>Missouri tests new boundaries on citizen joirnalism

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Down with citizen journalism!

Long live citizen journalism!

Remember the passionately earnest debate about whether citizens manning the keyboards were either the future or end of journalism?

I’m not certain exactly when the debate’s embers went cold, but the first entry under Google search is a Wikipedia article, most of which was written in the previous decade, and the next two entries go back to 2006 and 2005. A fitting capstone is what’s happened at The Columbia Missourian, produced by students and staff at the Missouri School of Journalism. The Missourian – a pioneer advocate for citizen journalism — has finally integrated community contributions onto its main site after keeping them in a ghetto for seven years on a site called MyMissourian.  (The integration is actually only about 90% complete. Reader contributions are still kept antiseptically separate from staff work — on pages under a READERS tab, and they still have to go through a gate-keeping editor.)

So, has citizen journalism won?

One argument-ending answer is this recent contribution — video, photos and text — to The Missourian on “storm chasing” by community contributor Dustin Mazzio, It’s a compelling package that any site would die for. The most skilled regular-issue journalist writing a third-person account could never match what Mazzio produced (“We could feel the inflow as well as see the wind blowing across the crops in front of us, sucking what it could up into the storm”). Mazzio is a professional too — a storm chaser who tracks storms and helps people caught in them.

In every community there are scores, hundreds, of people who have special expertise like Mazzio, and if they were mobilized could give a whole new face to community journalism.

There will always be room for regular journalists, who have been trained in the craft of finding information and the art of fashioning it into narratives that may not be as gripping as Mazzio’s first-person story but can throw a searchlight on community problems that need fixing.

There’s ample room for both, and any site will be improved by having both. Clyde Bentley, a professor at the Missouri School and founder of MyMissourian, told me: “The traditional media, when stripped to the bones, must maintain its role as the eyes of the public on government and civic life.  While dispassionate government coverage is often boring, it is vital to society. What citizen journalism can do, when included in a traditional outlet’s mix, is provide some of the softer side of news that takes the edge off of the daily dose of meetings and mayhem.”

But what about going further and putting these two forces together at the community level? There can be a synergistic 1 + 1 = 3. A site that can do that will attract readers and advertisers who want to reach them.

Take health care. But that’s a national issue, isn’t it? Or is it? People don’t go to Washington, D.C., to see their doctor, get an MRI or to be hospitalized. Add up all those local activities and you get the ever-growing $2.6 trillion annual bill for health care. What’s worse is that all these costs vary wildly from community to community and for no logical reasons. Imagine if hyperlocal sites would tell the story of health care in their community – documenting whether it was more or less costly than the average (with adjustments for regional cost of living)?

This is, to be sure, a complex story. But it could be put together if professional and citizen journalists could tackle it from different angles.

The first place to go would be the local Accountable Care Organization, a voluntary group of doctors, hospitals and other providers who collaborate with the goal of improving the quality of care of Medicare patients while also eliminating unnecessary expenses, with all parties sharing in the cost savings. ACOs, part of Obamacare, focus on Medicare because this federal service accounts for 20% of all health costs, and it covers the fast-growing senior population. (Washington Post Wonkblog staffer Sarah Kliff’s reporting on this issue is a great resource to send hyperlocal editors in the right direction.)

The editor of a local site can get the ball rolling by finding which providers are on the local ACO, and inviting them to contribute to a new section that could be titled “Our Health Care Bill for Seniors.” Questions to put to ACO members:

  • How can ACOs improve the quality of care – in doctors’ offices and at hospitals
  • How do we know that cost cutting won’t include cutting into quality?
  • If the ACO works, how much will it save in our community?
  • Will some of the savings be invested in improving care locally?
  • Do average citizens have a real voice in ACOs?

These are questions to which seniors, and their children and other relatives — indeed the entire community — will want to know the answers. These answers will make great stories for the local website.

It’s possible that some communities don’t yet have an ACO. If not, the website editor should find out why. Is the organization being boycotted by one or more providers who don’t like the rules set up by the feds? If the answer is yes, then the editor can ask the boycotter to explain its action, and get reactions from other local parties. So either way, there’s a story – and if there’s no ACO because it’s being boycotted by one or more local providers, that could be a big story with ramifications for both quality and cost of care.

