Newspapers Backwards

Foundations of Old MediaImage by Flickmor via Flickr

I have had this thought, for the last several years, that our current method of creating newspapers is backwards. We, for example, try to cover a two county area primarily, another six counties to a lesser extent, and another eight counties to some extent. We do so in a way that is somewhat interesting to most people in the form of stories. Then we chop it up and put it online.

But, that is not how people live. I live in a rural neighborhood with a one mile circumference, am part of school, church and business communities, and several communities of interest. County lines don’t matter to those communities. I would like to know items of significance to those specific communities, developed by people who care about the communities, to be available to me in meaningful context wherever I am. That is why I am trying to explore the organization and operating systems for a local information utility (LIU) as advocated by API. Mark Briggs, in his recent blog on the future of local media being explored at latimes.com, still did not explore the fundamental shift needed to create the LIU.

In order to start, we need to eliminate our dependence on the packaged story. Our content needs to start with meaningful text snippets, tagged in many relevant aspects, and linked to tagged photos, video and audio. From that “atomized” content, we can created the packaged products, either print or digitally distributed.

If we can make the LIU happen, then the newspaper on paper, covering all of those counties could be organized to give me a broad overview of state, national and international events, not in detail, but so that I know they happened and can get more detail if I desire through the numerous news outlets that have made those stories commodities. The newspaper would have a local daily section, probably at a city level, that gave context and insight to major issues facing that larger community, with an emphasis on government, social service and community service issues, spiced with the best of the hyper-local and community of interest happenings. A weekly section could focus on the neighborhood. And, if I was interested in any of those stories, I could get deep and rich detail, prepared by those who cared deeply about those specific communities. But, I would not have to wade through stories to get at that detail. I would be referred to a “local wiki”, where the context snippets are put into context, or I could search directly for those items of content I was targeting.

Brittanica, no stranger to disruptive change, has a forum this month, mostly on the struggles of the newspaper industry, and some hope for future states. Blogs alone won’t give us the information to create, sustain and enjoy meaningful, high performance communities. The local content needs to be structured in a meaningful context, and who better to do it than the local media company, turned upside down and backwards?

A good description of why we need to do so was provided by Wediabuzz, noting the difference between journalists and bloggers at Web 2.0.

Related articles

Blogging Insights for Building Community

Young people interacting within an ethnically diverse society.Image via Wikipedia

Todd of Wediabuzz really liked this slideshow from Trisha Okubo. There are many slides but it moves quickly and is very interesting, and most appropriate for those of us thinking about how to engage and inform our communities. She makes the point, near the end, that communities cannot be built, like products, but need to develop from shared passion.

Groundswell

A tag cloud with terms related to Web 2.Image via Wikipedia

As Web 2.0 explodes, how do we manage the complexity? The holy grail is self management by communities which care. I found this excerpt from Groundswell interesting:

Advertising succeeds by giving the same message to everybody. Customer support representatives read from the same script, because the company can’t treat employees as interchangeable unless they treat customers the same way.

As a result, to many of our corporate clients, groundswell strategy seems like a step backwards. “You want us to deal with people as individuals?” they say. “We spent the last 30 years computerizing everything so we can avoid just that!”

Here’s the secret. When you start a groundswell project, you will be treating people as individuals. But very soon, you’ll be able to get economies of scale. How? By enlisting those same customers.

For example, Dell told us (the story’s in Chapter 8 of Groundswell) that when they started their most recent support forum, 1999, they knew they’d need moderators. They pulled 30 support reps off the phones and converted them into forum moderators. Those support reps answered questions online, just as they had been on the phone.

Already, Dell was getting more efficiencies, since each answer could be read by dozens or hundreds of other people searching for it on their support forum.

Now, five years later, the support forum is many times larger than it was then. And the number of moderators is no longer 30. It’s five. And that’s because the members of the community are moderating it themselves.

I think this also is in concert with Tim O’Reilly, who provides thoughts on Web 2.0, and notes importantly, that:

Network effects from user contributions are the key to market dominance in the Web 2.0 era

Context demands fundamental change

Info symbolImage via Wikipedia

There are fundamental conceptual and structural issues in creating a local media company for the future. I like the API’s Newspaper Next nomenclature of “Local Information and Connection Utility”, but shortened to Local Information Utility or LIU.

Media connotes being spoken to, or at.

What I am after is a way to create local intelligence in context, accessible from any device at any time. As my friend, Tom, says, following Steve Raye, “context is king”. We are awash in a sometimes disorienting cacophony of content. How do we create, define, and find meaningful information in context?

The context needs to be facilitated by someone, and who better than people who care about the community, organized by the Local Media Company, for all the reasons described by Wediaup in Project 1two5:

Why LoMediaCo’s Still Matter

  1. LoMediaCo’s create a lot of relevant content that no one else does
  2. LoMediaCo’s are a trusted info source
  3. LoMediaCo’s have a vested interest in their communities
  4. LoMediaCo’s have recognizable brands
  5. LoMediaCo’s still make money (just not as much)
  6. LoMediaCo’s have full-time employees
  7. …and a bunch of other stuff that will come out in conversation

However, the LoMediaCo cannot hire all of the micro-community moderators, of both hyper-local communities and communities of interest, to moderate, let alone aggregate the generators of all the content. So, we need community augmentation of both context creation and content creation, while still in context. The most important ingredient is intelligent people who care deeply about their particular community, not technical skills or work processes.

We cannot continue to focus on products. Products are just nodes on the network, promotional flags to local intelligence, in context.

Many innovators are trying to make this happen, and many media managers are still stuck in the same rut.

Local Information Utility

I did not make up the concept of the Local Information Utility. I first heard it in connection with the American Press Institute’s Newspaper Next effort. This has been a massive effort to wake up an industry stuck in a decades old, but previously successful, business model.

Newspapers tend to think they are innovative when they publish new niche publications in print or online. But we have not had enough serious discussion, or imagination, about the possibilities of creating much more accessible local information.

That is why I was so intrigued when I heard of the “Local Information Utility” concept.

Much to be done

The Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and US Capitol at nightImage via Wikipedia

My name is Chuck Peters (cpetersia on Twitter, and reachable on email at cpetersia@mac.com). I am the CEO of The Gazette Company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a local media company serving Eastern Iowa primarily through The Gazette newspaper and KCRG – TV9, an ABC affiliate, along with numerous niche print and online products. I just returned from the Newspaper Association of America annual meeting in Washington, DC. Newspaper executives from around the world are trying to implement new business models. However, it is hard to implement a new model with an old mindset. Many are trying to arrange the concepts for a new ecosystem of local information. What I hope to do here is share my thoughts, and connections, as we explore these new frontiers.