March 7, 2008

Online soup could use more women, right?

How do we make our own online, stone soup? What's up with all these mom sites? And are woman at the multimedia, web table?

Steve Yelvington got me rolling with the soup imagery. He started by pointing us to a review by Neil Thurman of City University, London, on how British news media are using the tools of interactivity. And moved onto the idea that many newspapers, media sites, web sites want contributions thrown into the pot - without losing control.

That made me think of the Stone Soup fable, where nothing turns into something. Think of an online community site filled with user-generated content created the way the hungry men enticed village folks to make a new soup by starting with a pot, water and a stone and them enticing others to toss in a carrot, onion, potato, etc. The men end up with a tasty soup through a collaborative effort.

That's not what is happening on many sites. Too often, there's a head chef and he knows how the soup will turn out

The folks in charge want to hold onto the right to approve what you want to add to the mix (no, we already have a politician writing so you can't) They remind you to peel the veggies (use full names, write your head like this, put your item here).

The site shows us the pot, then gives the list of acceptable ingredients rather then risking a surprise, something unique for each community.

Is it really a user-generated site if the users only get to fill in the "holes" allotted to them?

Over in Jason Falls' Social Media Explorer, he looks at similar concept in a review of preview of a newspaper's new design. He focuses on the idea that just because you give someone social media tools, it doesn't mean you are a social media site.

The next big hurdle is how many sites do we need?

If I am already -----ing, do I need your ----ing tool? (Blog Friends, My Blog Log, Google Shared items, ... LiveJournal, Blogger, WordPress ... Diggs, delicious, stumbledupon...)

I know of at least eight places to get a list of Flint Michigan restaurants. Seven of the eight ask me to rate the restaurants.

I can go to at least five places now aggregating content from Flint. I'm not even counting specialty stops, such as GeneseeFun.

That takes me to the growing number of mom sites.

Does every town need one of those too? We have them in Michigan, Ohio, Texas, and on and on and on.

Seriously, isn't most of the content generic? What I might need is an online neighbor telling me which pharmacist will add cherry flavoring to my kids meds. But the National Institutes of Health government site is where I will get my advice on the latest flu.

Which brings me to the role of women in developing, creating, growing the network of online community and its information. Are they out there? Are they in the pipeline?

When I think of folks out there trying new things, I can think of Rob Curley, or Zac Echola, or Adrian Holovaty, or Ryan Sholin, or Shawn Smith or ... notice a pattern there?

It does look like a fair number of women are over at the "we're all in this together" Wired Journalists site - and we have some great role models in colleges and heading up grant programs (Think Nora Paul or Jan Schaffer or Vikki Porter.)

But I am still outnumbered at too many digital media, computer-assisted journalism events.

So why aren't women already in the newsrooms learning how to be multimedia journalists?

If it is money, there's a possible solution for a few women. I recently learned that 3 projects are going to get grants (up to $10,000 each) Head to the site for a ton of research showing fewer women staying in journalism, fewer women leading news operations, and fewer women expecting to stay or lead.

What I did not find is a number to back my theory that fewer women then men are in the pipeline learning digital journalism, multimedia techniques, web stuff.

My gut reaction is little has changed since one of the first computer-assisted reporting conferences at Indiana University was attended by mostly men.

Even last fall, only 3 of 40 or so folks at a "multimedia tricks for news" workshop were female.

Yet, women and men are online in equal numbers, according to this NTIA study.

Are they watching, not creating? What can we do to fix it?

Maybe it is not limited to our newsrooms.

Twelve years of teaching workshops to Girl Scout adults and I am still finding women who use their husband's email account. Twelve years, and many know nothing about security and privacy issues because their husband does that computer stuff.

I think we get better soups with more women at the table.

March 5, 2008

Passion required to get things done

The idea of being passionate is jumping out at me. Right now, it is an publisher's note in the January edition of Oxygen.

Oxygen, a fitness magazine aimed at women, is not on my normal reading list except that it is normal for me to pick up what I might not normally read when I am at a doctor's office. A cover headline on "eating clean in ANY restaurant" caught my eye. But the "Power of PASSION" stopped me first.

