Chuck's Q Blog

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Just another ICM blog

How to be more social

I recently decided to give Hootsuite.com a try again since I’m doing more with Twitter these days. I was just getting used to using it when they upgraded their service this week, including an interface refresh and features that now work with HTML5.

Everything worked as expected — until I attempted to add a second profile to my account so I could monitor and post tweets for work. That’s where things got a little fuzzy.

After fumbling around the new dashboard for a bit, I finally figured out how to accomplish my goal.

If you’re having a similar problem, walk through this short primer and see if it helps. Read the rest of this entry »

Do I need an app for that?

If your news organization hasn’t issued an iPhone app yet, you’re late to the party. You should be working on something for  Google’s mobile operating system (Android) as well.

But before you gear up for your own iPad app, you need to ask a few questions:The Huffington Post iPad app

What can we do with an iPad app that we aren’t already doing on the website?

The answer to this question is critical. If you can’t come up with a good answer, you can stop thinking about investing any effort in an iPad app right now.

Many news organizations built apps for mobile phones because the functionality of their website was severely limited on the smaller screens.

But calling that same website up on the iPad with its 9.7-inch diagonal screen is different. In many cases, this will be enough for many news operations to take a pass on developing a new app. Plus, if their iPhone app was done well, it looks fine on the iPad, especially with the option to use it in its original size or a 2X version.

If you can’t come up with a way to use an iPad app to enhance the user experience you’re already offering on the website, you might want to rethink the project. Creating templates and sending updates via RSS probably isn’t going to provide a better user experience.

It’s also very possible that you’ll be providing less functionality in an iPad app if you’re not prepared to find substitutes for Flash video players or other widgets offered on the website. I was surprised to see this was the case with the Huffington Post’s iPad app. It was really a watered down version of the website. Read the rest of this entry »

Looking for a digital hero

Newspapers need a digital hero.

Last spring, I was at a journalism event and the discussion at the dinner table turned to the newly announced Kindle DX, which was due to begin shipping in a few weeks. People were excited about the DX because it offered a larger screen than the original Kindle, which might make it more suitable for presenting and reading electronic editions of a newspaper.

I was asked my opinion about it and I said that I would wait on buying a Kindle because there was a rumor that Apple was going to launch some kind of giant iPod Touch device, possibly as soon as that summer. If that were true, I said, I’d rather have something with a color screen and more capabilities than just an e-reader.

That June came and went with no announcement. But the rumors persisted and were finally confirmed in January with the announcement of the iPad.

Since its release in April, there have been a lot of side-by-side comparisons of these devices. The Kindle generally scores better when the weight of the units is concerned or the visibility of the screens are compared. But the iPad scores points for just about everything else.

While the Kindle is an excellent e-reader, is that enough to maintain its sales? Can it hold off the charge of the iPad when the low-end Apple device costs only $10 more than the DX, which is similar in size? Can the Kindle be the device the news industry needs now when it’s grayscale screen is stuck in the past and it doesn’t handle video or let users surf the Web when they’re done reading?

We know the iPad sold 2 million units in its first two months, but Amazon has never released sales numbers for the Kindle. That makes me suspect that they aren’t very impressive. After being on sale for nearly three years, it’s believed Kindle sales topped 3 million earlier this year.

On top of that, even Amazon must see the writing on the touchscreen since it has a Kindle app on the iPad and iPhone. (Oddly, one of the screenshots of the iPad app shows a color photo on one of the pages — something you can’t see on a real Kindle yet.)

The iPad option for news organizations isn’t without it’s problems, but as a potentially useful device, it begins to make the road ahead a little clearer. By rethinking and reinvigorating the tablet concept, it might pave the way for a print alternative in a way the Kindle — at least in its present form — can’t hope to achieve.

Face it: News on print is doomed

We’re witnessing the end of days for newspapers.

Most of us don’t want to admit it, but the day when printed newspapers will cease to exist is approaching. It’s not a rumble in the distance anymore, either. It’s bearing down on us like a summer storm.

There will be a tipping point where it no longer makes economic sense to produce printed papers. Newspaper owners eventually will turn to digital delivery models, even if they don’t wan to. This will be the only alternative for most of them.

In the early days of publishing, it only took a few people to write and produce a newspaper. In time, technological advances made it possible for publications to be produced more quickly and in greater numbers. But instead of a few people cranking out dozens of pages by hand, it took a small army to produce and distribute the product.

When computers began to make operations more efficient, newspapers didn’t need as many people anymore. More tasks began to return to the newsroom, which meant fewer and fewer production positions.

Those job reductions aren’t over.

