A Better Way to Manage News Comments

Howard Owns has a great post on
Eight
historical mistakes the newspaper industry made where he goes over
newspaper’s slow adoption of blogging, online communities, leveraging local
blogger’s talents, winning the car and real estate market, and becoming better
community resources with online calendars.

His comments on the early attempts at forming online communities raises an
interesting point about why newspapers may be behind in this game today:

It was a mistake to view content as something we do and audiences
read, take it or leave it. Fear kept newsrooms from allowing comments on stories
for years — fear of the “graffiti on the bathroom wall” effect. Newspapers tried
forums, found they quickly devolved into ghettos of banality, spam and hate, so
they shut them down. But forum failure wasn’t the fault of the community or the
software. It was the fault of management for its lack of
management.

Tech companies created online community solutions
relatively early, which allowed for integration of online communities. However,
the problem wasn’t as much the technology as the management of the technology
which led to issues.

This isn’t to say that it’s an EASY thing to do, but moderation is absolutely
key to creating a community that flourishes (online or off). Take a look at most
professional blogs and you’ll find lively professional discussions in the
comments rather than nasty insults, spam, or over the top self-promotion. That’s
because professionals understand the importance of building a strong community.
If you don’t, you’ll lose the best contributors since they won’t put up with the
crap.

Washington Post Technorati Integration
For those who don’t want to invest in proper moderation of things like
discussion boards or comments, a compromise solution that works very well is
trackbacks. Rather than allowing people to contribute to your site’s articles
directly, give them credit for the comments they make about your articles on
their own blogs. The quality of comments goes up tremendously in this situation
since people are more accountable for their writing. Rather than leaving
drive-by snarky comments, they’re writing for their regular audience and for the
audience interested in the story on your news site (or blog).

Two popular bloggers who’ve taken this approach are
Seth Godin and
Marc Andreessen.
Both writers receive more viewers per article than all but the top newspapers in
the country, so comment moderation could be a chore to maintain. By switching to
trackbacks, they and their readers can follow their reader’s opinions on their
reader’s own blogs.

Are any newspapers doing this today? Very few, as far as I can tell. One of the
first to do so was the
Washington
Post
, who uses
Technorati to track
who’s linking to their articles. For example,
this
article on YouTube and politics
has 36 (now 37) links to it as of this
writing. So after reading the article, a reader could click out to 37
independent editorials related to this story.

Musically Inaccurate Media

Not many people know this about me, but it’s something that’s bothered me since at least fourth grade. I guess it’s 20+ years now, so it’s time to vent:

I hate musically inaccurate media.

What do I mean by this? Imagine paging through a Playboy, reading a few articles, then coming across a buxom blond playing a saxophone with an upside down mouthpiece.

I picture something like this:

Director: Hmmm. Candy’s pretty hot, but wouldn’t she be hotter with an intrument?

Prop guy: Um, I’ve got a tuba.

Director: No. I need something sexier.

Prop guy: How about a sax?

Director: Ooooh, that’s hot. And sax sounds like sex. Get Candy a sax, stat.

Candy With Sax: Am I supposed to play this thing?

Director: No. Don’t worry about that. Most of this will be photos, and for the video we’ll pump in some Kenny G in post.

Candy With Sax: How am I supposed to hold this?

Director: I don’t know. Like that guy in the E-Street Band?

Candy: Who are they?

Directory: Don’t worry about it. You look fine.

Sadly, Candy will probably end up holding the sax with her right hand on top, making things twice as jarring for someone like myself who can’t get past the musically inaccurate prop. Or, in this case, the sexy girl has no reed on her sax. It doesn’t get much worse than this:

Squirrel Sax

So, what inspires this? A story on WCCO titled, “Not So Upright Piano Found Filled with Cocaine.” Not so upright? It’s not at all upright. It’s a grand.

A Short "History" of Hyperlocal Media and Hyperlocal Advertising

National efforts at hyperlocal media seem to consistently face the same
challenge: how to find hyperlocal advertiser willing to pay enough to support
the content with a few bucks left over for profit.

Unfortunately, this has been a challenge for a number of reasons.

How did we get here? I’m pretty sure the evolution of local media went something like
this:

First
the Earth cooled
. And then the dinosaurs came. A few years later, a guy
named Robert (disputed) started chiseling
out a news tablet. It turns out that some of the local traders (let’s call them
all Hank) wanted publicity alongside the
news, so Robert started taking ads.

