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    How the Online Newspaper Can Become a Community Hub

    by Mark Glaser
    March 26, 2007

    i-cb78812fdc0fd997e8397e8788e235bb-Newspaper in plastic.jpg
    I was talking with someone the other day about the future of newspapers. That seems like the topic du jour with anyone in the news business, or anyone who follows the media. I brought up the recent imbroglio over people who believe that investigative journalism will die with the newspaper printing presses, and I was asked, “Well, how will newspapers transition to the web if that’s where everyone is going to read them?”

    It’s a good question, and my answer is an obvious follow-up to my recent diatribe, Serious Journalism Won’t Die as Newsprint Fades. I think that newspapers need to make the transition to a digital newsroom in both deed and in mindset. Newspapers from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times to the entire Gannett chain have made pronouncements about the web being their primary outlet, with print being secondary. But how do you put that into action?

    The following is a breakdown of how I see such an online newspaper of the future working. As with other lists, I’m going to keep this open to your contributions, and will add them in (with a credit to you).

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    How the Newspaper of the Future Will Operate Online

    > Include outside voices in every phase of editorial planning, newsgathering, reporting and follow-up. That means that you bring in community members to town hall-style editorial meetings, you put out feelers on blogs and forums for possible subjects to cover, you query databases of citizen journalists when looking for expert sources, and you allow comments and email replies on stories to fix mistakes and follow-up.

    > Reorganize newspaper sites into a series of micro-sites on niche topics. Each regular topic of coverage would have its own website: a local sports team, the city council, a business sector, a popular type of local music, each neighborhood, etc. A paid editor/reporter a.k.a. “The Topic Chief” would be assigned to run each niche site, with a main blog showcasing reporting as well as aggregation of other coverage on the same topic. There would be tiers of contributors, from the Topic Chief being full time, a crew of freelance writers or bloggers being paid a bit less, and citizen reporters or commenters doing volunteer work — with the opportunity to move up the ladder with good work.

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    > Look for paid staffers with multiple skillsets. The Topic Chief of the future (and present) will do more than one thing well. This person will report and write stories or blog posts, record audio podcasts, and/or go on-camera for video reports. Each Chief will have multimedia in their DNA, and will also have the community skills necessary to collaborate more with the other readers/contributors.

    > Reach out to the community for bloggers, muckrakers and go-to experts. Each topic area would require more than just reacting to news. The Topic Chief would be sure to enlist as many experts as possible not only to be sources but to also be contributors, commenters, and word-of-mouth marketers. Anyone who possesses the skills that go beyond basic participation can be hired on as freelancers or even full-time staff.

    > Use the site to be as transparent and personal as possible. Each Topic Chief would be as open about who they are and where they come from as possible. Each employee of the site would have an extensive bio, no matter where they are on the masthead. Along with that transparency, reporters and editors would be as personal as possible, accepting blame for mistakes and trying to be open about motivations behind stories.

    > Utilize the strengths of the online medium. Multimedia isn’t necessary for every story or blog post, but try to think in multimedia when possible. If a story can be told in a picture, do it. If you can include the full audio from an especially important interview, do it. If you have the video from the press conference, post it. What were once called “web extras” will now just be “web stories” complete with the extras baked in.

    > Make staff be responsive to community concerns. Don’t shut out criticism but welcome it to the site in ways that can be constructive and lead to important conversations. That means moderated comments over open comments, and staff involvement in forums.

    > Quit defending past practices. Rather than “saving stories” for print, or keeping web staff to a minimum, start putting real resources into your website and its staff, and start planning new approaches to what you’ve done in the past.

    From Gil Zino:

    > Local news orgs can focus on local content. And they get much more local content due to the means of content production and distribution now being in the hands of more citizens in each community than ever before in history (anyone with access to a broadband connection). Not only can news orgs accumulate more local content, but they can use today’s technology to deliver it to the people that want to consume it. The news doesn’t have to be relevant to the subscriber base as a whole, and catered to the masses — it can be efficiently delivered at the individual level. And it is living news — link to it, add text/photos/videos/sound to it, aggregate it, comment on it, follow it continually as it evolves and changes. Most new stories are not discrete events that can be put in a column.

    From Alastair Machray:

    > Newspapers transferring emphasis online will need to scrutinize how they spend their marketing money. The brand, however strong, may not be enough to command visitor traffic in sufficient volume. The brand is naturally strongest amongst older, traditional print readers, and less powerful among the new, web-reliant generation. The newspapers which succeed will not simply produce appealing content and functionality for this generation but will reach out to them through effective marketing across a range of media.

    From Alastair Dallas:

    > Links have to go off-site when that’s appropriate. It’s a worldwide web out there — straining to keep readers on the mother site devalues its usefulness. The news site that acts as a reader’s personal news agent, learning their preferences and occasionally surprising them, will earn the reader’s attention on the web. We have to concede, however, that it is the web’s variety and searchability that is attractive; readers are not monogamous.

