If you want local news to survive make it mobile

Newspapers are the living dead. But we can fight back the zombie apocalypse. Just make news available in a usable way on mobile computers aka smart phones.

Image Source: Mack the Flack

“Nearly half of all American adults (47%) report that they get at least some local news and information on their cellphone or tablet computer.” says the Pew Research Center. Plus some trends show that mobile device adoption is increasing globally in an exponential way. 29% of US adults own a tablet or e-reader. That’s up from 2% less than three years ago. You can see the arrow on the chart right? It’s pointing up!

With that known why don’t all news organizations have a mobile app or mobile website? That’s a rhetorical question by the way. Sure news corporations have been playing catch up in the past year or two in large groups. But frankly I don’t think they really understand that the news business is actually now the software business.

That means our beloved paper based media business is over. Believe me it’s hard for me to say. I have a giant book library. I love the ink from newspapers on my hands. But we need to say goodbye to that age so young people will read good local journalism again.

When I worked at the UNC School of Journalism in 2005, as a lowly tech support guy, I suggested that reporters need to learn how to program computers. This was met with brash attitudes and a general misunderstanding. Thankfully just after my departure they hired a new electronic journalism professor.

I’m not sure what each person’s difficulty with that idea was. One could be that math is perceived to be hard. Students study journalism because they like to write the english language not computer programs. I think this issue is in part a problem with how computer science is taught, or not taught, in K-12 education. Computer Science is misunderstood by general education teachers and not included along with math, science, and english.

Only now is basic web scripting considered an important skill by J-Schools. Twenty three years after the world wide web was invented. That isn’t enough. Universities need to teach a new breed of media makers that are a mix of journalist of old and modern web computer programmers. Not just people conversant in the web but experts in it.

Now that you understand that figure out the mobile news business model. Maybe I’ll explain that in the next blog post…

Community Funded Reporting

This week Ruby and I went to two conferences in Minneapolis. The first one done in Open Space / Unconference style was New Pamphleteers/New Reporters:Convening Entrepreneurs Who Combine Journalism, Democracy, Place and Blogs at the University of Minnesota. (What a long name huh?)

One of the best ideas I heard this week was Spot.us.

“Spot Us” is a nonprofit that allows an individual or group to take control of news in their community by sharing the cost (crowdfunding) to commission freelance journalists to write important, or uncovered news stories.

Dave Cohn is behind this idea and he explained it to us via Skype. I was amazed at how few people where in this mini-session. Because it feels like a real innovation that could answer the burning question on every corporate journalist and CEOs mind, “How do we make money making journalism so we can get it done?”.

But the big difference between this idea, as I see it, and how media CEOs do is that this is about direct funding to individual journalist not organizations or corporations. Yet another middle man removed from the process of making media and protecting our democracy. But I don’t think the corporate media folks at this conference had thought about this that much. There were just too many competing sessions. Their loss.

I’ll be paying close attention to how Spot.us progresses. Dave plans to roll this service out to the Bay Area first then other communities one at a time. Sounds like a good plan. It worked for Graig’s List.

myncCamp – TV Station does a BarCamp

Before BarCamp RDU gets here there is another event with a serious Bay Area guest. Its called myncCamp and its sponsored by NBC17. (Get more info on the myncCamp wiki.) They have a new portal website called mync.com. The station is soliciting input and is going about it in a very cool way. By holding a barcamp style meeting. Plus the very smart and inspirational Tara Hunt is coming to NC!

The point of myncCamp is to get the members of the local RDU area (and beyond…everyone is welcome) to discuss what they are working on and what NBC-17 could do better for the community at large. We will discuss anything you think is pertinent to helping the experience of living in NC even more awesome.

Some helpful areas may be to look at how other hubs of community around the US are gelling. Could NBC-17 help out with that? Perhaps you are working on something cool like Coworking or a startup that may be able to partner up? Whatever it is, we’d love to have you come out and share. If nothing else, it will be an awesome day to just get to know one another better.

I’m impressed for a few reasons. One is inviting Tara Hunt to help. She’s been very inspirational to me. It was the work of her and others that got me interested in coworking. Their office Citizen Space has really influenced me. They are a big reason I started Carrboro Coworking. I am so very grateful to her. Plus she has a interesting new book called The Whuffie Factor that’s about to come out. I’m really looking forward to reading it.

