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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Informed. Smart. Charming. Good-looking.

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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.

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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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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:

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    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:

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    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.

    So, what sites do you like?

    I probably get asked at least once a week for a list of the sites that I like or visit regularly. I get the feeling people must think I have stumbled on to a few super-secret sites that act as my muse. I also get the feeling they’re a little surprised when I finally get around to telling them which sites I like and why.

    This weekend, I received an e-mail from someone in the UK who posed that very familiar question to me. After writing a fairly lengthy e-mail in response, I decided to post parts of it here. Though I also added and tweaked a few things to that initial response, as well.

    So here it is, a look at the sites I visit and other general ramblings regarding my own pesonal web activity … as of Oct. 30, 2006.

    ++++++++++++++++

    My favorite newspaper site in the US — other than the sites we’ve built 😉 — is roanoke.com.

    I like that site a lot because the folks there do such a good job on so many fronts: they seem to keep the site updated all the time with local news, it’s a news site that actually embraces the things that make the Internet such a great medium (from both technological and content perspectives), they’re always trying new things like video podcasts, and they’re not afraid of showing some personality.

    There are lots of other news sites doing interesting things, but — at least in my mind — roanoke.com clearly tries harder, or at least does it better. That site just seems a little more nimble than most other newspaper sites in the US.

    But I don’t visit roanoke.com every day. I try to check in on it every few weeks to see what they’re up to. The reason I don’t visit the site more often than that is because it is clearly a local site for its local community, and I really have no ties or reasons to care what’s happening in Roanoke on a daily basis … other than that there is a badass newspaper site there.

    The sites that I do visit on a daily basis tend to be more about things that I love or am interested in, which I think makes me a fairly typical Internet user. For the most part, these aren’t the most technologically advanced sites or even super well-designed sites, but I like them because they have the stuff that I want.

    OK, this usually surprises people, but I’m a huge Disney nut. And I visit several Disney fan sites and blogs whenever I can — which amounts to at least once or twice a day.

    My current favorite Disney sites are wdwmagic.com (the discussion forums in the middle of homepage are really great and very informative, and there are lots of insanely recent photos posted there, but newbies need to be careful what they post because some of the regulars — though very knowledgable — can be mean); jimhillmedia.com has more long-form posts from a few folks with seemingly inside ties that mix news with opinion and speculation; and thedisneyblog.com is more of a traditional blog that links to other interesting things on the Web.

    The laughingplace.com and mouseplanet.com also are good sites, but I don’t get to them as much as I’d like. I also really like a Disney themepark history blog called the Pickle Barrel, which can be found at perkypickle.blogspot.com.

    What I’m guessing many people just noticed is what I didn’t list: I don’t visit any of the official Disney sites or any “traditional” news sites for updated information on the company. The fan blogs do a much better job of talking about the company than the official sites do. And if a “traditional” news organization runs an interesting story on Disney, then the fan blogs are all over it, so it’s much easier to just visit them each day than it is to run searches on traditional news sites for that sort of info.

    Disney used to produce a killer (and official) weekly podcast about its theme parks. Yes, it had a lot of promotional stuff in there, but it also was very informative and gave lots of behind-the-scenes insight with tons of interesting interviews. That Disney podcast went on hiatus for several months and just returned. It is now being produced by different folks at the company. The new version has much slicker production values, but it’s changed from something truly informative and useful to something that seems much more akin to an infomercial. My guess is that I will keep subscribing to it, but it sure ain’t what it used to be, and the most-recent episode wasn’t even encoded correctly to work on an iPod. 😦

    Speaking of podcasts, I subscribe to lots of them because they allow me to take in the things that I’m interested in on my terms and schedule. My current favorite podcast is nothing more than the audio from a daily sports show on ESPN called PTI (Pardon the Interruption). Even though it is originally a television show, it works surprisingly well as just audio. Maybe even better.

    In a related note, I also download my favorite television show (NBC’s Studio 60) from iTunes each week for many of the same reasons that I like the PTI podcast — having the show on my iPod means I can watch it whenever and where ever I want.

