Q&A: David Cohn says Spot.Us needs to scale with technology, not people

Thursday, October 15, 2009 13:28 - by

David Cohn recently expanded his community funded reporting project Spot.Us to Los Angeles. Cohn sat down with BeatBlogging.Org and discussed his plans to expand to more markets, his advice for those planning on applying to the Knight News Challenge (where the money for Spot.Us came from) and other thoughts on Spot.Us.

me: Spot.Us recently expanded. What has been the biggest challenge with expanding Spot.Us beyond the Bay Area?

David: A few things. I think the main thing is making sure that we are in a position to expand even more without partnering with an organization like USC. It’s great that we are working with them — and that we will have somebody who will play my role down south — but in the end, the site needs to be able to scale via technology, not people. Of course there will always be people involved (the reporters), but we are not a news organization. And surprisingly that is difficult for some to understand. The best way we can do that is by NOT scaling up our staff.

me: Why does technology, not staff make more sense for the Spot.Us model?

David: If we are in five cities am I going to hire five local managing editors? Especially when in those cities some pitches might have other editorial sponsors (local news orgs). In the end, we are a platform for journalism but not a journalism organization ourselves. It would be like asking why WordPress doesn’t have editors who work with all the bloggers of a certain topic. Why would Spot.Us have an editor who works with a local region? We want projects to have an editorial process — and we need to make it transparent whether or not a project has a news organization that is an editorial sponsor or if it’s a truly independent reporter — but it shouldn’t be our place to then force the independents into “our” editorial structure. It is just our place to make sure the public knows and understands that it’s an independent reporter that they would be supporting.

me: How important is USC to allowing Spot.Us to transition to a new market?

David: At this point in time — very important. My hope is that with a little more time organizations like USC will be less critical. But they provide an “in” to the journalism community. I have made inroads here in the Bay. but I have no connections in LA. It also provides some journalistic credibility that I don’t have (some people still look at Spot.Us as a cute project of a young kid).

me: Obviously, you’re going to concentrate on expanding to LA first, but have there been discussions about expanding to other markets?

David: Yes. I’m looking at lots of different cities. Somewhere in Texas, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Miami, etc. Basically major metro markets.

me: How much does the existing media landscape impact that decision? DC and New York are pretty well served, while Chicago has its two main news outlets in bankruptcy.

David: It does come to mind. For example everyone keeps asking me when I’m going to be in NY or why I’m not already. In truth, the media scene in NY is a rat race. And my goal isn’t to do national horse-race stuff. I think there is this notion that small is bad. I disagree. There is so much talk about journalists as innovative entrepreneurs but not enough about journalists as small business owner entrepreneurs. So I want to examine and make sure we aren’t going someplace that is saturated, but rather that is also a place that has potential partners and a vibrant online community.

me: You said that you aren’t looking to have a managing editor for each market and that you want the technology to scale, but do you envision hiring some more staff if you move into several new markets? If so, what would their roles be?

David: If anything, I would want to hire more tech people (programmers). After that, maybe a marketer (I have an idea for reverse advertising that I hope to alpha in a few weeks — not really sure what to call it yet or how to describe it, but it’ll be cool. If it works, we will be giving our advertising budget to the public, and we will need to start selling advertising.

me: Speaking of programmers, you just wrote a post about good, fast and cheap Web development and how you can’t have all three. What’s your advice for hiring Web developers for people applying to the Knight News Challenge?

David: if you win the Knight Challenge go for Good and Fast. Make sure you know what you are doing in that “fast” time period or you’ll ruin it. But it seems to me (and this is what I did) that I already just won the lottery. I got to play with other people’s money. So rather than try and cut corners on development, I cut corners on other things (pay for myself), and I built a site that did exactly what I wanted it to do for the launch. The phase I’m in now is more middle of the road….. but I don’t regret doing the good and fast route to start. When you look at some of the other Knight News projects Spot.Ss has done better than others (not to point fingers), and I think it is in part because I recognized I couldn’t get all three. If you try for all three, it’s like going to0 fast in a three-legged race.

me: I’ve talked to people who have received grants from various foundations and many of them don’t really get how Web development works. They are surprised by the costs and time needed. Do you have suggestions for how to get educated on Web development?

