Our family is in Europe

I know I typically write about journalism issues on this blog, so this entry will be a little different than what I normally post …

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I am currently in Europe with my family. We’re here on a mixture of business and vacation.

Most of our trip will be in Scandinavia, where I have been (and will be) speaking with newspaper folks across the region.

The trip began in Copenhagen, Denmark, where I got to meet with lots of great and interesting people. I also got a sneak peek at a very impressive multimedia storytelling project that will launch next week from a very unlikely source.

I’m going to try to blog about that next week. Fascinating stuff, and extremely well done.

But it hasn’t been all business. My family has been able to take in the sites, and just hang out with each other.

Plus, we got to visit Tivoli Gardens, which was a ton of fun for us!

My friends know that our family loves Disney and amusement parks, so Tivoli was a treat for us.

Tivoli was a heavy influence on Walt Disney when he started to build Disneyland. Tivoli is a great park — very different than any other park I’ve ever been to.

First off, it’s right in the middle of the city — the Copenhagen city hall is on one side, the main train station on one side, and a big Danish museum on another side. The city flows around Tivoli.

Most of the parks I’ve been to are definitely pretty far away from the main city.

I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that Tivoli has nearly 40 restaurants, and it definitely feels more like a park for adults then the parks I’ve been to in the United States — lots of beer and tobacco. And it seems like everyone smokes all the time and everywhere.

The entertainment also seems geared much more for an older audience. (Not dirty or anything like that. Mostly older styles of music — orchestras, swing bands, etc…)

But I still like the place a lot, and our kids loved it. It definitely has a lot of character.

Because Hans Christian Andersen is from Denmark, the park has a lot of references to the famous children’s story writer.

I can definitely see why Walt Disney liked Tivoli so much.

We’re currently on a train headed to Stockholm. The train has high-speed internet access, so my daughter (Jazmin) and I have been on our computers. (I love all the high-speed access over here!)

The view out the windows on this train trip has been amazing. Very beautiful.

Once we get in Stockholm, I have three days of meetings with lots of different newspaper folks around Sweden. (Each morning, I will begin by taking a train ride to where I’ll be.)

Then our family will be off to Paris for four days.

Yep, we’re going to take in all of the history and sites in Paris, but we’re also going to Disneyland Paris.

Like that’s a surprise to anyone who knows us!
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If you’d like to see the mostly blurry photos that I have taken on my camera phone while we were in Copenhagen, you can see them at my Facebook page.

Our team’s first big editorial project at The Washington Post: A collaboration with the finance desk for a detailed look at teen shopping

Back in January, I got this really cool e-mail over the weekend from Sandy Sugawara, who is the AME for financial news at The Washington Post. Sandy’s note basically recalled a conversation she had with her 13-year-old daughter and her friends about shopping and how stores like Abercrombie, The Gap, Hollister and even Nordstrom must be doing.

Sandy was impressed with not only how perceptive they were, but how — in many ways — what they were saying was right on with what was really happening with those businesses.

From there, we exchanged e-mails on how we could try to tell a story like this, had a basic planning meeting — and what came out of it is one of our team’s first major editorial projects at The Washington Post and washingtonpost.com.

Here’s the basic premise of the story: What can we learn about a ton of different things when we follow a bunch of economically and ethnically diverse kids through one of the nation’s biggest malls on a single Saturday afternoon?

Outside of a hurricane in Florida and a national championship basketball game in Lawrence, I’m not sure our team has ever been involved in a project of this scope with this much planning and so many moving parts.

And I’m positive we’ve never been a part of basically a single-day story that had so many people involved from so many different departments.

Just to get an idea, look at this list of folks involved in this project from The Washington Post and washingtonpost.com:

From The Washington Post: Lori Aratani, Lisa Bonos, Denny Brack, Andrea Bruce, Andrea Caumont, Sara Goo, Kim Hart, Marvin Joseph, Kathy Lally, Norm Lewis, Melina Mara, Ylan Mui, David Murray, Giuliana Santoro, Laura Stanton, Sandy Sugawara, Nancy Szokan, Sabrina Valle and Karen Yourish.

From Washintonpost.Newsweek Interactive: Levi Chronister, Emmy Crawford, Rob Curley, Alicia Cypress, Katie DePaola, Amanda Finnegan, Jesse Foltz, Adam Hemphill, Deryck Hodge, Garrett Hubbard, Adam Kipple, Cara McCoy, Lindsay McCullough, Chris McMichael, Kevin Myrick, Tim Richardson, Bill Snead, Matt Sollars, Sean Stoops and Jinae West.

(From my camera phone, here’s what it looked like when we were all at Tysons Corner Center on Saturday, May 19.)

Those carrying lots and lots of water included the project’s lead reporter Ylan Mui, our “new products team” editor Tim Richardson and our “new products team” graphics developer Jesse Foltz.

