Year in Review and Work Plan

Last year at this time we were undertaking a major reorganization of the company — both to survive the most precipitous decline in revenue we had ever experienced and to position us for the speed and flexibility we need to thrive in the fast-changing local media world we are going to be experiencing for some time to come.  I am very thankful that our team was able to cut expenses commensurate with the revenue decline so that Continue reading “Year in Review and Work Plan”

C3?

We have our quarterly board and employee meetings this week.  We are an ESOP company, owned by our original founding families (over 126 years in business), and the Employee Stock Ownership Trust.  So everyone is interested.

The last time I made a formal report, we were having difficulty forecasting our sales, and we did not know if we would be able to cut sufficient expenses to offset our accelerating revenue declines.  We were in danger of not meeting our bank covenants.

Today, I am very appreciative that we have stabilized, thanks to the wonderful support of our customers and the hard work and dedication of our over 500 employees.  We are profitable, have positive cash flow, have met the bank covenants and have been able to maintain our cash position after paying millions of dollars to Continue reading “C3?”

Progress Report on C3 Organization

Engraving by John Byddell of Truth, "the ...
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People have asked me, often, why I don’t blog more about our progress in implementing our C3 organization.  The last post was May 10th, a quarter ago.

I try to wait until  I have something to say.  Something to say requires change.  Change requires time.  Sometimes too much time for my taste.  As the engraving here represents — time reveals all things, and truth is the daughter of time, adversely affected by hypocrisy.

The thoughts and comments of others are updated regularly, usually every week, in the right column, under what I am “paying attention to”.  After reviewing the links that have been noted there,  it is clear that the media environment has changed a great deal, and there have been many good ideas on how to proceed toward a new future.  But, the Three Gorillas noted here over a year ago still remain, blocking change in our traditional media company – organization, culture and technology.

This year, we realized that we would not be able to survive the deepest and steepest decline in our revenue in anyone’s memory, let alone attack the culture and technology issues of creating C3, without truly implementing one organization that separated content creation from product creation.  We needed to reduce our expenses.  We needed to create focused product management for our existing and contemplated products.  We needed services that could effectively support all of those products, including content creation.

As I noted in the May post, we took three operating companies focused on products and created 10 operating divisions which split content creation from product creation, and include:

  1. Content Creation and Collaboration – developing information content “without an agenda” other than strengthening communities in such a way that the elements are fluid and flexible, and that we can deliver “packages” to existing products
  2. Commercial Content – just like 1, except clearly with an agenda (buy, attend, believe) – commercial content elements that are fluid and flexible, as well as packaged messages for products
  3. Product Planning and Development – responsible for profitably reaching audiences with value added packaged products – print, broadcast and digital
  4. Sales – helping businesses and causes reach audiences
  5. Publisher – maintaining the integrity of the Opinion page of the newspaper and community development.  Works within the Product Planning and Development group (in 3 above) on the profitability of the product
  6. Digital production – the networks, websites and mobile applications – both development and production
  7. Broadcast production – transitioning our broadcast production to high definition digital production
  8. Print production and distribution – producing printed products for us and others, and getting them physically distributed
  9. Human Resources and facilities – leading us to the proper people, in the appropriate organizations and facilities
  10. Accounting – providing appropriate financial operating statistics and auditable financial statements

The ten people who agreed to lead these divisions are attacking their new responsibilities with vigor and dedication.  How is it going?

In a word, “messy” as recently noted by Becky Lutgen Gardner, who is responsible for the creation of information content without an agenda (#1 above).  While this should not have been a surprise, it is still no fun to live through the confusion and anger.    We are making progress every day, and have celebrated numerous small wins.  We are developing “service level agreements” to make roles and expectations as clear as possible.  Yet, the emotional connections we maintain to products and companies often blind us to the relevant tasks of creating a product agnostic local ecosystem of information.  Reforming these emotional connections will take time, tasking and new tools.

Even when we get over the emotional barriers, there are the very detailed issues of understanding who is taking primary responsibility for the numerous tasks that must be accomplished every day to keep our business flourishing.  Beckey Woodard Cole, who is leading our work force development efforts within the Human Resources division headed by Cathy Terukina (#9 above) created these slides to show the responsibilities for the judgments needed for individual products, while utilizing common content creation.

