How Does an Engagement Editor Engage?

Networking illustration with figures connected by lines

Legacy media and other news organizations have begun to take social media more seriously, creating positions that focus on the medium.

However, few have set out to create a position as unique as the the Voice of San Diego.

Its new Engagement Editor, yet to be hired, has people talking. It’s part ombudsman, part new media guru.

Journalists Erik Gable and Steve Buttry wrote recent blog posts about the position and what it means. Mark Luckie over at 10,000 Words created a nice list of what journalists with similar and current positions do with social media.

In his blog post, Gable asked what you would add to his list.

Here’s what I would want to do that are similar to his ideas:

  • Manage the organization’s flagship social media accounts, reader comments and other reader-submitted content.
  • Monitor new technology and teach staff workshops on social media and other new tools that may improve engagement. Help staff determine the best tools to use for different projects.
  • Hold regular workshops for readers and community organizations to encourage new and continued reader-submitted material. Identify the potential regular and occasional correspondents for the Web site.
  • Serve as the point of contact for readers and be the steward for conversations about the voiceofsandiego.org and its stories.

And I’d also like to:

  • Organize and lead discussion forums and live online chats on the site about important events and stories. These could also take the form of a broadcast on UStream or similar site. Bring together community leaders to participate in these discussions in order to promote debate about topics.
  • Create a portal on the site that would help readers better follow the bigger, more complicated stories. Think of it like a giant blog with easily accessed backstory.
  • Establish a more social portal for comments and discussion, through a tool like Ning or BuddyPress.

Like Erik asks, what else would you add?

Image by Clix.

Three Awesome Examples of Interactive Media Stories

When it comes to creating interactive media experiences and websites, finding inspiration is paramount.

Personally, I’m working on several big projects as I approach graduation from my graduate program, so I’m scouring the web, searching for stuff that causes pause, makes me think and want to explore.

Here’s three examples I discovered recently and why they’ve inspired me.

100 Tweets by 9Elements

This site uses HTML5 and Javascript to display 100 tweets about HTML5 in a particle-like way. It has audio and plenty of animation, which make it pretty immersive and something you just want to click on.

To learn more about the project, check out the blog post on it.

In Retrospect: 40 Years Since the Race to the Moon

A Flash-based site created by the Associated Press to highlight the 40th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. My favorite part here is the timeline. It’s created in a way that visually shows how much failure the space program had to endure to reach its goal. I also like the Apollo 11 animation because it shows how incredibly complex the craft was.

Autism: Breaking Down the Barriers – A Weighty Diagnosis

This multimedia project by the Roanoke Times dives into the subject of children and autism. Focused on a family with twins, one who has autism and one that doesn’t, the project raises issues about autism, and why it’s difficult to deal with.

The video does an excellent job of setting up the story and drawing the viewer in. As soon as I watched it I wanted to explore the rest of the media. The reporters combine powerful quotes, words and images extremely well.

I found these links by browsing Favorite Website Awards and Interactive Narratives.

Why the iPad could Cripple the Internet and Newspapers

Steve Jobs has been quoted as saying he believes in old media companies, and that democracy depends on a free and professional press.

That has put some hope in newspaper executives. After all, Jobs is the guy who reinvented the revenue model for the music industry.

And with the iPad, it’s clear Jobs and company at Apple are up to something.

Hi, we’re closed

However, if the iPad takes off, and other competitors step forward, how many different platforms will newspapers, magazines and book publishers have to create content for? What the iPad and other tools like it could create is a system of closed systems.

Scholar Jonanthan Zittrain speaks to this in his book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. The iPad is an example of a tethered device. “It’s the kind of device that requires special programming knowledge and approval of the device’s creator (Apple).

He and I have nothing against things like the iPad, iPhone, Kindle and Tivo. They are great and have led to some exciting things.

However, they could also lead to a more controlled computing system and less innovation, as he argues.

Balance, please

What’s the answer? Balance – something Zittrain also calls for in his book and in an interview with Charlie Rose.

The Internet has existed as a system that anyone can jump into and play with, so to speak. If you want to create a website for your business, you can do that without knowing everything about how the Internet or computers work.

An Internet dominated by iPad-like devices could wreck that. Developers would have to have more specialized programming knowledge, approval from device creators and other restrictions.

So what should newspapers, magazines and other online storytellers do?

  • Explore all possibilities, but maintain some distance and freedom. Don’t rely on just one solution for distributing content.
  • Embrace both closed systems, like the iPad and open source platforms, like WordPress.
  • Advocate for standards when it comes to devices like the iPad, iPhone and Kindle.

There’s no perfect solution here, but doing these three things will help maintain that balance that Zittrain so smartly calls for as a solution.

What else could newspaper, magazine and book publishers do to help their cause here?

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Contemporary Media Issues about the future of the Internet.

The Print vs. New Media Debate

Newspapers have dominated the news’ lately.

