If Content Is King What Are We Doing To Make It Better?

The great newspaper editor Harry Evans once said a newspaper is an argument on its way to a deadline. As a former city editor, assistant managing editor and editor-in-chief while at two dailies, I’ve always thought that was a pretty fair assessment of the process of putting out a newspaper. Everyday, the newsroom worked hard to put out a big book of facts that sometimes fought with each other; opinion pieces that always fought with each other and always in a fight against the clock – the nightly deadline.

But that was then and this is now.


(Yes, That’s J. Paton And, Yes, Those Are Typewriters. And Yes, Many Of The Desks Are Empty Because Reporters Are Actually Out Covering News)

In world of social media where the audience is now assembling itself, how do we, in the journalism business, even know what the argument is anymore? And what does deadline mean in an era of mobile alerts, iPhone apps and Smartphones?

We no longer control the process of making and disseminating news. We now co-exist in a world where the people formerly known as the audience use the tools of the trade and often beat us at our own game.

The means of production are available now to anyone with a Smartphone and a laptop.

It is now our job to determine what role we play in this new eco-system of news.

How Good Are We?

The first step is to assess the journalism itself.  To that end, I have asked Jim Willse to read and critique all 18 of our daily newspapers and their websites over the next four weeks. The focus of Jim’s critique will be on the quality of the journalism – the writing, editing, story placement etc. both online and in print.

Jim has a stellar career as a journalist (http://tinyurl.com/ycd2knp). He retired last fall as the editor of The Star Ledger in Newark after 15 years. The paper won two Pulitzers on his watch. Amongst other accomplishments, he is also the former editor of the New York Daily News and former managing editor and city editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. He is currently teaching at Princeton University.

Everything we do has to start with the journalism and it is crucial it be as good as it can be. I think we are good but it is important to stress test that assumption.

But Jim, while highly experienced, is only one voice. I want to hear your thoughts on the quality of our journalism. Now isn’t the time to be shy. If we don’t get the journalism right it doesn’t matter how many media platforms we are on. Lousy journalism on multiple platforms is just lousy journalism available in multiple ways.

The Ben Franklin Project  (http://jrcbenfranklinproject.wordpress.com/) : A Bold New Experiment

If going forward, we are going to be part of the new ecological system for news then we need to learn how to harness the power of that system and earn our place in it every day.

How do we learn about the arguments in our community? How do we work with the people we used to call the audience and who are now participants in the collection and dissemination of news? What is our role here? Is it to add context and our expertise as journalists? And do we bring value to the community by creating a place for ideas and stories to be shared and discussed with a mixture of professional and amateur content? And always how do we do this when the deadline is right now?

Well, in our case we are just gonna try. And if we fail we are gonna try again. And we won’t stop until we get it right.

In the next 30 days, we are going to attempt to produce one single edition of one of our newspapers using only tools available for free on the web. Using social media and other digital tools available to us we will crowd source the news assignments, creation, editing and publishing of content. And we will do all of this in real-time with constant updates to that newspaper’s website.

Our focus will be on working the new news ecology to see where we as professional journalists fit in this new system and how we best serve our communities. We will also use free software available on the web to create tools to help us manage our relationships with advertisers and readers as well as invoicing tools.

We’re calling this The Ben Franklin Project and it will be led by Jon Cooper, our head of digital content. Coop will be joined by me, Dan Sarko, our chief digital officer; Adam Burnham, our head of sales and Bruce Hollows, our director of planning and development. Jay Rosen (www.pressthink.org) and Jeff Jarvis (www.buzzmachine.com) from our Advisory Board will be helping us along the way.

We’re looking for volunteers. Will it be your newsroom?

 Until next time, John.

 p.s. More next week on your thoughts on a possible name change for our Company.

81 thoughts on “If Content Is King What Are We Doing To Make It Better?

  1. Good idea, John.

    Now, I typed out a long reply. Then I thought, “John doesn’t want to read all of that.”

    So I’ll keep it shorter: The final report back to you by the Pulitzer winner will be terribly skewed because of a lack of manpower on the desk.

    Tonight, I was the slot. 18 pages, including the front in the throes of deadline … on top of keeping the Web updated, on top of … a lot of stuff.

    Know what I mean?

  2. Consider us your first volunteer. I find myself working more and more online most days. We are up to our neck in Twitter, Facebook and constantly updating the site, so I say let’s give it a shot. I’ll convince those staff members not on board to jump in.

    By the way, remember the story of the girls who committed suicide on the train tracks?

