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RJI Pivot Point Participant Comments


Comments are now being dated and added to the top, so if you check this page repeatedly, read down to what you've already seen.

Luke Stengel: A few words about the culture challenge

Posted, July 8
Luke Stengel adds, regarding his Reporters Notebook project:

Journalists are a funny bunch. They're still largely operating like they did in the 1970s... fiercely independent reporters, all playing out Woodward and Bernstein fantasies of getting The Big Scoop. There's no collaboration with the public... heck, there's very little collaboration inside the newsroom itself.

The San Jose Mercury News has this big moat that circles most of the newsroom: http://bit.ly/PliCYO. I'm sure you've seen it; it's really comical. I'd joke it was to keep the readers out.

Making journalism exclusive is totally a product of our professional culture. The problem is, the world is no longer a linear place ... the Internet has fundamentally changed people's expectations of information. They want transparency, honesty and accountability. They want to be able to reach their reporters (you'd be surprised how many newspaper websites still don't list their reporters' email addresses and phone numbers). It's daunting every time I call a newsroom with a tip... and I used to be a reporter. I can only imagine how frightening it is for the average reader.

With extra time and resources, I'd build Reporter's Notebook just to throw it out there as an uncomfortable conversation starter among reporters. I feel like it would challenge us to consider:

(1) Why don't we share a list of the articles we're working on with our competitors?
(2) Why should't the public know what we're working on?
(3) Why shouldn't the public listen to our interviews?
(4) Is the completed article still a valuable unit?

I'd argue that 90 percent of the stuff the average suburban newspaper in a two-paper town produces is not exclusive. It's the supermarket fire, the City Council meeting, the transportation grant the city's getting for restriping the roads downtown, etc. I'd argue if the public got more involved in how the sausage gets made, they'd care more about the final product. Too often, the only readers we know about are the gadflies we ignore. We record 10-minute interviews with well-connected sources, but use one quote and throw the rest away. Why not archive those interviews, and show the public the types of questions we ask the gatekeepers?

Finally, I think the 800-word, completed and edited article as the product is an antiquated way of valuing our work. I think the process is immensely valuable... as is everything that gets left on the cutting room floor.


Ted Anthony: Seven sleepless questions on the nature of news

Posted, June 27
These are the questions that keep me up at night, the ones I think are central to discussions about where the notion of news is going:

  • How do you reconcile aggregation and curation with the creation of original content? If everyone's an aggregator and a curator, does that thin out the herd of good content to aggregate and curate?
  • How do we harness communities without losing ourselves entirely in "confirmation bias"? By which I mean, I'm not sure that we build the best of societies if we construct all of our systems around giving folks what they're already looking for.
  • How do we integrate the notions of discovery, new knowledge and serendipity into an information experience without alienating people by delivering them static?
  • This one's for producers of content: How do we create a sense that something disposable and, in essence, very temporary also holds great value?
  • How do we understand and harness user behavior without being enslaved by it? What is the balance of the wisdom/desire of the crowd and the editorial judgment of professionals?
  • How do we use journalism to connect people with the larger world in ways they find relevant and valuable - and thus discourage tribalism even though we are living in a niche society?
  • How do we preserve the individual voice in a landscape of collective decision-making?


Bob Galmiche: Notion of engagement central to St. Louis Nine Network initiatives

Posted June 26

Bob Galmiche writes:

"I have sent a PowerPoint presentation (VIEW AS PDF) with a perspective from Nielsen. These slides that might provide a framework for further discussion should the topic of civic engagement become part of our discussion. Also linked here are the notes from the partner conversation between Tom Slaughter and me. I found the pre-reading materials very helpful. I also saw that several of the participants made reference to civic engagement. We've been deeply involved with engaging community over the past five years and recently worked with the creators of the concept of collective impact. We are applying the principles of community engagement and collective impact with media organizations and communities across the United States."