    From Kyle Redinger:

    > Online social networking features are the tools that will enable community members to interact with news. It won’t be easy at first. The majority of newspaper readers probably haven’t done much more than submit letters to the editor. Newspapers should give readers an online platform to interact, rank and participate in commentary and article submission. The cost of managing comments might be high at first, but as users become more familiar with online social network features, participation becomes more transparent and technology gets better, and the community will bear the cost.

    What do you think? What would you add to the list? How do you see newspaper editorial staffs transitioning to a web-first newsroom? Share your thoughts in the comments below and I’ll update this list with some of the better recommendations.

    Photo of newspaper in plastic by Yamanaka Tamaki.

    Tagged: investigative reporting journalism newspapers
    • web news also opens up the possibility for entirely new “sections” of the newspapers.

      newspapers have traditionally done poorly covering the nonprofit sector (sometimes also called the “social sector.”)

      newspapers ought to think about creating new “sections.” there’s no good reason why a newspaper on the web ought not have 25 sections (or more.)

      why does this bring value to readers? because people can better tune in to what they want to read — and tune out what they don’t want to read — when news and views are classified into more sections.

      also, news on the web ought to think more about writing contests for youth — to spur the development of the next generation of journalists. spelling bee’s are so 20th century . news needs to go a few steps beyond that in the new century.

      we don’t need outstanding spellers. we need outstanding writers/thinkers.

    • alastair machray

      Newspapers transferring emphasis online will need to scrtutinise their marketing spend allocation. The brand, however strong, may not be enough to command visitor traffic in sufficient volume. The brand is naturally strongest amongst older, traditional print readers, and less powerful among the new, web-reliant generation. The newspapers which succeed will not simply produce appealing content and functionality for this generation but will reach out to them through effective marketing across a range of media.
      http://echoeditor.merseyblogs.co.uk/

    • Excellent concepts; I certainly agree that the future is online. The list of ideas needs to embrace hyperlinking a bit further, however.

      First, there is no reason to organize a site into micro-niches; let the reader do that themselves. Persistent search lets a reader stay apprised of any article that matches their interests, and links from one article to another, informed by the reader’s choices, can provide serendipity.

      Second, the links have to go off-site when that’s appropriate. It’s a worldwide web out there–straining to keep readers on the mother site devalues its usefulness.

      The news site that acts as a reader’s personal news agent, learning their preferences and occasionally surprising them, will earn the reader’s attention on the web. We have to concede, however, that it is the web’s variety and searchability that is attractive; readers are not monogamous.

    • http://themediaage.com/?p=39

      Newspapers must realize that incorporating an actively participating community is key for online success. The internet benefits content creators because it lets users interact with content. Interacting with content means more personalization and more consumption time.

      Online social networking features are the tools that will enable community members to interact with news. It wont be easy at first. The majority of newspaper readers probably havent done much more than submit letters to the editor. Newspapers should give readers an online platform to interact, rank and participate in commentary and article submission. The cost of managing comments might be high at first, but as users become more familiar with online social network features, participation becomes more transparent and technology gets better, the community will bear the cost.

      Local newspapers sit on huge repositories of information. Everything from local sports information, to political history, to development history has, at some point, been in a newspaper article. Additionally, local communities look to newspapers as primary news sources for local information. Taking the social network model to the online newspaper means creating wikis that allow users to maintain information about niche community topics that are relevant for them. Think: County High School Soccer team record and history repository; or County Governor Campaign History. Enable users to pick and choose the topics that are most important to them and empower them with information.

    • Printed newspapers display news and information that has been prepared and laid out for an easy effortless read without the navigation process involved with online options. With time becoming a more precious commodity to most, and the endless hours spent in the work place on computers, picking up a print out (newspaper) that does not involve going back on a computer will remain an attractive option.

    • Traditional media, including newspapers online, should take into consideration that all the online stuff has to be partially or better entirely free in order to attain and retain the audience.

    • I’ve seen the newspaper of the future and her name is wikipedia. Combined with the one laptop per child project, I believe the human race will reach a “Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy” scenario where reporting becomes a decentralized , tool of the people. This symbiotic relationship between real people, computers and wikipedia will be named “The Internets” and be conceptualized as a “Series of Tubes” Amen.

    • Live news is increasingly being liberated from dead paper. This is terrific for local news organizations especially. Not death at all but a revival. I think we’re going back to the future – when local news orgs were community hubs. Adaptation needed as you described – and it won’t be easy – but some will emerge. Discussed more on NextBlitz as well.

    • christian jegouel

      Hi
      I totally agree with this post. Newspapers have to split their main site in specialized mini sites to be more focus on the contents and services to a specific community.
      They also have to be prepared to a new form of competition with non professionals.
      That’s I set up with YouVox. A content vertical portal made by bloggers or a small group of users (expert, fan…) and completed by rest of user. We are in a low cost model and we still have 4 sites in 4 month. http://www.youvox.fr
      We are now looking to set up our US activities.
      Christian Jegourel

    • Gabriel

      Competion are getting more aggressive with publication of good contents from blogs and media collection such as http://www.mediaplanetaria.com which publishes thousands of free newspapers around the world.

    • Katie Jane Wennechuk

      FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
      To Mark the Passing of Reverend Jerry Falwell

      He built one of the first megachurches in the United States, founded a university, developed a cable television network, and had a huge effect on the Republican party.