David: I totally agree. I’ve talked to a lot of the same people and that’s kinda who that post was about. If you don’t know about Web dev at all, be aware that you’ll have to make this choice: good, fast or cheap. On how to get educated: talk to as many developers as possible in as many programming languages, frameworks as possible. In the end you’ll find there is no secret technology that will meet all your needs. You should hire the developer that is best for you — not based on the technology that you heard will do it for you (Drupal Kool-Aid or Ruby-Kool-Aid, etc).

me: From an organizational perspective, how is Spot.Us doing? When your grant runs out, will Spot.Us be able to be supported?

David:: That is an excellent question. In truth — I don’t know. But that’s better than being able to say “no” without a doubt 😉 I like to joke that “considering all the things that could go wrong — we are doing fantastic.” No group with an axe to grind has taken over nonprofit media with this method 😉 As you said, the problem is actually the opposite; it’s hard to get the public to see a value and donate to journalism. But I’m fighting the good fight and I still make a promise to report back everything I learn as honestly and openly as I can.

me: Has the economy had an impact on Spot.Us?

David: Hard to know. We launched in November of 2008. The economy blast happened in November of 2008. Didn’t really get to experience too much before that. If I were a betting man — I’d say yes. But there is no way to prove that.

me: Switching from Spot.Us to the News Challenge, what advice would you give people applying this year?

David: Be bold…… Make sure you focus on the three things Knight is looking for: 1. local (so many that apply are not local) 2. digital innovation 3. Open source. Other than those three restrictions — go with your craziest ideas.

In fact, I argue the crazier the better.

Q&A: Past vs. present — breaking into magazines

Friday, May 8, 2009 14:50 - by

As magazines continue to fold at an alarming rate, opportunities for new writers to find a stable job are becoming as slim as the remaining magazines themselves.

Online magazines were not the automatic answer to the industry’s woes either. As a result, everyone is searching for an edge, a way to stand out from the pack of other hungry writers. In searching for a way in, young journalists may find it useful to learn from veteran writers and editors.

Jennifer Owens, special projects editor at Working Mother magazine, is one such journalist. A writer and editor with more than a decade’s worth of experience, Owens knows what it takes to be successful. Here’s what she has to say about entering the magazine industry:

Q. When did you get your first job as a journalist?
A. I got my master’s degree from Medill [School of Journalism at Northwestern University] in 1990, during the recession, and my first job was at the Greenville News in South Carolina, my home state.

Q. How long did you work in newspapers?
A. I was there for about two years and worked at a few other places [The News-Herald and Women’s Wear Daily] before moving to Folio and then Adweek where I wrote for their Web sites.

Q. Did you find it difficult to adjust to writing online?
A. Not at all. To write for a Web site you need to be able to write quickly and concisely which I learned to do as a newspaper reporter.

Q. How did you get into the magazine industry?
A. When the dot-com companies started failing, I had to look for a new job. I became an editor at several trade publications – even one for knitting and crocheting. Eventually I moved to consumer magazines under Fairchild and Time Inc.

Q. What’s your specialty as a writer?
A. I like to explain things. I break down complicated topics and make them easier to understand.

Q. What would you say are some of the differences between entering the magazine industry now vs. the 1990s?
A. I’d say there were more big name magazines back then; that said, the start-ups keep coming! In the mid-90s, the dot-com boom meant there were a lot of jobs for a lot of people, and it was actually hard for employers to find enough candidates to fill openings. There also was a lot of jumping around from job to job as people quickly moved up. I’d say right now, everyone is staying put as long as they can.

Q. Has the way people find their first editorial/reporting jobs changed or is it still mainly by word of mouth?
A. I think it’s all about getting your foot in the door with an interview and then charming the socks off a potential employer. I didn’t get jobs by word of mouth until I was much farther along.

Q. As an editor, what do you look for in freelance writers? Is it helpful to have a blog?
A. It’s very hard to take a risk on a new writer. I want to know where you’ve been published. Are most of your clips from mom and pop publications or have you written for some major names? I’ll look at a blog to get a feel for the person’s writing ability. A lot of stories are heavily edited but on a blog, I can watch you as you write. How well can you turn a phrase? Can you accurately discuss a topic?

Q. Have you ever hired anyone who only had a blog?
A. No, but I did start following a Time reporter first through her blog and she might do a piece for us.

