Can journalists blog well?

Amy Gahran asks “What’s the Point of Newspaper Blogs?” and the debate is intriguing in light of the recent debacle at LATimes.com:

1. Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing and NPR fame wrote, in part, “It’s important that newspapers not launch blogs for the sake of launching blogs. There had to be a purpose to other than to have the ability to tell the world that you have a blog. What’s the point of interacting with your audience?”

2.Maureen Ryan’s list of blogging goals included these: “To have fun. To post something immediately, get immediate feedback, be able to see (via Typepad) what other sites link to that story, get emails from readers about the story — it’s just exciting. …To be surprised. Whatever preconceptions I have about what blog items will be popular, I’m usually wrong. Which is great fun.”

3. Amy Gahran: “I couldn’t agree more. I coach a lot of people in blogging skills, and one of the first tips I try to hammer home is that if you’re not having fun or feeling energized by this process, you need to change how you’re doing it. Blogging only really works where there’s genuine energy and enthusiasm.”

4. Russ Walker said Washington Post’s blog goals include these: “drive repeat traffic to washingtonpost.com by offering readers lots of incremental news published outside the newspaper’s publishing cycle, and to engage readers in a larger conversation (and hopefully keep them on our site longer).”

5. Andy Perdue: “…recently launched a wine-related blog after a few months of consideration. I’ve published a weekly email newsletter on the subject for six years to accompany a glossy magazine. In December, we launched a video podcast (dubbed the “Winecast”), and a blog seemed like the next logical step to fill in the gaps between the quarterly magazine, the weekly email and the video podcast. I’ve used it to talk to my readers on subjects beyond those I can talk about in the weekly email. It’s also two-way, unlike the other products surrounding the magazine. I feed the blog almost daily, and the traffic has been solid, though much of it is still driven by the email newsletter.

“So, we have a quarterly magazine, a Web site, a weekly email newsletter, a weekly video show and a blog. The point, I guess, is to surround readers with as much information as they want and in whatever forms they are willing to take it.”

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Transcript excerpts with Espen Hansen, VG, Norway

Here is the transcript of the talk by Espen Hansen, Managing Editor, VG, the biggest newspaper and website in Norway, on rise of integrating online journalism, user-generated content, online ad campaigns and mobile video.

EXCERPTS FROM AUDIO RECORDING OF ESPEN HANSEN, MANAGING EDITOR, VG MULTIMEDIA, NORWAY

4.00: Today information travels very fast, it’s global. Eg: The controversial Prophet Muhammad cartoons. There was an outcry for boycott of Danish products not by newspapers or TV stations but by SMS and within days, it was very effective.

We don’t even know who the editors are anymore. In a sense we are all editors. Within minutes a (rioter with a handphone) will have his own audience.

5.33: Today information is much more complicated. It is not one-way. And this is important – the readers communicate with each other.

6.20: Cites Rupert Murdoch’s buy of MySpace for US$600m: Power is moving away from editors, the chief executives and the proprietors. Power is moving away from us. A new generation of demanding consumers who want content delivered when they want it. They want to decide.

7.30: Growth on Internet is from sites that have user-participation: Blogger growth : 520 percent and MySpace 318 percent. Something is happening.

In VG we don’t think about it as “Internet vs paper.” This is not the big difference. We think it is going from “telling the readers” to “creating arenas where people can come with their content, communities”.

We think from “deciding what they should read” to “making content available when it is convenient for them.” From “delivering our content”, to “creating content with the readers.” Everyone seems to understand this except us (newspapers). Search engines, aggregators and communities are the biggest websites. Where are the newspapers? No English newspapers are on the Top 10 worldwide. In Norway, No 1 and No 2 are newspapers.
VG is the largest Norwegian newspaper, the largest website and largest mobile site.

10.40: Going from analog thinking – printing once a day, to digital thinking – printing all the time for many platforms.

11.05: More than 1 million readers everyday on the Internet, together with newspaper we reach half the population of Norway. Rev: 121m Norwegian Kroners (Only Internet, profit about 25m ringgit). The newspaper makes a lot more money. It’s real money now.

12.24: We deliver news when it happens – not once a day. We get our Internet users to go to read our newspapers and vice versa.

13.50: In newspapers we talk about deadline.I have banned the use of the word “deadlines”. We talk about BIRTH of the story Deadlines are when you work until a certain time, and you can’t get the story better. When we have story confirmed we print a few lines and then we ask “What can we do more”. The most important words we use:” We will be back shortly.” It builds expectations.

