Write more about your newsroom

Last week I fol­lowed Lauren’s tweets about the Seattle Times’ move to a new build­ing. It was fun to see the pho­tos of packed up boxes and a news­room in-flux. Watching all this over Twitter made me real­ize the oppor­tu­nity some­thing like this gives a news orga­ni­za­tion to open their news­room up.

There are a lot of inter­est­ing ques­tions that come up from a 24/7 oper­a­tion like a metro daily mov­ing to a new build­ing. Here are just a few I thought of:

  • Who is respon­si­ble for track­ing break­ing sto­ries while mov­ing? What type of plans did the Times have in place if a crit­i­cal story were to break while they moved?
  • In what ways does the pro­duc­tion cycle of a news story change when a good part of the news­room is pack­ing and mov­ing? What chal­lenges is the Times hav­ing to work around in the move?
  • How could the work­flow changes for effi­ciency made dur­ing the move be applied to the every­day process?
  • What were the goals for mov­ing to a new build­ing? Is the Times using it as an oppor­tu­nity to re-think some of the ways they’re organized?

Times like this make me wish news­rooms had some­one respon­si­ble for writ­ing about what goes on behind the scenes. If you want your com­mu­nity to feel like a part of what you do then open­ing up infor­ma­tion like this would be a great move, I think.

So why did you make this?

Because I’m a pro­gram­mer, and this is what I do.

Some peo­ple jog away from their house every day, only to jog back. Others walk on a tread­mill, expend­ing energy to get nowhere. In both cases, it may appear to oth­ers that they’ve accom­plished noth­ing, but they’ve cho­sen to do these seem­ingly redun­dant activ­i­ties on a reg­u­lar basis to incre­men­tally improve them­selves. And it works.

Marco Arment — sec­ond­crack on GitHub.

Scaling my long-form writing

Earlier Daniel asked me about start­ing a blog cir­cle of sorts to help each other work on longer form writ­ing that requires research, edit­ing, and more care­ful thought. I think it’s a great idea. There’s a few things that I’d love to explore in more depth here that I don’t have a good struc­ture in place for right now.

A ben­e­fit to attend­ing a lib­eral arts school like Whitman was the sheer amount of writ­ing I did every semes­ter. Many classes required 4 papers a semes­ter each of 5–7 pages. It meant I was writ­ing some­thing almost every week.

Since grad­u­at­ing the fre­quency of writ­ing I’ve done has gone up dras­ti­cally. Whether it’s on this blog or in my work at Automattic I’m writ­ing far more and in far more var­ied con­texts than I ever have before. That’s fun. What I’m not doing is the type of sus­tained, long-form writ­ing that causes me to dig deeper and push my abil­i­ties. That’s also fun but is more dif­fi­cult to do on a blog than as part of coursework.

There’s a few ideas that have been kick­ing around in my head that may fit for get­ting back into the swing of things with research and in-depth writing.

First, I’ve been think­ing more about how news orga­ni­za­tions need to think of them­selves as craft­ing a prod­uct. It’s some­thing I’ve writ­ten about before and is some­thing I’d love to dive more deeply into. There could be an inter­est­ing line to trace here between the his­tory of news pub­li­ca­tions and the growth of tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies that more read­ily grok what it means to cre­ate a product.

Second, it’d be great to spend more time research­ing how WordPress can play a role in a rebooted school sys­tem. I think our cur­rent sys­tem of school­ing is on its way out. Something may take its place and I think WordPress can, and in many cases prob­a­bly is, play­ing a role here. Collecting those sto­ries and the­o­riz­ing a bit about what a more sus­tain­able school sys­tem could look like would be fun.

We’ll see how this goes. It’d be a blast to get back into writ­ing pieces longer than 500 words.

Moving to WordPress.com

I men­tioned yes­ter­day about how I was mov­ing my site to WordPress.com. If you’re read­ing this post then it’s now live and my DNS has propagated.

I moved the site for sim­i­lar rea­sons that Daniel men­tioned the other day. We’re think­ing about col­lab­o­rat­ing on a cus­tom theme that we’d release on WordPress.com as well.

Another rea­son I wanted to move the site was to con­sol­i­date things. I’ve been using 3 sites recently to dog­food var­i­ous aspects of WordPress. This site used to be a self-hosted instal­la­tion on Webfaction. Then, I had a photo site hosted here on WordPress.com to use the iOS and Twitter con­nec­tion tools. Finally, I had a sta­tus site that was using some cool behind the scenes stuff to post right to Twitter.

I’ve moved every­thing into this one site now. Since it’s hosted on WordPress.com I can dog­food all aspects of the prod­uct from one site. No need to split up where I pub­lish now which makes a lot more sense to me.

If you’re inter­ested in the tech­ni­cal details it’s run­ning Twenty Eleven in a sin­gle col­umn lay­out. I’m going to post the CSS soon after I add a few more things to it. I wanted to run a default theme so that’s what I’m doing with just a cus­tom design upgrade. No spe­cial perks. :)

My blog as a commonplace book

Greg Linch likes to talk about com­mon­place books. It’s even what he named his Tumblr. Basically, it’s a means of col­lect­ing and stor­ing all those bits of infor­ma­tion that make our lives inter­est­ing. It could be a photo, an essay, or a quote. Regardless, it’s impor­tant infor­ma­tion that you want to mark and save for later.

This has long been the approach I’ve taken to this site. Years ago Matt wrote about how asides are use­ful.  Presenting con­tent in the form most appro­pri­ate is some­thing I have tried to make more explicit in the design of this site. It’s why I’ve also exper­i­mented with things like the read­ing list that I now have. Different con­tent requires dif­fer­ent pre­sen­ta­tion but there’s no rea­son it can’t all live in the same house.

Anil Dash has said, “I expect that my blog will in some ways be one of the most sig­nif­i­cant things I cre­ate in my life.” I agree. There’s some­thing immensely pow­er­ful about tak­ing a cor­ner of the web and say­ing “this is mine.”

Sharing things in my cor­ner of the web makes them also form a part of my iden­tity. What I share, to a large extent, is who I am. It’s how I com­mu­ni­cate with you even if I’m not able to talk to you everyday.

As this his­tory of shared items grows there’s also the fun aspect of flip­ping back through it. Steven Johnson has a great post about the com­mon­place book where he writes that:

Each reread­ing of the com­mon­place book becomes a new kind of rev­e­la­tion. You see the evo­lu­tion­ary paths of all your past hunches: the ones that turned out to be red her­rings; the ones that turned out to be too obvi­ous to write; even the ones that turned into entire books. But each encounter holds the promise that some long-forgotten hunch will con­nect in a new way with some emerg­ing obsession.

Where I can, I avoid farm­ing out my iden­tity. If I do share­crop I back it up. This is why my blog is my pub­lic com­mon­place book. The col­lec­tion makes me, me. It’s on my domain. It’s free. That’s all impor­tant because if I lose my shared items, I lose a part of that core identity.

The destruc­tion of a shar­ing ser­vice means I would also lose the abil­ity to flip back through a his­tory of my thought. Those long-forgotten hunches would stay for­got­ten and lost to his­tory. Without a com­mon­place book that you con­trol you’re gam­bling your abil­ity to learn and grow from your cur­rent actions.

What’s remark­able about [David Frum, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, and Paul Krugman], what gives me hope that there may be a way out of the big­ger mess, of which this month’s melt­down is just a symp­ton, is that finally blog­ging is effec­tively rout­ing around MSM. If you want to hear from smart peo­ple who know what they’re talk­ing about, and who aren’t spin­ning, you can.

This is why blog­ging is impor­tant.

Dave Winer — A lit­tle truth leaks out.

And a week or so later, when you try to remem­ber what you said at this party, that really ter­rific thing, you rack your brain, but can’t quite come up with it. That’s Twitter.

The blog, on the other hand, is slow, reli­ably reference-able, and find­able. It’s like a speech, pre­pared in advance, with the text dis­trib­uted. Some will hear the speech on the day it’s deliv­ered, but oth­ers will be able to ref­er­ence its text across the years.

Randy Murray — Business Blogging: Tweet For The Moment, Blog For The Ages.

Notes for #J508

I drove down to Eugene today to chat with Suzi Steffen’s J508Reporting and Information Strategies class. It’s always a lot of fun talk­ing with Suzi’s classes and I think it’s awe­some that she brings in peo­ple to talk with her stu­dents. Something I wish had hap­pened more often in my col­lege education.

I promised the class notes from what I talked about so here goes.

Byproduct knowl­edge

One of the things I spent a while talk­ing about was the idea that you can take all the byprod­ucts from work­ing on a story and turn them into some­thing valu­able. This not only pro­vides an out­let for inter­est­ing infor­ma­tion that doesn’t fit in your main day-to-day pro­duc­tion, but also lets oth­ers learn from what you’ve already come across.

A tremen­dous recent exam­ple is the way Will Davis has chron­i­cled the Bangor Daily News’ move to hav­ing an entirely WordPress-powered site. He’s cre­ated a devel­op­ment blog where’s he’s post­ing tons of help­ful back story about the switch. Not only is a cool way of pub­lish­ing all that extra knowl­edge but it also got Will, and the BDN some great press.

37signals also does a ter­rific job of this with their Signal vs. Noise blog. It’s full of great things they’ve run across and lessons they’ve learned while build­ing great products.

Using mul­ti­ple formats

Something else I touched on was mak­ing use of many dif­fer­ent for­mats to tell your sto­ries. Sometimes a story is just an image, other times a 3,000 writ­ten piece fits bet­ter. The great thing about the web is that your story can take what­ever form is most appropriate.

Jeff Jarvis defines this when he writes about what it means to be a dig­i­tal first news orga­ni­za­tion. He writes:

Digital first, aggres­sively imple­mented, means that dig­i­tal dri­ves all deci­sions: how news is cov­ered, in what form, by whom, and when. It dic­tates that as soon as a jour­nal­ist knows some­thing, she is pre­pared to share it with her pub­lic. It means that she may share what she knows before she knows everything.

Handily there are tons of ways you can do this with very lit­tle cost. WordPress.com has many themes that sup­port var­i­ous post for­mats. Tumblr is another option. Twitter, in a way, is even another for­mat you can use to tell stories.

Other tips

Something I for­got to men­tion when talk­ing about Twitter is an insight­ful exam­ple that Marshall Kirkpatrick gives about how he tracks the future of the music indus­try on Twitter. If you’re stuck on fig­ur­ing out how Twitter can help you as a jour­nal­ist go read that post.

Marshall’s also talked about other ways he finds infor­ma­tion at a cou­ple of con­fer­ences at the U of O. Daniel Bachhuber posted some notes from one back in 2009. If you ever get the chance to hear Marshall speak about this stuff take it. I guar­an­tee you’ll learn a ton.

Tools, tricks, and hacks

Something I totally neglected to cover was that for all your WordPress.com ques­tions we have a really solid sup­port site. If you’re stuck on how to do some­thing or just want to see how you can make bet­ter use of the plat­form you’ll likely find the answer in there. If you don’t feel free to get in touch.

Instapaper was the first tool I men­tioned. Like I said, it’s fun­da­men­tally changed my life and how I con­sume infor­ma­tion. I really can’t rec­om­mend it enough. Use it.

Evernote and Simplenote were the next two I men­tioned. These are like dig­i­tal reporter’s note­books and are really great buck­ets for putting infor­ma­tion in to. I use Simplenote, which also syncs seam­lessly with Notational Velocity on my Mac. While it’s lim­ited to text the advan­tage is that all the files are stored as plain text files and can be accessed with any text edi­tor. For future proof­ing your data there’s not a whole lot bet­ter than plain text.

I also rec­om­mend tak­ing the 10 min­utes nec­es­sary to get Google Reader up and run­ning with sub­scrip­tions to your favorite sites. They even have a handy video that explains every­thing. Having auto­mated con­tent sub­scrip­tions that you check reg­u­larly can really help you stay on top of things.

Anyway, that’s it. I’ve likely left things out so feel free to ask me about them.