This is just one example of how citizen journalism can be reinvented to help communities not only become better informed but better places to live – and get quality health care at an affordable cost. Education reform – which is not far behind health care in local importance – is another. The list could go on.

The question is, are community sites ready to take the lead in reinventing citizen journalism to produce a 1 + 1 = 3?

Tom Grubisich authors

The New News column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of LocalAmerica, which is developing a Web site to rank communities on their livability across 20-plus categories. The rankings will be dynamic, going up and down daily as they are updated through a combination of open data, journalism and feedback from local experts and users of the site.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Keith Williamson.

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Posted via email from Local Andy

>Mobile Is the Gateway to Small-Business Owners, SMBs

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Nearly all small-business IT companies purchase smartphones for employees

In March 2012, marketing agency Cargo andInc. Magazine found the majority (52%) of US small-business owners felt companies did not market to them effectively. Along similar lines, 45% said companies made little effort to understand their business and 43% said B2B marketers did not understand their individual needs as small-business owners.

Attitudes of US Small-Business Owners Toward Companies/Brands Trying to Market to Them, March 2012 (% of respondents)

Part of the problem may be that the small-business audience is widely diverse. It comprises business and service owners in industries across consulting, retail, food service, agriculture, technology and more. And even at the industry level, small-business owners’ needs are highly individualized and easily reprioritized as owners juggle their marketing, operations, sales and financial responsibilities.

“When you look at the core needs and challenges that [small] business owners are facing, they’re time-starved, and they’re not the type of people sitting in a building behind a computer all day,” said American Express OPEN’s Scott Roen, vice president of digital marketing and innovation, in an April 2012 interview with eMarketer. “They’re out front, working with their customers and employees, so they’re inherently mobile in nature.”

More at eMarketer…. http://www.emarketer.com/Article.aspx?R=1009025

Posted via email from Local Andy

Why We Succeed, Or Fail

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Learn more about the science of success with Heidi Grant Halvorson’s HBR Single, based on this blog post.

Why have you been so successful in reaching some of your goals, but not others? If you aren’t sure, you are far from alone in your confusion. It turns out that even brilliant, highly accomplished people are pretty lousy when it comes to understanding why they succeed or fail. The intuitive answer — that you are born predisposed to certain talents and lacking in others — is really just one small piece of the puzzle. In fact, decades of research on achievement suggests that successful people reach their goals not simply because of who they are, but more often because of what they do.

1. Get specific. When you set yourself a goal, try to be as specific as possible. “Lose 5 pounds” is a better goal than “lose some weight,” because it gives you a clear idea of what success looks like. Knowing exactly what you want to achieve keeps you motivated until you get there. Also, think about the specific actions that need to be taken to reach your goal. Just promising you’ll “eat less” or “sleep more” is too vague — be clear and precise. “I’ll be in bed by 10pm on weeknights” leaves no room for doubt about what you need to do, and whether or not you’ve actually done it.

2. Seize the moment to act on your goals.
Given how busy most of us are, and how many goals we are juggling at once, it’s not surprising that we routinely miss opportunities to act on a goal because we simply fail to notice them. Did you really have no time to work out today? No chance at any point to return that phone call? Achieving your goal means grabbing hold of these opportunities before they slip through your fingers.

To seize the moment, decide when and where you will take each action you want to take, in advance. Again, be as specific as possible (e.g., “If it’s Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, I’ll work out for 30 minutes before work.”) Studies show that this kind of planning will help your brain to detect and seize the opportunity when it arises, increasing your chances of success by roughly 300%.

3. Know exactly how far you have left to go. Achieving any goal also requires honest and regular monitoring of your progress — if not by others, then by you yourself. If you don’t know how well you are doing, you can’t adjust your behavior or your strategies accordingly. Check your progress frequently — weekly, or even daily, depending on the goal.

4. Be a realistic optimist.
When you are setting a goal, by all means engage in lots of positive thinking about how likely you are to achieve it. Believing in your ability to succeed is enormously helpful for creating and sustaining your motivation. But whatever you do, don’t underestimate how difficult it will be to reach your goal. Most goals worth achieving require time, planning, effort, and persistence. Studies show that thinking things will come to you easily and effortlessly leaves you ill-prepared for the journey ahead, and significantly increases the odds of failure.