    Today we have one of the stories I most wanted to get, an interview with the third girl who was there that day but backed away from the tracks at the last minute. She tells, fairly starkly and in her own words, what happened that morning.

    My guess is we’re going to get some serious blowback from those in the community who believe we already have sensationalized the story, but I still think it’s a story that needed to be told. It’s the lead on our site this morning, with video.

    The girl herself did not want to be on video or have her picture taken, but she gave us a shot of herself.

    I’d love to know what Jim Willse thinks of it.

    Philip E. Heron
    Delaware County Daily and Sunday Times
    Phone: 610-622-8818
    E-mail: editor@delcotimes.com

  3. John,

    I’ll volunteer to help in any way that I can. It would be cool to work with Bruce & Jon on a project. Our newsrooms are weeklies, probably not the target you’re looking for, but what do I know. We’re still trying to get people to discuss what we post. We do have heart though.

  4. At the Morning Sun we had a Sound Off caller ask what we are doing for Earth Day. Someone jokingly said we should tell them we aren’t printing that day. It started as a joke, but some of us were talking and it actually started to sound like a good idea. Having a completely online edition for Earth Day, no paper printed, would be a way to promote the online content, and encourage advertisers to try online, even just for a day. And it’s very “green.” :)

  5. JoAnn-

    I would answer phones, I do every day anyway. :)

    lots of corporations are doing things in the name of “green.” Also, newspapers across the country have cut how often they print, and some have ceased printing paper copies entirely.

    I understand that some customers would be upset/confused, but I think one day, in the name of Earth Day and as a way to vigorously promote our web content would be worth it.

    I think it would put a spotlight on the company as well; it’s pretty bold, and let’s be honest, the direction that we will head at some point in the future.

    I really think it’s a good idea. Maybe not this year, it is only 10 days away…

    • Lisa:
      I work at The Oakland Press, where do you work? I’m just curious. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an entire list of JRC employees? That way we could know who everybody is when they post comments.

  6. We are a weekly but I think the Ann Arbor Journal should be your beta. The A2 Journal is less than a year old and has a community that will be highly involved with this process. Heritage gets the job done with short editorial and advertising staff, so I believe the whole team would look at this as a blessing. Please give us your consideration as a viable choice.

  7. I am not sure I can speak for the Oakland Press, but would love to see it here. We have more on line readers than print. I think this might push us in the right direction and serve a community that wants it.

  8. This is a wonderfully awesome idea.

    Outside of my job at the Register, I am actively involved in the social media of small niche in the blogosphere as a professional blogger. As such, I’ve struggled with the concepts above, how do you gain audience when the flood of information is continuous? I’ve read stories of how bloggers literally sit at their computers searching for the next big trend to hit. But I’ve concluded that this is not the answer. I believe the twenty four hour news cycle is alive and well, established as it has been by newspapers and embellished by television;
    that this habit is still ingrained in the American public. I believe the answer is not to chase the news cycle but to lead it and feed it.

  9. How exciting!

    The News-Herald would love to be the site of Project Ben Franklin.

    We have a newsroom full of journalists excited by the possibilities offered by today’s technology and are eager to serve our communities in new ways.

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  11. We at The News-Herald are eager to take on this project. It’s bold and forward-thinking, and we look forward to telling our stories and reaching out to our coverage area — and beyond — using these new tools.

    As the methods of delivery of news change around us, we need to keep up, and through this effort, can prove to ourselves and our readers that we’re going to be here and providing the journalism they’ve expected from us for 130 years … just from a different portal.

  12. I just want to second what Tricia Ambrose said about Project Ben Franklin. I know the other reporters and editors here at The News-Herald would enjoy the remarkable challenge.

  13. I, too, am very intrigued by the possibilities of The Ben Franklin Project and would love for The News-Herald to be chosen for it. With the talents of our staff, I think we can really get something amazing out of this.

  14. Here are some suggested tools:

    Ad Creation: http://bannersnack.com

    Photo Processing / In-Print Ads: https://www.photoshop.com – OR – http://aviary.com/

    Online Publishing: http://wordpress.org (download and run on any site for free) – If set up properly you could use this as your entire publishing system and reverse publish to print. Have everyone type out articles in WordPress, edit, update, edit, update, live online and then export articles under category of ‘print’ each night. Workflow would have to be worked out but it could work.

    Just some suggestions off the top of my head.

  15. John

    In today’s world, the evolution of news has become… that the people not only are the news but are writing the news. They not only have “letters to the editor” (the old fashioned way). But now they have blogs and websites as well as adding comments to news articles etc.

