Run A Local Newspaper?

Yesterday two things converged that really got me thinking about localism.

First, I published my analysis of Rockville Central’s reader survey. It was my first chance to see what the readers of my hyperlocal news site really thought about my volunteer work over the last eighteen months or so. It was very gratifying, and at the end I wrote: “[It is] clear that many, many of you who took the time to respond see Rockville Central as ‘yours.’ That means so much and I will always try to respect that.”

Second, I ran across a fascinating tips-from-the-trenches piece on what it’s like to take over and run a local newspaper. This piece included a great sidebar:

You Want To Buy A Weekly?

Find an owner/operator who is retiring. Don’t worry about quality. You can improve the content and revenue yourself. 

Financing was tough before the credit crunch, and it’s next to impossible now. So you may have to do an owner-financed deal or pay for this out of your own pocket. The price of a paper depends on its annual revenue, so if you’re looking for a deal, think small and rural.

Pack a lunch. You won’t have the time or the money to eat out for the first few months. (Perhaps years.)
 
Consider your business skills. You can create great journalism, but do you know how to run a circulation program and print labels? Keep track of ads and expenses? You have to take a hundred bags and bins to the post office — who will do that? 

Be humble. Readers don’t care if you won Pulitzer or interviewed governors. They care about their community, whether you make it better and whether you spell their name correctly.

Be true to yourself. This is tough. You’re running a business and you’re a valuable member of the community, but you have to uphold your core values.

All sounds very much like the advice I gave anyone thinking of starting their own community news blog!

It’s all got me thinking: Is it time to develop a real business model for Rockville Central, and embed it even further as a local institution?

What’s Your Rhythm?

I recently had an exchange with a friend during which I recalled that at different periods, his energy level on certain issues seemed to go up and down.

 Sine Wave

Sine Wave

That got me to thinking about my own energy and attention levels. I have long been aware that my effectiveness and energy follow a pretty strong sine wave. It’s not as severe as a bipolar thing — just a sine wave. Sometimes I am way engaged and on top of it . . . othertimes it is a struggle to mark even administrative work off of my to-do list.

No surprise there. I suppose everyone goes in the same sorts of sine waves. But then I got to thinking about the period of my particular wave. I think it is about fifteen days from zero to zero.

In other words, If I start the month at zero (or “neutral”), I’m likely to have a peak of energy around the 7th, get back to “neutral” around the 15th, and then be in the dumps around the 21st.

In my experience, the peak time can be pretty awesome and include prodigious creativity, indeed the whole upper third of that part of the curve is cool. The lower third of the “down” curve is not exactly torture — but I am in trouble if there is something I need to really push on at that time. I get things done, but it is hard to do my best work.

(I know this is similar to biorhythms, but I do not know enough about that to render an opinion. I am just going on my own observations, and leaving the whys for another time.)

All this makes me think a few things:

  1. It would be worthwhile to test this and catalog it. Give myself a “score” every day in terms of energy and effectiveness level, and track that for a couple of months. That will show me (a) whether the hypothesis is right; and (b) what my period is.
  2. If I do have such a sine wave, it might be a good idea to predict the peaks and valleys and jigger my work schedule accordingly. 
  3. I assume other people have such a wave — what is their periodicity? If I can figure that out for colleagues, I can more effectively work with them (in the same way that it is helpful to know my own and others’ Myers-Briggs temperaments). 

What’s your rhythm? How do you know?

Revise Your Goals

Beth Kanter had a great post a while back that rounds up a number of bits and pieces of advice for nonprofits interested in using social media.

My favorite graf:

The economic crisis has changed the external environment. So, it is important to think about that as part of considering how you need to revise your goals. The tools are changing, so if you’ve settled into one way of using a particular social media tool or set of tools, don’t set yourself on automatic pilot. Are you using the social media tools most efficiently and effectively given the environment, the changes in the tools, and your goals?

What a thought . . . fine tune strategy as you go.

How often do we really do that?

Tweet Guy Jason DeRusha, A Co-Creator

There are insurgent personalities throughout media, pushing and prodding it ahead to the future. WCCO’s Jason DeRusha is one of them.

In this interview, he discusses an important aspect of what people’s relationships with institutions are becoming:

I’ve been experimenting with posting my good questions on my blog and inviting people to answer them, to share their thoughts and help me tell the story before it goes on TV. The old model is to put stuff up after it was on TV and get comments on it. But to me, that’s no good—I need people’s help before I do the story on the air.

This turns the newsanchor-viewer relationship both on its head and inside-out.

First of all, the most important person here is the viewer, who is giving material to the news reporter. (In traditional models, after the reporter has “newsgathered,” his main job is to tell people what he or she knows.)

Second of all, and more important, this model has different people involved. The news reporter and the viewer are co-creators. They both come up with what is going to count as “news.”

Read the whole interview, which is very cool. And you may want to take a peek at his blog to see how it works in practice.