Ruddy: Don't assume that a Google/Facebook business model based on appropriation of user data will trump news organizations

Posted June 25

Mary Ruddy writes:

"As the digital distribution of information grows, sometimes the highly public success of companies like Google and Facebook makes it seem inevitable that such companies will ultimately dominate at the expense of news organizations. That is not necessarily the case. The business model of Google and Facebook is to sell your personal data and attention. Their systems do not compensate the user for the use of their personal data and frequently violate the user’s sense of privacy. (You are Facebook’s ultimate product.)

"Increasingly there is a backlash. Users are becoming more aware of privacy concerns and many jurisdictions are considering laws to increase protections for the user’s identity and data. This video of a hypothetical future -- “Facebook CIA Project: The Onion News Network” -- is an example of the type of materials that are being produced by the backlash.

"There is growing opportunity in the market for online news services that use technology to respect a person’s personal information and to provide them with the personalized news they need. Harvard Business Review Press has just published “The Intention Economy” by Doc Searls, which describes the opportunities presented by creating new systems that provide the user more control over their data and replace advertising."


Densmore: The challenge of reaching consensus on action without presuming domain (Bill Densmore reflection)

Posted June 21

  • I'm reflecting on all the talent and experience in the room when we meet. The structure of our convening and the leadership of Chuck Peters and Susan Leddick does not presume or prescribe what we'll agree to focus on -- or achieve. We've said one possible goal is to consider a common purpose, vocabulary, framework and platforms to drive change for the news industry (broadly defined) and its stakeholders, including citizens in a democracy. We've talked in our pre-convening phone calls about finding new paradigms for "story" beyond the article. We could seek methods for monetizing news discovery, personalization, curation and presentation. One one call, I posed the question: "What is it that the nation's news organizations can do, working collaboratively, with the resources they have, that is impossible for companies like Google to do by themselves? A helpful outcome for RJI would be to identify a batch of projects which RJI could help manage and advance for the benefit of the news industry, journalism and the public. From my perspective, they might focus on creating platforms and networks which finance and deliver trustworthy, compelling, actional journalism and information that sustains communities -- geographic and topical. When we all gather, however, I'm excited that we could end up taking unexpected turns that will lead to some breakthroughs having little to do with these specifics. That's the value of getting together.


Alan Mutter describes Inland Newspaper Association's Executive Program for Innovative Change / (Alan Mutter / Reflections of a Newsosaur)

Posted June 19

  • Martin Langeveld points to Pivot Point participant Alan Mutter's post on Inland Newspaper Association's Executive Program for Innovative Change, which Mutter will be heading up. "The association will admit up to 18 senior executives to the new program, who then meet as a group at regular intervals over 12 months to learn how to build the audience, revenue, productivity and profitability of their companies through transformational change. Because the program is designed to deliver real-world results, every participant will be required to identify – and execute – a significant game-changing project at her or his newspaper that’s aimed at delivering a measurable return on investment. The projects, which will be selected by participants in consultation with the management of their papers, may address either legacy print products or digital initiatives."


Participant Luke Stangel: On attention, paying, social editing, personalization and purpose

(Posted June 19)
Date: Wed, 13 Jun 2012 22:42:23 +0000
From: Luke Stangel
Subject: Early thoughts ahead of PivotPoint

Here are some of my thoughts ahead of PivotPoint:

  • Journalists are fighting for attention in an infinitely fascinating world. How much news really affects my daily life? The Internet promises: Your friends will alert you to news that you should care about, and you can always search on-demand for news for free. Why keep up with daily news?
  • Young people won't pay for news ever. News is homework. News is depressing. They'll pay for Netflix, ESPN, cable, Internet and mobile before they pay for news. They'd pay for Facebook before paying for news.
  • Given the choice of an excellent product (behind a paywall) and an acceptable product that's free, the crowd will choose free.
  • The rise of the crowdsourced editor. Reddit points to the future: The crowd decides the front page. The crowd wants humor, celebrities, interesting personal stories, cats, handmade comics and inside jokes. At this moment, there are just 3 news articles on Reddit's front page: Apple's unfixable laptop, self-powering brain implants and crowdsourced fact checking on a dubious WSJ article. They crave social reactions... it powers everything online.
  • The rise of the social editor. I'm more likely to read an article that my friend is reading.
  • The rise of the personalized, automated editor. Figure out what I like, send me more of that.
  • I think it's important to understand that people haven't changed. If you asked us in 1950 if we'd rather read the front page of the New York Times or the front page of Reddit, we'd have chosen Reddit. It does us no good to wring our hands over the decline of the industry or the increasingly shallow tastes of the public ... it's up to us to understand how people are consuming information now and change our approach. Inforgraphics get shared exponentially more times than blocks of text. Photos draw readers in to compelling articles. Interactive games (when done right) can help educate people better than an article.
  • Ultimately, we have to decide why we exist, or if we must exist. One of my French colleagues once told me, "The graveyards of France are filled with people convinced of their own necessity." If we exist to sell local ads, then let's think about building a product that sells local ads better. If we exist to watch over the shoulders of the powerful and protect the weak, then we must convince people that our work is important enough to fund.


ENGAGEMENT: Tom Grubisich tips hat to Matt Leighninger's work on community engagement

Posted June 19

Bill Densmore has spoken with Leighninger, who is in Hamilton, Ontario, and has posted this six-minute Vimeo interview with him. Leighninger believes newspapers and news organizations should be part of the discussion when local public officials, schools, libraries and universities are talking about how to better connect with the public and encourage public participation.

Matt Leighninger / Executive Director / Deliberative Democracy Consortium (Washington, DC) 905-972-0550 / http://www.deliberative-democracy.net


Stijn Debrouwere: A need to reflect on sheer breadth of challenges -- help from Jonathan Stray

Posted Mon., May 18

I've tried to take an opposite but complementary approach in collecting resources, trying to go as broad as possible, because the industry is facing challenges that go from making money, fixing advertising to doing better digital storytelling to figuring out how professional news orgs and communities can work together, and it makes sense to reflect on the sheer breadth of those challenges for a minute. Anyway, up here:

With regards to our "three things to read", I'd promote Jonathan Stray's "Designing journalism to be used". and perhaps something about fungibility ( http://www.yelvington.com/node/533 ) or, humbly, ( http://stdout.be/2012/05/04/fungible/ ).


Martin Langveld comments on Jonathan Stray's Nieman Blog post re hyperpersonalization utility

Posted Mon., June 18)
REGARDING: http://www.niemanlab.org/2012/06/theres-no-such-thing-as-an-objective-filter/

Martin writes:

"I've been saying for a while that a great unsolved problem (and therefore a great business opportunity) is the creation of a truly good hyperpersonalized news stream or discovery tool. Many have tried, and nothing really does it yet. Ongo tried and went OOB. There are apps like Zite, Wavii, Trove, etc., but none of them are any better than a well-managed Google Reader account, and all of them require too much work on the part of the user to set up and maintain. What's needed is something that begins with just a little input from you and then continuously learns about your interests from your usage and improves its offerings accordingly.

"At NiemanLab, Jonathan Stray tackles the question of why this is so hard, and comes up with this: So filtering algorithm design is one of those wildly interdisciplinary problems. The challenge is to imagine systems that:

  • Forward societal goals that we think are important, yet are precise enough to be phrased as performance yardsticks,
  • Combine algorithms with humans in a productive way, and
  • Can actually be built with available technology.

"That’s very hard. It requires a rare type of cross-domain thinking, because we don’t yet really know how to combine the pragmatic demands of technology with the social aspirations of the humanities. But it’s also an exciting time to be working in digital journalism, where these two cultures meet every day."


Clayton Powell's key question: How the new divide between small-screen and large screen content?

