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Moving

After playing around with the free hosted blog (which is great, by the way), I have relocated to my own domain, joshloftin.com. I exported most of the posts from here to the new site. Cruise on over if you have stumbled here accidentally.

One of the best minds in journalism, right now, belongs to John Temple, currently the editor of community news/online start-up Peer News in Hawaii and formerly of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. After that daily newspaper closed last year, Temple seemed to fully embrace the future of journalism as non-printed product.

Last week, he gave a speech ostensibly about Peer News and its place in the unstable Hawaiian news market. But really, the speech focused on how Peer News fits into the future news landscape, which is online and mobile, not printed. I have watched Peer News (lustily, from afar) since Temple signed on a couple of months ago. I like a lot of what they are doing, especially the energy devoted to civic engagement. I especially like that he calls reporters “hosts,” which seems to be an easy way of saying that these journalists will facilitate conversation in the community by providing facts, balance and perspective, but they won’t be stuck behind a one-way mirror. They will engage the community.

Hyper-local sites seem to be the nexus of thought for reinventing news, which makes sense: return to the basics, and build from there. I’m slightly skeptical that a true hyper-local site depending on citizens will succeed in the long run because attention can waver quickly. But I do think they could be a very valuable core offering for online news sites — their new niche, so to say.

One thing, in particular, caught my eye in Temple’s outline of his talk:

We’re taking a more holistic approach to news…We’ll take issues that we know people care about or are important to the community and provide in-depth reporting that can serve as a resource for readers. That resource will be a living history, something that evolves as understanding of the issue develops..That’s different from the traditional approach of reporting isolated stories reflecting a single point in time….And it’s different from an archive, a collection of the stories a news organization has written, like the archives on important topics you might find on many news sites

That is inline, almost exactly, with one of my key ideas for any future journalism endeavor, what I call “three-dimensional news.” It’s not 3D news because of the fancy multimedia, it’s 3D because it provides breadth and depth for a reader. It also gives them as much or as little as they want, which I think is important to develop loyal readers. Think about it in a sports context: Any site can give scores and headlines, but certain sites set themselves apart by providing trusted analysis, unique rankings, or add-ons like gambling insights or fantasy rankings.

If you care about the future of journalism, read Temple. He is easily one of the top five journalism bloggers, at least in my opinion.

Most reporters treat each story as if it’s the first time a reader will encounter the topic. That makes sense in a print newspaper, when there is a good chance that the reader really is encountering a topic for the first time. Because of that guideline, for long-term, complicated issues, experienced reporters develop explanatory paragraphs that can be plugged into the story. Those paragraphs serve three important purposes. One, they ensure that the facts are consistent from story to story. Two, they provide the necessary background for readers. Three, they save time.

On the web, hyperlinks make those explainers obsolete, yet they still work themselves into most news stories people read online because the stories are written for print. Also, some argue, readers don’t click many hyperlinks, so if the background is not provided in that story, they will be left in the dark.

Except, with online news, better ways to present complicated stories exist. The same tools, in fact, could be used for almost any story, whether breaking, one day and gone, or never-ending.

The best was unveiled by Google recently, Living Stories. For months, I have been telling anyone who would listen to me (a small group, admittedly) that if I ran an online news site, one of the core concepts would be “living news,” a name I came up with before I heard of Google’s project. Stories would be presented, more often than not, as bare boned news alerts — just as many journalists do when they tweet a quick news tip or post a short blog to alert readers to look for a longer story later. But then those stories would grow within their own defined space, ideally a stand-alone page that has a portal (with latest news updates) on a landing page.

That growth would not be in the form seen on most news sites right now, where that initial blog post results in a longer story on the website, but blog readers are never told where to find it. Instead, that initial blog or tweet would be the first of what would become an information-packed, online news experience.

The growth could include multi-media offerings, such as embedded video or audio. It could include charts (poll numbers, financial projections, donor lists, and so on). It could include locator maps (this proposed nuclear power plant will be located here…). And as the story developed, whether over hours, days or even years, that growth would continue.

Additionally, links would be provided for related content, both in-house and stories done by other organizations. Live feeds of Twitter updates (or whatever social media is being employed) from readers — especially if there is a hash tag for the topic — would be visible.

And so on.

The keys to this truly working would be collaboration between reporters, editors, programmers and graphic artists. Nobody would have sole ownership of a story, either. Instead, as the story grew, their expertise and creativity would be brought to the table whenever possible. For example, one reporter posts a breaking news story, but another reporter has a much deeper understanding of the long-standing issue, so they add context, background and links. Or maybe a graphic artist can pull together a chart showing previous election results and current poll numbers to show how beatable or unbeatable a politician is in the upcoming election.