Q. Do you have a blog?
A. No, I don’t blog. I’m old fashioned that way. But I have been using Twitter for Working Mother.

Q. Do you have any final tips for new writers?
A. Develop a passion for something and write about it. That makes it much easier for editors to find you, say through a Google search, and decide if you’re someone who can contribute to their magazine.

Q&A: One reporter’s journey from Twitter skeptic to Twitter believer

Wednesday, May 6, 2009 15:14 - by

Twitter has become a media darling in the past few months as the in tool for journalists, but many journalists aren’t finding much value in Twitter.

Twitter, unlike a lot of other Web technologies, doesn’t always immediately make sense to people. First, people struggle with the 140-character limit. Even if a person grasps how to make a coherent tweet, Twitter isn’t particularly useful without followers and if a person isn’t following relevant people.

The value in Twitter is largely based on the quality of network that a person can set up. Following the right people is key. Getting the right people to follow back is also key.

Political reporter Alex Roarty has been on Twitter for months. At first, it didn’t make that much sense to him. It seemed like more of a toy than anything else.

A few months ago, however, he took a new job with PoliticsPA and decided to start a new Twitter account for his new job, @politicspa. He still hasn’t found much value in his personal account, but his work Twitter account has become central to his job.

Roarty has gone from a Twitter skeptic to a Twitter believer. Why? Because he now finds a lot of value in Twitter.

In fact, he now breaks most of his news first on Twitter. His turnaround is largely due to the strong network he is building on Twitter. Roarty even says that Twitter is starting to replace Google Reader as a research tool.

Below you’ll find a Q&A session with Roarty on why he views changed on Twitter and why Twitter is so useful to him now:

Q: When did you first sign up for Twitter?

A: Well, I’ve signed up for two accounts. One personal; the other for work, politicspa. The personal one was about three months ago, but the only one i use now, the work one, I started using two months ago. It’s one of the first things I did when I started my new job

Q: What were your first thoughts of Twitter when you originally joined?

A: Mostly uncertainty. I probably joined it initially because it was the current “media sensation.” Although I did know other Pa. political reporters had started using it for a while, it was pretty peripheral to my job.

Q: Did it offer any real value when you first signed up?

A: Well, its a good way to get your name out there to some people — and every person counts when you start. But when just 25 people are following, it’s not that big a deal. Truth be told, even with 225 people following now, that’s not a huge number, even for a niche Web site.

Q: You recently told me your views on Twitter changed. What’s different now?

A: Well, I think the bottom line for Twitter is how many useful, from a professional perspective, people you follow, and how many follow you. Once i got a couple of hundred people following, that’s when I started seeing consistent retweets of messages I wrote. And also very importantly, people responding to me, asking questions, criticizing stories, etc. The other genuinely surprising piece of this was how much Twitter keeps me up-to-date on what’s going on.

Just in the last week I’ve come to realize it’s almost more valuable than Google Reader. Part of that is I’ve been so incredibly busy since Arlen Specter switched parties that I’ve barely had time to look through my RSS feeds
but Twitter is easy, even without twhirl or tweetdeck — just the web

Also, let me talk about why I’ve started tweeting things first before even putting them on my Web site, politicspa.com.
Political reporting, because it’s so competitive even at a state level, is all, all, all about speed many times. Commanding a story is often times about publishing it first (of course, accuracy also critical).

Twitter is the easiest way to get things out there. Last week, I thought I got the scoop on a Democratic state lawmaker dropping out of the Senate race because Specter switched parties. Turns out, the local public radio affiliate had tweeted it half-an-hour before me. So, it was his scoop.

Q: How has Twitter changed your job as a reporter?

A: Ehh, I mean, it’s just another thing to update. I don’t approach my job any differently.

Q: How has your view of Twitter changed over the past few months?

A: I think it’s gone from something that was more a toy that I played around with to something that’s fairly central to what I do.

Q&A: Charlie Beckett on beatblogging in a networked world

Wednesday, April 8, 2009 15:44 - by

getimageIt’s a safe bet that Charlie Beckett, online media aficionado, director of POLIS at The London School of Economics and author of Super Media: Saving Journalism, knows a hell of a lot more about the media than most of us. If his credentials aren’t convincing you, check out this interview. Somehow, he sums up the current state, ongoing failures and legitimate potential of beatblogging in a networked world in three questions.

