Entries from March 2010 ↓

Free tools for journopreneurs

HammerOver at the GrowthSpur blog, Mark Potts and I have posted about a bunch of free tools we like that are highly useful for entrepreneurial journalists.

(Oh – and that jokey lead about hardware stores? Not a joke. I’m so bad that the Fabulous Sue Corbett (trademark pending) jabbed me in a one-act play about Noah’s Ark she wrote for a youth group.

Scene: Noah’s sons talking after God commands their father to build an ark:

Son 1:  You know what this means?

Son 2: Dad has to make a trip to the hardware store.

Solve this problem, fix journalism

Offered with no comment, and minimal context: The writer, Eileen Spiegler, is a longtime colleague, and a gifted copy editor.

From her online musings on a random Wednesday:

“Sometimes I wish the newspaper was as interesting as my Twitter stream.”

Discuss, please.

If Moore’s Law befuddles, watch the tourney

OK, I know that I rant about Moore’s Law continually. It’s the key driver of the digital age. It’s why things that seem incomprehensible get invented, and it’s why things that flopped spectacularly just a few years ago are common and successful today.

But many people – traditional journalists especially – struggle to get Moore’s Law. “Half as expensive per unit of computing power every 24 months … wha?!?”

This analogy struck me today (and, thanks, Florida, for blowing my bracket on the very first afternoon): The NCAA tournament is an example of a Moore’s Law function in action. How do you get from 64 teams to the Sweet Sixteen in just four days? Simple: The number of teams drops by half every round.

The tournament grinds down 64 teams to the final four in just eight game days.

Moore’s Law grinds down a $500,000 server to under $10,000 in a decade.

Don’t let the math equations freak you. Just know that whatever kind of entrepreneurial journalism you want to try, the hardware is cheap. And it will only get cheaper. (The software, too.)

Fear the Turtle.

Amtrak meets expectations

I’m a member of more frequent-traveler programs than should be legal, the legacy of nearly five years on the road. So last Friday, the email box overflowed with birthday wishes from Southwest, U.S. Air, Marriott, et al.

Monday, another arrived. From Amtrak.

In other words, just like the Northeast Regional trains I used to take every week, Amtrak was late.

I’d call this irony, but it’s not – it’s precisely what I’d expect from Amtrak.

A side note to my journalist friends: Read more on the progress of GrowthSpur and our upcoming training programs here.

A message to the news industry from Hal Varian

Hal Varian – brilliant economist, one of the few to apply the discipline to information, and all-round nice guy — got off a terrific blog post  at Google today.

I’d love to write extensively on it. But, as usual, Hal expresses his ideas far better than my pea brain can. In about 1,100 words, he manages to explain why paid content probably won’t work for most news sites; remind newsies that Google isn’t the enemy; and exhort news organizations to “experiment, experiment, experiment” for the civic good.

I know this won’t stop the incessant whinging from some quarters, or end the drumbeat of self-referential and circular thinking: “My work has value! Therefore someone should pay for it! So throw up a pay wall! Because my work has value!”

For anyone willing to explore these topics with cool detachment, a couple more facts to give Hal’s work more weight. His Information Rules, written with Scott Shapiro, is a seminal book in the field of information economics (I’ve given away several dozen copies over the years, and it’s Book No. 1  in my personal essential bibliography of information economics). And odds are if you studied microeconomics in college, you read Hal’s work there, too.

Dismiss him as some sort of biased Googler at your own peril. This is one of the finest economic minds of our age.

A side note: I’ve heard some grumbling already about Hal’s assertion that very few advertisers are attracted to hard news.

I’ll go him one better, based on too many years of sitting in Monday-morning meetings where the previous week’s ad lineage results were discussed: About the only advertisers who insisted on being close to the hard news – in the A section, as far front as possible – were major regional and national advertisers like the department stores and cell-phone companies. Some wouldn’t even pay for the ad if they were bumped back to the Local section.

The rest of the advertisers? They didn’t care, or wanted to be far away from the news:
– Car ads (buried in the back of the classifieds sections, generally)
– Real estate ads (ever notice that they’re not in the Sunday real-estate or home section? Realtors hate news that isn’t “everything’s great! Buy a house!”)
– Help-wanted ads

– Sunday free-standing inserts, tucked in the comics or some other pre-printed section
– Zoned retail ads in the Neighbors or hyperlocal sections

At most newspapers, those categories easily comprised 60 percent or more of advertising revenues in the halcyon days. Think about that: The majority of the money didn’t want to be near the news; they simply wanted the newspaper as a convenient delivery package.