And you wouldn’t believe how much data was crunched by Post business section graphics editor Karen Yourish, or how much behind-the-scenes stuff was being done by Andrea Caumont, as well as by the project’s main print editor, Kathy Lally.

What really impressed me was that even at a news organization with the resources of The Washington Post and washingtonpost.com, everyone associated with this project — including those who rank pretty dang high in The Post newsroom — worked hard and put in long hours. There were so many late nights (and early mornings) by so many people, and so many late-night phone calls and e-mails, and so many people working on their days off, that I was blown away by it all.

At the other (much, much smaller) newspapers I’ve worked at, when there was a big project, the only way to get it all done was if everyone associated with the project worked a ton of extra hours. And, for whatever reason, I guess I was a little surprised that was exactly how it worked at The Post, as well!

Well, duh … Of course, this is how it works at The Washington Post!

The reason these folks are all at The Post is because they’re super-talented journalists, but also because they’re also super-motivated journalists … that’s what makes them journalists at The Washington Post!

I’ve never seen reporters/photographers/editors/designers at any news organization I’ve ever been at work as hard and as long as what I saw on this project. It was incredible and inspiring.

On the Saturday we were all at the Tysons Corner Center mall, The Post newsroom had more than a dozen staff members there. Along with reporters and editors, there were four photograpers and five videographers.

But the crazy work happened when we all got back to the office on the following Monday.

All 61 kids had been interviewed, taken post-shopping surveys and had filled out another survey after every store they visited. All of those notes had to be compiled and tons of spreadsheets were built. And Karen Yourish did a lot of that work.

More than 1,700 photos were taken.

More than five hours of video had been shot.

With more than 10 kids mic’ed up as they shopped that day, and every word being recorded, over 30 hours of audio clips had to be listened to and edited.

When it was all put together on washingtonpost.com, here is what it looked like.

The stories by Ylan Mui and the rest of the reporters on the finance desk at The Washington Post are killer. When the project ran in this morning’s newspaper, there were seven stories that were part of the package.

Here is a look at the multimedia elements on washingtonpost.com for this project:

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I don’t even want to know how many hours our team’s graphics genius Jesse Foltz spent building this map. As a matter of fact, I’m guessing no one wants to know.
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The map documents every store that any of our 61 shoppers visited.

When you click on a store, you can see an overview of the store, how many of the kids visited the store and the amount of money they spent, quotes from kids who talked about the store in their interviews, audio clips from the kids, photos of the kids in the store, and video.

You can even toggle through the different floors of the mall.

Really cool stuff, and a ton of information.

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In building the video component for this story, Tim Richardson worked closely with Ylan to find the clips they felt really augmented the print story.

They wanted a video piece that would really complement the journalism in print, not repeat it.

So, with video shot by the mostly untrained members of our “new products team” — along with some help from friend and former Naples Daily News colleague Garrett Hubbard — they put it together (with Tim doing all of the editing), and even went back to the mall to shoot some intro and segue pieces with Ylan to help pull things together.

And I love the results of this sort of collaboration.

+++ Teen Profile Pages +++

So that we could know more details about how teens shop and, more importantly, think about shopping, we had a group of seven teens who we had fill out a daily online survey that was built by our “new products team” programmer Deryck Hodge.

We also had photographer extraordinaire (and good friend) Bill Snead take portraits of each of these kids. Along with some additional reporting by Tim Richardson, Cara McCoy and Levi Chronister, Jesse Foltz then made Flash animations of each portrait, in which you can mouse over different elements in the photos to see what they are, how much they cost, and if there was some interesting story behind them.

Jesse Foltz also built a map of each of these kid’s trip through the mall on the day that we were there. You can see every story they visited, how long they were in each store, and what (if anything) they bought.

And finally, Tim Richardson shot and built the 360-degree steerable panoramic photos of each kid’s room so you could get a better glimpse of their tastes, etc…

You can see all of that here.

+++ The Photos +++

As I mentioned earlier, on our big shopping day at Tysons Corner, there were four Washington Post photographers there to document it.

They took more than 1,700 photos. Then the visual-journalism team at washingtonpost.com (particularly Lindsay McCullough, along with some help from WPNI designer Adam Kipple) built three very nice galleries.

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To top it all off, Ylan Mui worked to schedule several live online chats on washingtonpost.com to coincide with the project. Up until the moment the live chats began on our site, Ylan was working to try to get chats scheduled with several different companies.

On Monday, she ended up doing a chat along with retail analyst Marshal Cohen and Bloomingdale’s spokeswoman Donna Hamaker to discuss teen shopping behavior.

Here is a transcript of that chat.

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So, what did it all look like in print?

Well, it looked amazing! We got to work closely with finance desk graphics designer Laura Stanton and Karen Yourish, who pulled together all of the research for the big double-truck graphic that ran in the business section.

