Ann Grimes (Stanford) about online news

Newstools gave me an opportunity to interview Ann Grimes, Acting Director, Graduate Program in Journalism at Stanford.

a. What are the things in online news that you see are changing the dynamics and logistics of journalism. And what is the future of online news?

Big declines in print readership and advertising. Little innovation and investment, industry-wide – with key exceptions (Dow Jones under Murdoch and Washington Post, for example). Cost-cutting and layoffs are hitting newspapers hard. Meanwhile, big upswing in online readership. News sites are among the most popular and trafficked. The problem: Online ads still command only 10 cents to the $1 of print ads, so the revenues aren’t keeping up and online growth is projected to slow to single digits. While lots of innovation is happening on the content side, little innovation is happening on the ad/revenue side. That is where the conversation needs to go.

b. We have seen a tremendous use of online tools and portals in the elections this year. People have campaigned, raised money, criticized other candidates, asked questions, participated in debates online and the list goes on. How do you think the new online face of campaigns affects the politics – in good and bad ways? Also, do you plan to write your book “Running Mates” again with the new trends on online campaigns?

Online activity both by campaigns and from citizens is a very positive development, in my view. We are seeing more citizen participation (example: Moveon.org) and the blogger who leaked the Obama “bitter” comment, which has certainly impacted the national Democratic campaign. We’re seeing mainstream media opening up, allowing citizens to actively participate in TV debates – several moderators have taken online questions live throughout the primary season. While many people think the primary campaigns have lasted too long, I actually think it’s positive. Voters – whether Democrat or Republican – are demonstrating that they believe this election matters. “Running Mates” is on the shelf, for the time being.

c. You seem to have covered technology and business for big media houses? What are your thoughts about the new online technology hubs – techcrunch, gigaom, scobleizer and this list of online tech and biz bloggers keeps going on.

These blogs feed you instant news but a lot of times I think these sites are great – they regularly beat the print media and are giving local newspapers (Mercury News and SF Chronicle) a run. NYTimes had an interesting story a few weeks ago about the tough pace of blogging. Here’s the link: In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop – New

d.What is the biggest story that you have done – in print or media?

I’ve written hundreds of stories. While covering the Venture Capital beat for the Wall Street Journal I wrote several about the lack of transparency in the venture captial industry that got some attention. Here’s a page one story.

WSJ.com – Venture Capitalists Scramble To Keep Their Numbers Secret
By ANN GRIMES Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL …. In general, that amount of disclosure is legal: Venture-capital funds are only lightly …

e. What do you think about “citizen journalism”?

While I think that citizens have expertise in many areas and often can add a lot to news reports, I don’t think it is likely that “citizen journalists” will replace the professional press – simply because people have lives and they are too busy to do the job of professional journalists.
However, we are seeing a rise in hyperlocal sites run by a small staffs with citizen contributors. Whether those contributors ultimately are paid or not, remains to be seen. (To survive, I suspect they will be. We used to call them freelancers).

f. Finally, what for are you attending the Newstools conference?

I teach a class at Stanford called New Media Entrepreneurship, in which my students (from journalism, business and computer science) come up with ideas for new digital media ventures. I want to better understand the NewsTool methods. Students will attend the conference, too.

Thanks Ann for taking the time to answer these.
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How can a print magazine journalist start an online magazine?

You are a print magazine journalist but you want to start your own gig by launching an online web magazine.

My assumptions are that you are as far from technology and the web 2.0 tools as I am from writing a print magazine article.

Here is how I think you can start. There could be gazillions other ways, but here is one that might work for you.

Assumption: You have a team of writers, photographers and videographers. But you are missing a techie.

Here is a strategy I would suggest:

a. You and the writers on your team should start writing out articles for the magazine on an easy setup blogging platform. I believe that writing online is very very different from writing on paper. Some nitty gritties of online writing are things like how are you categorizing your article, what tags are you giving it, how many embedded links are you putting in your article body, what online sources are you referring to in your article etc etc. Also, once your team starts writing you will start getting an idea about how much material you can churn out. Plus, you have one place to see what kind of balance in amount of material you are achieving in different areas of focus that your magazine will have.

Enough said – start using wordpress.com or typepad.com to start blogging. You can even watch some videos on how to blog on wordpress – http://youtube.com/results?search_query=wordpress&search_type= or http://www.howcast.com/search?q=blog

This should take a week for you to get setup on wordpress and get comfortable writing your articles (say 1 ir 2 per day) there and develop your online writing style.

b. Step a gets you going in terms of material. One of you has to start putting together the structure of the site on paper – what we call IA or Information architecture. What sections, categories and sub-categories you think there will be on the site and how will people browse through them – this is the most important question to answer before you go to a designer to ask him to make you a design. Once you have a rough idea on paper (as a list or a diagram), you need a designer to get some comps made.

For starters, you might only get 2 comps made – the home page and the article page. All other sub-sections can follow the same design as the home page for now. A comp is a photo of how the page looks like, for e.g. here is a comp for design of a site that gives you news with prime numbers – http://cookbook.daylife.com/sites/default/files/cookbookfiles/primetimelive.jpg .. its a simple jpg file showing the layout.

Some good examples of magazine style layouts I recommend:

http://altmuslim.com

http://shine.yahoo.com

http://newsweek.com

c. When steps a and b are happening, you need to do a little management of building a company too – know who is going to be on your team and start talking about your idea to people. Start forming a “Board of Advisors” who are people who like your idea, can give you advise about the magazine, can you give ideas about how to market, can give you insights into the logistics of forming the company.

d. The comps and the material in step a and b give you enough ammunition to go get angel funding. Angel funding can come just from friends like 1000 bucks each, or it can come from some small time incubator (people who invest small time in companies) or some agency. Also by that point of time – as an outcome of step c, you will have a document (a word document and a presentation) that presents your idea about what your magazine and the company is about and who are your advisors a.k.a. “evangelizers” ….

e. You get angel funding – you got money now what. I believe that since you do not have a techie on your team, you need to contract a small team of techies as your tech team – they are responsible for designing, developing the site and hosting it. That is when you start building your website based on the designs created, migrate all your data from the blogs you have written to your website and basically have a launch date that you march towards.


f.
Launch! Champagne! party! MONEY!!!!!

Overall I think this should take between 2 and 3 months.

I write this post for a friend, but if you have a suggestion about this – please leave it in the comments.

Google Summer of Code 2008

Google Summer of Code Program is churning along and there are lots of companies/organizations, students and mentors excited about participating this year.

I am excited about a project proposal that I have submitted this year through Drupal. I really loved the idea of how the Drupal community started throwing ideas at one place, everyone gave feedback and then projects were put on the GSoC ideas list by a few admins depending upon the community’s feedback about any idea.

The Logo design for the t-shirt was just posted by a product manager at google and its pretty “fire-y”

gsoc_08.jpg

Another cool part – Sumit Kataria, a senior in an engineering college in India is already signing up to implement the project proposal I have submitted. Pretty awesome to see college students participating in developer communities and reaching out in the community for projects.

If you got some free cycles, you should lookup projects on the ideas list for implementing them or being a mentor. I would love to hear from you if you would be interested in helping mentor my project proposal.

Plus, I am shaping up a mashup-WEEK contest in May. If you are interested in participating in any capacity (develop, design, sponsor, hangout), let me know. I will ensure to get Daylife to sponsor a Macbook Air for the winner.