Recent experiences in listening to your customers

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Nobody in business will ever say he isn’t concerned with listening to the customer. Really proving it, of course, is the difference between well-loved companies and those that aren’t.

Even notoriously frustrating Comcast has gained ground with its use of social media — a powerful mechanism for communication that, despite all the attention, we still may have yet to fully grasp. But beyond the buzz, the real value is hearing from customers who experience your products, whatever they may be — from buying tires to reading news.

I had two experiences with the concept recently, one from your friends in old media.

On Friday, I was driving a car that wasn’t my own through Flemington, N.J., though I had been holding on to the keys quite a bit in the past few months and noticed no warning signs of trouble. After filling up the tank at the Quick Check — something of a North Jersey Wawa, 7-11, fill-in your moderately well-liked convenience store that makes hoagies etc. — I turned the key and.. nothing.

I got the chance to offer, as a regular customer, my thoughts but didn’t feel anyone cared — how strange a successful regional corner store chain can’t do what old media did the same week.

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A loose steer makes for a great test of local news coverage

Phillipsburg Patrolman Kevin Cyphers attempts to corral the bull Wednesday night after it first got loose. Express-Times File Photo | TIM WYNKOOP
Phillipsburg Patrolman Kevin Cyphers attempts to corral the bull Wednesday night after it first got loose. Express-Times File Photo | TIM WYNKOOP

When local news is at its best, it delivers coverage no one else on the planet it can. So, it’s important to take it seriously.

A friend revisited with me a story from northeastern Pennsylvania earlier this year that exemplified it wonderfully: a steer gets loose from a pen the night before a high school agricultural fair. For more than two days it runs wild. The local press, highlighted by the Easton Express-Times and then the Morning Call when it got particularly ridiculous, chased the high school teachers — friends of mine — and the students and administrators as they chased the steer.

It made great, fun, well-followed news. If lessons can be made from when news outlets make mistakes, they can certainly be made from their triumphs. And, livestock or not, this was a triumph. Follow the news feed from that magical May week and what seemed to work.

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Philadelphia Inquirer John Yoo controversy doesn't seem to be much of a controversy anymore

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Well that was a lot about nothing, no?

A Web site, Fire John Yoo is tracking all the news of the now dying coverage of John Yoo, who wrote controversial legal notices on torture during the Bush administration, and the virtriol surrounding his being retained as an op-ed columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

There were protests across the country calling for Yoo to be fired. He wasn’t. And, as news is want to do, it seems to have all but quieted. That’s how John Yoo became a household name and will soon be forgotten.

Inquirer Editorial page editor Harold Jackson, if not perfectly, did, I think, correctly assess the situation and why the controversy may not have been worth it all.

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Obituaries: a newspaper staple that should find a way into community news sites

memorial-obitIt’s all about alternative revenue.

Newspapers, large and small, have served for generations as a gateway for providing information about the deaths of loved ones.

Without any real numbers to back this up, it sure seems that unlike things like job listings and other classifieds, obit profits haven’t been eaten away nearly as much.

When I look at highly targeted community Web sites — successful ones like Howard Owens’s The Batvian and My Missourian (read about if they are sustainable) — I don’t see them trying to do the same. Any site that has any meaningful geographic focus and critical mass of readership there needs to see this as an important monetization strategy.

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Changing ways in which society collects information

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The way we have gained information has apparently changed in the past 200 years, according to a really interesting and insightful graphical analysis of those trends by online magazine Baekdal.com.

The graphic analysis, as depicted above, aims to give some sense of the how the sources of information developed in common society. It suggests that in the next 10 years, we’ll find more and more news and information via social networks, with declines in TV, general Web sites and blogs.

After a few hundred years of newsletters, pamphlets and other written news sources known of in Europe and perhaps present elsewhere, the idea of a regularly published, verifiable collection of news source was developed in the United States in Boston, New York and Philadelphia in the mid-18th century. Leading to that turn of the century, more than 50 newspapers of varying stripe were bubbling in the colonies, leading to the idea of “freedom of the press” when the 1791 Bill of Rights were ratified.

This graphic and its explanation — well worth your time — gets the history down, if briefly, but I can’t say I agree with all its prognosticating about the future of news gathering.

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Bloggers need to respect old media

Updated 3:17 p.m. April 23, 2009

I was in Baltimore this weekend, which is fitting, considering some of the news that came out of the Charm City last week.

From Wired magazine blog Epicenter:

The Tribune-owned Baltimore Sun issued Jeff Quiton of Inside Charm City a cease-and-desist letter claiming that Quinton has been republishing “substantial portions” of The Sun’s content, and because the infringement was willful, Quinton could face up to $150,000 per violation in addition to lawyers fees.

The Sun took issue with Quiton copying large portions of their stories, though the suit added they don’t have a problem with a headline and a graf being used by bloggers if links are included.

It’s another case of old media taking on new media. And I am completely on the side of old media on this one.

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Attribution is not dead if we don’t let it die

I got a tweet from my buddy and Reading Eagle designer Chris Reber a few weeks ago.

is attribution dead?

That came not long after, Vince Fumo, the embattled Pennsylvania state senator and legendary South Philly politician, was convicted on all 137 counts in his federal corruption trial.

In what was another great stand for an old friend, the Inquirer was all over the Fumo case (not long after another evergreen package on the city’s Please Touch Museum, which won it a national headliner award.

Beyond collecting all the Fumo history and details and using social media, reporter Bob Moran live blogged the March 16 pronouncement of guilt. Fox29 hack Steve Keeley thought the Inqy was doing such a good job that Keeley began reading Moran’s reports live on air, without attributing him or the Inqy.


A minor outrage followed, not the least led by Inqy freelancer Amy Quinn, who tweeted again and again and again on the subject. But what else is there to learn, in an age where some say attribution is falling to the wayside?

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Who is teaching the next generation of journalists?

Editors have been cut. I assume there are more young journalists freelancing and those with staff jobs can’t be getting the same attention. College journalism professors are almost all naturally inclined to a generation no longer here.

Who the hell is teaching the next generation of journalists?

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Newspapers should make more money with their brand

I’m betting that a revenue model for newspapers will develop in the coming years -whether it be as a nonprofit or whether online advertising can be revolutionized. Many general interest newspapers will be lost, but a tier will remain for at least some time, I think.

But, gosh, I wish more newspapers would make the most of these uncertain times. No newspaper do I write more often about, criticize or compliment more, than the Philadelphia Inquirer – because it’s big, historic, once among the world’s best, my hometown paper and the only one for which I ever personally had a subscription.

I always say, though, that these lessons can go for all newspapers.

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Down with cover letters: Why journalists don't need them

Don’t ask me to write a cover letter for a journalism job.

Right now reporting gigs are nearly impossible to come upon for the talented peers of mine looking for industry work – some have already moved on.

Some jobs may still be available, but really, despite their struggles and job loss, one newspaper department is as powerful as ever: human resources.

Below see how I think the job-hiring process should go.

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