Tag Archives: Journalism

Software is Eating the News: Are you in the in the Entertainment or Work business?

work-vs-entertainmentRight now, news organizations still haven’t really clarified what business they are in and/or what their audience is really looking for, as a result they often measure and focus on the wrong things.

Information technology businesses fall into two primary categories:

  1. Entertainment: The goal here is to help people have “fun,” to spend their downtime with you. And the more time spent with you the better. It doesn’t really matter whether that time spent makes them a better or worse human being, helps the planet, it’s fundamentally about entertaining people. Think Facebook, Pinterest, movies, gaming, etc.
  2. Work: The goal here is to help people take action and solve problems, whether pay their bills, stock their pantries, lose weight, learn new skills, influence public policies. In this case, the goal is to often spend the least time possible, as the primary thing you care about is the outcome. Traditional B2B software and Google search falls primarily into this category; you’re not using it for fun but to get the task done as efficiently and effectively as possible, and the less time spent the better.

So are journalists and news organizations primarily in the entertainment or work business?

Traditionally, they have straddled both worlds and as a result have muddied their value proposition, measure the wrong things and apply the wrong business models.

Additionally, what one segment of the audience and what journalists’ often think of as entertainment, others often think of as work, politics being one of them.

work-vs-entertainment-politics

In the entertainment world, your goal is to get people to spend as much time with you as possible, since the whole point of your existence is to fill people’s free time. In this scenario, display advertising as a revenue stream and products that encourage spending time make sense.

In the work world, your goal is to minimize the amount of time people spend with you and instead give them the answers to their problems, or eliminate their problems all together. In this case, the less time spent on your site/application is often better, since the goal is to increase their time. In this scenario, display advertising makes absolutely no sense and products that don’t solve problems are bad.

work-vs-entertainment-metrics

So should news organizations focus on delivering more entertainment value or more work value?

And that will be a question for another day. 🙂

Lies, damn lies and crime statistics: You can only trust the homicide stats!

A recent report about the latest crime statistics made me dust off an old article I was working on about just how dramatically crime is under-reported in the hardest hit neighborhoods. While many cities including Santa Ana have made dramatic progress since the early 90’s – understand there can be a huge gulf between reported crime and actual crime statistics.

“You’d hear the gunfire,” said Santa Ana police officer John Hibbison. “Then you’d wait for the report over the radio and nothing. The only time people would call was when someone needed medical attention.”

Crime had gotten so bad on parts of Third Street that residents had lost all confidence in the police. Rapes, robberies, carjackings and shootings would go unreported. And if reported, would usually go unprosecuted because victims and witnesses would clam up for fear of being killed.

Hibbison, who helped organize Operation Roundup, an undercover sting operation which netted 117 arrests, freely admits crime raged unchecked and unreported in the neighborhood for many years before the September, 1994, operation.

During his first night of surveillance, he and his fellow officer witnessed two major gunfights in a period of 30 minutes. Not a single person called the police.

When police arrested a juvenile for murder and robbery, they had no idea just how active he had been. He confessed to 50 robberies and 100 auto thefts. The officers found only eight of the crimes in the police reports.

Despite the daily gunfire, silence reigned on Third Street, gangmembers made sure of that. They would regularly hang cats from the telephone wires with knives stuck through them. Shoot out bulletproof light covers with high-powered rifles. Kill people’s pets who barked to loudly. All warnings – keep your mouths shut if you want to live.

There are many “Third Street”s in Santa Ana, Orange County and across the country where residents deadbolt themselves in at night, close their ears to the sounds of semi-automatics spraying lead across the landscape and almost never call the police.

It’s not a new phenomenom. Residents of high-crime neighborhoods have learned to turn the other way or the other cheek to crime since at least the turn of the century when the mob ruled the immigrant ghettoes of the East.

Regardless, crime is dramatically underreported in high-crime neighborhoods from Santa Ana to South Central Los Angeles. No statistics exist to show exactly how few serious crimes are reported to the police in the hardest hit neighborhoods, but many Santa Ana residents can tell stories of robberies, shootings and burglaries that were never reported.

