Sunday, January 13, 2013

The course formerly known as Magazine Writing and other lessons from the Scripps Howard Journalism Entrepreneurship Institute

I'm just back from the five-day Scripps Howard Journalism Entrepreneurship Institute,  at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School, and my brain is fried fired up. 

Entrepreneurial Journalism is a big topic, and it's fun to get together others who are interested in it. We all teach it a little bit differently. (Interested? Sign up for Journalism 39EJ next fall. And follow UMass Entrepreneurial Journalism on Facebook.) Serial entrepreneur, author and journalist Dan Gillmor runs the institute; he teaches entrepreneurial journalism at ASU, with an intensive emphasis on developing startups. The capstone to his course is a real investor pitch for a digital product.  

What a week. For five days we talked about the intersection of journalism, technology and business sustainability. The speakers included GillmorJeff Jarvis; Richard Gingras; Mark Briggs, the author of the terrific textbook, Entrepreneurial JournalismDavid Cohn; and tech investor (and TechStars guy)  Brad Feld, who skyped with us. (It's worth a look at The Foundry Group's site to see how these things work: Investor and teacher Francine Hardaway  also spoke to us:  Here's her post on Why The Blog Is Dead.) But read my post first. 

 

If you're a student, think about where you fit into all this. (Not everyone is an entrepreneur, but everyone can be more entrepreneurial. Take my class. I'll show you how.)

If you're a journalism teacher, dig in. A lot of this material might make you mad. Don't shoot the messenger! If you're looking for ways to plug in, I strongly recommend Poynter's Teachapalooza (which I also attended this year), and applying for this program in 2014. The ONA Educators Facebook page has a lively group of posters who are extremely generous as well, so check that out. 

Here are some nuggets, in no particular order.

Starting up? Build for mobile.
Seems like we just got used to teaching "digital first," but it's now, increasingly,  "mobile first." This seems obvious, but the speed of the change is sobering. Memo to old people: even your laptop is almost "over." People are now spending an average of 127 minutes a day on mobile apps. (The gold standard on web use data right now is former investment banker Mary Meeker's analysis.)

Users are getting their news now through apps like Circa, Summly, nowthisnews, WatchupNextDraft  and Spundge.

And they're creating content on apps like this one.

Spot.us founder David Cohn, along with Cheezburger founder Ben Huh, launched Circa, a news app that lets you "dive in" to a story at any point in its development and get whatever background you need or want. (The app uses editors, btw, not robots.)

From my notes: "Media creation and consumption devices will soon be built into our clothing." 

Want financing? Don't dis a LOLcat.
Cohn's partner in Circa is I Can Haz Cheezburger publisher (and former journalist) Ben Huh. (As GigaOm reported, the Cheezburger empire raised $30 million in venture cap funding in 2011. That's a lot of canned Friskies.) As Cohn spoke, I recalled Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten's takedown of  Huh after he keynoted the  2011 Online News Association Conference in Boston. It seemed at the time like a classic fight between old school journalism and...whatever it is we're ending up with now.  Hilarity ensued. 

Dan Gillmor on why anyone can do a startup. 
It’s so cheap to start. (See below.)
It’s going to be broken when you start. Understand that.
Iterate, iterate, iterate.
In the words of LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman: "If you’re not completely embarrassed by your website, you’ve waited too long."
Put it online before it’s ready.
Fix it.

Can't remember who said it, but it really makes sense.
"You need one million consumers using it or 10,000 businesses using it. If that's not a possibility, you have a problem." 
"Ideas are cheap, execution is everything." 
Best Mark Briggs quote.
"Get used to it. Pedal faster."

There's a new media ecosystem. Work with it. 
Dan Gillmor noted that even though newspapers are in trouble, the web allows new sources of reporting to reach global audiences. Some non-profits, advocacy groups and other organizations are doing a better job covering particular topics than traditional media organizations. Instead of competing, journalists must figure out how to use and work with these new sources.

"Diversity in media is a good thing, not a bad thing," he said, "unless you’re one of the species that dies out. But for the ecosystem it’s good. That’s why I’m so excited about this ecosystem, even though it’s a mess."  

Case in point: Gillmore says The American Civil Liberties Union is doing some of the best reporting on Guantanamo. Of course, the ACLU comes from a particular viewpoint, but it's up front about it. (And check out Climate Central, which has scientists and journalists working together to cover climate change, and whose content gets used by PBS NewsHour and other outlets.)