Robert Kennedy asks "what are you passionate about?" before sharing a multitude of his passions.

He also notes how many today don't have any passions before reminding us "nothing great" is accomplished without passion.

Now, I know why working 60 to-70 hours in a week often didn't feel like work. The passion of building an information rich site fueled me.

Passion explains why I can spend hours sharing what I learned.

Passion is why I continue to experiment with Friendfeeds, Twitter, and Wired Journalists even as I prepare to end my 30-plus year career. (who hires 54-year-old web journalists'? Heck, who hires journalists these days - firms just buy them out or lay them off.)

I wish I knew how to inspire that passion in others who seem frozen into patterns of desperation and making do.

A recent Twitter status on coping with those frozen by circumstances/lack of ambition/lack of caring got this: @mcwflint: be the big thaw. 09:33 PM February 12, 2008

Easier said then done and perhaps it is because I believe we are responsible for the moments we live.

Perhaps passion comes easy to me since I have outlasted the dooming predictions of others on multiple fronts. (one boss said I just like proving things can be done)

Kennedy suggests feeding passion three ways:
-Be positive

-Pat yourself on the back

-Live it, love it

Kennedy puts changing your job if it feels like work under being positive. I think it can go under each.

Danny Sanchez explores creating passionate newsrooms or at least ideas on how to get people excited about new technology. His tips include find something the reporter is excited about and match a tool to that; train and have patience.

I think that worked with Ron Fonger who had lists of demolished houses and then put them on Google maps. It worked with Marjory Raymer who saw a way to let everyone know who contributed to a the Flint mayor's campaign. It worked with Steve Jessmore who learned to add sound, voices to his Sense of Community portraits.

Sanchez, who was at the Web Apps Miami conference, later posted on creating passionate owners as being the success to business.

He listened to Gary Vaynerchuk, host of Wine Library TV, explain how to build community:
“I fly all over the country just to drink wine with people.”

“You’ve got to have the DNA of your community.”

“There needs to be a face to your company. You have to take care of those people until your bleeding out of your f***ing g****mn face.”

“You need to love your community more than you love yourself.”

“You’ve got to have someone in the trenches. Someone people can touch.”

Then Danny suggested that didn't sound like the average ombudsman and asks how much is your "community manager" out in the community, being a part of a community, being passionate about being a part of that community.

(Remember how I said passion is popping up everywhere. My husband's January 2008 Project Management magazine also had an article on the importance of project managers projecting passion.

Alfonso Bucero says:
- Believe in what you do
- Show a sense of urgency
- Be willing to take on additional responsibilities
- Strive for excellence

See. Passion is everywhere. Find yours. Please)

March 4, 2008

Dismantling the audiotext system

It's only a matter of days before I'll pull the plug on The Flint Journal's audotext system. Seriously, we have still been delivering information by phone.

But despite the number of calls to hear the lottery numbers, the weather, the horoscopes, updates on soap operates, it is time to pull the plug.

I know I was the last one to care, and I gave up at least 15 months ago when it became clear no one was interested in selling sponsorships with the hot, sexy Internet grabbing all the attention.

I've let it limp along - 22 phone lines feeding into a computer that takes an information feed and delivers it upon the request of four digits. (Hey, I wanted to eliminate some phone lines, but we were waiting to do that when we moved the system to the "new" computer room.)

Yes, I know that some of the lottery numbers were popular only among those playing numbers.

Yes, I know that all of the information is available somewhere online. (Do you know there are still some who don't use computers? I'd be happy to direct all the calls that will come in to you, if you'd like.)

It just seems ironic to me that when the population has more portable phones then ever, we are pulling out of the service.

And we are one of the last newspapers to do that. In fact, we may be one of the last businesses to do that. We looked for a place to send folks to - just a few years back every phone directory in the area had a similar service. Today, none of the four in our area. (I did find one 800 service over on 1-800-555-TELLME)

I remember when we once had numerous vendors striving for attention, for our business. We'd meet and share ideas for using these phone-computer systems for contests, polls, and delivery of all sorts of information.

ZDNet calls it A voice response application that allows users to enter and retrieve information over the telephone. See IVR.