We have focused the organization on essential tasks and cut our expenses in line with our reduced revenues to maintain operating cash.  We have a long way to go to approach our work with the openness, transparency and engagement necessary for success.  While this reorganization was absolutely necessary for our survival, and to give us a place to stand to create the C3 local ecosystem of information, we will not make real progress unless and until we can create information in the first instance in such a way that it is fluid and flexible, and can serve multiple products and platforms.  That will take some tinkering with the technical infrastructure, another of those Three Gorillas.

Here’s hoping that the progress report on the technical infrastructure is not three months away!

What do you think?

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A year of learning – what are we doing?

Summarizing a year of learning

When starting this blog, a little over a year ago,  I knew we needed to learn the attributes and explore the ramifications of a new mindset.  We will not succeed in the new relationship economy with a mindset developed by and for the industrial production economy.   Openness, collaboration, transparency and engagement are all essential components of this new mindset.

Yochai Benkler explored the ramifications of this new mindset in a very deep and scholarly approach three years ago in  The Wealth of Networks.  An online seminar on this work can be found at Crooked Timber.

Jeff Jarvis explores this new mindset in a more accessible and popular approach in the first part of What Would Google Do?.  Last week,  Amber Smith applied the WWGD concepts to newspapers in a very accessible list format.

And, for those with a more graphic learning style, Neil Perkin’s slide show from last year explores how this new mindset fundamentally changes the media business.

As I mention frequently in employee meetings, I do not believe that human nature is changing. However, we are learning new behaviors, using new tools.  I do believe that we have been constrained with the limiting mindset and information production capabilities of the industrial age.  The new information tools allow each individual to express and connect with other people in previously unimaginable ways.  As with many new innovations, we tend to place these new tools within an existing mental framework (let’s push newspaper articles out into this new distribution network called the internet), instead of thinking of a new model (everyone should have access to exactly the information relevant to their needs at that particular time and place, and be able to connect with those who share similar interests through a robust local ecosystem of information).

Last June, Steve Buttry had just arrived from API with many of the concepts of his “Blueprint” for a Complete Community Connection, describing the “what” of such a local ecosystem.  Before he arrived, we had been exploring the functional requirements of a network of local information, and had come to the conclusion that no significant progress was possible without separating the functions of content creation and product production.   So, as Steve has noted, we were ready to marry his “what” with our “how”.  Just after Steve arrived, we were stunned by the largest natural disaster in Iowa’s history, the Flood of 2008, which roared through 10 square miles in the center of Cedar Rapids, severely damaging 5400 homes; 1000 businesses; city, county, state and federal offices; water, electric and sewage utilities; the main library; performing arts venues and core downtown businesses.  While just beginning to adjust to the magnitude of the rebuilding effort from that disaster, we were faced with the most precipitous financial meltdown and economic recession since the Great Depression.  So, we were a little distracted in our efforts to separate content from product.

Toward the end of last year, several major newspapers were in deep trouble, and many people were concerned about the future of newspapers.  I recently enjoyed reading how the very thoughtful Martin Langeveld explained the state of newspapers in a speech to his local club.  In a recent post, Jeff Jarvis more pointedly notes the end of printed newspapers and proposes an elegant organization for a local news ecosystem to serve metropolitan areas after they no longer have a newspaper.

Given the support we have received from many citizens of Eastern Iowa in response to the publicized difficulties of other newspapers, I think we will be serving this area with a printed newspaper for a long time to come.  However the role of the newspaper will change to be primarily a daily sense-maker in a torrent of information.  With the easy, repeated access to the fact that something happened, the unmet need is to have the events of the day, week, month and year put into perspective.   Why should I care?  What does this mean to me?  How are we affected in this area?  What are the trends?

So, after a year of exploring this new mindset and the changing economic landscape, what are we doing?

In response to the market, we know we need to both significantly reduce our costs and position ourselves for the new world.  Our company is smaller than it was a year ago, from over 600 employees to around 500 today.   Our newspaper is smaller and more focused on local news.   Our content gatherers are blogging on websites, on micro-blogs such as Twitter, and live blogs from events of interest such as trials, sporting events and the inauguration of President Obama.  We are doing more work, including printing another regional newspaper.  All of this took exploration and effort, but we are only beginning to create the elegant organization of a local ecosystem of information, and to develop how we thrive in that new ecosystem.

