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June 6, 2014, 10:03 a.m.
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LINK: product.voxmedia.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   June 6, 2014

voxlogoEarlier this week, I was talking with a fellow journalist about three sites that everyone lumps together, for better or worse: FiveThirtyEight, The Upshot, and Vox.

After running through the things I liked and didn’t like about each, I circled back to Vox and said that evaluating it at this early stage felt a little unfair. Unlike the other two, which benefited from a relatively long period of buildup, Vox was born quickly. Ezra Klein, Melissa Bell, and Dylan Matthews announced they were leaving The Washington Post on Jan. 21; their deal with Vox Media was announced Jan. 26; and Vox.com launched April 6. That’s two months and a few days of prep.

That’s radically quick for your typical media company. (Some might still be debating what kind of whiteboard to buy for the planning conference room two months in.) But it’s not at all unusual in the technology world, where the lean startup and minimum viable product are increasingly the standard. As lean startup pioneer Eric Ries puts it:

Too many startups begin with an idea for a product that they think people want. They then spend months, sometimes years, perfecting that product without ever showing the product, even in a very rudimentary form, to the prospective customer. When they fail to reach broad uptake from customers, it is often because they never spoke to prospective customers and determined whether or not the product was interesting. When customers ultimately communicate, through their indifference, that they don’t care about the idea, the startup fails.

Anyway, that’s all prologue to this must-read post from Vox Media’s Michael Lovitt, which details the process of Vox.com’s quick launch. It’s all worth reading, but some highlights:

Vox took nine weeks to plan, design, build, test, and go live (six weeks from the time development began). By comparison, the initial launches of The Verge and Polygon occurred about eight months after the respective editorial leads joined the company.

[...]

Initially, we intended to set up a throwaway site for Vox, and build up to a big launch in late 2014, or possibly early 2015. But we’ve done a lot of work on our platform since The Verge launched in 2011. Chorus is now a platform with enough built-in functionality that a feature-rich site can be set up quickly, and it enables us to rapidly design, build, ship, and iterate on new ideas.

[...]

With the initial version of the site launched, we are just getting started. Melissa announced in a discussion at the end of April that we are no longer referring to what happened on April 6 as a “launch,” but instead as a “deploy,” the first of many. We have transitioned out of post-release bug-fixing mode and into product design and development sprints, and we are releasing new iterations of our work almost every day.

The ultimate success of this approach and of Vox will depend on whether our team and organization are able to maintain momentum and iteratively evolve the site.

Lots more detail in there about the smart reuse of prebuilt technology, how to decide which features needed attention first, and how to get a ton done in a short time without burning out your entire staff.

We’re a long way from Portfolio’s multiyear, $125 million launch in 2007.

I’d love it if more news companies took cues from Vox and other leaner, more agile product development approaches. You can see a bit of that DNA seeping in to some online outlets:

“Anything we can do to avoid big, huge redesigns in the future, we want to do,” said Dan Check, vp of technology at Slate, which redesigned its site last fall for the first time in six years. “They’re disruptive to both our readers and internal business processes. It gives everyone a bit of heartburn.”

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The American Press Institute’s Lisa Zimmerman has a detailed piece that tries to answer that question. And the solutions don’t always have to involve big investments in technology; here’s one take from Spokane:

The Spokesman-Review in Washington State changed its commenting policy in August 2014. “We no longer will allow comments to be posted on national or international stories, or letters to the editor,” wrote editor Gary Graham, noting that the comments will be allowed on local stories, staff blogs and staff columns, but that these discussions will no longer take place beneath the content. Instead readers now click the link provided where they are brought to a separate page for discussion.

Graham said the two goals behind these changes were to “encourage more constructive and civil discourse on local issues” and to reduce the amount of time staff spend monitoring comments. “It’s no secret that our newsroom ranks are much smaller in the wake of the economic tsunami that has wreaked havoc on the industry, and time spent moderating comments is time we cannot spend on research, reporting and editing,” he wrote.

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The Economist offers an interesting perspective today on the flip side of the wonky data journalism craze. While traditional newsrooms and media startups sift through spreadsheets and build interactive graphics and apps, think tanks — they of the traditionally dry, analytical white paper — have increasingly come to resemble digital news sites themselves. From the magazine:

Foreign Policy, a magazine, now runs “Democracy Lab”, a website paid for by the Legatum Institute, a think-tank based in London. It has a modest budget for freelancers. In June the Centre for Policy Studies, a think-tank co-founded by Margaret Thatcher, launched “CapX”, which publishes daily news and comment on its website and by e-mail. The Centre for European Reform, a think-tank founded by Charles Grant (formerly of The Economist), publishes pieces with gripping headlines such as: “Twelve things everyone should know about the European Court of Justice”.

It’s not especially surprising that think tanks and NGOs have begun to realize the value of producing fresh Takes. It’s the best way to remain a part of the conversation, which is essential if what you’re trying to do is shape opinion and influence policy. But not all the work these organizations are producing is mere content — in fact, think tank employees can fill some of the void left by ever-shrinking international reportage.