Location, Location, Object

Through one of my Twitter contacts, I ran across an interesting article by Jyri Engeström about why some social networks work and others don’t. It has to do with the presence — or lack — of an “object.” In this case, that means a reason to connect with others.

One example is Flickr, which has made photographs a reason to interact.

The fancy name for this is “object-centered sociality.” It provides a good way to think about what new social network applications might look like, and what might enable them.

For instance, Engeström says:

Take the notion of place, for example. Annotating places is a new practice for which there is clearly a need, but for which there is no successful service at the moment because the technology for capturing one’s location is not quite yet cheap enough, reliable enough, and easy enough to use. In other words, to get a ‘Flickr for maps‘ we first need a ‘digital camera for location.’ Approaching sociality as object-centered is to suggest that when it becomes easy to create digital instances of the object, the online services for networking on, through, and around that object will emerge too.

My new Blackberry Storm has GPS, and I would be very interested in a social networking service that uses location to identify nearby friends. But GPS is too much of a battery-suck and too few of my actual friends use it on a routine basis.

Notwithstanding that, I am definitely not alone in watching location as a possible Next Big Thing.

It is interesting to note that the article dates from 2005 — yet is still current.

My PJTV Segment: It's Like The Sopranos!

These are my notes from yesterday’s Pajamas TV segment, which was live yesterday. If you check this page, you can see the video. I’m slated to be on again this Friday, October 24, at 6:00 pm Eastern.

It’s easy to pick on the Garden State of New Jersey, almost too easy. Like shooting fish in a barrel. Former Democratic state senator Wayne Bryant, who is embroiled in a corruption trial, has asked the state elections authority for permission to use his $640,000 campaign war chest for his legal bills. The authority said no and yesterday a state appeals court heard arguments on the issue.

Bryant is accused of conspiring with the dean of a medical school to steer state money to the university in return for a no-show job that would boost his pension from $36,000 to $81,000. I’m telling you, it’s like The Sopranos! Only there’s more. Stay tuned . . . .

* * * * *

Bryant is not the only New Jersey state official using campaign money to pay for corruption defense. Former state Sen. and Newark Mayor Sharpe James (D-Essex) and former Sen. Joseph Coniglio (D-Bergen) used their campaign money for their legal fights – only they didn’t ask permission first.

Coniglio used $90,000 leftover in his war chest when Feds were looking into whether he took money from Hackensack University Medical Center in return for steering money to the hospital. He was indicted on that in in February. And former mayor James spent $50,000 of campaign money for his defense against conspiracy and fraud charges. He was convicted in April and is serving 27 months in prison and had to pay a $100,000 fine.

What’s incredible is that, in fact, New Jersey’s rules are stricter than the federal election commission’s when it comes to using campaign money – on the federal level, battling corruption charges is deemed to be an expense “relating to the duties of a federal office holder.”

So there’s something to think about next time you whip out your check book to support a candidate – might this guy end up using the money to defend against being a crook?

Pakistan, Take My Data, Please

These are my notes from my latest Pajamas TV segment, which was live yesterday. I don’t yet have a link to the Flash (free) version, but if you check this page, you can see the video as soon as they have posted the free version. (I am not sure they are going to keep on posting free versions; it is meant to be a paid service.)

I’m slated to be on again today and this Friday, October 24, at 6:00 pm Eastern.


Personal identity crisis continues. What will it take for companies to take this as seriously as they should? First, there’s a report from Georgia Tech that with cell phones getting more complicated and more connected, it turns out they are perfect targets for hackers. Just imagine a horde of cell phones being programmed to periodically dial toll numbers. They’ve even got a name: “zombie phones.”

But even more scary, officials have found small devices in European point of sale card swipe machines that send selected transaction information to Pakistan. These are the card machines you use at the grocery store — totally plain vanilla. The devices appear to be untraceable and are inserted in some made-in-China MasterCard boxes. The best way to find out if a store has been infected is to literally weigh their card swipe machines. Bad machines weigh four ounces more than good ones.

This is affecting large, chain stores, including a British unit of Wal*Mart and Tesco.

It is not isolated or off the beaten path. And it really is diabolical. The machines can be set, evidently, to just send a few transactions, say like every tenth Visa Platinum transaction, once a day. They can also get new instructions when they send their take — so their work is quite hidden. Add that up over time.

What happens to the information once it goes to Pakistan? It gets used, of course. Bank withdrawals are made, plane tickets and other merchandise get purchased. So far, the estimates are between $50 and $100 million. The motivation appears not to be a espionage, but plain old theft. Authorities are watching, though, in case there is a terrorism link, the destination being in Pakistan and all.

What can companies do? That’s a tough question and it may be one of those things where the bad guys are always one step ahead of the good guys. But the good guys can get a little more serious about this. Yes, they will say they have security experts and yes, they will say that such piracy hurts them as much as it hurts, say, Joe The Plumber. “Security is our top priority.”

Nevada has instituted new rules that companies must encrypt the information they keep. But this may not be enough. The whole data chain needs to be protected, just like the food chain.

I think I am going to start paying cash for everything I can!