National crime victimization surveys show only about 30 percent of all crimes are reported nationwide but experts say even less are reported in poor, high-crime inner-city areas.

It’s not surprising then that despite downturns in recorded-crime rates that many Americans feel no safer today than when recorded-crime rates were much higher.

The lack of reporting has many reasons and serious consequences. Every individual has a different reason for not calling the police, but fear is the number one reason cited by most residents and police. Still each decision not to pick up the phone and dial 911 or make a police report usually has a whole host of reasons behind it: from distrust of the police to a sense that the crime isn’t important enough to bother the police.

For property crimes, insurance is often the divide between reporting a crime and not. After all, if you don’t have insurance and have no expectation that the police will ever find and return your property to you,why report it? If you have  insurance the only way you can get reimbursed is by filing a police report. The end result, lower-crime neighborhoods often times appear to actually have higher property crime statistics. When in reality the real difference is that they have more insured people – not more crime.

At the same time not calling often leaves police blind to the extent of the problem, demoralizes officers because they can’t get community cooperation, leads to an uneven distribution of resources because the true extent of crime doesn’t show up in the statistics and often adds to the neighborhoods crime problem.

Ironically successful community policing may actually lead to a higher reported-crime rate, even though crime is going down or staying the same, because residents will typically call more as they gain more confidence in the police.

As a resident of Santa Ana from 94 to 97 I experienced this first hand.

I remember shortly after I moved into the ‘hood, the sound of gunfire erupted a block or two away. Having grown up in a quiet middle-class neighborhood, I called the police – assuming that when you called the police, the gunfire would stop.

Instead, the sound of shotgun blasts and semi-autos continued ripping through the night air. So I called again. More gunfire. Another call. More gunfire. Another call. After the fourth call, I stopped calling – and the gunfire went on off and on for another 2 or 3 hours.

After that I stopped calling altogether – after all what was the use, as my calls didn’t make the gunfire go away. In fact, even though I soon could begin to differentiate the sound of fire crackers from fire arms, I discovered that my calls of gunfire were never even logged as a “crime,” instead they were incidents as there was no victim to report the crime.

Ironically, after Operation Roundup and a series of other gang crackdowns and my neighborhood quieted down to the point where instead of gunfire being a nightly occurrence, it became a rare event. I actually began calling again –as it was no longer just background noise, and I had confidence that the police would actually do something.

My own personal experience from living in the hood, scouring the police blotters, conversations with gangsters and friends, was that murders are the only accurate statistic – everything else is undercounted. My rule of thumb became:

For every 1 homicide, 3 people were shot and 30 people were shot at. And it’s rare that any of the people being shot at ever call the police.

So is crime going up or down? Don’t know. But I do know is don’t accept reported crime statistics at face value, as Mark Twain said, “There are lies, damn lies and reported crime statistics.”

Local News: Everything Fits, So Publish It All

White snow and clear ice coated the ground and trees in Memphis – so I grabbed the family, loaded up the sleds and headed over to the city’s biggest park, Shelby Farms, to take in the fantastic scenery and ice-covered slopes.

To top it off, there was a photographer from the Commercial Appeal snapping photos of us and other families sledding, running, building snowmen, etc… My 12-year-old was certain fame and her picture in the paper were inevitable. Of course, neither happened –but in the process I realized just how badly the Commercial Appeal and other media organizations are missing opportunities to drive engagement, grow their audience and increase revenue.

As anyone who has ever worked in community journalism knows, people want to see themselves, their family and friends.

We’re no different. The next day, we scanned the paper and went to the Web site to see our pictures – and found none. Instead of giving our family (and the hundreds of others people photographed at the park that day) a reason to stay on the site, share links with family and friends, we went away disappointed.

Of the dozens, if not hundreds, of photos taken only a couple were published in print or online. Newspapers were founded on the tradition of scarcity and selectivity, “All the news that fits,” but in the age where space is limitless does that still make sense?