Another reason is because Wayne Stutton is involved. He works for NBC17 and has done great things with local new media journalism at the Local Conversations blog. The station really took a step in the right direction when they hired Wayne and other community content managers. Its built major community trust I think.

update: I honestly don’t know how this event will be conducted. Barcamp style? unconference style? traditional event style?

Your Comments are Valuable

Ever notice how your comments on the Chapel Hill News blog Orange Chat end up in the paper? First time I noticed my comments there I though, “Wow. That’s cool. My words in print for people to see.” Its kind of like a letter to the editor. But now I am concerned that all this user generated content isn’t being obtained ethically.

Comments on a blog are information. Information is a commodity. It has real value. To discover this value you need to know how to use it. But before you do that where do you get this commodity? You ask people to give it to you. What do you provide in return? The going “rate” is space to leave a comment and the “privilege” to have it put in front of thousands or millions of people. If you can get these returns by creating your own blog and doing some Search Engine Optimization yourself then you may be able to compete with large corporations. This is the entrepreneurial democratization of commerce. This is one way sites like Digg or ChapelHillNews.com are making money in the Internet age.

I am not against this practice. Its a popular form of business. But are these businesses compensating you fairly? I believe the majority of the people out there using sites, leaving comments and clicking links, are not fully aware of the resources they are creating. User generated content is quite important to democracy and community. But when we don’t understand its value we may not be equal partners in business transactions.

Our comments and letters are actually a type of free user generated content turned into profit. When you sign up to log into many sites and leave comments you can relinquishing your rights to what you write in your comments. Try reading the terms and services. Notice that little check box above a submit button? Usually there is a link there to some confusing legalese. Contained therein are words that strip you of your copyrights. (Not all sites. Comments on this blog are the exclusive property of there authors.)

Those few words you write in comments on Orange Chat may not have any value else where but they do contribute to the content of the paper. There are a ton of “free” websites that collect user generated content and leverage it to create sales from advertising online. In fact this is a main tenant of Web 2.0 business models. Take free data, represent it, sell ads, and provide premium services. aka the Freemium Business model.

The past few years has shown a real change in the relationship that journalists have with blogs. Before newspapers started blogging we wrote about local issues on our blogs. We made two way conversations possible and integrated first person stories about events and ideas. All before many journalist knew what a blog was or thought them worthy of concern.

Now we see how important local blogs are to local political reporting. Reporters read local blogs like Orange Politics to understand what some are thinking and discussing. Blog comments can be the ultimate research tool in understanding street level thought about local events. Blogs can be lead generation machines. Especially for a reporter who may not live in a local community for a long enough time to know people or the issues.

I applaud journalist use of blog and their comments for research. But recently I think some may have crossed the line. I believe our copyrights have been violated.

RE: Councilman seeks recount Front page story in the Chapel Hill News on Sunday November 11, 2007. In this story several comments left on OrangePolitics.org where reprinted verbatim. Orange Politics was referenced as the source, but that was not enough to fulfill the copyright terms of the sites Creative Commons license.

The Chapel Hill News use of comments in their for-profit publication appears to violate the Creative Commons license this website uses. This license applies to the posts and comments.

The Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 1.0 Generic license that OrangePolitics.org uses has the following conditions:

You are free:
* to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work
* to Remix — to adapt the work

Under the following conditions:
* Attribution. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).
* Noncommercial. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

* For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. The best way to do this is with a link to this web page.
* Any of the above conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder.
* Nothing in this license impairs or restricts the author’s moral rights.

Has the Chapel Hill News obtained written or verbal permission from commenters Tom Jensen or Mark Marcoplos to waive these conditions?

Has the Chapel Hill News made it clear to others the license this site uses by linking directly to this site and/or comments? (FYI, each comment on this site has a unique URL.)

Here are direct links to the comments quoted in the Chapel Hill News that appear to violate the Noncommercial condition of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 1.0 Generic license.

