Live Blog: RJI TalkFest on Serving Entrepreneurial Journalists

    by Mark Glaser
    January 21, 2009
    Outside the door of the Fred W. Smith forum during the RJI TalkFest

    I am virtually covering the all-day sessions at the RJI TalkFest today, held at the University of Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute. I will be watching in via Adobe Connect, where I can hear and see what’s going on and chat in the chat room. The agenda includes sessions on community-building, advertising and marketing, news and information and mobile. The live-blogging will run chronologically downward. You can join in at the RJI Collaboratory website, where there’s a CoverItLive application that lets outside folks comment. You can also follow RJI fellow and Mizzou professor Jen Reeves’ Twitter feed.

    Here is the goal of the new Collaboratory:

    We work with entrepreneurial journalists, citizens and organizations to create strategies and tools for high-quality web-based journalism.

    Earlier transcript

    I entered the Adobe Connect room late after the morning sessions had already started. Here are some good tidbits taken from the meeting notes for the morning:


    Q: What can we do now that we couldn’t do before?

    > User-generated content.

    > Tighter relationship possible between paid journalism and contributions of citizens, previously filtered, now seen directly. Relationship is closer and contributions are more elevated in importance.


    > Mobile delivery is very important — news delivery and collecting.

    i-f028c9724592f3e70fab10b8f0eb098f-RJI talkfest window.jpg

    Matt Thompson

    > Can get info from sources more quickly. More ways to tell story and give info and interact. Customize news and ads.

    > User-generated content, like NYT’s reader’s photo album on inauguration

    > Crowdsource, i.e. get lots of input from a wide array of places/people at once.

    > Changes all the time and space constraints — instantaneous and in depth — whatever level.

    > News can be reported in blogs first then packaged into fuller stories and interactives.

    Q: What about the expectation of social experiences? Commenting on news stories is pretty much standard and demanded by readers.

    > Hyperlink within text to infuse various levels of context into the same story for readers who do/don’t know about what is being discussed.

    > We put police blotter on twice a day on Quincynews.org.

    > In addition to crime stories, though, you can use databases to go back and look at wider trends

    > Harness the wisdom of the masses, for example individual ratings of businesses, services, etc., aggregated into collective knowledge, such as the seller’s ratings on eBay.

    Community: What can we do now that we couldn’t do before?

    > It’s also easier to gather stories on one topic or area and group them into almost an online clip file.

    > Making use of Facebook and other social websites to promote the site and also promote comments.

    > Steve Ross says hyper-local applications in which users can recommend things to each other, like babysitters, is going to be the saving grace of news websites.

    > ‘‘Citizen journalists’‘ are great. But so are ‘‘journalist citizens.’‘ We live in our communities, pay taxes, send our kids to school, get stuck in traffic, etc. We’re asking readers/contributors to share their lives and experiences, and we should do the same.

    i-7b99b002942999a35c3c445f655f297f-RJI top view.jpg

    > The most interesting stories are the everyday ones that we as everyday people can relate to.

    > Use algorithmic programming to help readers find additional content/people that would be of interest to them. Like amazon recommendations.

    Marketing: What can we do now that we couldn’t do before?

    > About the recommendations and customization — one possible problem is echo effect. Conceivably, we could work on countering this such as ‘‘something important you might have missed’‘ or ‘‘like you, but different.”

    > It seems like in some venues, ‘‘real journalists’‘ become obsolete. We clearly are in a new age with the technology we have but this requires us to re-evaluate the way we see ourselves as journalists and re-evaluate the way the public sees us.

    > Relevance matching. Instead of having stupid ads, related to a section, every piece of content gets tagged relevant to advertisers, sponsors…More closely match ads to relevant content on page. Works well locally.

    > Partner with other groups in the community that are working to build community. For example, the Missourian in Columbia, Mo., partnered with a city human rights group that already ran monthly community discussion circles to start some community conversations about media coverage, promoted the physical discussions in the newspaper and made the outcomes of those conversations available for readers.

    > Advertisers can talk directly to own communities.

    > Beat reporters have good potential for this. Newsrooms are filled with people who know a lot and how to find out more. Expand or add job description such as ‘‘guide’‘ and answer questions, etc.

    > User-produced ads a la Current TV.

    > Sponsorships can be expanded a lot of different ways beyond stories to beats.