16:00: We are reporting near real-time of a major court-case currently in Norway. When the verdict is about to be announced, we had ( series of mugshots with flippable graphics on the final sentences for each accused).

18:26. All this happens before the TV News. Our goal is not to let our readers wait for TV news anymore.

19:10: Big ship capsized on Norwegian west coast. We figured there are houses nearby. And we called these houses. Within minutes, people were helping us about the incident, reporting what was happening and sending us digital pictures that they had taken.

We decided to systemize this and have a four-digit number 2200. Now we can receive SMS, digital photos, video.

21:40: Stabbing on the tram via SMS. The news battle is about being the first to know. We could be the first to break the story online. We publish as fast as we have the story confirmed. Because we could be early, we could have exclusive pics. People were on the way home during rush hour, people wanted updates on their phones, because there was a manhunt and he was on the run. People were frightened. Our reader with a mobile camera transmitted the capture, and it was the first pics of his arrest on our website

24:38: Tsunami. 10,000 Norwegians involved. We discovered from this that our greatest assets was not the money to fly to Bangkok, our hire a helicopter or satellite links, but ou greatest assets is we know our readers and they have mobile phones in their pockets. Our readers, SMS us first. Our reader sent us the first pics. He was sitting on a rooftop documenting and transmitting to 2200.

27:55: Because we were early, they in Thailand was asking us where is the nearest hospital, the embassy. So we made a page to update our readers in Thailand. As our own reporters are still sitting on the plane 15-20 hours away, we got our readers to send us articles, photos, videos, being there and telling us what was happening. We also set up a service of a survivor list. The only thing we checked was whether this was confirmed by close relatives. After four days, the police took over from Foreign Dept. They had 10,000 names and we had 8,500. There were mistakes, but within minutes we had confirmation.

The Foreign Dept had 6 percent right. The police had 30 percent right. We had 79 percent right. And 90 percent right by the time police figures were out. This gives you idea of the force of this approach.

33:25: We got thousands of questions for the government. These were very relevant questions and it made our journalism better. When we posted these questions, we had Ministers really trying to answer questions at length. We asked our Foreign Minister to have a live chat with our readers. For one hour he answered questions. It was a great success.

36:00: Debbie, a victim of tsunami was there trying to reunite lost children. Via satellite phone, we had our readers talk to a young, intelligent, Muslim Norwegian in the middle of the crisis. For our readers much stronger story, much easier to relate than if I told the story. We had a heart-breaking tsunami picture of man being reunited with his child, and Debbie was in the background, someone they could relate to.

38:05: We have developed a lot of tools for user-generated content. We have a whole section called Readers VG. Integrated communication. (Newsblogs stats: In six months, 9,000 readers, 40,000 articles, 350,000 comments, 35,000 photos). I have an editor for this, but all the content is from our own readers. It’s a great success. 10,000-13,000 postings in our discussion forums everyday. This is in a country with 4 million people. We print it in our newspaper everyday, making newspapers more lively. The readers’ letters page was last week news, handwritten by old ladies. But today, we have SMS, and postings right up to the deadline. We let not only our own team of critics, but our own readers to critique movies, food, wine, etc.

40:58: We do live chats everyday – politicians, pop stars, experts in different fields. Very popular. The blogs are the most important thing right now. We have developed a new system for blogs. We tried blog (ware) on the market but we needed to develop a blog (ware) that was suited more for a newspaper. Almost 10,000 blogs, with an incredible amount of content.

Example: A first-time father’s blog of birth of child in the car, before they reached hospital. The happy father documented it via his phone on straight onto his blog telling the world. No deadline. You don’t want to wait with news like that, you just want to get it out. We have a blogger near the North Pole blogging about polar bears. Even the prime minister is blogging with us.

43.18:How did we get the prime minister to blog with us? I wanted the top politicians to blog with us. I went to the leader of the main right wing opposition party, the one who always complains “I never get on TV”. I gave him his own blog, and he accepted. And from then getting one by one of the leaders of the nine parties and eventually I got the Prime Minister. Young readers can write straight to him.

44:40: We pick out one blog every week and print it in the newspaper. On Page 3 our editors have their own blog and it is also published online. We bring readers to the blogs and the other way around.

46:00: We bring news to the blogs. We integrate news on the blogs. That’s why we had to do it ourselves. We needed some kind of control, we needed to be able to kick people out. If they don’t behave, they don’t follow our rules, if there is racism we can kick them out.

