The Long Tail and news aggregators

February 24, 2007

Following up on the Intro to Digital Communication class discussion yesterday on The Long Tail, I point to Chris Anderson’s own description or analysis of why citizen journalism news aggregator sites have, as a category or genre, not succeeded, at least not yet.

In his blog post, Anderson writes that, “Old media is all about building businesses around content. New media is about the content, period. Old media is about platforms. New media is about individual people . . . The problem with most of the companies Skrenta lists is that they were/are trying to be a ‘news aggregators’. Just as one size of news doesn’t fit all, one size of news aggregator doesn’t either.”

Carnage on this “we media as an institution” highway include Dan Gillmor’s own Bayosphere, which died after he left the site to teach and research.

This is precisely what we discussed yesterday, the problem with oligopolies (or would-be oligopolies) and how omnibus news operations like the New York Times are suffering a death of a thousand cuts, with the sword blades being unsheathed by companies as disparate as Google, craigslist, and One size doesn’t even fit many. It’s about niche markets and deep drill down expertise, another form of hyperlocality.

There is geographic locality (I care deeply about water quality in the Coosa river here, but not so much about it in India) and there is information locality (I read The Chronicle of Higher Education each and every week not because it is intrinsically interesting, but because higher education is my primary “community.”)  Newspapers, and print publications in general, have to pick one, or no more than a few, and own it/them. With all the “sky is falling” doomsaying about the newspaper industry, the small local papers still are profitable and relevant.

Viewspapers and news as a commodity

February 24, 2007

My journalism classes had a visit this week from David Rapp, formerly and recently editor at Congressional Quarterly, a news operation he began moving online almost a dozen years ago. (It has been a busy semester in terms of guest speakers — nine so far, and it’s only February 24th.)


CQ Weekly Cover

In addition to giving my students an elegant description of the many roles of editors, one that began with Benjamin Bradlee’s definition of editor as, “someone who chooses,” David outlined for us how CQ approached the Web in re-structuring its news operations.

CQ has a daily newsletter, a weekly magazine and a news Web site, and the growth online has meant a de-construction of the news cycle. Reporters have to be caffeinated and ready to roll first thing Monday morning, because a breaking news story might have to be filed right away. Pre-web, the week didn’t pick up steam until Wednesday, in anticipation of deadlines Thursday night for the weekly magazine.

More importantly, David explained the return in print to the afternoon newspaper model. I thought this was insightful. When, for example, David wrote about high school basketball for an afternoon daily in the 1970s, recognizing the morning papers would have the scores hours before he could publish, he knew he had to provide readers with something else, some analysis, perhaps an in-depth feature story or profile, something that cannot become a commodity. He sees print in much the same position now, knowing it will be perpetually pre-empted by online with the commodities of news — scores, stock price changes, the death of Anna Nicole.

The continued success of CQ, the weekly magazine, shows that the Long Tail has a place in journalism. Smaller but loyal audiences, specialty publishing, niche narrowcasting are bastions of profitability and relevance for publishers like CQ, where original, in-depth reporting differentiates its offerings. This niche focus is another way of interpreting or operationalizing “locality,” as well. Another way of tactically interpreting hyperlocality.

I don’t believe those who predict “a total collapse” of the newspaper industry. Yes, the metrics are changing, the revenue streams are shifting and much of what newspapers have traditionally done are being outsourced. But print has a place. ESPN’s monthly Insider magazine is another shining example. No where has the commoditization of information been more comprehensive than in sports, yet ESPN has tapped a vein of gold with its magazine, which readers wait for and look forward to for information they can get no where else.

Thank you, David, for a good day in journalism education. We look forward to hearing and seeing more on your next venture, a publication for travelers with a purpose.

Bobby Mallin, in memoriam

February 18, 2007

I just learned the horrible news that Berry graduate Bobby Mallin was shot and killed this weekend in nearby Rockmart. I really cannot believe it. I really don’t want to. A student in one of my first courses at Berry, Bobby exhibited a quick mind, a vivid imagination and an ability to see the heart of the matter. That third quality I think made him an expert photographer.

He wrote wonderfully, and writing is, of course, thinking. I have no idea what his GPA was, but I know from experience he was certainly one of Berry’s best and brightest, and that his future seemed boundless, at least creatively.

Bobby had an active life online, as well. He helped form the Berry Blogring, which should not surprise. (His blogring page and Web site.) He was one of the more technologically savvy of the student body. I remember his blog for Intro to Digital Communication. He helped design our Ulysses 24 Hours in Rome multimedia project, and took some of its best photography.

Well, this is so thin as to be embarrassing as some sort of memoriam. I can’t say I knew Bobby well, but I did value his presence and contributions in all of the classes he took with me. I can honestly say I’ve missed him since graduation in May, and that I’ll miss him in a much different way now.

Visit bobzombie451's Xanga Site!

(p.s., A short film Bobby made last year has now, in light of this weekend’s tragic events, a dreadfully new, uncomfortably prescient meaning.)

(p.p.s, Several of Bobby’s friends are posting their goodbyes to his Web site,

Channel 11 Alive’s coverage here. It doesn’t identify Bobby by name.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the future of journalism

February 17, 2007

Two unrelated news items from the past week underline some of the fundamental changes in journalism, particularly in its delivery and distribution — a reorg at the AJC and a survey on what people think blogs are doing to journalism.

First, my newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution announced last week the cutting of 80 jobs, including a pullback in circulation out of South Carolina, Alabama and Florida.

An interesting quote from the internal memo: “Online, we will show that we know Atlanta best, providing superlative news and information and becoming the preferred medium for connecting local communities. In print, we will really listen to our core readers and create a newspaper that offers distinct and valuable content.”