Circumstances eventually will force publications to take the next step. It may be as simple as higher printing costs,  continued declines in circulation or the defections of the last advertisers. Or it could be the rise of a dominant device, like a tablet or e-reader, that sparks a shift in reader habits.

Taking that step will allow newspapers to eliminate printing and distribution of the product, as well as the cost of newsprint, ink and fuel for delivery vehicles. Think of the savings if all those expenses were wiped off the books.

All that would be needed to maintain operations are the people who collect and edit the news and a small technical support staff.

No one is pulling for people to lose their jobs, but the economic facts are tough to deny and this kind of change has been anticipated for a long time.

When the economy tanked over the last two years, lots of publications scrambled to find ways to stay in business. Many were already in trouble after years of declining circulation and lost advertising revenue.

Some papers didn’t make it. Some managed to hang on by cutting budgets and staff. Most were forced to start looking at online options and alternative methods of delivery, like the Kindle or another mobile device. They all hoped the economy would rebound and bring back the good old days.

If they’re honest, most newspaper executives already know that’s not going to happen. The golden age of newspapers is over. People’s tastes and habits are changing. The last generations to really embrace newspapers are fading away and younger readers are attracted to other options, if they’re interested at all.

Newspapers have to realize that their real product is the collection of news; the method of distribution isn’t important anymore. Clinging to the printed page spells doom for the industry; making the jump to digital offers a chance at renewal.

It’s not a question of “if” anymore, it’s a question of “when.”

Enough about me already

If this week’s assignment hadn’t involved updating my LinkedIn profile, I wonder if I would have ever done it.

I signed up for LinkedIn a couple years ago, but never provided a summary, hadn’t added all my past jobs and skipped some of the schools I attended. No wonder the site said my profile was only 75 percent complete.

Like most people, I don’t enjoy doing these bio-related things, especially if it feels like a boast. They seem immodest at best. But LinkedIn is an online resume combined with a networking system. If there’s anywhere you should make an honest accounting of accomplishments and experience, this is probably it.

According to my network stats, I have 142 direct connections. Friends of friends would bring me to more than 14,000 connections. And going another step would broaden the circle to 1.3 million people. Nearly 2,000 people joined my network in the last week alone.

You never know who might end up seeing your name.

How oil and water are shaping images

It’s a tough time to be on the team trying to salvage BP’s public image. With oil from its sunken rig reaching beaches in at least four states now, the company has no shortage of critics.

One of those critics owns a Twitter account called BPGlobalPR. He goes by the pseudonym Leroy Stick and he’s gotten under the skin of the global oil giant.

About a month ago, Stick established his parody account to take few shots at the corporation, framing the tweets as though they were coming from BP’s public relations staff.

I started @BPGlobalPR, because the oil spill had been going on for almost a month and all BP had to offer were bullshit PR statements.  No solutions, no urgency, no sincerity, no nothing.  That’s why I decided to relate to the public for them.

Howard Beale would be proud.

As the account began to pick up steam — it currently has more than 150,000 followers — BP called for its owner to clarify that the posts weren’t coming from them.

Stick obliged. The bio on the account used to say that it existed to “get BP’s message and mission statement out into the twitterverse!” Now it reads, “We are not associated with Beyond Petroleum, the company that has been destroying the Gulf of Mexico for 53 days.” The number is being updated daily.

Oops.

“The dust-up about BP’s request only generated more attention for the fake feed,” Brian Stelter wrote yesterday for the New York Times‘ Media Decoder blog.

Taking advantage of his new soapbox, Stick offered a few ideas about the value of image:

Do you want to know what BP should do about me?  Do you want to know what their PR strategy should be?  They should fire everyone in their joke of a PR department … and focus on actually fixing the problems at hand.

So what is the point of all this?  The point is, FORGET YOUR BRAND.  You don’t own it because it is literally nothing.  You can spend all sorts of time and money trying to manufacture public opinion, but ultimately, that’s up to the public, now isn’t it?

Corporations spend a lot of time and money cultivating their public image. But sometimes, things go wrong and that persona can crumble. Ask AirTran or Xe.

You might remember that AirTran used to be called ValueJet. It got an image makeover following a crash in the Everglades in 1996 that killed 110 people. Xe is the odd new name adopted by Blackwater, the private security firm that came under intense fire for its operations in Iraq.

Like the Exxon Valdez, BP’s name will forever be tied to the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. In the midst of the crisis, debate rages concerning the company’s chances for recovery.

On the other hand, Stick’s image continues to build tweet by tweet. By continuing to stir the pot in relative anonymity, he is skillfully crafting his own persona using just a Twitter account and a few Web pages.

