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It’s one thing to be late to the party.
But when you finally do show up, and act as though you’re the first one to arrive, well…that may not go over so well.
As an advocate for user comments on news sites I was pleased to read that the Cleveland Plain Dealer is getting proactive and plans to engage with the people who take the time to comment on their news stories.

But the tone in which it was delivered in this post on Cleveland.com made me want to laugh.
The newspaper is acting as though it is doing users a huge favor. To paraphrase, it sounds to me like: “Yeah, we’ve ignored you long enough mostly because we found your input lacking and unworthy so guess what? We are now going to grace you with our presence and actually let our reporters talk to you. Did you hear that, peasant?”

Here is the actual verbiage:

But we’re also doing something we should have done earlier: We’re joining the online conversation. For too long, we at The Plain Dealer posted stories on cleveland.com and then turned away to focus on the next day’s news. Now, we’re encouraging our reporters and editors to pay attention to what you’re saying, to answer your questions and respond to your complaints.

Well, isn’t that nice? You’re going to provide customer service to your customers.

Why am I being hard on them about this? Because I know firsthand how difficult it is to deal with comments on news stories, particularly those that are anonymous and there is no real accountability for actions. I hire, train and supervise a team of moderators for the top local news website in a large market with an insane amount of traffic and user comments.
And we answer their questions and respond to their complaints.

We are in the conversation age and this is what it takes. Period.
I worked at a newspaper for six years and I know all too well the attitudes toward the consumer and their opinions that were once edited but are now everywhere. The loss of control and more importantly, the role of gatekeeper has been paralyzing for many news organizations. (If you want to read some great posts about this phenomenon, read Mark Potts’ Recovering Journalist and Jeff Jarvis’ Buzzmachine.)

You’re not fabulous because you finally decide to talk to your customers online in the year 2009. You’re simply doing the right thing.

The paper has also indicated in the post that this engagement is an experiment. If it goes well, they will continue. I hope they put the resources needed behind it to help it along the way. And though the tone of this post is sarcastic, I do wish them luck.

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This post was written by Rod Overton, the recently laid-off web guru who was the subject of this post about the newspaper industry.

Here are 8 things newspapers need to do RIGHT NOW to survive (I wrote these about a month ago, but have been thinking them — and pushing various aspects for a couple of years):

1.) Immediately stop entering ALL contests. Period. They send exactly the WRONG feedback loop to reporters and editors.

2.) STOP hiring people based on their clips. Integrate online cooperation — and REAL — data about their impact on the online product into the hiring process.

3.) Start really looking at analytics and studying what you are doing well and do more of that. You can now use analytics to determine this. Start doing it.

4.) Look at what other aspects of time people use the web for and consider integrating parts of those “news” or information into your site. Weather is a perfect example. It’s the second or third most popular thing people do on the Internet. Yet, this newspaper refuses to expand its weather section to try to capture that group. It would cost about $500-$800 per month to have a completely kick BUTT weather section that would compete with TV sites and weather.com, but no one wants to do it.

5.) Largely centralize the news-gathering efforts. Keep one small group to do “think pieces” or long range investigations. Everyone else needs to report in ONE silo and have everything run through about 2-3 people for decision making. Currently there are TOO MANY silos with information that never makes it to the right people who can determine if that information would be best used (and how) on the online product.

6.) Emphasize speed and jobs that people do that no one typically wants to do. For years, the general message from newspapers is that those who do the least real work are those who will not be advanced or rewarded. Change the entire reward process.

7.) Create an assignment desk to handle all work assignments and workflow and center all actions around that. At the end of the day, take what you have and then put it in the paper — and let that be that. What is in the paper is just an afterthought. I have seen this exact model work in TV for a 6 o’clock newscast at perhaps the best local TV station in the nation. Why won’t it work for newspapers?

8.) Make NEW hires. Don’t just shift people around to keep layoffs from happening. Get new blood in the door to make the changes that are NEEDED. Don’t just try to hold on to who you have now because you personally like them. They are great people, but are they really who you need to move forward?

Rod Overton can be reached at rodneyoverton (at) yahoo dot com.


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This post is more of a transcript of a conversation that started on Facebook late last night and ended with a phone call earlier today.
I asked friend and former colleague Rod Overton about his job search and whether or not anything was in the hopper. He’s been out of a job since June and I’d been seeing a lot of his comments on the blog LostRemote. My question opened the door for a really good chat.

He answered with this:

“The real problem now is that media companies simply don’t want the truth or common sense. Sizzle, pizzaz and not examining what is not working (and then cutting that) is what they want (sorry for the double negative, but you get the point — they don’t want anyone to look behind the curtain or say the emperor has no clothes.)”

I then asked Rod to tell me more and indicated that I was interested in posting some of what he was writing on my blog. He was happy to oblige:

“The common thread to most of my messages on Lostremote is that during this upheaval (TRB bankruptcy, Belo bankruptcy and McClatchy at 73 cents) publishers and editors (and to an extent TV GMs) are not taking advantage of the environment to make (what is to them) serious changes.

Instead they seem to hope to skate through it as unchanged as possible not realizing that the situation itself is showing them they need to change.
A selfish case-in-point: Someone with my skills goes unhired while people with skills that are quite easy to come by are retained and — in some pathetic cases — shifted to new media roles they will ruin just as the legacy product was ruined.”

Still with me? There’s more.

I called Rod this morning and we spoke a bit more about some of this. He told me some stories about his interviewing experiences and organizations so resistant to change I thought I was sitting in 1987. I knew it was true though because one of the most profound statements he made was this:

Newspapers are stuck on a singular solution!

He says no one wants to overhaul everything and create systemic change.
What he’s referring to is initiatives like writing shorter stories, or adding more color to the front page or including more photos and a digest of what else can be found inside.

Short-sighted solutions that tackle maybe one issue that are seen as the one solution that will change things for the better.

What are your thoughts on this? Are any other organizations or industries focusing on a singular solution? And is the emperor wearing anything at all? What do you think of Rod’s rant?

Thanks Rod, for the interesting conversation. And I hope you find something soon.

*If you’d like to connect with Rod, you can find him on Facebook and LinkedIn


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Just yesterday, I posted a blog indicating that nonprofits need to decrease their dependency on traditional media organizations and utilize social media as a mean to promote and increase awareness about their organizations.

Well, it isn’t just nonprofits that need to do this. Anyone who is still depending solely on the news media, particularly print to tell their stories, here’s a list to digest, as posted by Mark Potts.

I’ll share five of the 25 here.

  1. Newark Star-Ledger — 316,280 -10.40%
  2. Chicago Sun-Times — 313,176 -3.94%
  3. Cleveland Plain Dealer — 305,529 -8.58%
  4. Philadelphia Inquirer — 300,674 -11.06%
  5. Detroit Free Press — 298,243 – 6.84%

The common belief is that these numbers will only continue to deteriorate. Need any more convincing?

Again, here’s the full list.

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This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer. Feel free to challenge me, disagree with me, or tell me I’m completely nuts in the comments section of each blog entry.

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