Open Discussion: How to Crowd Source Weekly Fishing Reports

cape_led-july27

(Update: In thinking about this, I believe my fundemental problem is that while I’ve crowd sourced content generation, I am now at a point where I need to crowd source some of the content entry, formatting and editing tasks…)

I’ve been editing the Fishwire Reports at Reel-Time.com since 1995.  The task has generally been hugely manual, requiring tons of my time, most of which has happened over the years between the hours of 4am and 9am on Friday mornings.  In short, a really bad system.

The Scenario:

We cover 6 distinct regions throughout the northeast.  Each area is the responsibility of a different writer, although last year I wrote the reports for two regions.  The reports each contain around 6 subregions, such as “Boston Harbor” or “The Cape Cod Canal.”

Generally on Tuesdays I send an email out to my sponsors (generally area fishing guides) and regular contributors.  Then over the next two days the reports and images come back in via email.  If the weather is good, I probably have close to enough for a report.  If not, I go into our forum and look for posts that contain info from the general area.

I do a ton of cut and paste, much of which requires me to use notepad as an intermediary, since half the email comes in with nasty word or other formatting embeded.  Also, I get many of the images at full res, as many of the guides don’t have or don’t know how to use Photoshop.  Hence photo editing is a huge component of the task.  The images are generally optimized, have a caption added, and get a photo credit.

Then I put together the best of the images to use as the story leads for the homepage.

The current system, if it could be called that, is custom coded php that dates back to the dark ages.  I plan to move most of the non-forum components of the site to a highly customized version of WordPress that we use for many  of our sites.   If needed, I have the capability to make WordPress stand on its head and dance.  I do a LOT of WordPress development.

The Question:

My big problem is that I only see moderate improvement in the process no matter what I do.  Essentially, we’re managing a crowd sourced report here.  Many contributors, a writer, a photo editor,  and an editor.   How are other people doing stuff like this without having to use so many different skills?

The readers and sponsors really like the personal touch the writer gives the report.  I wouldn’t want to go to just a directory of reports, that’s been tried and failed repeatedly.  In fact, our presentation is one of the big differentiators.

Can you see a better way?  Do you have examples of how others are doing this in new and better ways?   Or should I just look at getting a couple interns to make it work manually?

As always, I look forward to the shining light of your collective wisdom…

(Oh, I’ve had a suggestion: why don’t you just do a blog – the short version to the answer is that I did that in 2004 as a test and found that only a very small subset of sponsors would post, so I ended up cutting and pasting again.  Plus, the subset that did post was way over represented on our site.)

The Star Tribune Files Chapter 11

Via Editor and Publisher…with a pointer from Hart Van Denburg.

Less than two years after it was bought by a private equity group, the Star Tribune has filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

But wait, there’s more…

In December, Harte told employees the “survival of the company” was at stake and asked labor unions to agree to $20 million in cuts by mid-January. Without those cuts, Harte said the newspaper could face bankruptcy.

The Star Tribune ranked as the nation’s 15th-largest paper last October, with weekday circulation of about 322,000 and Sunday circulation of almost 521,000. The paper has nearly 1,400 employees.

Here is why this is important news: less than a decade ago, we looked on The Star Tribune as one of the few papers, (the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was another) that seemed to really “Get” the internet.  A real model for how a paper would move forward.

The problem is that even if you start moving in the right direction, if the financial folks aren’t, you’re sunk.  And obviously, like the Tribune Co., The Star Tribune managed to saddle themselves with massive debt at exactly the wrong time.

We knew things were getting bad for newspapers, but the economic problems of the country are particularly harsh on the most overleveraged.  I suspect we will see much more of this in the coming months.  Perhaps it’s time to start up the Newspaper Dead Pool.

For those at the ST, I hope you manage to power through.  I’ve always been a fan of your work, and look forward to more in the future.

Old School Journalism

Wow…absolutely hysterical…

Via Suzeanne Yada on Twitter…her description is better than any I could come up with:

A 1940s short film on journalism. Watch as men in fedoras call editors with visors and completely shaft women! 

Branded Community or Sponsoring Niche Communities

Paul Gillin posted on a topic that I’ve been mulling over for the past few days: Branded Communities.  I’ve said it in the past and I will say it again here and now: why would you buy a build a branded community when you can rent one instead?

From Gillin’s post:

Pssst… is intended to bring fans of General Mills products closer to the company by inviting them into a members-only space where they can receive inside information, get coupons and samples and share their opinions about the company’s products. This is all the stuff that I preach organizations should do with branded communities. The site is produced in collaboration withGlobalPark, a company that manages online panels.

Pssst… is good in concept but bad in execution.

David Churbuck posted on the issue and asked one very pointed question:

Begs the question of who does a decent job with a branded community — aside from the usual product support forums, etc. — I can see some reasons for stumbling, but begs the question: who joins a community about bad yogurt?

