Digidave http://blog.digidave.org Journalism is a Process, Not a Product Wed, 26 Nov 2014 22:07:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Could the CNN joke ever turn on new media pushes? http://blog.digidave.org/2014/11/could-the-cnn-joke-ever-turn-on-new-media-pushes http://blog.digidave.org/2014/11/could-the-cnn-joke-ever-turn-on-new-media-pushes#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 04:12:55 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4313 On news days like today CNN seems like a parody of itself. While waiting for the Ferguson grand jury decision it was obviously stalling/wasting time and repeating itself.

Breaking news….. for real!

But I wonder if the script will ever flip? Could organizations that wait for that FINAL moment to do a wide push ever become the joke? Not for being “too slow” but for repeating news that is already echoing through a cacophony of social media RT’s and shares.

In the event of unforeseen breaking news — I can’t imagine a push being a parody/joke. Just as when CNN is at its best in ongoing breaking news coverage, we applaud their work (and I expect tonight they will do courageous reporting in Ferguson). But certainly there is theater leading up to the announcement. And the “Breaking” push will also be immensely important as we move forward into a digital future. But we do have to stop and wonder how it too can become part of theater. An expected act and almost appropriated for the news organization’s needs instead of the users.

Just as CNN has the problem of filling air, organizations that are increasingly relying on the push have other requirements built into their essence. And fulfilling these requirements could eventually turn into self-parody. Hence — deep conversations already taking place about pushes (often CNN remains the butt of the joke here). I look at Circa* and Breaking News and to me these organizations have the most sophisticated views on pushes (bias admitted). In addition to maintaining editorial cohesion about what merits a push, they allow the user to set parameters. This takes advantage of the personal nature of a push, rather than turn it into a shouting tool.

We are still on the upswing of exploration in this space and all signs are positive. News organizations are still thinking about how to use this tool powerful tool which pushes content to the most intimate of objects (the phone). I just wonder if it will ever begin to backfire.

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Letter to a young journalist http://blog.digidave.org/2014/11/letter-to-a-young-journalist http://blog.digidave.org/2014/11/letter-to-a-young-journalist#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 20:33:20 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4297 Occasionally I get contacted by young journalists. Sometimes it feels parasitic* (see comments below – I’m specifically talking about a type of contact  I get when somebody just wants to interview me for a school project they were assigned. They personally could care less) and sometimes, like the email below, it feels very genuine.  In either case I respond. For those that just want Q/A type answers for their report, I’ll often respond via video. But for those that reach out and are just looking to chat. I’ll hop on the phone, respond with a thoughtful email, whatever seems most appropriate. And in this case – I thought a blog post would be best because the issues this young journalist brought up felt palpable. Not to say I have all the answers – but I am happy to rant! (names in the email have been changed and noted with [BRACKETS].

Hey David,
We’ve never met, but [NAME REMOVED] speaks highly of you and I follow your work online. Congrats on the new gig. I’m rooting for you.

I’m emailing because I’m totally lost in this industry, and I think you’re one of the few people that might get it. (It’s a Hail Mary email.)

I spent last Friday in the newsroom of [METRO PAPER]. I’ve got some friends there, but I had never been there until last week. The visit absolutely terrified me.

I found it to be a bleak environment full of cubicles staffed by burnt-out folks and the publication’s digital strategy is as fragmented in the workplace as it appears online. [A PERSON] and the social media folks are pushed into a corner, like a leper colony. It felt like walking through a mausoleum.

What was absolutely terrifying is that the [PAPER] is considered “well-adjusted” for legacy media, and is one of the most highly sought-after landing spots for [MY SCHOOL] graduates. But I know, in my gut, I’d hate working there. I have no idea where I fit in anymore.

My technical skills are proficient, my grasp of the social web is above-average and my desire to do something beyond the ordinary runs deep. I harbor a deep-rooted fear that I cannot leverage my strengths in an industry unwilling to make the seismic shifts necessary to be healthy, competitive, but most importantly, more than words on a page.

Storytelling is great. But I want to be a part of storytelling that engages people, information that mobilizes people, platforms that change the paradigm–where are these opportunities, David?

It’s telling that from the [THIS PAPERS]‘ reader representative, that the most common complaint from readers is not what the paper publishes, but what it doesn’t publish. I can’t find it a serviceable reason for its existence. To educate? To mobilize? To make money? It rarely accomplishes one out of three.

My peers at the [UNIVERSITY] seem to have this idea that I should hunker down, accept any opportunity upon graduation and just grind out copy until we are all made irrelevant by the boogeyman (“civic journalism”). Pardon my French, but holy shit, do I find this outcome absolutely terrifying.

TLDR: If you have any idea what path a journalism school student should walk separate from the well-trodden path, one that leads to something more forward-thinking (with the possibility of being an active participant in this paradigm shift), I’m all ears. Because the alternative is terrifying.