46:53: Eg: Story on SIS pilots were on strike. We integrated our users’ comments, blog posts and discussion forum posts on our front page of our website.

49:44: Katie Melua, No 1 on popchart. We did live concerts with artists. We ask readers for questions and we ask the artists. (Katie answers questions) Good questions, good answers. The readers feel we are connected to them.

51:28: ADVERTISING: Started with standard banners. Sold by impressions. Problem was we already big traffic. But advertisers asked “where’s my ad?” because his paid impressions was done by lunch. No one really liked this. Then we did bigger boards and we sold it for 24-hours or for one-week. That was a success. Advertisers liked this, because they are used to it. Much easier to re-use material than a newspaper.

53:00: In 2001, we had to educate our advertisers because there was general feeling that “online doesn’t work”. We gave them dominance on one page, where they are the only ones there. They liked this.

54:30: Developed ad campaigns. (Shows very successful campaign for a movie 37 and half, with individuals that when clicked they would talk one-by-one) We told advertisers to tell their story on the front pae, so users will not go to their sites, but read their story there.

56:27: If you click on the mag ad, you can subscribe there, you don’t have to go to another page.

58:00: 17,000 Euros for a top banner ad on front page for 24-hours. Sold out everyday. Sold out for six months. It’s easy to sell the front page, but we have to sell the other sections. Make those sections more visible, more attractive.

1:01:00: Exposure of ads is the most effective for the first four times. It is no point paying for the 5th and 6th and 7th. More effective to show just a few times.

Going back to impressions. Can guarantee impressions, and sell the same space after 5pm-6pm.

1:02:50: Integrate all the newsclips into our site for VG TV. NRK, the national station, did a study we have only three dedicated people for our TV and they have 400-500 people, they see us as a threat.

1:04:40: A schedule. You have to view it then or record it. TV is passive. They decide what when and what I should watch. On VG TV we do active. It’s outside timeline. We just make things available. We decided when to watch. VG TV is not going to be within timeline. Our vision is deliver when news happens. And we make it available for our readers right away. We are trying to set a new standard to present and produce this news.

The Potential: Time spent on Internet versus TV. Internet is 35 percent, but advertisers only use 11 percent of their money on Internet. We analyse how many watch video on web, still only 14 percent. They sell 60,000 downloaded episodes of Lost a week. Why shouldn’t The Star do that? You have readers right?

1:08:30: DumDum Boys, rock and roll band in Norway was away for 8 years and did not ask big stations but came to us. Because they want to reach the young readers. We transmitted a live concert.

1:10:05: This is our new tool. Mobilephones as a video camera. Olympics, weather reports. As a journalistic tool, it’s good enough.

1:11:00: Sometimes no strategy to what we do. Eg: The Edward Munk painting of Scream was stolen. Use your mobilephone and take your own scream, and we had a programme to transmit back a painting of your own scream.

Live blog: Talk by Espen Hansen, VG Group

UPDATE 3.14pm: Have uploaded the entire talk (72 minutes of 192Kbps MP3) onto Archive.org. You can download it here. Note it’s
a 103.8MB file.

Liveblog: 10.50am, The Star, Sec 16, PJ, Malaysia: Attending a talk by Espen Egil Hansen, MD of VG Multimedia. Will blog this is live in next few minutes.

10.52am: Datuk Wong Sulong describes VG has a very proactive publishing company that represents the future of newspaper journalism and VG is the biggest interactive media site in Norway.

10. 54am: Espen: Went scuba diving in Malaysia. Intro: We were speaking to them. One-way communication (before). Today a lot more complicated. Information travels very fast, it’s global. In certain terms we are all editors. Within minutes (anyone with a handphone) has an audience.

Mentions Murdoch: Power is moving away from us (publishers). Users want the information now, the way they want it.

“In VG, it’s not Internet vs paper. Move from ‘telling the readers’ to ‘creating arenas, communities.’ From ‘deciding what they should read’, to making content available for them to consume when they want to.”

11.05am: We started 10 years ago, and we really wanted to do it. Largest mobile Internet site (VG). From analog — once a day, to digital — printing all the time. 121 million NOK (Internet revs), 43 percent profit margin. Newspaper makes a lot more money.

Deliver it, when it happens, not once a day. They can read when it is convenient for them.

11.07am: No more “deadlines”. Print immediately when confirmed – we call it the BIRTH of the article.

Most important sentence: “Come back for more.”