And not for reporting the news, but for being the news. The industry continues to struggle amid declining ad revenues and dwindling audiences.

Last week Tech Crunch’s Erick Schonfeld posted an article about a conversation he had Marc Andreessen, the man who invented Mosaic, the first widely used web browser. In the post, Andreessen advises media companies to “burn the boats,” so to speak and abandon their print products.

Embrace the web. Fully. Before it’s too late and other information competitors have the media industry beat.

Today, Schonfeld wrote a follow-up post to his “Burn the Boats” article. In it, he compared media companies and some journalists to dinosaurs happily munching on plants (advertising) instead of evolving.

The two posts have generated a lot of conversation. And for good reason. The debate here is a lively one, and worth reading for anyone interested in how technology will continue to shape newspapers, and the type of storytelling they practice.

One commenter on the latest post said this:

“I looked around at the people I was sharing the train with.

To a person- everyone that looked to be 40+ was either reading a book, talking on their cell or reading a newspaper/magazine (or sleeping).

The under 40 crowd? Just like me – people were on their cells doing, I am assuming, exactly what I was doing: browsing the web, using facebook, whatever. The point is they WEREN’T reading newspapers.”

And there lies the real issue.

Yes, this is a money issue, but also an audience issue.

I would love to see old media take more chances. Burning the boat sounds so romantic. Fun, even. I’d bet it would spur innovation.

However, until the majority of the audience on that train starts using digital tools to consume news, the media will continue to have to walk the line between burning the boat and just bailing out the water in the sinking ship.

7 Free Tools for Creating Multimedia Websites

Digital Typewriter Illustration

We all like free. Love it even.

And we value saving time much more, especially when building multimedia experiences. So here are a seven free tools that I’ve found indispensable:

  1. Kuler: Adobe’s color selection tool makes experimenting and picking colors for projects fun and easy.
  2. Firebug: Inspect and edit HTML in real time. Perfect for experimenting.
  3. W3 Schools: A site packed with great web development tutorials. Learning CSS was much easier with these at my disposal.
  4. Kirupa: I just recently discovered this site, chock full of resources for all things Flash.
  5. Twitter Lists: I am a big fan of Twitter Lists. Follow these two I made if you want insights from creative people and interactive media professionals.
  6. Smashing Magazine: The thing I enjoy most about Smashing Mag is that it always leads me to new and exciting things on the web.
  7. My Delicious: Want more links and resources from me. Check out my Delicious profile.

Image by Vierdrie.

Does Google Help or Hurt Traditional Media?

Illustration with person "shhh-ing" and the words: Creativity in progress

Few tech companies roll off the tongue as easy as Google these days.

The two giant has earned their place in tech lore, thanks to visionary leaders, simple, but useful products and bold moves, among other factors. But does this behemoth of a company help or hurt traditional media?

No News Here

I suppose newspaper executives would argue yes – in a big way. After all, Google News has aggregated much of their content, and as they might say, stolen potential revenue.

Google executives have countered that search helps enhance newspaper content, and that the company has tried to help newspapers, but hasn’t found the perfect solution just yet.

Book publishers and authors have battled Google over its Books portal in the past, and that fight continues today – centered on eBooks. Much of the fight, like the battle with newspapers, has revolved around copyright issues.

The movie and television industry have also faced Google head on over the content it aggregates for search. To that end, the search giant has yanked movie and television shows off its video portal, YouTube.

And that plays into Google’s quest to better monetize YouTube, with the addition of movie rentals earlier this year. However, will that be enough to quiet down the movie studios?

No.

Always About Money

Because this isn’t about just copyright and content. It’s about money. Google has grown more and more since it went public in 2004.

After all, Google isn’t just a tech company – it’s in the advertising business. That’s how traditional media has always made its money. So there lies the conflict.

And it’s a good conflict.

Google has helped traditional media more than it has harmed it.

In the book, Googled by Ken Auletta, Google co-founder Sergey Brin says that many of the company’s ideas may never see the light of day if they always went through proper channels before innovating. For example, asking newspaper publishers if it’s OK that Google aggregate their content.

But the Real Currency Is?

Such is the price of innovation on the web history’s fastest developing medium of information.

Google will continue to push back on traditional media, effecting its content, the way it tells stories through news, movies, books and more and the way it makes money. That’s a good thing.

Google operates with one currency in mind: information. It has the information of millions of web users via searches, emails, chats and much more.

The products come free, but the cost comes forth in information.

That information leads to products that are more personal and choice-heavy.

Yes, consumers need to be wary of how their information is being used. And traditional media needs to be aware of just how much more personal a user’s experience is with Google products.

A balance here could guide users to a continued improved experience and direct old media to something it has only reacted to, instead of created: innovation.

Image by marganz.

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Contemporary Media Issues about Google and the media issues surrounding the company.

Do People Really Care About Journalism’s Struggles?

Are they really seeing what has happened?