The
traders who took ads found that they paid off since
Robert was distributing his news-tablets
to a hyperlocal community. Robert’s news
tablets were published so regularly to such a predictable audience that they
often became the advertising venue of choice for local traders (and service
folks like wagon towers). Robert’s readers
found the ads valuable as well, since it made it easy for them to find someone
local to call them their roof leaked.

Fast forward a disputable number of years: A guy named
Al (disputed) invented the Internet, and
he guys like Robert – why by now had
switched to driving trucks full of paper around their towns rather than hauling
tablets – had the option of publishing their news on this Internet thing.

It turns out that it wasn’t particularly difficult for guys like
Robert to move their media to the part of
the Internet called the Web since they were already using computers to create
the content.

UNFORTUNATELY, local traders like
Hank (and folks like roofers,
real estate agents, and restaurant owners) were a bit slower to make the move to the Web. They didn’t use computers in their day to day work and didn’t have web sites. If they did have
websites, they weren’t proud enough of their sites to justify spending money
driving traffic to them.

That’s where things broke down. Hank
wasn’t in a position to spend similar dollars on online advertising as he’d
previously been willing to spend on paper or tablet forms.
Robert’s distribution costs are now lower,
but he still needs a lot of ad dollars to cover the costs of his staff.

If you were advising Robert, what would
you tell him to do? How does Robert create
an online media site that deserves a similar level of advertising investment
from Hank as
Hank’s used to paying? How does
Robert recreate the value his offline
newspapers online, both from an advertiser and consumer roll.
Robert knows his readers find the ads
valuable in the print edition, but hasn’t figured out the formula for recreating
it on this Internet thing.

7 Local Newspaper Web Site Challenges

I recently had a chance to sit down with an editor from a local newspaper site –
not a major daily, but something closer to a free weekly that ends up on your
doorstep – to discuss their web strategies. It was interesting to find out about
the challenges they face. I’ve outlined a few of those challenges with some
editorials below.

1. Nobody reads their website. I believe
this is largely due to their publishing cycle. They tend to hold news for their
print editions and end up getting scooped on their own stories by dailies or
local bloggers. By the time they publish to their site, they’re publishing old
news.

2. Local advertisers aren’t ready for the
web.
The biggest problem I see here is the poor quality of local
business’ web sites. If my site represented my business as poorly as many local
businesses web sites do, I wouldn’t want to drive traffic to it either. This is
a problem for local newspapers trying to tap the local online advertising
market, but it’s largely out of their hands at this point. One solution would be
to provide micro-sites to businesses that are higher quality than their own
sites, or to create online presences for businesses who don’t already have one.
This could be effective for many of the home services advertised at the local
level, like roofing, plumbing, and other contract work.

3. Nobody comments on their stories. This
goes back to #1. Bloggers are the people most likely to comment on news stories,
but they’re also news hounds, so if you’re not first with a story, they’re
probably not going to comment on it unless it offers a new perspective on the
same story.

4. They’re not engaged in the local online
community
. Many, if not most, of the writers for local papers are
freelancers so they don’t define themselves as writers for any particular paper.
Without additional ownership in the product, they’re less likely to interact
with other locals as representatives of the paper they write for.


5. They don’t publish valuable online
resources.
Where are the directories of local businesses? Of advertisers?
Of books written about the area the newspaper covers? The photo galleries? They
should become the go-to place for this type of content in their region.

6. They don’t publish an events calendar.
Another area where they could differentiate themselves.

7. They don’t publish local sports scores.
People LOVE to read their name in the paper. And they REALLY love to read their
children’s names in the paper. Start publishing recreational soccer, t-ball,
swimming, softball and other sports scores.

A popular push-back to stuff like this is, “We don’t have the time or resources
to do it.” However, it’s really a case of changing your workflow rather than
adding additional work.

Are Restaurant Reviews Important Local Newspaper Content?

On the drive from Minneapolis to Fort Wayne, IN today, I had a short discussion
with Jeremy where we discussed the
declining
circulation numbers of the
Minneapolis
Star Tribune
, the largest daily newspaper in Minnesota.

When I look at large dailies, the biggest problem I see is summarized by rew in
the comments on MNSpeak:

“. . . they’re so reliant on wire services now that all the papers are 50% the
same.”

I’m not interested in wire stories in my local daily since it’s redundant
content to me. I’ve already read it online.