I figured if anyone has some sage (hopefully optimistic) words of advice, it might be you.

The next time you’re around, let me know and I’ll buy you a cup of coffee. Cheers.

First off – I love the real talk. Let’s get it out of the way. The newsroom you visited has some real issues. There was a recent hire (you probably saw in the news) that does speak volumes. But overall there is an aspect of “status quo” that any paper of that size/caliber is going to have. They can and will move forward – but it will be at a slower pace and it will be bogged down in bureaucracy, spreadsheets, and other annoying hinderances.  That doesn’t mean it’s a hell-hole, you just need to know what you are getting into.

But let’s say you ultimately reject the idea of working at a place like that. There are other opportunities out there.  Keep in mind: Just because you got a degree in journalism doesn’t mean you need to be a big J “Journalist” to do the kind of storytelling you want to do. Journalism is a gateway degree into almost anything.

There are a growing number of startup news organizations that don’t suffer from the same feel/vibe of what you just described. They include  AJ+ and Circa (yes, I’m bias in listing those first) as well as Buzzfeed, Vice, BreakingNews, Vox, and those are just off the top of my head. I’d also include nonprofits like those that belong to INN. Although these are less “sexy” I find they often don’t suffer a lot of the problems you identified with the major metro paper because – they are so mission driven that you only get people who care. There is a willingness to try new things because they are always on the brink of defeat. For every boring metro paper there is an “ist” taking its place (Gothamist, LAist, SFist, etc). That’s not a 1-for-1 replacement, but I hope the point still comes across.

The main thing I’d stress from the above is – Don’t get hung up on the idea that working at a traditional paper is the sign of “making it.” You can work for a startup. Even one that doesn’t have BIG J Journalism at its core – and be doing amazing work. Look at The Skimm. It’s hardly a newsroom. I can even imagine some muggles debating whether or not it’s journalism. Who cares. I bet the two girls running it are having a ball (and working a ton – but that comes with the territory). Check out GoPop. Now think about the possibilities of designing a platform for communication itself. That’s some next level shitright?

Here’s the rub: What you gain in creative freedom you lose in stability. If I were 30-40 years older, at this time in my career I’d be middle management. Trying to win awards and impress my editor. It might be “dull” aside from the occasional big win – but I’d have a pension, a stable job, enough to feel secure with my 2.5 kids, dog and…. well, I probably wouldn’t make enough for the picket fence because journalism pay rates are never that great – but you get the idea.

As it is – I’ve had several jobs in the last 10 years. I’ve been lucky to have TONS of creative freedom, but I’ve also never truly had BIG S “Security.” Combine that with the emotional highs/lows of working on a startup (or in a startup-esque culture) and while exciting – you should keep in mind there is a “grass is always greener” element here.

So when you write: “I cannot leverage my strengths in an industry unwilling to make the seismic shifts necessary to be healthy,” that might be true. But the hinge word there is “industry.” Maybe you don’t want to work in the “industry” – but you do want to work in the “community.” That’s an important distinction (see the second question here). Increasingly – projects that I think would once be called part of the “community” are being embraced as part of the “industry” – but still at the outer edges. But that does bode well for somebody like you – to find a space at the fringes and push the boundaries allowing more space for the wider industry to understand/adopt/etc. At least – that’s how I like to think about some of the work I’ve done.

I’ll end with this: I appreciate you reaching out and flattered that you think I’d have some sage advice. But I’ll also confess – I am not sure if I have anything solid. It sounds like you are still young. You got plenty of time to figure out what you want to do. Just think about all the possibilities. Don’t be tied to any one thing. And while I would encourage you to take anything/everything I’ve said here with a grain of salt – do consider me an ally. Happy to help out if I can – just let me know.

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My next adventure: AJ+ http://blog.digidave.org/2014/10/my-next-adventure-aj http://blog.digidave.org/2014/10/my-next-adventure-aj#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 21:50:20 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4288 Before I go into the why, let’s not bury the lede. I am joining AJ+ as an Executive Producer. Specifically, I’ll be focusing on the app, engagement and social.

It was not easy leaving Circa where I was the Chief Content Officer. As the first non-technical hire I helped set the editorial tone for where Circa is today. I couldn’t be more proud or excited for its future. I am also thankful to Matt, Ben, Arsenio and the entire Circa editorial team. I learned an enormous amount during my time there. Where does one go after working on a project like Circa? As I’ve said before, “creating a news product is how you critique the press today at an institutional level. That’s how you make a statement on what you think the future will feel like.”

I’m always motivated by questions and challenges and part of the appeal of AJ+ is about tackling two big ones head on.

Traditional broadcast media, specifically television based operations, need to figure out their future.

