WellCommons recognized in Knight-Batten Awards

Because he summarized it so well, here’s the post that LJWorld.com assistant director of media strategies Jonathan Kealing put on WellCommons, the local health site that we officially launched in April, a couple of days ago:

WellCommons was honored Monday as a “notable entry” in the annual Knight-Batten Awards competition.

Though WellCommons wasn’t among the top seven entrants, the site was among 30 others that were singled out for praise by the panel of judges.

Taking top honors was an effort by the Sunlight Foundation to add data and context to the coverage of a government event — coverage of the health reform summit — to make it more consumable for the audience.

ProPublica, 48HR Magazine, The Obameter from the St. Petersburg Times, Ushahidi Haiti, Publish2 News Exchange and The Takeaway took the next level of awards.

The Knight-Batten Awards reward news and information efforts that create opportunities to involve citizens in public issues and supply opportunities for participation.


Talkin’ about….WellCommons

For the last year, I’ve been head-down in development. My (poor neglected) blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts have seen few words, photos, graphs or video. However, now my head’s finally up, and it’s time to talk about what much of that last year has been about: WellCommons, the new local health site that we at the Lawrence Journal-World recently launched.

OMG! It doesn't look like a news web site!

It combines social media and journalism. We think it’s what journalism looks like in a social media world. It’s a little WordPress, a little Ning, a little Facebook, a little Twitter, all embedded in a safe place and a trusted source, which is what journalism is supposed to be for a community (in addition to the watchdog role). It’s unlike anything in the digital news arena, as far as we know. We launched it in beta at the end of February, it went “official” in April, and we are now continuing to nurture it and watch it grow.

Several aspects of WellCommons and Ellington Community are unique:

The site resolves the “signal to noise” complaint about the web. In other words, its architecture helps people assess the reliability of content.

One ingredient of WellCommons’ secret sauce is that it is built around groups that all function the same way, whether started by a reporter or a community member. The other is that all participants use their real names.

This is how WellCommons works: Anyone can start a group (as long as it’s related to health). If you start a group, you put your content into “news” and “resources”. People who join your group put their content into the “commons” section. Participants are able to judge the quality of the information, depending on if it’s in a group’s news or resources section (content posted by the group “owner”) or the commons section (where anybody can post), and by knowing who posted the information.

Anyone who contributes to the site — reporter or member of the community alike — does so in the same way, through a public-facing web-based interface. Participants can also follow and message each other within the site, repost, and send posts to Facebook and Twitter.

WellCommons’ approach to health reporting is community-based and solution-oriented. Most health sites focus on personal health — what individuals can do to improve their own or their families’ health. But at a local level, health is a community issue. For example, we’re all supposed to get regular checkups. But does everyone in a community have access to good health care? Our kids are supposed to eat healthy food, but do school lunch programs provide that? We’re all supposed to exercise, but does a community have enough safe places to walk, jog, bike and play outdoors?

The site provides a new advertising model. We believe businesses that provide health products and services are a vital part of the community, and should be included. Businesses can start their own group pages; they pay to do so. They have direct access to and conversations with members of the community. They can buy display ads, which, at the moment, look like traditional display ads. Eventually, those ads themselves will become social media-enabled, with content that the business can change.

We put the site together with continual input from the local health community. About 40 people — from nonprofits and the local hospital, physicians, health advocates, people who were uninsured, locavores, etc. — met regularly with the news organization’s working group, and still meet quarterly.

That’s enough for the moment. In subsequent posts, I’ll cover more of the thinking and development that went into Ellington Community and WellCommons, including comments from folks who are using it, and will answer the burning questions: Why did this happen at the Lawrence Journal-World? and…How does the Reynolds Journalism Institute fit in?

I’ll also look at the long list of changes and additions we have planned. That list is long: adding databases and resources, a goals app, allowing people to post photos from their computers (right now they have to post a Flickr url), adding topics pages (yes, Web shells!), quizzes, letting people sign on with their Facebook or Twitter accounts, etc. We’ll also be adding another jurno (we have one amazing one now — Karrey Britt), so that we have the bandwidth to do indepth and investigative stories.

In Webworld, How Do You Charge Money for a Flight 1549 Story?

Over the last couple of weeks, several articles have appeared about how to pay for journalism, mostly journalism in legacy media, mostly metropolitan newspapers. In Time Magazine, Walter Isaacson suggested micropayments were the answer. Steven timeBrill offered the New York Times a solution involving micropayments. David Swensen, Yale University’s chief investment officer, and Michael Schmidt, a financial analyst at Yale, suggested endowments for news organizations. (Here’s a thorough list of recent opinions about paying for content that Mathew Ingram put together.) Len Witt suggested a cooperative trust.

The back-and-forth between Len and Vin Crosbie in the comments is worth taking a look at, because Vin noted something important:

Newspapers shouldn’t be saved. Their staffs, practices and products need to change.

