Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The roles of the social consumer = ...middle school?


This made me think of just one thing...middle school. 

Hey, psychoanalyze me all you want; it's probably justified. And maybe it's just that "peer" is right at the top. But the shifting power dynamics of consumerism as refracted by social media are a lot like power relationships in middle school, where a new pair of sunglasses can make you the "It" kid for a day and a zit on your chin can harm your brand for a week.

Middle school is all about self-branding in a constantly shifting environment; you can't necessarily predict the impact those careful decisions will have. (Those sunglasses will only take you so far if somebody's got the newest iPod.) 

But I don't necessarily see this correlation as a bad thing. On the contrary, while the world becomes more navigable and somewhat more humane after the brutality of brand-as-identity, I don't think we ever really drop those power dynamics of relating to one another. And that means this graphic (and further discussion - follow link) is simply a more accurate and accessible depiction of what's been happening all along.

An app I downloaded tonight, "World Customs and Cultures," informs me: "Russians tend to be somewhat guarded and closed until a relationship is formed... In some instances you may find that Russians will dance around a subject, especially if it's a difficult or uncomfortable topic. In other instances they can be quite direct." 

But isn't that more or less how we all are with any kind of capital - money, time, trust, loyalty?

Implications: I think those people who naturally have a facility for understanding how members of a community relate to one another have always had the edge in marketing. And to be honest, I think the transparency of this time period, as so many of us attempt to literally graph the patterns of desire and influence, can be a wealth of ethical, as well as business and marketing, resources. 

Do you think "humanizing" brands and tracking social interacts to sell is exploitative, no matter what? Or do you think it's more transparent...or somewhere in the middle?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Somewhere shy of 100 percent

As promised, a full blog post on Jay Rosen's suggestion, "The 100 percent solution."

"It works like this: First, you set a goal to cover 100 percent of… well, of something. In trying to reach the goal you immediately run into problems. To solve those problems you often have to improvise or innovate. And that’s the payoff, even if you don’t meet your goal," he writes.

My first thought, of course, was, "How can I apply this? What would this mean for me?" I cover Coatesville, PA, the only city in my county, which has been described as a scale version of Philadelphia, or Chester in Delaware County. In my spare time (?) I cover the surrounding municipalities as well.

I'd love to cover 100 percent of what is happening in Coatesville. To me, that means reporting on council, the school district, the Weed and Seed program and new community initiatives, the church community, and the youth element, among others. (The last draws my interest because there's a lot of concern about crime and drugs in the city, and many complain the youth culture both is vulnerable to those problems, and ends up perpetuating them for lack of things to do.)

But I'm one person, and still a rookie at that. How could I possibly cover everything going on in even one of those areas, much less all of them?

Jay mentions two papers in my cluster with the Journal Register Company (for which he is an advisory board member): the Reporter in Lansdale, PA and the Trentonian in Trenton, NJ. And in the examples he gives, teamwork makes a huge difference.

There are multiple people involved on the newspaper end, which in a newsroom shrunk by the economic crisis isn't likely to be an option for me. However, the kinds of crowdsourcing that he describes just might be.

There are already people who contact me with tips, of course. But there's a lot of conversation that happens on Facebook and on Twitter that I might be able to tap into.

Also, despite a deep distrust of the Daily Local News by many city residents (who feel that the Local has targeted the community and exploits its problems to sell papers), I believe there are people who would actively contribute information if I coordinated it - and that I might even be able to win over some of the city in the process.

One major criticism is that the paper doesn't cover enough positive events in the city. It's true that I am not able to attend and write an article about every festival and awards ceremony, or even every community meeting. But I'm happy to collate information that's passed to me...and I think it might be time to make seeking that info a priority.

For example, despite a strained relationship with the school district, I think there's a good chance that I can work with high school students interested in journalism - we already tried that with a program called "iJournalists," but there's no reason I can't seek something a little more community-specific. And members of the Weed and Seed committees are already extremely active in the community, and anxious to get the word out about their efforts.

Would this, if successful, constitute a "100 percent solution"? I'm not sure. From reading the post, though, it seems that despite the name, that's not really the point. The point is innovation. I've hesitated often due to my "rookie" status, but the fact is, I've been testing the limits of internet communication since I was 13 - maybe not to the level of a programmer, but in a lot of ways, that means I have more in common with the average reader.

Sometimes it seems like the bigwigs in journalism are trying to turn the sticky helm of a very big ship, and sometimes I get caught up in that. Don't get me wrong - institutional knowledge of journalism is absolutely invaluable. And traditional journalism, after all, has given me a start and a platform, and print is still the company's biggest source of revenue.

