Whitaker interviewed by Jarvis

I know I said my next blog post was going to include some of the behind-the-scenes information and strategies for our team’s new “onBeing” project on washingtonpost.com, but I just received this link to something interesting and I want to share it.

Here is an interview by Jeff Jarvis with Mark Whitaker.

Mark and I both joined Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive at about the same time. And one of the very first projects that our team was asked to be a part of here at WPNI is something that Mark was the brains behind.

I probably shouldn’t talk much about that particular project right now, other than to say it’s something very different than what we normally work on, and I think it will be pretty damn cool when it’s launched … as well as pretty damn popular once people find out about it.

My first impressions of Mark are that he has a ton of great ideas, is really thoughtful, and that I’m betting he comes up with lots and lots of cool stuff in his new role as Vice President of Finding and/or Dreaming Up Cool Things That Help The Washington Post Company Grow Audience and Revenue. (Or something to that effect.)

I can tell you that when our team first started working with him, we all were a little awe-struck! Here was the longtime editor of Newsweek — a guy who’s from Harvard and Oxford, with all of these awards that suggest you never want to face him in any sort of trivia game, and here we were a bunch of nerds from Kansas.

But he’s an extremely down-to-earth guy who even though he’s smarter than a human should be, he doesn’t go around and correct your grammar all day. He’s just a good guy, as this interview with Jarvis will show.

One more thought: As someone noted in the comments section of Jarvis’ blog, I really liked seeing Jeff conduct interviews like this on his blog. And though I’m not suggesting he should abandon his long-time format, I do think these video interviews were a nice treat, and Jarvis is definitely good at them.

I’d love to see more of them from time-to-time.

And I promise, the next post will be about “onBeing.”

Blog about “onBeing” posted here a little late. As usual.

I had really hoped to post something here on Wednesday about our team’s first major project at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, which is called “onBeing.” But time really got away from me on this one, so I didn’t get something posted as soon as I hoped.

My family has long made fun of me for being late, as do my co-workers.

In fact, Levi Chronister — one of the guys on our team who is way too smart to be working with me — often says things like: “The meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m., but my guess is it will be closer to ‘Rob time.’” I’ll let you decide what Levi means by that.

Related to this blog, I think it means that even though I wanted to post something about “onBeing” on Wednesday, it is unfortunately being posted on “Rob time.”

And because I’ve logged such massive hours at work this week (nearly all related to several of our team’s other upcoming projects here at WPNI), if I spend much time on my computer this weekend, my family will be rightfully very upset with me. So, I gotta keep this quick.

I’m going to try to write a proper post about “onBeing” later this weekend, or possibly on Monday.

There are a couple of interesting posts on other blogs about “onBeing” that you should check out if you don’t know what this project is all about. Here is a search of blogs about this project on Technorati, and here is that same search of blogs on google.

Here is a link to Steve Klein’s post about it on Poynter.org’s e-media tidbits.

One of the blog posts that caught my eye was Howard Owens’, which was a list of questions about “onBeing.”

So, until I have time to write a proper post about this project, here are the answers that I wrote to Howard’s “onBeing” questions. (One note: I have changed a few minor things in this response — mostly goofy grammar errors — since I originally posted it on Howard’s blog.)


* Is this something you think the average daily newspaper can copy? If you didn’t have the resources of WaPo, how would you do it? Can a small paper do it?


I would argue that, at least from where I’m sitting, this is just an “updated-for-online” idea that at least some smaller newspapers have already been doing for years. No, make that decades.

I’ve always heard these stories about that “quirky editor” who opened up the phonebook for his or her town, randomly threw a finger into the pages, and then had a reporter write a story about that person.

To me, this is the new-media version of telling the stories of “everyday” people. Just not done as haphazardly as picking someone randomly from the phonebook.

I know in my heart that something like this could be done in a way that is very, very easy to pull off at even the smallest of newspapers — and when I say small, I even mean a small weekly newspaper. I’m convinced of it.

The bigger question to me is not whether a smaller newspaper could do it, but would a smaller newspaper want to do it? It seems to me that when organizations (regardless of size) really want to do something, it gets done.

What would it take?

An inexpensive point-and-shoot camera from Best Buy,or even a pawn shop. A tripod. A non-distracting place to shoot. iMovie (which is free on Macs.) A simple index page for the project on your web site that has links to the video and maybe some thumbnails and a short description.

And then the real key: an interesting person who is OK with talking about his or her life.

It just doesn’t seem to me that you need the resources of The Washington Post to pull that off.

Now, if you were asking about the resources that it took to pull off all the nerdery whiz-bang stuff behind the “onBeing” video player, then I’d say you would have to have some resources dedicated to pull off a project like this. But if that’s what you were talking about, and I don’t think you were, then I’d say you might be missing what the real power and point behind this project is.

To me, the most important skill behind “onBeing” was Jenn knowing what to leave out. Some of these interviews lasted well over an hour. What she did was pick out the most interesting things said, and made it all fit into something that was just a few minutes long. From my perspective, that was the real genius behind “onBeing.”


* How important do you think the format is — studio environment, HD format, etc? to the impact of the content?

At least from the perspective of the new video player that was developed for this project, our goal was to try to experiment with video on the Internet. I love video on news sites. The web teams I’ve been working with have been experimenting with video since my earliest days with Morris Communications back in the 90s.

I totally love YouTube. Heck, I even use Google video (and totally love that some of the clips are downloadable). And I watch video on my iPod on every flight I take.

But with “onBeing” we wanted to question some of the current standards related to online video. Why does it have to be so damn small? Why does it have to be pixelated and poopy-looking? Why are there always a million other things going on with online video players when all I really want is to watch the dang video?

To me, offering HD was just a way to acknowledge that some people have high-res 24-inch monitors.

Do I think any of that is important? No. At least not to the success of “onBeing” as a project that we hope really connects with our audience.

We are getting tons of feedback on this from folks all over the planet, and very few of them are talking about the player or the technology we used. Nearly all of them are talking about the people.

At most, the technology we used was simply about helping the audience see these people better.

So, to answer your question, I don’t think the things you listed are important at all. It’s all about who you’re interviewing and the stories they tell.

And the desire from our newspaper and web site to really do this.


* How big of a role does the name and resources of the WaPo play in being able to convince interesting people to participate?

As journalists, many of us in this profession might relate to The Washington Post brand in certain way, but I’ve found out that the people in the DC area just think of The Post as their local newspaper — no differently than the people in Lawrence thought about the Lawrence Journal-World.

Do I think The Washington Post brand means something in scheduling interviews? Yes, if you’re trying to interview some big-wig senator or a famous actor.

But for this project, I think The Washington Post brand had virtually no bearing on the people who have been interviewed. I can tell you that from Jenn’s perspective, it’s about establishing some trust and rapport with whomever she’s talking to. And in knowing Jenn, she tries to do that with almost everyone she meets. That’s just who she is.

To that point, I’d be willing to bet a steak dinner at the Hereford House in Lawrence that many of these same people would have done these interviews even if they were only going to appear on Jenn’s personal blog.


* How much time and effort does it take to find people interesting enough to profile in this manner?

To be honest, I don’t know. Jenn does that. From hearing her talk about it, many of these first few interviews have mostly just been about connecting with different people she has met in kind of serendipitous ways throughout her time here in DC.

That being said, I can tell you Jenn also is very sensitive to the idea that the only people who are going to show up on “onBeing” will be those folks that she knows or meets, which won’t be the case. She really has an open sensibility and loves getting suggestions and introductions from other folks. Even folks who don’t live in the DC area.

We are getting some great suggestions from people who have visited the site as to other people we should interview.


* How much talent is involved from the journalist in bringing forth the person-behind-the-person aspect of the pieces — the real personality?

Jenn is great at it. The people she is interviewing really trust her and they really open up. It seems to me, great journalists make that happen, and I’ve seen those sorts of journalists at every newspaper I’ve worked at, regardless of the paper’s size.


* How much of an audience do you project will get hooked into OnBeing? How much of the ability to grow audience for this is dependent on it being a product of WaPo?

We’ve never even talked about that. We just wanted to try something different. There were no surveys done beforehand to see if folks wanted something like this. There were no test audiences. We just did what we thought was right.

