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Ben and Mike with Dad

Ben and Mike with Dad

Our boys arrived Thursday morning, July 1, and I couldn’t be happier. Everyone came home from the hospital yesterday and we’re all doing fine, getting to know each other and establishing new routines.

As I was trying to get Benjamin to burp after a feeding yesterday, I was looking at his eyes and thinking about all the things he and his brother Michael will see. The world has changed pretty quickly in the last 10-20 years and it’s only likely to pick up speed.

They’ll grow up around books — in one form or another. We have lots of books in the house and there are already two or three Dr. Seuss books waiting for them on my iPad. Will that be the standard when they learn to read? When they start high school or college?

What will computers look like when they’re old enough to use one? Some experts already are showing that the growth of tablets is edging out demand for netbooks. PC’s — though still selling well — are a shrinking part of computer sales, especially when compared to laptops. Mobile is obviously the wave of the future.

Their entertainment options will likely be mostly digital as well. We have an iPod speaker base in their room and I’ll be setting up a lullaby playlist soon. Later, I’m sure our DVR will store lots of their favorite shows.

Like older kids today who don’t know what 45′s were and learned to tell time on a digital clock, will these guys have any use for a DVD or CD in a few years?

The answers will be determined at the crossroads of advancing technology and consumer interest.

But we may have to read The Cat in the Hat tonight on the iPad, just to start down the digital road.

Writing the new rules

Ask any newspaper editor where his company went wrong online and most will say, “We should have found a way to charge for the content.”

Though I’d argue that paper’s aren’t really “giving away” their online content (there is ad support, albeit not the kind that pays when compared to print ads), the new wave of delivery platforms may offer a chance for some news organizations to hit the reset button.

Each new platform will needs to find an audience. Once that happens, it’s up to content providers to decide how to package their product for that platform and what the traffic will bear in terms of pricing.

E-readers, like the Kindle and Nook, have found an audience (though the size of that group is a question). Both established that their products — mainly books, in this case — would be cheaper to buy in this format, but not free.

With the rules of the platform established, newspapers and magazines followed publishers to the e-reader market with subscription-based products. They already knew the people who owned these devices were willing to pay for content.

A single copy of the Columbus Dispatch will set you back $1 on the newsstand. It’s also a $1 on a Sony e-reader and  75 cents on a Kindle or Nook.

The same stories are free online and it’s iPhone app is free as well. (The rules for iPhone apps aren’t hard and fast, but free seems to be winning that fight.)

But when the paper develops an iPad app, how will it approach pricing? Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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.

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.

Keep it simple

I was glad to see William Zinsser’s classic On Writing Well listed for #506DE. It just so happened I had a copy on my computer desk.

I own the the sixth edition, which has a 1998 copyright. I see the current edition was published for the book’s 30th anniversary in 2006. I thought my copy was actually older than that. It seems like the lessons I learned from reading it had been learned long before that point in my newspaper career.

If you don’t take anything else from this book, consider this passage:

Look for the clutter in your writing and prune it ruthlessly. Be grateful for everything you can throw away. Reexamine each sentence you put on paper. Is every word doing new work? Can any thought be expressed with more economy? Is anything pompous or pretentious or faddish? Are you hanging on to something useless just because you think it’s beautiful? Simplify, simplify.

I couldn’t agree more. I know that I improved my writing by reading the Elements of Style from cover to cover. I think I took it up another notch after reading Zinsser’s book.

What will I take from it this time?

Saving a few more trees

I had been meaning to buy my textbooks for #512DE this week and finally went on Amazon.com last night to put in my order. (I’d already checked the iTunes bookstore and didn’t see them listed.)

When I found them on Amazon, I noticed that both had Kindle editions. I also noticed the Kindle versions were about $10 less than the dead-tree editions. So, I bought them both.

I don’t own a Kindle. But I do have an iPad.

Early on, well before the iPad, Amazon developed a Kindle reader app or the iPhone. Now there’s a full version for the iPad as well. I downloaded that and figured I’d buy a few things to give it a shot.

I’m impressed enough with the results. But more importantly, I can carry those books — and hundreds more — all at one time in the iPad. And no trees were killed in their printing.

When I bought the iPad, I was hoping I’d be able to find some of my textbooks before I was done with the master’s program. Looks like I’m off to a pretty good start.

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