Articles about "Innovation"


David Cohn: ‘Spot.Us is no longer the best place for me’

DigiDave
David Cohn has decided to leave Spot.Us four months after the crowdfunded journalism site became part of American Public Media’s crowdsourcing platform, Public Insight Network. When APM took it over, Cohn had planned to stay involved in a contract role. Now, he writes on his blog:

It has come to my realization, however, that in its new form Spot.Us is no longer the best place for me. In many respects that’s perfectly fine. … With this post I’m handing full reigns of Spot.Us over to APM not just in ownership (which already happened) but in terms of direction. This change has been going on in the background for some time and now it’s official. This is me taking a bow and exiting stage left.

When I asked him what happened, Cohn told me by email: Read more

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Alan Rusbridger outlines 10 principles of ‘open journalism’

Guardian Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger says he was asked during Guardian Open Weekend if he had rules for open journalism. “Not rules,” he tweeted Tuesday, “but 10 ideas abt what #openjournalism looks like.” Here they are:


[View the story "The Guardian's 10 principles of open journalism" on Storify]

Would you add anything else?

Related: Rusbridger asks readers what they would give in return for the Guardian’s journalism: time, money or data? (journalism.co.uk) | Josh Stearns adds background on open journalism, including Rusbridger’s earlier writing on the subject and Alex Howard’s talk on what these concepts mean for government | Melanie Sill on how to start practicing open journalism now (Poynter) Read more

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Jill Abramson on the NYT as local vs. international paper: ‘We can have it all’

Monday at 11 a.m. CDT (12 p.m. EDT) at South by Southwest Interactive, New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson discussed her vision for the future of the Times with Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief and CEO Evan Smith.

My live blog of the event is below. Among the notable points:

  • Abramson said some people on the political team wanted a policy against tweeting news before the site had a URL to link to. That didn’t happen.
  • Expect more linking from nytimes.com to other quality sources.
  • She sees the rise of individual journalistic brands as beneficial for both the institution and the reporters, who can say they work for the Times.
  • She’s proud of being the first female executive editor but says it’s impossible to say how it informs her work.
  • She doesn’t have to choose between having a strong local and an international presence.

You can see additional comments on Twitter by using the hashtag #FutureNYT.

<a href=”http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=d60ed284d1″ mce_href=”http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=d60ed284d1″ >SXSW live blog: Jill Abramson on the future of The New York Times</a> Read more

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How bad habits keep news companies from changing and what we can do to fix them

Charles Duhigg started his talk at South by Southwest Interactive with a short neurology lesson. He described what scientists have learned about habits by studying rats crawling through mazes, which naturally made me think about reporters sitting in their cubicles.

The first time a rat enters a simple, T-shaped maze, Duhigg explained, it proceeds slowly, scratching and sniffing its way along the wall until it eventually finds the chocolate reward. As it repeats the maze, it gets faster and faster.

What’s interesting, explained Duhigg, is that the first time the rat goes through the maze, its brain activity remains high the whole time. Once the navigation becomes routine, its brain activity drops, except for spikes at the beginning when it starts the maze and at the end when it finds the reward.

During routine behavior, Duhigg said, “your brain actually stops working … This is a huge evolutionary advantage.” You can do the same things over and over without thinking about them so your brain can focus on more important things.

Close to half of people’s daily activities are habitual, once spurred by a decision and now automatic.

Automatic, like the daily work schedule that ends with a finished story at 6 p.m. Or the transcript-like story that a reporter writes after covering a meeting. Or the phone calls to get two familiar, opposing viewpoints rather than suss out a more accurate picture of what’s going on.

The cries for innovation in the news business are constant: Think outside the box; create a culture of change; embrace failure.

But you know what keeps newspapers and broadcasters from changing how they do their journalism? The cowpath, habitually followed, that always leads to the same place.

The science of habit

Duhigg, an investigative reporter for the Times and the author of “The Power of Habit,” explained in his talk on Sunday that habits have three parts: the cue, the behavior and the reward. This understanding has changed the thinking about what it takes to change habits, Duhigg explained.

You may think that you should focus on the behavior itself: the running through the maze. Instead, you should focus on the cue – the thing that triggers the behavior – and the reward. They are “neurologically intertwined,” Duhigg said. “The cue and the reward are the secret to changing habits.”

In other words, people should focus not on the cowpath but on what got them there, and on the reward they receive after taking it. The goal, Duhigg explained, is to get your brain to feel the same satisfaction from a different behavior.

