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From the Paper Boy to the Blog: How to Save the Newspaper Industry.

No background needed here. We’ve all heard the clichés used like “deaths throws” “writing on the wall” and “doomed”  when describing the current state of our country’s newspaper industry. There has been a good deal of discussion about why it happening, and what the future is going to look like for the newspaper industry (assuming you think there is a future). 

Talk is great, but I wanted to take it a step further and use an actual example with real solutions. So I decided to use The Daily Oklahoman, a paper that I know very well. 

A few starting points. The Oklahoman is the largest newspaper in the state, and in truth, The Oklahoman is implementing some limited takes on what I discuss below, although not all and not strategically. So I’m going to lay the groundwork for some ideas that could change the business model of the paper and keep them in the black for years to come. 

Step 1: Online 

Online presence. This is obvious, but it can’t be stressed enough. The newspaper must begin to think of themselves as a website and many already are. That is where their future is going, or maybe already is. The idea of free content online is madness, but newspapers seem to think that they already established themselves online as providers of free content and are therefore committed to doing so indefinitely, and it has to stop. Some of the best news websites available online have realized this and put a stop to the bleeding. And the format is surprisingly simple.

The Wall Street Journal and ESPN come to mind when I think about the right way to provide online news content. They provide a limited amount of basic content for free and charge for more extensive content. 

Here’s how it works for newspapers: Hard new is free. Editorials, Op Eds, in depth content and columns are premium services. People will pay for this, and with sites like WSJ and ESPN, they already are. The hard news is what brings them in, and its fairly easy to obtain by other sources, but emphasis on quality premium content will drive subscriptions.

Step 2: Snail Mail

The biggest argument to moving online comes from those who say, rightfully so, that many people are not online or may even prefer the print version of the news. The solution to this requires some concessions. The idea of the “daily” newspaper needs to be rethought. Even the oldest generation of Americans have now spent the majority of their lives with television, and for the majority of Americans of all ages the television is the source for breaking news. In many ways television is the perfect medium for daily news. Its accepted, there’s no learning curve and the ad revenue is already there. 

All of that means that newspapers would be wise to stop daily publication and focus on weekly editions that diverge from the day-to-day goings ons that are available through other mediums. This allows for one other huge money saving advantage: Mail. That’s right, with a format that doesn’t stress timeliness newspapers no longer have to spend huge amounts of money delivering and incorporating other logistical considerations, just package and send. 

Step 3: Small Town

Getting the The Oklahoman by mail is great if your from the metro area, but what about smaller towns with smaller newspapers, those are the papers that are hardest hit. Their solution is simple, if hard to swallow. 

In a short space, the larger and better funded newspapers must begin to incorporate the small town papers into their machine. This is done in a couple strategic ways. 

First, when a person begins their initial subscription to the larger NewsOK site, they have an option to incorporate other small towns news into their subscription. In this way, you can live in a smaller area like Chickasaw, and still receive your local news via the larger NewsOK site. Additionally, those individuals who are receiving the now snail mailed print newspaper will receive an insert that contains content relevant to their hometown. But the key point is that the smaller newspapers go the way of the dinosaurs, and individuals are charged a fee to receive their local news in addition to the statewide content.

Step 4: Packaging 

The simple fact is most readers aren’t reading all the content made available form The Oklahoman. Therefore, newspapers need to take special consideration to the format of their online subscriptions. 

When a person begins an online subscription to The Oklahoman they are given several packaging option at different price levels. A sports package, business package, arts and of course a package that includes all the content (and don’t forget the now specialized small town content). 

The real genius behind this idea is that it allows the paper to push content strategically based on subscriptions to various parts of the paper. If an overwhelming majority are viewing the sports and business, you can increase content to those areas, thereby increasing page views and ultimately ad revenue.

 

That was step 1-4 of the plan to breathe new life into the newspaper business. But that’s definitely not where it stops, more are coming! If you have ideas about saving the newspaper industry leave a comment!

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Making Wikis Work for You

Okay, so Wikis aren’t new technology. In fact, Wikipedia, the largest Wiki in the world is probably fairly familiar to you. But do you know how to make a useful Wiki? Let’s take a closer look to see if a Wiki can make you more productive.