Television is the main source of news for most Americans. Love it or hate it — that’s the situation. But the expertise and skills developed to package news for broadcast mediums don’t necessarily translate to the web and certainly not mobile. I’ve called it the Screenularity. It’s the moment when the functional distinction between the screen in your living room is no different than the screen in your hand or in your lap. When that happens — television news operations will need to compete against the rest of the web. And the question is — are they equipped? Right now, I think the answer is no. But that’s where projects like AJ+ come in.

Engagement, lost but not forgotten

I’ve also recently written about trends in conversations around engagement. From 2001 to roughly 2011 a big thrust in the conversations about how journalism was changing centered around the changing relationship between audience and producer. Jay Rosen calls them “the people formerly known as the audience.” Dan Gillmor wisely pointed out “my readers know more than I do.” These revelations brought on interesting experiments and a golden age in re-thinking the process of journalism to make it more transparent and participatory. Mobile news is now well into its second generation. Flipboard, Zite and Pulse were the first wave with Circa, BreakingNews, YahooNewsDigest and NowThisNews representing a second generation of mobile apps. This new wave is less about aggregation and has a stronger editorial sensibility. As AJ+ enters the fray, it is in position to carry the mantle of engagement that was so important to the journalism conversation on desktop but has not yet been championed in a mobile setting.

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Enough with the manifestos about the future of news, let your product do the talking http://blog.digidave.org/2014/10/enough-with-the-manifestos-about-the-future-of-news-let-your-product-do-the-talking http://blog.digidave.org/2014/10/enough-with-the-manifestos-about-the-future-of-news-let-your-product-do-the-talking#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 05:45:31 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4277 Nikki Usher had a great Columbia Journalism Review article “Startup site manifestos are press criticism” where she notes that startup news orgs like PandoDaily, Vox, FiveThirtyEight and more have gotten into the habit of writing manifestos (much like the New York Times did when it launched in 1851). These manifestos are essentially their critique of the press in action.

The implication is that traditional journalism simply doesn’t offer readers this kind of news in the existing environment—that it’s not doing enough to give us what we need to know, and these sites are going to offer an alternative way to give us the public information that is the perceived obligation of journalism.

I think Nikki is right in her observation. These manifestos feel like the result of an organization sitting down on a psychologist’s couch, talking about its metaphorical parents and writing how it intends to deal with feelings of abandonment. “I WILL BE BETTER THAN THEM” the news organization shouts. Catharsis!

I found out about the post because of a tweet from my colleague Anthony DeRosa.

My response:

I’ve worked on several projects and endeavors over the years. Some of them are now shut down, some of them like Circa are currently kicking butt. But all of them were manifestos. They were all applied critiques of the news process. Emphasis on “applied.”

  • NewAssignment.net and Broowaha were critiques on the closed process of data collection/reporting
  • Spot.Us was a critique on the flow of money in journalism and sought to make it more transparent and participatory.
  • NewsTrust was a critique of accountability
  • Circa is a critique of the “article” as the most common/base unit of information (among other critiques).

Manifesto writing is important and helpful, and each of these projects spilled plenty of digital ink describing their goals, but it was the product that spoke loudest. It was the product-in-action that defined what these projects said to the larger industry.

Vox’s stacks are more poignant than the video where Ezra Klein talks about how the web can change things. Pando’s use of comics scream louder than the about page written by Sarah Lacy’sFiveThirtyEight’s drop-down menu tab says more about its values than any interview about it could. First Look’s future products will say more than any blog post explaining those products.

At the heart of the New York Times innovation report I don’t think the conclusion was the NYT needs to write a new manifesto. Instead, NYT recognized it needs to re-think product(s). That’s how you critique the press today. That’s how one shows what you offer that no other news organizations can.

Writing a long article is how you critique a specific act of journalism (think Ombudsmen) and is incredibly valuable. Just look at the wonderful work ofMargaret Sullivan for some of the best examples of recent memory. But a long manifesto won’t re-imagine what we do. Creating a news product is how you critique the press today at an institutional level. That’s how you make a statement on what you think the future will feel like.

lets-do-this-250There is so much talk about entrepreneurial journalism, it’s important to see the forest for the trees. Why is this a golden age of exploration in media? Why is it important to discuss the “future of journalism”? If you want to work on a new project or product ask yourself why. Is it because you can? Because you want to make money? Or because you have something to say and the best way to articulate it is by showing how things can work.

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2015 SXSW Accelerator: Entry Deadline Nov. 7 http://blog.digidave.org/2014/09/2015-sxsw-accelerator-entry-deadline-november-7 http://blog.digidave.org/2014/09/2015-sxsw-accelerator-entry-deadline-november-7#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 13:00:28 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4271 Once again I am humbled to be a SXSW Accelerator advisor.