    May I suggest that JRC’s name change reflect this concept. It needs to be a catchy phrase and something geared towards “YourNews Corp” Telling the customer it’s their own news. ( But a more catchy name than that I think)

    And in changing the name put out a marketing plan (there always must be a marketing plan) using a concept the Saratogian has been using …Community Meetings… bringing in the public to see what they think of the paper and what they would like to change and/or add to it.

    The last one (about a month ago) was for the sports department. My numbers I’m sure aren’t correct (it was just mentioned on passing) But something like 15 sports and 45 local area organizations including local schools sports department heads and coaches were there. Most people praised the job the paper was doing, but there were also good ideas and workable suggestions.

    The Saratogian also made a point of telling the people they are the news and they not only make the news but can write it too. If they have an event that our reporters couldn’t cover, after all there are only so many reporters and many more events… they can write a piece to go in the paper and or in the website local sports news section. If they have staff that wants to write …we can and will take advantage of that.

    My suggestion here is that you have every paper in the company do similar community meetings, to not only keep in touch with the community but also let the community know they can be a part of making the news and writing the news.

    True they can make their own blog or add status reports to facebook … but that goes to their friends or they have to build a readership. We have the readership and the means to put out what they write.

    Being in the technology end puts me in touch with the latest concepts. After all we geeks are always into what’s new and how to make it better. So I hope my thoughts are helpful. I do have more on the technology end too… but I haven’t totally worked out implementation. I’m testing my concepts at home to make sure they can be done before I throw them out to IT here.

    I’ll let you know,

  16. Very interesting post again! Let me bring my 2 cents. A similar operation was set up a few weeks ago by 5 public-run media, here, in Europe. it was called “huis clos sur le net”. Goal was to isolate 5 journos, with Twitter and fbook as only news source. No tv, no radio, no smartphone, no newspaper. They had to figure out how to use twitter/FB, see if it was reliable, control-able, how to check facts and so on… The 5 journos were all social media newbies.

    For those who understand french, their blog:

    More links:




    The experiment was controversial, because biased. 5 newbies, so not really used to the tool. Neither can yu imagine having twitter ON, and not being able to listen to radio or TV. And because it was heavily advertised, false news/rumors started circulating…

    So, im curious to see how your test will develop. But i’d say, if you want it to be efficient, really interesting, don t start from scratch. First, build a good following/follower ratio; well trained people.

    My 2 cents…

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  18. The Mercury had one of those new news ecology days on Friday, as we hustled our way through the Route 422 road-rage shooting. There are a few insights I want to share, particularly about how social networking played a role in our reporting:

    I heard about the shooting on my way into work a little after 8, and my first thought was: Eileen is off today! No online editor, no early-morning newsroom presence. But, when I walked in, I learned our administrative assistant Sue Klaus, who comes in at 7 when Eileen is off to update the Web, had the Breaking News posted. We quickly learned the Times Herald had video of a trooper at the roadside talking about the shooting, so we snatched those files and made their video part of our coverage.

    The insight is that every person on staff became an online editor for the day. I was pulling news accounts off Web sites; reporter Brandie Kessler was in the field talking to investigators and trying to find the guy’s house; I asked Phil Heron to track down a tip that the shooter had driven to the Radnor train station and left his car there (that one was a dead end); reporter Carl Hessler picked up courthouse buzz on the suspect’s lawyer, so he got us in touch with the lawyer for the first confirmation of shooter’s name.

    We used Facebook and our own online comments to gather eyewitness accounts and the great quotes about this same guy’s car reported for aggressive driving before. We used Twitter to let people know the description of the car before it was found. Brandie found that the driver was a Facebook friend of a woman she was supposed to be doing an unrelated feature on this weekend, so she called her and got more juicy quotes … it was wild reporting.

    On the Web editing side, we tried to use our Web site to maximum advantage — at one point, we had the crash scene video in the first Art Slider position but broke out the neighborhood reaction in Breaking News so it was highlighted in different ways for more eyeballs.

    By late afternoon, we were at 12,000 hits and counting on the main story and some 3,000 more on the sidebars/earlier versions. We’re not New Haven, West Chester or Delco — for us, those numbers are incredible. Omniture has that story showing 12,621 hits; overall page views for Friday were 30,000 higher than usual with 80,490, this carried through strongly on the weekend with 39,200 page views.

    In the midst of all this, we learned that an administrative assistant with no journalism training can be an online editor. And, your recent training sessions helped make that happen. Sue was rewriting headlines for the Web because she said “they told us in training to make them as specific as possible and put in names and place names.” She was also the one approving comments and telling the rest of us whenever a relevant comment was posted. Brandie was tireless in shooting video and gathering information. In Eileen’s absence, reporter Evan Brandt became video editor and our features editor Pat Sommers was culling Web sites looking for anything we could find out about the shooter’s background.