5. Focus on getting better, rather than being good.
Believing you have the ability to reach your goals is important, but so is believing you can get the ability. Many of us believe that our intelligence, our personality, and our physical aptitudes are fixed — that no matter what we do, we won’t improve. As a result, we focus on goals that are all about proving ourselves, rather than developing and acquiring new skills.

Fortunately, decades of research suggest that the belief in fixed ability is completely wrong — abilities of all kinds are profoundly malleable. Embracing the fact that you can change will allow you to make better choices, and reach your fullest potential. People whose goals are about getting better, rather than being good, take difficulty in stride, and appreciate the journey as much as the destination.

6. Have grit.
Grit is a willingness to commit to long-term goals, and to persist in the face of difficulty. Studies show that gritty people obtain more education in their lifetime, and earn higher college GPAs. Grit predicts which cadets will stick out their first grueling year at West Point. In fact, grit even predicts which round contestants will make it to at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The good news is, if you aren’t particularly gritty now, there is something you can do about it. People who lack grit more often than not believe that they just don’t have the innate abilities successful people have. If that describes your own thinking …. well, there’s no way to put this nicely: you are wrong. As I mentioned earlier, effort, planning, persistence, and good strategies are what it really takes to succeed. Embracing this knowledge will not only help you see yourself and your goals more accurately, but also do wonders for your grit.

7. Build your willpower muscle. Your self-control “muscle” is just like the other muscles in your body — when it doesn’t get much exercise, it becomes weaker over time. But when you give it regular workouts by putting it to good use, it will grow stronger and stronger, and better able to help you successfully reach your goals.

To build willpower, take on a challenge that requires you to do something you’d honestly rather not do. Give up high-fat snacks, do 100 sit-ups a day, stand up straight when you catch yourself slouching, try to learn a new skill. When you find yourself wanting to give in, give up, or just not bother — don’t. Start with just one activity, and make a plan for how you will deal with troubles when they occur (“If I have a craving for a snack, I will eat one piece of fresh or three pieces of dried fruit.”) It will be hard in the beginning, but it will get easier, and that’s the whole point. As your strength grows, you can take on more challenges and step-up your self-control workout.

8. Don’t tempt fate. No matter how strong your willpower muscle becomes, it’s important to always respect the fact that it is limited, and if you overtax it you will temporarily run out of steam. Don’t try to take on two challenging tasks at once, if you can help it (like quitting smoking and dieting at the same time). And don’t put yourself in harm’s way — many people are overly-confident in their ability to resist temptation, and as a result they put themselves in situations where temptations abound. Successful people know not to make reaching a goal harder than it already is.

9. Focus on what you will do, not what you won’t do. Do you want to successfully lose weight, quit smoking, or put a lid on your bad temper? Then plan how you will replace bad habits with good ones, rather than focusing only on the bad habits themselves. Research on thought suppression (e.g., “Don’t think about white bears!”) has shown that trying to avoid a thought makes it even more active in your mind. The same holds true when it comes to behavior — by trying not to engage in a bad habit, our habits get strengthened rather than broken.

If you want to change your ways, ask yourself, What will I do instead? For example, if you are trying to gain control of your temper and stop flying off the handle, you might make a plan like “If I am starting to feel angry, then I will take three deep breaths to calm down.” By using deep breathing as a replacement for giving in to your anger, your bad habit will get worn away over time until it disappears completely.

It is my hope that, after reading about the nine things successful people do differently, you have gained some insight into all the things you have been doing right all along. Even more important, I hope are able to identify the mistakes that have derailed you, and use that knowledge to your advantage from now on. Remember, you don’t need to become a different person to become a more successful one. It’s never what you are, but what you do.

Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D. is a motivational psychologist, and author of the new book Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals (Hudson Street Press, 2011). She is also an expert blogger on motivation and leadership for Fast Company and Psychology Today. Her personal blog, The Science of Success, can be found at www.heidigranthalvorson.com. Follow her on Twitter @hghalvorson

Posted via email from Local Andy

>Newspapers:The good, and the future of journalism, part one

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At the beginning of March, California’s Los Angeles Times joined a scrum of US newspapers that decided paywalls would be the press’ salvation. But the mighty Pulitzer Prize-winning paper is no longer the press it once was.

