Mindset key to modernizing journalism


Rob Curley talks fast, is proud of being from Kansas and pokes fun at Missouri any chance he gets. He has also led a series of successful web projects for newspapers in Lawrence, Kansas, Naples, Florida and, most recently at the Washington Post, where his credits include first-person video project called OnBeing.


Today Curley has launched what may be the state-of-the-art in hyperlocal web publishing. It is called LoudounExtra.com and serves a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. I blogged about this Post offshoot for the Technology Chronicles (link) so I won’t reiterate those details here.


Instead let me share the gist of a 90-minute briefing Curley gave Friday afternoon at the San Francisco Chronicle.


The overarching theme of Curley’s work is to create ways to make people feel a connection to a newspaper — or rather to a newsgathering organization, because he pushes multimedia where appropriate. It’s about getting people’s pictures and lives into the news flow. It’s about becoming part of their lives. For instance, at the new hyperlocal site, LoudounExtra.com, Curley has created a news flow that links every little league game schedule into a database that can beam a text or email message if the game is canceled. Rob Curley wants the news organization of the future to be a friend. Coming home late at night with nothing in the fridge? Check in to the database for a list of restaurants that serve till midnight.


This is not journalism but rather the platform for creating a connection between the reader and the organization that journalists can exploit, not merely in print but through video and/or audio when appropriate. At Naples, for instance, Curley produced a 30-minute video news show that aired on the local cable and was also available for download. Curley appears to like television stations about as much as he likes Missourians.


He talked non-stop, pausing only occasionally for air or to knock back a sip of the Red Bull he really didn’t need. I asked him at one point what point what skill set would we need to pull off all the database projects and multimedia he had shown off. “It’s not the skill set it’s the mindset,” he said. The basic content management system for all of his sites was developed at Lawrence, Kansas, and is available for $20,000 (it is called Ellington). He did advise bringing in some handful of programmers who know about databases and the Web. And he is also a big believer in “internology” — which is his joke for the fact that he farms out much of the grunt work of gathering text, photos and video for his databases to interns.


There was lots more to the talk. He mentioned reverse publising — taking citizen-generated content off websites and putting it into print. He showed reporters being interviewed for podcasts and vodcasts (video reports). He wasn’t talking about journalism with a capital “J.” But the community and audience-building techniques he demonstrated will give us the economic support to the watchdog work we consider our mission. I wish we could change our mindset yesterday. News sites need to become more useful. Indispensable. Only then will we have the audience’s attention when we need it.