He illustrated the importance of cues and rewards with an intriguing story about Febreze. The smell-killing product was a flop when it was launched in the early 1990s. Procter & Gamble didn’t know why.

The company learned that people rarely used the product, in part because they were desensitized to the bad smells around them all the time. The odors were supposed to spur them to pull out the spray bottle, but they couldn’t detect the cue.

So the company delved into people’s cleaning rituals to figure out how they could make Febreze a daily habit. It turned out that people mark the end of cleaning tasks with small, celebratory acts. They look at their reflection in a squeaky-clean mirror and smile, or they run a hand over a smooth comforter after making the bed.

So P&G added perfume to Febreze – one that could withstand its odor-killing properties – to “make things smell as good as they look when you’re done cleaning,” Duhigg said. Febreze is now a lucrative product, he said, “because they got the science of habit formation right.”

What does that mean for people trying to break their bad habits? “Figure out what the old reward is, on an intellectually honest level, and find some new route that delivers that same reward,” Duhigg said.

Perhaps you eat because you’re bored or lonely. If you start responding to those cues with another action – perhaps a phone call to a friend or a walk around the block, and reward yourself with something that makes you feel the same way as eating, you can start to change those habits.

Duhigg’s example was regular exercise. You can create a cue of putting on your running shoes immediately in the morning or scheduling a run with other people. Immediately after you exercise, give yourself a reward – even something that seems counterproductive, like chocolate.

The reward, Duhigg said, is what encourages the brain to remember that activity. “A reward has to be genuinely rewarding in order to be habit-forming.” At some point, the reward becomes intrinsic, and a new habit is created..

Changing the habits of journalism

So what do stinky couches and chocolate have to do with daily journalism?

Although the news industry is undergoing seismic changes, many of the things journalists do every day are rooted in habit.

We know we should broaden our network of sources, but we stick to official ones. We know we can connect with the community through social media, but we haven’t signed in to Twitter in months. We know we should think Web-first, but our days are still built around the daily deadline.

Taking Duhigg’s advice, we should think about why we do those things. Perhaps we use official sources because they’re reliable, and your editor is happy when you turn your story in early. Maybe we don’t interact with people via social media and website comments because our editors value content instead. Maybe you short-change the midday blog post because your editor has pitched your story for the front page.

Such values are well-established in newsrooms. “At The New York Times, we’re dealing with this all the time,” Duhigg said in an interview after his talk. “Basically, the entire newsroom is built around what’s going to be on A1, and all the internal rewards are based on that.”

So if editors want journalists to stop focusing on the website instead of the newspaper, they should adjust their reward system accordingly. It’s not simple, of course; from the editing structure to the meeting schedule, most newspapers are still focused on the print product. But it’s possible.

Duhigg said Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson has found ways “to send signals to the organization that The New York Times values what you’re doing even if it’s a nontraditional thing, even if it’s something that doesn’t show up on A1.” A recent memo, for instance, praised stories that resonated with readers but weren’t attention-getting investigative coups. The message, he said, is that the newspaper values stories beyond the prize contenders.

The rewards are different for different people. Some people are driven by public recognition; others by personal satisfaction, controversy or changes to public policy. You have to be honest about why you do what you do.

It is important, Duhigg said, not to change the reward system, because trying to change both habits and rewards is “too much change at once.”

As it turns out, people are pretty attuned to cues and rewards. In one study, Duhigg said, researchers explained the benefits of exercise to two groups of people, one of which also learned about the habit loop. Those people ended up exercising twice as much as the ones who didn’t get the psychology lesson.

“If you study the cues and rewards in your life … you gain a place to start changing habitual behaviors,” Duhigg said.

If you feel like you run the same maze every day, perhaps you should think hard about what triggers you to run the maze and what you get out of it. Maybe you need a little professional Febreze. Read more

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Google’s ‘Solve for X’ project focuses on radical solutions to big problems

The Verge | Solve For X
The Verge’s T.C. Sottek writes, “it appears that Google is nearing the creation of a TED-like think tank that will focus on talks about radical technological ideas. … So far, it sounds a lot like the same territory covered by Google X — Google’s secret lab that’s suspected of working on over a hundred ‘shoot-for-the-stars’ ideas.” Meanwhile, Google has now produced four issues of its Think Quarterly magazine, which said in its first issue that it aimed to be a “breathing space in a busy world.” The theme of the current issue, ironically, is “speed.” Jeff Jarvis wrote one of the stories, in which he argues that although the Web has changed so much, so quickly, that may be nothing compared to the disruption yet to come. Another post chronicles the spread of that video of twin talking babies. Read more

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This 1984 photo of the Browns appears courtesy of the Hearst Corporation.