My guess is that it will get a nice-sized audience. We’re already having way more e-mail sign-ups for reminders than we thought we might have, and the page-views are much higher than what we expected.

Is the audience for “onBeing” going to be bigger because it’s on washingtonpost.com instead of naplesnews.com? I think that’s a pretty safe bet, just based on the differences in the audience sizes for those two newspaper sites.

Finding an audience is a tricky and inexact thing. Our web team has built things in the past that I thought would get a huge audience, and nothing happened. We’ve also built things that we didn’t even think about that got massive numbers.

I don’t know if I can really give a definitive answer to your question.

I’ve seen shows on TV that I thought were brilliant that couldn’t find an audience. We’re just trying to produce something that we feel good about.


* What is more important in retaining audience, format and formula or the ability to find compelling people to profile? Can you build a trusted brand for OnBeing that will allow for a few pieces that don’t resonate with the audience because this or that person turned out to be not that interesting?

It’s all about the people who are being featured. But it’s also about the ability of the editor to be loyal to the essense of those people and to make sure all that gets represented faithfully in the edit.

We all feel that one of the keys to “onBeing” is that we don’t keep choosing the same types of voices.

Like a lot of people, one of my favorite television shows used to be Seinfeld. And even when there were episodes that I didn’t like, I kept watching it. I think most audiences know that when something is consistently good, you don’t give up on it just because one episode didn’t “resonate” with you.


* Do you wind up with profiles that simply fall to the cutting room floor?

I think this could and will happen; it just hasn’t happened yet.


* How much time and effort goes into finding the right people, and do you prescreen, preshoot as a sort of audition?

I think if you read Jenn’s blog responses on the videos, many of those posts kind of talk about how she met these people. There is no pre-shoot audition.

I know Jenn would tell you that more important than the time it takes to find these people is the time she spends with them before shooting, during shooting, and after the shooting.

There is no big secret to how Jenn is finding these people. It’s very organic.

For the longest time, I’ve said that one of the things that I love the most about the members of the web team that I work with is their ability to not overlook the obvious. In the few months I’ve known Jenn, it seems like she’s pretty dang good at that, as well.

When she met a lactose-intolerant cheesemaker, she knew this would be an interesting person to talk with for this project.

Over the last 48 hours or so (since the launch of onBeing), I can’t tell you how many people have stopped me to tell me that they know someone who has to be interviewed for this project. And the e-mailed suggestions are rolling in, as well.

We all know interesting people with interesting stories to tell. I guess the secret is knowing when to turn the camera on.


* If there were imitators from other papers, would that help or hurt the concept — would all boats rise because of the spreading meme, or all boats sink because of a saturated market?

Like I said, I really believe “onBeing” is just the re-interpretation of a long-used traditional newspaper concept. Do I think newspapers and newspaper web sites should find interesting people in their community and introduce them to their entire audience? Yes.

I think our industry trying to really connect with its audience can only be a good thing, whether that’s done through something like this or not.

Studio 55’s daily workflow

This particular blog is a ton of fun to post for two reasons:

No. 1 — It means I’m finally done with writing these monstrously long posts about Studio 55; and …

No. 2 — Earlier today, I received an e-mail from a friend at the Naples Daily News telling me that Studio 55 had won a national Digital Edge award for best multimedia storytelling at the annual Newspaper Association of America conference!

So, let’s get this thing started (and please forgive any typos or other goofs) …


Just like I’ve tried to note before, this is how Studio 55 was put together while I was there, and as I remember it. I’m not sure if things have changed or not.


The Studio 55 team

Some of these folks are still at the Naples Daily News, while others have moved on.

There were four full-time dedicated employees for Studio 55:

  • Denise Spidle — producer and anchor.
  • Denise started working with us while we were still in Lawrence. Back in Kansas, she worked with us on tons of stuff, including helping us with one of our very first podcasts on lawrence.com. She also is a pretty dang good writer, and wrote the bio of Bill Snead for our section about the storied Kansas photographer. I know this will probably get me in trouble with someone somewhere, but I always used to think that Denise had won the genetic lottery because she was as nice as all get out, she was a very talented young journalist, she was as sharp as they come, and she didn’t look anything like how I looked.

  • Alex Adeyanju — sports video shooter who also anchored sports about two times a week.
  • Alex is another talented young journalist from Kansas, even though he graduated from Ohio University. He is a great shooter and video editor who could make even the most routine sporting event look interesting. Alex also was great on-the-air.

  • Brian Kaufman — news and features shooter.
  • As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, Brian was one of those incredibly talented visual journalists we hired from the Brooks Institute.

  • Jim Alred — news and features shooter.
  • Jim was one of the few people on our new media staff in Naples who had a long background with the Naples Daily News. He’d been a sportswriter and an online editor at the paper, and his institutional knowledge was essential for our young staff.

    The show also had one full-time intern, James Graham, who directed the daily show, put it all together, and shot some B-roll.

    But there were more than just those five folks who had a daily hand in the Studio 55 vodcast.

    Tim Richardson was our new media managing editor at naplesnews.com, and he was in charge of getting all of the latest stories from the Daily News newsroom into the vodcast, as well as in charge of editing the news script each day. Tim also conducted most of the on-air interviews with reporters that you saw on the show. All totaled, Studio 55 probably took about two hours of his time each day.

    Ellyn Angelotti was our new media sports editor at naplesnews.com. Ellyn’s background was great because I think her degree was in broadcast journalism, but she worked with us in Lawrence extensively in both online and print. She would produce and anchor the sports segment about three times a week. She would do this in the morning because we typically liked to have the sports segment wrapped up by noon or so.

    Nick Hollensbe and Chris Cost. These two guys built the cool graphics you see on Studio 55. The majority of their time was spent making television spots for commercial customers, but they also built the graphical opens and other graphics for the show. The graphics that you see during the segments that are updated each day (lower-thirds, maps, weather, etc…) were built in a templated way so that the news staff could update those.

    Ryan McAfee was our new media sports intern, but he ended up spending probably half of his time on Studio 55. He would shoot segments in the studio, run teleprompter, or even edit the show together. He was so good at nearly everything related to Studio 55, we eventually put him in charge of putting together our high school football vodcast, which was totally amazing!

    And, lastly, was Cara McCoy. Cara was one of our interns from Ohio University. Cara would update the Studio 55 site each day, and take care of all of the encoding of the different media files. She probably spent an hour or two of her time each day on the project.


    The typical daily schedule

    Planning for Studio 55 happened in two layers: the daily planning and the weekly planning.

    Because the second segment of the show usually had a two-to-four-minute video piece, the planning for that segment often was done in advance, and coordinated with special projects that were running in the newspaper, if possible.

    The daily planning was a different story.

    The news editors at the Naples Daily News would try to have a basic overview of any planned stories that were going to be worked on the next day by print reporters to Tim Richardson by about 6:30 p.m the day before.

    This would allow Tim to do some planning and coordinating for both our Studio 55 and naplesnews.com coverage that next day. What it meant for Studio 55 is that in the morning before our vodcast director (and intern!) came in to the office, he would get a call from Tim to ask him to gather any B-Roll that we might need.

    Tim also used this list of stories from our editors so that either our intern or one of our full-time shooters could go out and get interviews for stories that might benefit from them, etc… Knowing what some of the stories we might have in that day’s vodcast also meant we could get archived footage to go with certain stories. (At least when I was there, we used a lot of archived footage — I don’t even want to know how often we ran our archived footage from Hurricane Wilma.)

    Ellyn Angelotti, our new media sports editor, would usually get into the office at about 9:30 each morning. She told me that the script usually took her about 30 minutes or less to put together, but the real time on her part was waiting for all of the different graphics to render for the sports segment, which she had to build.

    Because Studio 55 was posted and ran on cable at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., most of our sports coverage would either be looking forward to that evening’s events, or would be analysis and deeper interviews of what happened the evening before.

    The video and interviews were shot and edited by Alex Adeyanju. If you’ve ever watched Studio 55, you know that Alex shot a ton for each show. There were usually at least two sports video pieces in each edition of Studio 55. And about two days a week, Alex would do the whole enchilada — shooting the video and anchoring the sports segment.

    (Alex also anchored and shot video for our weekly high school sports vodcast, which ran on the weekends.)

    The daily sports segment on Studio 55 was typically shot between 10:30 a.m. and noon, depending on how things were going.