I would have loved to have seen a halfway decent photo of myself and my family sledding. While it may not have been the “best” photo of the day, from my perspective it would have been way better than none – as I have no photo of myself and my kids sledding. And even if I had photos, I can guarantee that the quality of the photos would far surpass the blurry out-of-focus action images from my point-and-shoot camera.

The drive to share pictures and videos of ourselves with friends and family has driven the explosive growth of Youtube, Flickr and other social networking sites, so why not leverage the photographic talent, already deployed resource and the newspaper’s brand to provide people with “published” photos of themselves to share with family and friends.

The cost of publication is minimal. The majority of the cost is already built into the publication of a single picture – so each additional picture should require virtually no incremental expense.

And the upside?

Audience Engagement & differentiation: Local content with local people to drive the engagement and differentiation local news organizations require to retain subscribers. In other words, we would have shared the pictures with family and friends –giving us another reason why we should read and subscribe to the Commercial Appeal.

More Revenue per assignment: Instead of having to support the cost of deployment with the ad dollars driven by just a photo or two, multiple photos should drive more revenue and lower the cost of the assignment.

My family’s fame & fortune: Best of all, my daughters’ would have achieved their desired celebrity and we would forever be etched in the history of Memphis, sledding down the slushy slope. While Flickr & Facebook are great ways to share photos – nothing beats the validation and excitement of appearing in the official media or local “paper of record”.

Missing the boat: Reporting on cool sites and companies instead of partnering with them to deliver new and exciting services

News organizations continue to miss the boat by not partnering with the ever-growing array of information technology providers to deliver new capabilities and the information people are looking for.

The great irony is that the news media wind up writing articles about how great these services are but fail to partner with them to provide their service as part of their brand’s offerings.

The partnerships would enable the local news organizations to better deliver on their core missions and increase revenue, while providing a great sales channel for these services.

Connecting Residents & Police

The June 3rd Wall Street Journal article “New Programs Put Crime Stats on the Map” highlighted how new services are not just delivering crime stats to audiences but truly connecting the police and residents. Residents are able to sign up for alerts and search for incidents, services that have already been offered by a number of local news sites.

The new services take it one step further and are providing an instant two-way communication platform between police and residents. The police are able to push out information and even request assistance from local residents about crimes. And residents can submit information and ask questions online.

What these services often lack is a big audience as building software is much easier than gaining adoption. In fact, CrimeReports.com stated they only had 70,000 users, a fraction of what they could get if they partnered with local media sites that already have a large audience. An audience who is looking for this type of information and not finding it.

Making Stimulus Spending Transparent

The May 28 NPR story about Onvia’s site Recovery.org  and what a great way it is to track how the stimulus money is being spent. The story identifies yet another great opportunity for the news media to join forces with an information/ technology company to provide a great service to a much broader audience.

Instead, NPR and the rest of the media just report on the site, instead of partnering with it to deliver the information as part of their mission of informing the public.

This could be a great partnership as the local media could write stories, develop charts, create videos, etc. based on the information on the site in their paper and TV editions that publicize the online tools thereby helping drive traffic to their sites. Onvia could generate new revenue and grow its audience by becoming part of the local and national media sites.

I could go on with a whole host of other examples, but instead just read a few articles about cool new services and you’ll find a host of potential partners.

If traditional media is ever going to successfully transition to an online model, they will need to aggressively move from developing in house solutions and purchasing software from traditional service providers to aggressively courting and integrating new technology and information services.

As someone who has seen his family’s life savings go down like the Titanic in a failed startup, I can attest that it’s generally easier to build a product than it is to build an audience – so most companies will jump at the chance to partner.

Contact me at kevinjmireles@yahoo.com if you’re interested in learning more.

Kevin Mireles has an MBA from the school of hard knocks and over 15 years of publishing and technology experience. He currently works full time in an unrelated industry but has never gotten over his first love.