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  • The Washington Post’s new Web experiment hopes to offer up some serendipity
    Screen shot, The Washington Post

    Screen shot of the pinch view of The Washington Post’s test Web experience

    Climb up three steps from The Washington Post’s fifth-floor newsroom to the sixth floor, then head down two flights of steps via a wrought iron staircase. There, you’ll find Team Rainbow. It’s a collaborative place for development, news and tech, and it’s where the Post’s latest Web experiment came from.

    Remember the office space in “Being John Malkovich?”

    “Yeah, so we work there,” said Julia Beizer, director of mobile product at the Post. Beizer works in this weird part of the Post’s building with Cory Haik, executive producer and senior editor, digital news, with IOS developers, Web developers, Android developers, product designers, news designers, producers and editors.

    The sign outside Rainbow Team's space at The Washington Post. (Photo by Cory Haik, The Washington Post)

    The sign outside Rainbow Team’s space at The Washington Post. (Photo by Cory Haik, The Washington Post)

    On Monday, the Post announced that it’s testing two versions of its Web and mobile site created by Team Rainbow. They’re targeting social and mobile users who represent a growing audience for the Post. The two versions include some features and lessons learned from designing the Post’s Kindle Fire app, Haik said. And they’re trying to offer readers something you don’t get with traditional article pages — serendipity.

    Like the Kindle Fire app, there’s no homepage, Beizer said, no middleman to go through on the way to a story.

    “When you’re looking at the social/mobile audience, that’s exactly what they do, too,” Beizer said.

    The test sites have national news, nothing local, and the stories there are custom-selected by editors, given new headlines and special layouts. While the Fire app is what Haik calls a 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. lean back experience, the test sites have about 200 stories at any given time and they’re curated to offer a linear news experience.

    “We want to give you a news bundle, if that makes sense,” Haik said. So when Marco Rubio announces a presidential run, the Post might have 15 stories up in the course of five hours that run in a range of sections. In the linear bundle, a few strong pieces are put together in a deliberate way, with hand-selected photos and video. That process also came from the philosophy developed while building the Kindle Fire app. Readers can still find their way into the maze of stories that exist, but they can also follow the linear bundle’s path that hopefully feels more satisfying than stumbling around the Web.

    In both versions of the test site, readers will find two stories: one peeking out (that’s the peek view), and one adjacent to another story (that’s the pinch view).

    “Serendipity in adjacency worked for news companies for years,” Beizer said, “but it hasn’t translated to digital.”

    With the Post’s new experience, they’re testing to see if people respond to a return to that adjacency, which, she said, is a challenge to translate to a mobile view.

    With both versions, the question is this — “Do either one of these get at that delight in the serendipity of seeing something you want to read right next to the article you’re on?”

    Screen shot, The Washington Post

    Screen shot of the peek view of The Washington Post’s trial design

    ‘Every day is quite different and it shapes the next one.’

    Beizer and Haik have worked together for four years and this is how they’ve always worked — trying to get the minimum viable product out as quickly as they can but also making sure they’ve made something worth people’s time.

    Haik came to the Post four years ago. Before that, she worked at The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune and the Seattle Times.

    “My career is digital newspapering,” Haik said. “I don’t know if that’s a word.”

    Beizer has worked at the Post for 10 years this summer, and, like Haik, has always on the digital side of things.

    The two have tried similar experiments with smaller products, getting something out to readers quickly to see how they react and how they’re adapting to different forms of storytelling. They tested this on the mobile Web in 2012 when they added an Instagram feed curated from a hashtag to the mobile homepage.

    “It was like this huge coup,” Haik said. “We were ecstatic about that.”

    In their time together, the new test sites are their biggest experiment so far. But the concept is the same.

    “It’s just very iterative and that’s just the beauty of it,” Haik said. “Every day is quite different and it shapes the next one.”

    They’ve also paired news designers with UX designers “and that’s been a really cool marriage to see happen,” Beizer said. The two said they’ve spent their careers in digital jobs where the CMS dictated where things went. Haik hired news designers with print backgrounds, though, and brought them onto the digital side.

    “They know how to tell stories,” Beizer said. “The product designers, their strength is ‘how do I move someone through this experience in the easiest way possible? Those are both design skills but they’re very, very different. The combination of those different kinds of design thinking have really lit up our products in a different way.”

    Haik agreed.

    “I think the combination of these two are the secret sauce.”

    ‘Somebody said that they did not hate it on the Internet.’