Tom Jensen’s Comment on Orange Politics reprinted in the Chapel Hill News

Mark Marcoplos’s Comment on Orange Politics reprinted in the Chapel Hill News

I, Brian Russell, hereby provide permission to reprint my comments or posts on Orange Politics.org to not for profit publications. All other publications must obtain written permission from myself to publish any text. Thank you.

All in all I am quite happy that journalists use Orange Politics as a source. I object to their lack of direct linking to specific sources and disregard for the legal terms of websites. The people who work hard on non-profit sites like Orange Politics do it for there community, not for profit. When for profit websites like ChapelHillNews.com lift text verbatim they profit unfairly from there communities hard work. Ignorance of our copyright terms is not an excuse.

This problem could be fixed in several ways. I’d like to see the Chapel Hill News, and all other for profit media companies, to link to all sources inside a stories body content. (using a URL) Also they could obtain direct written permission from each copyright holder if they intend to profit from their republished comments. Finally I think all modern journalists, editors, owners and others need training in modern copyright law especially as it pertains to the Creative Commons license.

Why you should care about the Carrboro Citizen

Jock Lauterer has a straight to the point bit of witting in this weeks Carrboro Citizen called Why we should support our hometown newspaper. My fav part:

So why is this new paper special? How is it different from the others? And why should you care about whether The Citizen fails or flourishes?

To answer those questions, let’s go to little Yerington, Nev., where that town’s 3,700-circulation weekly paper, the Mason Valley News, bears the following unequivocal motto beneath it’s nameplate:


There you go. The Citizen is the only newspaper in the world that really cares about Carrboro. And here’s my proof: Why has there never before been a full-fledged, standalone, all-local newspaper in Carrboro?

Because historically publishers have looked at Carrboro not as a community but as a market.

Market obsession is the problem with media in general. Too much concern about profit and not enough about good journalism. Profit and good journalism aren’t mutally exlusive. But service is more important than gigantic paydays.

I’m going to snag that nameplate for a bit after I modify it to suit my needs. 🙂

Buying the War

Bill Moyers has a great new piece called Buying the War. All the video is online here. I’ve only gotten through chapter one but I can already tell how very important this documentary is. History will be kind to the view that the main stream media was hoodwinked by the Bush administration. What an awful break down of the freedom of the press. At the cost of so many lives… What will media owners do to make sure this doesn’t happen again? Sadly profit may blind people and prevent safety measures from being developed or even talked about.

This is such an amazing comeback considering the details of Moyer’s rousting from PBS by right wing hatchet men at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. His now famous speech at the National Conference on Media Reform is amazing! Its called Take Public Broadcasting Back.

Welcome back Mr. Moyers! We’re so happy you’ve returned!

Thanks to Anton for blogging this. It reminded me to look for the vid online. 🙂

KFTY lays off staff, will Rely on Viewer Submitted Content

A good friend sent me a link to a blog post called Scenes from the media revolution.

Thomas Lifson
A small terrestrial (i.e., the kind that uses normal tower-based transmission) broadcast television station, KFTY, Channel 50 in Santa Rosa, California, has fired its entire news staff and is going to rely on viewer-submitted material for news. Joe Garofoli of the San Francisco Chronicle calls it

a nationally watched experiment in local television coverage. Over the next few months, the station’s management plans to ask people in the community — its independent filmmakers, its college students and professors, its civic leaders and others — to provide programming for the station.

Will they be paid? That’s being worked out. Who will cover the harder-edged stories? Some will be culled from local newspaper and TV online sites, [station executive] Spendlove said, and “other sources” that are still being discussed.

This blog post is really about Ideas for Integrating Independent and Traditional Media.

Deep down, or not so deep, mass firings is just what media people are afraid of. I think they should be afraid. I would be.

Do big media owners really care who makes the content they resell? As long as content is cheap and they have a good profit margin who cares what it is or who makes it? sarcasm (Notice how I didn’t write cheap and quality. Do you think a barrage of coverage about Anna Nicole Smith’s death is quality coverage? I don’t.)

The big problem is traditional media workers will be pit against independent media makers. If we bloggers and vloggers get involved for pay we will be in direct competition with traditional media workers. If you thought someone off the street with less experience in your business was going to take your job how would you feel? Would you fight against change?