Former Cosmo editor gives $30 million to establish media innovation center at Stanford, Columbia

Stanford’s engineering school and Columbia’s journalism school will use the $30 million gift to establish the bi-coastal David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation. In a joint release, the schools say the new Institute will “recognize the increasingly important connection between journalism and technology, bringing the best from the East and West Coasts.” Helen Gurley Brown, who edited Cosmopolitan for 31 years, donated the money on behalf of her late husband David, a movie and musical producer who attended both schools.

Each school will receive $12 million for Institute activities, part of which will be used to endow professorships — one for the East Coast director, the other for the West Coast director. Columbia will get another $6 million to build a “highly visible signature space at the eastern end of the J-School’s landmark building, featuring a state-of-the-art high-tech newsroom.” The gift is the largest ever received by the J-School. Leaders in the technology and journalism industries will sit on the institute’s board. Read more

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How to adapt online news in the age of sharing

Internet users are sending a message most media companies aren’t ready to hear: They want to share, reuse and remix your content.

To leaders of news organizations and other media, this probably means one thing: copyright violation. But with a new style of publishing, they could turn it into an opportunity.

The most popular social networks thrive by letting users repost other people’s content. What if news publishers did the same?

The world’s 1.2 billion Internet users spend one in every five minutes on a social network, the fastest-growing of which are those designed for copying and curating.

Felix Salmon reports that the surging Tumblr microblogging network has nine people curating (by “reblogging” others’ posts) for every one person creating original posts. Then there’s the explosive growth of Pinterest (visits up 55 percent in one month), a social network exclusively for curating images and ideas from around the Web.

And of course tweets are retweeted and Facebook posts reshared. All these networks thrive on the portable, sharable nature of content.

Now contrast that with media companies, which still operate in a Web 1.0 content economy. They host a piece of content exclusively on one website, and the only permissible way to view it is on that page (with its accompanying ads).

This old model of the centralized, copyrighted website is the opposite of the free-sharing, remixing culture that the Internet is embracing through Tumblr and Pinterest.

That’s a disruptive problem for media companies, as Salmon writes: “The old models still work. But the new, more distributed models are I think much more powerful.” He goes on:

The social, digital world is…where the content creators with the broadest reach will be the ones who care the least about protecting their copyrights.

I suspect that we’re only in the very early days of seeing how this is going to disrupt just about every media organization built on the idea of hosting a website and selling ads, including highly socially-attuned ones like the Huffington Post. HuffPo is built on the idea that when stories are shared on Twitter or Facebook, that will drive traffic back to huffingtonpost.com, where it can then monetize that traffic by selling it to advertisers. But in [the] future, the most viral stories are going to have a life of their own, being shared across many different platforms and being read by people who will never visit the original site on which they were published.

So what does the online news publisher of the future do to take advantage of this hypersharing culture? Free the story from the site.

The “story” (whether text, photos or video) still lives on the publisher’s own website, but others are allowed or even encouraged to repost it elsewhere in an approved, mutually beneficial format.

Taking a page (view) from YouTube

If this sounds far-fetched, it shouldn’t. This is exactly the model that helps video sites such as YouTube and Hulu reach millions of people. They go with the Web’s natural currents of sharing. Users get to embed the videos they love wherever they want. YouTube and Hulu still get to show their logos, ads and links to related videos.

But what about the bread-and-butter of online news, the text-based article? Technologically, that’s trickier. But some pieces of the puzzle already are out there.

What if regular news articles were as easy to embed as a Storify?

Storify articles are created on Storify.com, but with a single line of JavaScript can be embedded on any other site. A news organization could use similar technology so that others could embed its full articles, including links and ads.

APIs, like those from The New York Times and the Guardian, enable Web developers to automatically access their content and data to use in their own apps and websites.

The Associated Press’ NewsRight program sells licenses to aggregators that want to reuse stories from the AP or participating newspapers.

What has to be solved first

News organizations in particular still have some problems to solve if they are to move to this distributed-content model:

  • How to maintain audience relationships. Publishers create additional value by building communities and audience relationships around their website content. If content scatters far and wide, publishers also need ways of building relationships with that new audience.
  • Monitor usage and abuse. If publishers allow people to repost or embed their content under certain conditions, they’ll need to be able to monitor compliance with those conditions and revoke those who abuse the privilege.

