Thursday, April 3, 2008

Reimagining Newspapers

If newspapers worked the way they did in my brain:

1. Their Web sites would aggregate the news for a big, breaking story so if I went to their sites I wouldn't have to look at other sites in the region for stories on the same topic. I'd get short fat graph-introductions to stories on other news sites. I'd know it was a good read, because you told me so by showing me it was there. And the next time something big happened, I'd come back again -- and again.

2. Newspapers would look at their Web sites as a way to start as many regional or national online niche products as they could handle, given they keep downsizing their newsrooms. A place like Delaware, for example, would have a sister Web site for beaches or tax-free shopping or incorporation information for businesses. Fort Myers would offer a Web site for midwesterns who wanted to retire to the area, including a database of such information as movers in my area, property tax information and home insurers and rates -- so I didn't have to look around for this stuff on a bunch of other sites. (I worked in both places, just for the record.)

3. Local stories would be on incorporated into a map as well as just listed on the Web site by what time it happened. Then I could decide if I wanted to read the content by its closeness to my home or my work as well as just by a good headline. It would be really interesting if, as part of this effort, citizen videos of breaking news could be downloaded onto these maps as part of the interactivity for my geographic area of interest.

4. Sports departments would link previous stories on particular teams, so that I could read the stories that ran before about this particular story. They would use their archived profiles and statistics on a particular sport, encyclopedic information in a Wikipedia-like format if you will, as links in every story so if I would have every piece of information at my fingertips. And they'd add some kind of social networking, so I can hang out online with folks like me -- who liked the same teams.

5. Newsrooms would use their historical knowledge of the community and put that into some kind of Wikipedia-like database of information that allowed readers to learn about the area through their links to local stories as well as through just browsing on topics of interest. (Ok, I've mentioned this one before, but it has a long tail so I will mention it again.)

6. Directed the conversation on particular topics -- think msn's moneycentral -- by asking a few pointed questions about stories you've written that would engage in serious discussion, offer suggestions or tips and be another place to develop content that could be linked to the original story or new stories on the topic as they were written.

7. Think of each story not as a one-dimensional, one-time only piece that would be finished once the editor moved it to the desk. Instead, it would be interesting if newsrooms thought of every story as a container of endless possibilities for content that -- over time with links, videos, photos, maps -- offers the kind of depth that the print product has slowly whittled away at over the last few years.



Jeffrey said...

Very interesting.... I'll be sending some thoughts

A cup of poetry said...

Very interesting indeed. Especially your comments about the web.

I spent my day talking to youth. I asked a high school senior shadowing the newsroom what students would like to read. He said entertainment news. And I assume not previews of our local musicals that tend to have some lack of knowledge that the world around them didn't stop cold somewhere before the 1950s entertainment scene.

They know how to find their entertainment news. They know how to find it in a hurry. Just like I know how to find my own topics of interest. Another reporter echoed what I said. That often what he's interested in doesn't appear in any of his stories.

It's not that it isn't there. It's that no one wants to take the time to find it. No one wants to pick up the paper and just hope that a story of interest will be there. At least by going to our online site they can skim quickly, get the main points and see if it's worth going further.

And when we do find a good story we still seem to send it off to the copy desk and just move on. We don't expand it, don't find the time to blow it up for all it's worth with all the bells and whistles of which we can think. We pepper it with a few options and hand it off to the editor and the copy desk because our editor is reminding us that we need more stories. When you become understaffed, it becomes quantity, not quality.

And the social networking opportunities are massive. I went to a local youth center to talk about an upcoming dance and what students would like to see. The rec director said she had a meeting with local skateboarders where about 20 showed up. Truly a miracle in a small town.

The secret? They advertised it on MySpace. Not a dime on advertising. Just posting it where they knew people would look.

Reimagining newspapers is not a bad thing.

Marisa Porto said...

I'm fascinated, Kurt, by the idea of posting to myspace instead of advertising. Have you tried any of that at your shop?

Kurt Moore said...

Honestly, the first I heard of the idea was when I talked to the teens yesterday. I was working on a story on the rec center and its efforts to reach out to teens.

Not sure what I think about businesses going to MySpace and other social network sites. Considering I'm still in the newspaper business and rely on advertising so I can get paid, I'd like them to get ads.

But I also know a lot of these places don't have much of an advertising budget. I think the figure I heard yesterday was about $1,000 for the year, and that was being cut almost in half.

My "shop"? Not sure if I understand the question. (Think there was confusion b/c of my "a cup of poetry" tag.) But as far as the newspaper where I work, we had discussed the MySpace phenomenon but I figure the editors would rather us concentrate on getting blogs onto our web site. I've been involved in multi-media but I have not ventured into the blog arena as far as my work for the paper.

And I've debated creating a MySpace account for journalism (I already have one that's mostly poetry), but I'm split on whether or not that would be a good idea.

I think newspapers can definitely look at social network sites for a view of where the industry is headed. We are to a point, such as our message board where readers can share their input. But when you think about it, the people going to such sites are likely younger and often not our readers, or at least not our regular readers.

Honestly I'm split on the web. I think social networking's great. Met a bunch of poets from the west coast that I would not have met otherwise. Keep in touch w/ a best friend from high school and even formed relationships with people I've met online.

But I'm not sure what all the web talk means to journalism. I've always loved writing stories. Telling stories about people. I still remember how you gave me some advice a number of years ago to put more of my creative writing in my news stories. I took that advice. But now with the web it's think short. Write short stories. Write breakout boxes. Makes me feel like a dinosaur at times.

At the same time, if we don't want to become extinct in this profession we have no choice. If newspapers are to survive they need to find ways to get out info ASAP, not wait for the next day. And people need to navigate the sites easily and find the stories they want. Such as putting links to past stories when we write a story on an ongoing topic. And giving the public more of an opportunity to take part in the process.