Case in point: Let’s take a look at what happened when US Airways Flight 1549 landed in the Hudson River on Jan. 15 after a bird strike shut down the engines. The news hit Twitter first — a photo from a cell phone, and people who saw the plane hitting the water. People on the ferries who rescued passengers took photos and sent them to Flickr. TV news crews flew helicopters over the scene and transmitted live video, pieces of which appeared on YouTube. USAirways posted regular updates on its Web site. The FAA issued public statements. CNN and AP, among many others, issued alerts that were constantly updated. Blogs picked up the news and spread it.

So, how does a reader-paid content model for such news work? What individual story about Flight 1549 would you pay 10 or 20 cents for? Do newspapers really think they have a chance of charging even micropayments for their news in such a situation? (Here’s Michael Kinsley’s take on this in a NYTimes’ op-ed “You Can’t Sell News by the Slice”.) Everybody’s on that story, including non-journalists.  (And sending out a swarm of reporters and photographers for a little piece of exclusive detail is cost-prohibitive, as Newsweek has determined. The New York Times reports that the weekly magazine won’t do that anymore. It quoted Newsweek editor Jon Meacham as saying: “The drill of chasing the week’s news to add a couple of hard-fought new details is not sustainable.”)

People who say that readers should pay for news still think in terms of an individual article, with a beginning, middle and end. Something that can stand alone and be packaged to sell alone. However, in a Webcentric world, the daily stand-alone story morphs into serial, collaborative beat blogs. Most reporting will be done WITH the community. Most blog posts won’t make sense if they stand alone — they can only be understood in context of what’s come before, or related linked information.

So, if it doesn’t make sense for news organizations to charge for news that everybody has, such as the amazing story of Flight 1549, or to charge for individual blog posts, because they don’t have enough context AND they’re collaboratively reported (does the community member who provided information get a cut?), what could news organizations charge for?

Even in a world where the blogging format dominates, there’s a place for iconic storytelling, investigative reporting, the status-of article that wraps everything up prior to a vote or public policy decision. But how much of a metro news organization’s content is this? Enough to support a 200-person news organization and keep it afloat in a sea of free content?

Probably not. The days of large metro newsrooms churning out general-interest, been-there-done-that, stand-alone, we-talk-you-listen reporting are waning. Communities were growing tired of that before the Web appeared on the scene.

It’s likely that large metros will be replaced by lots of small news organizations, as the explosion of (many ad-supported) niche-based organizations, geographic and topic-based, continues. In organizations that are making just enough money to support a staff that provides daily coverage, there may still be a need for extra funding for an investigative story or in-depth story. In those cases, perhaps a Spot.Us approach can work. Only, however, if that story relates to an issue about which the community’s already expressed concern, AND if the journalist stays with the issue until it’s been resolved.

Spot.Us sells itself is as people requesting journalists to do one-off stories, or journalists pitching one-off stories to the community for funding. In response to an LA Times column by James Rainey about the weakness of the stories done so far, David Cohn says that he’s creating code that any news organization can use as it sees fit — i.e., Spot.Us is not a product, it’s a platform.

My hunch is that a loose network of small news organizations within a metropolitan area will need more than a Spot.Us platform. They’ll need a way to share trusted information with each other, they’ll need a way to collaborate on issues, they’ll need a way to share ad revenue across the network, and they’ll need a way to raise extra funding for those indepth stories.

Who out there is putting that together?

Putting Feet on the Streets for Journalism

So, how do we keep journalism thriving? Make sure that journalists thrive.

To help journalists thrive, the Reynolds Journalism Institute is hosting a one-day Talkfest on Jan. 21, 2009, called “Putting Feet on the Streets for Journalism.” The participants’ challenge: to develop plans for the RJI Collaboratory, a newsshoes organization incubator.

This is why: In 2008, traditional news organizations continued to shrink or close their doors. They laid off more than 15,000 journalists, resulting in a significant loss of good journalism so vital to U.S. citizens and our democracy. Dozens of communities now have little or no coverage of their local health issues, their local environment, or their local government. Some no longer have reporters, no journalism at all in their communities.

That trend is likely to accelerate in 2009.

Meanwhile, the Web continues to provide fertile ground for new social/news/information organizations, hundreds of which have appeared over the last few years and are thriving, including MaxPreps.com, MinnPost, WestSeattleblog.com, TheKnot.com, Huffington Post, BlogHer, CSTV.com (which is now part of CBSSportsline.com), the St. Louis Beacon, and Marketwatch.