Digital storytelling is about building expectations.

Our goal: people shouldn’t wait for TV news anymore.

11.14am:

19th Jan, 2004: Newsflash: Big ship had capsized. Called the neighbourng houses. Reported on their website within hours. Used their digital pics and videos. We were early, We got exclusive pics. People were reading on their phones for updates, the man was on the run.

Within a short time, we had proper coverage of this major accident.

Text messaging to a four-digit number 2200: MMS pics, sms, video, everything goes thru 2200.

EG: Stabbing of man in tram. The news battle is about being the first to know. Updates to mobile users during rush hour because man was on the run.

Mentioned Tsunami and Norwegian victims were asking them in Norway where was the nearest hospital in Thailand. We updated with info on local maps, hospitals, etc.

Built a service to help victims, photos of survivors, victims. They (polic) had 10,000 and we had 8,500 (victims) and we thot we were wrong.

There were mistakes.

In that we had it 79% correct while Foreign Dept 6% and Police: 30% after four days.

11.29am: (Battery died, uploaded at 12.55pm) Politicans couldn’t brush off tricky questions from victims’ families. Some questions were very, very good.

We had a live chat with Foreign Minister. It was a great success.

Debbie Syahputri (Norwegian who was affected by tsunami) tried to help victims, children. Satellite live chat with her. Much stronger story for our readers. Pic of a heart-breaking story of a man reunited with his child with Debbie in background.

[More excerpts later...]

Triple-play way to consumers’ hearts

[From WSJ]
Iliad, a France Télécom competitor, introduced a new set-top box that adds high-definition television and unlimited calls over a Wi-Fi equipped mobile phone.

The new Free offering, which allows the same phone services to be routed wirelessly to a Wi-Fi-equipped mobile phone, is a step toward the much-anticipated convergence of fixed line and mobile phone services.

The company pioneered so-called “triple-play” services in France through its Freebox, which offers 24Mbps broadband access, unlimited domestic and international phone calls to 14 countries and 81 TV channels for a monthly subscription of 29.99 euros(US$36). Over 1.1 million French subscribers have already signed on.

It stops short of full “quadruple play,” because no mobile phone subscription is included in the package – users have to sign up separately with an operator of their choice – but nonetheless poses a challenge to France Telecom SA’s Orange and other mobile networks.

“We are coming into people’s living rooms and changing the way they consume telecom services,” says Michael Boukobza, Iliad’s 28-year-old chief executive.

Citing industry figures, Iliad said about 40 percent of mobile calls in France are made from the home. “That means Free will enable subscribers to save as much as 40 percent on their mobile bills,” Iliad said.

(from AP and WSJ)

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From Print Mag to Online Video

MAKE magazine is jumping from print to video via the fledgling video service YouTube, according to a MediaPost report. MAKE editor Torrone took the opportunity to ditch Google Video.

Make has partnered with YouTube to air video clips that are longer than YouTube users are normally allowed by becoming a member of YouTube’s “Director’s Program” service, giving the print publisher the same kind of online video distribution capabilities as big TV networks like E! Entertainment and MTV2. YouTube also provides members of the “Director’s Program” with features such as links leading back to their own websites and integration of brand graphics.

“I’m really interested in seeing what kind of metrics we can get for what we publish off of YouTube,” said Make Associate Editor Phil Torrone. “I’ve been tracking response through the URLs we’re positioning with the video clips, trying to get an idea of what kind of response we can get. For me it’s a big experiment.” Torrone said YouTube is also tracking “how many people are joining the Make group, and how many people are downloading the videos.

Make’s video offerings include short-form, how-to documentaries about various projects featured in the magazine, including some of Torrone’s own creations: an ambulatory humanoid robot and shoes that spell out messages in the air with LEDs as you walk. When Make begins distributing footage from the Faire, including all manner of bizarre robotics, curious inventions, and amateur water rocketry, “I suspect there will be an uptick in magazine subscriptions, and an uptick in visits to the website,” Torrone said.

Because YouTube and similar services like Google Video are so much less expensive and easier than establishing proprietary video-streaming websites, Torrone predicted these platforms will be the wave of the future for smaller content providers, including printed magazine publishers. “Make will never invest the money and engineering in video that YouTube has – and why create your own proprietary video system when what they have works perfectly well?”

That said, Torrone warned of vast quality differences in the market. “The interesting thing is that with Google Video, we’ve uploaded videos and they just take weeks and weeks and weeks to go up. I uploaded a couple videos on Google Video a few weeks ago and they’re still not up there,” he noted.