    We worked with Times-Herald and of course made our coverage available to Phoenix, Delco and West Chester. Everybody has commuters on 422. Although the shooting itself was closer in distance to Norristown, we know iit’s our Pottstown area people who are on that road eastbound at 7:15. Indeed, both shooter and victim were from our immediate area.

    We followed the story Sunday with more on the people involved but also the perspective of 422 as a road where rage is waiting to happen. I had Brandie interview a state trooper for on-the-record perspective, but also had her use some of the quotes we gathered from Facebook and online comments. (We’re being blasted today in comments for the “shoddy, lazy reporting” of using Facebook. I think it would be shoddy if we relied on only that, but we did our jobs in seeking out police sources, too.)

    Wanted to share this as a shout-out to The Mercury staff, but also reinforcement of the value of recent training and a reminder that it’s the variety of sources, combined with good old-fashioned reporting, that makes the new news ecology so much fun. Friday was a rush!

  19. John:
    After thinking about this during the course of the day, and reading and re-reading your e-mail, I believe it’s worth a try. (I suppose I should have talked to Frank or Ed first, but what the heck…) I believe I understand your goals here and I think with people like Karl here as well as working with the corporate team, it probably could be accomplished. I think it’s one of those things we sit around scratching our heads saying, “Heck, I dunno. We’ve never tried that before…”

    In terms of quality journalism, I believe the Daily Local does that. We are fortunate to have a staff of very smart kids. My bosses always told me to “hire staff that’s smarter than you. They’ll make you look good.” So that’s what we’ve done. We have the Dave Zeitlins, the Danielle Lynches, the Tom Kellys and others and they’ve rewarded the newspaper with lots of honors from their journalism peers. I’d put my staff up to anyone’s. I do believe, though, that if we reconstructed the newsroom and the way we do things, they could do even better work. I still think they are burdened with a lot of crap stuff which I am still working on how to solve. It’s not an easy problem to solve although I’m guessing our Community Journalists play a part in that solution. Not to mention the model of do what you do best and link to the rest. I see a day not too far away when the paid reporters work in tandem with the CJ staff. And we have meetings with the public and as a huge team, we all push the news out together. It’s still a little fuzzy, but that’s how I see it. Maybe we should get a group of editors together and spend a day or two sketching out the newsroom of the future – although the future is now…Whaddya think?

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  24. I think The Reporter is always up for a challenge. We have a small staff, like everyone else, but we’ve been doing great at video, live streaming from a few events with the netbook, Web first, tweeting, facebook, etc. So, chosen or not, we’d like to be part of this experiment in some way.

  25. Great post! In particular I like what you had to say here:

    How do we learn about the arguments in our community? How do we work with the people we used to call the audience and who are now participants in the collection and dissemination of news? What is our role here? Is it to add context and our expertise as journalists? And do we bring value to the community by creating a place for ideas and stories to be shared and discussed with a mixture of professional and amateur content? And always how do we do this when the deadline is right now?

    Those indeed are the key questions. And I think that the answer is that much of the role media going forward will be guiding and filtering content that their community produces. It increases the depth of coverage while controlling your cost structure.

    For example, I saw this article in one of your papers’ sites. It covered a high school sports game, and amounted to one sentence (understandable, given staff constraints). How much deeper do you think the coverage of that game could be–paragraphs, photos, quotes, even videos–if you opened up your sites to your community to contribute to and then empowered your editorial team to manage and curate those contributions? It is the winning “crowdsourced” formula that so many sites are succeeding with: SeekingAlpha, BleacherReport, GDGT, AllVoices, etc.

    One thing about all of those sites, however: none were done on WordPress, because WordPress is meant for one, or at most a dozen, contributors. But true crowdsourced sites have hundreds or more in their communities contributing. So all the crowdsourced pioneers listed above had to build their own systems to be able to manage such a community.

    That’s where we come in: Grogger is a platform for grogs (“group blogs”) that are specifically meant for crowdsourced publishing. Our platform is free to use (though there are modest charges for advanced features, just like WordPress) and would be a great fit for your project.

    Would be eager to help out on the project. Let us know!

  26. Hi John, In re: to name. I think the company name ‘JRC – Journal Register Co. ‘ carries little meaning or emotional ties to this or many of the other communities where our newspapers are located. I like the idea of a name that brings all newspapers and internet products together under one name and one that also would trigger a positive feeling.