In order to create C3, we first need to survive.  With the significant decline in advertising revenue, we needed to cut our costs without sacrificing the activities that our readers and viewers value most.  I think we have done that.  We have maintained our readership and viewership.  We have a revenue problem, not an audience problem.

Now we need to focus our efforts on selling local businesses on the fact that we can reach the audiences they desire to reach.  We have had too much emphasis on selling our products.  We are revamping our sales efforts with a company-wide coordinated approach focused on serving messages to audiences.

We began the separation of product and content in March, and had some initial false starts.  We did not fully appreciate that the activities that support an information network do not readily support products.  In the network, the essential activities are ingesting and tagging content elements such as meaningful text, photos, audio and video; creating heavily linked explanations of events and issues; and, maintaining the local information backbone in the form of local wikis.  None of that activity results in a story for the newspaper or website, or a video segment for a newscast.   We have regrouped, and are trying new approaches to both content creation and product creation that will allow us to bridge this transition.

We have a new company-wide organization that we are rolling out in the next two weeks.  Particularly with all the changes, and some false starts, I know that many in our company have reorganization fatigue.  However, we need to get at the core of our essential activities, and organize accordingly.  Not enough people in our organization have adopted the new mindset, thought through how to transition our current activities, and been able to act.  We need to accelerate this process by starting new tasks, organized in a new way.

We start with the creation of content without any agenda other than thriving communities (i.e. we are in favor of open government, good schools, recreational opportunities, etc.,  but do not champion particularly people or causes).  Of course, we also need the creation of commercial content (i.e. content clearly with an agenda – buy this, vote for me, believe in my cause, go to this event); the creation of profitable products and the sale of commercial messages to the audiences we reach.   So, we are developing new information content, commercial content, sales and product organizations.  Our first effort is to develop robust work flows as we separate content creation from product production, and to maximize sales of our existing products and services.  We can then determine how we can create new revenue streams such as transaction fees or sales from within our existing products or the developing network.

We know that the “what” of the Steve Buttry “Blueprint” will take some time, and the actions of many people outside our company, to achieve.  We cannot invest all the time, money and effort ourselves – such a network is simply too big for any one company to take on.  Many new tools need to be developed, and many people have to change their behaviors to have a thriving network.  However, we can seed that network, show people in the communities we serve how to use the network, and encourage organic growth.  We and others need to be able to make money from the network to thrive.

We are organizing one digital production organization to explore and develop the technical aspects of the network, and distribute digital products such as websites.  Much of this will not make sense without a new user interface, and we have begun working with selected vendors on developing this new interface. We have existing organizations for television broadcast distribution and printed product production and distribution, and they will become much more flexible in order to work on many products.

As in all organizations, we depend on people, how they are hired, organized and housed, so we have one organization focused on those matters.  And last but not least, we need to account for all this, and develop auditable financial statements, and so have an organization for that.

We also recognize that a newspaper is much more to a community than a profit making advertising product.  We publish opinions on the matters of most importance to the community and are very active in community development.  We need a separate group focused on that effort, with a Publisher as leader.

So, as CEO of the operating company, I have 10 operating organizations reporting to me:

  1. Content Creation and Collaboration – developing information content “without an agenda” in such a way that the elements are fluid and flexible, and that we can deliver “packages” to existing products
  2. Commercial Content – just like 1, except clearly with an agenda – commercial content elements that are fluid and flexible, as well as packaged messages for products
  3. Product Planning and Development – responsible for profitably reaching audiences with value added products – print, broadcast and digital
  4. Sales – helping businesses and causes reach audiences
  5. Publisher – maintaining the integrity of the Opinion page of the newspaper and community development.  Works within the Product Planning and Development group (in 3 above) on the profitability of the product
  6. Digital production – the networks, websites and mobile applications – both development and production
  7. Broadcast production – transitioning our broadcast production to high definition digital production
  8. Print production and distribution – producing printed products for us and others, and getting them physically distributed
  9. Human Resources and facilities – leading us to the proper people, in the appropriate organizations and facilities
  10. Accounting – providing appropriate financial operating statistics and auditable financial statements

Some of our people realize, and are pushing for, the need for fundamental changes.  Others recognize that even relatively simple new tools, like Twitter, create amazingly deep concerns.