We also got to work with Washington Post deputy art director Dennis Brack, who laid out the pages.

The front page of The Washington Post had this *huge* key/refer as the centerpiece this morning:

Here is what the Business section front looked like this morning:

And here are some of the inside pages:

Bill Snead’s portraits of the selected teens were supposed to only run online, but the print designers liked them so much that they integrated them into the print layout:

And then there was the *huge* double-truck graphic, which just looks amazing.

This teen project also was referenced in the print edition of The Express, which is a free daily paper published by The Washington Post for commuters.

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More thoughts on this project …

Ylan began laying the groundwork for this project in February. She called school groups, the Girls Scouts, and numerous other organizations to assemble a group of diverse teenagers for this project. There were also several meetings with management at the mall in the weeks leading up to the project to figure out the logistics.

Tim Richardson worked closely with her, but it was Ylan’s ability to put together the group of teens (and get all the permission stuff taken care of) that was really impressive. She was uber-organized through it all.

In my opinion, this project was a textbook example of how print and online should collaborate on a project from the very beginning.

In the past, our team has worked on stories in which we were alerted midway through the project that there might be cool online components to help pull it all together. Being alerted late in the game often requires duplication of work and isn’t the most efficient way to gather content to tell a story.

Yet, I can’t even count how many times we’ve done it. When we were in Topeka, Lawrence and Naples, I couldn’t count how many times either Tim or Dave Toplikar (our online M.E. in Lawrence) re-interviewed people so that we could have audio of the people interviewed for the story.

With this project, editors and reporters with The Washington Post and washingtonpost.com worked together every step of the way — and I think this comes through in the final result. I think all of the print and multimedia components really work well together to help better tell the story.

Plus, I think one of the huge upsides was that many of the print journalists involved with this project seemed to have real ownership (even some degree of pride) in the new-media components, which I think is part of the reason all this project’s online components got the play they received in the print edition.

It was a ton of fun to work on this project!

washingtonpost.com’s new Facebook app

Back in late April, I was asked by my bosses at The Washington Post and Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive if I could meet with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. At the time, it was pretty hush-hush as to why.

In very short order, I was on a plane headed to Palo Alto — along with WPNI “new products team” colleague and programming genius Deryck Hodge — to meet with Mark and a bunch of other really cool and smart folks from Facebook. What they showed us was amazing. And ground-breaking.

Facebook was working on a new API that would allow others to build applications on Facebook. They called it Facebook Platform. And what made this so impressive to us was that the sytem they had built would allow developers to build things that tapped directly into the Facebook social network in ways that would layer in all of the aspects of a social-networking site.

These weren’t going to be widgets or RSS feeds. These were going to be real social-networking tools.

And, yes, the initial prototypes were going to be done by “partners” like washingtonpost.com, but the cool part was going to come after it was all formally announced on Thursday, May 24, by Zuckerberg.

To me, the cool part was that Facebook was going to release this API to everyone, not just big companies or companies with some sort of relationship with the site. Anyone who wanted could try to build apps for Facebook.

Now that’s cool.

And it’s not like these new apps were going to muck-up Facebook. If you like Facebook just like it is, you don’t have to use or add any of these apps to your profile. But if you do want them, you can “install” or “uninstall” as many as you’d like. Your call.

So, as we began trying to explain exactly what we thought of this to our bosses back in D.C., we had two main points:

* No. 1 — We shouldn’t even bother to try to build something on the new Facebook API if we were just going to try to get our headlines on people’s pages. (Yep, that’s what every college student wants: headlines from The Washington Post on their Facebook profile).

Deryck and I emphasized that we needed to build things that would really work on a social-networking site, but that the very last thing we would want was for The Washington Post to look like Pat Boone rapping.

There’s no point in trying to pretend you’re Jay-Z (or even Yahoo!), when your stars are Bob Woodward and Tony Kornheiser.

Clearly, one of our biggest challenges was going to be coming up with things that felt like they belonged on both washingtonpost.com and on Facebook.

* No. 2 — We wanted everyone to understand that being able to build tools like this on Facebook was going to be really cool, but that we wanted everyone’s expectations to be managed.

Here is my less-than-bold prediction: Some people are going to really like and use what we’ve built.

But it will be nothing like the amount of people who will use and love some application built by some college kid/programming-god-in-waiting who has been using Facebook for a couple of years and finally gets to build the thing that everyone who uses Facebook wished Facebook had always had.

That’s the person who’s going to build the killer Facebook app. Not a couple of dorks at washingtonpost.com. (Though I’m really rooting for the dorks at washingtonpost.com, being that I’m one of them.)
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So, what did we build?

Well, we spec’ed out three apps — one that is already done, one that is really close to being done, and one that we haven’t even started.

The one that debuted today is called “The Compass.”