Starting in the sixties and peaking in the nineties and early 2000s, the Los Angeles Times would win a clutch of journalism’s most prestigious awards, but then came the ‘deals from hell’ and the paper became a sinking ship. Heads rolled and editors left as the men in suits ruthlessly cut jobs at the paper to safeguard investor interests.

“I’ve been trying for days to quit the Times, but I cannot seem to do it. In the first place, every time I announce I’m leaving, a more senior editor ups and quits and grabs all the attention, and, in the second place, I do not know anymore who my editor is, who the editor is, who the publisher is, and who owns the company. I think it’s the Chicago Tribune, although that might not be the case, either, by the end of the day, since the paper is for sale, or being auctioned,” writer Richard Cohen wrote in a column for Slate.

“I walk the halls with my resignation in my hands. It is a brief document, rather nicely written, I think, but either I cannot find anyone to read it or those who do simply shrug, say something like, ‘Get in line,’ or, because they are in the Internet or TV section of the company, cannot read at all. I mean, they’re functionally literate, if words like ‘functionality’ can be considered literate, but they never get the meaning of things. All they ever say is, ‘Reboot, reboot’.”

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Good parables like this should be told from the very beginning, because they serve as exemplars of how journalistic excellence can be screwed by greed. Once upon a time many of the great American newspapers were owned by private families.

The New York Times, for example, is still run by the offspring of Adolph Ochs, an intellectual-cum-refugee-cum-printers apprentice who ended up buying the paper in 1896. The Ochs Sulzberger family is said to be traditional, and treat The New York Times as the clan’s “reason to exist, initiating younger members in its ways and holding gatherings to discuss it”.

Similarly, the LA Times became successful under the editorship of Harrison Gray Otis in the 1800s. After his death, a family – the Chandlers – were the newspaper’s publishers for generations. The sixties were a golden era for the newspaper when Otis Chandler believed that the newsroom was “the heartbeat of the business”. This ideal saw the publisher reinvest in quality journalism, bagging four Pulitzers, more than it had won in almost a hundred years.

But trouble started brewing in 2000 when the Chandlers decided to sell their centurial company the Tribune Company for $8.3-billion plus some cash, stocks and a few seats on the board. Respected media critic for The New Yorker, Ken Auletta, kept a careful eye on the deal saying that initially the Times’ newsroom in Los Angeles welcomed the new owners, but that this enthusiasm soon gave way to embarrassment.

The reason for the shame was “a special edition of the Times’ Sunday magazine devoted” to the opening of the Staples Centre, a sports and entertainment arena with which the newspapers’ publishers had negotiated a profit-sharing plan. “The arrangement, which was kept secret from the paper’s editor until shortly before publication, gave Staples half the advertising revenues for this supposedly independent journalistic enterprise. The Times and its top management had been humiliated,” Auletta wrote.

Tension grew between the Los Angeles Times’ editor, John S. Carroll, and the new owners. Eventually the newsman who had helped the newspaper win 13 Pulitzer Prizes left in 2005. Caroll confided in Auletta that he was tired of the Tribune Company’s “incessant cost-cutting”.

“He believed that, on the contrary, investing in the newspaper would eventually produce higher profits, which was what the company eagerly sought, and that cutting costs, while it would temporarily improve the bottom line, would erode the paper and might someday destroy it. Carroll and the Tribune Company had been arguing about these issues for five years. The resolution would now be left to his successor.”

That successor was Dean Baquet who was Carroll’s second-in-command, but he was forced out very soon after defying orders from the Tribune’s money-men to cut costs by cutting jobs. In the five years since Tribune took over, the Times had chopped the paper’s talent by over 20%. Baquet said no more and was out the door, and in came James O’Shea. No prizes for guessing what happened to O’Shea. He left two years later in 2008 after refusing to slash the newsroom’s budget. With the revolving editorial door turning non-stop, the Los Angeles Times’ circulation plummeted. 

