Archive for the ‘asap’ category

AP2.0h. . .That’s Actually Interesting

3, December, 2007

Excellent story today by Cate Dody in the New York Times explaining how the Associated Press plans to remake itself for a world where its longtime cash cow, the newspaper industry, goes dry.

Its AP2.0 plans involve something called The Digital Cooperative. The pinko-dystopia vibe derives from the fact that AP is not a for-profit enterprise, and it’s doing the Full Digital Dive to position itself for the future. Apparently the plan calls for shifting some editing jobs to reporting jobs so AP can crank out more content, some of it of the multimedia persuasion.

The AP’s digital re-org may help answer three key questions facing those pondering the future of journalism:

How much value to editors add to the journalistic equation? Editors may argue that having fewer editors handling more reporting, as the AP2.0 plan calls for, is a recipe for lousy journalism. We’ll see. (I say this as a longtime newspaper editor myself.) Alas, I’m not sure how one would judge the degradation or improvement of AP reporting over time. The journalistic snobocracy looks down on AP as middling house-brand news as it is. But as a guy who is involved with a web site that rigorously grades news reports in the health niche, I can tell you AP stories rarely suck and often rank right up there with, and often above, the swank dailies‘.)

As news continues to go multimedia, how much of a market will there be for multimedia pre-packs? This is precisely the product AP plans to have its co-op fieldhands produce. I’m guessing the answer is: A really big market. Once you surf below the top dozen news web sites, the amount of original, creative multimedia work done in middle America newsland declines dramatically. I’m guessing there will be a strong demand for plug-and-play multimedia packages that can deliver page views for the web site of the Democrat-Chronicle-Journal Reader and Advertiser without the publisher having to hire a single intern who knows from Dreamweaver.

Can AP bravely draw on the lessons of its own failure? Earlier this year AP shuttered the youth-oriented multimedia venture called called asap. A much beloved product (at least, and perhaps only, by me), asap had some hot young hands doing inspired, if wildly inconsistent, work. Its business model was a failure; it sucked cash from the corpus of AP like a hagfish. Fine. Digital suits often talk about how they need to fund new media experiments, some of which will succeed and others fail but provide lessons for the future. It’s good to see AP bounce back with a new multimedia product. Let’s hope they haven’t leaked all of the fun out of it.

As a co-op, AP differs fundamentally from the newspapers it has long served. As the New York Times article points out, it does not have to labor under Wall Street projections or shareholder pressure. Relieved of the duty of delivering 20 percent margins to owners, it may have elbow room to operate in the digital world that newspapers do not.

Unlike newspapers, after all, AP is intentionally non-profit.

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asap: An Inspired Failure

31, July, 2007

The Associated Press’ asap, a trail-blazing Web product aimed at young people unfamiliar with the phenomenon of ink ruboff, will cease operations in October, the mother ship has announced. Refreshingly, it appears the suits came clean and just ‘fessed up: asap wasn’t making enough money. 

Fair enough. AP’s biggest revenue source remains newspapers, and these days we all know how sentences that begin that way end. Nobody should blame the company for sticking a plug in a money drain.

But let’s hope the suits are also telling the truth when they say they’ll transplant some asap mojo to other AP services. This would be wise. Asap has some great features–and a frisky, creative young staff–worth saving.

Good asap

I think of asap, at its best, as a younger version of Slate, but without the smarter-than-you swagger. And without as many words. Like Slate, it’s full of stories you could easily live without. But you come away feeling somehow better, if not precisely smarter, for spending time with them. 

Bad asap

  • Embedding audio clips in articles, even when well-produced, provides a lousy user experience. The clips are often incoherent when used as a podcast, so their “best” use is as a media supplement to the on-screen story. I’ve said it before in this blog: If there is anyone who has clicked on an audio file (even music) and not gone on to some other task (either on the computer or around the office) while it plays in the background, I’ve yet to meet that person.
  • Way too much stuff, especially recently, appears to be half-thought-out enhancements of regular AP copy, often presented under the heading “Reporting Back.” It’s as if someone on high said, “Original productions are too expensive, let’s find a way to media-up our AP stuff and put it on the site. Kids like multimedia. Don’t they?” [In fact, I’m sure that was said. If anyone out there knows who said it, please feel free to leave an anonymous comment here. For that matter, if the perp wants to confess here, that’s even better.]
  • Way too much material consists of longer versions of AP-ish stories. This is based on a theory so out of date it’s scary. Time was, people would say “space in the paper is limited, but we have all the space we want on the Web.” People said this before they realized that a user’s attention is the most precious resource on the Web, even more precious than it is in print. This calls for much shorter, tighter and designed-to-be-scanned text on the Web. Yes, you can add supplemental documents, links to supporting info and so on to enhance an article; indeed, that’s a Web-journalism best practice. But you can’t write long and loose just because there’s noone telling you to keep it to 14 inches and file by 2 p.m.
  • Another example of multimedia abuse (not even a misdemeanor in most jurisdictions, but it should be): photo galleries apropos of nothing. This piece on the environmental consequences of biofuel production makes a fascinating point. It consists of a longish, loosely edited article with a 14-photo gallery. The gallery is beautiful; the music behind it elegaic. But in the end, it’s National Geo eye candy; it fails to create a narrative or even accomplish exposition. It does not advance the story, it merely indulges it visually.

It appears asap failed commercially because AP is not positioned to monetize it, and (I’d argue) editorial direction got diffuse. But deploying smart young people to explore the world from their perspective, using an emerging set of multimedia tools, is a great thing to try. Someone should glean the lessons and reach the next level.

Will it be AP?

 The answer to that question, as usual, lies with the suits.

asap’s Patriot(ic) Act

4, July, 2007

If you can’t make it to any fireworks this evening — or you’re weary of the whole picnic-basket-and-battle-the-traffic thing–click over to asap, the Associated Press’s extraordinarily good site targeting what they hope will be the next generation of news consumers.

The site’s Firefox-friendly fireworks show demonstrates just a few things asap, now about 18 months old, does so well:

Matches the medium with the message. Note that while the presentation is technically a video, the user experiences it as a slide show set to music. 

Takes wise advantage of “regular” AP’s first-class assets, in this case several dozen smart, remarkable photos of fireworks taken all over the world. There is not a visual cliche in the bunch. Brilliant photo editing here.  

Declines to pander.  Lesser minds would have set the slide show to a musical backdrop of Death Cab for Cutie or John Mayer–you know, “kids’ music.” Here the soundtrack is a vintage vinyl recording of (what I assume to be) a mid-century orchestra performance of “Stars and Stripes Forever,” providing a slight wink of irony underneath it all. 

Exudes contrary but not hostile energy. The (brief) text is devoted to fireworks as they are done around the world–Italy, France, Japan and China, not the U.S. The main story source is not, refreshingly, a member of the chronically overexposed Grucci family. Interviewing the Gruccis for July 4 stories is as hackneyed as interviewing that idiot in the hat on Ground Hog Day.

Three audio clips extend the surprisingly insightful interview, but like most “on-screen” audio they present a lousy user experience. (Show of hands: Has anybody ever listened to an audio clip without clicking away to do something else while it plays? Anyone?) 

There is much more to say about asap, most of it good. I’ll get to that later. Meantime, enjoy the show.