What’s next: Digital First Media

Big news to break today: I’ve joined Digital First Media’s Thunderdome team as Senior Developer.

As some of you may be aware of, Digital First Media is the second-largest newspaper chain in the US. Under leadership from the likes of John Paton, Jim Brady, Steve Buttry, and others, DFM is investing heavily in digital, to the tune of $100 million annually over the next three years. Part of this investment is their “Project Unbolt“, and part is other, yet to be announced news products and infrastructure. WordPress will be a key component of the technology stack — and DFM’s Thunderdome team is the place where many experiments are happening.

Five and half years ago (wow how time flies), I wrote “One case against College Publisher” in which I outlined the importance of open source in publishing. Since then, I’ve worked in news largely from the vendor perspective — none of the newsroom opportunities I explored were the right fit. With Digital First Media, I feel like I’ve gotten my big chance at the big leagues. I look forward to helping DFM implement WordPress in a variety of contexts, as well as increasing my contributions to WordPress core, Edit Flow, WP-CLI, and other projects. Open source has a tremendous opportunity to impact news, and the news industry has a tremendous opportunity to contribute to open source.

Check out the announcement on Inside Thunderdome. If you want to join the fun, we’re hiring a frontend developer for my team.

Webstock: Miranda Mulligan, Your Survival is Designed

This week I’m at Webstock, a lovely conference in New Zealand. I’m doing my best to write little blog posts about the amazing presentations. Please forgive any typos, etc. If you’re here too, come write a haiku at Automattic’s booth.

Miranda Mulligan (hey, I know her!) helped take the Boston Globe through a responsive redesign, and now is Director at the Knight Media Lab at Northwestern. She’s the first in five generations of women to not make clothing for a living. Clothing matters; what you wear is an indicator of what you value.

“Journalism needs to be a more thoughtful dresser.” Some large news organizations have very good UX designers, and many more have very good editorial designers. But news design has stagnated, and the news industry needs more design-thinkers.

When Miranda talks with publishers, they’re fascinated by responsive web design. They don’t have many designers in their organization though, and design comes at the end of the project workflow.

“Technologists are winning at media innovation.” Twitter is reinventing breaking news situations. The Evening Edition gives you a summary of what’s happening at the end of every day. Narrative Science turns big data into readable stories. Why aren’t media companies inventing these new products?

A canonical reading list for the future of news

Earlier today, I received a request to put together a synthesis of the future of news discussion thus far. As such, I spent an hour or so going through my 600+ journalism links and now present the definitive, canonical reading list, a collection of both popular posts and hidden gems from the last 18 months or so that I’ve been paying attention to the industry.

Explaining the past

The [Monday] Papers
An epic laundry list of everything that needs to be said about the newspaper industry.

A Public Can Talk To Itself: Why The Future of News is Actually Pretty Clear

Perhaps the biggest challenge in media criticism this year has been making discussions on ‘Future of News’ more than a debate between New and Old Media. Just because a news organization established itself and started publishing recently doesn’t mean that the way they are publishing is any different than in the past. Many of the biggest news organizations to spring up in the last few years that are largely considered to be ‘new media’ — The Huffington Post, Gawker, Politico, Tech Crunch — are fundamentally similar to the NYT. That is to say, they are trustee media, they stake a claim on a certain beat and a handful of editors ultimately control everything that is published.

Open memo on how to right a sinking ship
A synthesis of all the advice I would give newspapers struggling to reinvent themselves: experiment with business models, improve your relationship with your community, and invest in your technology.

Objectivity isn’t truthful — it’s pathological

When the good-intentioned pursuit of truth leads the truth-seekers to lie (to themselves, to readers; by inclusion or omission) rather than break their code, there’s probably something wrong with the code.

How the Web and the Weblog have changed Writing
Superb essay on the web and writing formats.

Seeds for the future

A fundamental way newspaper sites need to change
Holovaty’s testimony for structured data.

The “Lack of Vision” thing? Well, here’s a hopeful vision for you

This isn’t copyright advice: What I’m really saying is we have to begin learning how to add value to the information we collect, and then put that information into a thoughtful structure to retain and expand that value.

Idea for the future of journalism: newspapers as providers of structured information for any given community. The scarcity is having that data in the aggregate.

Attention Is the Real Resource
Gruber prices advertisements in his full RSS feed at a premium because his readers are more engaged than one-off webpage visits.

A breakthrough for the Times? Possibly.
Content producers would bid to have their articles, images, videos, etc. appear next to related NY Times articles. Smart, intriguing subsidization idea.