The idea behind The Compass app for Facebook is pretty simple: Take a short survey and we then show you where you fall on a political compass with one end representing conservative and the other representing liberal.

We worked with editors at washingtonpost.com to come up with the survey questions.

Then after you’ve answered the questions, Facebook places The Compass on your profile page. It looks like this:

(Note: For the purposes of the screenshot above, I answered every question on the survey “Strongly Disagree” or maybe I answered them all “No Opinion/Indifferent” — to be honest, I can’t remember; either way, if you answer all of the questions one of those two ways, The Compass comes out right in the middle.)

There are tons of political compass surveys on the Internet — and trust us, we looked at almost all of them — so what makes washingtonpost.com’s The Compass for Facebook different?

It’s the power of being able to integrate something like this on Facebook in a way that leverages the social network. That, to me, was the genius of the Facebook Platform app, and it was what we thought was the most interesting part about trying to build something for Facebook.

So, once you install The Compass on your Facebook profile and take the survey, the friends in your network see that you have installed The Compass through their Facebook news feed. If they choose to install it and take the survey, things get interesting.

You can see where all of the friends in your network fall on the political map. Those on the left of the map are more liberal and those on the right are more conservative. Pretty straight-forward stuff.

Each of the dots on that map represents a friend in your network, and you can then click on any of the dots to see which dot is which friend. When you click on the dot, your friend’s photo and name displays.

We all knew before even one line of code was written for this app that some folks in the newspaper industry would see The Compass and ask, “what does this have to do with news from The Washington Post?”

For us, one of the most important things was to build something that we thought would work on Facebook and do it in a way that showed respect for what The Washington Post and washingtonpost.com stand for — and at the same time, try to get those Facebook members who had an interest in politics to remember that washingtonpost.com is the definitive site on the web for national politics.

And we hope they are reminded of our newspaper’s commitment to political coverage every time they see The Compass with the washingtonpost.com logo on it.

More importantly, as I wrote earlier, we didn’t think we could get a bunch of college students to say, “Dang, you know what I need on my Facebook profile page? I need headlines from The Washington Post.”

That being said, one of the apps that we have spec’ed out does do something kind of like that, but in a way that directly relates to someone’s identity.

So, who did all of this kick-ass work on The Compass app?

Our team’s lead programmer, Deryck Hodge, wrote all of the code behind it. And true to Deryck’s Django roots, when he realized that Facebook’s API library was written in PHP, he rewrote the library in Python.

It’s Deryck’s plan to release that code soon. I’ll keep you updated on when he releases it, if Facebook doesn’t release a Python library first, which we’ve heard is likely.

Jesse Foltz, our team’s insanely talented senior designer, did all of the graphics and Flash. He also wrote the Flash code that grabs Deryck’s XML from the app.

And our new products/skunkworks team editor Tim Richardson helped us decide what topics should be in the survey, along with help from washingtonpost.com editor Liz Spayd.

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Here is a link to the photos that I took on my camera phone of the Facebook Platform F8 launch event.

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Here is the press release about our Facebook apps from the Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive PR department.

And if you’re wondering what other apps we’re creating, this release talks about another one of them. We’re hoping the second app will go live shortly.

Here is the story that ran in The Washington Post today about Facebook Platform.

Here is the Reuters story about Facebook Platform.

Holovaty stepping out on his own

I first met Adrian Holovaty when he was still a student at the University of Missouri and I was at The Topeka Capital-Journal. It was Steve Klein who set up the introduction, and I’ve thanked Steve numerous times since!

From the first day I spoke with Adrian, I really wanted him to join our development team because he was one of the brightest people I had ever met.

And even in those earliest discussions, it was obvious he had really great ideas.

The best way to build a great web team is to surround yourself with people who are about a million times smarter and more talented than you, and Adrian definitely fit that bill.

I was heartbroken back in late 2001 or early 2002 when he called me to say he was accepting a job at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution instead of coming to hang with us.
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So, when Dan Cox and I left Topeka to go work at The Lawrence Journal-World, the very first person we called was Adrian, and we were both thrilled when he joined us in Lawrence.

Adrian’s work in Lawrence was amazing.

Hell, I think it might be legendary.

The system that this guy put together for lawrence.com was one of the most amazing and innovative things I’ve ever seen. Brilliant. And he was so damn fast, I couldn’t believe it.

When we got approval to expand our team, Adrian brought this other super-smart guy named Simon Willison to Lawrence to work with us, and about a year later they had created something called Django.

It was just amazing to show up to work each day and know that Adrian was going to have some cool new thing to show you. For me, it was better than Christmas.

And in his free time, he built a little site called “chicagocrime.org.” In his free time.

Adrian left the Lawrence Journal-World for The Washington Post, where he made so many cool things, I’m not even sure I should try to list them. But if you ever see a really cool database-driven project on washingtonpost.com that has “projects.washingtonpost.com” as the beginning part of the URL, then you know it was Adrian’s handy work.

