This is a must watch TED Talk from Bill Gates. He thinks our ultimate goal as species should be to emit zero carbon emissions. He believes the best way to get there is through technology, investment and innovation. He shares several promising ideas in this video.
I was just at Cleveland.com, and I was looking at all the new features the site has launched recently.
Certainly, the new features are upgrades over what used to be there. The new design is a step forward. The site, however, is a hodgepodge in many ways.
The search engine is worthless and rarely returns relevant results. The UI still needs a lot of work. It’s hard for me to quickly find the content I want.
And the homepage design suffers from being overly crowded. It’s a prime example of the Wall of News. Plus, the homepage doesn’t have a clear graphical focus or main story.
I couldn’t help but think that if Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer could start from scratch they would do things differently. There is no way that Cleveland.com is the site they ultimately want. But it’s the site they have because of years of legacy code and legacy decisions.
I hate to see the past holding back news organizations on the Web. The Web demands agile development and quick decision making. I assure you that Web-only news organizations will not fall into the same trappings as traditional news organizations.
The pace of innovation on the Web from most news organizations feels very print like. It’s OK to tweak a print design every 5-10 years, but a Web site needs continual R&D. Not only do Web sites require new features, but they also require that those new features fit into existing designs and frameworks (Cleveland.com feels so broken and disjointed at times).
The Las Vegas Sun blew things up and went from being a zero to a hero in a matter of months. You can say all you want about how they have a unique JOA or about how they aren’t making money right now off their Web site. That doesn’t matter.
There is nothing stopping Cleveland.com, The Plain Dealer and their Advance Publications overlords from making Cleveland.com into a very good site.
Nothing, except bureaucratic inertia. Nothing, except being beholden to yesterday’s decisions. Nothing, except old media think.
And, to be honest, I do not have faith that either Cleveland.com or Advance have the right Web talent and minds in place to turn things around. Maybe most news organizations can’t do everything that the Sun is doing, but every organization could adopt their aggressive Web mindset. Every news organization could embrace agile development.
It is the mindset of The Las Vegas Sun that really stands out. It is mindset that is killing this industry. There is too much can’t do attitude and not enough can do.
One can’t help but wonder if all the legacy editors who cut their teeth in print simply do not understand the pace of the Web. Print was a monopoly. It never demanded innovation — agile or not.
Innovation can start from the bottom, but mindset starts from the top. When a high school Web site is better than most “professional” news Web sites, you know the problem is mental, not financial or technical. If it seems like I’m rambling, it’s because this is getting depressing.
How many news organizations can honestly say that the Web products they have right now are the products they would want to make if they could start over? If the answer is no, why not start over?
What do you have to lose?
It’s a simple question: What should news organizations stop doing, today, immediately, to make more time for innovation?
And it’s a simple answer: News organizations should stop pretending like it’s the pre-Internet days. Most news organizations are still legacy-first. Newspapers still care more about the print edition than the Web edition. Beats are still centered around making content for print edition.
The same goes for broadcast. Even the best news organizations often have separate Web staffs that produce editorial content for the Web product. But that makes no sense.
Why have two staffs to produce editorial content, when most employees could be creating content that works on multiple platforms? That’s what I mean by rethinking staff resources.
It’s simply a matter of making employees and content work for us. Duplication of work is a great way to stifle innovation, because most news organizations are under a tremendous budget crunch and can’t afford to waste resources like that.
It’s easier to go from Web-first to print than the other way around. Why? Because the Web is incredibly flexible.
It can do all sorts of content incredibly well. Print, for instance, can only do writing, and photos to an extent, well. And print even has major limitations on written content that the Web doesn’t have (arbitrary story lengths, anyone?).
Let’s take the example of a beat reporter. Some beat reporters have begun blogging, but their blogs are often treated as one more thing to do. That’s hardly a way to promote innovative content. In fact, one-more-thing syndrome is a good way to promote staff burnout.
Rather, a blog should be the heart of a beat reporters arsenal — not the 15-inch story. Any time a nugget of information comes in, a beat reporter should blog about it (or post to Twitter or both). As news comes in a blogger can either add to his original post or make a new post.
Twitter updates take seconds to write, but make fantastic notes for longer written pieces later on. This keeps readers updated and interested.
At the end of the day, when the dust has settled, it will be a lot easier to put together a 15-inch story. A beat reporter will already have notes (Twitter is great for this) and several post of content to work with.
But imagine the reverse scenario. A beat reporter concentrates on producing copy for the print edition first. This means no meaningful content will be posted until a story is completed for the print edition (or stories). This also means the story may be an aribitrary length to fit print needs — not the story’s needs. Many beat reporters who operate like this will occasionally dump smaller news items into their blogs.
When people ask “how can we make more time for innovation,” it’s really more about using time more wisely than about making more time. Think about it. Blogging and Twitter are naturally mobile friendly, which saves us even more time while reaching an even broader audience.
That’s another bird killed with the same stone. Any good blog has at least one RSS feed (if not multiple ones for comments and sometimes categories). Google Reader is a fantastic (and free) mobile RSS reader. Without doing any extra work your content is already mobile friendly.
And I don’t have to explain how ridiculously mobile friendly Twitter is. So, now a beat reporter isn’t actually doing any extra work, but he is hitting the Web and mobile with full force. And because of the way blogging and Twitter work, it’s extremely easy to make a print story from all writing that has already been done.
We need to make our content work for us. This means making our content smarter and rethinking how we us staff resources in news organizations.