Throw some community leadership training into the mix

December 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

I was recently invited to take part in the annual Sherwood Trust leadership training program:

“This is a skill-based program focused on developing the community leadership capacity of individuals.  The training consists of a structured, 60-hour curriculum that emphasizes an interactive and facilitative style, which draws on the knowledge and skills of the participants as well as the curriculum.”

Curriculum concepts include:

  • Social capital and community capacity.
  • Personality types and leadership styles.
  • Community development models.
  • Catalytic leadership model.
  • Asset mapping.
  • Conflict resolution skills and models for group decision-making.
  • Communication strategies.
  • Fundraising and volunteer recruitment.

Each year the class selects a community project that they then take from the planning/design process through to completion. I look forward to the hands-on community organizing and hopefully implementing what I learn into some digital projects like the community wiki and our redesign. It’s an opportunity to step away from the laptop and online social networks.

I’m planning on blogging about the experience and hopefully documenting the experience with video starting at the end of January.

Here’s a video clip introducing the program:


Talking about community wikis

December 10, 2011 § 5 Comments

I recently came across an open-source platform to drive community-based wikis. It currently powers Denton Wiki. It reminded my of one of my New Years work-related resolution from 2009 – to start a community Wiki.

That resolution never got anywhere, mostly because it didn’t really fit my schedule of projects and because at the time the process for setting up useful wiki was still daunting. The Local Wiki project seems to have solved that hurdle. From the demo video, it’s pretty feature rich and has a slick admin interface. Easy to set up pages, create templates, manage media files and a nice mapping feature.

In the next month or so I’m hoping we’ll be able to install this and start playing around with a local wiki.

In the meantime, we’ll need to start brainstorming to develop a framework of pages/categories and also develop a list of local agencies that could become partners. And I envision monthly meet-ups to keep the community involved and aware of the project.

Some early ideas for pages that fit our community:

  • History
  • Architecture
  • Sports
  • Wine
  • Agriculture
  • Schools
  • Arts
  • Music
  • Parks

I’ll be posting updates as we move forward.

I’d love to hear from anyone that has helped set up  or is involved in maintaining a community wiki or if you have an upcoming project using Local Wiki.

Our content strategy journey

December 9, 2011 § 5 Comments

We’ve recently developed a company-wide strategic plan. One part of that plan is the redesign of our website. And I’ve been tasked the job of leading a committee to do it.

I’ve decided to attack the project not as a design project (although, that obviously is a part of it) but as a content strategy project. As such I’ve identified a number of areas, each of which we are tackling with small groups of 3 or 4 people – subcommittees – which then report to the larger group.

The areas I’ve identified are:

Information architecture

  • Website audit
  • Analytics
  • Navigation
  • Tagging and categories

Social media

  • What are we doing
  • Where
  • Why
  • What’s working
  • What isn’t working
  • What are we missing
  • And how can we integrate our SM strategy into our website as seamlessly as possible

Content workflow

  • How and when is content being produced
  • How does our editorial system affect the workflow
  • How can we streamline the workflow toward a digital first strategy
  • How does this workflow fit in with our revenue and social media strategies

Revenue strategy

  • Reassess our pay wall – hard wall vs. metered
  • Strategy to convert free users into subscribers
  • What is free vs. paid

Each of these areas are daunting, none more so than the issue of content workflow. However, I think this process, as tedious as some of it may be (I’m looking at you website audit,) needs to be undertaken. It was an opportunity we missed in our last redesign. Each one of these areas will affect our ultimate design. In addition to what comes out of these groups, we also have data from a recent reader survey that we conducted. My hope is that we will be able to use information from these groups and the survey data to help steer us into the process of developing wireframes and mock-ups and eventually to much improved website digital products.

The way we are attacking this project (or set of projects) has evolved from my interest in the growing field of content strategy. I have been reading blog posts, books, watched video presentations like the keynote speech at this year’s Content Strategy Forum by Karen McGrane.

For some months now I’ve been wondering how content strategy as a discipline could be implemented in a news organization. Obviously, the newsroom editorial process is strategic, but I wonder how much of this strategy bleeds over into the digital realm. And how much of the current newsroom online strategy isn’t still about just “uploading the stories.”