What is the potential for beatblogging in an increasingly networked world?

I think the key to it is understanding what we mean by the beat, what that area is. What is the cue, or the subject? And that’s changed. In the past, it was kind of obvious. It would be your neighborhood…and if it was a subject, it would be basketball or medicine. But as they get more hyperlocal and specialized, in a way they get more complicated.

If people want extremely hyper-local sports reporting, they concentrate on just one team. When you see networked journalism, they often plot new genres because the public doesn’t think the same way the journalists do. They’ll do comedy and the football club, they’ll be talking about sex on the same forum, they’ll be talking about really specialist discussions about injuries that those football players have got. I always think that’s amusing because you get joe public sometimes w/out an expert view, but sometimes there’ll be joe public who happens to be a sports physiotherapist and has a very expert view and they comment on that blog.

What I’m saying is it’s all very complicated. Even on the hyper-local level, how people define their community is much more sophisticated than it used to be. When you think of geographical, it’s obviously much harder because people who live on separate streets may have nothing in common with each other. I live in north London, where my kids go to school and have a lot of interests in common with people whose kids go to the same school. But my football team is in East London. I was born and brought up in South London where I have a lot of connections. And my wife’s from West London.

What is hyper-local for me? It’s difficult to define. But once you do define it — and I think, increasingly, non-professionals are much better at this than professionals — it’s a very rich, creative thing.

Social networks are brilliant for defining “what is a community?” because they don’t worry about the definition, they just get on and do it.

When do you think the major shift occurred and how is the potential different now?

At one level, it hasn’t occurred yet. Beatblogging, hyper-local, hasn’t really taken off in a way that has huge capacity. There’s a lot of failure out there, partly because it’s difficult to define and partly because it doesn’t have a lot of momentum. The danger is that, by it’s very nature, something that becomes hyper-local or very specialized may not move much, in journalism terms, anyway. You know, the story doesn’t change much and it can be quite static. So I don’t see it necessarily as something that kind of replaces mainstream journalism. I think it’s additional.

Where it’s ahead of us already is, say, in the social networks, where people are creating areas of interest already. It took off when Facebook took off. In a way, some bloggers have been very, very good at turning themselves into hyper-local beat reporters. The political ones especially. You can be a blogger who covers a beat.

I’m a blogger who covers a very specific beat. It’s called academic journalism or something in Britain. And I have a very small network of people who come to me because they think I will report on stuff. I’m kind of that person. On the other hand, it’s been difficult for me to scale that up or turn it into a richer network.

I don’t put a lot of effort into crowd sourcing and the other techniques. That takes an effort, and that’s sort of what Jay Rosen and Paul Bradshaw are very good at looking at.

Bottom line is that it does take effort. It doesn’t necessarily blossom by itself.

How will the beat reporter’s world change as the network potential of the web expands?

I look at social networks and I see people creating what are reporting communities without ever worrying about it. It’s only the journalists who worry about ‘well, is this a basketball personality blog or is it a celebrity basketball blog?’ Just do it and see what people are interested in.

It’s two directions of travel on this. One is from the audience. One of the problems at the moment is that people aren’t sure where to find this kind of information. Once you set up a hyper-local blog, how do you tell the people in that locality that you’re there?

It’s partly about usage and media literacy and sheer volume and scale. You’re kind of shouting in an empty room. The people are in the next room and they don’t realize. You’ve got to bring them into the room.

From the other side, the information disseminators, the journalists, we are still struggling to change the model from the broadcast model — the idea that if we shout something loudly enough, people will come and get it, they’ll sign up for subscriptions and come to us. We are still struggling with the online technologies such as collecting meta data, understanding traffic flow. You know the stuff about putting Brittney Spears in every story, that’s kind of the level of our understanding at the moment. And I think that’s really changing. I’m not a technologist, but that really fascinates me.

If you look at stuff like the social network marketing applications on Facebook, of course, the money grubbing bastards always lead first, they develop quickest. And the journalists have to get the same tricks, which is listening to what people are saying online and then getting in on those conversations. So that way you can find the people and what the subjects are. That way of understanding the meta data intelligently is only just evolving, really. The use of people’s day to day data about people will be a really valuable resource for making journalism proximate to people’s lives.