What is that? It’s the chance to showcase your startup  in front of industry leaders.

From the organizers:

“SXSW Accelerator returns for its seventh edition to showcase some of the web’s most exciting innovations – could your company be one?  This event provides an outlet for companies to present their new online entertainment or gaming products, social media / networking technologies, or mobile, news, music, or health technology to a panel of industry experts, early adopters, and representatives from the angel / VC community.

Past judges have included Tim Draper of DFJ, John Sculley of Apple/Pepsi, Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media, Paul Graham of Y Combinator, Naval Ravikant of AngelList, Guy Kawasaki of Alltop, Chris Sacca of Lowercase Capital, Chris Hughes of New Republic/Facebook, Mark Suster of Upfront Ventures, Albert Wenger of Union Square Venture, Scott Weiss of Andreessen Horowitz, and Bob Metcalfe of Ethernet/3Com.

We invite your company to join us for this incredible event, as we highlight the technology market’s most impressive new innovations.  The application deadline is Friday, November 7, and the event itself will beMarch 14 & 15th, 2015 in Austin, TX.   Please apply sxsw.com/interactive/accelerator

If you do apply – let me know!

Deadline to apply

Friday, November 7, 2014. 

Applicants must be within one of the six categories:

  • Enterprise and Smart Data Technologies
    The Enterprise and Smart Data Technologies category encompasses applications and technologies that facilitate comprehension and application of information. These startups seek to improve productivity and management of data, analytics, text, documents, and engagement for business and individual use.
  • Entertainment and Content Technologies
    The Entertainment and Content Technologies category highlights applications and technologies for gaming, music, film, television, video, news and publishing, streaming and digital storytelling, as well as new and hybrid forms of entertainment. These are reinventing the ways in which we learn, relax and enjoy our time. This category also contains technologies that focus on other cultural sectors such as sports, travel, mapping, publishing and food as they pertain to entertainment
  • Digital Health and Life Sciences Technologies
    The Digital Health and Life Science Technologies category involves patient-centric health applications and technologies that connect patients, families, physicians, pharmacists, care providers (hospitals, clinics) and benefit providers. These products and services enable people to collect and share timely, relevant health data and drive better outcomes at affordable and sustainable cost levels. These may include Internet of Things and wearable devices, but such devices may be more appropriate in the Wearable Technologies or Innovative World categories (see below).
  • Social Technologies
    The Social Technologies category includes applications and technologies that enable personal connections. With this category we’re looking for new and interesting uses, cases, products and services, as well as messaging that push the boundaries of how we find, follow and share our lives with others. If your business or service has a social component but is primarily focused on Entertainment, Health or Wearable Technologies, then you should enter one of these other categories instead.
  • Wearable Technologies
    The Wearable Technologies category focuses on technology worn on, in, or around the body. As this major technology cycle advances we are seeking all types of wearable products that advance human performance and wellness, as well as those involved in apparel, accessories, fashion and lifestyle. If your product is focused on patient/clinician information, please apply in the Digital Health and Life Sciences Technologies category.
  • Innovative World Technologies
    Any creative and innovative technology that does not fit in another category is encouraged to apply here. We are currently seeing lots of innovation in the Internet of Things, payments and virtual currencies, data security and privacy, transportation such as autonomous vehicles, energy, space, robotics, and artificial intelligence, If your business / service / application applies to one of these fields (or something not on this list that is even more ground-breaking), then this is your category.


Where can I get more information:

Visit the Accelerator website at sxsw.com/interactive/accelerator

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Nothing is in a name when we attack industry tribes http://blog.digidave.org/2014/08/nothing-is-in-a-name-when-we-attack-industry-tribes http://blog.digidave.org/2014/08/nothing-is-in-a-name-when-we-attack-industry-tribes#comments Fri, 01 Aug 2014 20:43:52 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4255 There’s no need to defend “entrepreneurial journalism” because it doesn’t exist

Is anyone else tired of pointless journalist on journalist attacks? They persist because of the labels/divisions we create amongst ourselves. Most of these labels are meaningless outside of our industry. It’s tribalism at its worst. In the end — we are on the same team.

How different types of journalists see each other

I did an eye-roll when I came across Corey Pein’s piece in the Baffler: “Amway Journalism.”

The tl;dr version: He doesn’t like “entrepreneurial journalism” (E.J.) because it is being promoted by folks like Jeff Jarvis.

Arguments why Corey doesn’t like “entrepreneurial journalism” include [my tl;dr responses in brackets]…..