    During this time, Tim would typically begin getting stories from the news desk so that he could pass them along to Denise. Denise would write the news script each day, as well as most of the second segment and parts of the third segment.

    Denise usually showed up for work at 8:30 or so in the morning.

    Though her day now begins with a news meeting with some of the editors of the newspaper, when we were in Naples together, her day began by pretty much starting immediately on the script for the second and third segments of the show. Depending on how things went, she would often have her parts of the second and third segments shot by noon or 12:30.

    Throughout this time, she also would be working on the graphics needed for her segments.

    Usually about 1 p.m. or so, Tim would begin the Daily News reporter interview that ran in the second segment of the show. People would probably be surprised to know just how many of those reporter interviews were shot on the first take. I always thought the newspaper’s reporters were pretty dang good at them. And that’s saying a lot, because sometimes they could be shot under kind of stressful circumstances.

    It seemed like we always had lots of visitors from newspapers and media companies around the country and the world, and most of them really wanted to see the reporter interview as it was being shot — which meant the reporters were shooting this segment in front of an audience.

    In between all of the different shoots in the morning and early afternoon, the vodcast director would be putting together/editing the segments. The goal was to have the second and third segments completely edited and ready to go by about 2:30 or so.

    Our goal was to have the news script for the 4 p.m. vodcast done by 3 p.m. or earlier, so that it could be shot, edited and done by 3:30.

    It took us about 30 minutes to encode all the different versions of the vodcast so that we could post them by 4 p.m.

    We did have a back-up plan, which unfortunately we had to use from time-to-time, which was to stream the “live” version of the vodcast over the Internet via Windows Media (that was just connected to a television tuned into the local Comcast channel) if we didn’t get it completed in time to post at 4.

    At 4 p.m., several of us would gather around a television and watch the vodcast on Comcast. We’d take notes on things we wanted to change or tweak in any of the segments.

    Tim would then head back over to the newsroom to see if there had been any developments to any of the stories we ran in the 4 p.m. show, as well as to see if there were newer stories we’d like to add for the 6 p.m. vodcast. Our goal was to have the 6 p.m. vodcast shot by about 5:15 or so.

    So, what would we do in the rare instances when we had a breaking sports story, and the sports segment was not only already shot but edited?

    That actually happened a couple of times to us. Once was when a golfer from Naples, Rocco Mediate, who was playing unexpectedly well in the first few rounds of the Masters golf tournament. Because of that, we had the story and related photos appear in the opening news segment of Studio 55, which was how we decided to handle things like that, as well as stories from mid-afternoon state high school sports tournaments, etc…


    Well, I hope these last few blogs have answered some of the questions behind Studio 55, as well as kind of explained what all went into the project. Studio 55 was a ton of work, but also very exciting.

    We really didn’t know what we were doing, and that kind of made it fun.

    I’d never been around a new-media staff that had so much “can-do” spirit. They were talented and fearless. And working with them in Naples was some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my newspaper career.

    Thoughout all of these blogs, I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things, and if there’s something else you’d like more information about, please send me an e-mail.

    I’m probably not going to post anything to this blog for a week or so. But I gotta tell ya, I’m kind of excited for my next post because it will be about our team’s first big project here at washingtonpost.com, which we hope to launch on Feb. 7.

    I can tell you this — it’s a video project, and it couldn’t be any more different from Studio 55 if I wanted it to be.

    The equipment used for Studio 55

    Before I even get started with this post, I have to mention that when I initially compiled this list, I got tons of invaluable help from Nick Hollensbe, who is the video-editing and motion-graphics guru at the Naples Daily News.

    Ever since I started this blog series, I’ve been wondering how to post this list of equipment, because there’s a ton of it.

    As I was putting it together, I thought about trying to provide product links, etc…, (and I may go back and add them) — but to be honest, just pulling this thing together definitely wore out this nerd from Kansas.

    And I’ve tried to proofread this stuff, but I’m kind of posting this late at night after a very long day, so I’m sure there are probably some typos and other goofs that I’ll try to fix later.

    Please kindly overlook and forgive them.

    Lastly, let me say that I am in no way saying that every newspaper should go out and buy all of this stuff, and then try to launch a TV-quality vodcast. The circumstances in Naples were very specific, and we tried to come up with a unique solution for the opportunity we had.

    With all of that out of the way, here goes …


  • When I was at the Naples Daily News we had a Panasonic DVX-100 camera for each of our three main video producers who shot daily, and one lower cost Canon GL-2 to shoot B-roll when needed.
  • In addition, we had three very inexpensive Panasonic 3CCD cameras for breaking news, on-location multi-camera shoots and big news events. When I say inexpensive, I mean probably less than $500.

    We also had three other Panasonic DVX-100 cameras as the full-time cameras in our studio. So, if you’re scoring at home, that’s six total Panasonic DVX-100s, one GL-2, and three cheapies.

    I understand that’s a lot of video cameras for a newspaper of this size.

    Heck, it might be a lot for a newspaper of any size.

    As I’ve tried to explain in earlier posts, the biggest reason we did it at that level in Naples was because we really were trying to created a credible, broadcast-quality program that we knew would be showing up on people’s big-screen televisions via Comcast.

    I can tell you that the quality we were aiming for was the key to getting some of the bigger advertisers on board.

    Now, back to the list …

  • We had two Focus Enhancements Firestore drives which encode video straight onto a hard drive without requiring any video tape. We used these drives for breaking news events and shoots that we needed to turn around quickly.
  • EZ-News was the software we used to manage the script from the show. It was just basic script writing/timing software, that also powered our in-studio teleprompters.
  • We had two mirror-image Teleprompters in the studio. They were 15-inch teleprompters.
  • We used a VT[4] computer switcher with an RX-8 to do all the live switching and editing of the show. All of the packages on Studio 55 were rendered from our visual journalists’ edit workstations into digital files which were copied via a gigabit network onto the VT[4] for use on the show.
  • The VT[4] switched between the three in-studio cameras (those Panasonic DVX-100s I mentioned earlier) via s-video cables.

  • We had a 10-foot Glidecam Jib with a PT-20 remote head for the cool crane moves you see throughout the vodcast each day.
  • To handle audio, we had a separate 20-input hardware Mackie mixer. We also had a 75-foot “snake” (like live bands use — and we even bought it at a local music store) that ran from the mixer in the control room into the studio to connect the mics, etc…
  • For all of our wireless mics, both studio and in the field, we used the Sennheiser Evolution G2 100 Series of products. This family of products includes various transmitters, receivers, and mics. For our wireless audio we used a Sennheiser ME2 omni-directional lavalier mic (this is part of the Sennheiser Evolution G2 100 Series).
  • For our wired lavalier mics, we used Sennheiser MKE-2-PC Omni-Directional lavalier mic.

  • Archiving was handled by keeping the latest month’s worth of shows on a 1 TB hard drive, which also was used to store important B-roll and graphics. I was told by Nick that this was done because it is extremely fast and easy to search and access media on this drive. Every show was archived onto a data DVD and a miniDV tape.
  • There wasn’t a tour of Studio55 that we gave where we weren’t asked how we did the fancy graphics and animations. It was a combination of three things, depending on the project — Adobe After Effects, 3D Studio Max, and a total badass behind the keyboard.
  • In fact, we had two of these badasses behind the keyboard.

    I forgot to mention that other killer graphics guy we had on staff was Chris Cost. When Nick and Chris weren’t creating graphics for Studio 55, they were building commercials for clients.

  • Here is a look at what we used for studio lighting:
  • + Four Image 80 and two Image 20 KinoFlo florescent lights
    + Four Arri 650 watt lights
    + 2 Arri 300 watt lights
    + Light board dimmer
    + Lowel Rifa-88 softbox

    In the control room of the studio, we had a Strand Lighting Series 100 12/24 Channel board. It cost a little over $400 and supported 24 channels.

    Nick told me that the way it worked for us is that we daisy-chained all the lights together into the board and programmed each light to have an address. That address corresponded to a sliding knob that allowed you to dim each light separately or each group of lights separately. So it technically only had one 4-pin XLR connection for DMX lighting and all the lights were daisy-chained to that one connection.