In this video, McGrane talks about how most organizations choose a CMS. Our news organization has gone through that process before and repeated the process leading up to the current redesign project. So it is of interest to me, especially as it relates to our editorial workflows. Our lack of online usability, to a great degree, is a result of our workflow:

We have to stop thinking that usability in content management is entirely based on having pretty interface widgets or a nice color palette or a pretty font. Usability comes from workflow. It comes from having tasks that can be completed easily that follow the users mental model.

The above quote begins at about 12:11 in the video. The video is worth watching all the way through.

I’d be interested to hear what news folks think about content strategy and how it fits into our industry. Again, I know that our content really begins with some form of editorial strategy but for the most part, that strategy doesn’t take into account design, workflow, data structure, multiple platforms. It’s still very much about the print deadline and workflow. Chime in below, please.

Flickr photo by Melody Campbell

My small town news curation experiment

October 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

Yesterday I read Lauren Rabaino’s blog post about the new Seattle Times (which is the parent company of my employer, the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin) blog called the Today File which looks like a great project. Kudos to her and everyone involved. I’ll be following the project and I hope to glean some good ideas from them in the following months. In fact, from her post, I’ve already gotten some tips about a couple of WordPress plugins that we will probably implement on the U-B blogs.

And her post also got me to thinking about a project we recently launched at the U-B.

For the past 3 months, I’ve been experimenting with a curation (call it aggregation if you like) feature called the Daily Launchpad. It’s been featured on our front page every morning and lives beyond that as a Tumblr site.

Because of limitations of our CMS, I’ve had to rely on the Tumblr RSS feed and Yahoo Pipes to pull in the content to our website. It’s my inelegant solution for a dynamically updating widget.

We’ve had a handful of people follow us on Tumblr. And we’ve gotten some good feedback from our cross posts on Facebook. But the traffic and interactions have not gotten close to what I had hoped for.

What I curate:

  • Primarily local/regional news, photos and video
  • National headlines
  • Viral videos
  • Quirky news

How I promote DL:

  • We push links to Twitter and Facebook
  • We sometimes refer to DL in the print edition

Where  I curate from:

  • Tumblr dashboard
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google alerts
  • AP wire
  • Community blogs and local college publications
  • Regional and state-wide news sites

Where I’ve struggled:

  • Getting more community submitted content
  • Finding interesting local content has been hit or miss

What’s next:

I am going to look at a couple of options to replace the Yahoo Pipes widget as there is some lag on how quickly new posts appear and the widget itself seems to not work well with some browsers. I’m considering using Coveritlive. I would embed their widget on our front page everyday the same way I have done with the Yahoo Pipes code. This would allow a more dynamic/live feel. And will allow us to interact with readers through the Coveritlive commenting system and it’s integration of Twitter hashtags.

I also want to push DL as a community bulletin board where people can share photos, questions, ideas, news tips, etc. And it’s got potential as a crowd-sourcing platform along with Facebook and Twitter. I’ve done some of this already. Around the time of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 I asked our community to submit information about where they were on that day. I placed a Wufoo submission form on a Tumblr page. We got about 80 submissions of which I was able to generate a map using Batch Geo.

I will be be closely monitoring the traffic and interactions in the next month or so. And we’ll see where it goes from there. So far it’s been a fun experiment.

Newsroom CMS wish list

September 18, 2011 § 12 Comments

Old Typewriter

Because publishing with our current CMS sometimes feels like typewriting.

I am currently researching CMS vendors for our newspaper. Here I’ve compiled a wish list of features I would like our future CMS to have.

I’m hoping readers will add to this post via the comment section. And if my any item on my list of features needs more details or clarification, I hope that is brought to my attention too. I will update the post with suggestions, etc.

Our current CMS, which is unofficially called Depot, was built by a web developer at our sister newspaper in Yakima, WA. It is built on the Ruby on Rails open-source framework. We decided to go with them after using TownNews for about 10 years. At the time of our switch in late 2009, one of our biggest needs was a paywall. I won’t go into the decision behind the paywall but I will say that we have been able to grow our traffic despite it. I’ll leave a more in-depth analysis of our paywall including hurdles, successes and failures for a later post.

I recently sat in on a webinar with the folks at EllingtonCMS, which is based on the Django framework, and John Hill has volunteered to offer some feedback as he has had some experience with them (thanks John, going to shoot you an email on Monday.) And I will mostly likely ask for a presentation of TownNews’ Blox CMS.

In my following list I will indicate what features EllingtonCMS (E) has at least based on what I took away from the webinar they presented.