There’s a need for hundreds, perhaps thousands, more

We think an RJI Collaboratory could provide resources and knowledge on how to start effective and successful Web-based news organizations. Those who could benefit from the news organization incubator are entrepreneurial journalists and existing news organizations that are undertaking the transformational strategies necessary to adapt to a Webcentric world

These are some of the things we’d like to figure out that day:

  • What does a news organization incubator do exactly? We know it should provide advertising strategies and techniques, technology services, business planning, Web shell (information architecture ) and design services, and ethics guidelines. But what else? And how does it provide this guidance and these services?
  • What roles can other colleges and departments of the University of Missouri play in a news organization incubator? Could computer science students develop online services for entrepreneurial journalists? Could business school students work with entrepreneurial journalists to develop robust organizations?
  • What could the RJI Collaboratory do in the first year? The second year? The third year?
  • What does a news organization incubator need to get started?
  • Does a news organization incubator derive funding from the organizations it nurtures? If so, how? If the news organization incubator is part of the university, what is the incubator’s intellectual property policy?
  • How does the news organization incubator develop partnerships with other centers or journalism schools?
  • How does the news organization incubator develop partnerships with organizations that might be interested in funding start-ups?

If you’re interested in attending, send me an email – jstevens at mmjourno dot com. We’re limiting the in-person attendance to 60 people. It’s free. You just have to get yourself to Columbia, MO. We’ll also be running an Adobe Connect virtual room, which can handle 100 people. If you’d like to attend virtually, also let me know.

elecfoot[This is the three-foot-long “Electric Light Shoe”, part of an advertising campaign put together by FOC in Amsterdam for ASICS Onitsuka Tigers shoes. A city’s in the shoe. It seemed appropriate, as did the jumble of tiny electric light shoes in the image above. All those entrepreneurial journalists’ shoes that need filling…..]

10-Point Road Map for API execs

Hey-ho! Check out this tidbit from Editor & Publisher:

The American Press Institute (API) will host an invitation-only, closed-door “summit conference” Nov. 13 in which 50 CEO-level executives will ponder ways to revive the newspaper business. The one-day conference at API’s Reston, Va., headquarters will be “a facilitated discussion of concrete steps the industry can take to reverse its declines in revenue, profit and shareholder value.” Former turnaround CEO James B. Shein will lead the discussion.

Shein’s a professor at Northwestern’s business school. I guess the API’s Newspaper Next project hasn’t solved newspapers’ problems as it was supposed to.

Well, there’s a lot of us around who coulda told them that years ago. So, in case any of the 50 news executives attending the secret conference are interested, here’s Jane Stevens’ 10-Point Webcentric News Organization Roadmap to Success:

  1. Merge news and digital. (Some of you STILL haven’t done that. Unbelieveable.)
  2. Publish to Web first, mobile second, print/TV/radio third. Change or ditch the print version.
  3. Focus most of your resources around core “community” issues and what you still own, and make the community the engine that drives the issues, topics and beats. (Most of you have already jettisoned science, international reporting, entertainment, and unwittingly lost prep sports, college sports and professional sports.)
  4. Integrate your local businesses and services into a searchable community marketplace that links to information and stories. (Check out the Lawrence Journal-World’s Marketplace for inspiration.)
  5. All journalists are multimedia journalists. Minimum requirements for this medium: using a Continue reading

Obamanet’s a model for journalism


News organizations can learn a thing or two from the Obama campaign’s Web strategy — about community-building and creating a place for members of a community to meet, organize and take action. That’s not the role of journalism, you say? Bear with me.

First a few intriguing facts about Obamanet. In the Washington Post, Shailagh Murray and Matthew Mosk pointed out that the campaign:

–has an email list of 10 million people who gave money, who were part of or connected to the millions more volunteers who organized rallies and registered voters.

— employed 95 people in its Internet operation. [rejurno: That could drive a healthy mid-size news organization.]

In the NYTimes, Claire Cain Miller attended Web 2.0 Summit 2008 last week where Joe Trippi mention that the YouTube videos created by the Obama campaign were watched for 14.5 million hours. Trippi is a political consultant who ran Howard Dean’s political campaign in 2004.

From Sarah Lai Stirland in Wired.com:

Volunteers used Obama’s website to organize a thousand phone-banking events in the last week of the race — and 150,000 other campaign-related events over the course of the campaign. Supporters created more than 35,000 groups clumped by affinities like geographical proximity and shared pop-cultural interests.

The social networking part of the site — myBarackObama.com — was organized by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.

As the presidential race heated up, the internet grew from being the medium of a core group of political junkies to a gateway for millions of ordinary Americans to participate in the political process, donating odd amounts of their spare time to their candidate through online campaign tools. Obama’s campaign carefully designed its web site to maximize group collaboration, while at the same time giving individual volunteers tasks they could follow on their own schedules.

Obama supporters didn’t wait for campaign headquarters to tell them what to do. They created Web sites, videos for YouTube, and even an iPhone and iTouch app. The Obama sites themselves were always morphing, growing, splitting off, adapting as the campaign evolved and grew.

So, what does all this have to do with journalism? As we move away from we-talk-you-listen into Webworld, news organizations must adapt to the characteristics, to the nature of this medium, or die. The Web’s more complex that print, TV or radio, but it’s not that difficult to understand.

Continue reading