The classic example would be Nike+ – where they’ve built a fairly successful brand community.   However, I  think a yogurt community might be a tough sell.

That said, building a branded community is a daunting task.  Potential issues:

  • Time to Market – do you have time for a 6-9 month dev cycle?
  • Core Competency – do you have people who can actually build and manage a community?
  • Expense – do you have a budget to build, and even more importantly, a budget to maintain a community?

At NameMedia, I work with Niche Community Sites, and we’ve been coming up with interesting ways to put companies and their brands in touch with the customers they want to reach, and we’ve got some compelling stories about new and innovative ways in which we’re doing this.  A couple brief examples:

It took Nike over 2 years to build their community.  We were able to get the Brother campaign up and running over night on Craftster.org.

Okay, this isn’t meant to end up sounding like an ad.  My point is that you can get real results fast working with Niche Communities and Niche Social Media.  While I’d love to tell you that NameMedia has the market cornered on creative sponsorship, there are a lot of other creative folks out there.

Or course, we’ve  got 20 million visits a month, over 30,000 conversations a day across our sites, in niches like outdoors, photography, technology, gardening, crafting, and astrology.  Our list of sites.

If you’d like to hear more about the creative campaigns we’re doing, get in touch with me or leave a comment here.  I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg and there are probably better folks than me to tell the story.

Newspaper Death Watch: Trib Goes to 11, NYT Mortgages the Farm

Newspaper insiders for the most part weren’t all that surprised to see the  Tribune Company file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection yesterday.  The Trib has been in trouble for some time, and it hasn’t been helped by high profile fights of the past two years by owner Sam Zell, who purchased the company in April of 2007, which saw him take the company private.   Since then his fights with the leadership of the Los Angeles Times  have achieved near legendary status.  

The problem is that bankruptcy isn’t a complete answer for the Tribune Company.    Perhaps they’d do best to do as Sam Zell suggested just a short time ago when the mortgage crisis was at the top of the news:

“…this country needs a cleansing. We need to clean out all those people who never should have been in houses in the first place.”

Perhaps indeed the newspaper industry also needs a cleansing, and all those who should never have owned newspapers should be cleaned out.  For example, Sam Zell. Continue reading “Newspaper Death Watch: Trib Goes to 11, NYT Mortgages the Farm”

Layoffs for for Book Publishers

Layoffs at Random House, Simon & Schuster

Random House, etc. layoff…Yahoo is attributing it to the economy, but I wonder how much is do to people not reading in paper as much.

The economy has crashed down on an industry once believed immune from the worst — book publishing — with consolidation at Random House Inc., and layoffs at Simon & Schusterand Thomas Nelson Publishers.

At Random House, the country’s largest general trade publisher, the man who helped give the world “The Da Vinci Code” is in talks for a new position, while the publisher of Danielle Steel and other brand-name authors is leaving altogether.

“Yes, Virginia, book publishing is NOT recession proof,” said Patricia Schroeder, president and chief executive officer of the Association of American Publishers. “It’s sad day.”

The Tragedy of the Virtual Bookshelf

David Churbuck has found that which we are losing in this digital age.  It reminds me of the discussion I had with my 9 year old yesterday when she asked me if I’d read every book in my library.  

I like the Kindle. Indeed I love it. But I can’t indulge my penchant for giving away books thanks to this selfish device. I can tell people to read “Moneyball” but I can’t back that up by emphasizing my desire to share that experience by giving them my copy. The Kindle, ultimately, is a selfish device that cannot be loaned. Last week, while driving my son home from college, I sang the praises of “Shadow Country,” this year’s National Book Award in fiction. But I can’t lend it to him and indeed, tragically, I don’t have a physical copy to park on my favorite shelf next to the previous three books in the Watson series.

Indeed I suspect in some ways we may end up as a “Lost Generation” having committed so much to digital formats that most likely will be arcane and unreadable 50 or a 100 years in the future.  And in the here and now, the ‘community of the book’ is dying.  

For now, I continue to buy my books in print.  The problem is in this new economy, I have precious little time to read.  

Read David’s full post…really

Newsosaur: Newspapers Consider Printless Days

No time to write today, but I picked this none-to-delectible tidbit up from Alan D. Mutter at Newsosaur while surfing during lunch and had to share:

In one of the most startling of the potential initiatives, an amazing number of publishers of all sizes are giving serious consideration to eliminating print editions on certain days of the week, according to private conversations with operators who requested anonymity.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday editions, which typically carry the least amount of advertising, appear to be at the most risk.

With demand for newspaper advertising this year plummeting in every category (including online since March), industry ad revenues in 2008 are likely to be no better than $38 billion, or nearly 25% less than they were when sales hit an all-time peak of $49.4 billion in 2005.