I look to my local paper for local information. In the case of the Minneapolis
paper, I read local news, sports, business, events, and opinions. I tend to skip
national and international news, since I get that type of news from other
sources (usually online, and before the paper arrives), and I turn to
yet
additional
sources for
hyper-local news, such as neighborhood newspapers.

The trend here is a diversification of news sources based on interest. In the
above example, the diversification is based on geographic relevancy of content,
but the same things happens regarding depth of news coverage.

One area where I’m particularly surprised by the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s
behavior is their handling of restaurant reviews. They’ve recently scaled back
the number of restaurant reporters working for the paper. Restaurant reviews are
exactly the type of content local newspapers should be able to dominate at. A
database of professional reviews of local restaurants is extraordinarily hard to
replicate. And the reviews are extraordinarily relevant to the appropriate
market.

However, as I thought about it more, it dawned on me that the largest growth
areas for daily papers in the Twin Cities are the suburbs. And suburbs don’t
have restaurants worth reviewing. It’s not like you’re going to send a reporter
out to the latest TGI Friday’s or Applebee’s in the 3rd ring suburb to compare
it to the TGI Friday’s or Applebee’s in the first and second ring ‘burbs.

Maybe newspapers are just following the money to the burbs and abandoning the
foodies in the urban core?

In response, the urban core is taking care of itself by blogging their own
restaurant reviews. Here are a few examples:

If people are passionate enough to write about an issue, they’re certainly
passionate enough to read about it. In fact, they’d probably write about what
they read.

Do you think restaurant reviews an important piece of locally produced newspaper content?

France Bans Citizen Journalism

The French have gone further than even George W. Bush when it comes to banning civil liberties:

France bans citizen journalists from reporting violence

The French Constitutional Council has approved a law that criminalizes the filming or broadcasting of acts of violence by people other than professional journalists. The law could lead to the imprisonment of eyewitnesses who film acts of police violence, or operators of Web sites publishing the images, one French civil liberties group warned on Tuesday.

Banning citizen journalism is banning The Truth.

I don’t think this will stop the cameras. YouTube will become the venue of choice for airing French violence.

Review: Panasonic HVX200 DVCPRO HD Camcorder

We at Technology Evangelist have been trying to decide on what HD camera to buy.  Do we go with a pro grade format such as DVCPRO HDHDCam or D5 HD (uh, probably not D5 HD), do we go with a consumer grade format such as HDV or one of those nifty cameras that records direct to MPEG 4 HD?


We at Technology Evangelist have been trying to decide on what HD camera to
buy.  Do we go with a pro grade format such as
DVCPRO
HD
HDCam
or D5
HD
(uh, probably not D5 HD), do we go with a consumer grade format such as
HDV or
one of those nifty cameras that records direct to MPEG 4 HD?  To help us
make this decision we have been using a slew of different cameras and tape
recording technologies.


At the 2006 CES I was able to procure a high-end Sony HDCam camcorder: the
HDW730s. 
This is a $50,000 camcorder without the lens or any options, so it??????s a wee
bit expensive.  During the last two interviews we??????ve conducted I used a
JVC HDV
GY-HD100
prosumer camera, which runs about $5,000 or so. 






Tonight I was able to get my hands on the ever elusive Panasonic
AG-HVX200
DVCPRO HD camcorder and play a bit.



So what does this all mean?  Why do we care about the format?  I
wrote
an article a bit ago about HDV, why I hate it, and why I prefer it over
standard DV.  What I didn??????t talk about was DVCPRO HD and how it??????s
becoming more and more affordable.  While HDV is a very highly
compressed format at 25Mbps, DVCPRO HD is not nearly as compressed and runs
at 100Mbps.  In English this means that the picture quality of the
DVCPRO HD format should, in theory, be better than that of HDV.  The
less you compress a picture, the better it looks (in general, but there are
a lot of variables such as
CODEC
and whatnot).  The biggest advantage of DVCPRO HD is that it??????s an all
i-frame
format
, meaning that you can edit on every frame.  HDV is a
long-GOP format which means most of the frames are virtual and you can??????t
edit on them without a LOT of magic behind the scenes.  Long-GOP
basically means that the time it takes to edit will increase greatly, the
time to export will increase greatly, the time to compress into other
formats will increase greatly and the potential for messed up frames
increases greatly.







DVCPRO HD is a far better format than HDV.  It??????s less compressed, you
can edit on any frame which makes it very fast to work with and it can be
used in professional environments.  Until very recently DVCPRO HD
cameras were VERY expensive, starting at about $65,000 for the
Panasonic
Varicam.  Enter the HVX-200, a $6,000 prosumer camera that records
the very same DVCPRO HD signal that the Varicam records.  Cool. 
Well, mostly cool.