The power of the distributed-content model to reach the largest online audience is clear. The only question is which publishers will develop the technology and the business model to take advantage of it. Read more

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5 provocative ideas sparked by women in media

As 2012 gets moving, I thought I’d be the very last person to list some of the ideas that have gotten stuck in my mind from over the last year.

Last year, I wrote a list of lessons I’d learned from women in media, and I found that to be a useful filter for reflecting on the year. So I’ve resurrected it for a slightly different list. This year, I’m recounting not lessons, but ideas. Thoughts still tumbling around in my head, sparked — again — by several brilliant people who (mostly) happen to be women.

What journalism can mean

As we all know, journalism remains in the midst of a deep identity crisis. We aren’t exactly sure what it is, what it’s supposed to do, and whether it works. Every now and then, however, we happen across a work of journalism so self-evidently worthy that it needs no explanation or justification beyond itself.

Enter Homicide Watch, the first child of Laura and Chris Amico. If you haven’t spent much time with the site, fix that. (Start with the magnificent year in review package.) Aided by her husband Chris (my coworker at NPR), Laura Amico is doing sobering, powerful work.

The site needs no more explanation than its tagline: “Mark every death. Remember every victim. Follow every case.” As the site description explains, “Using original reporting, court documents, social media, and the help of victims’ and suspects’ friends, family, neighbors and others, we cover every homicide from crime to conviction.”

That word — “every” — is key to what distinguishes Homicide Watch and makes it so valuable. People often say there are two DCs. Our metro area is often described as “recession-proof,” and currently has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. Yet within the city itself, there are large wards that have some of the country’s highest poverty and unemployment rates. Like many cities, D.C. has corners where homicide is rare and shocking, and corners where homicide is an annual event. Only the former killings tend to dominate the news.

Jay Rosen once proposed an idea he called the “100 Percent Solution” — biting off a corner of the world and aiming to cover 100 percent of it. Homicide Watch is what that idea looks like in practice. And it’s clearly appreciated by residents, as you can see.

It’s a site that takes perfect advantage of all the capabilities of the Web to do path-breaking journalism. Because of its comprehensiveness, it’s the go-to resource for D.C. residents when a loved one has been killed, and a first stop on Google for anyone seeking information about a homicide. Threads routinely become memorials for friends and family members of the departed.

With Chris’ technical work underpinning Laura’s reporting, it’s a valuable data repository as well, containing interactive maps, DocumentCloud integration, and a peerless victim and suspect database. I’ve marveled as Laura has pieced together victim identifications from the site’s search referral data.

The site imagines a world where the taking of a human life — no matter whose — is always a serious act, one that deserves our attention not only at the moment of tragedy, but throughout the ensuing quest for justice. By doggedly and passionately reporting on our world that way, Laura is helping to bring it about. I can think of few journalistic ends worthier than that.

Discovery and connection as creative acts

Maria Popova, who goes by @brainpicker on Twitter, does “curation” in a way that really makes the buzzword’s inadequacies clear. Her Twitter stream and her invaluable site are two of the most consistently mind-expandinging feeds I follow. As Hannah Levintova put it, each blog post of hers is “a stunning hidden gem that would take the average netizen hours to track down.”

From the many, many ideas Popova has sparked in my brain, one has stuck more stubbornly than any other: We need to start treating discovery, connection and sharing as creative acts.

Even now, long after “curation” became the most reliable buzzword in the journalism conference drinking game, we still have a fairly narrow understanding of what “creation” means. We talk about “creating content” as though it were something distinct from discovering ideas, connecting them together, and sharing them with others, rather than overlapping with those acts.

Read Popova’s description of her daily process, and you will understand that it is an art she has worked as hard to perfect as any reporter has worked on her beat. It’s as consuming and imaginative as any other creative endeavor. And it’s incredibly valuable.

Many will start trying to resurrect the creation/discovery firewall here: But her work depends on the work of someone else! OK, so whose doesn’t? As Popova has put it, all “creativity is combinatorial.” Done poorly, bad curation (like bad reporting) is just hackery. But done well, it is a deeply inventive act.

This has implications. Among other things, as Popova has written, it means we have to start thinking about how we acknowledge curation and discovery in ways more sophisticated than “via @somebody.” And it means we need to think more aggressively about how to describe and teach these skills. I highly recommend Popova’s own explorations of these ideas at Brainpickings and at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

Nostalgia as a media force

This is abstract, but stick with me.