  • Here is a look at the edit workstations in the studio/control room (these are the machines that were used by our three main video producers.):
  • + High-powered Dell XPS desktop computer with Adobe Production Bundle.
    + High-powered Dell XPS laptop computer with Adobe Production Bundle
    + High-powered Mac G5 with Final Cut Pro Studio.
    + Standard Dell desktop computer with Adobe After Effects.

  • Here are what the workstations looked like for our video reporters/anchors:
  • Our on-air folks (some of which also worked full-time as production on our website, as well) had high-powered Dell XPS laptops equipped with the standard Microsoft Office suite and the Adobe Production Bundle so they could update graphics from their stories and edit packages. They also had the EZ News software on their machines for writing scripts.

  • Here’s a look at what’s behind the video wall in the studio:
  • Four 50-inch Plasma televisions were looped together and powered by the Standard Dell desktop computer that I mentioned above. The way we powered our video board was disgustingly easy. Everything we edited for use on the video board was broken into either halves or quarters during the editing process. The plasma TVs were sent one signal, not four separate signals. The four TVs literally just acted like one big monitor.

    Nick and Chris would do a few other little tricks related to the video board during the recording of the newscast. But I’m getting tired, so just give me a call if you want more info on what we did to pull off the effect of having a real video wall, when it wasn’t.

  • We also used a pretty huge Mac desktop for encoding videos into multiple formats on deadline. This machine was a monster, and is probably the most expensive computer I’ve ever had at a place I’ve worked. It was a desktop machine with four 2.5 GHz processers, 8 GB RAM, and a 1 MB cache. It also had two Raid-ed drives to help out. We used ffmpeg to encode the .mpeg and .mp4 versions, and Flash to encode the Flash version (I think).
  • It’s probably obvious what we used to encode the Windows Media version.


    As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, one of the most important parts of Studio 55 was the killer crew. I’ll try to talk about their job responsibilities and daily workflow in the third part of this blog series, which I hope to post sometime next week, unless I get really motivated over the weekend.

    What were the ideas and thoughts behind Studio 55?

    Months before we started working at the Naples Daily News (heck, well before anyone at Scripps had even talked to me about possibly coming to Florida), the publisher there — John Fish — really wanted to do a daily online newscast.

    The working title for this project was “10@4,” which meant 10 minutes of local news at 4 p.m. each day. There was even a prototype of this newscast shot long before our team had arrived in Florida.

    John Fish loves local video on a newspaper site.

    When we worked together at The Topeka Capital-Journal back in 2000, we had a full-time videographer on our staff even back then — so this was not a huge stretch for him. Even before it was en vogue for newspaper publishers to think that video might be a part of our future, Fish thought having locally produced video on our sites was going to be an important part of our industry’s evolution.

    Having just worked at the Lawrence Journal-World, where the newspaper not only owned the local cable company, but also owned a successful local cable television station, I told John that I thought early success for our newscast would be easier if we produced something with a little higher production value than what originally had been thought and to work very hard to get it on the local cable system.

    I saw how powerful the cable system was in Lawrence in helping our newspaper achieve so many things, and I really thought a relationship with the cable company in Naples (Comcast) would be not only one of the keys to a newspaper-produced video news program having success, but also could really help out the newspaper in other ways.

    So we agreed that at least for the first few years, the Studio 55 vodcast should be on local cable, as well as on our web sites.

    Another key to this was that the traditional broadcast TV news programs in Naples were all coming out of Fort Myers. And just as you would expect, the coverage of Naples on these Fort Myers television stations was light at best. (Though they all did seem to kick it up several notches after we launched Studio 55.)

    With the right publisher, the right new media team, the right executive editor, and a city with no local television stations, it just seemed like Naples was a perfect place to try something like this.

    Here is a look, from my point of view and memory, at why we did some of the things that we did on Naples Daily News’ Studio 55 vodcast:

  • Why call it a vodcast?
  • We already had been producing a fairly slick daily audio podcast at the Naples Daily News, so I’m sure the word “podcast” had some sort of inspiration on us. But to be honest, our publisher *really* didn’t want us to call what we were going to produce a “newscast.” In fact, he was adamant about it.

    I never really got to the bottom of why he didn’t want us to use that term, but I always sensed that it was because he wanted us to make a statement that what we were going to be doing was going to be very different from that of a traditional local television news program.

    Plus, vodcast worked a couple of different ways for us. Some on our team thought that it sounded like it was the logical extension for the video version of a podcast, with the “v” standing for the video aspect.

    And then there’s the definition that we promoted heavily in a multimedia promotional campaign: that the “vod” in vodcast stood for Video On Demand — that Studio 55 could be watched whenever and wherever you wanted and on whatever device you wanted.

    It was going to be the first local news program you could watch at the beach.

  • The Look. Part 1.
  • Long before a studio had been built or designed, and even before I had formally accepted the offer to come to the Naples Daily News, the look for Studio 55 was taking shape. That’s because one of the very first people recruited to come with us to Florida was a guy named Nick Hollensbe.

    Nick is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. At any job.

    We first got to work with him at the Lawrence Journal-World. He was an intern at our sister television station. I’m not sure how many people outside of Lawrence ever saw the work that Nick did on our TV spots for lawrence.com and KUsports.com, but those ads were so dang Major League, it was almost scary.

    I remember showing these ads to other newspaper new media folks from major markets, and none of them could believe that we hadn’t hired a huge agency to produce those spots. The production value on those ads by Nick was that impressive.

    When Nick graduated from the University of Kansas, we did everything we could to get him to stay at the Lawrence Journal-World, but he was just way too talented and ended up working at a high-end advertising production studio in New York.

    But we also knew he wasn’t entirely happy in New York. When Nick accepted our offer to come to Naples, I knew Studio 55 was going to have a cool graphical look and lots of high-end production values.

    So, a nice graphical look was going to be a major part of Studio 55. We thought that was important because though I believe it’s completely admirable when newspapers post locally produced video on their sites, those videos tend to look more like home movies than something produced by the biggest news organization in town.

    I’m not going to lie: We hoped that nice graphics might be able to cover some of our rough edges.

  • The Look. Part 2.
  • We wanted much more than just cool graphics on Studio 55. We wanted it to look very different than what most local news programs look like.

    We knew we were going to go with a black set with curved corners and a huge video board in the middle. We knew one of the key camera views would be a camera on a little crane (called a gib) which would give a cool and professional look similar to what is seen on national news programming.

    More importantly, we knew what wasn’t going to be there: an anchor desk. We wanted it to look very different than what people’s pre-conceived notions of what a local news program might look like. And that meant the anchor desk had to go.

    We wanted the anchors to be standing, even walking around the set. We often talked about the look of other television shows like “Access Hollywood.” Mind you, we weren’t interested in the content of shows like “Access Hollywood,” just the look of them.

    We wanted to create what we often called the “interesting contradiction.”

    The contradiction was what the audience might think if they saw the show but couldn’t hear it, versus if they were listening to Studio 55 but couldn’t see it.

    In our minds, if you were only seeing it, you might think the show was a slick celebrity show. However, if you were just listening to it you would probably think it was a very serious local news show. To us that was the interesting contradiction between what the show might seem like visually versus what its actual content was.

  • It’s all about the relationships …
  • A huge part of Studio 55 is the integration with the other media properties that we also operated in Naples.

    The show almost always began with a screenshot of the current homepage of naplesnews.com with our anchor saying, “As first reported on naplesnews.com …”

    Then the stories would nearly always be tied to the reporter or photographer from the Naples Daily News that had provided the information that was given during a story. That was almost always followed by a cool graphic and reference that the viewer could find more about the story by visiting naplesnews.com or reading tomorrow morning’s Naples Daily News.

    We tried very hard to make similar references to our audio podcasts or to an expanded portion available on our web site, and anything else that we had produced that we thought might give the audience more info on the story.

  • Three distinct segments.
  • The first segment was all the latest news that had been given to us by the Naples Daily News newsroom, along with a brief look at weather and traffic, if appropriate.

    The second segment was for expanded interviews with our reporters or for longer video segments, or some mixture of both. We occasionally invited newsmakers — such as a congressman or county commissioner — to appear on the show during this segment. Their appearances were often tied to live chats earlier in the day at naplesnews.com.