  First let me list the problems I found with the camera.  Want to
record HD on your new HD camera?  One would think you could record that
to tape, but Panasonic only put a
MiniDV 
deck on the camera (MiniDV tape can not record DVCPRO HD).  If you want
to record HD you must use one of the new
P2
cards
which are inserted in the back of the camera.  P2 is a new
format that Panasonic has come out with that records your video directly
onto a card which has no moving parts.  It??????s basically a bunch of SD
cards slammed into a PCMCIA card.  The nice thing about the format is
that you can record over and over again without dropped frames (tape
typically has 4 passes before you should throw it).  You can also move
that card right to the PCMCIA card slot on your laptop and transfer directly
off the card.  VERY cool!  Problem is that P2 cards only come in
up to 8GB flavors which stores 8 minutes of HD video, and they are very
expensive at around $2,000 per card.  Ouch.  So P2 is not an
option for us, and we can??????t record HD onto tape since the camera won??????t let
us.  There is a workaround, and I??????ll get to that in a bit.  A
couple of minor gripes I have would be where the XLR audio inputs are, at
the front of the camera.  If we want to run ENG wireless mics, I have
to run cables up to the front rather than having a clean system in the
back.  The lens is not only non-removable, but all of the focus
controls are servo driven so it??????s not as smooth as a pro grade lens. 
To make matters worse, for reasons I simply don??????t understand, the eyepiece
is a color LCD and they also have a color LCD pop-out screen.  If
you??????re going to put both a pop-out screen and an eyepiece on the camera,
make the eyepiece black and white so we can focus easier.  It??????s much
harder to focus on a color LCD, especially the cheap ones that Panasonic
decided on.  The filters for color balance are a bit hidden as well,
but that??????s just something that I need to get used to, it??????s neither good nor
bad.  I??????m not sure why they didn??????t just stick with a standard format of
sticking the filters by the lens, but hey, I can deal.



  There was a lot about the camera that I did like.  The entire
system is very easy to use.  I don??????t want to be the ONLY camera
operator for all of our shoots.  I want a system that I can train users
on.  Pro-grade cameras take a long time to learn because nothing is
automated.  The HVX-200 has a good balance of automated control with
the ability to go to full manual.  This means that I have the control
over the camera that I want for a shoot, but the automation that I would
want when newbies are shooting.  Outside of the time and price, I
really like the P2 format.  It??????s slick and easy to use.  If
Panasonic had 120GB cards for $500.00 today, I would buy 4 of them in a
heartbeat.  I think P2 is a fantastic format, it??????s just a couple years
ahead of its time.   I LOVE all of the formats that the camera
will allow me to shoot
in:  480i60
,
480p24/30,
720p24/30/60,
and
1080i 
24p/30p/60i.  This means that I can get the format and framerate I want
all in one camera.  SD, HD or both, 24p for shots that look like
movies, or 60p for real life looking shots.  I have it ALL in this
camera.  The picture quality was fantastic.  Not as good as the
Varicam, but one would expect that.  I believe this camera??????s picture
quality looks better than the Sony HDV camera lineup, which is hard to
beat.  The size and weight of the camera are both nice.  Good feel
with it being small enough to travel with, but large enough to get a stable
shot.  All in all, great design minus some small flaws.



  A few closing items I would like to remark on.  Panasonic claims
that this is a
1080p 
camera, and it is?????? sorta.  The camera will record 1080 progressive
lines at 24 or 30 frames per second.  However, as soon as you try and
get that off of the camera, it??????s going to shoot it back out to 1080i60 or
1080 interlaced lines at 60 fields per second.  If you look at the
picture below you can see how they are doing that, basically each frame is
divided into two fields and then shot out of the camera.




This is nothing more than a hack and I don??????t buy it.  While it will
look better than a 1080i camera that records interlaced to the tape, we
still have to deal with the problems of interlacing while editing and
distributing.  Unfortunately to get true 1080p images we??????re looking at
the Sony CineAlta which is crazy, scary expensive.  I??????ll do more
testing, but I believe at this time I would suggest shooting in 720p and
scaling up to 1080p.  It??????s too early for me to say that for sure, but I
believe that??????s where we are at.
CORRECTION: 
After hashing this out a bit, the 1080i60 signal is edited as a
true 1080p30 or 1080p24 signal on your NLE using pulldown.  Looking at
the above image, this would be meshing the two fields into one frame for
30p, or 2:3:3:2 pulldown for 24p.  This is the same process that the
DVX100 uses and it works.  My mistake.