As many have remarked, one of the effects of contemporary technology is that it has drastically augmented our memories. It’s an ancient, problematic phenomenon: we’re outsourcing more and more of the task of remembering from our brains to our gadgets.

As Thamus said to Theuth, “You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding.” The more of our lives we capture — in phonecams, status updates, sensor-driven data feeds — the less we have to remember. (And the less, some would argue, we even fully experience.)

You might describe nostalgia as the distance between our memory of a thing and our experience of it. It’s a gap that brings with it a sort of pleasurable pain — the joy of a memory paired with the sad fact that you’ll never live it again.

Our technology confronts us with this gap constantly. The ubiquitous digital photograph is a nostalgia production machine. I’ve caught myself reviewing photos of an event and feeling the wistful tug of memory while I’m still at the event. I can’t be the only person who’s done this. The Polaroid-trumping instantness of a digital camera encourages us to fiddle with our record of an event, to tweak how we’ll remember it later. More on this in a moment.

The two people more responsible for inspiring thoughts about the power of nostalgia over the last year are Willa Paskin and Anne Helen Petersen. In 2011, Paskin inaugurated a feature for New York Magazine called the “Nostalgia Fact Check,” in which she reviews beloved cultural artifacts (e.g. “The Little Mermaid,” Eddie Murphy’s “Delirious” and “Raw”).

Petersen, on the other hand, has been writing a series of fascinating features called “Scandals of Classic Hollywood,” in which she excavates the lives and careers of some of our most legendary celebrities for insights on how our culture once was, and how it’s changed. Both of these series are wonderful in part because they’re just excellent cultural criticism. But they also exemplify the essence of nostalgia: that divide between the past as we recall it and the past as it was.

Why do these heady observations on nostalgia matter for busy media professionals? Because I’d argue there’s real opportunity in our affinity for nostalgia. Think of Instagram: I’d argue it’s taken off partly because its filters lend an artificial veneer of nostalgia to those in-the-moment digital photos; they instantly make a moment seem more distant or unrecoverable.

Hollywood and Hasbro have also seized on our nostalgia fever. They’ve excavated the ’80s childhoods of today’s new moms and dads to bring back the likes of G.I. Joe, Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony. I promise you, that $90 Transformers DVD box set is not targeted at Junior; it’s aimed squarely at the heartstrings of his youthsick Papa.

In October, my buddy Robin Sloan and I gave a talk at TEDxPoynter arguing that news organizations should be designing apps and other products targeted at different user moods (as well as media formats and other experiences). Other media companies have tapped into the nostalgia vein. Could we?

Great long-form journalism is amazing … and rare

For a long time, it’s been a truism that long-form doesn’t work on the Web. But after 2011, long-form storytelling may no longer need champions. Amazon and Apple have stood behind it in a big way, of course. I have several friends who are starting publishing companies aimed at novella-length storytelling. At least two good friends have funded book projects through Kickstarter. Every day, the future of the considered take seems to be looking up. It feels safe to say that long-form storytelling will continue to be around for a while.

I’m happy about this; I love me some long-form. But amidst the resurgent popularity of long-form journalism, I have to thank Ellen Weiss (executive editor of the Center for Public Integrity, whose board I serve on) for a valuable reminder: long-form isn’t always the best form.

These are my thoughts, not Weiss’, but I definitely have to credit her for the conversations that sparked them. Especially when we’re dealing with investigative journalism, it’s easy to default to the assumption that the proper format for a story that took a long time to report is a story that takes a long time to read.

Loving long-form journalism shouldn’t mean believing in length for length’s sake. As Erik Wemple wrote in the Washington Post earlier this year, investigative journalism can be kind of torturous to read, especially the opuses. Of course we have to respect that investigations typically unearth complex facts that aren’t easily distilled. But that means we need to give extra props to folks who can take months of work and compress it into diamonds.

If you were ordered to describe the path that all the money in the world takes as it travels through the global economy, your starting assumption might be that you need a lot of pages for the task. Randall Munroe only needed one (big) page. His infographic — “Money: A chart of (almost) all of it, where it is, and what it can do” — ricocheted all around the Internet when he published it in November. And the chart didn’t only explain money; it also earned some. Two poster versions are available for purchase, and I’m sure I’m one of many who bought the smaller one.