*Photo from CharlieBeckett.org, a site worth reading.

Breaking Tweets organizes endless Twitter stream around major world news

Wednesday, April 1, 2009 15:58 - by

Anyone with reporting experience knows what a pain in the ass it can be to find good quotes for a story. Put the event up for discussion around the world and watch as “difficult” turns into a full fledged nightmare.

DePaul University grad student Craig Kanalley wants to make opinion quotes and eyewitness accounts easier to wrangle. His site, BreakingTweets.com, uses Twitter and a group of editors to format news stories in an unusually interactive way that provides quotes forpicture-1 other journalists.

It starts with an editor, who writes a one or two paragraph explanatory intro about the story, then come the tweeters, who send opinions, analysis and eyewitness media. Editors cull the best and most insightful tweets from the bunch, as well as occasionally interjecting with their own updates.

“I think a well done Breaking Tweets story can be just as valuable as a longer form traditional news story on the same subject,” Kanalley said.

More importantly though, it’s a model you can use for your own blogging. Whether your blog is geographically anchored or just subject-specific, the Breaking Tweets method translates to hyper-local blogging easily. Use it to enmesh your own authorship with reader opinion, to collect media and organize the endless comment stream that is Twitter.

Below you’ll find an interview with Kanalley about where Breaking Tweets came from and how his team is making it work:

Lily: Where did you get the idea for Breaking Tweets?
Craig: I first thought of doing something like Breaking Tweets on Nov. 4, when I saw the amount of people twittering about Election Day and how Twitter can serve as a place for breaking news, very personal feelings and eyewitness accounts.

I didn’t actually follow through on the idea until Jan. 31, 11 days after I attended Barack Obama’s Inauguration in D.C. That event got me even more excited about Twitter. And following what people in Australia were saying about the Australian Open on Jan. 31 put me over the top — I finally created the Breaking Tweets blog. It was meant to be a personal blog at first but quickly grew into something more. We’ve had 35,000 page views since the site launched and visits from 116 countries.


Q&A: Steve Buttry says newsroom cultures will have to change

Friday, March 27, 2009 10:00 - by

Steve Buttry is helping to lead the radical transformation of Gazette Communication in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Yesterday we had an in-depth post about those changes and why Buttry believes they are necessary. In addition, we ask Buttry some of the whys below:

Alana: The Cedar Rapids Gazette is undergoing a radical reorganization that no newspaper company has ever done before. What are you most worried about?

Buttry: One of them is revenue. I am very confident that we are innovating wisely and aggressively on the content side, but I am not as closely tied to the side that works with revenue. I trust that the team that works on revenue is reorganizing and moving and hiring to innovate as aggressively as the content team, but I, personally, can’t see the immediate progress yet.

The other thing related to that is that we could do everything right with revenue in terms of changing how we work, think, and going beyond, and yet we are in a terrible economy. In other words, we may have the answer but right now may just be the wrong time. Not to mention, Cedar Rapids and other smaller communities were burdened by a recent flooding disaster that created huge economic impacts. These types of events have huge impacts and are completely out of our control.

My second worry is that workplace cultures are tremendously difficult to change. I think we are making significant progress in changing it, but work habits and way of thinking of the newsroom will need to change dramatically to make our new approach work. While I see that they are changing, I worry that they wont change as quickly or as dramatically enough.

Alana: How did the idea for this whole reorganization come about? Was there an existing model that inspired you? Whose idea was it?

Buttry: It was a marriage of ideas. I came up with the vision. When I was at the American Institute I developed an image of what I thought newsrooms could look like, which became the C3 – Complete Community Connection. Once I met Chuck Peters (CEO of Gazette Communications) I could see he was onto the “how” of my “what.”

Alana: With the new structure in place, will the reporters be beatblogging?

Buttry: Yes, but in a different sense than what exists presently. We are separating our content operation entirely from our product operation. Our reporters will be blogging, but they are going to be multitasking entrepreneurial journalists. (I don’t use the term blogger just because has gotten a more narrow meaning in the public as a “guy with a lot of opinions in his pajamas in his basement saying, ‘Here is what I think about the world.”) They are going to be more than beat reporters. One of the things we’re doing is changing terminology in order to change thinking. So, we tell them: You own this topic, you are responsible for generating content on this topic. Some of that content will be words, video, still pictures, data, etc. Colleagues will be there to help, but essentially it’s all up to you.

