Posted tagged ‘print-to-digital’ Putting the “Re-” in Reiterations

7, October, 2008

The, web outpost for the improbably long-tenured U.S. magazine, has debuted another iteration. I’ve lost count of how many sub-launches of the site there have been just since I’ve been paying attention.

But that’s good. From where I sit, multiple iterations are the way to progress on the web. Too often web developers sit for months creating a grand castle,  worrying the details until it’s just “right.” But time passes, opinions multiply, and eventually the grand castle is released as a McMansion with a scrim of Google ads running down the side. Three years later, another team is back at it, with pictures of a new castle up on the conference room walls., by contrast, just keeps pushing out upgrades every few months. Each one gets better, and creates subsequent opportunities to correct and change course.

Here’s the new masthead, which anticipates the printed magazine’s new retro look:

And here’s editor James Bennet’s explanation of what’s going on.

Key detail. A news-ish feature called “The Current” has been renamed “Dispatches.” Good move. “Dispatches” I understand. “The Current”. . .not so much. More proof that on the web, clear beats clever every time.

Longstanding grievance: How could an operation that “gets it” so well still view the website as a way to sell subscriptions to the petroleum-and-lumber version of the magazine, so much so that it is willing to degrade web user experience in the process of pushing pulp? Witness:


Stop that, I tell you, stop that!

Advertisement Gets Social [Media]

21, April, 2008

Magazine publisher Malcolm Forbes was a famous socialite known for throwing fantabulous parties for his rich pals. The online partner of the magazine bearing his name is getting pretty social too. It’s no boozefest on a yacht, but it invites its readers to a lively get-together.

[End of party metaphor here, just in time.]

Most publications now accept that their web sites shouldn’t just present published content with multimedia accessories. They’re slowly giving up on building “walled gardens” that try to prevent visitors from escaping. What’s evolving is widespread use of social media that engage readers to respond to, evaluate and create content. It’s tricky. It’s scary. But it’s essential.’s social media features:

Reader recommendations: The site gives readers a nearly equal say in surfacing the good stuff: A “Top Rated” module appears above the fold, just below Top News. Too many sites bury this feature.

Community: Its “Stock Pickers Community,” puts a different civilian investor, with picks and a detailed performance record, on the main stage every day. Community members can choose to “follow” people (like Twitter or Facebook, but with a purpose). In aggregate, the number of followers constitute a group endorsement. It’s easy to see how this can encourage to Digg-like mischief [“follow me and I’ll follow you!”]. But hey, welcome to 2.0, where the wisdom of the crowds battles the self-interest of the cabal constantly.

Bloggers: Okay, the bloggers are gathering communities of readers, but someone has to tell these folks to write shorter. Their entries are as long as front-of-the-book magazine articles or in-print opinion columns. That’s not going to work on the web. Five hundred words, two links and out, gang. [I exclude myself from this edict, of course.]

Forbes\' OrgChart Wiki

A wiki: The OrgChart wiki is one of the coolest and most wonderfully dangerous features I’ve seen on a suit-and-tie site like Type a company name and out pops a visual representation of who falls where on the food chain, with little popup notes. Have information to add? Corrections to make? Have at it. It’s like Wikipedia for pod-dwellers and corporate climbers with bad attitudes. Demote your enemies! Appoint your pals to the board! In Web 2.0, you’re in control.

It’s encouraging to see continue to evolve, even after its big renovation last year. That’s the way the web works: Iterate, don’t redesign.

And invite your guests to the party. They’ll misbehave, but that’s part of the fun.

Freaky Dataviz: NYTimes’s “Ebb and Flow”

24, March, 2008

I confess an irrational love for dataviz. A properly done data visualization can be brilliant and beautiful–a graphic representation that does more than words, photos, videos or flat graphics to explain some aspect of “reality.”

An excellent web dataviz makes you say “Oh, I get it” after even a brief glance.

A perfect one also is so beautiful you want to spend time just clicking and admiring–and, as you do, your understanding deepens.

One of my favorite examples: Digg Labs’ “Stack” real-time visualizer of users’ diggs. Ignore the fact that Digg content and users have an unsavory quality. The point is the Tetris-like dataviz shows what content is being recommend, and how frequently, in real time. If you want to dig deep you can click through to the articles that are stacking up.