    I really believe newspapers need to be doing more with podcasts. In Naples, we put a lot of effort into them. They were moderately successful, but my guess is that it’s still going to take a little longer for podcasts to really catch on with larger audiences. My gut tells me that “on-demand” multimedia programming is really going to be popular. Just ask anyone who owns a Tivo or has a cable DVR. It definitely changes how — and when — they watch TV.

    BTW … I think ESPN.com is very, very good for many of the same reasons that I outlined for roanoke.com. ESPN.com really pushes things and seems fearless when it comes to trying new things. I don’t know how the rest of the public feels about it, but I love the video player on the ESPN.com homepage, and I probably end up watching an entire clip directly from their homepage at least two or three times a week.

    I love the Kansas City Royals baseball team even though they completely suck. The team’s official site (done by MLB.com) is surprisingly good, especially in regards to being updated all of the time, along with all of the cool extras that I like on sites. Plus, they hired my favorite Royals beat writer away from the Kansas City Star newspaper, so now I can still read his stuff. An interesting note about this is that at the bottom of every one of his stories is this blurb: “This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.”

    I wish they’d do more with team-specific podcasting on the MLB.com site, and I hate that they charge for game updates to be sent to mobile phones. To get around that, I use the cell-phone live-game updates service from sportsanywhere.com. It works great and is free.

    I use Google news and Yahoo news more than I should because they’re so good at giving you a quick and easy snapshot of what’s currently happening in the US and world. Plus, I love the info on technology and the latest gadgets that are on those sites.

    Because I just moved to the DC area, and because I used to get lost in Topeka when I lived there, I use Google maps almost everyday. I love that you can send your mobile phone text messages of addresses directly from the Google maps pages. That’s handy and practical.

    I also use the Google news e-mail search alerts a lot. I have daily search alerts set up for things like “real estate naples” which is a big one since my family is trying to sell a home there that never will sell, “jayhawks” so that I can keep tabs on my beloved team, as well as a few others related to things that interest me. We implemented something similar to this on naplesnews.com when folks searched our archives, and I’ve always thought more newspapers should offer this sort of “persistent” search functionality. Man, is it useful.

    I usually visit a couple of news-related blogs each day: thebloggingjournalist.com, journerdism.com and Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits. They’re all good for different reasons.

    I probably visit technorati.com at least once every day. I think it’s such a great site for seeing what bloggers are writing about each day.

    And I love youtube.com. If there is a video from an old band that I love, it’s likely they will have lots of videos on youtube.com. Plus, it’s just got a lot of entertaining stuff on there. I don’t think I’ve ever visited youtube.com to be informed. When I visit youtube, I’m usually going there to be entertained and to kill some time.

    Well, that’s it. Or at least that’s all I can think of as of right now. 🙂

    Ass-kicking quote from William Allen White

    This week, I go home to Kansas to speak at my alma mater, Emporia State University.

    To say I’m completely jazzed about this is a huge understatement! Along with presenting at some student events, I’m even going to get to go to a Hornets’ football game back at old Welch Stadium! (I’m told we should kick Truman State’s backside.)

    And for those of you who don’t know, Emporia also is the home of one my journalism heroes — William Allen White.

    As I’ve been preparing to go home, I’ve been getting all sorts of e-mails from friends and professors at Emporia State. One of my favorite notes came from a longtime friend at ESU who works at the student union, Roger Heineken. Roger is one of those guys who loves the history of not only ESU, but of Emporia — and he knows as much about William Allen White as anyone I’ve met.

    In one of his recent notes to me, he sent this quote from William Allen White:

    “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.”

    William Allen White, April 21, 1931
    in a personal letter to Lyman B. Kellogg

    This quote from William Allen White impresses me on at least a couple of different levels that I think make it as relevant today as it was 75 years ago.

    William Allen White was right — we’re always going to need reporters. Journalism is not going to go away regardless of the day’s technology. Reporting isn’t about ink on paper. It’s about people wanting to know what in the heck is going on and what it means to them.

    But what I really love about this quote is that this ass-kicking, Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and publisher knew and accepted 75 years ago that our industry was going to evolve.

    If only more of today’s current newspaper publishers understood what William Allen White seemingly understood back in 1931.

    Definitely not in Kansas anymore …

    I probably have someone say that phrase to me (or some other quote from The Wizard of Oz) at least once a week. I’m not going to lie, I don’t hate it. I don’t like it, but I don’t hate it either.