First take a look at this video from Common Craft that explains in limited detail just what a Wiki does.

 

Got it? Good. Now lets discuss some good and not so good ways to use Wikis.

Imagine this scenario: You are putting together a presentation that involves several areas of expertise. The members of your group possess these individual skills but no single person possesses them all. To take it a step further, suppose that the six members of your group are located throughout the world.

This is a big problem. Communication alone can be painfully inefficient, much less collaboration. But with a Wiki this problem becomes an opportunity. Person A can begin by constructing the portion of the presentation that he/she is most familiar with, then Person B, and so on. And throughout the process, members of the group can view the document as it is being edited by different members to make sure that it is still in line with the overall goal. The end result is a final product that is the collaboration of each member of the group, all without so much as a conference call.

Now you probably got that much from the video, so lets look at some ways that a Wiki would seem like a great idea, but could probably cause more trouble than its worth.

Wikis really aren’t great for brainstorming. While it is true that most, if not all, Wiki services provide a message board element to the home site, there really has to be a well established final product in mind before using a Wiki becomes practical. Also, its important that each member of the group knows their specific job or role, as it relates the the overall goal. (For obvious reasons)

One more point that might not be so obvious. Wikis are great for smaller, more manageable groups, but are they really practical for a group of say, 400? Imagine the organization needed to ensure the appropriate people were working on the appropriate elements, it could be daunting if not impossible.

Overall, Wikis are great for project based collaborations with smaller groups. They eliminate the constraints of location and timing, and really allow for a more efficient way to collaborate then even in-office collaboration. 

Some sites that provide free Wiki hosting:

Wikidot

pbwiki

WetPaint

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Why Ning Might Outlast Us All

When I think about it, my social media experience began quite young. I wasn’t even a licensed driver when Xanga became a must have for myself and my peers. What I remember of it was great. I knew when Jessica was having a bad day, when Michael was listening to a new CD (remember those?), and when Laura broke up with David (he was a jerk). And while Xanga was great, where is it now? Well it still exists, and still has members, maybe not a thriving membership base, but hey, E for effort. 

My point is, social networking sites have shelf lives. Myspace was hot. It had its time to shine, and now, I challenge you to find someone who uses it as their “home plate” for social media. And while Facebook may be most peoples “home plate,” it has come dangerously close to removing itself from that roll on several occasions. (Recall the uproar over the news feed, and most recently when they tried owning our information indefinitely?)

Enter Ning.com. This site allows you to create your own social media site based around a concept, a cause or an organization. You can make it as exclusive or inclusive as you want, and with minimal time investment, you can produce a site that looks absolutely professional. Ning.com allows you to do everything your normal home plate for social media does, only it puts the reigns in your hands.

Recently in my social media class we were charged with creating our own Ning.com site that would be available to the community in and around the Oklahoma State University School of Journalism and Broadcasting. With a small amount of fumbling, we were completely in business in under and hour. Skeptical? Here it is, the very site we created that day, still thriving.

Ning.com is a great tool, but its just that, a tool. With any website, content is king. Ning.com wont make your site the next Facebook, but with some strategic moves, and good development, you’re gonna be shocked what Ning.com provides.

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Free Social Media Applications for the iPhone

I recently made a new addition to my tech stable. Action Jackson, as I’ve dubbed my iPhone 3G is fresh out of the box and already impressing me constantly. The commercials you see are absolutely right, what makes the iPhone so incredible is the thriving application community. I’m always trying to find a way to stay better connected to my online presence, and after lots of experimentation and shopping around at the App Store, and reading around the net, these are the ones I think you’ll find indispensable.

facebook-iphone1

 Facebook Application for iPhone. This one should be an obvious choice. I tell anyone who is beginning their experience with an online presence to start with Facebook. The app is great, very functional, stable and a really easy way to use Facebook without actually going to the site. You can even upload and take photos through the application, a real must-have.

images Twitterrific. There are a lots of applications for Twitter, I mean tons. You really can’t get better than this application. You can view links that people tweet, add pictures to your tweet, even add a GPS marker. The one draw back to this application is that you can’t choose to follow people through the application or search key words and hash tags. That sound like some serious drawbacks but other applications really lack the functionality this app provides.

wordpress-iphone-app WordPress for iPhone. Got a WordPress blog? You might really find this one useful. Especially for firing off a quick blog entry on the go. The functionality is admittedly limited, that means you wont be changing html code through this app, but you can definitely add photos, save drafts and keep up with the more crucial functions of your WordPress blog through this app.

instapaper_shot2  Instapaper. Ok so this isn’t specifically a social media application, but its all about how you use it. Instapaper is a application and website that allows you to quickly and easily bookmark articles you come across on your main computer and mark them to be pushed to your iPhone for reading at a later time. This is great for catching up on blogs, or reading things you come across while in the middle of another task.