“In a big news year, most media continued to see audiences shrink.”

This according to The State of the News Media 2009 report by the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism. Nothing new there.

Googly Eyes image

Wait. That can’t be right.

Think about that statement. In 2009, the media covered some of the biggest stories in recent times. These include the near second coming of The Great Depression, two American-led wars overseas and the election of the first black president in history.

What gives? People should be flocking the news. Their world has changed, is changing and continues to morph into something completely different and new.

Do people really care about journalism’s struggles?

Nope. That isn’t to say that they couldn’t or don’t want to care.

But why don’t they?

There are three major reasons:

1. The structure of the media. Media critic and scholar Robert McChesney states in his book, The Political Economy of Media, three major reasons for a lack of debate over media structure. One of them is the fact that corporate media have successfully promoted the idea that the status quo is the “only rational media structure for a democratic and freedom-loving society. This holds true to some extent. People may think that with huge corporations controlling media organizations, there’s no chance for change.

2. People like free. Much of the debate about journalism centers on monetary issues. Yes, the industry has shed countless jobs, but according to a recent study by the Inland Press Association, some newspapers have increased their operating profit over the last five years.

According to an article about the report:

Outgoing Inland Executive Director Ray Carlsen said the report compares the gains and losses at daily papers across the country. “It’s encouraging to note that newspaper profitability can still achieve a double-digit percentage of gross revenue,” Carlsen said. “It means that newspapers are still a good business when compared to the results of other industries.”

Many newspapers have seen huge declines in profit, but continue to see profits of 12 percent to 15 percent. Perhaps free news isn’t that bad? People like free, so if the news industry starts charging for everything, the prevailing attitude among people seems to be that the content can be found somewhere for free.

3. The choice for news grows everyday. People no longer need to rely on broadcast news or their major metro daily newspaper for news. They have Facebook, Twitter, blogs, independent Web sites and each other. Anyone can create content today, so the top-down function of old media has become extinct.

How do we make them care?

  • Provide unique content that isn’t watered down or found anywhere else. Make sure it tells a story.
  • Give that content context. Why is it important to the audience? What does it mean?
  • Segment the content into digestible bits that hit home for different members of the audience.
  • Use multiple creative ways to distribute the content. Print. Online. Social media. Mobile media. Email lists. Employ them all.
  • Engage in conversation with the audience. They matter more than anything else.
  • When in doubt: The bottom line matters. The story matters more. What the audience thinks matters even more.

Image by Ayla87.

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Contemporary Media Issues about journalism’s recent struggles.

Can Multimedia Save Journalism?

Multimedia buttons on a computer

In the late 1990s, when the Internet started catching on, many believed that traditional media, like print and broadcast media would make a transition to the online world.

However, that has yet to fully happen. Newspapers continue to struggle with layoffs and closings. Media leaders have tried and failed at monetizing the news in several different ways.

Despite this, multimedia content has grown on news sites. More publishers, editors and news directors have started hiring web-related positions. Even if we could flip a switch, and make the transition to predominantly online news content, could more multimedia stories save journalism?

Yes. Multimedia is part of the answer.

But only part of it.

The other two factors are money and varied approaches to both the content and the monetization of it.

Segmenting the Content

Robert McChesney, a well-known media critic and scholar whose book I’m reading in one of my graduate classes, asserts that corporations have far too much influence over the media. The hunger for money, he says, effects journalism negatively.

The players haven’t changed in the online world.

The same companies that own newspaper and television stations own many of the most-visited sites. If one of these online companies lacks a foothold in traditional media, it still trends toward being huge.

The need for money, no matter whether a organization is non-profit or for-profit will never go away. News needs funding too.

So how can multimedia attract funds?

Segmented content.

Multimedia lends itself to short bursts of stories, whether it is a photo gallery, video clip, podcast, interactive map or a text article. These pieces can make for perfect bonus content, in addition to certain levels of free content.

The CBS news show 60 Minutes has leaned toward this approach, according to one of its senior producers. Producing quality content will attract viewers and visitors, and may lead them to want to pay for certain additional or premium content.

The next question becomes how to monetize that content.

Monetizing the Multimedia

When I worked for a community newspaper in Florida, I rarely heard from readers who said they read the paper, front to back. When they called to complain or offer praise, it was typically about one section they were passionate about.

This is why I believe segmenting content, and pricing it by the piece and by section might work. However, I also believe that trying different solutions and being nimble about it will work best.

For example, the New York Times will try a metered approach in the future, giving away some free content while charging for some after a certain level of views. This approach might gain traction, thanks to its flexibility and use of free content.

Whether a news organization is for-profit or non-profit, it will always need some type of revenue stream, and multiple revenue streams work even better. Multimedia can drive the transition to more online news and more revenue streams, making news orgs less dependent on solely advertising.

Image by Maxray06.

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Contemporary Media Issues about journalism’s recent struggles.