    The final segment was sports, that evening’s calendar of events and a look at what our readers were talking the most about on our site. To be honest, the reader quotes segment was one of my favorite parts of the Studio 55 vodcast.

  • Our thoughts on hiring videographers …
  • We decided early on that we wanted the video on Studio 55, especially the longer stories that ran in the second segment, to feel like short-form documentaries.

    We wouldn’t have a reporter doing any sort of stand-up for these longer video stories, and we also wouldn’t have a reporter do any sort of voiceover or narration. The stories would just be natural sound and interviews. And music.

    For some reason, we thought this sort of video storytelling kind of felt like what newspaper storytelling might look like in video format.

    Because of this decision, we were immediately drawn to the work being done by students from the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, Calif. Students there are taught both still and video, and their stuff looked amazing.

    Plus, they fit in really well with the Naples Daily News’ still shooters. They spoke the same language.

    In fact, one of the original Studio 55 videographers now shoots primarily stills for the newspaper.

    Since we launched Studio 55, I think there have been three or four different shooters on the show who graduated from Brooks. We just loved the documentary-feel that they gave the second segment of the show.

  • Video shot tight and the big “lower thirds.”
  • Because we knew we wanted Studio 55 to look great in the smaller Flash video player that would be used on our web site, as well as on smaller screens — such as iPods, etc… — we tried to emphasize shooting things a little tighter than what they normally would be shot for television or typical-sized screens. We really tried to apply this idea to interviews.

    Another thing that we tried to do differently was change the size of the “lower thirds.”

    Lower thirds are the text graphics that you see at the bottom of the screen during interviews, used mostly to identify who is talking. For Studio 55, we made these graphics much larger than the “lower thirds” you see during normal television newscasts because we wanted them to be more easily read on the smaller screens.

    In fact, this philosophy was applied to nearly every graphic, map, etc…, used on Studio 55.

  • Just how long is the show?
  • To be honest, it’s as long or as short as it needs to be.

    Because we were committed to filling 30 minutes of time on Comcast cable each time Studio 55 aired, we initially planned on the show being 15 minutes long, with each segment taking four minutes then having three minutes of ads. Then we’d repeat the whole show again to fill the 30 minutes of cable time.

    It didn’t take us long to realize that trying to keep the editorial portion of the show to 12 minutes was a real problem, so we quickly abandoned even trying to do that.

    That meant sometimes the show would be 18 minutes long. Sometimes it would be 24 minutes long. So what we would do on Comcast was just repeat the certain parts of the show that were needed to fill the 30 minutes. We also had newspaper promotional ads that we could run to help with the time.

    The version of Studio 55 that we posted on the web site was the show with none of the repeated segments.

  • Conceding on the weather. Kind of.
  • Unlike the local television stations in Fort Myers that had several meteorologists on staff and the Super Duper Doppler Radar, we only had the weather info from our newspaper’s web site.

    Because of that, on a typical daily vodcast, we would do the basic weather info in probably 30 seconds or so. That included tomorrow’s high and lows, sunrise and sunset (because sunset is *very* important when the sun sets on your beach every night), and high and low tide … also very important in a beach town.

    If weather was a big story on a particular day, we would then handle it similarly to how we handle weather as a news story in the newspaper — usually talking with one of our newspaper reporters and other sources to get more detail on what was happening with weather.

  • Training for the print journalists?
  • This was the tricky one, because our publisher said the newspaper would pay for any training we wanted to get for our newsroom. But he also dissuaded us from doing it.

    The reason is that we often said we were trying to produce something that was very different than what local television stations typically produce. Because of that, he wondered why we would bring in television professionals (or the educators who taught them) if we were really trying to do something that was so different than what was typically out there.

    He also promised that if we still thought the newspaper reporters needed training, he’d spring for it in a second.

    So instead of having folks come in and tell us what we should do and how we should act, we just dove in. We actually began shooting versions of Studio 55 about a month before we planned on posting the show on our site and having it appear on Comcast.

    As it got closer and closer to the launch date, we realized we kind of liked how it looked, and we loved how the print reporters were doing on the show. We told them to just act like they normally acted when talking to an editor or someone like that about a story. We told them not to worry about their make-up or how they dressed. And if they were wearing their press badge around their neck or had brought their notepad with them, all the better.

    We emphasized to them that they were journalists and the only thing we wanted them to worry about was the journalism.

  • Was it live?
  • Nope.

    Because we offered multiple formats of Studio 55 on naplesnews.com, it meant we actually had a fair amount of encoding time to get the show ready for posting on the site. To get all of the formats posted on the site by our designated times, the final edited version of Studio 55 had to be completed by 3:30 in order to be posted on our site by 4 p.m.

    Because the show wasn’t live, it meant it was not shot in the order that it appeared. In some ways, that made it kind of shot like a movie is shot … out of order.

    Because Studio 55 ran at 4 and 6 p.m., we didn’t have all of the latest sports scores and such, so the sports segment was usually the first segment shot each day, usually around 11 a.m. or so.

    If a show had an expanded interview with a reporter that appeared in the first or second segments of the show, those were typically shot at around noon or so.

  • What changed between the 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. editions of the vodcast?
  • The second and third segments usually stayed the same between 4 and 6 p.m. editions, but the opening news segment often changed because our newsroom had updates to stories or had newer stories for us.

  • Why the goofy name?
  • Long story short: Scripps is a huge company and wanted us to “vet” through the company’s corporate legal department every possible name we might want to use.

    We came up with something like 20 names. As I remember it, only two made it out of the legal process: Studio 55 and something even worse. I think the other name that we were cleared to use was something like “Webvision” or some nonsense like that.

    So, how did Studio 55 make it on to the list in the first place? Well, “55” was the number in the street address of the building where the studio was built.


    My next post will be a detailed look at the equipment we used to put together the Studio 55 vodcast.

    And one of the most important parts of Studio 55 was the killer crew. I’ll try to talk about their job responsibilities and daily workflow in the third part of this blog series, which I hope to post either over the weekend or early next week.

    Still so many questions about Naples’ Studio 55

    When I left the Lawrence Journal-World to go work at Scripps’ Naples Daily News, I thought I would be there for a minimum of three years, and likely more. I was reuniting with a publisher, John Fish, who I had a great past with while I was in Topeka, and I like and really respect the heck out of Scripps new media boss Bob Benz.

    Plus, Naples is one of the most beautiful cities on the planet, even if there are a lot of things there that can eat you.

    And to say that we had “buy-in” from the highest levels of the Scripps company is the understatement of understatements. It was much more than just a publisher who “got it.”

    (Though don’t underestimate how important working with the right publisher is. Sometimes when I’m speaking at a conference I’ll get a response that is something like, “well, my newspaper’s publisher would never go for this.” And my answer to that is always something like, “that’s why I’m never going to work for your publisher.”)

    Anyway …

    Leaving Lawrence was very hard for me, and something that I thought about nearly every day I was in Florida, but I learned a ton while working in Naples — and most of the folks at Scripps/Naples were not only helpful, but extremely knowledgeable. Scripps is a classy organization.

    Plus, you’ve got to add to that equation that the editor of the Naples Daily News, Phil Lewis, is one of those handful of newspaper editors in the U.S. who doesn’t just give lip service to evolving a newsroom to the needs of new media. He does it. He acknowledges that things are different than from when he entered the business, instead of trying to just hang on to history. But more importantly than that, he’s just a damn fine editor and I hope our paths cross again in the future.

    I only ended up being in Naples for about 14 months, and no one was more surprised about that than me.

    Ultimately, the pull to work at The Washington Post was just too much, especially with my good friend, mentor and former Post photo-god Bill Snead telling me that I “had to do this.” Not to mention that every time I met with the leadership team at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, I was more and more impressed with not only who was running the joint, but the vision.

    Even though I’ve been gone from the Naples Daily News for at least three or four months, I still get at least one e-mail a week, if not more, with questions about the Studio 55 vodcast.

    So, I’ve decided that because a bunch of our new projects here at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive are about to launch in the next few weeks and I want to discuss those here as they are released, I’d better post some stuff about Studio 55 before it’s too late.

    First off, I gotta say that Studio 55 ranks up there with lawrence.com as one of my all-time favorite projects. (KUsports.com is the site I easily visit the most from my professional life, but lawrence.com was probably more gratifying because of all that it meant.)