  1. E.J’s are more concerned about personal brand/twitter than journalism [Straw man]
  2. “At its most ambitious, it means …. perpetual paid speaking invitations and … entree into the exclusive grifterhood of future-of-media experts.” [Straw man]
  3. Kara Swisher, Ezra Klein are referenced too much and aren’t good examples. [They aren’t?]
  4. They “exude disdain” for traditional reporters [I’m sure there are anecdotes, but overall this is a straw man. To be an “E.J.” doesn’t require disdain for traditional reporters.]
  5. They have no ethics and will trade money/popularity at the expense of their work. [Straw man]
  6. It’s not as good or guaranteed of a salary/career as journalists used to have [Cry about it]
  7. Jeff Jarvis talks too much [Who cares?]

This bit about Jarvis ends up being the entire second half of the piece. I’ll ignore it since Jarvis is a big boy and can respond himself if he wants. But I will say — while I was never an official “student” of Jeff’s I’ve learned a lot from him. My career has benefited from having him as a resource and mentor.

I think Corey’s intentions were good. When I responded on Twitter, we had a small and polite exchange. Bottom line, he sees himself as trying to protect journalism from snake oil salesmen, people with lots of talk and no walk. That is an admirable goal, even if he targets somebody I would defend from that claim. But in his attempt at this, he seems to attack all “entrepenurial journalists.” Somehow, I felt accused of being un-ethical, having disdain for other reporters, and more.

Why would we throw everyone in this space under the bus?




I agree with some of Corey’s sentiment, but what I wanted to respond with was something like:

We better hope an entrepreneurial journalist figures something out or hope the “shills” take care of us better. Let’s hope no anti-entrepreneurial journalism rants are taken too literally to do any harm.

Again: I don’t think Corey wanted to throw “entrepreneurial journalism” under the bus. Instead, I think he just wanted to write a hit piece on Jarvis and since Jarvis talks about this stuff, there was collateral damage. He is obviously a fan of some entrepreneurial efforts: Spot.Us, Beacon, Byliner. I’m sure he was a fan of Demotix where he was the lead editor for awhile. I’m willing to bet there are others Corey is a fan of. I’m sure he doesn’t think these organizations or its leaders are devoid of ethics, have disdain for tradition or any of the other arguments above.

One of my favorite responses was from Ryan Chittum:

Corey doesn’t like people who coin buzzwords. Neither does Chittum. They have different names for those types of people. Ryan’s colleague Dean Starkman doesn’t like people who think about the future of news or coin buzzwords either. He calls them part of the “Future of News consensus” orFONers for short.

Stop me when you see the irony.

The real heart of the matter

Something to note throughout this piece, I’ve put “entrepreneurial journalism” in quotes most of the time. I hate that term. I hate “journopreneur” as a term. I hate most terms we use today to describe new things in journalism or what I consider myself to be. The tl;dr version of why — these terms are anachronisticThey describe little. We call a chef a chef whether they own their restaurant or not. We might call one an “entrepreneur” but that wouldn’t define their cooking. It just means they have more control over the menu than somebody who works for another chef or owner.

Nobody says: “Honey, let’s stay in and order entrepreneurial cooking today.” And that’s not how readers think about the journalism they consume.

The quibbling that goes on amongst journalists about this stuff feels like internal office politics. The kind of petty bullshit that feels so real and important, but isn’t. Except for the fact that it leads to real consequences of people getting fired and promoted.

I don’t want to pretend this is one-sided either. Like I said above re: disdain for tradition, I see a lot of bullshit preached about how “traditional” journalists “just don’t get it” and I want to raise my hand and ask: “What is it that they don’t ‘get’.” I don’t find that kind of generalization helpful. My experience has been: In traditional organizations, the individuals get everything and very much want to push forward, but the structure of the institutions are often at fault, not individuals.

I’m also not giving everyone a free pass from criticism. What I’m looking for is direct criticism based on the merit of ideas/execution. But criticisms that cast aspersions on entire swaths of people based on the “type” of journalist they are is disheartening. It’s internal “othering.” We should judge somebody based on the content of their work, not what caste we put them in. Some entrepreneurial journalism is bullshit. I’ve called some out. I try to do so diplomatically.

Some traditional reporters are bullshit. Some are great. But we need to get over the idea that “the problem in our industry isn’t people like me…. its them!”

It’s all of us. It’s you reading this, it’s the technologists, it’s the beat reporter. It’s me. If we can all collectively step up and take responsibility for our little roles as stewards of journalism/news, then we can push forward better, faster, stronger, harder.

If all of the old models are failing, and all of the people trying new things can’t be trusted, what’s left? Little more, it seems, than frustrated thinkpieces about the death of journalism.

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The San Francisco Public Press – the news nonprofit that could http://blog.digidave.org/2014/06/the-san-francisco-public-press-the-news-nonprofit-that-could http://blog.digidave.org/2014/06/the-san-francisco-public-press-the-news-nonprofit-that-could#comments Wed, 25 Jun 2014 21:37:41 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4188 I’m on the board of the San Francisco Public Press. I’ve been associated with them since the beginning and helped raise a ton of money for them while I was running Spot.Us.

