By paulgillin | September 16, 2008 - 8:39 am - Posted in Hyper-local

At Poynter Online, Jon Greenberg writes of the remarkable impact of a letter written by longtime Wasilla, Alaska resident Anne Kilkenny about her former neighbor and current Republican vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin.

The letter (you can find it here, along with several hundred comments) lays out in plain language Palin’s record as mayor of Wasilla and governor of Alaska. Kilkenny is quite open about her distaste for Palin (who was known as “Sarah Barracuda” in high school), but also takes pains to point out Palin’s intelligence, ambition and political savvy. Most important is that the letter is factually detailed. Kilkenny, who calls herself “just a housewife,” assembled details about Palin’s administration from years of attending city council meetings and reading local newspapers. She even disclaims facts of which she is unsure. It’s not the work of a professional reporter, but it’s just as good in its own way.

Greenberg sees big potential in citizen reporters like Anne Kilkenny and wonders why publishers don’t do more with them. “Non-journalists can be invaluable when they use their own eyes and ears to report what they see — but they rarely deliver on that promise. Why? In my experience, most citizens worry that they are not up to the task of producing objective journalism. Worse still, they believe that if they are going to throw their words into the public arena, they must be an advocate for something.” Greenberg goes on to recommend that news organizations Adapt their culture and processes to leverage citizen journalist contributions.

Some veteran journalists might turn up their noses at Kilkenny’s 2,500-word essay. It is subjective and judgmental in some cases, and the writer has probably edited facts to make a point. It is, however, also very enlightening because it comes from someone who has lived and worked with the candidate for years. The language is homespun simple. Kilkenny, who hasn’t had a day of journalism training, turns in a pretty good piece of journalism. That’s because she has a perspective that no journalist could duplicate, even with hundreds of interviews.

Strangely, the Kilkenny e-mail has received relatively little mainstream media attention. Some of the media has questioned her facts and biases. Those are legitimate questions, but not a good reason to ignore the value of what Kilkenny has to say. Perhaps the fact that the writer is “just a housewife” disqualifies her from being taken seriously in the eyes of journalism pros. Yet it seems to us that there’s an opportunity for news organizations to embrace these citizen activists and to apply professional journalistic techniques to vet their work and surround it with context. Anne Kilkenny doesn’t make journalism irrelevant; she actually makes it richer. Judging by the number of comments on the Mudlfats blog, this citizen has touched a nerve. Isn’t that the essence of what good journalism tries to accomplish?

If You Send Them Away, They Will Come

How counterintuitive is this? Scott Karp analyzes Nielsen’s top 30 news sites for May and June according to how often visitors visit and how long they stay. The breakaway winner is Drudge Report, a site that does almost nothing but link to other sites. Drudge had more than double the sessions-per-person of any other news site in May and nearly four times the performance of the highest-rated newspaper site. Drudge’s audience also spent an average of nearly an hour on the site in June. The newspaper site that came closest was The New York Times at 29 minutes.

What’s the lesson? Outbound links are a good strategy. Sites that aggregate and contextualize content from around the Internet gain search engine visibility, link love from others and attention from readers who value their efficiency. This isn’t say to say original reporting isn’t important. News executives often snub Drudge and others like it as parasites on their original work. But at an estimated 500 million monthly page views and 1.75 million daily viewers, this parasite appears to have gained a following. Could your news organization learn from this success without sacrificing your mandate?

The Future of the Times

Reader Arthur Piccolo has been perturbed by The New York Times’ recent decision to combine sections, as well as other cost-cutting initiatives at the paper of record. He offers his perspective on what the Times will look like in 2015. Here’s a summary. You can download the PDF here.

  • All print articles will be shortened versions of on-line content, with each ending with an Internet address and other online pointers.
  • Staff will be dispersed to their homes and field; headquarters staff will be condensed to a small core of editors and production people.
  • The organization will have relationships with lots of domain experts who will contribute insight regularly on pressing topics. There will be a large stringer network.
  • Virtually every story on-line will contain rich audio and/or video elements.
  • “Community correspondents” will feed regional and local information to the website. Subscribers will have the ability to localize their version of the Times.
  • The Times will produce branded on-line versions underwritten by large corporations and even countries.
  • The print edition will be kept alive for branding but not for profits.
  • The Times will seek to become a broadcast business to rival the top TV and radio networks.

Most of these predictions are pretty safe. This is the direction visionary newspapers are already taking. We’re not so sure about the branded editions sponsored by corporations, though.

Layoff Log

  • The Akron Beacon Journal has given the Newspaper Guild notice of its intention to lay off 11 people, including five reporters, three copy editors, a photographer, an artist and a clerk.
  • The Northern Michigan Review will cut 11 jobs at newspapers in Petoskey, Gaylord and Charlevoix, as well its PhoneGuide. “Our future forecast remains optimistic,” the president and publisher said.
  • The Daytona Beach News-Journal announced a second round of layoffs, cutting 41 jobs on top of 99 eliminated three months ago. The paper’s parent company, which employs more than 600 people, is for sale, but there have been no takers. “The company’s financial performance has taken a dramatic turn for the worse over the past few months,” said Jim Hopson, News-Journal chief executive manager.
  • The Los Angeles Timeslaid off 50 people in its IT organization but didn’t bother to tell anyone outside the company about it. At least that’s what pressman Edward Padgett says. A redesign of the paper is coming, and Padgett says there is speculation that the California section will be consolidated into the main news section and Business will be merged into Sports. That could result in the elimination of the second shift production on some days, which would probably mean more layoffs.



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