    Like lawrence.com, Studio 55 was a project that had at least a couple of months of planning and loads of prep work before it launched. Also like lawrence.com, I talked a lot about Studio 55 within the community and the media industry before it launched.

    In some ways, I kinda like when projects require me to explain them numerous times to several different groups of people because by the time you launch them you really have a clear vision and understanding about them because you’ve had to verbalize the vision so much.

    So, here’s how I’m going to do this. Unless, something goes terribly wrong, or my infamous Adult ADD kicks in, my plan is to break this into two or three posts, likely broken down like this:

  • A discussion about the strategy/thinking behind Studio 55;
  • a look at the equipment we used to produce Studio 55;
  • a look at what daily production and staffing looked like.
  • To be continued …

    Interview with Italian newspaper

    This morning, I’ve been receiving e-mail from folks in Italy, which I think means that Corriere della Sera has now ran a story about the new-media strategies used by some U.S. newspapers. (At least that’s what I think the story is about. I haven’t seen it, but even if I had, I can’t read Italian.)

    Since I did the interview with Alessandra Farkas, a New York-based correspondent for the Italian newspaper, I’ve been told by a couple of my colleagues and friends that Corriere della Sera is a really great European newspaper. In the reporter’s note to me, Farkas said Corriere della Sera is the oldest and most widely read Italian daily newspaper with a circulation throughout the world that exceeds 6 million.

    The interview was conducted via e-mail during the recent holiday. The questions were definitely not what I expected, or what I’m typically asked.

    What’s wild is that some of the dates I gave in this interview just a few weeks ago have already changed!

    Anyway, here is the transcript:


    1. Can you explain your strategy in reviving the Washington Post – Newsweek Group in detail, citing specific examples? In other words, how do you plan on curing the patient?

    To be honest, I’m such a tiny part of the overall strategy that it’s almost unfair for me to answer this question.

    I can tell you what my team is focusing on, if that’s what you’re asking.

    When our team was in Topeka or Lawrence or Naples, people called a lot of what we did “hyper-local journalism.” And for as long as I can remember, it’s been said that what we did in those cities could never work in a major market.

    Well, we’re working very hard to show that it can be done.

    Our hope is that our first take on what “hyper-local” content looks like for a site that is the size of washingtonpost.com will be available to the public in March or April. It will be for a suburb of Washington, DC.

    If you’ve ever seen the guides we’ve built in the past for churches, restaurants or schools, or seen the depth of our calendar of local events, or any of the other databases we’ve built, and then seen how we’ve layered it all with multimedia, new technologies, community publishing tools and a big dose of journalism that embraces the Internet, then make it work on any device you can dream of, then you’ve got an idea of what this might look like on washingtonpost.com. Not to mention, one heck of a run-on sentence.

    We’re also working very closely with the incredibly gifted journalists in The Washington Post newsroom on special projects that expand their stories with all of the things that make the Internet such a powerful story-telling environment.

    And my favorite part of our team’s responsibilities is that we’ve been asked to dream up new tools and gizmos that we hope will excite our readers as much as they excite us.

    To be honest, I can’t believe I get paid to do this. It’s my dream job.


    2. Historically newspapers have had to reinvent themselves every ten years to keep in step with the times. Does this present challenge follow the same pattern or how is it different?

    Relevant newspapers that connect with their audiences have always been changing … and not just every ten years.

    I think our industry’s opportunity right now is to show our audience that we really want to engage in a dialogue with them and we want to work with them when big events affect our community to help keep our community informed. We also want them to turn to us in any format they want. If they want us on an iPod, we need to be there. If they want us to send live scores from their favorite team’s games, we need to do that. If we can figure out how to beam content directly to our readers’ brains, we should do it.

    But in doing that, we can’t overlook our journalistic responsibilities. We’ve got to understand that all of this technology is just another way for us to balance little “j” journalism with big “J” journalism — covering the biggest stories and the smallest stories and connecting with our community.

    In my opinion, what were going through right now is nothing more than showing our audience that we are relevant, both from a content perspective and a technological perspective. Though our relationship with our readers is different than the relationship their parents might have had with us, it’s still an important connection.


    3. Today, what do newspapers in their print form represent?

    There is all of this doom and gloom out there right now, but people forget that the print editions of newspapers are still a hugely powerful way of reaching a mass audience. If they didn’t have an impact and great reach, stores would quit buying ads in them and politicians wouldn’t care what we wrote in them.

    But if you’re looking at it from a literal perspective of what I think newspapers currently represent, the print product is just one of the ways we reach an audience. It’s one of the platforms we use to keep people informed.


    4. How would you describe or define consumers who use newspapers as their primary or sole source of news?

    Informed. Smart. Charming. Good-looking.


    5. What do you feel the future holds for print newspapers? Is the writing on the wall? What must newspapers do in order to survive?

    Newspapers are going to survive. Will we be doing things the way we’ve always done them? Absolutely not.

    In the United States, there are two types of newspaper publishers — those who think the most important part of the word newspaper is “news” and those who think the most important part of that word is “paper.” If you work for a publisher or a company that thinks “paper” is the most important part of that word, then my suggestion would be to get your resume ready.

    We can’t be afraid of reaching our audience in new ways. It will be one of the keys to our industry’s successful future.

    There’s another big factor to future success that we better understand and that is that we better understand and appreciate that people consume information differently now.

    I used to work at a newspaper where if something big happened in Israel at 7:30 in the morning our time, the managing editor at that newspaper would still insist that we lead with that story in the next day’s newspaper because that is what this newspaper had been doing for decades. So, when our readers woke up the next morning, our newspaper’s lead story was at least 24 hours old. With the Internet and 24-hour news channels and a million other ways to keep informed, newspapers can’t keep pretending we’re the only game in town.

    Yet that’s what a ton of editors in the United States still do every dang day. Should we have that Israel story in our newspaper? Absolutely. Should we pretend that the only way that people get the news is through us? Not if we want to send our kids to college.

    The newspapers that pretend they are still they only way people learn anything are going to fail. As my friend Bob Cauthorn says, “Having a seat at the table is more interesting than sitting at the head of the table.” And if we just embrace that idea, our industry will be fine. If we keep pretending that nothing has happened until we print it, then the newspaper industry is going to be in a lot of trouble.


    6. If you were to speak with a publisher in Italy whose media group was facing the same challenges as an analogous American media company, what are some precise suggestion you would give in order meet those challenges?

  • Own breaking news. Don’t let any other media in your community ever beat you on a developing local news story. As soon as we know something, we need to have it on our Web sites, on our mobile-phone editions, and in the e-mail box of every subscriber who wants it. We have to train our readers that they should want to turn to us several times a day, and absolutely turn to us when they know something big has just happened. Regardless of what some traditional print reporters think, you can’t scoop yourself by posting something early on your own newspaper’s Web site. Get over it. That sort of thinking will kill us in this new era.
  • Hyper-local content. The Internet may be a global medium, but it’s local content that sets most newspaper sites apart. And getting granular with everything from local kids’ sports stories to neighborhood politics is how newspapers will win. National and international news is a commodity that every site can have. For most local newspaper sites, local news produced by its newsroom is how our industry will win on the Internet.
  • Embrace databases. Calendars. Restaurants. Churches, Taxes. Home sales. Traffic tickets. Crime. Anything that can be searched like that should be on your site. People want that sort of information, and we should want to make sure that they know the newspaper can give it to them.
  • Multimedia. Using video, audio, Flash animations, etc…, should be a key part of a “new” newspaper’s toolbelt. Youtube.com and iTunes are successful for a reason — multimedia is now a hugely important part of the Internet. If your publisher hasn’t heard of youtube or iTunes, get your resume ready.
  • Evergreen content. Evergreen content is content that you build once that can last forever on your site. Sometimes amazing evergreen content appears in our print edition, and all we need to do is compile it and make it easy to find on our Web sites – things like local guides, etc… But sometimes evergreen content needs to be built or collected just for the Web site. Evergreen content can be anything — the history of your city, all of the information you can gather about someone famous from your city, maybe an overview of your local sports team’s greatest season, etc…
  • Make sure your content can work on any device imaginable. Web. E-mail. RSS. iPods. Mobile phones. Other mobile devices. Sony PSPs. Right now, I really think newspapers should be focusing in on content for mobile phones.
  • Make sure your newspaper isn’t a monologue, but a dialogue with you audience. Can readers’ post comments on stories? Can they easily contact reporters and editors from each story? Are public-produced blogs on your site? Can readers easily post their own photos, video and text on your site, etc…?
  • ===

    7. Is it possible to harness the challenge of new interactive media (blogs, YouTube, etc.,) in a way to help relaunch newspapers or will these different mediums always be competing entities?