    My suggestion is America’s News Company or America’s Hometown News Company. (Actually makes it sound like we are the ONLY news company)
    The motto would be something like this: America’s News Company. We deliver the latest news wherever and whenever you want it. Diana

    • I know that you are working on John’s challenge to see what can be used free from the Internet for Project Ben Franklin, and you have probably already seen most of these, but I found a list of 40 free CMS applications and tools as well as some pagination tools that are either free or pay as you go (50 cents per page which is almost free). I highlighted a few of the popular ones that stood out from the rest at the top.

      CMS tools

      Open source content management, Newswave is a rich content editorial system for press agencies and media groups. Contains Document repository and version control and is said to be one of the most complete packages for enterprise systems.

      One of the most popular and powerful CMS open source products on the market.

      Joomla and Typo3 are products this company supports, they put together a package for you of Open Source products and then provide training and support.

      Is an enterprise web content and portal management system that includes a web publishing system, a content management server, and a portal server

      another very popular, powerful and flexible content management system

      Powerful enterprise content management system featuring web and document management and they even do cloud computing.

      Pagination tools
      Pay as you go which is 50 cents per page or large discounts for enterprise sites.

      Joomla and Alfresco above also do pagination

      List of all 40 CMS tools

      1. Joomla – a very popular open-source CMS that is found at the heart of many well known websites (the United Nations is just one example) 2. Drupal – another very popular, powerful and flexible content management system 3. WordPress – although geared for publishing blog, WordPress has proven that it can be a powerful CMS too, as you can see with my publisher’s custom publishing web site 4. Movable Type – like WordPress, Movable Type is also a weblog creation tool which is also used for building non-blog dynamic websites 5. b2Evolution – a full-featured weblog creation tool/CMS that supports multiple categories, sub-categories, multiple weblogs, skins, statistics, comments, anti-spam filters, photo management and multiple blogs 6. Xoops – extensible, OO (Object Oriented), easy to use dynamic web content management system written in PHP 7. Alfresco – powerful enterprise content management system featuring web and document management 8. DotCMS – J2EE/Java Web Content Management System (wCMS) which includes an AJAX calendar and events management, e-communications tools, personalization/CRM tools, eCommerce hooks and more 9. e107 – PHP-based content management system designed for the quick creation of websites or community portals 10. Exponent- a website CMS that allows site owners to easily create and manage dynamic websites without necessarily directly coding web pages, or managing site navigation.
      11. ImpressCMS – a community developed CMS for easily building and maintaining a dynamic web site offering easy to use, secure and flexible system which is said to be an ideal tool for business to community users, from large enterprises to people who want a simple, easy to use blogging tool 12. Liferay – offers an enterprise portal solution using Java and Web 2.0 technologies 13. KnowledgeTree Document Management System – document management software designed for business people for team collaboration, storing documents with ease 14. Pivot – a web-based tool for maintaining dynamic websites, weblogs or online journals 15. Magnolia – widely used by most Government websites, it offers an easy-to-use editing interface that allows authors to lay out content exactly as it would appear to a website visitor. Contains “best-of-breed” Java technology 16. MediaWiki – is a free software wiki package originally written for Wikipedia, but that is now used by several other projects of the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation and by many other wikis 17. MiaCMS – is a fork of the Mambo CMS and offers simple installation, graphical content editors, RSS content syndication, powerful/extensible 3rd party extension system 18. MODx – described as a “PHP application framework that helps you take control of your online content”; it allows developers and advanced users to give as much control as desired to whomever they desire for day-to-day website content maintenance chores 19. Nucleus CMS – extensible and powerful CMS based on PHP/SQL blogging tool that features multiple weblog capabilities, and RSS syndication 20. Nuxeo CPS – is said to be “the most complete open source platform” for building Enterprise Content Management (ECM) applications, and is described as an user-friendly accessible application ready to for enterprise-grade content management with many collaboration features.
      21. OneCMS – most commonly used by gaming websites, it can be used by webmasters to manage their website, allowing the user to upload files, add content and various other features 22. OpenACS – an open architecture community system toolkit for building scalable, community-oriented web applications.
      23. PhpCMS- a CMS characterized by simple system requirements, high performance and flexibility, which is said to be suitable for both small, private websites, as well as complex high-traffic websites 24. Plone- easy to use, set-up and run CMS, well suited for project groups, online communities, small business websites 25. TextPattern – a flexible and easy-to-use feature rich CMS with a built-in search engine 26. PhpNuke – a CMS and portal solution that features web-based administration, surveys, customisable blocks, modules and themes with multilingual support.
      27. Zope – application server for building content management systems, intranets, portals, and custom applications, written in Python 28. Plone – suited for building an intranet, web site or community site, Plone is a Content Management, Document Management and Knowledge Management system 29. Jahia – is an enterprise web content and portal management system that includes a web publishing system, a content management server, and a portal server 30. Website BAKER – a PHP-based CMS developed with one goal in mind, to enable users to create websites easily 31. ezPublish – is both an open source content management system and content management framework, which offers an enterprise content management solution, community portal and social networking platform 32. jLibrary – a CMS engine geared for both personal and enterprise use and offers a very flexible system that can almost be used for any information management purpose 33. Pligg – ever wanted to create your own Digg clone? Well Pligg is exactly what you’re looking for. It’s a content management system based on PHP/MySQL with features such as multiple authors, article rating, private messaging and much more 34. Mambo – full-featured CMS that can be used for small or large websites; described as a “powerful enough for the most demanding Internet or intranet site, simple enough for everyone to use!”
      35. Jaws – a Framework and Content Management System for building dynamic web sites that is user-friendly and easy-to-use 36. Geeklog – PHP/MySQL based application for managing dynamic web content, offering out-of-the-box blog engine, and CMS with support for comments, trackbacks, multiple syndication formats, and spam protection 37. CMS Container – enables an organization to efficiently maintain a large content-driven website using single CMS. This CMS features the ability to create a staging and live environment, scheduling of content for publication, and automatic removal of content on expiry 38. SiteFrame – a lightweight, web-based CMS designed for the rapid deployment of community-based websites. A group of users can share stories and photographs, create blogs, send email to one another, and participate in group activities.
      39. Xaraya – offers a “cutting edge open source framework” written in PHP, on which developers can create sophisticated web applications featuring modular design, stable and extensive API and fully internationalized platform 40. PHP Fusion – PHP-based light-weight open-source content management system that includes a simple, comprehensive administration system.