    And I’m guessing I’m really going to hear it a lot when I make the move from Naples, Florida to Washington, DC to work at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive in October.

    One of the first people I talked with about this move once it was announced was Steve Klein. I can’t even remember how long I’ve known Steve, but I know I always feel like I learn something everytime we talk, so I love it whenever we get a chance to hang out together.

    After our most-recent e-mail conversation, Steve posted a note on Poynter’s e-media tidbits site.

    Here is the full-text of that e-mail Q&A exchange:

    * What did you go to Naples to do, did you have enough time to do it, and what is the legacy you leave behind there?

    I guess there were a couple of things that were in the back of my mind — I wanted our team to show that this type of new-media-based journalism could be profitable enough that a company would want to keep investing more and more money into real local journalism, and I wanted our team to prove that you didn’t have to be in a college town like Lawrence to have this sort of interactivity and detail be successful.

    And though everyone knows how much I love the Kansas Jayhawks, I wanted to be a part of journalism that didn’t involve balls and basketball courts. Covering Hurricane Wilma and the overwhelming affordable housing problems in Naples are two of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever been lucky enough to be a part of. As of right now, those are the stories and projects that I’m the most proud of being able to work on.

    But to be honest, I really just wanted to work with John Fish again, and I thought it would be a ton of fun to work with John in a place where there are palm trees coming out your backside.

    (John Fish was the publisher at the Topeka Capital-Journal when I was there.)

    As to whether or not we had enough time to accomplish all that we wanted, of course not. It was never a part of the plan to only be in Naples for 13 months. We’re not even a quarter of way through the list of things I hoped we’d get to do here.

    There’s a huge project that we’ve been working on for the last year or so, with the seeds of that project actually being planted about four years ago, and this was the first place where I thought where we could actually get it rolling. More to the point, I thought we could get it done at one of our smaller sister newspaper sites on Marco Island.

    What kind of sucks is that we’re pretty close to having at least an early version of it ready, and in another three or four months, it definitely could be done. I sure wish I could be here to see that badboy finished. It is the most-detailed and continuously updated hyper-local project we’ve ever tried. It makes the stuff we’ve built in the past look like we were just monkeying around.

    * What do you hope to accomplish at WPNI?

    I guess if I had to boil it down to syrup, we want to do the things we’ve always done, which is basically build cool things that readers dig. I think everywhere we’ve been, we’ve tried to focus on building obvious things, and we’re not going to stray from that now.

    I’ve already got a list of projects I know I’d like to try — and let’s face it, the opportunity to work with the amazingly talented and smart people at WPNI, the Post, Newsweek and Slate makes it seem like I just won the journalism lottery.

    But if there is one thing that I hope that maybe we can add to that equation is a dash of nimbleness. I love having ideas at lunch and then going live with them at 5 p.m. We may not be able to do that at WPNI, but maybe we can be live by 8 a.m. instead.

    We want to build creative things, important things, useful things and get them done in weeks, not months.

    * Was this move inevitable?

    I’ve never dreamed of working at a big newspaper or for a big organization. For some reason, that’s never been something that motivated me or was ever something that I wanted.

    I unapologetically love working at places that are the size of the Lawrence Journal-World and Naples Daily News, especially when those places have enlightened leaders.

    That being said, for years, I’ve been saying that there are five publishers in the nation that I would like to work with, and this organization was always on that list. When I met Caroline Little and Mr. Graham, I knew the direction and tone being set at the highest levels of this company were in-line with the things that I love. I knew it could work.

    To be honest, as scared as I’ve been of larger organizations, I’ve always kind of felt like they were a little scared of me, as well. I don’t like meetings and I’m not much into structure. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always thought it was much easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

    And big organizations usually don’t like that. But we’ll see. I have this gut feeling that it’s really going to work at WPNI. Heck, I’m willing to bet my career on it.

    * Plus, give me a little hint. What’s next?

    Whenever folks from huge newspapers have seen what we’ve done in Lawrence, Naples or Topeka, someone in the group always tells me that this sort of approach won’t work in a big market. Well, we’re about to find out.