So it’s with a mixed sense of awe and bafflement I regard The New York Times’ “The Ebb and Flow of Movies: Box Office Receipts 1986-2007.”


It intends to show how hundreds of movies performed at the box office over 20 years. It’s gorgeous and unsettling, a thing to behold and ponder. It suggests the botanical metaphor for the male never seen in Georgia O’Keeffe paintings. Or a flayed trachea. Or maybe some  crustacean group housing complex you come across while snorkeling and flipper away from real fast.

She shame is, it’s hard to figure out.

Some movies that made less money are shown as peaks higher than those who made more. See “I am Legend” and “National Treasure.” This has to do with the difference between weekly and total box office revenue, but I had to work really hard to figure that one out.

There appears to be no logic to whether a movie is rendered above or below center, though the mind expects some connection.  It’s not quality of movie per the Times review; I checked.

To be fair, spend enough time with the Ebb and Flow and you come to understand, with visuals not words, a few worthy observations about box office behavior:

  • Blockbusters tend to hit hard and fade into a skinny long tail
  • Some movies that do poorly in total box office (Little Miss Sunshine) have more staying power than high-grossers (Evan Almighty, to use a Steve Carrell comparison, which peaked and petered).
  • Okay, it’s no surprise, but the movies that do the best box office around the time of their release are summer and holiday fare.

Anyway: Ebb and Flow is a beautiful and ambitious dataviz. It does remind me of a  phenomenon from my days in words-on-paper journalism, however, which makes it a good cautionary tale for those who undertake dataviz projects.
Back in the day, an editor and reporter would get all excited about a story, sell it around the newsroom, do lots of reporting, work all the sources, gather some slam-bang quotes and cool facts, craft a great narrative and then realize. . .well, there isn’t much story there.

It never stopped the words-and-paper journalists from publishing. It probably shouldn’t stop the datavisualists either. They Get It, They Really Get It!

21, March, 2008

The Atlantic, the magazine that is rarely described without the adjective “venerable,” has undergone an astonishing web rebirth–or, rather, series of rebirths.

I don’t mean they’ve gone on the web. They did that a long time ago. I mean they’ve gotten the web.

The magazine (which, with its we’re-doing-it-meta-so-we’re-not-really-pandering cover story on Britney Spears is perhaps trying to earn the adjective “venereal”) has updated is website three times in the past year. Each time it’s gotten better–more web-savvy, more accessible and less self-infatuated.

With its first re-do in August 2007 (for which I gave it this fanny-slam), it retained its dead-from-the-neck-up policy of asking readers to pay to read the full text of the best articles that appeared in the magazine. It also pretty much kept readers out of the game entirely, sticking with the other dead-from-the-neck-up policy of pushing material to web readers but hardly letting them talk back. Smug.

A few months ago the Atlantic website was re-iterated, guillotining the pay-to-play policy and letting readers romp a bit–adding a not-very-venerably-named “Hot Reads” box of most read, commented, etc.,  splaying out an excess of thinky blogs on the home page, and opening up to reader comments.

And this month a new iteration takes the website into the new world almost fully. Its new section, named The Current, features

  • Three blissfully short contributions daily, navigable by calendar
  • Links to “best opinion”–off-site
  • Comments galore–including a Post and Riposte forum section
  • Smartly curated related-content links, both off- and on-site
  • Free access to back-issue (and related web-only) content back to 1995 (for issues before that, you still have to pay)
  • Continuation of the high-cranial blogs, some of which now integrate multimedia

I could pick nits, but won’t. The Atlantic has demonstrated one of the most important concepts of web development–repeated iteration and continuous improvement. I suspect more improvements will come, but already the website has cleared a very high bar.

Who knows? Someday people may refer to itself as “venerable.”

Proposed: A Stock-Table Newspaper Tax

25, February, 2008

Those of us who wish a long and stable future for strong journalism of significant civic value have to bring about change in the news business. Necessary transformation is not coming from newsroom management. Therefore it is time to force their hands.

So I propose to levy a new tax on newspapers that continue to publish daily stock tables.

First, let’s agree that it’s wasteful and foolish to publish yesterday’s closing price of individual stocks on pressed pulp and petroleum-based inks.