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  30. I have been following you guys for a couple of days now and just wanted to throw a suggestion out there. If thinking about using wordpress, go with MU and use a status.net app. to stay connected and interlinked at the same time. If you think about it, those two could really work together when your talking about a huge crowd. Sorry to invade the thread, I will be keeping an eye on here to see how you guys progress!

  31. How about “Your Local News company” or “America’s Local News Company”

    marketing slogan … “Your News: You make it, You get it, Your way!”

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  34. Wonderful project!!
    In Toronto (Canada) one of the World’s first (if not the first) television stations devoted entirely to local news/events/programming went on the air in 1972. It has changed significantly since that time (ownership changed the format) but “local” remains the central theme. It’s called “Citytv”. The name gets right to the point. Your paper’s name (eventually) could use a tweak as mentioned by a few people above so it has relevance once your project takes off. “Cityprint”? I created (Founding Curator) Canada’s first television museum. Not about programming, but about the history of the medium and who invented it etc. http://www.mztv.com. Lots of American content. In the museum and on the web site I produced a section called “Television in Quotes” with significant positive/negative quotes about television. It would be an interesting article/graphic/wall for your project as well. I think you’re project will help to redefine newsprint (and tv) as we know it. Both need updated “formal” definitions. Best of luck. If I can be of assistance, please let me know.
    Michael Adams (linkedIN – Michael Adams – michaeladamstv@gmail.com)