    The Post will get feedback on the test sites in a number of ways, including heavily monitoring social media and customer service channels, but the majority of feedback comes via analytics, Beizer said. The Post uses Chartbeat for day-to-day metrics so editors can help optimize presentation. They use Adobe’s Omniture to see how long people are staying and how many pages they consume. They use Splunk to measure things including how long it takes pages to load, and the Post has a homegrown A/B testing platform called Darwin that serves different sites to different people.

    Screen shot, mobile peek view, The Washington Post

    Screen shot, mobile peek view, The Washington Post

    “The great thing about tests like this is you launch and you are buried, buried in data, and that’s a good thing,” she said. It can be hard to tell stories out of the data right away, but within a few days, stories should emerge that show how readers react to the two versions. If there’s not enough of a differential, they’ll add more tweaks.

    And they have gotten some immediate feedback already.

    “Somebody said that they did not hate it on the Internet,” Haik said.

    Another user, through customer service, didn’t love it thanks to the experience of clicking the test site with a mouse. That feedback sparked a conversation with the product team, who’d been focusing on the mobile and social experience, Beizer said, “and we thought, is there something else we can do there to make that a better experience for her?”

    “We also have a ‘do we love it?’ test,” Haik said.

    In the beginning, the team didn’t love how the two-column presentation worked on mobile, and they’re still not sure if it will last there, but the more they use the things they’re creating and develop a relationship with them, the more the team can decide if they love it.

    “Does Julia love it? Does Cory love it? Does the newsroom love it? Do users love it?” Haik asked. It’s hard to quantify, but the actual relationship with something created across departments is a factor.

    “If people love it, it matters, actually, because we’re all working on it together,” Haik said.

    So. Does she love it?


    ‘…Invent ourselves out of tight corners’

    Screen shot, single mobile view, The Washington Post

    Screen shot, single mobile view, The Washington Post

    So when will the Post’s experiment be done? Read more

  • At cable convention, news is not a focus

    intxA Tribune Publishing official was explaining Tuesday why quality journalism will win out and make money online, especially when one has “authority” and a close relationship to your community.

    When finished, Joyce Winnecke, who oversees Tribune Content Agency, the company’s syndication arm, asked the panel moderator, “Does that make sense?”

    “I don’t believe you,” said Dan Miller, a longtime Chicago business reporter who now runs an annual awards program that recognizes Chicago business innovation.

    If Miller was unconvinced, at least he, the long-ago reporter Winnecke and two other news executives were mentioning the word “journalism.”

    That is decidedly rare at the Internet & Television Expo, a giant media gathering held by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) in Chicago.

    The large Fox News Channel screen that faces one upon entering the convention floor is at least a superficial exception that proves the rule. As one ambles about, with booths celebrating giants like Fox’s parent, News Corp., Comcast, Disney, Viacom, Turner Broadcasting, NBC Universal, Showtime, Samsung, Time Warner and others, one is struck by both the growing concentration of ownership and the almost ancillary mentions of gathering, reporting and analyzing news among its corporate overseers.

    When the convention kicked off with NCTA President and CEO Michael Powell, Comcast Chairman Brian Roberts and AOL Chairman Tim Armstrong in separate on-stage interviews, the talk was largely about technology and distribution. Armstrong even predicted a dramatic shake out looms, and may happen during just a single year, with Internet firms “without proper scale” and traditional companies “who don’t get the point” being demolished.

    “Content” in these environs is entertainment, data and sports. It’s why it was at least somewhat refreshing to see that one of the dozens of panels was actually titled, “Views on News: Journalism & Money in the Digital Media Marketplace.”

    The drift was that the longtime newspaper industry mantra of local, local, local is a potential winner, even if the economics remain ambiguous. For Winnecke, the winning way for Tribune’s “mission driven” papers to differentiate themselves is “watchdog investigative” reporting, or at least far more of that than “high level” non-local content which “probably won’t differentiate us and is probably not why our digital audience is growing.”

    DNAinfo, a digital news service that covers New York and Chicago, not only wants to tell readers about rats in the basement of a neighborhood bar but to chase after advertising from a corner hair salon, said Shamus Toomey, the managing editor of its Chicago operation.

    In addition, both he and Thomas Januszewski, who is the director of business development for the Associated Press, readily conceded that the unavoidable thrust to pay attention to the crowd sourcing of news confronts a very old-fashioned necessity: fact checking.

    “We have to build ways to vet that and verify it,” said Toomey.

    Indeed, the democratization of media is so rampant that the A.P executive said that even the instant images from the Nepal earthquake — or supposedly from the earthquake — place tensions on the organization’s infrastructure.