We need to get through this fundamental reorganization, while regaining momentum lost during the tumult of the last year, and then move swiftly and decisively to create our future information ecosystem together while enhancing our current products and services.

We are open to all who want to help, and all ideas to help us.

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We are way behind

When I made my presentation last week at the NAA’s MediaXChange, many commented that our C3 effort was way too far ahead of the newspaper industry.

In fact, we are too far behind in our C3 effort to be able to participate successfully in the relationship economy.

For the best overview of the intellectual framework, activities and technical infrastructure needed to make C3 work, see Dan Conover‘s wonderful piece at Xark on 2020 Vision.

As Mark Potts says, let’s bring these ideas to life.  We, and our communities, will be stronger for it.

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RIF to RIF

This blog, which started with the hope of outlining the concepts which would lead to a Rich Information Format to strengthen communities, has not been updated recently because of another RIF, all too common today, the Reduction in Force.

As painful as this RIF was, we had no choice due to the abrupt decline in advertising revenues in the last three quarters, with no upturn in sight. On the same day we announced the RIF, we announced the first large step in actually creating the organization to support C3 – separating content creation from product creation.

Product is Separated from Content

In this model, Lyle Muller, Editor of The Gazette newspaper, working with Dave Storey, Publisher, is responsible for creating and maintaining the physical product of the printed newspaper, The Gazette.

Steve Buttry, Information Content Conductor, is responsible for creating another C3 – Content Creation & Collaboration, a networked set of blogs and information organized around topics or micro-geographical areas.  We are trying to create a visual description of this activity, and our current attempt is below, although we already know that we don’t like the name “Superblog”:

Information Topic Area Ecosystem

Because these announcements were made on the same day, amidst the largest Reduction in Force in the company’s history, we confused some people and aggravated others.  While we were cheered on by some, we were jeered by others.

Steve and Lyle decided that we should Live Blog about these changes, taking questions from the community.  What an hour that was!  Lyle, Steve and I were in separate rooms, on separate floors, with no way to know who was taking which questions, in what order.  You can see for yourself whether we helped our hurt ourselves.

In the coming days, I will be describing the other critical elements of our reorganization, as we put into place the foundation for C3.

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Relationship = Attention x Trust

Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park
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As I talk with many of you about the new mindset and business model for local information, you often say something like “There is just too much.  How do I use my limited time on information that is truly meaningful to me?”

Blogs, tweets, links, flashes, facebook, myspace, linkedin – it all becomes a blur, a cacophony, sometimes disorientating, or even nauseating.

A reaction of many is to avoid the cacophony, and retreat to the one-way, broadcast it to me, world of traditional newspapers, websites, and television stations.

However, many people are trying to drive through the cacophony, and figure out a way to create a new model, whereby any individual can develop a relationship with a network of information, to get what they want, when they want it, and be shown what might interest them, with a high likelihood of success.

As Clay Shirky said:

By the time that the publishing industries spun up in Venice in the early- to mid-1500s, the ability to have access to more reading material than you could finish in a lifetime is now starting to become a general problem of the educated classes. And by the 1800s, it’s a general problem of the middle class. So there is no such thing as information overload, there’s only filter failure, right? Which is to say the normal case of modern life is information overload for all educated members of society.

If you took the contents of an average Barnes and Noble, and you dumped it into the streets and said to someone, “You know what’s in there? There’s some works of Auden in there, there’s some Plato in there. Wade on in and you’ll find what you like.” And if you wade on in, you know what you’d get? You’d get Chicken Soup for the Soul. Or, you’d get Love’s Tender Fear. You’d get all this junk. The reason we think that there’s not an information overload problem in a Barnes and Noble or a library is that we’re actually used to the cataloging system. On the Web, we’re just not used to the filters yet, and so it seems like “Oh, there’s so much more information.” But, in fact, from the 1500s on, that’s been the normal case.