Date: Thu, 14 Jun 2012 22:08:58 +0000 / From: Adam Powell <acpowell@usc.edu>
Subject: Re: Issue for RJI Pivot Point

My issue - one with which I'm wrestling for a major report to be published in July - is how the migration to mobile phones and similar "small-screen" media will affect content. Guy Berger, now at UNESCO, has just put forward an argument that we will have a new digital divide, small screen versus large screen, with serious content (and certainly any long-form content) appearing only on large-screen devices


Ted Anthony of The AP: We need to reboot bedrock principles

Date: Fri, 8 Jun 2012 20:42:03 +0000 From: "Picht, Randy" <pichtr@rjionline.org>
Subject: ted anthony thoughts

  1. How can we do a better job of helping people understand how international and national news affect local communities?
  2. Let's revisit in a targeted fashion what journalism means these days. What does the news industry stand for as a whole beyond the usual suspects like freedom of information. We need a reboot of our bedrock principles.
  3. AP clips and the power of real-time journalism.


Two points from Jonathan Stray lead to: 'Assume traditional newspaper organization is a loss and won't survive'

Date: Fri, 15 Jun 2012 15:14:58 +0000 / From: Jonathan Stray <jonathanstray@gmail.com>
Subject: Pivot point links and ideas

By far the most relevant recent article I've read is by Stijn Debrouwere -- http://stdout.be/2012/05/04/fungible/

These days two basic lines if inquiry occupy my thoughts:

      1. What is the possible competitive advantage of having local staff with boots on the ground, versus a technology company with entirely remote operations? Niceties like "we know the community" are not answers. I'm looking for real, hard, "what would make consumers choose us over Yelp?" answers. Think like you're planning to wipe out the local newspaper by building a better information product for people who don't have any attachment to "news", and doing it way cheaper than a traditional newsroom. Also, I don't know if it's helpful to focus on ways to transform existing organizations, so assume instead that you're building a brand new company by selectively poaching from your existing newsroom. We have to think in these ways, because this what everyone outside of journalism is actually doing.

      2. The advertising business is going to the companies formerly known as the "technology industry." Let's face the fact that they're now just the "media" industry. So, rather than trying to transform ill-suited news organizations into tech players, let's ask how we can build newsrooms inside of tech companies. What are the experiences of the recently established news teams inside Yahoo, Twitter, AOL? How do we import journalism talent and culture into these sorts of organizations? How to we re-establish the professional tradition of funding public-interest journalism -- which has always been a cost center, not a profit center -- within the new online advertising-funded tech-media ecosystem?

  • Basically what I'm saying is let's just assume that the traditional newspaper organization is a loss and will not survive, and come up with other plans to produce local journalism. I may or may not be right about the possibility of survival for the former news industry, but I think this point of view forces the right questions.


Discussion suggestions from Chris Peck, editor, The [Memphis] Commercial Appeal and board member, ASNE

Date: Tue, 24 Apr 2012 10:51:31 -0700
From: "Peck, Chris" <peck@commercialappeal.com>

  1. Focus on tablets. For legacy newspapers, I firmly believe the tablet offers the best hope for moving current print subscribers to a paid digital model.
  2. Paid digital subscriptions. The revenue issues continue to eat away at the heart of journalism for legacy companies. The focus simply must on holding circulation revenues in a digital formats.
  3. Partnerships. The ideas we discussed at Rutgers about building partnerships now between legacy media and emerging media would see ripe.
  4. Privacy issues. Not central to discussion of future of journal per se, but an issue that likely will cut both ways for journalists in the years ahead. Less privacy could mean more access to information for journalists and the public. But less privacy will also stir up concerns about open government and public records. Journalism needs to be on side of openness, but also respect personal privacy concerns.
  5. Finally, I've attached slides of the most recent research on the usage of digital devices done by Roger Fidler. Some good stuff here for your use ....


