Through My Eyes

Timing was everything.

Archive for February 2010

The Bay Area News Project

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Explain to me again how this new editorial staff is going to bring innovation in delivering news to Bay Area residents.

Oh, it’s delivering web-only content?  Okay.  So are many other digital news organizations.  What makes the imminent Bay Area News Project so special?  How is it going to differentiate its products from what’s already being offered by existing news sources?

First of all, the Bay Area News Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, publicly supported news organization that includes a senior management team of Lisa Frazier (President/CEO), Jonathan Weber (Editor-in-Chief), and Brian Kelley (CTO).  Their mission is to: fill the gap in covering Bay Area civic and community news, stimulate innovation in journalism, and foster civic engagement, (all the while collaborating with UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and the NY Times).

With $5 million in seed funding from the Hellman Family fund, it launched in the fall of 2009, but does not expect to publish online content until late spring of this year.  It will be an online and mobile source of news, and you can expect to see original content printed and distributed on the NYT’s Friday and Sunday Bay Area sections.  It will also be in partnership with other media outlets and distribute content strategically.

Weber noted the four key principles that support the project’s operational business model –

1) Public-interest focused (promising to deliver high-quality coverage of civic and community news ranging from public policy and education to arts and science)

2) Multi-channel and community-centered (broad distribution through various channels to encourage active engagement with diverse audiences, develop community networks, encourage new voices, and create compelling interactive content)

3) Sustainability driven (diverse revenue streams through member donations, sponsorships, earned income, and philanthropic investment)

4) Collaborative and inventive (strategic partnerships to produce, disseminate, and test news cost-effectively, while fostering an entrepreneurial culture and serving as a lab for experimenting with new tools and business ideas to support journalism)

Last night at the World Affairs Council, the newly appointed editor of  the Bay Area News Project, Jonathan Weber, spoke of his vision for the online news site.  To give you some background, Weber worked as a technology and business editor at LA Times, as well as founded former dot-com news magazine The Industry Standard before leaving to Montana to help establish New West and teach at University of Montana’s J-School.  Something Weber said that resonated with me was, “In order to break something big, you must go somewhere where quality journalism is lacking.”  It’s not to say that a journalist must go to a completely desolate region to face the least amount of competition, but come on – think about it – in a day and age when anyone can be a journalist (well, a citizen journalist), you (simply put) need to be one step ahead of your neighbor.  Although that’s nothing new, I feel it is critical now more than ever.

While Weber did his best to keep mum about certain details, such as the type of articles (or better yet, “holy shit” stories) he plans to publish, the pay scale for staff journalists and freelancers, and other trade secrets, he divulged a bit of information about the individuals and partnerships endorsing the project, the organization’s objectives, and the project’s current hiring status (he’s looking to hire 15 reporters at the moment).   He also made it a point to emphasize that Warren Hellman has very little, if any, influence on the current hiring process, and the two did not even meet until a few weeks ago.  He acknowledged the need to reassure his audience of journalists, as well as members of the public, that the Hellman clan will not use this organization as a vehicle to push a personal agenda.

What I didn’t get out of his presentation, though, was a definitive answer to the most important question we were asking:  What makes this project so different from any other online newspaper?  Yes, he talked about product-izing the news (which makes you wonder – how do you do that being a non-profit?), innovation in website management, the coverage of roughly 9 counties (between Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa), an organic approach to developing staff (reporters will ideally wear all different hats), data-mining as a primary tool, and evaluating how the public will use the information distributed.  However, weren’t some of these the original goals of several Bay Area newspapers (Hello? The Chronicle,  SF Weekly, The Examiner, etc.)?  Over time, it seems that too many news organizations lose sight of their civic duties, and bureaucracy becomes an oppressor and not just a corporate nuisance.

Also, I’m sure that most of the local veteran journalists who attended last night were not pleased to hear of plans to grant somewhat of an advantage to students from Cal’s J-School throughout the hiring process.   An interesting question raised by a member of the audience was how the BANP planned to compensate staff journalists and freelancers.  Would the writers now be subjected to popular pay-per-click campaigns, or would they be salaried?  Weber replied that full-time writers would be compensated by salary and freelancers would receive a flat fee.  You could almost feel the wave of relief that washed over the audience.  It was a dead giveaway that indicated how negatively the economic downturn affected this industry and how much more cutthroat it has become.

The BANP will be assigned a different name when it is born this spring, and its editorial staff plans to provide internship opportunities, as well as instruction (workshops, classes, etc.) to Cal’s J-School students.  The J-School faculty will, in turn, contribute ideas for future topics and features and assist the organization in developing R&D centers across various departments throughout campus.  View it as a future think tank for journalists and news media professionals.  At least, that’s what it sounds like they are attempting to create.  In a nutshell, the BANP is planning to re-invent the metro newspaper.  I bid it good luck and an especially sympathetic audience.

Quote of the Day

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“The individual, if empowered, will be able to sustain the aid that eventually goes away.”

-Lesley Desaulniers, founder of The Authenticity Project (See full article @  The Good 100)

Written by winniewongsf

February 23, 2010 at 1:12 am

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Everyone Should Have a Trade

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I’ve now had several conversations with Aaron, relatives, and friends about how members of my generation don’t possess many tangible skills – skills that might cushion a harsh lay off or unexpected turns in life.  This is disadvantageous to society, in general.  Why else did we take shop or home economic classes as teenagers in high school?  Educational institutions, teachers, and parents should make more of an effort to encourage students (especially young children) to explore various types of crafts and artistry.  It’s detrimental to students when elders counter their creative aspirations to become singers, actors, writers, painters, chefs, etc. with saying something along the lines of, “You’ll never make a decent living doing that.”  Creativity should be rewarded, now so maybe more than ever.