Alana: Sounds like The Gazette is on to something revolutionary. By what date should we expect to see some sort of “proof of success,” if you will?

Buttry: By April 6 we will have a lot of our transition completed. I will be disappointed if we don’t have a full operation going by May. I’m sure there’ll be shakedown period where we do stupid things, while we try to figure things out. By next Fall we should have a lots of success stories and a few stories of failure.

Alana: Do you expect other newspaper companies to follow your lead?

Buttry: We’re in a copycat industry, and we’re in one that’s desperate for solutions. So, yes, particularly if we’re successful in the revenue side. We’re already getting a lot of attention across the web and on the news; it would be surprising if no one thought we were on to something good.

Q&A: Brian Krebs on the power of a strong user community

Monday, March 23, 2009 10:00 - by

krebsBrian Krebs is one of the premier beatbloggers and a big reason for that is the strong user community that has formed around his blog.

Krebs believes that interaction is at the core of good blogging. After all, is it even really a blog without user interaction?

My favorite quote from our Q&A sessions is:

Readers are more inclined to speak their minds, interact with others, and generally contribute to a more well-rounded discussion and story if they get a sense that the author is accountable and responsive.

You can find why we like him and his blog so much here. Without further ado, here is our Q&A:

Q: How did you get into blogging? Why did you start Security Fix? What was the original vision?

A: It really was meant, I think, as an outlet for some of the stuff I was telling my editors about in our weekly planning meetings. I was always mentioning things in passing that maybe didn’t seem to amount to a full story, but then we’d invariably see some other news outlet get attention a few weeks later printing essentially the same thing. So, early on the thinking was, well, here’s a place where we can put all the stuff that isn’t quite fully baked into a story, or maybe is interesting or timely but doesn’t justify spending a whole lot of time on. We also envisioned it as a way to let readers know about the latest security threats and ways they could protect themselves.

Q: How has the blog morphed and changed over the years?

A: From pretty early on, I began using the blog to break news, both investigative and day-to-day stories. It also has been tremendously helpful as a supplemental publishing vehicle for stories that run on our Web site or in the paper. This allows us to dig a little deeper into the technical side of the story without scaring away readers.

Security Fix also has grown quite a bit due to the community of readers that has built up around it. Quite often, some of the most interesting items in the blog can be seen in the comments sections of each posts. We are working on some redesign ideas for the blog (which hasn’t had a facelift since it first launched four years ago), and some of the ideas we’re planning to implement will be geared toward encouraging more readers to leave more thoughtful and engaging comments and voice their opinions.

Q: Do you do work for the print edition?

A: I work for Washingtonpost.com and have for nearly six years now. Traditionally, I have been an online reporter who’s been lucky enough to see his stories in the print edition about two to three times per month on average. But the distinction between the .com and the paper is one that will be ending soon. We are currently in the process of merging the two newsrooms into one physical space.

Q: How does your blog help you report?

A: Put simply, it is where I do most of my work, so to say that it “helps” my work is probably a bit of an understatement. For a variety of reasons, producing a story in the traditional sense on the site sometimes takes longer than publishing the same content out over the blog; so in some sense that helps me publish scoops faster — although, an editor looks at and approves everything I write before it goes up on the blog.

Our readers really do help me report stories out more thoroughly. The nice thing about a blog is you can and should update it frequently, and so if I leave out an important perspective or relevant fact or link, I can add that after the fact along with a note letting readers know we’ve done so. But more importantly, news tips from readers are wonderful and very helpful. Unfortunately, they sometimes come in the form of comments, which means all of my competitors get to see them the same time I do.

Q: You have built up a knowledgeable community around your beat. Users regularly make great points in the comments after your post and share links. How were you able to build up such a strong community?

A: Computer and Internet security are fields that attract people who are detail-oriented and by and large well-informed. Thankfully, these same folks are also usually quite opinionated. I, however, try not to inject my opinion in the blog pieces I write, and prefer to tell a compelling story by thorough reporting and attention to detail.