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  36. Well I have to agree with everyone that this is very interesting.
    I’ve read Jeff Jarvis’s blog on the subject, as well as all the comments here and I think you may well be on to something. If nothing else, it’s worth trying.
    But as a professional Cassandra, I feel the need to make note of some of the obstacles that we at The Mercury would need to overcome under the above-described scenario.
    I understand and agree that to get the next generation of readers, we need to be electronic. No argument there.
    However, we also need to recognize the generation of readers we already have. In the case of The Mercury, many of our core readers are older and only read the print edition.
    In order for “cloud-sourcing” (as Jeff J. so charmingly calls it) to work, it would seem to me that you need a certain critical mass to make it possible.
    Our experience so far with many of the bloggers we have tried to recruit has been that they are a little gun-shy of the commitment necessary to continue to “work for us for free.”
    Yes, Jeff is right, they do it endlessly on their own, posting as many as 10 times a week, but as soon as they have to commit to three times a week for us, they get nervous.
    So in order for your crowd to be providing you with adequate content to provide interest to readers who don’t want to participate, you need enough to do some of the work when the others don’t feel like it.
    In many JRC markets, I suspect that’s not a problem.
    But Pottstown is not most JRC markets and I would hate for us to announce we were participating in this project only to find too few of our readers interested to make it sustainable, certainly not sustainable over the long-term.
    Jeff writes passionately about the crowd and its potential. Jeff lives in New York City, where the crowd is large, educated and active. You will not run out of people willing to participate, even once a month, in New York City.
    I know, I used to live there too.
    However, I’m not convinced those conditions exist in Pottstown and environs. Certainly, it’s worth trying and I would be happy to be pleasantly surprised by the response. But the professional cynic in me scoffs at the idea of Pottstownians doing this over the long term.
    We were just talking today about how our area tea party group meets and complains, but they don’t DO anything.
    So I will be interested to see how it works out. It seems you have more than enough volunteers. I hope some of them are in a less electronically sophisticated market like we are so we can see how that works.
    Understand, I don’t speak for The Mercury, just myself. If Nancy announces tomorrow we’re giving it a try, obviously I will do so willingly. But taking a step back, I confess to doubts. This must be the fear Jeff talks about in his blog. Maybe so.
    And like John says, maybe we try it, and fail and then try something else. I’m OK with that too. Just not sure every paper should jump on every band wagon, particularly given the other subject of John’s post.
    John just talked about quality and I don’t think it will come as a surpise to any JRC folks that quality suffers when staff is cut.
    I read one of the first posts from The Hulk up the column and nodded my head. We struggle to get the paper out with the staff we have I sometimes think it should be renamed The Daily Miracle.
    We have talented, excited people who might well love to try this project, but who would do the TV grid?
    I know, I know, we have to change and I agree. But there is a hard point at which the phrase “man-hours” hits a wall. There are a fixed number of hours and a dwindling supply of men (women too of course). At what point do we recognize that the work load is simply too much to take on yet another initiative, which requires even more man hours, particularly if we’re suddenly focused on quality again?

    • Very interesting Evan. But may i ask a question?
      Are you sure TV grids are well read? Is it something you really need to have? how many channels schedule do you offer? What are your competitors on this? Are you doing better?
      And “what if” you decide to skip the tv grid? How many man/hours do you get back?

  37. To echo some of Evan’s concerns — and sadly, the TV grid is beloved by our readers; we are still recovering from the beating we took when the Sunday TV Book was eliminated — we deal with a little bit of a disconnect here in Pottstown. It doesn’t stop our newsroom from embracing digital publishing. But understand, we spent the day updating on our web site and Twitter the passage of a patriotic convoy carrying steel from the fallen World Trade Center to a museum south of us. We followed the convoy’s approach for our readers and provided instant coverage of its route through our area with video and on every platform available to us. We celebrate our successes and pat ourselves on the back — and then people call to ask what was going on and why the event wasn’t “in the paper” today. We are teaching our audience, just as we are learning ourselves how to embrace new technology, and it’s a work in progress. I think the Ben Franklin Project is exciting and a tremendous opportunity to break new ground. As we learn as journalists new ways to make it happen, we bring the audience with us. In the most basic application of crowd-sourcing and listening, we start each day with our readers’ needs first in mind. It’s what drives the news we choose to cover, the platforms we choose to send it on and the quality and community service we work to provide. Serving our communities may look different in different communities, but this project and the new direction of our company can only help serve them better. I believe that’s what this business is all about.

  38. John,
    I wanted to wait a few days to respond to your last e-mail, but I must admit that I have been doing a lot of thinking about your Ben Franklin Project.
    What a fascinating idea!!! I love it.
    When you first got on board I cringed at the thought of what you have planned for our company. But with each passing day, I know it must be done. Over the past two months, we have officially become one of those papers you mentioned that more people read us online than in print.
    So it makes sense to go in the direction you are passionate about.
    With that said, I think Main Line Media News would be an ideal place for your grand experiment.
    The reason I say that is because we have always been in the forefront with the Internet. We were the first weekly to have an online editor and each month our page sites and unique visitors is more than the month before.
    What I like best about it, however, and your attitude, is that we will be allowed to fail, or as I like to say, learn.
    I know you have many papers willing to step up, which is great to see, but I just wanted to let you know that we are here if you need any help.
    Thanks for listening,
    Change the name.

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  40. Per Mr. Paton’s request, I am posting this e-mail I sent him to open it up for discussion:

    Dear Mr. Paton,

    I love the idea of progressive news delivery systems. We all do.

    Every reporter and editor takes enormous pride in their published work, however it is frustrating beyond belief when resources don’t provide the tools in pursuit of perfection. We have few reporters and our equipment is so antiquated that we spend a lot of time filling in gaps while the hourglass spins saving a story or moving one from e-mail to a word document. Mistakes are sometimes glaring and always humiliating.