    The following are the notes I took after joining the session:

    Jane Stevens: WestSeattleBlog sponsors events in their community. They had many garage sales going at the same time. Who would have thought of that? How can you market yourself locally.

    > Host a 3-on-3 basketball tournament. It’s a necessity to have a Facebook page, a Twitter feed

    > You can tap into networks of people who are interested in it.

    Jane Stevens: What about mobile? What might we be able to do that we haven’t done before?

    Matt Thompson: Distributed reporting. Being able to post pictures of the plane before we rescue it.

    i-e70fb9ab75010514082856e1b8d0326e-amy gahran.jpg

    Amy Gahran

    Amy Gahran: Design for the least common denominator. That’s dumb and will drive people away. Go to Chron.com [the Houston Chronicle site] which loads the simple version first. Time is a factor for mobile, and if it takes a long time to load, people will leave.

    Q: Can St. Louis Beacon give examples of tapping into community?

    Margie Freivogel (St. Louis Beacon): We are working on that now. We’d like to do more systematically. We do it informally by shooting out an email and link. We can see where traffic is coming from, a lot comes in because someone tapped into a link that somebody else sent them.

    Afternoon Breakout Sessions

    A quick comment on how things have gone so far. I like being able to peek in on the meeting via Adobe Connect and chat with people. I thought that the format of throwing out a question and having quick-take answers was good food for thought, but there wasn’t enough people interacting with each other. Maybe that will improve in the breakout sessions. We’ll see…

    Entrepreneurial Journalism

    There are four breakout sessions, and this is the first one we can peek into via Adobe Connect.

    Clyde Bentley: Who defines what is true? It’s always been journalists, but it’s not that way in the rest of the world. It’s a difficult thing for journalists to look at. We may have a better society ahead of us if we can help separate the wheat from chaff. Media literacy is important, and we can say ‘these are all the views that you can counterbalance.’

    Amy Gahran: How can communities find your site? They will find things in Google, so you need to understand geotagging and include that in the body of your story. That’s a new business opportunity. If it ain’t findable easily through a major search engine, with key words people would use, then it doesn’t exist.

    Charlotte-Anne Lucas: The newspaper came to me. Does the technology exist to send news to me?

    Amy Gahran: Don’t underestimate the power of email. There’s a powerful service called My Yahoo, because it’s a feed reader that doesn’t look like a feed reader. iGoogle is the same thing. If you already have a strong brand with a community, make sure that people know how to put your site into their news pages. Include a button to add to My Yahoo.

    Ed Lambeth (University Missouri): People want to know what happened in this damn meltdown, and we don’t know where to find it. Some people don’t want to use the news in the way we have talked about because they are not doers in society. And it’s not about using the news or doing something with it, they just want to be informed. (Points to Nieman Reports issue.)

    Entrepreneurial journalism is a new vocabulary word for us. As we head down that road, our newsrooms will become smaller and smaller. We are going in reverse order, because newspapers started serving small communities. As we head down that path, what can we learn about the past that can help us?

    Amy Gahran: I found this amazing book called Country Journalism= book from 1928 and I’m finding a lot of great tidbits in it about serving communities.

    Jacqui Banaszynski (University of Missouri): What’s our agenda here? What are we trying to get out of this? Should we teach about at school here? Should we be teaching business?

    Ruth Ann Harnisch: This goes back to the joking comment ‘‘I majored in lournalism, I didn’t take any math courses.’‘ If we don’t teach journalists how to run a business, do the math, keep the books, recruit and keep clients, do the marketing, get business licenses, file appropriate tax forms, we are failing to give them CAREERS.

    Len Witt (Kennesaw State): I run an experiment called Representative Journalism in Northfield, Minn. The question for me is ‘what kind of news do they need for civic engagement’? That might be quantifiable, you might be able to go and find that out. Once you know what they need, maybe there’s a service to provide. You might find that news is a very small part of what needs to get done.

    Q: What about Voice of San Diego?

    Amy Gahran: They won several awards for their work and they’ve won awards for their environmental coverage, but they do more than just covering the environment. They have grants and other donations for their work.

    Marketing Session

    Saleen Alhabash (University of Missouri): What do you guys think about advertising or revenue-generating, or whatever we need to support these ventures?

