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The Guardian’s editor gives the definitive speech on online newspapers

The Guardian‘s editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger gave a speech that covers everything you need to know.

Did you know that the Guardian is the second-most read English-language newspaper online? I didn’t. If The New York Times moves to a pay wall model in 2011 as planned, the Guardian will be heir to the top spot.

No wonder Rusbridger is an advocate of the advice: don’t shut yourself off from the conversation everyone else is engaged in.

His speech is too “magisterial” to reduce to a sound bite like that.

My print clips from Budget Travel

I’ve appeared in the print edition of Budget Travel. Literally: Check out the September 2009 article “Indestructible Gear? We’ll See About That.” In the photos illustrating the article, you’ll see me twice: once on a bicycle and once behind the wheel of a car. (Click link to download file as a PDF.) I had pitched the story idea, and I think it came out well, with great spot photography by Michael Mohr. The piece was picked up by MSNBC.

My other recent work in print:

“Kentucky: A Trot in the Country” My longest narrative piece, based on a four-day road trip with my friend Cathy Alter. Web version

“Shoulder Season” My three-page guide to where in the world is worth visting during autumn. PDF version or Web version

“Get Money Back!” PDF version or Web version

“Welcome to Shoulder Season” PDF version or Web version

“TripAdvisor Versus TravelPost” PDF version (look toward bottom of page for text) Web version

Budget Travel‘s Guilt-Free Gift Guide” (Dec/Jan 2009) PDF version Web version

R.I.P. Nancy Lee Head, my favorite activist

Two days after I received a card from her in response to mine, Nancy Lee Head passed away at her home in Arlington, Va. It was startling to find out the news. She had been doing fine!

Nancy Lee was the most inspirational activist I’ve ever met.
Nancy Lee Head

I find myself wanting to paraphrase some words in the novel Let the Great World Spin: She made people become what they didn’t think they could become. She twisted something in their hearts and gave them new places to go.

Do journalists need to become entrepreneurs?

I’m especially fascinated by essayist and venture capitalist Paul Graham’s model for a good journalism start-up: Pair up a writer/reporter with a supersmart programmer and a graphic designer.

Other combinations are possible, of course, such as having a videographer on the team. Or, as Charles Pelton has proposed in a different context, putting an events/marketing/conference-organizing/listings-service businessperson in direct collaboration with a journalist.

How much is New York Times content worth?

The Times is my favorite publication, and I pay about $14 a month for its content via my Kindle. So that’s what I think it it’s worth. But not everyone else agrees.

UPDATE May 2010: The New York Times Sunday magazine published a great survey of this question since I’ve published this blog post. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth a look: “Putting a Price on Words.”

Is advertising information you don’t need?

The optimists say that the economics of publishing content online won’t always be bad. There won’t always be an oversupply of skilled content producers and a corresponding lack of enough online advertising income to support their work. We’re told that display advertising will become more interactive, and thus will attract more users, and that this will generate income.

We’re told that Madison Avenue’s salespeople don’t yet understand online as a medium yet, and new companies will figure out ways to make ads more effective and, therefore, more profitable. Young, computer-savvy ad salespeople like Darren Herman of Varick Media Management (shown above), are unlocking the potential of sophisticated ad measurement.

Meanwhile, large companies still don’t know how to brand their products and services with online ads as effectively as they’ve used glossy publications and large billboards for branding, but that will change. John Battelle sums it up nicely:

Close your eyes and imagine leafing through your favorite magazineVogue, perhaps. A two-page spread halts your progress—the image of a beautiful, sophisticated woman standing in the doorway of a crumbling Havana doorway, with an elegant brand “Lancome” etched in the lower right corner. Or perhaps it’s a spread in Fortune, an arresting montage of imagery featuring a Jaguar automobile, a model you’ve never seen before.

Now, open your eyes, and imagine the same experience online.

Why “content” is an ugly but necessary word

valuable original contentI dislike the word content as much as anyone. So does Paul Graham, as he explains in his essay Post-Medium Publishing: “The word suggests an undifferentiated slurry. But economically that’s how both publishers and audiences treat it. Content is information you don’t need.”

Compare and contrast: Being in the magazine business is being in the business of creating glossy objects that people pay money for and display on their coffee tables. But being in the content business is creating something that people don’t need.

It’s not quite as glamorous to be one of too many people supplying vastly more content than people are generally willing to pay for.

Forget about debates on pay walls and metered fees for Web reading. The larger question is, will people pay more for “quality” content, whatever the circumstance or gimmick? The answer, so far, has been no. Not enough people are willing to pay for journalism to keep living wage journalism afloat.

Virginia Heffernan explains that why there are no true magazines online

[image courtesy of 10ch/Flickr]

The stars don’t twinkle at the calmest place on Earth

An icy plateau in Antarctica called Ridge A is the calmest place on Earth.

There’s almost no wind or weather there at all. The atmosphere is so still that stars do not twinkle. Stars appear at Ridge A with about the same clarity as observed by the Hubble telescope in outer space.

Another reason Ridge A is calm? There aren’t any people there. (Researchers figured out it is a calm place using data from satellites, ground stations, and climate models.)

All of which is a set-up to classic British journalism: The Telegraph‘s “How to Get to Ridge A.” Nevermind that you would never in your right mind ever visit Ridge A. No one has. But that doesn’t deter the writer from offering you a tongue-in-cheek guide on how to get there. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never seen an American publication approach a topical like this as whimsically in a dead-on earnest approach.

50 Things We Know Now That We Didn’t Know Last Year

[image: tsaven/Flickr]

How to recognize a winning Web content model

Paul GrahamLike many reporters, I’ve read dozens—no, make that hundreds—of articles and reports on the (doomed) fate of newspapers and magazines in the digital era. But by far the simplest and clearest essay I’ve read is Post-Medium Publishing by Paul Graham (shown left).

My favorite part of Graham’s essay is his test for recognizing what new forms for publishing content will be winners.

When you see something that’s taking advantage of new technology to give people something they want that they couldn’t have before, you’re probably looking at a winner. And when you see something that’s merely reacting to new technology in an attempt to preserve some existing source of revenue, you’re probably looking at a loser.

There’s nothing in 2010 I’m more looking forward to seeing than which journalism start-ups are funded by Y Combinator, Graham’s venture firm, which specializes in schooling early stage startups, especially Web operations invented by early 20-somethings.

Last year, Y Combinator specifically put out a request for creative ideas in re-imagining journalism, starting with a for-profit business model and then fitting the journalism to support it. Graham’s hunch is that targeted Web advertising will fund such projects.

Here’s hoping.

UPDATE: April 2010: The startup has launched! It’s called NewsTilt. It’s still a work in progress.

We have become so far removed from the notion that writing might have a cash value, that by simply suggesting the idea, Graham sounds like a visionary.

[image niallkennedy/Flickr]

Something about Robert De Niro

Robert De Niro graffitiIn the mid-1970s, Robert De Niro was in danger of getting typecast as a street tough, due to his performances in Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. So he leapt at a chance to play an elegant white-collar guy in The Last Tycoon. De Niro was coached by director Elia Kazan in how to appear intellectual. Kazan wrote about the method-acting exercises they did in his autobiography A Life:

“Again and again I asked him to think one thing as he was saying something quite the opposite… An intellectual, I told him, can seem friendly and generous but is never altogether trustworthy. We are all spies, I told him, rarely offering to those we’re with what we truly think of them. There should always be something that people call “fishy” about you, I said; call it ambivalent.”