There are a few vendors and systems out there ... just no one seems to be aggressively trying to deliver the information via a newspaper or media company.

Buzzmachine: Work collaboratively

 I'm convinced the only way we as a society are going to survive this series of journalists layoffs/buyouts/goodbyes -- Did you see More than 1,000 jobs eliminated in 2 months -- is to get more people interested in creating content, reflecting the communities we live in. It takes hard work and money.

I know lots of people had this dream of folks contributing to a rich community computer network back when free-nets were growing.

Jeff Jarvism in a post on Buzzmachine, shares ideas on getting the public involved with creating journalism, with covering a community.

Here's a summary,  

* Ask public to sort large amounts of data/documents put online 

* Ask the public to help gather data points around a story. 

* Get the public to help file FOIAs and create a FOIA repository 

(Plays nicely off the Empower readers, viewers with FOI advice a column in January Quill from Society of Professional Journalists (Sorry. You need to be a subscriber to read that, but here are some resources to help with FOI )

* Let public help assign reporters

* Establish communities of experts to help on stories, their reporting and checking and even their assignment.  

* Give citizens  camera and recorders and ask citizens to capture meetings, lectures, events.

* Get the advertising side involved in supporting curated, quality blog networks

Head to the original   for examples.

He closes with
To get started, I'd hire a collaboration editor charged with getting such projects going all around the newsroom.

And has this bit of advice:

But I'd make sure that job gets phased out as journalists collaborate on their own self-interested initiative.

And I suggest you make sure you carefully assign that job ... you need an enthusiastic champion right from the start. Actually, the more champions, the better

Twitter away

Sometimes, experience is the best teacher so let me share some insights from another on Twitter and give you some links to Twitter media links.

Here's what Rick Mahn, who spent a year with Twitter says:
"As I've followed more and more people on Twitter, and have more people follow me, I've grown in my ability to absorb the data stream.

I've become accustomed to having bits of information stream past all day. I find it interesting when someone chooses to vent frustrations.

I'm invigorated by the short conversations on topics I rarely think about.

I get excited to be able to answer someone's question.

I'm happy when I hear good things happen to these people who are familiar to me.

I'm proud of the way the community itself pulls together and makes things happen.

Imagine, all this is captured and shared in 140 characters or less."

I can't imagine why any journalist is missing becoming a part Twitter

Want to see which news organizations are twittering? Check this list and this list of media outlets.

Don't forget the Flint Journal's breaking news Twitter.

March 3, 2008

Taming technology, training me

Before voice mail and caller ID, before cellphones even, a friend showed me a liberating lesson by letting the phone ring. I thought of that when someone suggested I try silence when stumbling over the difficult task of saying "no.".

Back to the phones. At first, I was puzzled. Didn't he hear the ringing phone? Is he avoiding someone? It didn't take many incidents before I had to ask why he didn't answer the calls.

His answer: I am busy right now talking to you.

Whoa. To someone accustomed to racing to the rings, that was eye-opening. The technology does not tame me. I can choose, much in the way people once collected the mail and held onto a letter to read in a quiet time.

We can choose the importance of the call when it happens, weighing what we are doing at the time.

It is the same with SMS, AIM, and even email. Instant responses may be expected. They don't have to be given - then.

I still slip sometimes if I am near the ringing phone. My eyes will dart to the panel of numbers announcing the caller.

That gesture, though, is rude to the person who is already talking to me - in person.

I wish others learned that lesson of politeness prior to getting a cellphone. Then, fewer people would chat while being waited on or sitting in a crowded waiting room. That is an easy, a familiar rant.

I am trying to use that lesson to answer questions that have no answers or don't deserve answers or where the only right answer is no.

I want to master the technique of greeting an unbelevable request with silence. Not the "give me a second to round up my thoughts" silence.

I want the silence that says "are you serious?"

I want the silence that makes you realize you popped the wrong request to the wrong person.

I want the silence that will remind me that says it is OK to say no and to be polite to myself.

We make choices. Companies even. Just because I have made foolish choices in the past, I do not have to repeat them. Just because I have invested heavilly in a project, a plan, I do not need to ensure its success forever.

It is a matter of survival.