News in the age of augmented reality

In the last 30 years, the newspaper industry has moved from typewriters to laptops, from “hot” type to “cold” and from black and white to color photos. It’s now in the process of moving from print to digital, which is what I intend to make my primary topic for this course.

I’ve experienced the other changes over the last three decades and I’m on the front line of the next change.

During the recent economic downturn, many newspapers shed jobs to keep the doors open. It didn’t always work. Many closed; others cut staff and tried to make a living online.

One thing they all tried to do was keep their content in front of as many readers as possible. That meant expanding online operations, going mobile and getting into social media.

As part of the Web team at Dispatch.com, I’ve encountered all of those aspects. I’m constantly trying to learn about new tools and how they might be applied in our operation.

Over the last few years, I’ve developed a knack for spotting interesting digital trends.

I didn’t invent podcasting, but I saw its value in the early days and launched a show — a first for any newspaper. I set up Twitter and Facebook accounts for the paper as experiments long before most of my peers became interested in them. They’ve both slowly gained a following.

Many publications are using these tools today as alternate avenues to deliver news or bring more readers to their websites.

So, what’s on the horizon?

I’m still trying to figure out how to get us involved in foursquare, I think QR codes could be an overlooked gem and augmented reality seems like it could a transformative engine. I hope we’ll finally decide to adopt CoveritLive soon and I wonder if there’s a place for a Tumblr or Posterous blog in our toolbox. I’m also really excited about the prospects of using the iPad in publishing — maybe not for the daily product, but certainly for niche publications our company produces.

Our company doesn’t have someone assigned to “bird-dog” new tools. As we grow, I’d like to be that guy and I hope my blog entries will help make that happen.

Bio: Take three

And the shorter rewrite of the same bio for 506DE:

Chuck Nelson is a Web producer for Dispatch.com, the online version of The Columbus Dispatch. He is an award-winning print journalist and new media enthusiast with nearly 30 years in the news industry.

Bio: Take two

Here’s the more formal rewrite of my earlier bio for 506DE:

Chuck Nelson is an award-winning print journalist and new media enthusiast with an extensive background in the news industry.

Chuck served as reporter and editor at the Pickerington Sun; reporter, sports reporter, sports editor, Sunday editor and city editor at the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette; assistant editor and editor of The Daily Reporter; copy editor at The Columbus Dispatch and now Web producer for Dispatch.com.

As the Web began to emerge, Chuck built the one of the first newspaper Web sites to launch in Ohio while at The Daily Reporter. He later produced and co-hosted the first ongoing podcast by a U.S. newspaper, earning notice from NPR and the Wall Street Journal. That podcast, which focused on video game reviews and news, recently ended after a five-year run and more than 200 installments.

As Web producer for Dispatch.com, he produces various podcasts, participates in video and multimedia production, and is involved with the site’s social media efforts on Facebook and Twitter.

Chuck attended the journalism school at Ohio State University and graduated with a degree in political science from Capital University. He is currently enrolled in a master’s program in Interactive Communication at Quinnipiac University.

The status of good writing

As I was reading this week’s Module 2 blog entry, I was struck by this portion:

There are many, many people writing lines and lines of material online that will be forgotten. But in this vast sea of texts and links and tweets, the individual voice that writes to edit, writes to discover what he or she knows, and writes to speak clearly to the larger audience, will rise above the chatter every time.

That made me think of a friend’s status updates on Facebook. This one in particular:

PWhelan has been informed by his daughter (who is his consultant, and but for the age inversion would be his guru on all things Facebook) that for historical reasons “statuses” should be written in the third person. PW regrets this breach of decorum.

Being a professor of literature, I’m sure he’d agree with the point made in the blog post. I know he’s better spoken than most, but it’s still clear this post was more crafted than 98 percent of what you see on Facebook. It was written nearly a year ago, but it stuck in my mind despite the thousands of status messages I’ve read since then.

Here’s another one:

PWhelan has noticed that not all his fellow citizens care about their mailboxes. Recently he has seen rusty, battered, unpainted, mildewed boxes, boxes whose doors no longer shut, boxes that lean at crazy angles, plastic boxes made to last a million years in landfills. . . . Seldom does he see a mailbox worthy of the attention of a Federal Agency and protection by Federal Statute.

And another from a family trip to England:

PWhelan wonders if a bit of climate change wouldn’t do England good. The temperature is around freezing, and the wind howls across the Winchester watermeadows. Where wandered Jane Austen and John Keats in warmer weather, there wended the Whelans yesterday on an icy footpath.

Not your run of the mill recap of the day’s events.

I don’t write this way on Facebook; it wouldn’t be my style or voice. But these examples should be a lesson that we can raise the level of writing anywhere with a little effort.

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