    Is it possible for us to function in an interactive, two-way environment? Absolutely. Newspapers absolutely need to embrace these sorts of things. Several very smart newspapers already are doing this in very powerful ways.


    8. Do you feel that European media faces the same challenges as their American counterparts or is there a difference? Please specify.

    I can tell you that from this side of the ocean, it looks like some European newspapers are very open to trying new things. The success of all of those new free dailies and that several European newspapers seem much more advanced than U.S. newspapers when it comes to things like text messaging to mobile phones seems to show a lot of promise. I travel to Europe at least a couple of times each year to visit different media companies, and I always learn new things and am always impressed.

    I was at a newspaper conference in Vienna earlier this year and I heard this very smart newspaper executive, I think from somewhere in Scandinavia, say something to the effect he’s heard all about the problems of our industry, but that he just wasn’t seeing it. He basically said that any way you could gauge the success of a newspaper showed that his paper was stronger than ever. Revenue was up. Circulation was up. Everything was great.

    I’m not a futurist. I can’t emphasize that enough. But that being said, I think it would be foolish to pretend that European newspapers are immune to the sorts of problems that newspapers in the United States are experiencing now. I agree with others who feel that European newspaper publishers who think the problems American newspapers are facing is something unique to the United States are making a grave error in judgment. If things are going great for many European newspapers, which I honestly don’t know either way, then I would say this is a perfect time to get aggressive. I think it makes much more sense to put together a strategy based upon foresight and logic instead of desperation. There are a lot of newspapers in the United States whose new-media strategies sure seem like desperation to me right now.


    9. If you were to look into a crystal ball what would you see as our information sources in 50 and 100 years?

    As I said earlier, I’m not a futurist. But I do have some guesses about a few things.

    You know, most of the members of my team are younger and smarter than me. And one of the things that I find so interesting about them is that they call the organizations that produce music “record companies.” Yet there probably isn’t a single member of my staff who has ever bought a record. They’ve bought CDs, maybe cassettes, and they definitely use mp3s. But not actual records, and yet that’s still what they call these companies.

    If there is any industry that has screwed up the Internet more than newspapers it’s the record companies. But maybe what’s happened with the record companies, at least as far as general perception is concerned, is similar to what might happen to the newspaper industry.

    What if everyone still calls us newspapers, even if in the future we’re producing content that is available in just about any format except on paper?

    I think in the future, we’ll still be called “newspapers” but what that will really mean is the organization that documents the living history of a society, and does it in every way that our audience wants it.

    And that might include paper. But it might not.

    What I’m trying to say is that the definition of what a newspaper is will likely change.

    One of my favorite quotes about the future of journalism was said nearly 75 years ago by the publisher of small daily newspaper in rural Kansas. His name was William Allen White, and he was hugely influential publisher in the United States during his time, and I think it’s a shame that he’s not as influential now. He’s definitely a hero of mine, and not just because we’re both newspaper guys from the same state!

    Look at this quote from him that he wrote in a personal letter back in 1931:

    “Of course as long as man lives someone will have to fill the herald’s place. Someone will have to do the bellringer’s work. Someone will have to tell the story of the day’s news and the year’s happenings. A reporter is perennial under many names and will persist with humanity. But whether the reporter’s story will be printed in types upon a press, I don’t know. I seriously doubt it. I think most of the machinery now employed in printing the day’s, the week’s, or the month’s doings will be junked by the end of this century and will be as archaic as the bellringer’s bell, or the herald’s trumpet. New methods of communication I think will supercede the old.”

    What that quote from William Allen White shows me is that a publisher from generations ago knew more precisely what our industry is about then many of his modern counterparts.

    One essential strategy or philosophy I also swear by came from another Kansas journalist: Bill Snead. Bill and I worked together at the Lawrence Journal-World and I learned more about journalism from him than I have from probably anyone else in my career. Bill always told me that the most important thing we could do was to have a connection with our audience, a relationship that meant as much to them as it did to us.

    That’s important because being a great newspaper isn’t about the medium. It’s not about if a paper version of what we produce exists in the future. What matters most is that the relationship with our audience survives. That’s the real issue that newspapers should be focusing on.


    10. If you were offered a position as a consultant to an Italian media empire, would you accept?

    I don’t speak the language. I don’t know the local cultures and history. I don’t know all of the little things that make a newspaper Web site successful. Because of that, all I really could do is tell you what our team has done here in the United States, why we did it, and why I think it worked.

    But if you’re offering me a trip to Italy, can I bring my family?


    What sort of things should an aspiring journalist be thinking about?

    Back in November of 2004, I posted a long-winded blog about my thoughts on the state of journalism education.

    One of my main points in that post was that some of the most close-minded journalists I’d ever met were the young reporters straight out of J-School, and that I thought the blame for that should be shouldered by the programs that instilled that mindset.

    Our industry has gone through a lot since I wrote that post, but I’m sad to say I still see much of that same near-disdain-for-new-media attitude in far too many of the younger reporters in our newspaper newsrooms. In fact, if we want to do something cool on one of our sites, we’re much more likely to get help from either a mid-career journalist or a senior reporter.

    And I’m not alone in seeing this. Howard Owens notes that he sees the same thing.

    (Important sidenote: I’m not saying there aren’t some really talented, new-media focused recent J-School grads out there. Here at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, we have Cara McCoy, who just graduated from Ohio University. Cara is one of the sharpest young journalists I’ve ever met. And at the Naples Daily News, Ira Spitzer and Tovin Lapan (both recent grads from Berkeley), and Denise Spidle and Ellyn Angelotti (both from the University of Kansas) are doing some amazing things that will change your thoughts about what a local newspaper can be.)

    Anyway, back to my original point …

    So, earlier this month when I saw a post from Bryan Murley to the Poynter listserv asking for “advice for aspiring journalists,” I knew I was going to try to send something to him. Bryan is one of the main people behind “Innovation in College Media,” a blog about new media and college media organizations.

    Here is what I sent Bryan:


    Know how to write. Know how to tell a story. Know how to conduct an interview. Know how to research your ass off.

    Traditional journalism skills will *never* go out of vogue. I don’t care what the latest gizmo is, the foundation that everything will be built upon are those core journalism skills.

    But also understand that things are changing rapidly in our industry. Look at this job posting for a Scripps newspaper in Florida and ask yourself if you are qualified for this job:

    “We’re looking for an energetic, talented reporter who thrives on competition to work in a fast-growing community in South Florida for a 50,000-circulation daily consistently judged one of the state’s best newspapers. The successful applicant will be able to beat the competition online as well as in print and will embrace the opportunities and challenges inherent in our award-winning, constantly evolving Web site. A high tolerance for hurricanes probably would be a plus.”

    Skillset is important. But mindset is most important.

    When you combine strong traditional journalism skills with a great mindset, you’ve got a journalist who’s going to be fine regardless of what new things or technologies come our way.

    Work with your news organization’s new media editors to post stories early. Know when a story could benefit from an audio interview, such as when a source has an interesting speaking style, is emotional, etc… Know when a story could benefit from extra photos, a steerable 360-degree panoramic photo to give your audience a better visual understanding of the story, or even a video clip.

    Would it be interesting to have a live online chat with one or more of the sources in a story? Would a searchable database of public records help your readers better understand your story? Would an online forum or an interactive poll question on your newspaper’s site really add to the public dialogue that goes along with your story?

    Be willing to learn and do new things.

    That doesn’t mean that you need to learn how to edit video or audio, or know how to build something in Flash, or understand how to work with HTML (though none of those things would be bad to know). It just means you need to be open-minded about learning to do things you’ve never done before. I just can’t emphasize how important mindset will be in the “new” newsroom.

    Newsrooms are getting smaller. My gut tells me that the journalists who are going to survive all of this recent goofiness will be the ones who are committed to the journalism, not the medium.