    Bob Gough (Quincy News): Along with our seed money, we got 200 T-shirts to give away and later sweatshirts to give away. People see each other’s T-shirts and then they want to buy them. So that’s part of our revenue stream. We’ve done traditional ads, but we also have our own Facebook page, which we thought was important to reach a new generation. I’m not a Facebook guy, one of our investors is a Facebook guy.

    i-009be287429550672bbc3d82aa886282-breakout session.jpg

    Jerry Monti (UC Berkeley): You want somebody who you can build traffic on, like they do on the Huffington Post. So not only do you want people who can write well, but people who are well known and can bring in traffic.

    Bernie Lunzer (Newspaper Guild): We need to serve small advertisers. I don’t know whether we tap into local colleges, but we need a way to do video ads and better serve the advertisers. Then they would pay for what we deliver to them and we’re not doing that now.

    Roger Gatke (RJI): The non-profit stations can get donations and can get sponsorships, so they get both. I’m thinking that the corporate structure should be more in the non-profit realm so you can go directly to the people for revenues.

    Saleen Alhabash (University of Missouri): Can we mix profit and non-profit models together?

    Jane Stevens: One of the things we need to address is how much money you have to jump in. If you start with WordPress and a little money, and have display ads, you might get some revenues. But at some point, you go up a level. In my very uneducated understanding of how advertising works, West Seattle Blog needs to bump up a level.

    [Here’s an excerpt from my side conversation in the online chat room…]

    Mark Glaser: Also, why aren’t there any independent bloggers in this room, people who are actually entrepreneurs (outside of StL Beacon)? And with advertising, why not have people from FM Publishing or Gawker or people who know online advertising inside out? Not to knock academics but aren’t they far removed from being entrepreneurs?

    Maurreen Skowran: Maybe we could do follow up there.

    Alexandria Blute: That’s exactly what we need, Mark, there’s no way people are really going to get very far as individuals producing a single blog. In everything in this life, we need networks of people with varying skill level to come in and make these sites successful.

    Maurreen Skowran: Mark, You’re very right. These types of conferences are moving in the right direction, but we still don’t have enough of the right kind of diversity.

    Amy Senk: We could spend all day on biz models and I would be happy.

    Mark Glaser: It’s hard to bring together Silicon Valley types and journalism types though Bill Densmore did it pretty well at Yahoo with NewsTools last year.

    Ruth Ann Harnisch: Everyone in every industry is a freelancer, currently selling their services to a single client in some cases. It’s a matter of learning how to think like The Prophet (60s flashbacks, anyone?) who said your career is within YOU. Everyone IS an entrepreneur of his/her own life, and some are just better at it than others.

    Jon Greenberg: Excuse me but in the realm of journalism, a stronger partnership between editorial and advertizing doesn’t make me feel too comfortable.

    Adam Glenn: Re Mark’s comment about academics not being entrepreneurs, that’s very true. I think that’s why the Collaboratory is so intent on reaching across lines to other disciplines. One of the specific ideas is to bring in various businesspeople (entrpreneurs, financial experts, managers). And the other is to bring in all kinds of others — information designers and managers, ad/marketing experts, community managers, etc., all of which Amy mentioned in the opening remarks.

    Mark Glaser: If you are going to build an incubator for journalism startups, you need to have reporters, community builders, coders, producers, ad sales, marketing, promo, SEO, visionaries. Not sure if that’s represented here.

    Adam Glenn: We hope the Collaboratory Network will be a place where all those folks can come together and ‘‘get real.’‘ Today is just a beginning, we hope

    Mark Glaser: I realize the TalkFest won’t have it all and am glad you’re looking for more people outside of traditional media and academia. But first impressions do count.

    Alexandria Blute: So did we ever get the answer as to what exactly we want to have accomplished by the end of the day. Is this just a chance to brainstorm. I’d like to know what EXACTLY we should do after today? I personally think that encouraging everyone to run around town and cover stories for an individual blog without an editor, without sponsors and hope that someday someone will pay attention is so much silliness.

    Adam Glenn: I think one thing we hope to accomplish by end of day is to capture the knowledge being shared in the TalkFest and synthesize it for the Collaboratory Network, but then begin to focus community members on how it can be applied in real-world experimentation. I definitely encourage you to sign on to the network, if you haven’t already, and look for those opportunities!

