Archive for March, 2010

Temple: Living History

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.


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Three-Dimensional News

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.

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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!

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