They currently have a Kickstarter up. They are past their original goal, but they have an opportunity to make more. If they get to 500 donors (even if the donor just gives $1) the Knight Foundation will contribute 5k over their Kickstarter goal. If they get to 750: they’ll throw in $7,500 and if they get to 1,000 contributors, even if they just give $1- the Knight Foundation will give them $10,000 over their Kickstarter goal.

I have the spare $1, you are thinking to yourself, but I am also giving this blog post side-eyes David. Who are these Public Pressers and why do I care.

The SFPP is, by its very existence, a phenomenon. When I first met Michael Stoll, the Executive Director, and he told me about his plans to start a noncommercial, nonprofit, nonpartisan, newsPAPER – I thought he was crazy. But he went ahead and started it. How could I not join that ride – even if it was just to give my .02 (which sometimes was not in harmony with the SFPP ethos, but they would listen to me nonetheless). He has managed to inspire folks like Lila Lahood (Publisher) to join him in the most contrarian of startups. The SFPP is an interesting experiment and one that bucks the trend. That alone deserves our attention and admiration.

Remember the McSweeny Newspaper stunt, The SF Panaroma. Their cover story was powered by the San Francisco Public Press’ journalism. In fact, almost all of the SFPP’s investigative stories have later turned into front page pieces at the Chronicle or elsewhere. If you are a journalist in SF, you pay attention to what the SFPP writes. They set the agenda. They do the hard work and digging that nobody else does. They know this and don’t toot their horn enough about it. So here I am.

Remember the Bay Citizen? They had an operating budget of $5 million a year. Without going into the details, it didn’t last. And even though it sucked attention and funding away from the SFPP, the nonprofit kept going. They kept doing hard hitting work and…. the organization, which has an operating budget that wouldn’t even support the salary of the Editor in Chief of the Bay Citizen, outlasted the Bay Citizen itself. (CIR absorbed the Citizen).

During that time I wrote about the SFPP (and others like it) as the most efficient means (dollar for dollar) of informing the public.

I see the strength of these players as efficiency. The SF Public Press (disclosure, I’m on the advisory board and Spot.Us has raised money for them on several occasions) is operating on roughly $70,000 this year. That is up from roughly 30k last year.

(NOTE: All of these are 2010 numbers – but the point still stands)

That gives it a burn rate of about $5,800 a month. Average unique visitors is around 12,000 a month. Divide one by the other and and we can crudely say they spend about .48 cents to acquire each reader.

Compare this to The Bay Citizen which has an operating budget of over $5,000,000 a year.

That makes for a burn rate of $400,000 a month. At a booksmith event Lisa Frasier said their traffic was about 175,000 (note: This is probably growing since they are a young organization. This also doesn’t count NY Times traffic).

This means The Bay Citizen spends $2.2 to acquire a reader. Even if we double their traffic numbers, assuming the NY Times brings in another 175,000 unique readers, their cost is $1.1 per reader – still twice that of the SF Public Press.

With this latest project the San Francisco Public Press has a chance to grow. The journalism they do speaks for itself. If there is ever to be a Voice of San Diego, a MinnPost, or a Texas Tribune in the Bay Area – it will be because the San Francisco Public Press scaled up. And this is their chance to do it. And all it will take is $1 from you and 2minutes. Don’t wait – there’s only 6 days left in the campaign.

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A new metric to count in News: The follow – #jcarn http://blog.digidave.org/2014/06/a-new-metric-to-count-in-news-the-follow-jcarn http://blog.digidave.org/2014/06/a-new-metric-to-count-in-news-the-follow-jcarn#comments Mon, 23 Jun 2014 14:00:00 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4184 This month’s Carnival of Journalism is hosted by Prof. Jonathan Groves. You can read the full blog post from Jonathan here: What is the best way of measuring meaningful content? 

For this month’s prompt, I [Jonathan] offer two related questions:

  • How do you define meaningful content that has long-lasting value?
  • What is the best way to evaluate content that fosters deep engagement with the audience?

I am cheating a bit by re-blogging (with some a bit of an intro) a post that I wrote for Circa’s blog about this very subject.

The key thing to keep in mind about Circa is that we don’t write “articles” we tell stories. And some of those stories last a long time. A court case could go on for a year or more. The recovery after a natural disaster, a missing airplane, an influenza outbreak, a legislative process, an election. All of these are stories that can go on for weeks, months or longer. And at Circa we create one object at one URL that persists over time for us to track the story as it evolves. Because we atomize news, we are able to present the story differently to somebody who is returning to the story (and wants the latest information) versus somebody who is brand new to the story (and needs to start at the beginning). It’s all about presenting the atoms (the facts, quotes, stats, images, etc) in a different order depending on the reader’s relationship to the story.

