Sensible Talk Front Page Archive for June 2008

June 30, 2008

Natalie's Theory of Children's Entertainment

To kill time on our five-hour-flight from Orlando yesterday, our daughter, Natalie, bought at the airport Borders a "Life Story" glossy on Miley Cyrus, a.k.a. Disney's Hannah Montana. (Hey, she's 10.) She was thumbing through it at the kitchen table this morning and my wife, Laurie, noticed a photo of Cyrus with her mother.

"Wait, she has a mom?" Laurie asked.


"But, she's not on the show."

(Cyrus' father, one-hit wonder Billy Ray Cyrus, plays her father on their Disney Channel sitcom.)

"She didn't fit in," Natalie replied.

Natalie continued. "It's a Disney show. The mother always has to be dead."
There's more...

June 30, 2008

Vote: TV vs. the Web?

Someone asked me last week about the amount of time it takes for me to maintain my websites. I replied that I don't watch much television anymore. In fact, we don't have cable or satellite at the Niles Family HQ. (Though we do have a clear line of sight to nearby Mt. Wilson, where the LA TV stations have their broadcast antennas.)

I can't imagine how I could code, blog, comment, correspond and do all the other stuff required to lead a website and still watch all the TV I did in the early '90s.

But, what about you? Do you, for one, welcome our new Web overlords, or are you still loyal to TV? (And if you don't care about either, vote for the one you do more anyway.)

There's more...
June 30, 2008

Call for Papers

E-mail from a reader, passed along FYI:

I International Congress on Online Journalism
University of Porto - December 11-12

The ObCiber - Observatório do Ciberjornalismo (Observatory of Cyberjournalism) invites submissions for its I International Congress on Online Journalism - December 11-12, 2008 - in the University of Porto, Portugal, under the general theme of '3G Journalism'.

In addition to the general conference theme, the Scientific/Programme Committee wishes particularly to encourage papers on the following themes:

  • Challenges posed by Convergence and Multitextuality;
  • Backpack Journalism;
  • Journalism and Blogging;
  • Citizen Journalism;
  • Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
  • Application details, and deadlines, after the jump.
    There's more...

    June 29, 2008

    Cracking the Local Market: It's a Great Time to be a Journalist

    This may sound counter-intuitive, even mis-guided, but I think we're in one of the best times to be a journalist interested in local news and politics.

    We all know that traditional local media is in upheaval. Local newspapers are seeing significant declines in revenue; some are even losing money. TV and radio stations are under pressure. Internet media companies are gearing up for local forays, and startups appear almost daily.

    It's tempting to think journalism is changing, but it isn't. What is changing are the traditional business models and technology. And where there is change, there is opportunity.

    I think newspapers will figure out how to prosper in this new world after a period of turmoil. The "paper" part of the business may be relatively smaller, but the digital part will be much bigger. Most metro newspapers now have more online users than newspaper readers.

    TV and radio will have to re-invent themselves. They will probably be more online than over-the-air, and more local than corporate. Broadcast Web sites will evolve from primarily promotional vehicles to credible news sites. Internet radio and TV will jostle with over-the-air broadcasting for audience.
    There's more...

    June 27, 2008

    Cracking the Local Market: The Inherent Difficulty

    Publishers trying to serve a neighborhood audience, both readers and advertisers, face one big inherent problem: The audience.

    It just isn't very big.

    If it were bigger, then you'd be in the metro-publishing business, not the neighborhood one. That is also why, over the years, neighborhoods have been so under-served by professional print media. Maybe you'd get a weekly, in middle-class to wealthy suburbs. Or a shopper with a few local notices. But most of the real news of the community -- school lunch schedules, meeting notices, local council news, deaths, births and business deals -- were delivered in other ways: school flyers, church newsletters, word of mouth.

    A publisher cannot afford to staff a full newsroom to cover a small market. Yet that's the mistake that many journalism entrepreneurs have made, and continue to make. They hire reporters, copy editors and senior editors before lining up the advertisers necessary to pay all those salaries.

    The small market problem is made worse when publishing online. Every non-homeless resident of any neighborhood has a front porch, doorstep or mailbox at which to get a newspaper. But not even the most wired neighborhoods have 100-percent, always-on Internet penetration. If you publish online instead of print, you are giving up a percentage of the potential market. But even though you are publishing in a smaller "virtual market" than the real neighborhood, you aren't getting a break on rent, labor, insurance, advertising or any of the other costs associated with running a business in that community.
    There's more...

    June 27, 2008

    Talking sensibly with kids

    "Mom, can we get these swim goggles? They are the perfect goggles, I've tried this kind before and these are what I want."

    "No, not today. They look like nice goggles, but this is an overpriced resort hotel gift shop, not the best place to buy them."

    "But we're about to go swimming, I need them now!"

    "The answer is no, we are not buying goggles right now."

    "You are totally ruining everything for going swimming. We might as well not go. I'm going to have a terrible time."

    ...Does this sound familiar? Does Mom give in? Do we reach a sensible solution? Click to find out!
    There's more...

    June 24, 2008

    Cracking the Local Market: Beyond 2.0's Wizards of Oz

    [Editor's note: From time to time, I will invite a handful of guest writers to answer a question over of the course of a week. This week, the question is "how can journalists crack the local market?"

    Newspaper companies, search engines, Web start-ups and independent journalists all are looking to capture the "hyperlocal" market, delivering neighborhood news and information to attract neighborhood advertising revenue. Today, Tom Grubisich kicks off the week with look at the current state of neighborhood news websites.]

    With eyes closed, push a pin on a map, and you'll land almost certainly on a community that has a website offering grassroots news. Just a few years ago, you would have had to take maybe 10 or 20 stabs with your pin to connect. Welcome to the miracles of Web publishing 2.0.

    That's the above-the-fold good news. The bad news is that the profusion of hyperlocal sites has not led to the creation of thriving and lively virtual town squares across America. Most sites are not much more than cybernetic scrims behind which 21st century Wizards of Oz manipulate news aggregators and other software marvels of the 2.0 revolution.
    There's more...

    June 24, 2008

    Cracking the Local Market: What Suburban Weeklies Can Teach

    You've probably seen more than one cartoon showing a row of fish lined up largest to smallest. All have their mouths open and each is ready to gulp down the smaller one in front of it. That's the media business today.

    I'm a retired community newspaper publisher. Not too long ago my segment truly was known as "Local-Local." Then the small weekly became part of the community newspaper group, which was purchased by the suburban newspaper chain, which was acquired by a multi-market publishing chain. With some notable exceptions, small private owners relinquished (often at great profit) their papers to publicly held entities.

    In many cases Local-Local isn't very local any more. It's hard to devote resources to covering a small town's zoning board meetings and dance to the tune of a 10-Q at the same time. Local papers have given way to multi-community coverage, reporters are spread mighty thin and coverage focuses on what communities have in common rather than the unique attributes of each small town.

    A problem and an opportunity.

    There's still a thirst out there for very local news and the publisher/entrepreneur who is willing (and able) to think small will find an eager audience for his/her effort. Today many of the chain papers have cookie-cutter websites, with one-design-fits-all pages for each of the communities they serve.
    There's more...

    June 22, 2008

    Dan Gillmor on Entrepreneurial Journalism

    I love to see journalists challenge the conventional wisdom of what journalists are, and ought to be. Who says that journalists can't be math geeks? Or computer programmers? Or entrepreneurs?

    Dan Gillmor's been challenging the "conventional wisdom" of journalism in online medium for about as long as there have been journalists in online media. I spoke with him over the phone last week about his latest initiative, the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, at Arizona State University.

    "It's all very new," Gillmor said of the program, which began with a grants from the Knight and Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundations last year.

    "The really simple goal that I have, and that the school has," Gillmor said, "is to help the students understand the value of, for lack of a better expression, inventing their own jobs."
    There's more...

    June 20, 2008

    Thanks for a Great Week!

    It's been a heckof a week, so I'm going to take the rest of the day and weekend off.

    I'll be traveling on Monday, but anticipate having a post up before I go. Then I'll pick up a regular posting schedule on Tuesday.
    There's more...

    June 19, 2008

    Link from a Reader:

    From my e-mail in-box this morning, and passed along for your information....
    There's more...
    June 19, 2008

    What's Happened to Mortgages Wasn't Just a Crisis, It Was a Crime

    Today's announcement of multiple arrests in a mortgage fraud investigation ought to be the first of many.

    My wife and I have stood by for the past five years, ready to purchase a home, but refusing to participate in the Ponzi scheme that American home lending had become. When we decided to stay in Pasadena, back in 2003, we did the math and figured how much we could afford to pay for a house, using traditional mortgage affordability formulas. Heck, we even fudged it up a little bit, and priced a 30-year, fixed-rate loan that would take a third of our income, rather than the traditional 25 percent.

    Forget about finding a home in the area at that price; we couldn't even find someone who would write us the loan. Every broker we spoke with tried to move us into an "80/20" double loan, with a variable-rate second loan that would cover the "down payment" that would qualify us for the first.

    Real estate agents told us we were naive for taking such a conservative view of what we could afford. With prices rising so fast, one agent we know urged us to forget about affordability. Get a negative amortization loan, with a artificially low introductory payment, "just to get in." We could soon sell for a big profit, or at least refinance and take money out of the house, she said.

    Having been in the Web publishing business since 1995, I'd seen this thinking before. That bubble burst, and I knew the real estate one would, too.
    There's more...

    June 18, 2008

    Getting the Story Out... Or Getting the Story

    A short note:

    I was talking over lunch today about sources who don't want to talk about certain aspects of their lives.

    Someone mentioned a profile she'd read recently that ignored wide-spread rumors about the subject's troubled past.

    "Ugh. Who wants to read that?" she asked.

    Sounds like the writer was just trying to get the story out, I replied. If the source won't talk; skip it. Make the deadline. File the piece. Send the invoice.
    There's more...

    June 18, 2008

    Questions Reporters Ought to Ask Political Candidates

    I first wrote a version of the article below on my website. I've updated it and brought it over here, to live on

    Journalists should not forget to ask these basic background questions of all political candidates they cover. Their answers will provide warnings about legal, ethical and financial controversies a candidate might face during the campaign. The answers might also provide a good lead for a news feature, and at the very least will guide your research into the candidate's past. Couple these answers with an investigation into who's giving money to their campaigns, and you've got some solid campaign coverage that goes beyond the spin of the campaign trail.

    You'll have the best chance to get the straight answers you want -- and to follow up when a candidate gets evasive -- if you ask these questions in person. Protect yourself by recording the candidate's answers, too. Follow up 'yes' answers by seeking full details. Allow candidates to explain themselves -- sometimes past experiences become powerful incentives in a person's development. But if a candidate refuses to answer, or fudges an answer, note that, as well.

    A complete set of candidate questions and answers (or refusals to answer) can become a valuable citizens' resource on your organization's website.

    Here are the questions...
    There's more...

    June 17, 2008

    Thank You

    I wanted to thank everyone for their kind words and support yesterday and this morning, as I made the move from USC over here to I've tried to reply to everyone, but with so many messages coming in from so many different sources (three e-mail address, plus Facebook), I wanted to send this blanket "thank you" in case I missed a reply.

    Please keep sending in story suggestions, tips and questions that you'd like to see addressed here on the new site
    There's more...

    June 17, 2008

    Robert's Web Advertising Tip of the Day

    Entrepreneurship will be a big topic on SensibleTalk, I am sure. So, in that spirit, I will offer "Tip of the Day" entries from time to time, with ideas on how you can build traffic, boost revenue or improve your publishing technology.

    For those Web publishers who are using third-party ad networks on your websites here is today's tip, from my personal experience.
    There's more...

    June 17, 2008

    Putting 'Liberal Bias' in Context

    I've been following the case of The Record of Bergen County, New Jersey, the newspaper where the publisher announced last month that the paper's newsroom staff would be investigating itself on charges of liberal bias. I don't know the folks at The Record, and have no idea how their investigation is going. But their example has gotten me thinking about this issue again.

    News organizations should revisit their work (as well as the work of colleagues) from time to time. Journalism is a social science, and testing previous work is an important part of social science. But setting out to find examples of "liberal bias" can devolve into cherry-picking: the citations that seem favorable to liberals make it into the report, but will anyone record the reports that favored conservatives? And what about the stories that the newsroom missed entirely? How might those omissions have skewed coverage?

    Journalists also would be naive to address charges of "liberal bias" without acknowledging the recent history behind those claims.
    There's more...

    June 16, 2008

    Vote: AP Style vs. Post Office Style

    One element I've loved to include on all my websites is a reader vote.

    Yes, I am a stats geek, and take a hard line against the use of garbage polling in news reporting. But this post isn't so much as news report as an opportunity for an online discussion. A reader vote provides a quick and simple way for readers to see, graphically, what other discussion participants think about a question.

    We've had a lot of fun with votes on Theme Park Insider and on (And, yes, I did some on OJR, too.) So I am planning to continue the tradition on Sensible Talk.

    Here's our initial vote, then.
    There's more...

    June 16, 2008

    Nugget of Wisdom

    When people or the world in general are making you scratch your head in bewilderment, remember what my Grandfather told me...
    There's more...
    June 16, 2008

    Rate Card Silliness

    Allow me to award the Associated Press the honors for Outstanding Hubris in Online Pricing.

    $12.50 to excerpt five words on a website? (Background on AP/blogger controversy here and here.)

    Let's take 50 percent off the top for overhead. Do any Sensible Talk readers know any reporters over at the AP who are getting paid $1.25 a word?

    Hey, if that's the price that AP's putting on their work, that's what their reporters ought to be getting paid. Right?
    There's more...

    June 15, 2008

    It's Time for Sensible Talk

    Why "sensible talk"?

    Because that's how we make better journalism -- with sensible talk. Our ability to report is only as good as our ability to perceive, and our perceptions are best informed by both our senses and our understanding of facts.

    When journalism is working well, good reporting flows from facts to conclusion to action, giving citizens the tools to build a better society.

    Journalism fails readers when it regurgitates ideology, from publishers or from sources, instead of exploring facts. Just as political leaders fail the public when they do the same. Unfortunately, the past decade has seen too much of both in the United States.

    I've built this website as a community for journalists who want to speak truth to power, and for readers who want to do the same. That's why I call the site "criticism from the reality-based world."

    We hope that you will join the talk, too.
    There's more...


  • 2015: Jan. Feb. May Aug.
  • 2014: Jan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May Aug.
  • 2013: Jan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May Jun. Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec.
  • 2012: Jan. Feb. Apr. May Aug. Sep. Dec.
  • 2011: Jan. Mar. Oct.
  • 2010: Jan. Feb. Mar. May Aug.
  • 2009: Jan.
  • 2008: Jun. Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Dec.