BCNI Philly: Creating thriving communities where your readers are happy

Andrew Spittle and Andrew Nacin led a 1 pm session on lessons to be learned from developing software. Both worked on their college newspapers. Spittle now works for WordPress.com, a service offered by Automattic, and Nacin works on WordPress.org, an open-source software project. Two different types of communities involved: centralized and decentralized. Continue reading

BCNI Philly: APM’s Public Insight Network

Drew Geraets led a session this morning on American Public Media’s Public Insight Network, an initiative and tool to bring their audience deeper into the reporting process. Funded by the Knight Foundation, they’re currently doing a complete rebuild of their CRM for journalism to produce a fully open source project and expand usage beyond the 12 existing media partners.

Specifically, by doing the rebuild, they want to: share more insights, offer better tools for sharing, enable sources to update their profile within the system, offer sources more granular privacy controls, instantly publish insights, create credibility systems for sources, offer a better user experience, and integrate with existing sites.

The prototype dashboard for the reporter-facing Audience Insight Repository is project-based and focused on collaboration.

Journalists can search through a huge database of sources based on demographic metadata.

Once they’ve found a worthwhile lead, the journalist can click through and get contact information, background on the source, and a record of prior interactions.

The project also has plans for a user-facing site tentatively called MyPIN where they’d be able to engage more fully with the news organization’s reporting process or update their profile information.

There’s a certain amount of friction, however, in requiring sources to manually update their profiles every time a bit of their personal data changes. As the system exists now, American Public Media requires readers to submit full contact information every time they fill out a form. If the contact information on the form is different than what is in the database, then that discrepancy is flagged and an analyst has to manually address that conflict. In the future, in addition to enabling users to update their profiles on their own, it might also be worthwhile to explore integrating with LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. With LinkedIn or Facebook, the user could update their resume, contact information, etc. and have it automatically pulled into the Public Insight Network. By integrating Twitter, for example, journalists could easily find sources for a given story by having search localized to updates from users within the network.

We also discussed user privacy, which getting correct is of significant interest to American Public Media. More importantly, what control users have over their privacy and how to make policy changes without surprising or alienating them. An idea I suggested is that, rather than presenting just a list of options for the user to choose from, they should instead try a Hunch-style approach. With this, they’d be presented a series of questions detailing scenarios about their data and how it might be used. The decisions the user made responding to each scenario could then guide their privacy options. At some point, American Public Media would like to start sharing source information amongst all of their media partners using the software, but it will be critical for them to execute that move right the first time.

BCNI Philly: Peer News, emerging news hybrid in Hawaii

“What is the atomic unit of journalism?” Howard Weaver asks as he discusses the pre-launch philosophies of Peer News. This is an important question because the news startup doesn’t want to brand itself as a news site. Doing so will lock your community into thinking about you with a particular paradigm. Instead, Peer News wants to offer a range of services to its audience.

Started by Pierre Omidyar, this news startup in Honolulu will be an online-only, subscription-only approach to covering political news. Online-only means no legacy costs or issues and, at this time, they have no plans for taking advertising. In addition, one of the insights Pierre made while thinking about this is that local civic government news is an elite niche with a capacity for “hyper-efficiency.”

If you’re starting a subscription model, Howard asks, why is this going to be worth more than a free beer on Facebook? [edit] For this operation, the compelling argument is the opportunity for a close relationship with a skilled journalist in a valuable local niche. By becoming a member of the site, the user has equal opportunity to posting their opinion and joining the discussion.

Peer News be charging $20/month because that’s what the competition charges for home delivery. There are five reporters, two web developers, an assistant editor, and an editor. By having the technology capacity internal, they hope to be able to innovate with how they package and deliver information. For instance, they hope to emulate Google Living Stories to provide contextual, canonical pages for ongoing stories and issues.

One question from the audience: how do you reconcile the fact that, by charging a subscription fee, you’re excluding some percentage of the population from access to information and democratic debate? There was also a spirited debate, albeit lacking much data, about paywalls and whether this would work well at a local level. Howard argues, however, that they’re selling the experience and not the goods.

Two reasons they think this news startup can work. First, the entire operation requires a lot less financial resources than running a print newspaper. Peer News provide high-quality journalism and break even with operating revenues of a couple million dollars a year. Second, they’ve identified a local niche whose information is high value to a certain part of the community.

BarCamp Redefining J School

A few co-conspirators and I want to hold a BarCamp on Sunday, October 25th, the day after the SPJ regional conference at the University of Oregon. For those who have never attended one, a BarCamp is an “ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment.” In short, if you think you have something to teach you can throw it in to the mix. If you’re there to learn, then you have a whole number of knowledgeable people as teachers for a variety of topics.

The topic for this BarCamp? Redefining J school. The news industry is going through epic change that most J schools are ill-equipped for. It’s time for a new style of learning. We brainstormed several possible sessions:

  • What courses should you take to supplement your journalism career? What are good minors to a journalism degree?
  • What do students want from professors? How can students take initiative and enhance classes?
  • Crowdsourcing, and leveraging the knowledge of the community to put together a story
  • Where’s the line between PR and journalism?
  • Digital basics (blogging, Twitter, Google Alerts, etc.) and how those tools can be used
  • How to get paid internships (i.e. kickstarting your career while still in college)
  • Where’s the line between work and life when building your personal brand online?

Granted, I’ve done a lot of punditry in the last year talking about how J school is obsolete and needs to be completely reinvented. It’s time to translate grand ideas into action.

We’re planning to meet at 6:00 pm PT in the EMU Fishbowl, next Tuesday the 6th. Join our Google Group to stay in touch, or leave a note in the comments.