So, now comes the news that Adrian has received a very nice grant to strike out on his own to build something called “EveryBlock” and I’d be more than willing to bet the lion’s share of my salary that it’s going to be a hit.

The formal press release from the Knight Foundation said Adrian will “create a series of city data sites presenting address-specific news and information. The 10 cities will include the Knight cities of Miami, Philadelphia, Detroit, San Jose and Charlotte.”

The newschallege.org site gives a little more information about the project, stating that it will: “create, test and release open-source software that links databases to allow citizens of a large city to learn (and act on) civic information about their neighborhood or block.”

And, of course, Adrian has written a short blog post about it that you should check out.

I talked with Adrian yesterday to congratulate him and tell him how proud I was of him. I could just hear in his voice how excited he was.

If anybody can make this work, it would be Adrian.

And if I were a newspaper in one of the cities that Adrian will be testing in, I’d either be very mindful of this guy’s work, or I’d figure out a way to partner with him. Immediately.

Adrian is smart, he’s a winner, and he builds things that help people.

Thoughts on outsourcing “local” reporting

Over the last week or so, there have been a ton of stories about Pasadenanow.com‘s impending use of journalists based in India to cover local politics in suburban Pasadena.

I know I’m coming really late to this party, and part of the reason I’m even posting something about it is because a column by C.W. Nevius that ran in Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle mentioned our team’s work, and even had a quote from my friend and co-worker, Levi Chronister.

Just in case you don’t know anything about this story, I’ll try to boil it down to syrup: A news website in Pasadena (not affiliated with the local newspaper) has decided to try to fill a hole it perceives in traditional news coverage with its own coverage of local city council meetings.

The rub here is that in trying to find someone to do the writing and reporting for these city council stories, even interns, no one was either interested or was willing to take what the site could afford to pay.

So, armed with the ability to watch city council meetings on the Internet and conduct interviews via e-mail, etc., the site has hired two reporters who are based in India to write the stories for the site.

As I said earlier, there’s lots of coverage about this all over the web, but if you only have time to read one overview, Nevius’ column wouldn’t be a bad choice.

Last night, I wrote Mr. Nevius an e-mail. Here are some excerpts from it, along with a few new thoughts and edits:

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The idea that a site would outsource reporting is certainly … well, an interesting notion. After having built sites like this for a number of years, what I think is equally interesting/intriguing is the idea to do it for city council news. I know our team has never really figured out how to get anyone to read a city council story on a regular basis — in print or online.

(And it’s not like we haven’t tried some goofy things over the years.)

It seems to me that city council stories — at least in the cities I’ve worked in — are really only important to a mass audience about once or twice a year when there is a huge hot-topic issue that strikes a nerve. And in those circumstances, they often play out as you referenced — behind the scenes.

So, covering a local story in the manner that pasadenanews.com is trying is interesting to me on at least two levels: Does anyone care (especially in a manner that will make an impact on audience numbers), and will those folks miss the real story because of the manner in which the story is being reported?

And don’t read that the wrong way. I absolutely think local news organizations should be covering local government on an “everyday” basis. I was a local government reporter at the Topeka Capital-Journal for a couple of years.

I just have a feeling he’s going to be very disappointed in the traffic numbers to these stories.

But, at least this guy is out there trying new things.

Local coverage certainly means something to me because I used to dissect the traffic numbers daily, and when you cut out the crap stories, like the Paris Hilton drivel (which we never even bothered to run on our sites in Topeka, Lawrence or Naples), what you see is that the local stories are what connect with the readers. It’s where all of your traffic is.

So, we started pushing for more and more local coverage on our sites.

My kids watch a cool little CG cartoon called “Robots” and there’s this line in that movie that basically says “see a need, fill a need.” That’s what we’ve tried to do.

But we’ve also focused on delivery to other devices, huge databases that were easy for readers to use, lots of multimedia, and lots of interaction/dialogue with readers.

Basically, we just try to build news sites that work the way the Internet really works, not the way an old-time publisher or an out-of-touch board of directors wish the Internet worked.

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It seems to me that Pasadenanow.com is trying to fill a need, and is trying to do it in a way that uses the Internet as an interesting reporting tool.

It’s going to be dang fascinating to see if it works.

Anyway, I have no idea if I made any real points in that e-mail. I was basically trying to say that covering the city council likely isn’t going to be some sort of magic bullet for local web traffic, though I have no reason to believe that Pasadenanow.com thinks it will be.

Where this discussion gets even more interesting is when you layer in Howard Kurtz’s very good Media Notes column from this morning’s Washington Post.

Kurtz’s column not only talks about conducting interviews via e-mail, but that …

” … in the digital age, some executives and commentators are saying they will respond only by e-mail, which allows them to post the entire exchange if they feel they have been misrepresented, truncated or otherwise disrespected. And some go further, saying, You want to know what I think? Read my blog.