There are hundred of applications being developed that push the familiarity zone of most users. Some use GPS to locate you, and locate friends around you… kinda creepy in my humble opinion. Some use common interest to plug you in with people you ordinarily would never have come in contact with. But these applications are tried and true, established and staples in their field. If your don’t have them, stop what you’re doing (I’ll wait) and go pick them up, heck they are free.

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Is Social Media Right For You?

I had an insightful experience last Thursday as I sat in my Social Media class. Our professor was asking some general questions about groups familiarity with Twitter and other social media tools. 

 

The results were astonishing. 

 

In a class of 40 students in ranging in age from 18 to early 20s the overwhelming consensus was that we as a class were nearly clueless how to utilize these avenues of media. And with that on my brain, my mind began to wander. 

PR practitioners and marketers think the express train to the coveted under 35 year old market is though social media. They look at statistics like 98% of that demographic has an online presence via Facebook or some lesser version thereof and they draw conclusions, conclusion that aren’t always accurate. 

If my own experience can be applied to the larger whole, are there misconceptions being made about people’s adoption of social media? Or more importantly, are there industries and companies that should have a greater social media presence than others, and I believe the answer is yes.

I think its absolutely possible that many business are wasting resources by implementing too large of a social media presence or one that isn’t based in the right principles. I developed some broad questions that can help decide if social media is right for you.

 

 

  • Is your business in the technological sector
  • Are a significant portion of your publics active social media users
  • Are your peers and competitors being successful via social media
  • Is there significant discussion about your industry on social media sites

If you can answer “yes” to half of those questions than it might be wise to consider your online presence, and ask yourself one more important question: “How will my organization be perceived through social media?” 

That might not sound particularly telling, but consider this: If you use social media to advertise or shamelessly promote, you will certainly have a negative effect on your organizations image. Social media is two-way relationship, the web 2.0, and if those elements are key in your social media approach, you’d better try another road.

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“O Captain My Captain”

 

        Last semester I received an email from my advisor. When your in college it seems like your advisor is the stereotypical spam mailer. True to the analogy, the majority of what they send you is just that, spam. But when I heard Bill Handy was teaching a class on social media, I jumped to it, and I’m glad I did. 

deadpoetssociety1989cd2avi_003839798         Its like that scene from The Dead Poets Society where the kids all excitedly band together to learn poetry from Robin Williams. Sure, the kids all know what poetry is, but they have no idea how much further their understanding is about to go. There is an iconic scene, where they’re all chanting the title of the Walt Whitman poem “O Captain My Captain”.  Well, I know as much about social media as those kids knew about poetry, and Handy is opening the flood gates.

         This week we covered the microblogging site Twitter. I don’t consider myself anymore savvy in this area than any other college student, (in fact, before this class Twitter was just a buzz word to me) but I realize now there is an entire world interacting, 140 characters at a time on Twitter. 

The first thing I noticed about Twitter is how poorly its described by people and the online community as a whole. “Let your friends know what you’re doing throughout the day.” (I thought to myself, “Doesn’t Facebook already have this base covered?”) 

         That is definitely the lay person’s understanding of Twitter. But Twitter is so much more than that. When people use it correctly, its like a humanized aggregator that compiles what your community is paying attention to. Did a friend of mine stumble upon some interesting tidbit of information, or a site I should visit? Twitter lets me know. And I can choose to follow anyone, regardless of my personal involvement with that person. If I value what interests that person, I can experience those things as well.

          Like with so many things, the technology isn’t special, but the way you use that technology is. On paper, Twitter sounds down right useless, but in reality, its brilliance lies a just little under the surface. 

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