I’m hoping to use whatever comments or feedback this post generates to help me and our newspaper make an informed decision. If you’ve got any experience with any of the aforementioned CMS or frameworks, please, please share your thoughts. I also welcome any recommendation for other solutions like WordPress, Drupal and…..

In no particular order of importance:

  • mapping/geodata
  • tagging
  • robust commenting (threaded, voting, etc.) E
  • video platform E
  • blogging E
  • recommended reading lists E
  • most read/shared/emailed lists E
  • community – registration, avatars, badges, ratings E
  • story highlights
  • read later/favorite queue
  • liveblogging
  • social media API integration
  • flexible/modular templates E
  • data import/data visualization
  • email newsletters and SMS alerts E
  • mobile and tablet optimization E
  • integrated payment system for online/print subscriptions E
 Flickr image by Andrew Taylor.

Twitter Favorites – Week of 08/22/11

August 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

#WAShooting and the need to have a prepared newsroom

January 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Dave Boardman, executive editor and Sr. V.P. of the Seattle Times Co., stopped by the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin this past week. He now officially oversees our newspaper which basically means that our publisher reports to him in Seattle. This was his first visit in this capacity.

As part of his visit he made a presentation to the U-B newsroom. The topic of his presentation was the Seattle Times coverage of the shooting deaths of 4 Lakewood police officers and the subsequent manhunt for Maurice Clemmons, the suspect behind the shootings. Their coverage was eventually awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

Dave talked about how the Times had a plan – tools, training, leadership and dedication – in place that allowed them to react as soon as the first trickles of information about the shooting came into the sparsely populated newsroom.


Dave said that very few calls had to be made to get reporters, photographers and editors into the newsroom. As soon as the news of the shooting hit the public, members of the newsroom began making themselves available.


The newsroom leaders responded quickly by creating teams of reporters/editors/photogs to cover the various aspects of the story. One group was tasked the job of getting background information on the suspected murderer. Another teams was directed to compile information on the slain officers. And photographers and videographers hit the streets. Dave himself manned the Twitter feed.


The obvious one is Twitter. The Seattle Times team quickly settled on a hashtag, #WAShooting, which was soon used by other news organizations and by the general public to reference the Lakewood shooting coverage. Dave talked about how he was on Twitter duty for about 15 hours with the help of an assistant who would quickly verify information that was being disseminated via Twitter. This allowed Dave to clarify and correct misinformation. The ability to do this and to broadcast new details as they became available made a convert of Dave.

Seattle Times also has a very useful intranet site that is accessible by all their employees. It is typically used for inter-company communications but also is used as a way to share files and notes. So during their coverage of the shooting and the manhunt for Clemmons they used the space to share notes and updates. The site also serves as a gateway to a number of searchable databases which were extensively used to identify the slain police officers, Clemmons and his family.


Boardman mentioned that they typically cannot afford to send reporters to training workshops so they often do in-house training – often during lunchtime.

What it all means for the U-B

We need to put a plan in place that will allow us to easily and quickly get informative updates to the community in case of an emergency or breaking news situation. In the recent past, we have relied on Twitter to get update out but unfortunately, those updates have only been visible on Twitter which is of absolutely no use to the vast majority of Walla Wallans who don’t have a Twitter account.

A little over a year ago, there was a police standoff in Walla Walla.  I found myself directly across the street armed with my cell phone (at that point I did not have a smart phone so was only able to post to Twitter via TXT message) and Flip camera. The only people that saw those updates were those in the community that had a Twitter account AND happened to be logged in at that moment AND were also following the U-B Twitter feed. A couple of hours later I was able to edit together a quick video. But that is hardly the kind of breaking news updates that are required and expected by our customers.

We’ve also relied on Facebook but again, despite Facebook’s popularity there are always those without accounts or those that happen to not be connected at a particular time.

I will set up a front page template that incorporates our Twitter feed and possibly some form of liveblogging widget like CoveritLive or ScribbleLive (which we used effectively during the recent mid-term elections.) When the time comes we will be able to easily switch to this template and have live updates appear on  the front page of our website.

In the last couple of years we have held some in-house video training and we may expand it to include mobile and social media reporting tools like Twitter and Facebook.

This will most likely also require our company to purchase some smartphones and/or internet ready netbooks.

First step is to come up with a written plan and ask that upper management sign off on it and make any necessary investments. I’m very confident that it will happen especially after Dave Boardman’s presentation.