I’d love to see more examples of journalists turning big, important stories into concise, spreadable ones. I think this means more investigative projects led by designers rather than writers. It means reporters taking the time and energy they’d pour into a long narrative report, and using that effort to make the world’s most viral TED talk instead. (Relevant: TED talk about how all TED talks can be summed up in six words. Apparently the distilled essence of every “jaw-dropping” TED talk is, “Flickr photos of intergalactic classical composer.” Sounds about right.)

Again, I’m not trying to (re?)start the long-form backlash. But, to Weiss’ point, it shouldn’t be our default format for important journalism. Often, that 15,000-word opus reflects a different kind of laziness.

(And yes, I realize the hypocrisy of criticizing long writing in a somewhat sprawling five-part piece.)

The revolution will probably be Funny Or Die’d

(1) Comedy has long been the best vehicle for working through controversial or polarizing issues. (2) There are so many polarizing issues our society needs to work through right now. (3) We journalists have to figure out how to use this comedy business.

Humor allows us to engage with stereotypes, inequities and prejudices more meaningfully than we can in almost any non-comedic context. Think of Jeff Foxworthy reclaiming the concept of the redneck, or Eddie Murphy taunting the kids who can’t have ice cream ’cause they’re on welfare. It also brings these things into the light, turning them into ideas everyone can talk about rather than ideas reserved for in-group conversations. And so it is with Issa Rae’s “Awkward Black Girl.” As many folks have remarked, the protagonist J is not a character you’re likely to encounter in a Hollywood flick or a network sitcom, despite the fact that she’s familiar and relatable.

For many of the same reasons, I was sucked into the “$#!* People Say” meme as well, and particularly Franchesca Ramsey’s “$#!* White Girls Say … To Black Girls” take on it. The original video felt like easy, familiar, only mildly transgressive humor. But when the meme got to Ramsey, she took it to another level, using it to express sentiments that really don’t often make it into polite conversation.

There’s a reason journalists don’t typically do humor. When we try to be funny, it typically doesn’t go very well. But could we take a page from Rae and Ramsey and point the lens on ourselves, rather than the folks we cover? I would have loved to see the New York Times launch a “Truth Vigilantes” segment in response to public editor Arthur Brisbane’s cherry bomb of a column the other day. Read more

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Storify was created through classic innovation process

The Washington Post
Burt Herman tells the Post’s Innovations blog that Storify, which has become a popular way to assemble bits of social media into a story, was created through a classic process of innovating through iteration and user feedback.

“We had an earlier product that we were working on, which was was all about Twitter and making it look more readable for normal people, and that ended up not being as engaging. We actually did an experiment with a thing that let you embed a single tweet into a post, and that seemed to really have a lot of interest …  So we went in that direction … It’s not at all that we sat down at first and figured out what this was going to look like from scratch.”

In another video Herman says that social media is great material for a story, but isn’t a story in itself. || Related: Storify is starting to look like a news site (ReadWriteWeb) | The 5 types of stories that make good Storifys (Poynter) | Burt Herman shares lessons from launching Storify (Poynter)

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On 16th anniversary of New York Times website, a look back

Sixteen years ago, close to midnight on Jan. 19, 1996, The New York Times flipped the switch on its full website. The exact date has been unclear: Bernard Gwertzman, then editor of The New York Times on the Web, recalled in 2001 that the site went up on Jan. 20, but the Times Co. corporate website says it was Jan. 19.

Adding to the confusion is a story published on Jan. 22, 1996, which stated, “The New York Times begins publishing daily on the World Wide Web today, offering readers around the world immediate access to most of the daily newspaper’s contents.”

Eileen Murphy, the Times’ vice president of corporate communications, tells me by email that the website went live the night of the 19th, a Friday. “That first weekend was intended as a ‘soft launch,’ which is why the Peter Lewis piece ran on Monday, January 22, 1996. That first Monday was when daily updates to the site began,” she said. “The confusion between the 19th and 20th was probably a result of the fact that the site went online just before midnight on the 19th. We consider the official anniversary date to be January 19.”

Five years after the website launched, Gwertzman and Martin Nisenholtz, then CEO New York Times Digital, recalled the struggles and expectations of publishing on the Web those first few years.

The Pope was first. The Times published its “first real published thing” on the Web in October 1995, a feature about the Pope’s visit to New York, according to Nisenholtz and Gwertzman. “It was really an exercise of the publishing system more than anything,” Nisenholtz said. “And I’ll never forget. The thing went up and we were very happy with it. And I got a call from the fellow who was running the [Times] company at the time, screaming at me about how it didn’t have any ads in it.”

They soon learned that the Web doesn’t wait. Read more

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