The ideas are endless, for almost any story. Yet, the traditional media model hampers this because collaboration is minimal. A graphic artist develops a chart at the behest of the reporter or editor. Other reporters, even if they have background, will shy away from adding their expertise to the story because they fear treading on others work.

Even worse, everything developed is done with the caveat that it needs to work for print. So instead of an interactive Google map, the artist develops a locator map in their illustrator program. Reporters focus on their explainer paragraphs instead of building a library of hyperlinks for background. And in the end, the product is a two-dimensional experience that fails to engage an online audience.


A simple declaration: Utah State has the best student fan section in all of college basketball. That’s right, better than the Cameron Crazies. It’s a reputation that has not come over night, either. As long as The Spectrum has been the Aggies home, and probably longer, USU has been a daunting foe on their home floor.

I’ll admit it, I’m biased. I attended USU for most of the ’90s — yes, I said most of the ’90s, and that did not include either graduate school or the “mission” that many Aggies take — and was as rabid of a basketball fan as anyone. Somewhere, I have a recording from ESPN2 of me dressed up as Miss USU (wearing a dress — I somehow squeezed into a size 8). I had friends who shaved theirs heads and painted them blue, who shaved an “A” into their very hairy chests, and who generally raised hell for each and every home game.

We were not alone. At any given game, there were others who went as far, or further, than we did. The student section was routinely crammed with 10,000 wild and crazy fans.

But this year, Aggie fandom has been taken to new heights by one man: Wild Bill Sproat. In a way, I see him as a kindred spirit. He is a “redshirt junior student.” He seems to enjoy the non-educational aspects of college a lot more than the classroom experience (as did I). And he loves watching games in The Spectrum.

For the uninitiated, below is an interview he did with ESPN’s “First Take.” It includes video of many of his best costumes. However, Aggie student fans are 10,000-strong every game, and they deserve at least some of the credit for the Aggies success, so as an added bonus, watch the video of the “Winning side, losing side” chant. Go Aggies!

Liquor license limits could increase, as long as it means less people drinking and does not benefit locally-owned businesses.—

The way to woo a legislator, as any lobbyist can attest, is through their stomach. And, apparently, it is even more effective if the food is served up by a national chain that has not opened in Utah.

A House committee passed a substituted version of HB223 that will rejigger population ratios for full-service restaurant licenses, wine & beer restaurant licenses, and tavern licenses. The first two will increase enough to hopefully provide a cushion for the currently maxed-out restaurant licenses, especially liquor, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Gage Froerer, said. Tavern licenses, which permit a bar to serve only 3.2 beer, will be reduced because there is currently a relatively significant surplus. A side benefit to decreasing tavern licenses is that legislators can crow to their constituents that they actually reduced the amount of potential liquor that could be served in this, ahem, fine state.

The bill will not address private club licenses, because those are licenses to get people drunk. Currently, there are 10 clubs waiting for a license—and some of them have been waiting for months—almost all of which are assuredly owned by locals. You know, Utah’s Own.

Not that helping local businesses actually matters to the Legislature. What really seemed to sell legislators on the committee: Buffalo Wild Wings and Dave & Busters. Multiple developers spoke about both chains, and possibly others, wanting to open in Utah. But with only one full-service liquor license currently available—chains like to open at least a half-dozen places at the same time—they are not willing to risk it.

In fact, Froerer told the committee at the end of the hearing, the revised bill was not even really a liquor bill. Instead, he described it as “jobs bill.” Somehow, even with that reference to one of President Obama’s initiatives, the bill passed the committee and now heads to the House floor.

Maybe, it’s that legislators are actually fans of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia,” and the sell-out episode of said show convinced them they needed a Dave & Busters. In that case, how about a cold Coors Light, representative?

Tequila News

As a college student, I loved visiting Tijuana. Crazy women. Rocking nightclubs. Cheap tacos. Insane cab drivers. And free tequila.

Outside of almost every bar, restaurant and dance club, aggressive Mexicans pushed free tequila on willing Americans. I quickly learned that there was an easy way to play their game: Accept their offers, go into the clubs, take the shots, and leave. Repeat until one of the clubs actually had enough people to promise an entertaining night.

This business model equates the approach used by many media organizations, especially daily newspapers, on social networking sites. Visit any Twitter feed  or Facebook page for a daily newspaper and what you see are endless offers for free tequila, or in their case, headlines. Many feeds are actually automatically programmed to post the headline of every single article, blog, photo album, or news alert loaded to their home page.