Projector in a mobile phone

Always thought there was a global conspiracy on the part of manufacturers of projectors to keep the price up.

Consider the fact that the pricing points only recently came down, despite the fact projectors have far less parts, no software, or any of the sophistication than say the average digital camera or notebook has — and the technology behind what the thing hasn’t really progressed in any dramatic way. It’s just light and mirrors really, and now with some digital add-ons.

South Korean company Iljin Display has now finally shown that it’s possible to squeeze all of that dumb parts into a mobile phone.

The mini LCD projectors can cast a seven-inch full colour display. The company expects the projector-embedded mobile phones will hit the market next April, probably from manufacturers Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics.

“Traditional projectors are usually bulky, as they contain three separate LCD glass panels, one each for the red, green, and blue components of the video signal. But Iljin’s new technology reduced it to a single panel, by switching the light signal between three colors within one millisecond.

“Though the projected images continually change between the three base colors, human eyes only recognize them as one natural-color image as the speed they change is so fast.

“The new method dramatically decreases the size the projectors, as well as the manufacturing cost. The smallest of the demonstrated prototypes was about the size of a packet of cigarettes, and the company explained that it could be reduced to the size of a matchbox by the end of the year. The LCD panel itself is only 0.24-inch wide, which can easily fit into mobile phones.”

[Via Geekologie]
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Do-It-Yourself GPS

Interesting new service that lets friends track you, wherever you are. Since

Mologogo launched in October, its 1,000-plus members have found plenty of uses for it: following marathon runners, keeping track of the kids, planting a phone in the car in case it’s stolen, watching a boyfriend’s every move . . . Uh-oh.

[via PopSci]

Review at MAKE.
More info at Mologogo.

Over the walled gardens, direct to mobile consumers


From Business 2.0 Magazine, April, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO – As the wireless industry gathers this week in Las Vegas for the CTIA Wireless conference, opening this Wednesday, the mobile entertainment business is in the midst of a fundamental shift.

Until recently, carriers controlled the content their subscribers saw on their phones, tightly regulating the games, ringtones, and other content they could download. To reach subscribers, wireless publishers had to first strike deals with carriers to get on the carriers’ mobile portals.

But, spurred by technological changes, content providers are now offering their products directly to consumers — which is often niche content appealing to a specific demographic that carriers wouldn’t offer to mainstream audiences. And carriers, eager to boost usage of the data services required to download and use this content, are tentatively embracing the trend by opening up their networks to independent wireless publishers.

Leading the way, is Hands-On Mobile….

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Ellison: I want my own OS


What else do you need when you’re a software billionaire on an acquiring binge that shows no let up?

Oracle’s Ellison says he considered buying Novell for Suse Linux.

“I’d like to have a complete stack. We’re missing an operating system. You could argue that it makes a lot of sense for us to look at distributing and supporting Linux,” he said in an interview with the UK-based Financial Times.

Ellison also said that Red Hat poses a different kind of threat now the company has acquired JBoss. “Now that Red Hat… competes with us in middleware, we have to re-look at the relationship — so does IBM…I don’t think Oracle and IBM want another Microsoft in Red Hat,” Ellison said.

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Meanwhile Symantec CEO Thompson “joked” that he wants his own monopoly: “I want the technology that gives me a monopoly like Microsoft’s. But I’d be a much gentler monopoly.”

Thompson said he “sleeps like a baby” despite Microsoft’s moves into the security space, branding it a “Johnny Come-Lately whose talk is yet to be backed up by any action.”

“Microsoft has to build a track record and credibility which is sorely lacking. I only worry about what I can control. I can’t control what company A or company B is doing whether it’s Microsoft or whoever,” said Thompson.

He added that Symantec stopped being an anti-virus firm six years ago and with the Veritas buy in 2004 competes with the likes of big boys CA, Microsoft and Oracle not just the anti-virus guys.

“We are in the protection business. Not like Tony Soprano… but we see a need to move the protection closer to the data.”

MORE.

Parallels: Running Windows, Linux on Mac

Parallels lets you run Windows on a Mac without having to reboot.

And it’s possible because of Intel’s Core Duo chip to run multiple OSes – not just XP, or any version going back to Windows 3.1 but even Linux, FreeBSD, Solaris, OS/2 or MS-DOS.

Intriguing.

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UPDATED: ConsumerReports.org review.

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