Probably the other big subset of readers are regular readers who don’t want to have to become rocket surgeons in order to understand how to stay safe online each day. I spend as much time writing for those readers as well, because they’re a huge subset of the blog’s audience, and because people expect that they will find updates at Security Fix about the important, timely and uncomplicated security-related developments as they impact the average computer user.

Q: You also frequently interact with users on your blog. Why do you do this? How does it help your blogging and reporting?

A: Because interaction is the essence of what blogging should be about, in my opinion. Readers are more inclined to speak their minds, interact with others, and generally contribute to a more well-rounded discussion and story if they get a sense that the author is accountable and responsive.

Q: What kinds of Web and social media tools do you use to help you do your work?

A: Not many. I may one day be dragged kicking and screaming into the world of Twitter and Facebook, though. I use both of those networks for finding people, of course, but I’m still a little wary of interacting with people and sources via these networks when I’m working on investigative stories. Twice in the past month, I’ve had to scold sources after the fact, for Twittering their friends for the answer to a question I’d asked them to which they didn’t have an answer — effectively telling the whole world the focus of my then-unreported story.

Q&A: Monica Guzman discusses the new, online-only Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 0:16 - by

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer announced yesterday that it was ceasing production of the print edition today, but that it was also forming a new team to run an online-only version of the P-I.

It will be a new site, with a new vision. About 20 editorial employees and 20 advertising employees with run this new operation. They will attempt to remake what the P-I is:

We’re going to break a lot of rules that newspaper Web sites stick to, and we are looking everywhere for efficiencies. We don’t feel like we have to cover everything ourselves. We’ll partner for some content; we won’t duplicate what the wire is reporting unless we have something unique to offer; we’ll continue to showcase the great content from our 150 or so reader bloggers and we’ll link offsite to content partners and competitors to create the best mix of news on our front page.

We wanted to ask one of our favorite beatbloggers, Monica Guzman, what these changes would mean for her and the new P-I. Guzman will be staying on at the P-I and keeping her popular blog, The Big Blog. I also asked my network on Twitter what questions they would like to ask.

“The editorial staff will all do everything – write, edit, produce, take pictures … it won’t be your typical newspaper newsroom,” Guzman said.”

Without further ado, here is our extensive Q&A on the new PI.

Q: First, what was it like today for the staff staying with tomorrow being the last day of the print edition?

A: It was hard. It was really hard. Speaking for myself here, there’s something clearly exciting about what we’re about to do, but to look around and see the people, the passion, the talent that won’t be with us as we kick it off was painful.

Q: I realize that the closing of the P-I has been a reality for awhile now, but what was it like today when the news finally came down? What was it like when people found out that print was ceasing but the Web was staying?

A: People had an inkling that the print would cease and Web might stay for more than a week, since news about provisional offers to Web staff broke early. So that wasn’t a shock. What today brought was closure, a deadline, an end to all this swirling uncertainty. I can’t speak for everyone, but once Oglesby made the announcement, my heart started to beat fast and didn’t slow down much for the rest of the day. There was a lot to process. It had been such an emotional roller coaster the last two months, I was sure I was all cried out. But at about 1 p.m., I burst into tears talking to my editor.

The site is exciting, no doubt – but there’s nothing easy about saying goodbye to all these people who have made the P-I so great. I still get nervous talking to some of them ’cause I’m such a small-time rookie runt next to so much talent. Why are they leaving and I’m staying? It doesn’t make sense.

Q: What was it like for those leaving?

A: You’d have to ask them. One person I talked to said she was glad to have some closure, and was on her way to a nearby bar to commiserate with other colleagues.

Q: Are all 20 editorial employees from the P-I and what are their backgrounds?

A: As far as I know, all 20 are from the P-I. A handful are columnists, another handful hard news reporters. A couple were editors. Cartoonist David Horsey is staying on through Hearst, and we have one photographer – Josh Trujillo

Q: This is an online-only operation. Do all these journalists have the necessary Web skills to thrive on the Web?

A: Does anyone have all the necessary Web skills to thrive on the Web? If anything, we come with different specialties, and we’ll learn from each other what we need to become more well-rounded online journalists. I’m pretty excited about being trained on a high-end camera to take high-quality photos.