"It’s not bloggers or journalists, its bloggers and journalists," he said. "It’s an ecosystem that’s forming. It’s what we’re heading into. The ecosystem is more diverse and interesting than the monoculture of monopolies and oligopolies."

Homepages don't matter as much as you think.
People spend a lot of money and time on their homepage. But most content is now being accessed "sideways," through social networks like Facebook, Twitter, bloglinks. So think more about the look and stickiness of your story pages.

Open source rules.
Open source platforms offer low(er) cost site building. Wordpress has developed so much over the past five years that it's now the best choice for a content management system. (I second that emotion. I switched my FiftyShift site from Drupal to Wordpress.org last summer. I used a premium template, but you can use a Wordpress developer to build your site. It's way easier to learn and manage than Drupal, and there are easy-to-install plug-ins for just about anything you'd want to do on your site.)

Every journalism student should know how to code, at least a little.
"Coding is today what the ABC's used to be," says David Cohn.  

Flash is out: html5 is in. Try mixing it with your longform. 
The recent New York Times multimedia package Snow Fall: The Avalance at Tunnel Creek came up, in part because it's great longform journalism and the package was created using html5,  which allows you to more seamlessly integrate multimedia elements. (Here's a little more in-depth link.) 

(I'll add here: The Times is also selling it for e-readers at $2.99 a pop, which is another revenue stream. New revenue streams = good thing.) One panelist also cited, weirdly enough, a famous wedding invitation that went viral. Here it is.   It was created using html5 and CSS3Mashable explains it. 

To get a full sense of what's possible with html5, my colleague Brian McDermott suggested we take a look at this Arcade Fire video.

Cool tools just keep coming.
For digital mockups: Balsamiq. Love this thing. Using it in Entrepreneurial Journalism class next year. Also: Axure lets you develop interactive HTML prototypes for web and apps. But wait. There's More!  Cacoo.  Omnigraffle. Mockflow.  Can't keep up.

I need a new name (at least) for my Magazine Writing class.  
Watching Richard Gingras speak, you get the feeling that he just goes from journalism gathering to journalism gathering with the same message these days. Guy doesn't even bother with a suit or Powerpoint, just jeans and fleece. Don't need no stinkin' suit. Walks back and forth across the stage telling you: change is here, get used to it and either go with it or get out of the way. Then he tosses out examples of traditional media organizations who don't get it. And there are lots of them. 

Here's the talk he gave at AEJMC.  And here's Craig Silverman's Poynter post on what Gingras told us.
Gingras said that because of the Internet, “the underlying distribution technology” is causing things to change “whether we like it or not.” Anyone looking to innovate news products cannot be tied to the past, he said: “[A problem is that] the industry is thinking about rearguard action to protect historical models and historical thinking.”
 and this:
An example of that thinking is the lack of innovation when it comes to story pages online. “It stuns me that 15 years in we’re still seeing story architectures mimicking the traditional architecture of print,” he said.
Here's what else Gingras said, from my notes.

"...and magazine writing! Why would you even teach a course called magazine writing!" he said. "At least change the name!"

Gulp. He was talking to me. I went home and got to work on my Magazine Writing syllabus for spring. It may take a few years before we can get a name change through the Faculty Senate, however. 

Best social moment.
Having a drink with Jeff Jarvis as he talked about  the Gutenburg Bible.
Turns out, all this wrangling over content and technology and ownership and distribution? 'Twas ever thus.

Things you might find interesting.
Mary Meeker's presentation of  2012 Internet trends. Must read. 

Donorschoose.org Kickstarter-meets-PTA-fundraiser for elementary school teachers in underfunded schools. Great idea. 

Skift: Rafat Ali's new startup. As Ali told us during a Poynter webinar last spring,  "Content doesn't scale. Data scales."Ali covers the travel industry with this site. At the Poynter webinar he mentioned that, among his biggest costs was stock photos. 


Cozi: Seattle-based company app that helps organize a family. (I know, right?) Gannett is investing in it. 
Food on the Table: a subscriber app that helps you plan a meal. 
Getfork: Mark Briggs' latest idea. Came to him when he found himself taking one more smartphone picture of a plate of food. Ask for an invite. 

There was lots more. I'll post the reading list and all the books people mentioned later this week. Hope you pulled at least one cool thing from this post. Let me know if you did. Maybe the blog is not dead. 

And thanks a lot, Scripps Howard Foundation, for inviting me. 

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