Now a few days later, I’ve realized there were two talks at Webstock that made it for me.
The first was Clay Johnson’s “Industrialized Ignorance,” a look at the current state of the media. Clay argues that, much like how industrial food production gives us food that tastes good, but isn’t necessarily good for us, industrial media focuses on producing content with entertainment value, instead of informational value. To combat this, we need to launch an equivalent “whole food movement” for information.
I like the metaphor, and maybe the solution can be reapplied too. For all that the government has done to improve diet (e.g. not much), I believe the greatest successes come at the individual, family, and community level. Food is very much tied to physicality.
On the web, geography matters less. We’re equally as influenced by the people around us, but we have choice in who we follow, friend and subscribe to. In this way we can, figuratively, pick out the fruits and vegetables we’ll be choosing from for our meals later in the week. The first step to take, though, is to start cooking for yourself.
Not checking email before writing 500 words is a simple hack I’d like to take to heart. Instinctively, I reached for my phone this morning as soon as I opened my eyes. The phone went into low battery mode before I made it to the mail app. I took that as a sign today was the day to start.
“Oh, I’m too busy to spend write 500 words every day,” one might think. Or, “I have nothing to write about.” As WordPress’ distraction-free writing says, just write. The words will come to you.
The second talk that really hit home was Karen McGrane’s “Adapting Ourselves to Adaptive Content.” Yes, it does sound like it’s about responsive design. Instead, she promoted producing content independent of platform. If your content is well structured, Karen argues, you’re in a much better position to reflow it into a variety of platforms.
This sounds familiar. In fact, it sounds like what many of us have been promoting as the future of journalism. Stijn wrote about it in 2010. Adrian wrote about it in 2006. In the last year, the conversation has all but died.
Personally, I’ve found enjoyment in more mundane projects, generally falling under the “improving administrative tasks in content management systems” category. Reinventing the entire content creation process is an unknown, nebulous challenge.
It was nice to be inspired to think big again. We need to bring some of that discussion back. And, while we’re at it, open standards too. Remember those?
434 words. I’ll take it.
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?
Since I’ve been involved in the news industry, I’ve been a huge proponent of open source software. In particular, this selling point: open source makes for much easier cross-institution collaboration. Open source software provides a legal framework for companies to pool development resources, and build mutually-beneficial products. However, as I learned the hard way, news organizations need to get to the point where they’re comfortable managing their own open source software before any collaboration can ever happen. We’ve made some strides, but we still have a ways to go.
Today, I was honored to speak about WordPress in the newsroom to the AAN Digital Conference. The alt-weeklies industry is in a situation very similar to what I saw in college media a few years back: one proprietary CMS dominates, editorial workflow is MS Word to InDesign to web, and most of the focus is on print. It was a bit of déjà vu. Fortunately, everyone is also super enthusiastic about the web — no curmudgeons in the audience.
The WordPress-powered sites I highlighted: Quartz, Metro, CBS New York, Rolling Stones, Online News Association, and DigBoston. Quartz is near and dear to my heart because I think they’re really at the forefront of innovation with an app-like product and responsive design. I can’t wait until they roll out their commenting system.
Features and plugins I pointed out include: distraction-free writing, drag and drop media uploader, Edit Flow and WP Frontend Uploader. If you’re looking for more publishing-related plugins, we’re slowly profiling our recommendations in the VIP Plugins Directory.
One parting note: this conference was the first time I’ve heard “dry humping” as a recommended way to show your appreciation to the organizers. Keep on rockin’, alt-weeklies.
What we learned by gutting our home page for GameDay Live. Awesome experiment by the Daily Emerald with a few solid takeaways.
10 years in the making: The new DailyOrange.com. Syracuse University’s Daily Orange finally makes the switch from College Publisher to WordPress, with a very nice responsive design at that. Joey Baker has been vindicated.
Many news sites display related content at the end of an article that’s often based on textual analysis or visitor traffic. Articles often assume a baseline of knowledge on a story, regardless of whether the visitor knows anything about the topic or not.
It would be neat if you could include a quiz widget within the article. The reader could take the quiz which would test their knowledge and then suggest content based on their responses. The news organization would collect useful demographic data to refine their editorial planning.
Fortunately, whether or not Google makes a commenting widget isn’t that big a deal on its own. Maybe they will or maybe they won’t, and maybe it’ll fail again or maybe it won’t. But the key lesson to take away here is that we know a few things are wrong with the trade press in the technology world:
- In tech financial coverage, there is a focus on valuation, deals and funding instead of markets, costs, profits, losses, revenues and sustainability.
- In tech executive coverage, there is a focus on personalities and drama instead of capabilities and execution.
- In tech product coverage, there is a focus on features and announcements instead of evaluating whether a product is meaningful and worthwhile.
- Technology trade press doesn’t treat our industry as a business, so much as a “scene”; If our industry had magazines, we’d have a lot of People but no Variety, a Rolling Stone, but no Billboard.
There are many more examples of the flaws, but these are obvious ones. What we may not know, though is that there’s another flaw:
- For all but the biggest tech stories, any individual article likely lacks enough information to make a decision about the topic of that article.
Today, I’m down at Google in Mountain View at Techraking, a gathering of technologists and investigative journalists. It’s been super inspiring because of the fresh to me perspectives — I’d love to help Portland media outlets with projects like those I’ve heard about.
At lunch, I learnt I was to lead a small group breakout on “the future of the CMS.” To keep the discussion going, we started out by brainstorming the things we liked and want to improve our respective software, and then did a roundtable to identify our six month personal goals.
Some things people like about their CMS:
- Drupal done well is easy to use; there are a ton of modules
- Affordability, open source is cheap
- Community to work with
- Many different homepage templates to choose from depending on the stories of the day
What people would like to improve (lots of conversation, as expected):
- Data portability
- More headless; produce output other than HTML
- Scalability, faster when many people are working in the admin
- Less steps for completing common, simple tasks
- Integration with story budgeting, calendaring; API for story flow
- Magical WYSIWYG editor; auto-save that works; track changes
- Support structured data / semantic markup
- Customization for story layout
- Small pieces loosely joined; better integration with other services
Given the short notice, I thought the breakout session went quite well. About twenty people showed up. In terms of what worked:
- Small group discussion; knew enough backgrounds to call out different people to talk
- Noted salient points on the whiteboard as a way of plotting direction
- I enjoyed the “what are you going to work on in the next six months” takeaways at the end
Next time, we should:
- Figure out the location ahead of time so we don’t waste time finding it
- Have people introduce themselves if they haven’t spoken yet
- Every fifteen minutes, have something for everyone to participate in so people don’t check out