Lots of damn interesting things going on right now in the world of journalism. And, as I’ve said many other times, there’s no other era in American journalism that I’d rather be a part of.

Heading to the West Coast again

I’m going to be back in the San Francisco area next week for two or three days.

On Tuesday, May 22, I will be speaking at Berkeley for a Knight New Media/UC Berkeley conference. I normally speak at this event about once a year or so, but this will be my second time in just a few months!

My session will be from 7:15 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. at the North Gate Library, located at the intersection of Hearst and Euclid Avenues on the northern edge of the UC Berkeley campus. (At my session back in March, I was there until after 11 p.m. I’m not leaving until we’re all done talking!)

Here is a link for directions to North Gate Hall, where the North Gate Library is located.

This session is free and open to the public, so I hope you’ll come! (Please contact me if you’re coming so that we can either meet before or after.)

I love speaking at this Knight New Media/UC Berkeley event and have done it for the last several years. The reason is simple: It’s all about helping news organizations embrace how the media world is changing.

ItÒ€ℒs a weeklong training session for mid-career journalists that has tons and tons of bootcamp-like training, along with lots of cool speakers. It’s always been hard to get into the program, but I’m told it’s gotten especially competitive now.

Many traditional news organizations are finally waking up that they’ve got to start doing things differently and they don’t really know where to turn for training, so they’re pushing hard to get people from their companies into this program.

Here is a link to sessions that anyone can attend. You don’t even have to RSVP. Just show up.

If I can find the time, I know I’ll be trying to see Seth Gitner of Roanoke.com talk.

I’m a huge fan of the new-media team at The Roanoke Times, and that organization’s coverage of the Virginia Tech tragedy was incredible on a ton of levels — especially its coverage during the first 24 hours. I have a feeling that Seth’s talk will be fascinating, and I hope I can swing by.

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On Wednesday, May 23, I will be speaking at another event in the Bay area — actually, this one in San Francisco.

At 9 a.m. (damn, that’s early for me), I will be speaking at the Open Source Business Conference at the Palace Hotel.

This conference has a great lineup of speakers, including Matthew Szulik (chairman, CEO and president of Red Hat), Marten Mickos (CEO of MySQL), and open-source law genius Eben Moglen.

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I can’t talk about where I’m going to be on Thursday, but I think it might be cool.
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And as soon as I can talk about it, I will post something here.

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As always, if you’d like to hang out while I’m in the Bay area, please just drop me a note!

Either the Internet is changing, or my wife is turning into a total nerd … and what exactly does this mean to the newspaper industry?

When I first started my corporate job at Morris Digital Works back in 1998, my wife (the lovely and irreverent Betsy Curley) bought her first computer — one of the old Mac clamshell laptops.

Though she had used computers in her professional and academic life, this was her first personal computer.

I now watch how she uses her computer all the time because I love to see how “regular people” use the web. You don’t even want to know how many ideas have come to me after watching my family members use their computers — enough that we should probably be able to claim ’em on our taxes.
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Betsy uses the web like a lot of people do: online banking and booking travel are perfectly suited for the Internet, and she’s an ace at those things. She also loves eBay (both as a buyer and a seller), as well as Amazon. And you don’t want to know how much we spend through her shopping at DisneyShopping.com.

Those, at least to me, seem like fairly regular things for someone who is at least moderately Internet-savvy.

But there are a bunch of other sites that Betsy now uses that have me thinking that either the Internet is getting more practical to use, or my wife is turning into a total dork just like me.

Or maybe it’s some mixture of both.

I’m not making this up: Betsy ordered the propane for our grill from PropaneTaxi.com.

And she loved it. She said they were quick, nice and helpful.

Betsy now buys nearly all of our groceries from Safeway.com.

She keeps a running list of the things we need directly on the Safeway site, and then submits the order when it’s time. The delivery charges are nominal, even non-existent with the coupons and deals they have. And we almost always get something else for free with each order, like movie tickets.

They then show up at the requested time, and are always courteous. (I should know because I’ve probably accepted three or four delivery orders.) And the delivery folks cannot accept tips regardless of how hard you try.

It really feels like Safeway has put a lot of thought into this process and made the entire experience nice (even the delivery vehicles are kind of cool), which is why we now use Safeway.com as our primary way of buying groceries.

I’ve always kind of enjoyed grocery shopping — that simple act of wandering each aisle is kind of fun to me, but why do I get the feeling that sounds eerily similar to the “I just like to hold the newspaper” that you hear from some folks?

Betsy’s online experiences don’t stop there. Our family now even orders its delivery pizza from pizzahut.com. And just like the other examples I’ve given, that experience has been positive enough that now that’s the primary way we order pizza.

