Author Archives: jsucherman

Delivering happiness

Customer Service is critical

A telephone operator at the Central Office wears a portable headset made by the American Bell Telephone Company, 1923. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

I’m almost always encouraged (and so rarely disappointed) that all it takes to turn a cranky customer into a fan is, well, just a little customer service.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, takes the notion of great customer service, focused on building engagement and trust, so seriously that he’s built a business on it. Hsieg named his book, Delivering Happiness. Although Delivering Shoes might be more factually accurate, in Hsieh’s mind, it is the customer service and delightful experience that ultimately lead to customer loyalty (and therefore profits).

Let’s switch to online communities for a moment. The Argo blogs started from nothing. So bloggers had to write compelling content and be resourceful about distribution from the beginning. When you start with zero readers, you should realize quickly that you have to treat each one as a treasure when they do come in your door.

If you truly want to build a ‘customer’ base and convert readers into a community members, it becomes that much more important to acknowledge – and find an appropriate way to respond to – a ‘customer’ that expresses unhappiness.

Take the recent case of WAMU Argo site, DCentric. Blogger Elahe Izadi wrote a short post about Washington Post provocative columnist Courtland Milloy’s entrée into the Twittersphere, noting his caustic explanation.

seriously, the main reason im on twitter is to track millennials & find out if they do anything in dc other than party and gentrify
@courtland51
courtland milloy

On DCentric, soon came a response to the post from a commenter called, ‘SalParadise’:

Continue reading

Tina Double Dips

You never know where MindShift’s Tina Barseghian is going to pop up. Somedays it’s Huffington Post, today it’s the PBS MediaShift blog. Her latest, a re-posting of an interview with Palo Alto educator Esther Wojcicki, explores (among other things) whether the skills of a journalist would help young people better sift through the firehose of information.

By distributing herself, Tina is a part of the wider education conversation. And her traffic seems to prove out Lennon and McCartney, “in the end, the love you take Is equal to the love you make.”

More on Stock & Flow

We’ve talked to Argo bloggers about considering the economics concept of ‘Stock & Flow’ in the context of publishing. To be more precise, Matt has introduced the concept and comes back to it frequently.

Now Twitter’s Robin Sloan (also Matt’s blogging partner on Snarkmarket) writes:

Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist. Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.

I feel like flow is ascendant these days, for obvious reasons—but we neglect stock at our own peril. I mean that both in terms of the health of an audience and, like, the health of a soul. Flow is a treadmill, and you can’t spend all of your time running on the treadmill. Well, you can. But then one day you’ll get off and look around and go: Oh man. I’ve got nothing here.

But I’m not saying you should ignore flow! No: this is no time to hole up and work in isolation, emerging after long months or years with your perfectly-polished opus. Everybody will go: huh? Who are you? And even if they don’t—even if your exquisitely-carved marble statue of Boba Fett is the talk of the tumblrs for two whole days—if you don’t have flow to plug your new fans into, you’re suffering a huge (here it is!) opportunity cost. You’ll have to find them all again next time you emerge from your cave.

Robin ends by saying it’s not really a huge insight, but I disagree. It actually is quite insightful. It is a good way to consider whether you are giving adequate weight to one without ignoring the other.

The View From Nowhere

I left our Argo West Coast Blogger Summit in San Diego today extremely energized, motivated and ready for what’s next. But one of the things that stuck with me in a slightly uncomfortable way was the notion that there is still a fair amount of angst over what constitutes ‘opinion’ vs. ‘analysis’. And should anything but ‘straight reporting’ be considered verboten for you as a capital-J Journalist.

So, I get back to my hotel room and the first tweet I see is one from NYU professor Jay Rosen, who’s railed against what he considers to be the illusion of objectivity a good deal in the past as this concept of a “view from nowhere.” It seems, it’s come up again in a blog post written by Ed Yong titled, Should Science Journalists Take Sides?, in Discover Magazine.

Yong pulls no punches and leaves no doubt where he comes down on the debate,

If you are not actually providing any analysis, if you’re not effectively “taking a side”, then you are just a messenger, a middleman, a megaphone with ears. If that’s your idea of journalism, then my RSS reader is a journalist.

It’s about being knowledgeable enough to make a decent stab at uncovering the truth and presenting the outcomes of that quest to one’s readers, even if that outcome lies firmly on one side of a “debate”.

Yong’s post is a good read that obviously doesn’t put the issue to bed. But I do hope it adds just one more data point for you as you find your own style and voice.

Toledo Wes and the Bombers Score Big

ArgoBowl

Toledo Wes (middle) looking supremely confident after asserting his dominance on the hardwood. Matt Thompson (left) and Marc Lavallee each had their own... uh... style.

All work and no play makes Argo a dull team. With that in mind, your friendly Argo friends went looking for fun out of the D.C. sun for a little while.

What better way to clear our heads for an afternoon and to ready ourselves for the next wave of station launches than to wear other people’s sweaty clown shoes and smash some pins?