An interesting notion, and one I hadn’t trully considered until just now.  I suspect in the end, publishing only a few days a week will be unworkable for most publications due to union contracts, etc.  Additionally, many of the hard costs endemic to print publishing and delivery will remain, ie, the presses, the trucks, etc.  

The big point to keep in mind is that no one would have ever mentioned such a notion out loud in the hallowed walls of a newspaper even a year ago.  How far we have fallen…

PC Magazine To Kill Print Version

PC Magazine announced last week that their January issue would be the last issue they actually print, from then on, they’re a web-only publication.

From The New York Times:

 

It is the latest of several magazine publishers to drop a print edition, as advertising plummets and the cost of printing a paper version rises.

“The viability for us to continue to publish in print just isn’t there anymore,” Jason Young, chief executive of Ziff Davis, said in an interview.

While most magazines make their money mainly from print advertising, PC Magazine derives most of its profit from its Web site. More than 80 percent of the profit and about 70 percent of the revenue come from the digital business, Mr. Young said, and all of the writers and editors have been counted as part of the digital budget for two years.

 

There are only two surprises here, first that it took them so long to realize that online was the only viable medium for them, and that they continued to call themselves “news” got so little play to begin with.

I’ll leave the inevitable “if it’s online only, can you still have ‘magazine’ in the title” snark alone for the day.  The real news here is that some news is best delivered over the web, and Tech News is one of those things.  The long print cycle lead times ensured that by the time the magazine would turn up on your doorstep, the news content would be old and moldy, having been macerated to death by various blogs, news sites and forums.  The key factors for moving Tech News online:

 

  • Tech readers definitely have computers and high speed access to the web.
  • Tech news cycles move too fast for print.  Web news can be delivered in minutes or hours, while print is right for 3-6 week delivery.
  • Tech news in print demands the most costly of print, high quality glossy magazines.

 

In the end, doing tech in print now means deep analysis and rigourous testing (both of which PC Magazine has always excelled at).  Yet, those can be offered online, and with a richer presentation.  Back when I started editing Reel-Time.com I remember new writers would always ask “How many words do I have?” when we talked about their weekly columns.  I always had to laugh, the notion of specific column length being so “print-centric.” On the web, we are free to throw as many pixels as we need at an issue.

I believe we’re seeing the tip of the iceberg.  Those that can make the jump will start to make that jump quickly.  Notably, I expect to see trade journals become a relatively rare beast.  Ivory towered experts lecturing professionals about their profession is a thing of the past.  Instead, users will gravitate to profession-based niche social media.  The journals will slowly cease to exist, and the magazines that remain will be serving the less technical of the professions.

For all the talk, er, converstation, going on about Social Media, we really haven’t got there yet.  I think the next year will the telling time, when we see more application of the prime tenets towards the professional space.  Where as we may have proposed a network for surfers last year, which we might monetize someday, this year, we’ll be proposing a network of plumbers, which we’ll be monetizing starting day one.

Once again, we’ve had a “Genie is out of the bottle” moment, and things have again changed for print.  There’s a digital diaspora going on, and we’ve seen a steady wave of carpetbagging print journalists, so it only makes sense that the institutions themselves attempt to make the move.  It’s the publishing equivailent of breaking down the presses and moving them where the money is.

So, if you’re in print, think about this: how can you better leverage social media online now to allow you to make a transition later?

And one bit of information to remember: in the 1970s print still used Linotype machines for typesetting.  There were tons of highly skilled linotype operators out there setting type for everyone.  When the first Atex systems came along, they started to put those guys (my grandfather was a life-time linotype operator by the way) out of a job.  About a decade later, the job no longer existed anywhere.  

Are you a potential digital carpetbagger, or will you go the way of the linotype operator?

Drinking From the Fire Hose #2 – the China Syndrome

One of the big complaints that the anti-Wordpress chorus croons is that the vaunted blogging platform doesn’t scale.  Certainly we’ve all seen sites brought low by the “Slashdot Effect” or the “Digg Effect” but my experience tells me that WordPress is getting a bad rap for poor server setup, poor plugin choice, etc.

How do I know?  Well, one of the sites I work with last week experienced the “China Syndrome” or potentially “The Great Fire Hose”.  The site, TheTruthAboutCars.com posted a story that the Chinese might buy GM, and that opened the flood gates for traffic.  The problem is, while we watch for excess traffic from Digg, or Slashdot, we don’t watch the Chinese sites that offer similar service.  In a matter of a couple hours, the traffic surged to 10 or 15 times its normal levels(and that’s conservative, once we max out server connections, we have no way of knowing how much is actually refused).  Our system administrator alerted me and I quickly through the SuperCache plugin into lockdown mode, ensuring that the site rendered virtually all its content as flat html, rather than going to the database every time.   Continue reading “Drinking From the Fire Hose #2 – the China Syndrome”