Eleven Things I’d Do If I Ran a News Organization
Numbers two and three would be my top choices. Transparency by default, and leverage that to build intelligent conversation.

My advice to the New York Times? Copy Foursquare.
All of these ideas are smart. Specifically, Sean offers clever ways to use reader engagement with a website to build a profile of their interests and areas of expertise.

10 Ideas I Want to Try at the Newspaper Where I Work
I dig the ideas Will has for community relationship management, as well as using data and APIs well.

This is a mock-up for a news site that I think should exist
Users go to the site with journalistic questions they want answered, “Why is corn still subsidized?” as an example, and journalists answer them. Smart, but execution is the hardest part.

Most of all, however, I think this tweet depicts the entire horizon.

The importance of Google’s Living Stories

Google's Living Story for Afghanistan

Google, in collaboration with The New York Times and The Washington Post, dropped a bombshell today in the battle for the future of news: Living Stories. The new project is described as “an experiment in presenting news, one designed specifically for the online environment,” and there are currently pages for eight different topics, including the climate change negotiations, the war in Afghanistan, and the healthcare debate.

There are four reasons why Living Stories are a Very Important Thing:

Topics are introduced with context. Each has an approachable, up-to-date summary at the top of the page that acts as a primer for the issue. The primer includes links, too; if the reader wants to learn more about a specific event presented in the summary, it’s just a click away. Let’s compare: The New York Times topic page for global warming and Google’s Living Story for climate change. In my opinion, Google’s information hierarchy wins.

Time is heavily leveraged for perspective. The clickable timeline with milestone headlines underneath the initial topic summary is a powerful method for understanding how the “living story” has unfolded to date. Stories are also presented in reverse-chronological order, making it easier to dive back into history for deeper understanding.

Filtering by the abstract components that make up an ongoing story is absolutely brilliant. For the Afghanistan page, this means “All coverage” can be filtered down to “The Global Response,” “Casualties,” and “The Afghan Elections,” among others.

“No updates since last visit.” The future of news is personalized. More importantly, personalized in the sense that the news knows what’s news to me.

A critical ethos of contextual journalism is to drive understanding. The goal should be to present a topic in such a way that the new information starts where the reader is at, and then lends the opportunity for the reader to learn as much as they have time for. The nut to crack is how you scale this method of presenting information across all of the topics a news organization may cover. That riddle involves what the information architecture looks like, how you incorporate production into the editorial workflow, and how you ensure the pages stay consistent and up-to-date.

In the Times article about the announcement, Josh Cohen of Google News said “if [Living Stories] worked well, Google would make the software available free to publishers to embed in their sites, much as those publishers can now use Google Maps and YouTube functions on their sites.” From the business perspective, it’s again unfortunate that Google is the one seriously innovating with the intersection of technology and journalism. Derek Willis notes that Living Stories was built “in collaboration with news organizations” using their APIs. Google Search was built in collaboration with content producers and their XML sitemaps.

Content doesn’t matter without the package. The package is how you make the money, and Google looks like it’s doing serious experimentation with one key component of a rebooted system of news: context.

Future of News roundtable, Eugene-style

Future of News panel at SPJ's Building a Better Journalist

The lunch session at SPJ’s Building a Better Journalist conference today was YAPOTFON, or Yet Another Panel On The Future Of News. Conversation was facilitated by President-elect Hagit Limor (@hlimor).

DJ Wilson is the President and General Manager of the KGW Media Group in Portland. “More than ever, people are consuming media.” Part of it is the 24/7, anytime, anywhere demand from consumers. KGW is a content business that works to meet that demand.

Rita Hibbard (@rthibbard) is the executive director and editor of InvestigateWest, a reporting non-profit in Seattle started by ex-Seattle Post-Intelligencer staffers. The bad news is the sheer number of journalists that have been laid off; the number of credentialed reporters in Olympia, Washington has gone from 25 to 6. [Ed note 10/25: This may also be due to waning interest in covering government] “Readers and news consumers are starting to wake up to what’s being lost out there.” We’re not replacing the investigative troops, but figuring out new ways to get the job done. InvestigateWest is brand new; incorporated in May, website launched in July, and first story will be out next month. It’s a piece on the misuse of public lands. They generate original, high-level investigative content. The business model is to syndicate it to as many media partners as possible, not build up their website. The first grant InvestigateWest received was from the Bullitt Foundation, which hasn’t traditionally funded journalism.

“Collaboration is a big part of this new media ecosystem.” InvestigateWest is working with a number of media partners in ways that would not have happened five or ten years ago. “The era of one dominant media source in a community is over.” News will now be an ecosystem of many parts.

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