Comparison by Buzz Wurzer of community-needs assessment process in Vero Beach, Fla., absent media help

Date: Tue, 12 Jun 2012 11:29:37 -0400 (EDT)
From: Henry K Wurzer <hkw36@earthlink.net>

Chuck's words yesterday regarding how our current news gathering efforts are closed and thus the community shuts the newspaper out....ring true.

I mentioned in an earlier call that I serve on the board of the Indian River Community Foundation which is in its third year of operation. It is a 501C Non-Profit that serves some 200 NP's in the region as an unbiased, convener, catalyst and collaborator. I have two key Community meetings prior to Chicago that have relevance to our effort. I am responsible for the branding, messaging and communications to the area and residents we serve.

My current assignment is to bring together the various publics that are stakeholders in the Homeless/Poverty/Hunger Sector as well as the stakeholders in the Enviornment Sector. Vero Beach's metrics in unemployment and its fallout are far worse that the US averages. The Indian River Lagoon is facing major pollution problems for a sector that is the lifeblood of the region.

These are two huge local issues that are being ineffectively reported by local media. Indian River County residents are in need of "actionable" ongoing information. We have had three meetings with each sector to frame the issues from all sides of the issues. My job is to then build the case for action to meet the unmet needs in each sector and bring them back to the community at large for funding. We are close to case statements leading to a community wide initiative for solutions.

As an unbiased convener of all stakeholders, local media has been conspicuous by their absence. As we continue our work with these two Sectors and initiate work with the other six Community Sectors....we will involve local media. Thus the newspaper is in a position to participate fully in all sides of the issues through a continued dialogue.

The bottom line is news gathering and distribution needs to have transparency. Thus all publics are included. Thus information becomes actionable. Without doubt, a new interface for compelling information is a must to entice and engage users.


Tom Grubisch: LocalAmerica.com -- the long struggle to create a "do-able" project

From: Tom Grubisich <tom@localamerica.com> / Date: June 15, 2012 7:21:45 AM EDT

In Randy's letter to the Pivot Point participants, he said: ""We'll identify or invent 10 ideas to help the industry perform the pivot. And we will commit ourselves to some specific action steps that we can take...to develop, test or experiment with these ideas."

I wanted to try and tell the story of Local America and its long, hard but inspiring struggle to build a "new" news model that closes the big gap between journalism and community, and is substainable, to boot. It's a long, difficult but inspiring journey that is far from over. Here's my effort -- (PDF DOWNLOAD) I believe Local America is the kind of pivotal project that can help move journalism into a new era that will make it 21st-century worthy as an engaged and necessary partner with the community in these challenging times.

LINK (PDF): Local America slide deck (PDF download) from Tom Grubisch
LINK (PDF): Use of Local America algorithm to study housing data in the District of Columbia

    Comments Tom Grubisich:
    • I hope this Local America article can be posted. It shows how data can produce man-bites-dog stories that grab and engage the reader. Who could resist reading a story that says Poorest Wards Lead Gains in D.C. Home Values"?


Martin Langeveld recalls 2008 API convening, and Outing's comments

Martin Langveld writes:

In 2008, an American Press Institute gathering had very few visible results and certain no visionary consensus, but the Newsright concept did emerge eventually from threads that had their origina at that gathering. In 2009 another major gathering in Chicago galvanized the industry's swing toward paid content models, a shift that is still in progress.

Here's a Steve Outing column from 2008 on the API "Summit for an Industry in Crisis" ^T the gathering that put Chuck Peters on the map for us: http://steveouting.com/tag/api-summit/ See also and especially, Steve's 11 suggestions for that gathering: http://steveouting.com/my-crisis-advice-to-newspaper-company-ceos-11-points-to-ponder/

  • 1-5 have pretty much come to pass.
  • No. 6 is the one they still balk at, but it will happen in 24-36 months.
  • Nos. 7-11 is what they have mostly ignored

Here are my own posts from the same period:
(scroll down to Nov. 19 and before, back to Nov. 14)

Now, [RJI Pivot Point Chicago] seeks to find the next major vision. Can we create that vision using building blocks that include Newsright (and its own longer-term vision for broad, automated management of content rights and payment) as well as paid content models, and combine these with the vast opportunities inherent in new and developing technologies especially the tablet and smartphone models, possible other mobile models, retina displays, apps and HTML5? 