Yeah… bowling! You’ll be pleased to know the regulars at Lucky Strike lanes are still marveling at the technique and style on display as the Argo team lit it up, setting the sports world back a couple hundred years.

I’m pleased to say, we bowled a 300 game!

(editor’s note: Yes, it is technically true, if you added up our four scores, we reached 300. But that is quite different from the bowling term “300 game”.) Continue reading

The Top 5 things I like about The Atlantic’s ‘What I read’

By now, no doubt, you are well versed with Matt’s mantra… wait for it…  package, repackage, repeat!

One of the many ways to get there is the regular series – which can then also provide fodder to be repackaged in a ‘list’ or ‘tips’ post down the road.

I wanted to highlight one example of that that works for me at The Atlantic.

The Atlantic Wire runs a series called, “What I read,” which is exactly as it sounds.  Here is how they describe it:

How do other people deal with the torrent of information that pours down on us all? Do they have some secret? Perhaps. We are asking various friends and colleagues who seem well-informed to describe their media diets.

The latest post is a Q&A with NYU journalism prof Jay Rosen. Not only is it a good example of packaging content (which it can then repackage in any number of ways), but I thought it might be instructive for our bloggers to see how Rosen handles his information stream.

As accomplished journalists maybe you’ve already found a sweet spot in your information management. But it’s something most people struggle with as the streams continue to multiply and get noisier. And as a beat blogger now, you may find your methods need updating. And fortunately, the tools keep getting better.

Rosen points out that his first read in the morning is Twitter. Then it’s off to the industry blogs and aggregators. I couldn’t agree more. If you have a tightly focused Twitter list, you’ll find much more relevant content there, to start your day with, then you will by scanning your local paper or the NYTimes or Wall Street Journal. Since you’ve had to set up a Twitter Times account to feed your blog’s right rail, hopefully you find some utility in it yourself as well.

So, here are the Top 5 things I find alluring about The Atlantic Wire series:

1.) As a blogger, the formula makes it fairly easy to produce
2.) Other people are doing the heavy lifting (you get to play editor instead of tortured writer)
3.) They’ve tapped interesting people who can ostensibly help your friend the reader with their wisdom.
4.) The series can be repeated
5.) The series can be packaged and repackaged.

After you visit Rosen’s, ‘What I Read’,  check out Clay Shirky and Ezra Klein’s daily routine. Then tell us, what do you read?

And Two More Make Six

Food on a stick at the Minnesota State Fair

Image courtesy of Flickr user Cathyse97

Last week I started introducing you to the new Argo bloggers. We have two more to announce now, completing the first wave of sites.

Minnesota Public Radio has brought on board Alex Friedrich to be the dean of its higher education site.  Alex spent the past year getting his masters at the London School of Economics. He is a former St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter who covered education for the Monterey County Herald (Calif.). Alex has covered a wide range of stories from the Russian elections in Moscow to the I-35 bridge collapse in the Twin Cities. He may be best remembered around the MPR newsroom though as the guy who once appeared on-air for eating nothing but food-on-a-stick for 12 days straight at the Minnesota State Fair in 2006… and lived to talk about it. To be fair, it was a reporting assignment for the Pioneer Press, not simply a craving for corn dogs!

Cassandra Profita is the new Argo blogger at Oregon Public Broadcasting. We like that Cassandra began one of her stories with, ‘Spotted this month: Six men heaving hundreds of dead bodies into Clatsop County’s Lewis and Clark River.’ She goes on to explain that they were, in fact, ‘dead fish bodies — or what remained of them after six months of storage.’ Sounds like the right tone for her blog on the collision between development and environmental policy in the Northwest. Cassandra is an award-winning reporter for The Daily Astorian (Or.) and reports weekly for the local NPR member station KMUN. She has degrees in journalism and environmental studies from the University of Missouri.

It’s a great group. Can’t wait to see the talent that the next six stations bring on board.

T-Minus One Week, plus ‘You’re Hired!’

Humanosphere - KPLU So, it’s come down to this.

All of this talk over the last year or so, the submission of proposals, hiring of staff, station visits, our UnConvention, blogger hires, design sprints… and in just one week we will be launching the first of our Argo sites – unleashing them on an unsuspecting world.

The first six sites to launch are: KPLU, WNYC, KALW, OPB, MPR, and KPCC

The team here is deep in the throes of checklists, design tweaks, and QA-ing the publishing environment. We are also fully engaged with the first group of stations finalizing their ‘to-do’ lists – populating the blog with real posts, categories, topics, and providing ad tags.