Just recently, I joined a number of groups and associations through the professional social networking site, LinkedIn, to become educated about the topics being discussed in journalism and multimedia industries today.  Being a new member of these organizations, I automatically receive updates and notifications in my Gmail inbox every time a new discussion begins or a post is made addressed to the group.  Today, one such notification highlighted an article that chronicles several job seekers who weighed the possibility of going into professions in which they use their hands and found success or personal fulfillment (or both).  John Melendez, the author of this article , encourages individuals to take risks when opportunities are presented (especially when circumstances allow for transition in one’s life) and applauds the people he profiled for their departure from white to blue-collar work.

Melendez wrote another article about one man’s decision to simplify his life and un-clutter his mind once he was laid off.  After reading this piece, you might get the sense that Bob enters a realm of something similar to Buddhism, realizing how little he needs to survive, how to adjust to a slower pace of life, and how to enjoy and live in the moment.  These are all things we can learn to do.

Written by winniewongsf

February 23, 2010 at 12:27 am

My first 10K of 2010

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Just completed the Chinese New Year Run in Chinatown over an hour ago.  Came in at 1 hr., 2 min., and 5 seconds (average of 10 min. miles).  Not bad for having gotten less than 4 hours of sleep, raindrops coming down as soon as we launched off, and not having formally trained since December 2008.  My goal is to finish the Oakland Running Festival 1/2 next month at around 1:50.  That’s a pace of approximately 8:40.  Still a lot of running to be done over the next five weeks.

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February 21, 2010 at 6:29 pm

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An Homage to Young Love (in Vietnam)

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I’ve finally converted some of the RAW photos I took during the trip.  Although I haven’t taken the time to experiment with these images in Photoshop, I’d like to show you a few that I took following lovebirds around Hoan Kiem lake in central Hanoi.

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February 16, 2010 at 8:37 am

Dave Eggers and McSweeney’s Roadshow

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Earlier tonight, a few friends accompanied me to Cal’s Sibley Auditorium to listen to Dave Eggers speak about the (not sure if controversial is the right word) publication of Panorama. The contributions made by he, several editors, and staffers of the 300+ page one-time edition newspaper were sheer brilliance. I could not help but think: Wow, we are in the presence of great forward-thinking individuals.

To give you some background: In the 1990s, Dave Eggers started his career in the SF Bay Area as a journalist with skills in graphic design. He eventually began to write, edit, and publish work for several news organizations and magazines. Having penned a successful memoir, several novels, compilations of interviews and essays, as well as major motion picture screenplays (last year’s Where the Wild Things Are and Away We Go), he founded an independent publishing house, McSweeney’s, and played a major role in establishing a non-profit writing and tutoring center for school-aged children in SF’s Mission district called 826 Valencia (aka “the Pirate Shop”).

Eggers’ activism in local communities is not only a driving force for children’s renewed interest in the literary arts, it’s safe to say that he’s spearheaded the wave of questions we’ve directed towards the news industry and encouraged us to hold journalists accountable in how they provide information to the public.

Some of the points Eggers and his peers touched on last night were:
-The misinformation to the public that print news agencies are “dying”
-Why it makes logical business sense to charge readers for online content (and how it hurts papers that don’t)
-The connection between newspapers and the level of corruption in government (i.e. Journalists help hold governments accountable for decisions and actions that affect the public.)
-The graphics, size, and colors displayed in print newspapers (i.e. the importance of aesthetic factors in attracting, as well as retaining readership)
-Allowing writers or reporters to write in long form (the notion that an article should be as long as it needs to be so that the message or information is complete)
-Critical fact-checking processes and the disposal of these departments in newspapers (due to cuts in operating costs). We need to see this as a loss of credibility in the paper.
-Reinvesting in investigative journalism. (ie. No news organization even thought to ask how much the new Bay Bridge was going to cost – twice as much as expected! Where parts were coming from – China! The safety of the bridge! Etc.)
-The physiological experience derived from reading print newspapers (stimulating, relaxing, engaging!), as opposed to reading the news from multiple online sources (distracting, jumpy, stressful!)
-The lifespan of readership (pouring over the comics as a child, moving onto different sections throughout your lifetime, the habitual reading of certain editorials and columns…this is the relationship you establish with a paper)

As someone who is fascinated by the amount of changes this particular industry is facing, I was blown away by the presentation. More than 12 hours later, I’m still thinking about certain points made and unabashedly inspired by the questions that still need to be answered. If you have not purchased your own copy of the Panorama, I highly suggest you make a trip out to 826 Valencia. Why purchase the paper there? What normally costs $16 is only going to cost you $5 (money you would’ve dropped on a latte that’s going to give you a stomachache). Let’s try to keep this form of news above water and do our part to make the industry cognizant of our loyalty.

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February 12, 2010 at 10:14 am

Watch NBC News tonight!

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Just received a call from my friend, Gabi, who was going to join my girlfriends and me for dinner @ Nopa tonight. She had to cancel because she was just invited to be on NBC tonight at 11pm, a feature they are doing on Broke Ass Gourmet!!! Congratulations, Gabi! That press coverage is going to be MASSIVE in getting the word out there! I am truly ecstatic for you! Hopefully, I can record or catch it on YouTube…

***Updated: Here’s the actual segment .

Written by winniewongsf

February 11, 2010 at 2:06 am

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