Blogs > 37th Frame

Photography, notes, commentary and much more from former Reporter Online Editor Chris Stanley.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

AOL, Patch and HuffPo

Journal-Register CEO John Paton on AOL, Patch and The Huffington Post

Much has been written (and Tweeted) over the past few weeks about the acquisition of the Huffington Post by AOL as part of their strategy to trade the 'dial-up' Internet business for the rather more progressive content business.

Part of that strategy is their other recent purchase of Patch, a string of hyper-local web sites that started in New Jersey and has now expanded to over 750 sites across the country, including right here in good ol' Lansdale (yes, no link, what, do you think I'm going to make it easy for you?).

Reaction to both has run the gamut, from predictions of doom to declarations of brilliance and lots of guessing in between.

Certainly AOL has their work cut out for them - the Internet is an increasingly crowded place with many players grabbing for a slice of the advertising pie. Patch is an attempt at tapping what AOL calls the 'underserved' local market, and the billions of dollars from local advertising that they say is just there for the taking.

I tend to think it has more to do with good old-fashioned demographics - I would hesitate to label the upscale suburbs of cities like Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Chicago as 'underserved'. Many of these communities already have local news sites, though perhaps not always as narrowly-focused as the Patch sites.

And despite a perception that newspapers are fading as new technologies leave them in the dust, the reality is that most local newspaper publishers now embrace the web and have growing readerships between the print and digital products. This has been a tough transition, and is far from over. But as the web matures, so will the 'legacy' news sites. Editors and reporters are learning new skills - everything from using video, social media and online tools to embracing readers as partners in the news-gathering process. Readers expect more, and will judge our progress with a click of their mouse - or swipe of a finger on whatever new mobile gadget comes out next.

Patch can join a long list of competitors that have challenged local newspapers and their revenue stream over the years - everything from radio and television to direct-mail and competing newspapers. But I wouldn't count the 'legacy' media out quite yet. These old dogs are learning some new tricks pretty fast.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cool tools: Fun with legislative maps

Is your legislative district gerrymandered? We have some pretty odd-shaped districts here in Pennsylvania, and other states are known for some, er, creative map making.

An online database, uses map-based geometry to rank Congressional and state legislative districts. Here is a screen shot for the 13th District of Pennsylvania:

The map itself shows the highlighted district, and the bar charts on the right rank the shape of the district using several geometry-based formulas (which are explained). Districts that rank 'low' on these charts MIGHT be gerrymandered - other factors play into districting, of course (for example, Cape Cod ranks pretty low, but the ocean probably has something to do with that).

This is a good basis for questioning and research.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reaching out to bloggers

You know they're out there...but can you find them?

Community blogs are pretty easy to find in the city. Go to Google, search for an urban neighborhood + 'blog', and you should get a few hits. But try this elsewhere, and you're likely to find more pizzerias than community news sites.

So how do you find blogs outside the city based on their location? Like most things in the suburbs, they're out there, but are often hidden. And if they are issue-oriented blogs, they likely won't be geo-tagged.

Here's a few ideas to help find blogs created in a particular area:

1. Yes, you can start with a good old-fashioned Google search. Search for towns, neighborhoods, local businesses, or community groups, scroll past the pizzerias and see what pops up. Google also offers a dedicated blog search page to help narrow your focus.

2. Use Twitter: By using geo-specific Twitter searches you can find bloggers that are tweeting their latest posts. Twitter itself offers geo-centric searching in their advanced search options, or you can use services like ChirpCity, NearbyTweets, Twellow, and TwitterLocal. Various Twitter apps for computers, iPhone or Android also have localized searches.

3. Shameless promo: This site has partnered with my employer, Journal Register Company, to build an online portal in Philadelphia (the actual JRC-oriented site is still in development). Hundreds of local blogs are included in the effort, which posts links to both established media and community blogs. Content isn't limited to Philadelphia, however - the site links blogs from throughout the country.

4. Links: One of the best resources I have found is searching the 'links' page found on many blogs, media sites, or community group web sites. Bloggers are interested in other bloggers and freely list them. You will have to spend some time and effort opening the links to look for outdated, missing or dead blogs (blogs are like restaurants...only a select few last). So once you find a local blog, don't stop there...keep looking.

5. Dedicated blog-finding sites: Some are better than others, but these sites offer the ability to list and find blogs -

  • This Massachusetts-based site was desgined for journalists, but seems to have a fairly limited listing of blogs. Still, some are there.
  • Another geo-based blog search engine.
  • Offers a blog search for over a million blogs. Not geo-based, but could be useful for looking up local topics.
6. Blog hosting sites: You can search using geographic terms at WordPress, Tumblr (sign-up required) or others. Blogger is owned by Google, so their own blog search is the best bet there.

7. Ask readers or community leaders what their favorite blogs or local web sites are. Then see item #4 above.

Got any more suggestions? Let me know and I'll add them to this post.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Newspaper helps develop crowd-sourcing app

The San Jose Mercury-News, known for their high-quality reporting and photojournalism, is taking a leap into crowd-sourcing by partnering with Tackable to create a geo-based photo app. In fact, according to an article at the Poynter web site, the Tackable developers are actually working in the Mercury-News building.

The app will be social in nature - the developers hope to motivate contributors with 'leaderboard' competition and even coupons.