However, O’Shea would get his own back by writing a book about the Tribune Company called The Deal From Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers. O’Shea wrote: “Like a lot of people at the time, I was willing to try something, anything, other than what we were doing, which was to just keep cutting costs as the products became less and less appealing to our readers.”

When it comes to laying blame for the destruction of papers like the Los Angeles Times, O’Shea is more than frank. “The lack of investment, the greed, the incompetence, corruption, hypocrisy and downright arrogance of people who put their interests ahead of the public’s are responsible for the state of the newspaper industry today,” his book reads.

More pain was pending for the Los Angeles Times, and it arrived in December 2007 in the form of a foul-mouthed, brutish real estate billionaire called Sam Zell. Like many of the moguls who destroy media companies, Zell had never owned a newspaper in his life, but this didn’t deter him from setting his sights on the Tribune.

Photo: Sam Zell. REUTERS/Fred Prouser.

A lack of media experience only served to embolden Zell who positioned himself as an “expert” in journalism from the get-go. “I’m sick and tired of listening to everybody talk about and commiserating about the end of newspapers. They ain’t ended. And they’re not going to be,” Zell lamented at a press conference to announce the deal, which he labelled “a very low-risk investment”.

Zell’s master plan was to put himself at the helm of the company and take the Tribune Company private with the help of an employee stock purchase plan. However, unlike all his real estate deals, Zell didn’t risk much of his own money, although he did share the risk of the take-over with all the company’s employees. Very soon Tribune was $13-billion in debt.

And then there’s the management “talent” Zell brought to the party. There are wonderful anecdotes about the “talent” Zell hired to help run his new media company. People like Randy Michaels who shortly after the Zell buy-out tried to impress his new colleagues at Tribune by offering a waitress at a hotel $100 to show him her breasts.

The Tribune Company went broke almost a year to the day after Zell had acquired it. But Zell did make news for helping create what is the biggest bankruptcy in US media history. These and other debacles that have beset US journalism are part of the reason why some media are eschewing the “attraction” of public listings and bonehead management like Zell and Michaels to create non-profits. The other reason is that good investigative journalism has been seriously affected by the recession and the fall-out from journalism that serves the church of the shareholder.

ProPublica is a sterling example of this. Enabled by an endowment from Golden West Financial, some of those fine folks who gave the US the subprime crisis, ProPublica writes big, important stories and gives them away to the likes of The New York Times for free. The outfit is run by a journalism supremo, one Paul Steiger, a former Wall Street Journal senior editor whose tenure there realised 16 Pulitzer Prizes.

But let’s go back to the Tribune, the owners of the Los Angeles Times, a company that former editor O’Shea says has leaders that put profits before Pulitzers. “Instead of developing strategies to produce the kind of content that would protect their most important asset — the public trust — they depreciated it like an aging Linotype.”

Since Tribune declared bankruptcy in December 2008 it has racked up well over $233.3-million in legal fees, after a class action suit was brought against the company’s employees because of Zell’s “very low-risk investment”.

Last December the Los Angeles Times lost yet another editor who, after cutting the paper’s staff from 900 to about 550, could take no more. Sam Zell remains one of the richest men in the US and made the Forbes’ rich list yet again last year with a net worth of $4.7-billion.

And, the Los Angeles Times’ pay wall plans? Do you think this is going to turn things around for the paper?

Ask yourself whether the Los Angeles Times is the kind of newspaper you’d invest in so that you might read it on your iPad? We both know the answer to that question. DM

[The next instalment looks at those good guys of journalism, the Guardian. Unlike other newspapers whose profits are sucked out of operations by shareholders, The Guardian reinvests profits to “sustain journalism that is free from commercial or political interference”.]

Read more:

  • Sam Zell Blames Tribune Failure on ‘Greedy’ Journalists in Forbes.
  • Tribune Paid Bankruptcy Advisers $233 Million Since Filing for Protection in Bloomberg.
  • No Exit – One man’s desperate attempt to quit the Los Angeles Times by Richard Cohen in Slate.
  • Los Angeles Times joins the crowd, erects pay wall for the news online in The Christian Science Monitor.

Photo: The vaulted gates to the LA Times. REUTERS/Fred Prouse.

Posted via email from Local Andy