One of the great pleasures of the project has been seeing the time and attention that has gone into ensuring the right hires at made at each station, taking into account subject expertise, Web savvy, experience in building networks (via social media or in person), and ensuring we have a diverse pool of candidates. Some of you have been asking about hires at other stations. While some in the second batch of stations to go live are deciding among finalists, here are the bloggers who will be live next week:

KPLU made one of the first hires, bringing in Tom Paulson to curate its global health blog. From KPLU’s Keith Seinfeld:

Tom was a Science and Medical reporter at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 22 years, until it stopped publishing a print version and laid-off most of its staff last year.  He also was one of the first reporters to cover the topic of “Global Health” in the daily news media — starting with the day Bill Gates announced he was giving most of his immense fortune to improving health in developing countries.  If you type “Tom Paulson” into an internet search, you’ll find more than 400 stories he wrote at the P-I about global health.  In the process, he’s traveled for stories to Africa, Asia and Latin America, and he’s earned international recognition for his reporting.

KPCC has hired Leslie Berestein Rojas to write a blog about the 1.5 and second generation immigrant experience in Southern California. Leslie’s vision is to explore:

…the cultural fusion that has become an ever-bigger part of the region’s identity, with these new generations influencing one another and the culture in general. [It's] a place that has given birth to cultural mashups like Kogi BBQ – the brainchild of a second-generation Filipino-American married to a Korean-American who loved Mexican food and came up with the idea of Kor-Mex fusion, which he calls “L.A. in one bite.” Gotta love that! It’s a classic story of the new Southern California, and there are many others like it.

Rina PaltaYesterday was the first day on the job for Rina Palta, KALW’s blogger to focus on cops and the community.  Rina is no stranger to KALW or public media. She has done some reporting previously for KALW. Rina came to radio from print, having worked at Mother Jones magazine. Rina expects to closely examine the issues of parole, recidivism and gangs in the Bay Area.

WNYC has hired Azi Paybarah to cover the ins and outs of politics in New York. Azi has covered politics for the New York Observer, the New York Sun and New York Press. His departure from the Observer for WNYC was noted in Fishbowl NY.  Azi has 1,300 followers on Twitter and helped launch political blogs at both the Sun and Press.

Minnesota Public Radio and Oregon Public Broadcasting are working out final details with their hires. We’ll update with their hires shortly.

Naming a blog is a scream

I have found the simple task of naming a site over the years to be… well anything but simple. In fact, it often turns out to be the most frustrating, heartbreaking part of the process of building a site.

Feel like this trying to find a name for your site? Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Just when you think you have the ‘perfect name’, the lawyers come in and tell you it’s so perfect someone else has a copyright for it. Even if they are not actively using it, better to come up with something else rather than end up with a cease and desist order on your doorstep – and then try to explain it to your audience why a one-month old blog is changing its name. Sigh. That’s the voice of experience.

There is so much seemingly conflicting advice around names – make it short, punchy, memorable, clear and descriptive for SEO, make it generic enough so no one can claim a copyright (like chair, table, stapler). That’s when you look at the lawyers and say, “We’ll call it ‘Gazzazzle-rooney dotcom!’

It’s with that context I found it interesting recently that former WashingtonPost.com exec Jim Brady emerged with white smoke pumping through the Allbritton Communications offices with the name “TBD” for his new local site covering Washignton, D.C.

Then earlier this week, this post from Boston.com’s Jason Tuohey:

(TBD is) a curious name for a local news site. Most obviously, it doesn’t contain the name of the region it purports to cover. This is exceedingly rare — virtually all local news sites sport a name that combines the region with some short, peppy, non-descriptive word like “Go” or “Now” or “Live.” (As in “BostonNow” or “Michigan Live”.)

Those titles smack of unoriginality and bleed together like team names at a high school basketball tournament. But the goal, traditionally, isn’t to be original when naming a local news site, it’s to somehow include the name of the region. Since townname.com is never available, you grab the next closest thing.

(Full disclosure: I helped found a website called “GoSkokie” in graduate school for Skokie, Ill., so I’m as culpable as anyone for lame town-specific names.)

If you take a longer look at history, you’ll find this naming convention closely follows how newspapers were titled for decades. It was always “Post” or “Times” or “Herald” or something similarly uninteresting. But really, it was always just an innocuous word attached to a city’s name. The city has always been the brand, until now.

So what does that mean for your site? Probably Global Health wouldn’t have Seattle in the name, but what about the rest? Maybe there is a place in the title, maybe in the tagline. In any case, once again, I want to encourage you to come up with several names you can live with. That way you’ll be prepared no matter what decision the lawyers arrive at after the copyright search.

And try to close in on that name soon. It always takes longer than you think.

OPB and API Ingest

Congratulations to Argo member Oregon Public Broadcasting for successful participation in the pilot around ingest of their content into the NPR API. This may be a fairly geeky topic… but we get quite enthused about stuff like this. Colin Fogarty of Northwest News Network wrote about participating in the pilot on the Inside NPR.org blog.

API ingest is a critical piece of Project Argo which will allow the stations to share content with one another and with others throughout the system.

So, congrats again to OPB and NPR’s Director of Application Development Daniel Jacobson for a successful launch. I know a few of the Argo stations will be a part of the API ingest pilot soon and we’ll make sure the all of the Argo sites will get there in time for launch this summer.