Human Rights Watch, which investigates abusive governments, recently published a series of articles on the plight of the Yazidis in Iraq. [,..] Nathan Thrall, the ICG’s Middle East analyst, based in Jerusalem, has written about the conflict in Gaza for, among others, the New York Times and the London Review of Books.

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LINK: comicsalliance.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Justin Ellis   |   September 17, 2014

The Guardian is giving new life to the traditional newspaper comic strip with The Last Saturday. Instead of Marmaduke or the ongoing exotic adventures of Mark Trail, The Last Saturday is a weekly graphic novella made to be read in print and online.

Created by the Eisner Award and Harvey Award winner Chris Ware, the episodic comic is blown out in vivid color and rich detail, with stories following the daily lives of people in the town of Sandy Port, Michigan. Ware is no stranger to collaborating with newspapers; part of his graphic novel “Building Stories” was serialized in The New York Times Magazine.

chris-ware-guardian-comic

As Comics Alliance notes, the Guardian may be trying to find better ways to make Ware’s work more tactile and engaging in digital formats:

‘The Last Saturday’ is an interesting format experiment. The first page doesn’t offer much more than a digital magnifier (primarily for mobile readers) and some unorthodox panel orientations, as is standard for Ware’s work, but considering that The Guardian’s “interactive team” is developing functionality for the comic, there’s a possibility that the comic could take advantage of the online format in all sorts of interesting ways.

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LINK: bbcpopup.tumblr.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Justin Ellis   |   September 11, 2014

The business of journalism looks a lot like a game of Risk right now, as media companies are angling for position with new sites and bureaus around the globe. Quartz and The Huffington Post have both recently set up shop in India. BuzzFeed plans to use its new funding to expand its overseas reporting footprint, and this week Politico announced it was partnering with Axel Springer to launch a Europe-focused politics site.

bbcnewsWith so much globetrotting it only makes sense that foreign news outlets would turn their eyes to the United States. The BBC set off on one adventure this week with BBC Pop Up, a mobile (in the on-the-move sense, not the iPhone 6 sense) reporting project where journalists will report from a series of U.S. cities over the next six months. Like any good pop up restaurant, the BBC’s plans are simultaneously ambitious but also limited: the BBC team will file stories for online, shoot video for broadcast, and work with locals to uncover unreported stories. It’ll do all of that in one month before moving on to the next town. The first stop is Boulder, Colo. The Ringling Brothers would be proud.

For an organization as large as the BBC the pop up bureaus are a relatively low risk/high reward proposition. It gets the BBC wider exposure in the United States as something other than the place that broadcasts Gordon Ramsey and Doctor Who, but also serves as a test for whether there is a broader appetite for their reporting in the states.

As far as experiments go, it’s still curious why a news organization that already has large bureaus throughout the United States, not to mention various language services around the world, would put on a roadshow. As Matt Danzico, head of the BBC innovation lab explains, the pop up project is about building a bridge to a new type of audience:

In the 21st Century, creating video for television from cities like Washington, New York and/or Los Angeles is definitely an effective way of reaching traditional media consumers in those markets. But if you’re also trying to reach younger generations in Colorado, for instance, why not create gripping video from the state that’s of interest to a global audience?

And now you’ve not only provided interesting programming to your traditional audience but you have also sparked the interest of an entirely new community as well.

Do that for one month at a time. Post your videos to local social media. Move cities. Repeat.

Yes, BBC News has 44 foreign bureaus in a heap of cities around the world. But the world has nearly 3,000 cities with a population over 150k. So why not create a mobile bureau that can embed itself in a community and then relocate easily?

Here’s a look at what they have in store:

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LINK: www.buzzfeed.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joseph Lichterman   |   September 11, 2014

Apple WatchAfter Apple unveiled its Apple Watch earlier this week most news organizations are still figuring out how — or even if — they’ll develop apps for the smart watch. Most outlets haven’t received any technical specifications from Apple about the device and are still in the very preliminary stages of thinking about how they’ll approach the smart watch, Myles Tanzer reports in BuzzFeed.

There was at least one news app that got an advance look at the Apple Watch: Yahoo News Digest. The app’s logo was visible on mock-ups of the watch during Apple’s presentation. (It’s the purple one with the colorful dots in a circle — above the Pinterest logo — in the watch that’s above.)

From BuzzFeed:

But during the Tuesday’s keynote, close observers noticed multiple quick flashes of the Apple Watch’s homescreen that showed icons for two apps from Yahoo, one of which is a version of the popular Yahoo News Digest app. Adam Cahan, Yahoo’s senior vice president of mobile and emerging products, confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the company has a working version of a Yahoo News Digest product but was wary to comment on any additional apps from Yahoo — “I wouldn’t read into every icon that you see everywhere.” He said the Yahoo team was one of a select few chosen to participate in a multi-week test of the Apple Watch’s development kit.

The Apple Watch is slated to be released sometime early next year. It seems likely more news apps will be developed for the platform.

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