  Finally, how do we solve the P2 problem?  I need to record
more than 16 minutes of DVCPRO HD and I don??????t want to spend an arm and a
leg to do it.  The solution is simple, elegant and sexy:  the
Firestore
FS-100
hard drive recorder.  This is a box that is designed
specifically for the HVX200 and will plug directly into the firewire port
allowing us to record the raw DVCPRO HD file directly to a hard drive
mounted to the camera.  Our recoding time just jumped to well over 2
hours and as an added bonus we can edit directly off the hard drive
without transferring the footage to another device!
CORRECTION: 
The FS-100 does not have a removable drive like the FS3
does, and as such we are limited to the 100GB drive installed, which is
about 90 minutes of recording.



  At this time I believe this is the camera we are going to work
with.  It??????s small enough to transport, has a great picture, pro-grade
audio inputs (even if they are at the front of the camera), and it??????s not
too expensive.  Having said that, what do you think would be the
right choice?  Should I be taking a look at a different camera? 
What would you spend your money on?  Please help us out and leave
comments.

Three Huge Media Technology Trends

I’m not a big “technology for technology’s sake” kinda guy. The biggest benefits of using technology is the convenience it brings to my life. At Technology Evangelist, we have a lot of online and offline conversations (yes, we actually talk face to face from time to time) about what technologies make our lives better. Here are a few trends we at Technology Evangelist have identified involving products we love. This article focuses on the trends. Later articles will take a closer look at the various applications mentioned below and how they make our lives better.

1. On Demand Content

TV is dead. At least, how TV is largely delivered today is dying fast. People LOVE watching TV, but they want to filter through the junk to get to the shows that are actually worth watching.

“Channels” are a dying concept. Consumers watch TV SHOWS not channels, and could care less about bundled cable packages. Television networks and cable operators are way behind on this, The FCC is starting to put pressure on cable operators to unbundle their channels (LA Times Registration Required) based on consumer demand for more control over what’s coming into their homes. That’s a start, but savvy television viewers are already well beyond the impact that will have on their viewing behavior.

What do consumers really want? To watch the shows they like on the time frame of their choice. Napsterization.

Don’t make me sit through Joey to watch The Apprentice.

Examples: TIVO, CinemaNow, Purchasing TV Series on DVD, iTunes

2. Aggregating Content

There is no shortage of incredibly interesting content worth consuming on the web, but how do you manage to filter for the content that’s truly remarkable? Here’s my personal challenge: I try to keep up to date on technology trends, companies I find interesting, political news & opinion, and international, state, and local news. Can I get the best of this type of content from one source? Not even close. Fortunately, a combination of web tools like Bloglines, and news review sites like Digg are making it easier for me to find content that interests me and roll it up on a custom homepage. This allows me to read more content, and more interesting content in a timely manner.

If I can’t access your web site’s content through Bloglines, I won’t be a regular reader.

Examples: Bloglines, Digg, Del.Icio.Us

3. The Participatory Web

Media gatekeepers such as publishers and television programmers are being outsourced. To whom? To all of of us. We’re creating custom TV “channels” using TIVO, our own “newspapers” using Bloglines, and our own “radio stations” using iTunes. Sites like Digg, Shopping.com, Amazon help us figure out what’s worth reading or buying based on feedback from a huge network of consumers.

Yet, we still need editors. Content creators need editors to help organize their thoughts. Consumers need editors who can help get them to quality content quicker. Freelance RSS reader optimization consulting will be a new career option for smart newshounds as a service to busier newshounds.

Wikipedia lets everyone become and editor allowing the site’s knowledge base to improve as people contribute what they know. Flickr uses a combination of “sets,” “most viewed,” “interestingness,”  “pools,”  and  “tags” to point you to content that may interest you. MNSpeak lets anyone submit and comment on news stories. The submissions are moderated to make sure they’re topical to the site, but the content is generated by the site’s network.

The people who point me to the best content on the web don’t work for media companies.

Examples: Wikipedia, Flickr, MNSpeak

The takeaways:

Consumers who take advantage of new technologies will be more productive, better informed, and live more interesting lives.

Businesses who let consumers decide how they’ll consume their business’ content will have winning strategies.