Knowing Atlanta best and serving “core” readers = hyperlocal news and information. It makes sense. We live in Northwest Georgia and much of the AJC in print is irrelevant to us. Online, that irrelevant content is less present. We can pick and choose.

The qualitative effects of reorganizing into four main divisions to me aren’t clear. We will wait and see its effects in the products themselves, which means around June this year. It is interesting that the reorg gives each managing editor, Mike Lupo and Hank Klibanoff, his own domain, and that it effectively bifurcates AJC into two content areas — news and information, and enterprise — and two distribution channels — digital and print.

I am especially interested in digital, now a stand-alone division on equal footing with everything else. This division will seek to grow “interactivity and social networking.” MySpace and FaceBook, LinkedIn and even sites like Slashdot have all shown us the popularity of and interest in socially networking online, using a communications infrastructure that is built for networking. The questions for newspapers remain how to monetize this social networking and marry it somehow to news and information.

The other news item helps explain the first. A survey conducted by iFOCUS indicates that increasing numbers of Americans are favorably viewing the contributions of bloggers. Nearly three-fourths of respondents believe citizen journalism will “a vital role” in journalism.

It’s important to note that it was an online survey, which means both a self-selecting population and an Internet-savvy one. But I know from the college students I teach that print is increasingly irrelevant as a distribution channel, both newspaper and magazine, and that online is taken for granted as the source for news and information.

A breathless quote from iFOCUS: “We are now seeing mainstream acceptance of what we call the Power of Us – the value, credibility, and vital expression of citizen and collaborative media,” said Dale Peskin, a managing director of iFOCOS. “We’ve arrived at a tipping point. A new definition of democratic media is emerging in our society.”

Calm down, Dale. Why the need to hype what’s happening — “tipping points” and “new definitions”? (Because iFOCUS puts on conferences that celebrate “we” media (weeeeeee!). But it is happening, a shift — no a migration — online and away from dead trees. It in part explains the 80 jobs cut at the AJC, the 68 cut from the newsroom at the Philadelphia Inquirer last month and the bizarre case of a small California TV station axing its 13 employees and instead airing only video submitted by viewers.

Meet presidential candidate Joe Schriner

February 13, 2007

Joe, a common man with common sense and uncommon solutions, and also a candidate for president of the United States (again), is coming to Berry. He will be speaking to both Media Law and to Intro to Digital Communication.

Here is is Web site. Pay special attention to his many, growing position papers. He is working on one now that addresses race in America.

Here is a story on Joe’s campaign in the Rome News-Tribune that ran in January.

As comments to this post, pose your questions. A rare opportunity to actually influence or shape the debate nationally on topics and issues that matter to you. Law, think First Amendment. DigiComm, think digital and the democracy of and by the Web. But ask anything you like.

One of my questions:
In your opinion, Joe, is the political process in America fixable, or is it too far gone? More specifically, how corrosive is the influence of special interests, and what do we do about a system that every four years produces two mediocre choices for the nation’s highest office? (I realize there are more than the two on the ballot — Joe, for instance, and my choice in the last election, Ralph Nader — but the two-party system effectively locks out all but the mediocre two.)

What are your questions?

Naming the digital DeSoto package

February 12, 2007

As a comment to this post, provide three entries in the “Name the DeSoto package” contest in COM 329! That’s right, go find an oak tree, grab a latte, sit and meditate. Cogitate and ruminate. Dream up three possible names or headlines or brands or eartags for our multimedia package on the DeSoto, ghost stories of Rome and architecture of Broad Street.

The catch: You can’t be too catchy. It has to make immediate sense to our target audience(s). Don’t try cutesy. Convey meaning. Accurately label. Invoice the freight that follows.

Winner gets a valuable and minty prize!


China’s Google-SecondLife-MySpace

February 10, 2007

For the online community crowd, I point to this story in the New York Times last week on Ma Huateng and his Hong Kong-based media empire, Tencent. Ma has sailed where Google, eBay and Yahoo each have run up on the shoals of China’s very different online media habits. His companies have an 80% market share?!?

Why should we care? Ma’s success points to the very different needs or desires Internet users in China have as compared to the information-centric United States. We like Google because we’re usually looking for something. We use email, because it is that interpersonal online communication tool we were exposed to first. As the article points out, Chinese look the the Web first for entertainment, logging a lot of hours in virtual worlds and in communicating. Chinese use text messaging, mainly because that is the tool this much younger demographic is used to — that and the economics of text messaging versus cell or email. (If U.S. telecoms charged us for texting like companies in Asia, we’d text a lot more, too.)

As the article points out, 70% of Chinese Web surfers are younger than 30. It is the opposite in the United States. Need proof? Visit Ma’s and and determine for yourself from the graphics how old its visitors might be.

Two very specific takeaways for us in Online Community: the central bank’s fears concerning the virtual currency being used in Tencent’s SecondLife-like virtual world. From the Times article, “A few weeks ago, China’s Central Bank — which oversees the country’s $2.6 trillion economy — even went so far as to issue a warning about Tencent’s virtual currency, Q-coins, which allow customers to shop online for games, music and even virtual furniture.”

And the Chinese government’s fears of Tencent’s empowering of Chinese youth to mobilize, to become smart mobs via texting. Also from the article: “But the rise of fast-growing companies like Tencent is also worrying the Chinese government, which strictly regulates the Internet and is wary of the Web’s ability to mobilize huge online political communities or perhaps to nurture underground economies.”

I encourage you all to read the article. We have much to learn from China.