In the world of the daily newspaper business model, this approach makes sense. After all, the goal is to get people to come to their website, which is where they have advertising and, of course, increased traffic means increased advertising revenue. But it’s a flawed approach.

Yet like the tequila barkers in Tijuana, it may be the best approach for their business goals. After all, if nobody visits the newspaper’s website or subscribes to the print edition — which is really the end goal, sadly — they don’t make money. Just like the bar doesn’t make money if nobody buys drinks.

There is a better way. Newspapers should work to remain the fulcrum of conversation, just as they have been for decades. To accomplish that, they need to engage people outside of their fiefdoms. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or the next evolution of social media, newspapers should not simply tempt people with headines, but provide them content. And then, when people resond with questions or comments, the conversation should be propelled by the media organization.
This is the approach that I believe will make a news organization, and the journalists it employs, relevant a decade from now. However, the challenge for most mainstream news oranizations is that they need money now to maintain their daunting overhead, so they look to short-term solutions like headline spam.

Even if a mainstream media organization actually does commit to a long-term strategy, the obvious question is how. The answer: nobody knows, yet. There are people who are very good at social media marketing, and a lot of people with good ideas. But nobody has unlocked the secret.

Over the past few years, I have immersed myself in social media, especially Twitter and Facebook. And I’ve done it for professional more than personal reasons. Along the way, I’ve struggled to find the balance between promoting my work and not simply spamming friends and followers, and also how to shine a light on my personality, flaws and all, without becoming one of those cautionary stories about people serving entirely too much of their personal lives up for public consumption.

Initially, I planned this post to be a simple guide to using social media. But that will have to come later, and likely will be in the form of an all-to-common list. And I guarantee that whatever I write will be wrong, at least for some people, because right now, there is no right way to use social media.

Which, in my mind, is actually a big part of the fun.

Cowering Donkeys

Utah Democrats demonstrate their primary skill: acquiescence.

Resolutions carry pretty much no practical weight, yet they can offer the chance to deliver strong rhetorical punches. Running them is a strategy that Republican legislators, especially those struggling to distinguish themselves, embrace annually. Democrats, however, flail helplessly to get completely innocuous resolutions pass, and then let most of the Republican-sponsored resolutions sail through, even when they are being run for nothing more than partisan bombast.

To wit, Tuesday morning’s House Government Operations Committee. First on tap for resolutions, HJR20. Simply put, it encourages—but does not require—school districts to build “green” buildings that will save energy, money and potentially make kids healthier.

Simple, right? Wrong. Because it’s sponsored by Democratic Rep. Mark Wheatley of Murray, Republican committee members took it to task. Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, zeroed in on the inclusion of the word “climate” in the resolution, even though the phrase “climate change” was not used. Instead, the bill reads “current climate and energy challenges,” which is pretty non-debatable, considering that the Utah climate, changing or not, forces schools to deal with both extreme heat and extreme cold. And energy challenges are obvious, and are one of the primary reasons for the opposition to carbon regulation (Drill, baby!).

What does Wheatley do? Tells the committee he probably should have avoided the word “climate” in the resolution, and then agrees to take it out.

Other committee members take up the climate issue, but also fret about the added cost of building green schools. Quick test, to see if anyone remembers what they read three paragraphs ago: Will the resolution require green buildings?

No.

Yet how does Wheatley respond? By explaining that green buildings only cost 2 to 3 percent more to build, but will save $100,000 dollars per building, if not more. Good start, except when asked how much an average school costs to build — the most obvious question to his assertion — he doesn’t know.

That’s right. Doesn’t know what is probably the most basic fact that should be known. Hell, make up a number, throw out an average. Do something.

Somehow, the resolution passed, but not without dissenting votes.

Later in the meeting, Rep. Julie Fisher, R-Fruit Heights, brought her HCR2 to the committee. This is one of the many state’s rights bill/10th Amendment bills that are the rage for conservatives around the country. It basically tells the federal government to get the hell out the state business.

Not coincidentally, they are telling the federal government to butt out when it’s run by a Democrat. So, it should be construed as a direct shot at the Democratic Party. Even if Utah Democrats don’t like to align themselves with the national party on a lot of issues, they should treat it like a family. It’s fine for them to criticize each other, but if outsiders start throwing stones, there will be hell to pay.

Except, there wasn’t. After some great cheerleading from Republican committee members and a Founding Father lecture from Rep. Craig Frank, R-Cedar Hills, the bill passed unanimously.