So, the real question is, how do we design filters that let us find our way through this particular abundance of information? And, you know, my answer to that question has been: the only group that can catalog everything is everybody. One of the reasons you see this enormous move towards social filters, as with Digg, as with del.icio.us, as with Google Reader, in a way, is simply that the scale of the problem has exceeded what professional catalogers can do. But, you know, you never hear twenty-year-olds talking about information overload because they understand the filters they’re given. You only hear, you know, forty- and fifty-year-olds taking about it, sixty-year-olds talking about because we grew up in the world of card catalogs and TV Guide. And now, all the filters we’re used to are broken and we’d like to blame it on the environment instead of admitting that we’re just, you know, we just don’t understand what’s going on.  (Emphasis in bold, underline and italics added by Chuck Peters on 12/21/08)

The ideas on this are not new.  As mentioned earlier, Bruno Giusanni noted many of the ideas over 11 years ago.  Tom Ratkovich outlined the role of the trusted “infomediary” over 6 years ago:

There are three essential qualities of the infomediary:

  1. Trust. As stated by Hagel and Singer, “Trust
    is the infomediary’s lifeblood.” Without trust, consumers
    will not share their personal information. Any doubt concerning
    the integrity and credibility of the infomediary will entirely
    undermine its ability to serve it that capacity.
  2. Existing relationships with consumers and
    merchants
    . While today’s newspaper is the logical entity to
    evolve into tomorrow’s infomediary, it is not the given entity.
    The Internet opens the door to numerous other institutions to
    usurp that role. The window of opportunity is not a large one,
    and those posturing to serve as the dominant infomediary will
    be disadvantaged if they must build these relationships from scratch.
  3. Channel integration. The ability to integrate
    the distribution of marketing communications across multiple channels
    is vital for two reasons. First, it allows for communication utilizing
    the preferred medium of the consumer. Second, it contributes to
    the optimization of merchant ROI by minimizing redundancy. (This
    is the primary impediment to companies like Amazon.com and Yahoo!
    in assuming the infomediary role.)

In order to engage and strengthen our communities, we need to engage and inform each individual.  We, as the local media company, cannot know what each individual is truly interested in.  The individual does not want to tell the whole world exactly what their interests are, for fear of loss of privacy, or being abused.

Yet, we are moving to a Relationship Economy, in which how we act will depend not only on the information we receive, but how those in trusted relationships with us inform and guide us.

The formula I have been testing lately is Relationship = Attention x Trust.  I am sure that others, at other points in time, have come up with this, but I could not find a direct citation.

In order to have a long relationship with a local information organization, I want to know that I will find everything happening in the community relating to those people, places, events or topics in which I have expressed an interest, without wading through lots of articles and content in which I am not interested.  I also want to be aware of other information which a trusted “conductor” thinks someone in my community should know, or someone with my particular interests should know.

Despite the running commentary on whether print newspapers or broadcast news can survive, I think Tom Ratkovich had it exactly right in his expression of complementarity in channel integration.  I want those broadcast sources to act like they know that I have the option to be plugged into a relevant network of information.  So, in those broadcasted, print media, provide overview, context and promotion of the network.

Those interested in the Semantic Web, including e-Me Ventures, recognize that machines reading code, tags and text can only do so much to serve relevant information.  Each individual needs to declare interests, pretty specifically.  They are not likely to do so without trust.

People working on the trust side of the equation include the Information Valet Project and Attention Trust.  What I think we need for C3 is a plug-in, widget, or service that will allow individuals to clearly express their interests, in exchange for our promise to only use that information to serve information of value to that individual, in a long term relationship.

That information of value can be information created without an agenda ( what we ideally think “news”  currently is) and information with an agenda (advertising and commercial content).

That relationship has to be built over time, with lots of conversation.   If something is no longer of interest, we need to know, and react quickly.

Without replaying the rest of this blog, we cannot actually serve as the trusted infomediary without the right mindset, tasks, organization, technology and persistence.  If we break trust, by failing to provide accurate, timely and relevant information, the game is over

With the daily bemoaning of the fate of local media, and the general economy, the time to act is now, with urgency, as this is our time of greatest opportunity to actually implement these old ideas.

What do you think?