    Building Community

    Hans Meyer (University of Missouri): I’ll be moderating this group session. My background is in community journalism, I was editor at a 6,000 circulation daily in Barstow, Calif. I never used the Internet with that publication. But I could have used it, there was a woman who had results from rodeos and wanted to publish those in the newspaper, but I said no. So maybe that’s why we have had trouble in serving communities because we have shut people out.

    Any ideas on building community and how the Collaboratory can help with that?

    Charlotte-Anne Lucas: Are they communities of geography or communities of interest? Journalists have always followed the government but that’s not what the public is doing anymore.

    i-6fdaa8d6d690d23c5516c37a3aa82f28-breakout side view.jpg

    Len Witt (Kennesaw University): This seems like an academic conversation, but what do you mean by democracy? Represenative democracy or a more public form of democracy with participation and deliberation by the public? It’s important to find out what the audience wants when it comes to their democratic role. Some people just want the news, and that’s all they want, just to be informed.

    Q: How do we define democracy?

    Amy Gahran: Any government is about the exercise of power. Democracy is making sure that people have some measure of control over the way government is in their lives. And that relates to media as well. People want to have influence or control and they’ll be willing to pay for it.

    Len Witt: I’m not sure if people want control or just want someone to tell them what’s going on. The tools are there and people are using them, but I’m not sure if they are doing journalism. Most people just want the news, and that’s what’s at MinnPost. There’s not one size fits all. The easiest thing is to revert back to what has worked. Provide the news and let the citizens deal with it as they may.

    Esther Thorsen (University of Missouri): We shouldn’t assume that the sites we build will build community. From the perspective of financial, economic and social success, a good niche would be the effective movement of information. That would be a real good success story and a place we could do interesting research.


    Hyunmin Lee (University of Missouri): What can the school do to train students so they know how to work in this new medium? What skills should they have? It’s been about 8 years since I was an undergraduate when we learned about the inverted pyramid style, but you have to think about writing for phones, both smart phones and otherwise.

    Dean Mills (University of Missouri): That’s too narrow of a specialty to fit it into the journalism curriculum. I think the technologies are changing so fast, that in terms of writing for cell phones, it would be obsolete by the time they graduate. I think it’s more a concern for RJI than for the journalism school.

    Kent Collins (University of Missouri): I would disagree. For them to write and report a story and then tailor it for different platforms is something that’s important.

    Dean Mills: We don’t disagree.

    Kent Collins: That’s too bad, I was trying. There is a concern that the TV journalists are only looking at producing stories for TV and that’s a crippling element in moving this content over.

    Dean Mills: The mixes of video and audio and text — we are very concerned with it and get it into classrooms as soon as we can. That’s what the futures lab in this building is all about.

    Jane Stevens: We were talking about agile development, and I wonder if we need that for journalism education too? Should we do it more than just by having a futures lab? Maybe the Collaboratory can provide?

    Keith Politte (University of Missouri): We brought in students with different skill sets and had them build teams like in the real world. We can bring in people from user design, and leverage the high-res screen of the iPhone. The technical back end comes from the IT students and they love doing this, they thank us for it every day. We are taking students to Apple in Cupertino so the engineers there can check out our apps. Those apps can be disruptive, they are engaging designs. One of these teams has a fairly disruptive app in the web services arena.

    Now, 500 million iPhone apps have been downloaded. So how do you monetize that? We are working on an ad network that would serve localized ads into those. The trick is not looking into one silo, and it has to be different skill sets. The students are blowing us away because we are asking them to.

    > Apple run rate is $300 million per year from the app store.

    Ralph Gage (LJ World): I want to hire people with journalism skills. I would prefer someone with multimedia skills but they have to know the basics of journalism first.

    Photos of RJI TalkFest by Karen Stockman. You can see her Flickr feed of photos from the event here.

    Tagged: entrepreneurial journalism micropayments rji university of missouri
    • I’m sure I missed a lot by not being there but have to respond to a few of the comments that seem to involve us or what we do, since we seem to be among the relatively few currently successful examples of entrepreneurial journalism.

      The comment on “so much silliness” encouraging people to run around and produce stories without an editor for “a single blog” and “hope someone will pay attention” — that one is a headscratcher but there’s probably a lot missing in the transcript.