Q: You mention that you’ll be getting new training. How will your role be changing? Will The Big Blog still exist?

A: The Big Blog will still exist, so my job will resemble what I’m already doing. I can’t say I know how it’s going to change otherwise. This is an experiment, and an evolving one, so I can only guess that my job will change quite a bit, by increments, as it goes along.

Q: Can you give us a vision of what this new, online-only Seattle Post-Intelligencer look like? What’s it new mission will be?

A: For that I have to defer to what its executive producer, Michelle Nicolosi, wrote about it today: http://www.seattlepi.com/business/403794_newseattlepi.com16.html. She puts it really well.

Q: What role will beatblogging play on the new P-I Web site? Will you have more beatbloggers on the new site?

A: Hmmm … good question. I’ve always advocated for more engagement with readers, a fuller use of what the online medium and the blogging format allows – so I hope some of that can happen here.

Q: Will staffers be utilizing social media and two-way communication like you do? Will that be required?

A: My sense is that that’s one of the tools staffers will be able to experiment with. Don’t know what the policy will be regarding use by each staffer.

Q: This brings me to a question that Howard Owens submitted. @howardowens asks do P-I staffers understand that the Web is different? Transferring newspaper journalism to Web won’t work.

A: Good question. I think so. I think a lot of journalists understand that, no matter where they are, more and more. It’s not just about mindset; it’s also about what your organization allows and enables you to do. Since the P-I site is in large part an experiment, innovation and new thinking will, I think, not only be tolerated but encouraged.

Q: I think that answer dovetails nicely with another question from Twitter. @lectroidmarc asks now that you’re not tied to a print product, how will the P-I change its approach to the web?

You’re completely free now that you don’t have the print product. What does this freedom mean?

A: I think the next couple months will be all about answering that question. We’ve never been in that situation, so we can’t know! The hope, I think, is that we take full advantage of that freedom where it serves our readers.

Q: When you go into work tomorrow, will you feel any more free? Will you feel different?

A: You know, I’m not sure it can be that sudden. What happened today hurt. A lot. Even though I knew it was coming. I can’t know for sure, but I’m betting it’s going to be a more complicated process. But I’m a special case; I haven’t written for the paper since June 2007, so I’m not as attached as other reporters. For them, the difference might be more striking.

Q: @mathewi asks what are some of the new things the P-I is planning to do online that are different than existing paper sites?

A: The site will have columns from people in the spotlight – like former mayors, governors, a former police chief, etc. It will also link to content from other news sites probably a lot more than newspaper Web site readers are used to.

Q: This next question from Twitter is one of the big questions: @eyeseast asks how will relationship with readers change? Are staff open to a changing relationship?

You have a chance to make a new bargain with readers. A bargain newspapers weren’t willing to make.

A: Very true. Again, I can’t say for sure what the plan is, ’cause this is new, and I don’t really know. I think it’s becoming more and more clear, though, that that’s one of the things readers want, and one of the things that can help make journalism better – forging a stronger, more engaged relationship with readers, thinking of them as active collaborators, not members of a passive “audience.”

“Are staff open to a changing relationship?” I guess we’ll find out.

Q: @rsylvester asks how will the P-I’s tradition of investigative reporting carry over with a smaller staff?

A: I really don’t know – but that’s a big question. One of the biggest. I have no doubt we’ll do the best work we can. Time will tell how it compares to what the larger P-I did.

Q: @jayrosen_nyu asks will Hearst management be sharing key data of all kinds with staff?

A: That’s something I’ll have to ask myself! I know it’s helped me plenty to see real-time data on my posts, so it’d be a great idea.

Q: I gather that Hearst’s ability to share data will be critical to the new PI. I think you need to know what users and advertisers like. You’re going down an unfamiliar road.

A: Indeed. Here’s hoping for the best!

About BeatBlogging.Org

BeatBlogging.org was a grant-funded journalism project that studied how journalists used social media and other Web tools to improve beat reporting. It ran for about two years, ending in the fall of 2009.

New content is occasionally produced here by the this project's former editor Patrick Thornton. The site is still up and will remain so because many journalists and professors still use and link to the content. BeatBlogging.org offers a fascinating glimpse into the former stages of journalism and social media. Today it's expected that journalists and journalism organization use social media, but just a few years ago that wasn't the case.