Friday, September 29, 2006

Closing the software gap

Can newspapers maintain competitive software on a smaller, less Soviet scale than Tom Mohr would have us believe? Here are two signs that a few folks still think it's worth a try.

1) Reviewing the API's Newspaper Next study, Susan Mernit name-checks the two bits of software small newspapers probably need most:

- a self-serve ad platform
- a simple local listings service

And she wants it done in open source, so we can all share & improve. Right on, sister. (Tx Will Sullivan.)

2) The Des Moines Register is searching for a local search editor. Bully. A dozen such "editors" won't do squat until the software is in place, but once it is, no set of editorial duties need more attention at mid-size metros, I think. (And nobody is better poised to see the benefits of that software than Gannett. Let's cross our fingers, k?)

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

PR and its hopes for an online future

Small is nimble. Small is friendly. Small can get by on the seat of its pants. Newsrooms that can be walked across in less than a minute will continue to see smaller internal benefits of IT innovation than bigger papers. So why bother keeping up with the bleeding edge of Web standards?

How about this: so you can spend less time retyping your damn press releases?

Over in the PR industry, the fight is on over press release 2.0. This week, the heartbreakingly idealistic Social Media Club (they're trying to establish standards among social Web practices) formed a Media Release Working Group with the goal of introducing a common set of tags to separate the traditional parts of a release: 5 W's, CEO headshot, self-congratulatory quotes, and so forth.

Once that information's organized, it can be distributed to reporters, who'll be able to quickly or automatically arrange the raw information in the release and slap a lede on top.

Enhancing the 75-year-old (?) "release" format, if you will. See my last post on the need to chunk up the data in our own stories.

I'm extrapolating here from one of the group's members, Tom "my son found lonelygirl15" Foremski, who called for these changes back in February. (But see Kevin Dugan's response, noting that markup standards won't solve all the problems with press releases.)

Of course, this'll only clear the way for robot journalists. (Tx Romenesko.) The presence of two members of the working group -- Market Wire and BusinessWire -- make it clear which reporting sector has the most to gain here.

But seriously: new information standards will give newspapers both external and internal efficiency gains. And that's a few more minutes we can invest in the work that really matters: finding out how the hell the release might affect our readers.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Holovaty: We're building databases for the future, not the present

As you may have heard, a fellow named Adrian Holovaty has a Big Idea, and it's a really good one: newspaper information needs to be updated for the digital age by storing it not only in the hundred-year-old "story" format, but in little database chunks. What's the business model? He's quick to say he doesn't know, but his answer this week to one concern should be comforting to data compilers with small audiences.

Here's Adrian's line: if you've lifted a few words out of your story and flagged them in a way that a computer can recognize -- if a computer can indentify your story's "who" and "where" -- then you're setting yourself up to someday ask a computer to map all those "who"s against, say, a database of political donors, or real estate purchasers, or sources. It's the difference between Fisher-Price and Lego.

His most visible work at the Post has been stuff like the wonderfully nichey political ads database. But in a long blog post this week, he reminds us that mere newsy databases aren't the endgame -- the greater purpose isn't serving today's reader, but laying the ground for future remixes of the data.

If you store everything on your Web site as a news article, the Web site is not necessarily hard to use. Rather, it's a problem of lost opportunity. ... That Web site cannot do the cool things that readers are beginning to expect.

That's a bit of encouragement for small papers considering similar projects in the face of minimal pageviews. (Squint. You see that? Wagging in the distance? It's the long tail!)

It's also some motivation to keep that data well-scrubbed: more's at stake here than Saturday's paper.

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Inky fingers, sandy toes

(Photo courtesy jonofpob)

Well, Labor Day is gone, and that means it's the end of The Medium Run's, er, unannounced summer vacation.

Honestly, it's an old story: expectations too heavy, news consumption too low, distractions too many. We're rolling out a two-pronged strategy for changing the story this fall, gentle reader:

1) More ad-hoc updates (with news pegs!) during the week. See the VERY NEXT POST for such an effort.
2) Below the fold, I dare to lay out a long-term schedule for future weekend posts.

This weekend (9/9): the long-awaited conclusion of my Poynter notes.
Next weekend (9/16): the unique ad economics of print, broadcast and Web, and why they matter to content.
After that (9/23): the brand, and why local newspapers need it so.
After that (9/30): a comprehensive look at business models available to local newspaper sites.

As for 9/37 and on beyond Zebra, we'll see.

Welcome back.

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