And that’s the “follow.” This is the most important thing at Circa. It’s the foundation of our relationship with readers. It’s how we get readers to return (often to the same URL/Story with new info for them) and it’s how we build trust with readers. It’s also something we measure. It’s our metric of how valuable a story is over time and how engaging a story is.

(From the Circa blog post)

“If you hopped into a time machine that spat you out sometime between 1996 and now, you could almost pinpoint the year by the words used to describe an organization’s Web traffic. Hits? That would be 1998 or so. Page views? 2003-2005. Unique visitors? 2006-2007. Odds are that 2008-2009 is going to be the year of ‘time spent,’ as in, ‘an average user spends four minutes and thirty-five seconds on our site.’”

Much has changed since I wrote that for Columbia Journalism Review in April 2008. I applaud efforts that are trying to push the boundaries in what we count and how we count it. The social web has made “sharing” often called “engagement” a new and important metric.

In any case – metrics matter because what you count determines what you sell to advertisers and how you make money.

Engagement, even if we have trouble defining how to measure it, has value either because it bolsters a bottom-line metric (that can be monetized) or because “engagement” helps advance the relationship between the publication and readers. Some in the media space say relationships formed through “engagement” are more valuable than other metrics like “clicks” (eyeballs). If you ask journalism professor and media pundit Jeff Jarvis; journalists are in the relationship business.

So what does it mean to have a relationship with a reader? Can this even be measured?

At Circa we’ve created a unique relationship with readers through the “follow” feature. The feature creates a unique measurement of a story’s performance and it is at the very heart of how we try to serve readers.

The “follow” is a metric of what our readers know

Our “leaderboard” has classic stats based more or less on “eyeballs” but it also includes a “follow” count. We can see how many people have “followed” a story in the last hour, the last 24 hours and how many have unfollowed (happily always our lowest number). The follow count doesn’t represent “eyeballs” to monetize with banner ads but rather relationships. Each follow is a decision by a reader to keep in touch, for us to keep track of what they know and alert them when something new happens they aren’t aware of. From an editorial perspective – that’s valuable information which allows us to serve a reader better. It also lets us know exactly how many devices will be alerted when we update a story. It’s not a theory about what we need to do to make something “engaging” – it’s a number and each number is a unique person that will get the update.

It leads to counterintuitive examples of success. With each push during the week of the Boston Marathon bombing we found a rush of readers come back to the app. But we also found that the time they spent on the app decreased after their first visit. This makes perfect sense, however, since we highlighted the new information and the readers understood that if it wasn’t highlighted – it was information they already knew and didn’t need to spend time on. If we were a publisher that had to monetize time spent, we’d be in trouble and might come up with listicles, “analysis” or other tricks to increase eyeballs and return visits. But if we are an organization that puts value in the ongoing relationship – we are in luck, because we found with every push the reader came back trusting that we would provide just the latest information and wouldn’t waste their time.

To the extent that Circa is an experiment in changing how we deliver news, it has also required us to rethink and experiment with what metrics are of value and why.

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The @HiddenCash Twitter phenomenon is bullshit http://blog.digidave.org/2014/05/the-hiddencash-twitter-phenomenon-is-bullshit http://blog.digidave.org/2014/05/the-hiddencash-twitter-phenomenon-is-bullshit#comments Fri, 30 May 2014 20:52:51 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4173 In recent weeks the Twitter account @HiddenCash has received several hundred thousand followers. As of writing this, it’s over 345K. And most of the feedback it has received is positive.

I hate to be the old-timey Scrouge to the loveable Scrouge McDuck that is this account, but I think it’s bullshit. Considering the class tensions in San Francisco, this kind of social experiment is not what the city needs. It is tone deaf.

 The Premise

The premise is clever, no doubt. An anonymous rich person hides envelopes of money ($100-$200) and hides them. The Twitter account provides scavenger-type hints and the hunt is on. Find the money, take a photo and spread the word about how awesome @hiddencash is!!

I can’t knock the people looking for the hidden cash. Who doesn’t like money? Who hasn’t thought about finding the pot of gold? Who doesn’t like a fun mystery/hunt and this one with a treasure at the end! Huzzah!

But I do not see this as a social experiment for “good” as it is self-described.

1. The people finding this money benefit, but they aren’t the people in San Francisco who are truly in need.

I can imagine the Onion satire of this account. A hint would read: “Find the latest cash drop under the sleeping homeless person!!!!” (Insert Susie Cagle comic image here. Joke credit Greg Thomas from Circa)

Anyone following this account on Twitter with the free time/energy to go for a wild goose chase to find $100 is probably not somebody who needs the charity in any REAL life/death manner.