Bloggers and Vloggers can live in harmony with traditional corporate TV workers. But it looks like TV workers will have to become more like bloggers and vloggers, not less. Not because bloggers and vloggers are cheaper. But because we use new media tools like we breath.

Maybe TV stations should hire full time and part time bloggers and vloggers who do not have journalism degrees or broadcast experience. Put them to work beside other media workers. Create environments where they can learn from each other. Don’t force Bloggers and Vloggers to become TV workers. Some how I think Journalism Schools will have to-do the same.

The blog I quoted quotes the following SF Gate article;
Tonight at 11, news by neighbors – Santa Rosa TV station fires news staff, to ask local folks to provide programming

Harnessing the Work of Bloggers

I wrote the following on my AudioActivism blog on May 24th, 2006.

Techorati has announced a new business relationship with the Associated Press. Read more about it at Technorati Teams With The Associated Press to Connect Bloggers To More Than 440 Newspapers Nationwide.

I was once told that the real definition of a professional is someone who gets paid for what they do. We know that there is more to the definition. I bet if you were to compare bloggers with journalists you’d find we’re both professionals.

Real bloggers write and link because they love. We’re news and politics junkies. We like our info fresh and witty. This propels many of use to write like mad. So we write to give other bloggers what we want from them.

Most of us don’t do it for pay. So what happens when corporations like Technorati and AP get together to aggregate bloggers work and put it up on their websites? Pro business people are always saying nothing is free. So how is Technorati and AP paying bloggers for the services we’re providing them?

One form of payment could be the ‘Neato Effect’. This is when you see your name or something you wrote in the paper. The first couple of times its a rush. The realization that hundreds if not tens of thousands of people are reading what you wrote. For most people this rush is payment enough. What happens when you have a blog and millions of people all over the world read your writing every day? What about when a smart weekly newspaper recognizes you as an expert and pays you to write it? You become a professional. Many bloggers have become pros in one way or another. The ‘neato effect’ as a form of payment just ain’t going to do it for me. Or many of other good bloggers out there I suspect.

Another form of payment is in website traffic. If a local or national newspaper site links to your blog post whether purposely or automatically via Technorati you should get a few more hits. What is that worth to most bloggers? In dollars and cents probably not much. You need tens of thousands of unique visitors to make money on advertising. So a few more from a newspaper of two won’t make a real financial contribution. If Digg or Slashdot links to you then your hits might jump for a day or so but it’ll also cripple your site too. Your Google ranking could increase over time. This might help your ad revenue. But in the end isn’t this just gaming the system?

What if you don’t care about making money on your blog? What does Technorati, AP, or newspaper website have to pay you with then? How about respect as an subject matter expert. That’s good for some karma and community value. How about influence? Political power? Publicity for good causes? Social change? There has to be some other kind of fair trade value.

The fact is for profit groups (newspapers) and a not for profit groups (bloggers) exist with different values that aren’t always compatible. Even if you’re a blogger and want to make money doing it do you think newspapers need your blog enough to pay you well? Hell they can’t seem to pay stringers very well.

Bloggers freely available content is being hijacked. Technorati is helping us find each other and in return is cashing in huge. So will their partners. Main stream media needs us. We’re vanguards of the future. We write in the trenches and get dirty doing it. Its true that many pro journalists have seen the light and are innovating too. I respect old school journalists. Really!

Its the masses of people creating on read/write web that will fill the bank accounts of businesses in the future. How will individuals get in on this? The future will be a giant negotiation for digital labor. We have serious leverage. Content creators like bloggers have real value in their ability to be creative.

Until newspapers decided to admit bloggers are another kind of professional and treat us as such these new relationships just won’t be fair at all.

N&O adds blog about Orange County

Orange Chat

Thursday, January 18, 2007
Welcome to Orange Chat

Did you ever read a story and say, “I wish the reporter had asked …”

Well, the truth is sometimes we did but there wasn’t space to put it in the paper.

Welcome to Orange Chat, where we hope to expand on the Orange and Chatham County coverage we provide in The News and Observer and The Chapel Hill News, and where we hope you’ll tell us how we’re doing.

Send us your questions, criticisms and suggestions.

And thanks for reading.

Mark Schultz

Hat tip to Andy at The Editor’s Desk