Here is an info video about the project, which has aspirations beyond the SF bay area:

This project is interesting because it deals with one of the biggest problems getting reader-generated content to media web sites and print - actually getting people to contribute. When somebody gets a photo of something noteworthy, they are quick to post it on Facebook for their friends to see. But sending it to the local newspaper has a higher threshold - it is simply not up there on most people's priority list. This app promises to take on that problem by building a community, fostering friendly competition and even offering some minor physical rewards.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Bad news for (former) homeowners

UPDATE 2/15 : Google has just discontinued their real estate map function, citing low usage and an abundance of other sites that carry RE listings. Too bad, since most of those sites are geared toward purchasing homes as opposed to foreclosure research.

This information is available in map form on, but their map is not embeddeble. It is good for research purposes (to find current foreclosures). A full search would involve a trip to the county land records office to build a database from their records).

Try this Google map trick:

Search for an address in Google maps, and add the word 'foreclosure'

You will get a map like this:

View Larger Map

As far as I can tell, these are just foreclosed properties that are for sale, many more are likely in various stages of foreclosure that are not this advanced.

There is also a 'foreclosure' checkbox under 'show options' on the left side of the Google map page, but though this worked for me last week I am not having any luck with it this week. The result is the same, however.

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Friday, February 4, 2011

The Daily

After much anticipation, Rupert Murdoch's latest venture finally hit the street iPad this week. The Daily brings a print-style publication to the online age, not the first to do so (witness the e-editions of many publications, including The Reporter), but among the first to do so exclusively from scratch and to use the iPad interface to enhance the content with videos, photo galleries and more.

Downloading the 45-mb app took some doing, as the iPad refused to do so from a 3G connection but instead prompted me to find a grounded wireless signal. Once I did so, the app loaded slowly then the current 'edition' of The Daily also loaded.

The interface is gorgeous. The reader is presented with a carousel-style page chooser (much like the Apple photo viewer), and the pages are designed to look like a magazine, complete with a cover, 'featured' page, full-page ads (with embedded videos and other multi-media) and multi-page articles. The photo display, as you would expect on an iPad, is excellent, and the layout of the pages is clean and well thought-out. As others have pointed out, the app lacks a site index, so you are forced to thumb through pages to find particular stories. The 'featured' page can take you to some articles, but not all.

Like a newspaper, the app features a crossword puzzle and Soduko in the back.

The stories are what you would expect from a Murdoch publication - hard news, lifestyles features, and lots of entertainment and celebrity content. In one edition, coverage of the crisis in Egypt included a couple of 2-3 page stories (newspaper-length), photo galleries, and some video. Coverage of the recent snow storm led the news, however, and also included a photo gallery and video.

The app and content are free for the next two weeks, so you can check it out for yourself or find it on the web at an unofficial blog that may or may not last long depending on what Murdoch's attorneys think about it. After two weeks, The Daily will be available for $.99 a week or $39 for a year subscription - a pretty reasonable price.

This is a well-executed product that obviously has a lot of talent behind it. The big question - is there an audience for this unique publication?

The Daily makes me think of what we thought 20 years ago about what an online publication would look like. The Harry Potter-like interface with moving ads and embedded videos evokes nostalgia in a way - I have become so used to reading news in an interactive, webby interface that looking at The Daily reminds me of sitting in the library and reading magazines years ago (only with less words).

And that brings me to one of the biggest drawbacks of The Daily - the content is delivered once a day print-style. Stories about the crisis in Egypt are outdated an hour after they are sent, and while the 'evergreen' features (not tied to a particular date) are nice, on a standard web interface such content can be left featured for days if the demand is good enough. Some stories or multi-media features take hours or days to 'go viral,' but it is lots of fun when they do.

Maybe an updating feature will be added at some point, so stories will change on the fly encouraging readers to check back several times a day instead of sitting down after work and reading The Daily cover-to-cover.

I wonder whether the new generation of news readers will embrace the magazine format - after all, they are all about web pages, text messages, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook - all instant, instant, now. Sitting down to read stories that a bunch of editors in New York think I want to read, with no reader comments or content, forums, links, or other webby enhancements seems like a limited experience to me. If I want news on Egypt, I can connect right to Al Jazeera and their amazing live coverage. Or I can watch Twitter (which I have been) for updates from people actually on the scene in Cairo. Pretty compelling stuff.

If I want celebrity news, I could hit TMZ or dozens of other sites. Sports? MLB, NFL, ESPN, or the thousands of fan blogs that cater to every pro and college team. Whatever my interest, there is a place to go to find more discussion and content than I could ever digest - free, categorized, searchable, interactive and live.

Though missing the interactive and live elements, perhaps The Daily will serve a demographic that actually misses the print publication experience - you know, those people you see on the train reading actual books and magazines; or those who have embraced the print-like Kindle or Nook readers. They're still out there, and maybe under-served in the online world?

And finally - the pay wall. Will readers be willing to part with 14 cents a day for The Daily? The price is certainly low enough to not be an issue for most folks. I question whether the loss in readership will damage ad revenue beyond the subscription price once the two-week honeymoon is over, however. The content will have to be unique and compelling enough for me to spend even a small amount - I am already overwhelmed with the massive amount of free information available and the number of content providers competing for my attention. I found the first edition a little too heavy on the entertainment and too light on the news for my tastes (hey, it IS News Corp after all), but for others this might be just the right mix. Perhaps at some point it will be split into several publications, each with their own staff directed at niche audiences.

I'll keep reading The Daily for the next two weeks and give it a fair chance, but as pretty as it is, I have a feeling once they ask for a credit card, it will end up in my 'shaky app' delete bin.