      Yet, sadly, he will be remembered by many as what The New York Times called one of the most polarizing religious-political figures of our era. He was once even called an agent of intolerance by Senator John McCain. No wonder, when he blamed gays, abortionists, the ACLU, pagans, and even feminists for the attacks of Nine Eleven.

      By the time he is buried May 22, Jerry Falwell will likely have already discovered that the universe is not the polarized place he imagined it to be. Instead of finding a select number, including himself, in heaven, and the rest of humanity in an ever-burning hell, he will have found that neither heaven nor hell exist in the way he depicted them.

      Liberty University claims to be Bible-based. But the Bible as Jerry Falwell read it is a very different book from the many books that were collected together over a period of a thousand years to form what people think of as the Bible.

      Let me illustrate what I mean from a modern example of how to read literature. Blared The New York Times headline, October 31, 1938, Radio Listeners in Panic, Taking War Drama as Fact.

      Said the article, A wave of mass hysteria seized thousands of radio listeners between 8:15 and 9:30 oclock last night when a broadcast of a dramatization of H.G. Wellss fantasy, The War of the Worlds, led thousands to believe that an interplanetary conflict had started with invading Martians spreading wide death and destruction in New Jersey and New York.

      The article went on to say that the broadcast disrupted households, interrupted religious services, created traffic jams, and clogged communications systems as people took literally a work of literature that was never meant to be read that way.

      Some of the books that comprise the library of books we refer to as the Bible do speak of heaven, and also of hell. But those terms were no more meant to be literalized than were the words of H. G. Wells.

      Jerry Falwell spoke of an ever-burning hell fire in which people would be tortured for eternity. He particularly saw gay people as bound for hell, just as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah are said to have gone to this ever-burning lake of fire.

      Apparently Jerry focused on certain statements in some books that make up the Bible, while seemingly missing others altogether. I can understand how this can happenI did it myself for many years.
      For instance, a statement in Jude 7, in the New Testament, says plainly that Sodom and Gomorrah are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. So, the people of Sodom are in hell, right?

      If hell is what people imagineeternal firethen its a little puzzling to have Jesus speak of these people being resurrected for the judgment. Havent they already been judged, and arent they already undergoing their punishment?

      It gets even more confusing when you notice that Jesus also said that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for the people of his own generation.
      Tolerable? Eternal fire can somehow be more tolerable? Does the furnace get turned down several degrees, do you imagine?

      Jesus made an even more startling statement, referring to the people of his own day: For if the mighty works which have been done in thee had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day (Matthew 11:20-24). In other words, as with the people of Tyre and Sidon, whom Jesus also mentions in this passage, the people of Sodom would have repented if they could only have heard the message the people of Jesus day were hearing!

      What kind of God is it that condemns people to an ever-burning hell, when, if they had just heard the message, they wouldnt have gone to hell in the first place?

      And what kind of God resurrects people out of flames to tell them that theyre going back to the flames forever, except that it will be a bit cooler from now on?

      Jerry Falwells way of reading the books that make up the Bible makes a mishmash of them. Understood in the language and terminology of two and three thousand years ago, in a very different culture from ours, these books say nothing like what evangelical preachers have told us they say.

      Did you know, for example, that the prophet Ezekiel, who knew that Sodom and Gomorrah suffered eternal vengeance, also speaks of these people being restored to their own land, and God making a new covenant with them along with the people of Israel, forgiving their sins forever, that they might know the Lord? You can read it with your own eyes in Ezekiel 16:53-63.

      Did you ever read of people being saved by fire? Its in the New Testament, I Corinthians 3:13-15.

      Said one New Testament author, Our God is a consuming fire. Of course! The ego of every person must be burned up, so that the pure glory of the divine may shine through. In the end, God will be all in all. The divine nature will be perfectly expressed in every human who has ever lived (I Corinthians 15:22-28).

      Ive been to hell, havent you? Ive seen the Refiners Fire go to work in my life, sorting out the grain from the chaff and burning up the chaff. And when Ive been going through such periods in my life, they certainly were eternal and the fire unquenchable. There was no escaping until their work was done.

      Read Eckhart Tolles description of this in his own lifeand how he burst the bonds of hell and entered heavenin Namaste Publishings The Power of Now.

      Which explains how Jonah, in the Hebrew scriptures, could speak of his time in the great fishs stomach as being for ever (Jonah 2:6). It lasted an eternal three days and three nightsthemselves, incidentally, symbolic.

      I sense Jerry is learning to read the Bible in a new way. I know hes shocked to find that hes not literally walking on streets paved with gold. I also know hes utterly dumbfounded by the total, immense, limitless love of the divine, which embraces all and includes everyone.

      Jerry, you are our brother, and as you go on your journey, through periods of further growth and true self-discovery, may lifes hells all turn out to be heavenand may we meet again in a love that knows no polarities, no divisions, and no separation.

      David Ord
      Namaste Publishing Editorial Director
      http://www.namastepublishing.com
      “He said… She said…” The Daily Blog

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