      If you have a community that’s being underserved with news and information, and you provide it to them in a credible, professional, relevant way, you WILL succeed. Don’t overthink this. We did not even set out to do what we found ourselves doing. But along the way, we found a desperate need for real-time information in our community, realized we had the skills to start filling it, and off we went.

      We’re still running on our original WordPress theme because until I finish the process of finding the right new design … IT WORKS. I have not received a single note from anyone saying “your site is so hard to figure out.” They just want The News, and that’s what we deliver. Example elsewhere — The Drudge Report may get dinged for still being 1998, but IT WORKS. You can have a fancy design, bells, whistles, but if you don’t have the content, you are not doing your job. If you are ready to start covering your community, JUST DO IT. One of the other Seattle sites is still basically on a Blogspot blog. She’s making it work, because she’s covering her community.

      We by the way are doing a lot of the things that were mentioned here. Twitter, Facebook, our very busy Forum. WSB isn’t really just a website – it’s an information source – and we get that information to people in a multitude of ways. You have to be aware of that too.

      I’ll have to ask Jane what she meant by bumping our advertising to the next level. Price level? Tech level? It’s not discussed much but small businesses currently tend to need a lot of help getting into this space. Outsiders talk to us frequently about self-serve solutions and other techy stuff, but trust me – we are living this – right now, the majority of your prospective clients are not there yet. We work with some people who don’t even use the Internet much personally, but are interested in advertising with us because all their customers, friends, and relatives are talking about what they read on our site. To make a deal with somebody at that level – a deal discussed in person, and often involving a third-party designing a simple display ad – is a major success.

      We also have started presenting mini-seminars in the community to offer some basic information on engaging with customers in the webspace; at the first one we gave, the concept of seatting a Google Alert was a big revelation for more than a few participants.

      All of us involved in this discussion are living the 2009 life, but you have to realize that IRL, a sizable number of people are just getting out of the 20th century. So don’t work too far past them yet – that’s who you’re serving, bottom line. I have seen people, even here in allegedly techy Seattle, try with a great flourish to launch, for example, community wikis … that fell flat on their faces because people just weren’t ready for that. E-mail, everybody can use. When we focus on encouraging content contributions, we focus on that – because EVERYBODY has e-mail – Twitter, FB, Forum posts are supplementary, like frosting on the cake.

      Bottom line, though, the CONTENT is king, not the tech. And text still rules. We shoot video and put up raw clips because there is a small percentage of people who expect it, but even when it’s something incredible, maybe 1 in 10 readers will click.

      Enough for now. Good luck to the Collaboratory … I am sure it will come up with some great ideas that we will want to steal :) but the bottom line will ALWAYS be – GET AND GIVE THE INFORMATION – that’s what people yearn for, seek out, and deserve.

    • I was glad I went. As a web guy, it was interesting to get deeper into the mindset.

      Look forward to the projects that will follow.

    • I like this field.

    • Great article! I believe you guys really know your stuff, very impressed with the way you approach internet marketing and look forward to reading more.

      Have an awesome day!

      Tom Becks

    • I think it is much easier for us to get information and to promote it now days.

      I remember when I was in college and email and internet was new. If I was reading a news story I would log onto my black and white screen laptop, go to the page and wait for it to load. I used to have to wait a long long time back then due to the slow internet connection.

      Now days, everything fast, no wait time anymore and we can interact more. I remember back in the days websites were 1 way. They posted information and we read it. Now a website posts information and we can comment and interact with it.



    • I love this article.
      Internet based marketing is used widely by businesses that must serve lots of consumers, because it provides some cutting edge advantages to them.
      Those methods are usually extremely cost effective, easy to use and productive.

    • Examples of subscription websites include many business sites, parts of news websites, academic journal websites, gaming websites, message boards, web-based e-mail, social networking websites, websites providing real-time stock market data, and websites providing various other services.

    • Will the line between professional journalism and the contributions of citizens blur the facts when reporting the news? What checks and balances will be performed to keep the news reporting standard high with the contribution of the Internet and citizen journalists?

    • This is great for all internet marketer out there who weren’t able to come to that event. More businesses were widely uses internet base marketing strategies nowadays. This should help us a lot. Thanks.

    • This is awesome! I know a lot of pro internet marketers who were not able to make it…

      This will certainly help out the internet entrepreneur community…

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