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On the road, no time to rest

Non-story
Image by MotherPie via Flickr

Two weeks ago, I outlined the new mindset, tasks and organization necessary to create C3.  The week following, our senior managers met, and determined that we needed to really work hard to make sure that at least the top couple dozen managers in our company deeply understand the issues, so that we can divide up all the work that needs to be accomplished, and move faster.

Last week, a dismal week for our industry, I thought we made real progress in having our management team see what needs to be done, and to sign up for the task.  Others played off the dismal/hope dichotomy.  Steve Buttry summed up the dismal week and his hope for the future in his review of the week.  Clay Shirky, the guru of hope, love and community, started quite a conversation by saying that this dismal week was predictable a decade ago.  The Crunchberry team visited, and gave us not only a very hopeful prototype of a new organization of local news, but gave us recommendations for journalists which C3 embraces, and a list of what drove the prototype.  ContentBlogger foreshadowed the dismal week, then echoed much of our C3 approach as the way to go.

The Harvard Business Review noted this week how hard it is to adapt a new business model:

Why is it so difficult to pull off the new growth that business model innovation can bring? Our research suggests two problems. The first is a lack of definition: Very little formal study has been done into the dynamics and processes of business model development. Second, few companies understand their existing business model well enough—the premise behind its development, its natural interdependencies, and its strengths and limitations. So they don’t know when they can leverage their core business and when success requires a new business model.

We have acknowledged that we need a new model, mindset, tasks and organization to move from the franchise megaphones of newspaper and television to an interconnected ecosystem of local information, available on all platforms, created “with and by” the communities we serve.  We know that we have to separate content creation from product creation.  We know that we need to develop a network of people creating blogs and wikis on key topics and communities.  We know that we need to develop a common technical framework for that creation of content.  Commercial content likewise must created in a more atomized and fluid way.

Entrepreneurial journalists will lead the way.  Without them, we have nothing to offer.  We need to create the systems to support them.  In order to do so, we need to focus not only on the tasks at hand, but why we do them, in order to have the energy and patience to persevere through this great change.

I have written before on this subject.  I am not sure it was sufficient.  I believe that we can be better people, living in better communities, if we can make this happen.  We will be better people because we will be better informed, on whatever issue we need to be informed, wherever we are.  We will be better communities because we will be able to develop relationships within micro-geographic communities or communities of interest.  Those relationships will make us stronger, and our communities stronger.

Our company might not be as big as when it was primarily a newspaper franchise, or worth as much money.  But if we achieve our objectives, we will have succeeded.

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Just Do It!

My social Network on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter...
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If it had not happened to me recently, I might not believe it.  Despite David Cohn’s exhortations earlier this year, experienced, smart journalists, all atwitter, saying they could never Tweet or blog.  Experienced journalists interviewing me on my blog, without reading the blog.  Executives acting condescendingly toward social media.  We can’t create the Complete Community Connection if we don’t have direct experience.  By trying to “possess” the stories of our communities, we might lose them.

Virginia Heffernan provides insight in today’s New York Times Magazine that the world of content has changed fundamentally.  Much more “with and by” than “for and to” audiences:

People who work in traditional media and entertainment ought either to concentrate on the antiquarian quality of their work, cultivating the exclusive audience of TV viewers or magazine readers that might pay for craftsmanship. Or they should imagine that they are 19 again: spending a day on Twitter or following a recipe from a Mark Bittman video played on a refrigerator that automatically senses what ingredients are missing and texts an order to the grocery store (it will soon exist!). Then they should think about what content suits these new modes of distribution and could evolve in tandem with them. For old-media types, mental flexibility could be the No. 1 happiness secret we have been missing.

Several people have made this point, but John Bell made it well, and recently:

You cannot be great with social media through simple observation. Applying it to your life and committing the time to actually “do” it will help your business. It will help you understand first-hand and give you ideas. It will suck up time. But two things happen: it doesn’t suck up as much as you fear and you end up with greater rewards than you imagined.

So, how to start?  First of all, join Twitter.  Follow Steve Buttry, Amy Gahran, John McGlothlen, and Steve Outing to start, along with anyone else you know on Twitter.  A great introduction to Twitter is provided by TwiTip, including some informative Twitters to follow.  If you really want to explore Twitter, Guy Kawasaki has some detailed ideas.  Once you are up and running, try Twhirl to start, and once on your feet, perhaps Tweetdeck to sort things out.