But one question that has been a touchstone for me for the last two years has been, "What would I do if I were starting a media company from scratch?" Thinking that way is, to me, the difference between starting from possibilities and starting from limitations. Turning the ship isn't my gig.

What do you think? If you were to start a media company tomorrow, what would you prioritize? Would the idea of 100 percent coverage inform your strategy, or do you think it's irrelevant?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

I know, I know, I should be asleep. But I've had quite a day...and I'll leave it at that for now, but my mind is buzzing.

Today I received an email charging me to "help us (the Journal Register Company) figure out what we should be doing (in the news industry)." ...Glad you asked.

My ideas range from the minute to the grandiose, and many of them have already been recognized by more experienced minds. But a few that are important to me...

-We need better ways to collate information. One thing the Web can do that print couldn't is build on previous stories, right at readers' fingertips. For instance, Coatesville suffered a series of arsons over 18 months. We wrote many articles about them, have award-winning photographs, have video, are now writing about the trials of some of the accused arsonists...why are we making our readers work to find this background? We need to make it easily accessible.

-In keeping with that, some very simple changes. Our datelines should be hotlinked. So should our bylines. Those are the simplest, most effective keywords we have, and with one click, they would call up a list of relevant stories.

-A biggie, that I know is already receiving attention: Our Web publishing. Our software is clunky and awkward, and linked awkwardly to our print content management system. Another thing the Web can do that was harder in print is: Make it pretty. I've been pushing the idea that news is a service rather than a product, but on this point I will concede. Our content needs to be reminiscent of a magazine. The other day, I picked up an informational book in a store, flipped through it, and set it down immediately. The font was too small, dated, and clunky. I knew I wouldn't be able to concentrate on the content because the package was giving me a headache.

-Just to reiterate, beyond making it pretty, it needs to be easier to update from the field. Our website should not be much more difficult to deal with than this blog post.

-Videos. Now that we've gotten used to shooting video at JRC, we need to level up. We need someone to lead a workshop on putting mini-documentaries together, and also teach a little bit more about tools beyond FlipShare. This can be done as a live workshop, but also put on the Web as a replayable Webinar.

-And finally, 100 percent coverage, as per Jay Rosen's idea here. This will get its own post tomorrow, but we need to think about what that means, and how feasible it is for individuals. I think that a related idea is dimension. If I have photos, video, and text for a story, how can I make sure they complement one another? I can also tweet, blog, and Facebook - and I can do all six of those things without exhausting a story, irritating my audience, or even just overlapping.

The bottom line with all of this is quality of content. Bells and whistles will only piss off readers if they feel they're not actually getting value. We're not TV, and we're not just print. We're multimedia, and we're allowed to promote ourselves with tactics that are a little shiny.

Monday, November 01, 2010

When I first hit the newsroom, I thought a lot about the media world as a whole. And one early question that struck me was: Why isn't there any certification for journalists? I agree that a broad-based education better prepares individuals to be journalists, but that doesn't take away from the technical aspects of the job.

I was a bit chagrined to realize that the reason is no simpler than...the First Amendment. Journalists have resisted any regulation of the profession because it's too easy for it to constitute a limit to the freedom of speech.

But after my embarrassment subsided, I continued to question the status quo. While I believe it would be certainly unconstitutional to enact legislation banning what many are now calling "citizen journalism," that doesn't prevent the industry from forming its own standards, including some kind of certification showing knowledge of legal issues and industry standards.

This cover story from the Columbia Journalism Review explores this question somewhat, saying the answer to the "critical question" of "the options for public policy reform that might strengthen the media’s contributions to American democracy and civic health" is clear: "We badly require new policies and new thinking in Washington because the media policy regime we have inherited is out of date and inadequate for the times in which we live."

Now, I'm the last person who should be arguing for raising the barrier to entry. I'm currently employed as a journalist with zero formal training. The opportunity changed my life - and I think I have something to offer to the journalism world as well. But at the same time, I am still in the middle of a serious learning curve that affects everything from the structure of my articles to my knowledge of legal issues.

Can policy make a difference? This article in the Guardian may suggest that's so. According to the story, readership is actually growing - in Canada. The article says "...Print and digital readership has risen by 500,000 or so in the past five years. Market penetration in the most important cities ranged between 75% and 80%." It suggests we can learn something from Canada, that they're doing something differently.

Whether it's the economic climate, a question of policy, or a murkier cultural coalescence is very difficult to say. But it seems likely that policy, somewhere along the line, contributes to it.

What do you think of the relationship between policy and journalism? What is it, and what should it be?