    I know you are aware of these shortfalls. Asking reporters and entire newsrooms to volunteer to participate in an experiment is asking a lot of people whose morale is on the floor and the workload is overwhelming.

    Just thought you should know that we love the idea of progress but we need the tools and resources to create a product that is worthy of our readership. That, no doubt, is your goal, too.


    Jill Wing
    The Saratogian
    Features editor/copy editor

    • Just out of curiosity, as i’m not part of JRC at all, which publishing software are you working with? is it Quark X press? And how are you publishing for the web? is it like doing the job twice, first on the web software, then on the print one or…?

      Thks for the feedback.

      • Sam,

        We are actually running multiple publishing systems across the company. Our print pagination software includes InDesign, Alfa and Quark.

        Our web CMS provider is TownNews.

        The current functionality requires our newsrooms to copy and paste content into the web CMS. There are feeds from the editorial systems but they are not real time.

        Jon Cooper

      • Sam:

        We also publish three (Soon to be four) of our daily newspapers electronically in the exact format as the printed edition. For these we use a program called “Olive” which is a plug-in to Adobe Acrobat.

        You can look at these and get a two-week trial subscription of each:


        At any of these sites, click on “E-Paper” button.

        Take a look and enjoy!

        Nick Zbiciak
        The Oakland Press

      • Jon, Nick, thanks for your answers! I now understand better your situation. Copy/paste is not a solution (i know it, because i use it aswell).
        Nick, i had a look at your e-paper; but i did not register. My idea: you should do a quick video commercial to show people how it looks like inside, what they will get for the money… I saw the links (quickstart guide – about epaper), but its quite demanding to read it, don’t you think? In other words, when you go on a website, do you take the time to read all those links? what help are you looking for? See my point?

  41. Pingback: This Week in Review: News talk and tips at ASNE, iPad’s ‘walled garden,’ and news execs look for revenue » Nieman Journalism Lab

  42. Pingback: From Nieman Journalism Lab’s This Week in Review … « The Ben Franklin Project

  43. Seems that we’re heading into the same direction, John. With respect to the current state of media worldwide (and I’m located in Germany) we need to take more risk to explore new ways of news production, dissemination & collaboration on a more international level. Fact is that the problems of today can’t be solved when everyone is working in isolated work spaces but if we were able to define cooperation differently. Basically I think that news will be social tomorrow and that news will not stick to a news portal site. The impact of that theoretical viewpoint is immense and I would like to invite you to start a conversation with me.

    More here: “How Social Will Shape the News Landscape Tomorrow” – http://www.nextlevelofnews.com/2010/02/changes-in-the-news-landscape-the-facebook-google-battle.html

    – Best, Steffen

  44. Pingback: Video, photo and other tools still needed « The Ben Franklin Project

  45. Pingback: Dalla ‘nube’ alla carta, rovesciando il processo di produzione | LSDI

  46. Pingback: Diarios (de papel) en la nube « …sobre gustos acá hay algo escrito

  47. Pingback: Digital comes first, Print last | iBlog

  48. Pingback: POYNTER: Ben Franklin Project’s ‘Digital First, Print Last’ Approach Produces First Products « The Ben Franklin Project

  49. Pingback: This Week in Review: News talk and tips at ASNE, iPad’s ‘walled garden,’ and news execs look for revenue | Mark Coddington

  50. To John Paton,

    My name is Sheila Chorney.

    I work out of Interprint in Bristol , Pa

    (transplanted from the News Gleaner offices in N.E. Philly)

    In response to your ideaLab challenge-

    I would like to share an idea from my perspective as a graphic artist/paginator:

    To shorten the time between sales people on sales calls…getting back to the office…

    putting together a paper layout…sending the papers to us to create…

    It would be faster if the sales people could “take us with them”

    Connect us via web, phone, etc. We could create an ad as soon as the salesperson left the advertiser.

    Give us the insertion order tracking number and we could have ads done before they are off the street.

    Save paper, save time, increase production!

    I have not yet researched the programs/tools we could use for this, but I am convinced this would help

    not only our online sales but our print production as well.

    I can be reached at schorney@newsgleaner.com

    Thank you for your time.


    Sheila Chorney

  51. Pingback: Un periódico desde la nube | Periodismo 2.0

  52. Pingback: POYNTER: Ben Franklin Project’s ‘Digital First, Print Last’ Approach Produces First Products

  53. Pingback: From Nieman Journalism Lab’s This Week in Review …

  54. Pingback: Comments from John Paton’s blog on The Ben Franklin Project

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