August 15, 2007

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I’m late weighing in on the New York Times’ reported decision to drop Times Select. But not on calling it a bad idea in the first place. Nor on offering alternative ways of looking at both problems and opportunities for newspapers in a networked world.

Rather than just point to what I’ve already said (in my now-mothballed old blog), I’ll just repeat it here:

  1. Stop giving away the news and charging for the olds. Okay, give away the news, if you have to, on your website. There’s advertising money there. But please, open up the archives. Stop putting tomorrow’s fishwrap behind paywalls. (Dean Landsman was the first to call this a “fishwrap fee”.) Writers hate it. Readers hate it. Worst of all, Google and Yahoo and Technorati and Icerocket and all your other search engines ignore it. Today we see the networked world through search engines. Hiding your archives behind a paywall makes your part of the world completely invisilble. If you open the archives, and make them crawlable by search engine spiders, your authority in your commmunity will increase immeasurably. (This point is proven by Santa Barbara vs. Fort Myers, both with papers called News-Press, one with contents behind a paywall and the other wide open.) Plus, you’ll open all that inventory to advertising possibilities. And I’ll betcha you’ll make more money with advertising than you ever made selling stale editorial to readers who hate paying for it. (And please, let’s not talk about Times Select. Your paper’s not the NY Times, and the jury is waaay out on that thing.)
  2. Start featuring archived stuff on the paper’s website. Link back to as many of your archives as you can. Get writers in the habit of sourcing and linking to archival editorial. This will provide paths for search engine spiders to follow back in those archives as well. Result: more readers, more authority, more respect, higher PageRank and higher-level results in searches. In fact, it would be a good idea to have one page on the paper’s website that has links (or links to links, in an outline) back to every archived item.
  3. Link outside the paper. Encourage reporters and editors to write linky text. This will encourage reciprocity on the part of readers and writers who appreciate the social gesture that a link also performs. Over time this will bring back enormous benefits through increased visits, higher respect, more authority and the rest of it.
  4. Start following, and linking to, local bloggers and even competing papers (such as the local arts weeklies). You’re not the only game in town anymore, and haven’t been for some time. Instead you’re the biggest fish in your pond’s ecosystem. Learn to get along and support each other, and everybody will benefit.
  5. Start looking toward the best of those bloggers as potential stringers. Or at least as partners in shared job of informing the community about What’s Going On and What Matters Around Here. The blogosphere is thick with obsessives who write (often with more authority than anybody inside the paper) on topics like water quality, politics, road improvement, historical preservation, performing artisty and a zillion other topics. These people, these writers, are potentially huge resources for you. They are not competitors. The whole “bloggers vs. journalism” thing is a red herring, and a rotten one at that. There’s a symbiosis that needs to happen, and it’s barely beginning. Get in front of it, and everybody will benefit.
  6. Start looking to citizen journalists (CJs) for coverage of hot breaking local news topics — such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires and so on. There are plenty of people with digital cameras, camcorders, cell phones and other devices that can prove mighty handy for following stories up close and personally. Great example: what Sig Solares and his crew did during Katrina.
  7. Stop calling everything “content”. It’s a bullshit word that the dot-commers started using back in the ’90s as a wrapper for everything that could be digitized and put online. It’s handy, but it masks and insults the true natures* of writing, journalism, photography, and the rest of what we still, blessedly (if adjectivally) call “editorial”. Your job is journalism, not container cargo.
  8. Uncomplicate your webistes. I can’t find a single newspaper that doesn’t have a slow-loading, hard-to-navigate, crapped-up home page. These things are aversive, confusing and often useless beyond endurance. Simplify the damn things. Quit trying to “drive traffic” into a maze where every link leads to another route through of the same mess. You have readers trying to learn something, not cars looking for places to park. And please, get rid of those lame registration systems. Quit trying to wring dollars out of every click. I guarantee you’ll sell more advertising to more advertisers reaching more readers if you take down the barricades and (again) link outward more. And you’ll save all kinds of time and hassle.
  9. Get hip to the Live Web. That’s the one with verbs such as write, read, update, post, author, subscribe, syndicate, feed and link. This is the part of the Web that’s growing on top of the old Static Web of nouns such as site, address, location, traffic, architecure and construction. Nothing wrong with any of those static nouns (or their verb forms). They’re the foundation, the bedrock. They are necessary but insufficient for what’s needed on the Live Web, which is where your paper needs to live and grow and become more valuable to its communities (as well as Wall Street).
  Lemme unpack that a bit. The Static Web is what holds still long enough for Google and Yahoo to send out spiders to the entire universe and index what they find. The Live Web is is what’s happening right now. It’s dynamic. (Thank you, Virginia.) It includes all the stuff that’s syndicated through RSS and searched by Google Blogsearch, IceRocket and Technorati. What I post here, and what others post about this post, will be found and indexed by Live Web search engines in a matter of minutes. For those who subscribe to feeds of this blog, and of other blogs, the notification is truly live. Your daily paper has pages, not sites. The difference is not “just semantic”. It’s fundamental. It’s how you reclaim, and assert, your souls in the connected world. It’s also how you shed dead conceptual weight, get light and nimble, and show Wall Street how you’re not just ahead of the curve, but laying pavement beyond everybody else’s horizon. It’s how your leverage the advantages of history, of incumbency, and of already being in a going business. (The hard part will be raising your paper’s heartbeat from once a day to once a second. But you can do it. Your own heart sets a good example.)
  10. Publish Rivers of News for readers who use Blackberries or Treos or Nokia 770s, or other handheld Web browsers. Your current home page, and all your editorial pages, are torture to read with those things. See the example Dave Winer provides with a from the NY Times. See what David Sifry did for the Day Fire here in California. Don’t try to monetize it right away. Trust me, you’ll make a lot more money — and get a lot more respect from Wall Street — because you’ve got news rivers, than you’ll make with those rivers.
  * One more…
  11. Remember the higher purpose behind the most informative writing — and therefore behind newspapers as well. To review,
  I don’t think of my what I do here as production of “information” that others “consume”. Nor do I think of it as “one-to-many” or “many-to-many”. I thnk of it as writing that will hopefully inform readers.
  Informing is not the same as “delivering information”. Inform is derived from the verb to form. When you inform me, you form me. You enlarge that which makes me most human: what I know. I am, to some degree, authored by you.
  What we call “authority” is the right we give others to author us, to enlarge us.
  The human need to increase what we know, and to help each other do the same, is what the Net at its best is all about. Yeah, it’s about other things. But it needs to be respected as an accessory to our humanity. And terms like “social media”, forgive me, don’t do that. (At least not for me.

Speaking of news rivers, David Sifry has just created one for the Zaca Fire. Much appreciated.

Blandwidth

The graphic on the left is from a Vonage test of the connection at a friend’s house near Boston. Comcast cable is her provider. The test was on her computer, which is connected directly to the cable modem. I thought that test result was exceedingly lopsided and Old Skool in respect to upstream performance, so I conducted a different test on the same connection with the same computer. The result: 11958Kbps down and 358Kbps up.

Comcast can do better than that. I suspect the only reason they’re not is because they’d need to “bind” some number of channels that would otherwise carry television. Whatever’s going on, it’s clear that the Net is just gravy on TV. Feh.