Notes about reader engagement in the Netherlands

Martin writes: Here's another great idea for reader engagement: http://metrocolumn.nl/ (try Google translate Dutch>English)

Here's how it works, from Piet Bakker, Dutch blogger. 

  • The Dutch edition of Metro has introduced a new online forum for readers^Ys columns:Metrocolumn. Columnists must first register, and can upload their columns and share tehm though social media. Readers can also vote for their favorite columns and comment on the content. Every week one column is selected by the editors to appear in the newspaper on Monday. The selected columnist gets ¬100.

You could skip the print part, that's not what's making it work. I would enhance the social ranking part. Also, I'd incorporate a "suggested edits" feature where registered users can privately message columnists to make spelling, grammar, style and other improvements. (Something Quora does.) And, columns should permit hyperlinking and illustrations. Beyond this, you could do videos and even audios (songs, comedy routines, etc.), plus short fiction, poetry and art uploads.


  • Site can be used to point to news site content
  • Collect email list addresses and FB likes
  • Site could serve ads
  • Pointers from news site to columns site extend reader engagement
  • Lots of social sharing 
  • Brand extension


Notes about topic pages found by Chuck Peters from Richard Gingras' presentation at the MIT Media Lab


Quote - Richard argues strongly for evergreen story pages. It is not the brand, not the site, but the story itself that is the lifeblood online. Publishers should not think about editions, or even ephemeral streams of articles, but rather living story pages. Story pages are the most valuable real estate. Wikipedia was beating the Washington Post's search results despite all of the Post's great reporting. [You'll find journalists complaining about this sort of internet result filed under "P", for "Parasites"] The Post publishes a stream of new articles with new URLs and sends the olds ones to die in the archives becauase they're still producing content for the daily newspaper content model. The Wikipedia page is constantly changing and remaining updated, probably to this day, with a persistent URL where people can find it.

News publishers complained to Google that their topics pages were being consistently beaten by Wikipedia. These topics pages are not updated in realtime. The newspapers redesigned the topics pages and began to see success. Their long-term answer to this question, though, was to hire batches more rewrite people to maintain these topics pages. To someone familiar with the internet, this is crazytalk. Why wouldn't the journalist and editor, who are experts in this topic, just own this page as they own the beat itself? Shouldn't the news articles themselves flow from changes to the topic page, rather than rewriting articles to produce an index? The changes needed aren't just in content architecture, but in human workflow and roles. It comes back to, "How do we build trust?" Trust requires getting transparent about all of the content we have available to publish. It's expensive to produce, so share it.


Peggy Holman on the 49 ongoing "gnarly problems" the world faces; she asks: Should journalists be focused on these?

Date: Tue, 12 Jun 2012 20:13:01 -0700 / From: Peggy Holman <peggy@peggyholman.com>
Subject: A source for gnarly problems

I was recently sent a link to a proposal sent to the Club of Rome focused on a "Quest for Structured Responses to Growing World-wide Complexities and Uncertainties".  It contained the "global problematique" -- the persistent 49 critical continuous problems first identified in 1970.

Ultimate gnarliness, yes?  Wouldn't it be great if journalists were covering the actions being taken to address these problems?  Because as gnarly as they are, people are making a dent in places.  And if journalists were to amplify the good work already happening, they could catalyze the spread of that good work.  Or at least that belief is what got me working with journalists in the first place . . .

ALSO: Peggy Holman provides links to PDF-download background on Journalism That Matters: