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Just got back from the Texas Press Association, where I talked about the importance of digital media for newspapers of all sizes (most of the newspapers represented there were small weeklies). I talked about the need to know your community, and what your customers want from its primary information gathering organization. And as I made the torturous flight back home (delayed plane, sat on the tarmac for an hour, turbulence so bad I couldn’t enjoy a nice Crown Royal), I thought more about knowing your community.

I’ve said before that big newspapers can certainly charge for their content because they have unique information, while on the other end of the spectrum, small publications may not need to put anything online because the only place to get information is from the newspaper.

At the Texas Press Association, a number of newspapers asked whether a pay site is the right way to go. My answer: know the community. Is the community older, and doesn’t use technology much? What percentage of the community is still on dial-up? Does your community have a large immigrant population, which would call for an entirely different digital strategy? How much time does your community have to fuss with digital  (farming communities might not).  Does your community still prefer to get its information in paper form? What do your local advertisers think? How do the civic groups, boy scout troops, little league teams view digital information and will they post information to your site?

These are just a few of the questions newspapers need to ask. The answers to those questions will help define a strategy that will lead to success.

The views expressed on this blog are mine alone.

My saving journalism post from last week has spurred some spirited discussion on the min media group on Linkedin. Check it out, and please ad your thoughts, if the mood hits you.

What’s Twitter good for?  I don’t use Twitter much. I got turned off when I got bombarded with tweets about eating breakfast, watching a movie at home, finding hairs in a bath tub, whatever.  I also don’t think people care about the minutiae in my life (My feet hurt from walking!! That roast beef was terrible!! What’s that smell??!) and I wonder why they spend time broadcasting about the minutiae in their’s.

But I think I’ve found a positive that goes far beyond Twitter’s original intent (it’s a great place to meet people with like interests you would not otherwise meet; the immediacy is great). Twitter could be on its way to becoming a voice for the supressed and force change in ways we never anticipated.

Look at what’s happening in Iran. The government hasordered all foreign media to stay in its offices.  But they can’t easily collect all of the cell phones in the country, which means they can’t stop Iranians upset with the outcome of their election from venting. They can’t stop the free flow of information, which means the world knows when the next silent protest is underway. Since information can  get out, might that have played a part in the decision to hold a partial recount of the disputed election? Might that play a part in however the Iranian government decides to handle this crisis, which happens to come at a particularly sensitive time as it tries to repair relations with the West?

The State Department asked Twitter to postpone schedule maintenance during a time Iranians were using the service to get word out about what’s happening. And the New York Times, on its front page, said Twitter “can affect history.”

I don’t know. Maybe Twitter’s not so bad afterall.

The views expressed on this blog are mine alone.

Here’s a sneak peak at my latest column that will appear in the July edition of News&Tech magazine. This is longer than my normal blog posts.

We still can’t get away from the never ending stories and blogs about the death of newspapers, and whether e-readers can “save” newspapers. It doesn’t matter that both points are way off base, but it does matter than this kind of hyperbole can mislead those who are passive followers of what’s really going on in the industry.

So let’s try this approach — the debate shouldn’t be about whether any one device will save newspapers, but whether we’ll save the ability to produce strong, independent journalism.

Newspaper companies will survive and thrive because they will evolve. Information will go from being available on just one device — print — to a number of different devices, which could include  print, online, mobile, e-readers, netbooks, and technology under development that haven’t been released yet.. The newspaper part could very well be an abbreviated version of what we currently see, either in the days of the week we get the printed product, or product size.

But who’s going to produce the information that feeds these devices? To think that bloggers and community folks can fill the local content void is naive. Maybe I’m too old school about this, but I firmly believe that there will be, for the long-term, a demand for quality information. Not the talk TV, scream until you’re hoarse opinion that masquerades as news; not the off-the-cuff opinions widely available on the web; not the uninformed blabbering that often gets facts wrong.

I’m talking quality information from trained journalists who play a story down the middle, with no adjectives that force an agenda, no leading questions that slant an issue. Don’t get me wrong. There are some bloggers and community folks who can do just fine uncovering local tidbits that will prove interesting to their communities.  But those folks are few and far between because they don’t and often can’t invest the time, commitment and expense it takes to uncover information.

And how many of them can really tell you something of significance that you didn’t know? Take a look — no, carefully examine — the information professional, trained journalists produce everyday (and remember, be platform agnostic). You’ll see they provide a wealth of information in ways no one else can. Don’t believe me? Just look at your local newspaper and ask yourself: where would I get this information if not from journalists?

In June, the NCR Corporation announced it was leaving its birthplace, Dayton, Ohio, for Duluth, Georgia. The Dayton Daily News, and its professionally trained editorial staff, sprung into action. (Full disclosure: I work at the Daily News, but don’t mention that in my columns and personal blogs since my opinion might not necessarily reflect that of the company).

Over a two-day period, the staff produced more than two-dozen stories and editorials that examined how much the city would lose in tax revenue, published the memo NCR’s CEO sent to employees, and sparked outrage over the revelation that federal stimulus money may be used to move jobs from one state to another. Journalists used their tools to constantly updated the website, which produced thousand of comments on its stories, send breaking news alerts to inboxes and mobile phones, and deliver the latest news to users’ inboxes via email each morning,

Someone convince me that this kind of journalism can be replaced by bloggers and community folks. Someone convince me that a story that tears at the heart of a community could have been more expertly and completely told by anyone else. Someone convince me that there’s another entity that can provide this information across all of the platforms — print, mobile, online — that the Dayton Daily News did.

There is no convincing me. Fact is, a story of this magnitude would have been underplayed, under reported, and not as well understood, if not for the local journalists. Yes, the industry is under cost pressure. Yes, the industry is making cutbacks and getting smaller. But, getting too small risks cutting off the last line of information that keeps the public adequately informed. That’s why the industry needs to take its case to its users — we’re vitally important to your daily lives, and that’s why you should support products that, daily, cost less than items off the dollar menu of your favorite fast food joint.

Without this kind of detailed and complete information, we stand a real risk of dumbing down our communities, which will only hear the noise and not what matters. Forget about saving newspapers because in one way, shape or form, they will be around. We need to save journalism.

The opinion on this blog is mine alone. You can also read me at www.aimgroup.com, in News&Tech, and on their website: www.newsandtech.com

Is it possible that e-readers may be obselete before they’re even launched?

Amazon has, apparently, been fairly succesful with its Kindle brand (though Amazon doesn’t release sales figures). Sony’s e-reader appears to also be fairly successful, and IRex is making waves in Europe. IRex has also promised a color e-reader by 2011.

But check out what the competition is bringing. I blogged about Crunchpad in my previous blog.  JoinTech, a seven-inch reader, also looks very promising. These readers offer the combination of web access, reading and color that the current crop of e-readers do not — and they’re promising to offer their devices cheaper.

One thing everyone needs to be aware of: the technology is evolving very rapdily. It may be time to take a deep breathe and not get excited about the next  big thing, since that big thing could be obsolete before it’s launched.

The opinions on this blog are mine alone.  My opinions also appear on www.aimgroup.com, and my monthly column at http://www.newsandtech.com

If you haven’t been paying attention to Crunchpad, it’s time to start. There’s a lot going on in the e-reader space, with serveral companies unveiling e-readers for books, text books, newspapers and magazines.  The tech world is abuzz, wondering if Apple will make some game-changing announcement as early as June 8 at the World Wide Developers Conference.

Crucnhpad has been making slow, steady progress on a laptop that users can easily hold in their lap, use as a e-reader, at a cost that’s far less than most other e-readers, PCs, andnetbooks on the market. Crunchpad gurus want the device to sell for no more than $299. Crunchpad expects to make an announcement about its product and availability in July.

Less than $300 for a computer that’s bigger than most netbooks and delivers information wirelessly and in color? Maybe it is a pipe dream. But Crunchpad’s advances  point out that technology is changing so rapidly that publishers run the risk of waiting until the dust settles. Just as e-readers have been all the rage for several months, Crunchpad — and whatever announcement Apple decides to make — could upset the apple cart.

Here’s hoping publishers don’t wait. Here’s hoping they quickly make a choice, figure out how that choice works best for their customerss, and create an environment that allows staff to change course when — not if — something better comes along. This is a time for aggressive action, not indecision.

The opinion on this blog is mine alone.

The Renaissance ushered in the kind of sweeping reforms across Europe that resulted in lasting intellectural and cultural change that scholars still talk about today.

Fast forward 500 years. The newspaper industry is undergoing a renaissance of its own that promises to change the way people get information.

I’ve said, in past blog posts, that those loud voices howling that newspapers are dying are as wrong as wrong can be. They are, certainly, changing, and how they confront that change will determine the future of the business.

We should find out, in the next 12 to 18 months, who accepts the challenge of change, and what steps they take to meet the challenge.

Here’s what could happen over that time.

E-readers will drastically shink in price, to a more realistic range of about $199. That will make it easier for newspaper companies to scale back their print and , cut their costs, and bolster the bottom line.

Some will go further.  They’ll enter into partnerships with cell or cable companies for information distribution. Each now provide bundles of services (cell, landline, ISP, satellite service); why not include information from your local news sources that can be display on your mobile device or on your television?

Companies that own more than one information outlet (newspapers, radio, television, cable) in the same city will start rapidly combining them into one operation that can provide news at a lower cost.  In cities with no such synergies, former competitors will merge their expertise and create new business models that generate profits.

And, here’s the big one — some newspapers will stop sending news to Google, reasoning that the mostly out of market referral traffic isn’t valuale to their local advertisers. These newspapers would rather control the information they produce, and bundle it through a digital subscription (mobile, online, e-reader, maybe a Sunday newspaper) that brings them more revenue.

Of course, I could be way off.

And, for all of those who asked, the hand injury feels a lot better. Thanks

The views expressed on this blog are mine alone..

For all of those who read this blog: I’ve suffered a hand injury that makes typing painful. As soon as I’m healed, I’ll resume blogging. Blog to you soon.