But Betsy’s biggest online discovery is something called “Ding!” from Southwest Airlines. In a lot of ways, it basically behaves like a widget, but it’s not a widget.

(In my opinion, if Southwest Airlines were smart about this little app, they’d make it a true widget ASAP because I can’t imagine how powerful it would be to be on people’s customized iGoogle or MyYahoo page every time they logged on. And why do I get the feeling that Internet advertising is going to start feeling a lot like Ding! does?)

Anyway, Ding! basically is a little program that runs on your desktop. When you register it, you’re asked what airports you primarily fly out of. Then every so often, the app makes a little “ding” sound similar to the sound of the “ding” when you hand your ticket at the gate of a Southwest flight.

Around our home, that “ding” sound produces Pavlovian responses. Both Betsy and I dive to our computers to see what the “Ding!” deals are. They’re often good. But sometimes they are mind-blowingly good. We’ve seen $29 one-way flights to Orlando (hey, we’re Disney dorks) and $50 flights to Los Angeles, from both Washington Dulles and from Baltimore.

Those are crazy prices that have us “impulse flying” to places on weekend trips for rates that are cheaper than riding the bus — and certainly cheaper than buying the gas for those trips.

I’m not sure that I had a point in posting all of this, but if I did have a point, I guess it’s this: When people use the Internet and have a good experience, they keep coming back. It seems like a pretty simple premise, but it must not be.

The Internet can fundamentally change how we do the most ordinary things — whether it’s making sure your bills are paid or buying milk. Even buying propane.

Or getting your news.

There were some great ideas that came out during the Good Ole Days of the Dot.Com Boom of the late 90s, but some of those ideas were ahead of their time, both in the public being ready to accept them and probably in the amount of folks actually using the Web at that time.

That’s clearly not the case anymore, and we can choose to accept that or choose to bury our heads in the sand.

It drives me nuts when businesses act like they’re doing their audience/customers a favor when they half-heartedly jump into the Internet.

Then there are businesses (even more traditional, old-line businesses) who actually try to use the Internet the way the Internet really works … not the way they wish the Internet worked.

The sites that Betsy now uses all of the time are great examples of companies who are doing it right.

Every time I watch her use the Internet in some new and interesting way, I’m reminded as to why all of us better be trying a little harder to make sure the folks who visit our local news sites are having a good experience.

And that we better be building sites that work the way the Internet really works.

Canadians and Red Bull!

This week, I spoke at the Canadian Newspaper Association‘s annual “Super Conference,” which was held in Winnipeg.

I had a really great time at this event! I got to meet so many cool people, who also happen to be damn fine journalists. I only wish I could have stayed a little longer so I could have hung out with more folks.

And the CNA’s Bryan Cantley is definitely one of the classiest people I’ve met in our industry. He also organized one of the funniest things someone has ever done for one of my presentations.

Anyone who has been around me for more than an hour knows that I’m completely over-caffeinated. I love the Red Bull and I love the Mountain Dew — typically with one of those two as the chaser for the other.

Heck, on my first day of work at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, Caroline Little — AKA our boss — welcomed me with several cans of Red Bull.

So, imagine my immense pride and excitement when I arrived at the main conference room for the CNA shin-dig and saw that every spot at every table had a can of Red Bull at it.

Then at the podium were a couple of cans of Red Bull for me, a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew and a couple of cans of Mountain Dew.

It was like Christmas!

And, yes — even with only drinking the two cans of Red Bull — I was completely bouncing off the walls by the end of that presentation. With the combination of severe lack of sleep and the huge amount of caffeine I had inhaled, I’m not even sure if I remember how the speech ended.

It kind of reminded me of that funny scene in the latest Disney movie where the scientist is completely buzzed out of her mind on caffeine. That was me in Winnipeg.
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Thanks Bryan, for doing something that was so creative and memorable for me! And I hope to make it back up to Canada very, very soon.

UPDATE: Shortly after I posted this blog, I received an e-mail that said:

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“Just saw your post on Red Bull and Mountain Dew and, although I had chalked it up to an urban legend, it looks like Canadian Mountain Dew is caffeine free:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_Dew

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Well, not that this is definitive proof, but I can tell you that the two-liter bottle and the cans of Mountain Dew that we’re on the podium said “Caffeine Free” on them.

Another thing that was interesting about this was that Bryan said that it was quite hard for his staff to even find Mountain Dew in Winnipeg.

I actually really love the taste of Mountain Dew, but without the caffeine, I think it might be like eating a McDonald’s hamburger without the beef. Maybe that’s why it was hard for the CNA staff to find Mountain Dew.

Examples of ‘traditional’ reporters who really understand new media

Yesterday, I had to take the Metro from our Arlington offices to the newspaper’s main office in downtown D.C.

I almost always grab a copy of Express for the trip. For those who don’t know what Express is, it’s kind of The Washington Post’s answer to all of the free dailies that are popping up in large cities with well-used public transportation.

But yesterday, all of the Express racks were empty, so I grabbed a copy of City Paper instead.

The weekly paper had an interesting piece on the coverage of the Virginia Tech tragedy. As soon as I read it, I knew I had to blog about it because it really does a nice job of explaining how a tech-saavy reporter can do great journalism because of those skills — and even scoop those around him/her because of them.

The City Paper piece talks about how Washington Post reporters used the Internet for things like scouring blogs and contacting students via Facebook to get great leads and even exclusive interviews.

This clearly illustrates how a reporter who understands new technology (or basically how the world really works today, especially if you’re a college student) can use those skills to better serve his/her readers.

So, one example of a reporter using the Internet in the name of better journalism would be in the ways outlined in this City Paper story.

Another example of a reporter using new media to better serve his/her audience would be a journalist who uses this sort of technology to connect with readers on a daily basis.

An excellent example of this type of a new-media-saavy reporter would be Washington Post baseball reporter Barry Svrluga.

Barry does a great job of covering the ins-and-outs of the Washington Nationals on the pages of The Washington Post. And, yes, those stories also appear on washingtonpost.com. But that’s not what makes Barry — at least in my mind — one of the more interesting newspaper journalists to watch.

He’s a damn-fine multimedia journalist.

  • He has a popular blog that he usually updates at least a couple of times a day.
  • And, yes, his blog gets lots of comments from readers, and he frequently interacts with his audience in the comments section. It’s truly a dialogue, and a great local baseball blog.

  • He does a live online chat with readers about once a week or so.
  • He does a nightly post-game audio podcast that is very informative, and has lots of interviews with players and coaches.
  • He even appears on the new Washington Post Live sports television show that runs each day on Comcast here in the D.C. area.
  • The guy even writes books.
  • The team of folks that I get to work with here at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive work with Barry each day. This is a journalist who is very serious about his role as someone who writes stories for The Washington Post.

    But he’s not so close-minded as to think that’s only way to connect with readers.

    I haven’t had a chance to meet Barry Svrluga yet, but when I do, I’m buying that guy a big-ass steak and as much beer as he can drink.

    It’s not people in roles like mine who are showing folks what the future of local newspaper journalism might look like. It’s guys like Barry Svrluga.

    In experimenting with online journalism for the last 10 years or so, the one thing that continually amazes me is how in nearly every market we’ve ever been in (including here in Washington D.C.), it’s nearly always a group of mid-career “traditional” reporters who end up doing the most interesting things with new media.

    I think there is a misconception that if you really want to get things done at a newspaper website, you need a “couple of kids right out of college.” Not that things aren’t changing, but I’ve never really found that to be true.

    As of right now, I’ll take the mid-career “traditional” journalist who still wants to kick some ass any old day.

    Wanna come hang out with us at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive?

    UPDATE: We have filled all of the positions! Thanks for your interest!

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    This summer, our “new products” team here at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive is going to be working on a couple of really cool projects, and we would love some help.

    In fact, we would love lots of help!

    We’re looking for folks who want to build cool things, hang out with cool people, and work in one of the coolest offices you’ll see this side of Google. This is what most companies call an internship, and I guess that’s technically what it will be here, as well.

    But you won’t be doing crappy intern things like fetching coffee, mowing our lawns, etc… You’ll be doing all of the same things that the rest of our team does.

    We’re looking for folks who want to work with us through the summer, as well as for longer internships.

    Because of competitive reasons, I can’t really go into any details right now as to what you’ll be working on with us here at WPNI other than to say that the projects are uber-cool and will likely get lots of attention inside and outside of the news/media industry.

    We want solid journalists who can write their backsides off. We’re also looking for programmers with an understanding of Django. And if you’re a kick-ass designer with killer Flash or motion-graphics skills, we want you.

    But what we really want are self-motivated bad-asses who have at least one of the skills I listed above.

    So, if you’d like to hang out with the bad-asses that I’m lucky enough work with each day, learn cool stuff, and basically ensure your future marketability in the field of journalism for a long time, then contact me ASAP.
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    No, we won’t be expecting you to starve for the summer in order to take these internships. You aren’t going to get rich. But you’ll definitely be able to get by.

    And another thing … if you are what some call “one of the Top Kids” who has already accepted an internship with some other newspaper or media outlet, go ahead and call them to tell them that you’re sorry that you can’t make it, but that something has unexpectedly come up. Then come hang out with us this summer at washingtonpost.com.

    Your career will thank you later.

    And trust me, you’re going to have a whole lot more fun here in the D.C. area with us than you were going to have at that other internship anyway.
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    (UPDATED: I’m joking. Please don’t quit another internship to come hang with us. Unless you really, really want to.)

    E-mail me for more info.