    And my biggest advice would be to have at least one portfolio piece that shows you understand the importance of the things I’ve listed above. If you want to impress an editor who is hiring, show him/her that you aren’t just willing to do these sorts of things, but that you can’t wait to do these sorts of things.

    All things being equal, who do you think gets the job: the person who hands over a bunch of photocopied newspaper clips, or someone who also sends a link to a well-done multimedia project?

    Cutting it a little close …

    I know this is probably old news, but the Newspaper Association of America has named me to its industry magazine’s 2006 list of the “20 under 40.”

    I was nominated by Gregg Jones, the former chairman of the NAA and the publisher of The Greeneville (Tenn.) Sun.

    I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to be nominated by Gregg. He is definitely one of the people I really, really look up to in this business, and someone that I probably talk with on the phone at least every other week. Everytime I talk with Gregg, even if it’s just a casual conversation, I learn something new.

    The best part about being a member of the NAA’s current “20 under 40” class is that I just barely qualify. I’m closer to 40 then I am 30. That surprises people because I’m often told that I act a lot younger, say maybe closer to 13 or 14.

    As a part of the online version of the “20 under 40” stuff on the NAA’s site, I was asked to answer some additional questions. Here are those responses:


    In what ways do you think your current position will change over the next five years?

    Right now, even after 10 years of online publishing for most newspapers, there still is a feeling in our industry that there are newspaper people and there are new media people. I have little doubt that in five years there won’t be that kind of distinction. We’ll all be on the same team, and the word “newspaper” will mean the organization that helps its community live a better life by communicating through printed pages, video, audio, online, via cell phones, and in ways we haven’t even thought of yet.

    Reaching our readers in many different ways will just be something that we all do. We won’t even think twice about it.

    What’s the best career advice anyone ever gave you?

    While I was at the Lawrence ( Kan.) Journal-World, Bill Snead taught me that it’s not about the technology, which can be more than a shock to the system for a person whose career is new media. Yet, I’m not sure it can be said enough. He emphasized to me that what our industry really is about is connecting with our audience. Technology is nothing more than developing new ways of connecting with our audience and giving them something that they never knew they needed, but love having.

    Bill always said we have to give our readers these little gifts and surprises whenever we can. The key is the connection, not the delivery method or the software. With every project, I now ask myself a million times, “How does this connect to our readers and what are they getting out of this?” Taking newspapers into the digital world isn’t about the coolest software; it’s about the coolest connection we can make with our audience.

    What three things would you change about the newspaper industry?

    * Sometimes, I get the feeling that I’m viewed as a radical. Yet, I don’t see myself as a radical—instead as a realist who loves this industry. I say that because there seems to be so much doom and gloom out there right now when it comes to the newspaper industry, and, to be honest, there is no other period in American journalism that I wish I was a part of. We should be excited about our current challenges, not freaked out about them. The doom and gloom has got to go because it just feeds upon itself. Talk about an industry with a self-esteem problem!

    * We can’t be afraid of changes in our business model. It seems like things are definitely more complicated than they’ve ever been, but the opportunities also are greater. We shouldn’t be afraid to reinvent a dying revenue stream before it dries up completely. We shouldn’t be afraid of margins that look differently than they did five years ago. It seems like we spend so much time worrying and talking about the industry and the institution, when instead I think we should be talking about what our readers and advertisers want. My gut tells me that if we focused more on what our readers and advertisers, everything else would take care of its self.

    * We should be investing more in new ways to serve readers and advertisers. When I worked at the Lawrence newspaper, our publisher there always said we need to be driving with our brights on, and man, oh man, was he right. Right now, it feels like there aren’t enough people in the newspaper industry driving with their brights on.


    Well, I hope everyone has a great holiday! I am back in Kansas right now, and I can’t tell you how frickin’ good it feels to be home for the holidays. Damn, I love this place.

    Cover a Prom?!?! Have you lost your damn mind?

    The November issue of Fast Company magazine has a story in it about some of the stuff we’ve done over the last 10 years or so. Though I was very honored that a magazine that I not only read, but subscribe to would want to do something on our work and and strategies, I really have mixed emotions about the article.

    Anyone who has ever heard me talk at a conference or visited one of my places of employment knows all of what we do is really a team project. I do everything I can to emphasize that this is a long way from being a one-nerd show, because it is. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the smartest and most talented people on the planet — Adrian Holovaty, Simon Willison, Dan Cox, Nick Hollensbe, Ed Coyle, Randy Ryan, Levi Chronister, Eric Moritz, Tim Richardson, Ellyn Angelotti, Ira Spitzer and Deryck Hodge to name just a very few.

    And the Fast Company article really never focused on that, even though I not only mentioned those people but suggested that many of them be interviewed (which they were) … and that kind of bummed me out.

    On the other hand, for the first time in my career, my mother actually understands what I do for a living, and that’s all because of this article.

    Another interesting aspect of the article has been the huge amount of e-mail and phone calls I have received from journalists all over the world since it was published.

    One of the common themes I hear from both friends and strangers who have e-mailed me relates to this part of the Fast Company story:

    The irony is that Curley is teaching newspapers to do the very thing they did so well for so long: cover the local community. “I don’t think I’m new media,” he says. “I’m old school. I think newspapers lost their way and started focusing on big investigative stuff and forgot to cover the prom or 10-year-olds playing baseball.” Not the Daily News. It’s running a yearlong series exploring the lack of affordable housing in the area, including an online database of 100,000 home sales during the past three years.

    As one person wrote, there definitely sounds like a “contradiction” in that paragraph. And there is.

    Anyone who has worked with me for even an hour knows how much I *love* huge enterprise stories. I loved them when I was a reporter and I love them now that I’m more in an editor’s role. Heck, the paragraph in question even mentions the massive affordable housing project we were working on in Naples.

    The point I was trying to make in the quote in that paragraph was I think that if you were to ask a roomful of editors or reporters if they would rather work on a huge enterprise series or a big package that gave a nice overview of one of the big events that happen in most people’s lives (such as the prom), my guess is that the majority of those journalists would say they would much rather do the big investigative piece. And that’s not a sin, or even a wrong response as I see it.

    But to me, there also is nothing more honorable than documenting the living history of a community — and that’s one of the things I strongly feel a local newspaper should do. People turn to their local newspaper for so many reasons, and I don’t think as an industry we should overlook that many of our readers look to us for a sense of community. To me, that means things like the prom should be important to us because things like the prom are important to our readers.

    Do I think that big newspapers like the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune or LA Times should cover the local proms in their region? I honestly don’t know. I’ve only worked at a big newspaper for about six weeks, and I’m having enough trouble finding the damn bathroom in our building, let alone participating in decisions like that.

    That being said, my gut tells me that if large metro newspapers want to be considered the “local” newspaper, they should try to cover at least some of these types of events.

    And if they don’t, I’m betting some other news organization will step in to fill that void. It’s the small newspapers — the tiny daily and weekly newspapers — that are still doing really well right now and I don’t think that’s an accident. Many of these small papers cover things as local as the prom and I’m convinced that sort of relevancy is one of the keys for readers who have more and more options.

    I know the New York Daily News and New York Post can be snarky, but there’s no doubt they feel like local newspapers. And maybe that’s why their circulation numbers are going up. (Which I fully admit to not knowing the exact reasons behind because I’m neither a circulation director nor a research analysis.)

    I’m not for one second suggesting all newspapers should run huge headlines that might be more than a little over-the-top with stories that follow suit, but maybe a lot of the other local things that these two newspapers are doing strikes a chord with big-city readers. Maybe the New York Daily News and New York Post know how to do “local” in one of the biggest cities in the world.

    My point is this:

    There is big “J” journalism and little “j” journalism, and I feel newspapers have the obligation to provide both for their communities. We have to do all that we can to continue to be the Fourth Estate — to be the watchdogs. But we also shouldn’t be too big for our britches to cover the little things that mean so much to our readers.

    We absolutely shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed to give our audiences the things that help them live their daily lives better or make them smile … and give it to them in whatever way they want it: in print, online, on mobile phones through both browsing and text messages, on iPods, with RSS feeds, via e-mail, through instant messaging, etc…

    As I probably say too often, if we can figure out how to beam our content to readers’ asses, we should do it immediately. Even content about the local prom.