In the Internet publishing world we think a lot about “use cases.” This means imagining individual readers and how they use a product. Now try to imagine a user well served by the printed publication of these prices. I can’t either.

Any trader who trades on daily price uses the Internet to conduct the trade or gather information to call (or e-mail) a broker. Anybody who has traded a stock online knows about the tools that provide significant advantages: real-time quotes during a trading day; alerts that tell you when a particular stock moves above or below a certain price; stock-price widgets on your desktop; related market and industry news; increasingly fast, cheap and friction-free trades; etc.

So: The user served by print publication of these figures would be (1) an active trader of individual stocks whose trades are based on daily closing prices who (2) is not a regular user of the Internet.

Anybody out there? Show of hands?. . .Ah, yes, one pensioner in the back there. Thanks for coming. Anybody else. . .?

There really isn’t a use case to justify continuing to publish daily stock tables. Many newspapers know this and have sharply reduced listings or simply stopped the practice. Often this has been done only with a gun to the head: Cut the tables or cut staff. Many operations have decided the listings should go after a few rounds of layoffs. Cutting employees before cutting stock tables is. . .well, let’s say any paper that continues to publish stock tables yet has laid off reporters has some explaining to do.

There should be three exemptions from the new Stock Table Tax.

A daily page of financial market data–broad indices for stock and bond markets, individual winners, losers, movers, key sectors, big mutual funds, most active, stocks in the news.

Any coverage of local stocks.

An extra page of tables on Sunday. Yes, it’s a bigger print run so it costs more, but a once-weekly deeper round-up for a larger audience arguably has value.

Any other daily newspaper that publishes daily closing prices of individual stocks should pay a tax equal to one-half the cost of the newsprint required to publish them. (I’m told this cost can range from $500 to $5,000 per page per day, depending on size of print run, page, stock used and other factors.)

This new tax will have two salutary effects:

It will provide newsroom management with incentive to quit a counterproductive old habit. Nothing else seems to be working. Each paper that has done buyouts or layoffs before cutting stock tables should be ashamed of itself. It needs a financial gun to the head–and a moment when they have to make the case to the newsroom staff for continuing a counterproductive practice at the expense of headcount.

It will make some money available to the paper for newer kinds of dynamic, multimedia, user-centered business coverage that may drive revenue for the website and other distribution platforms.

Papers that refuse to make the change will pay the new tax to a non-profit entity that supports independent new-media journalism projects. I’d recommend the Knight Foundation, which supports excellence in digital journalism of civic importance, but that’s just one of several options.

Essentially this tax will transfer income from those who are doing damage to the future of journalism to those who are moving it forward.

I have heard reasons for continuing to publish stock listings. They usually boil down to (1) the fear the paper would lose subscribers; (2) results of a focus group that found people liked the stock tables; (3) our publisher/editor emeritus/board of directors/influential stockholders insist we keep them.

No. 1: You’re hemmoraging readers anyway. The thought that a business decision with profound impact on the future bottom line should be driven by a couple of hundred indignant (let’s be plain) older readers who over-represent themselves with phone calls and (written!) letters to the publisher and top editors is. . . just plain bad business. Sure, you’ll get 200 calls. Accept them politely and forget them immediately. Like Odysseus, have your staff lash you to the mast, have them wax their own ears and sail past the sirens. Soon they will be silent and the ship will remain on course–toward a future built around new news consumers and rising media habits, not the old ones.

No. 2: Focus groups do not have to deal with zero-sum budgets. Focus groups like lots of stuff you can’t afford to keep. In fact, unless you give them a roster of features and tell them they have to lose half of them, you’re not gathering meaningful data. Secondly, doing focus groups with current readers isn’t a good idea anyway. Find potential future users of your news products online and in print. That’s who you have to re-build your business around.

No. 3: They are sentimental, retrograde, self-satisfied, isolated from reality or not paying attention. Do your best to make the case that the choice is another 10 percent staff cut or losing the stock tables. If they don’t buy that argument, do your best to subvert, ignore and marginalize them without getting fired.

Or just let your company pay the tax, layoff employees and allow important innovations in the future of journalism to occur elsewhere.

And tell them the TV-listing tax is coming in 2009.