Then, sign up for Facebook,  have your Twitter feeds automatically update your Facebook account, and search Facebook for local friends, or long lost high school classmates.  Be amazed at what you can discover.

For a more professional view, start with LinkedIn.  You should find many people from your company already there.

If you would like more motivation, check out Xark and Twitter:

Journalists are in the communications business. Shouldn’t they at least have a professional interest in the evolving state of modern communications technology? Shouldn’t journalists at least be curious about the way other people communicate?

Only they aren’t curious: They’re hostile.

I said this back in September, and it’s as true now as it was then: Newspaper companies (and many of their employees) hate modern journalism. They resent change they don’t control. They’re angry that “the people formerly known as the audience” have developed alternatives to their mass-media monopolies.

So, let’s just do it, and see what we learn!

Are you willing?

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Information in the First Instance

Jesse Hall and the Francis Quad on the Univers...
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Being with Bill Densmore and the group he assembled at Missouri this week was a refreshing introduction to new people and ideas.  We were gathered to create the “blueprint” for the Information Valet Project, which we tentatively described as:

A permission-based ecosystem assuring privacy that allows you, in a trustworthy way, to share personal information so that content providers and partners can create a structure to provide you with content, applications and incentives tailored to you and your needs.

This “ecosystem” assumes that an individual, by giving secure personal information and desires for specific information, will be able to access that information in an elegant way.  As I participated in the discussions, I kept coming back to the need for a whole new structure to create the Complete Community Connection (C3). So, with a nod to Steve Outing, I am trying to be as transparent as I can be, both to our employees and the industry, about the issues in creating this new entity.

In looking for discussions on changing the way we create information in the first instance, I was struck by the conversation between Jeff Jarvis and Dave Winer on the Ecology of News.  They both break down news into the essential elements, and then discuss the best way to package and distribute those elements.  I would propose that the elements are Sources; Quotes; Factual Statements about people, places or events; Ideas; Data; and Opinions.
The Complete Community Connection would expand the current reliance on packaged stories in both directions – back toward the original elements, offering transparency, and forward toward a summary of local knowledge in a local wiki.

So, how do we do that?

We have to start with the creation of the “elements” in the first instance.  By starting with each source, quote, factual statement, picture, graphic, audio clip or video clip as an isolated element, or “tweet”, properly tagged with automatic tagging engines, those elements can be packaged or searched directly, allowing the most transparent view of local information.  Sometimes that could be done by reporting on scheduled events by live blogging, using Twitter tweets for participant comments, with the resulting “record” time stamped.  All audio and video clips could also be tagged to the time, place, event and people.  From those elements, packaged stories could be written, but any reader could go “through” the story to the original elements.

For investigative pieces, getting at those issues harder to pry out of the community, the reporter could still keep track of the elements in a similar system, but without the initial public input.

Patrick Thornton, with his BeatBlogging posts, is trying to highlight the best efforts to learn what can be done in this area.  I believe that the transformation necessary from “for and to” to “with and by” will not take place until we engage our communities in the first instance of information creation.

To take it another step, what if the community could suggest what needs to be investigated?  Leonard Witt arranged funding for a representative journalism project in Northfield, MN that Bonnie Obremski is carrying out at Locally Grown.  Listening to Bonnie describe what she has accomplished in her six months in Northfield makes me think that local community bloggers, both employees of media organizations and organizers of particular micro-communities, can be the key collecting forces of the elements of local information for C3.

Those community organizers, with their blogs, would be operating under Alfred Hermida’s Three Principles for social media:

  1. Be human: Mass media was based on the notion of reaching millions of people with one message. As a result, that message often came across in an impersonal, corporate voice. Social media provides an opportunity to be more personal, informal and conversational.
  2. Be honest: Be transparent and open about what you are doing. Social media is about genuine relationships and anyone trying to fake it is likely to be found out very quickly.
  3. Be involved: Journalists should not approach social media by thinking, “how can I use this for a story”. Social media should be part of your job, not an add-on or something to be used for a story and then abandoned.

What do you think?

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