Category: development

Free can be good and effective. Did I mention free?

If you are an online-type-person working at a have I got an offer for you.

I am working on a small research project that hopefully will turn into a case study and presentation at Poynter later this summer. The working title is: ’10 Things You Can do for Free Today.’

The project involves identifying 15 – 20 of the top ‘free’ tools being used on newspaper Web sites and then building short case study for each focused on ease of installation, use, successes and best practices. The tools most commonly mentioned so far range from Coveritlive to Qik.

If you are interested in helping out just answer a few quick questions here: Web Tools Survey


Ten things for free


I am at a workshop at Poynter this week learning about change management and coaching/training techniques. Just for a plug for the sponsor – the event is called the McCormick Change Leadership Fellowship.

The group is working today and tomorrow on developing hour long teaching modules that could potentially be used in the future at Poynter or other journalism events and conferences. We will not be building a full presentation this week, merely creating an outline and tools that we will use during the session.

This is where I need help. My session is tentatively titled: “10 Things You Can do for Free Today.” The focus will be on finding, implementing and using free software and services available on the Web to provide internal and external tools and features for use at your paper and Web site.

As part of the session I would like to provide a mini case study from different newspapers using each of the free tools and Web services. We use most of the at the Telegraph – but having a broader cross-sample to talk about would be much more valuable to attendees – and keep me from just rambling on about myself for an hour.

So – the list of possible services is below. If you are using any of them and would be willing to submit to a short email or phone interview and share some best practices and results around these products – let me know in the comments and/or by email: damon(at) I am also looking for any suggestions on services or categories of services that I have not gotten on the list yet.

  1. Debate (comments)
  2. (live chat/blog)
  3. PHPbb (open source forums)
  4. WordPress (blog)
  5. Mogulus/Ustream (live video)
  6. (live cell phone video)
  7. OpenX (ad serving)
  8. Twitter (SMS)
  9. Google Analytics/GoogleMaps/Google Docs
  10. EditGrid (collaborative web-based data)

I know there are hundreds/thousands of others out there – I am most familiar with those in terms of good journalism uses at newspapers.



Twitter resources for the newsroom

A bunch of new Twitter accounts popped up in our newsroom recently so I put together a quick list of resources for people just starting out.  I use all or most of these services:

Track your growth

Get your stats

Get recommendations for who you should be following

Get notified when people stop following

Find out how influential you are

Look for connections among your followers

A live map based display of everyone

Find more friends

Search Twitter

Make shortcuts for URLS (and track the clicks)

The Flat Earth Society

This blog post finally irritated me enough I had to rant further on it: OJR: Papers must charge for websites to survive

I intended to comment (again) on the post itself – but it has been closed. It seems like the conversation could have/ should have continued there.

Here is my original response last month:

Not to be trite but so far today I have gotten free news and weather from my TV, free traffic reports from my radio and free movie listings from a local weekly paper. Seems like charging for information might be the exception not the rule in many cases.

To be fair Mr. Storch was considerate enough to respond to almost everyone including me:

Damon, I don’t know about you but I don’t get my TV for free. I pay $123 every month to Comcast (for cable TV and Internet access). Otherwise, I wouldn’t have TV (no rabbit ears). Similarly, isn’t conventional radio fading and being eased out by the pay satellite services?

So, lets call that a ‘non denial denial.’ And perhaps further proof that Mr. Storch is not, as he freely admits, an economist. Well, I don’t even play one on TV – but I do have a set of rabbit ears available in case I need them. And, for what it is worth I don’t subscribe to satellite radio.

But, overall his analogy does seem pretty good: Comcast has built a delivery infrastructure that takes their product into every home in town. They deliver syndicated and original content and they charge their subscribers a premium for the privilege. So, why can’t newspapers do the same?

BECAUSE COMCAST IS ALREADY DOING IT! And Verizon and Roadrunner and every other ISP out there.

The exact reason people are no longer dependent on once-per-day news-on-paper is that they have an always-on broadband connection drowning them in information 24-7-365. Surely we do not all need MBAs to recognize the basic supply and demand pressures at work here?

But, lets turn the argument around. What would it hurt if we did charge for online news? To start we need to ignore two basic facts:

1) Print subscriptions subsidize delivery costs. Online distribution for news is basically free – or at least infinitely scalable at a relatively low fixed cost. In both mediums advertising has always been the revenue driver.

2) Local news is an extremely valuable product. Valuable enough that if local papers are careless, free competitors will appear in your market. All it would take is one fanatical blogger who lives for school board meetings to take a good chunk out of your newspaper’s Web traffic and prestige. Multiply that by 2 or three of your local beats and let me know how that affects your revenue growth.

Sure we can start charging for the news online. We could also double our print subscription rates or triple our advertising rates. None of those things are likely because the economics just do not make sense.

No one is arguing everything online should be free. The debate is really about who – the consumer or the advertiser –  should be paying.  Just as Comcast charges you extra for movies on-demand, there is probably a market for premium content even in local communities. But, I have yet to see the news product or feature that seems to fit the bill.

Angry vendor syndrome

At the top of my list of New Year’s Resolutions is to NOT be this guy. Names have been changed to protect the guilty and (…) added to reduce the length.

Dear Editor Xxx

We are a vendor to some of your competitors… When I finally reached Editor Zzzz today, he hung up the phone on me immediately after I asked him to spend 60 seconds to see what we provide…

We talk to many newspapers… when we get replies like the one I received from Zzzz, it is usually a sign that the paper is either going out of business… (or the employee)… just doesnt care about the paper.

We would like to show you our product, and I want to know if we can do that by somehow avoiding Zzzz.

So hypothetically, if a vendor were to call you on New Year’s Eve, during a blizzard when there are three people left in the newsroom and try to sell you a product you do not want, how receptive might you be? Hypothetically just receptive enough to be polite, and then increasingly less so as they decline to take ‘no’ for an answer. And then, much, much less so after they immediately send the above email to your boss.

Happy New Year!