Dog Days have me feeling verklempt

The dog days of summer have got me feeling a bit verklempt lately. Staring at this blank page for the last half hour has left me wondering if I have said all I’m going to say about my journey into multimedia storytelling. I know every blogger eventually hits that brick wall where words fail to flow and thoughts and actions turn to things more important, like spending time with family and friends.

Maybe my lack of blog ideas stem from all the uncertainty gripping my chosen profession. We’re all being asked to be more innovative. To reinvent, to change what and how we do our jobs. At the same time, the guillotine blade hangs precariously above our heads. Over 6000 journalists have been forced to leave the profession in the last year. I’m certain more will follow. Conglomerate journalism has left many newspapers in such dire financial straights that next year, I believe, we will begin to see the shuttering of some of these publications.

On the bright side, I work for one of the few family-run newspapers left in the country. Unlike the leveraged, debt-ridden gray ladies like the L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune, The Spokesman-Review is on solid financial ground. We are shrinking our footprint, staff, and expenses like most newspapers, but outright panic, thankfully, is nowhere in sight.

I have read so much industry news about the plight of newspapers, that none of it really makes much sense to me anymore. It has really just become a blame game, where fingers point in all directions. Where talk of would of, should of, could of, trail off into the abyss. This talk really doesn’t solve the problem at hand, which is how do we recapture all those former readers that have moved on with their lives? Some have headed into cyberspace, while others have given up reading all together.

The biggest challenge is finding a way for newspaper websites to generate enough income to offset the staggering losses facing traditional newspapers. I know there is an answer out there; it just hasn’t been discovered yet.  Newspapers are notorious for their lack of true innovation. It really hasn’t been part of their DNA –until now.

If we are going to make it through this digital news revolution, then we need to start fostering innovation at the grass-roots level. Innovation at newspapers tends to be top heavy, always looking to executive and senior managements to come up with new and better ways to do things. Trouble is, most of these ideas have failed to stem the tide. At my own paper, I am surrounded with incredible smart co-workers, many who have innovative ideas of their own. The challenge for management, if they are willing, is to tap this mindshare and see what it will spawn. If we are to succeed, we need to start acting like a startup business and less like, well, a newspaper.

Somewhere, in some newsroom, someone has already figured it out. A spark of an idea that will lead to the disruption of the status quo, It will make other innovators smack their craniums wishing they would have thought of something so simple, yet so industry changing. The Holy Grail that saves journalism is out there. I, and a lot of other people have a lot of innovative thinking to do. The clocks ticking folks…

The rise of the mobile Internet browser

The other day, I was using Google Analytics to paw through website stats for  Spokesmanreview.com. I love looking for usage trends such as: How many people have converted to Flash 9 player? (89%) How many use Macs to access our site? (7.98%)

There was one statistic that caught my eye. In the last month, over 2300 people have accessed the S-R site using an iPhone with the Safari web browser. Three months ago it was about 1000. Granted, this was only 0.20% of our overall visitors, but as other manufacturers, besides Apple, release wireless browsing devices, I believe these hits will really start to track up. For years, technology wonks having been telling us pocket-sized wireless devices will change the paradigm of how we receive and send information. With last year’s iPhone and iPod Touch releases, I think the hardware has finally caught up with the hype.

In the next few years, newspaper websites will have an opportunity to connect with mobile users in ways infinitely better than how they do now.

I have a Palm Treo mobile phone running Microsoft software. A day doesn’t go by that I’d rather throw the device under a moving bus than continue using it. Clunky, unintuitive, fussy and damn right annoying are words to describe my company issued cell phone. Connecting to the web is a joke. Because it uses a touch screen and a real web browser, the iPhone fixes most these usability issues. It also brings game to a constipated wireless phone industry (at least in the U.S. market) in need of real innovation.

Touch screens, are finally starting to trickle down to other cell phone consumers. These larger screen devices, meshed with wireless high-speed data networks, will only move us further away from our reliance on desktop and laptops computers.

This will be a huge opportunity for newspapers to connect their online products to a whole new generation of Internet savvy users. We can begin by creating content that takes advantage of the strength of these browser-enabled devices. Websites will need simplified designs. The 300-link homepage just won’t do anymore. Shorter stories and more multimedia like video will rule the day. The iPhone was just the opening bell in a long 15 round bout. Competition is going to drive innovation rapidly. One day soon, everyone with a cell phone will have full access to our newspapers and the web. When that happens, I wonder what effect it will have on the traditional print product?