I read it?” It’s amazing how many things in our news orgs dont meet that test. Before you invest time producing something, would someone email this, blog about it, would i book segment based on this? If you’re hitting a couple of those, you’re breaking through and creating value for your audience.”

Yahoo’s thinking about original content as well.  It’s aiming to change the content they provide. “Yahoo is traditionally a good aggregator, but if all we’re doing is distributing great partner content, then we’ll be replaced,” said Morgan. The company’s web strategy is moving more toward reporting for the audience and not just hosting the audience. A lot of people can do commodity information – score of the game, who won the election – what do you add to that? What is the unique content you provide.

“Everyone can do their job on a laptop, which means anyone else can too. If we can’t do it shorter and sooner, someone else will and should. That’s the great part about the way people consume news now, it’s almost completely a meritocracy. it used to be if you were the Miami Herald, LA Times, you had a guaranteed audience. We don’t have guaranteed time with the audience anymore,” said Allen.

It’s Not All About the Pageviews
Remarkable ideas are remarked on, remarkable content moves up. It’s wrong for traditional companies to think, how can I move up in search rankings instead of, what can i do to make irresistible content?

When we get too obsessed with what people want to know, are we shortchanging them on what they NEED to know? There’s little interest in non-US news in the US, but the world’s more connected than ever. Will there still be outlets to provide the important stuff that the audience isn’t naturally hungry for?

SEO Today

“In the foundation world, we get grant applications that say, our web traffic is this, this number of Twitter followers, etc… What are web metrics that matter? What does that really mean?”

If you’re a reporter you should not be thinking about SEO first, but still, everyone in the newsroom should have general understanding of core principles that allow something to be elevated. CNN chooses slugs very carefully, Daily beast used tags in URLs, etc.

Future Considerations

If you’re starting something, you’re a lot better off to start in niche because you have a more obvious revenue stream. You have a specific audience to target, i.e. Politico’s focus is on serving Washington insiders.

The two major considerations of Politico as they head into the future:

1.) Sideways traffic, and how to maximize it. (Audiences don’t go to homepages as much as specific story pages, much of the readership consumes content without typing in politico.com)

2.) Fewer people with desktops/laptops – how to move to mobile.

Generally, part of our task is to think about the holes being created at the same time all this exciting change is happening. “When there’s a news gap, it’s very significant. The newspaper has been the closest thing we have had to a community forum, and when that goes away, what replaces it?
Is the frame we have for local news still appropriate for the digital age? How do we carry it over to the web, when people are going to their own places for news?” said Bracken.

Local news is an area most ripe for innovation.. using tools already available is empowering. But news experiments won’t fill all holes. If Brooklyn was reported with just blogs and Twitter, there would be huge gaps in its portrayal. How do we dig deeper?

“If youve arrived at a winning model, enjoy it because it’s already changed.” -Yahoo!’s Dave Morgan