This is San Francisco. We have a very real and very serious poverty problem. I find it incredibly sad that this rich individual would throw money away without thinking about where it could make a real impact on a person’s life (*taking a selfie with found money is not a real impact*). Even if this person does already give to established charities (and the I believe that is the case – at least according to the word of an anonymous account) thousands of dollars is literally being thrown away. And while it might be insignificant to them, it could mean the difference between a fulfilling life for those in need.

2. A “Good” act is not for entertainment or to build social media credentials.

The German philosopher Kant argued that a truly good deed has no ulterior motives except to be good itself (or to perform one’s duty).  Similarly he thought that anytime we treat somebody as a means and not an end in themselves – the act is immoral.

At the very least @HiddenCash is spreading the wealth for their own entertainment, not because they want to help people.


An even more malicious interpretation is that @HiddenCash is building up a Twitter account with massive followers to serve his/her own purpose some day in the future. Twitter accounts with 300k followers is worth….. money. Or at the very least power and ego-serving.

Look, I’m not saying this isn’t an interesting experiment. It is. But it’s not an experiment in charity or doing good. Instead, this looks like the experiment of a rich person in SF who is out of touch with what it is to struggle in a city where a class divide is stark and growing.


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Defining Product: The next decade long battle of journalism http://blog.digidave.org/2014/05/defining-product-the-next-decade-long-battle-of-journalism http://blog.digidave.org/2014/05/defining-product-the-next-decade-long-battle-of-journalism#comments Thu, 15 May 2014 17:58:34 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4166 The tagline for my blog since roughly 2008 has been: “Journalism is a process, not a product.” I believe in this to my core. Journalism itself is not a product.

When the main product sold was a newspaper – that was not journalism. That was the final product that contained the finished journalism.

Journalism, as many have described before, is the process of collecting, filtering and distributing information with the caveats that the information is true and accurate to the best of one’s ability (and perhaps other caveats of ethically collected, etc). This is why there is truth to the statement “journalism with survive the death of its institutions.” What this captures, is the idea that journalism’s fate is note tied to past products.

I think this mantra: Journalism is a process, not a product, was the defining debate from 2001 – 2010 or perhaps all the way to 2011. But just as the best tenets and practices of “citizen journalism” and “social media” have been absorbed by media companies, a new battle ground has emerged.

“Battle” might be the wrong word. I don’t see this as two-opposing forces colliding – so much as a new frontier that is being explored in the ongoing evolution of journalism and the business of news. It is only a “battle” in the sense that the stakes are high. The companies that “win” will lay claim to the product that will define how journalism is consumed on platforms, be it desktop, mobile, wearables and beyond. 

That’s right: Journalism is a process, not a product, but I think the current frontier for journalism is around product. It started before the New York Time’s “Snowfall,” but that was when minds were blown and flood gates opened. If the New York Times can re-think the product it uses to transmit its journalism – then everyone can.

Questions that become relevant: What is the best product for journalism to be consumed? How does digital not just enable more people to do journalism, how does digital fundamentally question what journalism IS from a consumer’s point of view.

I would argue the “citizen journalism” debate was often mistakenly put in this context (if it is not from a journalism organization, it must not BE journalism to a consumer) but I think history has shown this debate to be false. And it’s not that the new frontier of “product” will make us question whether something “IS” or “IS NOT” journalism, instead it will fundamentally free us up to think through the experience of consuming news and it is here (defining the experience of journalism in digital context) that fortunes will be made. This is where you get Vox, Circa, NowThisNews, Rookie.com, Scroll Kit (now acquired by Automatic) and more.

Historically a journalist didn’t think about product. They focused on the journalism and traded edits back and forth with an editor and/or copy-editor. And eventually the copy, combined with a photo was handed over to somebody in charge of layout. This person was the first in the chain of things to think about product: About what the paper would look and feel like that day. But the reporter was removed from this. They didn’t have to think about it (aside from ego-front page connotations).

Today, journalists have to think about product, because it defines how the journalist goes about their work. The journalism itself is a separate act (a process), but if you know what you are going to produce is a video (product), that certainly steers what direction you will take in your process. While this is an obvious (and not new) example, this kind of product influence is becoming more pervasive and subtle on the front end (the look/feel/function) as well as the back-end (the CMS, workflow and production cycle) as the industry re-thinks what its core consumer experience is. The organizations above (and countless others) are leading the way through product. And it is in the development of their product that they lead the company. It is at the level of product where all stakeholders (design, development, editorial, business) should have a seat at the table. It is by managing these relationships that a company can navigate forward (an entirely different post here about internal leadership through product).

The content must be there too. Make no mistake, journalism is a process – not a product. But we have to ask ourselves – if journalism happens in a forest and nobody consumes it, did it really ever happened? But if you can define the platform experience/product upon which people consume the news, there will be no doubt about the process you went through to produce the news, it would be right there on the “front page.”

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