    When there is any earthquake, Januszewski said, “We get all these earthquake photos that are fake. So we’re in the business of verifying fake earthquake photos.”

    Really? People are trying to fool his organization with fake images of true tragedies?

    “There is phony everything,” he said.

    Further, “there is the issue of news as entertainment and people sometimes don’t care if it’s fake.”

    So one may have a quality brand that you crave to protect, and that tries to do more vetting, he said. “But we don’t have an army.”

    Ultimately, it was left to Toomey to make a succinct case for hope in a journalism future.

    “Ten years ago I would have to either lie to a journalism class or tell them to become an investment banker,” he said. Now, he thinks the market for information is a good one.

    Perhaps. But one can exit the cable convention and run right into an adjacent, unrelated Microsoft convention. It’s drawn a head-turning 23,0000 information technology professionals, including programmers.

    The anxiety that confronts the very few who mull the days ahead for quality journalism at the cable fest is seemingly not in evidence throughout the packed halls of that assemblage.

    Read more
  • Inside the tumult at Al Jazeera America

    Good morning. Here are nine media stories.

    1. ‘I didn’t like the culture of fear’

      The New York Times examined the turmoil that has roiled Al Jazeera America in recent days, including the departure of executive Marcy McGinnis. "Ms. McGinnis, who most recently served as Al Jazeera America’s senior vice president for outreach, said that the newsroom was in total 'disarray behind the scenes,' a view echoed by almost a dozen current and former employees interviewed." (The New York Times) | A former employee has filed a lawsuit against the network. (Politico) | Al Jazeera America has denied accusations of gender bias, calling them "false and malicious." (PR Newswire)

    2. Gubernatorial candidate threatens to sue newspaper

      Kentucky gubernatorial candidate James Comer is denying allegations of domestic abuse, made by his ex-girlfriend, that were published by The (Louisville, Kentucky) Courier-Journal. "At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Comer, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, called the accusations 'bizarre and untrue' and said he was considering filing a lawsuit against people 'shopping the story,' and the newspaper. 'That the Courier-Journal is publishing this garbage is a reflection on them, not me. They should be ashamed of this Rolling Stone-style journalism,' Comer said." (WKU) | Comer's lawyer "promised a 'devastating lawsuit' against the newspaper if it published the story." (The Courier-Journal) | The Courier-Journal's executive editor: "We stand by our reporting." (Politico)

    3. 'Being shocked is part of democratic debate'

      Representatives from French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo accepted PEN American Center’s "freedom of expression courage" award Tuesday night to "a thundering standing ovation." The newspaper's reception of the award had become mired in controversy in recent days after more than 200 of the society's members signed a letter of protest. In his acceptance speech, the magazine's chief editor, Gérard Biard, defended satire. "'Being shocked is part of democratic debate,' said Mr. Biard, who accepted the award with the magazine’s film critic, Jean-Baptiste Thoret. 'Being shot is not.'" (The New York Times) | "The top editor at Charlie Hebdo, the satirical Paris newspaper that was attacked four months ago by militant gunmen over its cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, sought on Tuesday to reject attempts by right-wing activists to exploit that attack for their own agendas." (The New York Times)

    4. Cameraman attacked

      Jay Jennings, a photographer at WRAL in Raleigh, North Carolina, was hit on the head while filming a documentary about

    Read more
Wall of Distinction
The Wall of Distinction is where outstanding journalists in Central New York are permanently enshrined.The Syracuse Press Club's Wall of Distinction is located in the theater lobby of the John H. Mulroy Civic Center in downtown Syracuse.
      First proposed by SPC President Jeff Paston, the Wall of Distinction became reality during President Chris Weidman?s administration. In between, President Tracy Carmen appointed Joe Porcello, Bob Greabell, Marilyn Dietz Nicholson, and Paston to a committee to get the project going.
     With help from Onondaga County Executive Nick Pirro, the Wall was placed in the Civic Center building. The first group of inductees was installed on Dec. 4, 2000, formally kicking off the Syracuse Press Club's 50th anniversary observance. In addition to plaques honoring inductees, there is a large plaque commemorating the SPC's 50th anniversary listing the names of the Club's presidents from 1951 to 2001.
     Below are copies of the engraving on the plaques for each inductee. Click on onefor that honoree's bio.  Note we are still in the process of getting this feature up and running on  the new web site.


"News is the first rough draft of history."
--Philip L. Graham (1915–1963), U.S. newspaper publisher

Wall of Distinction

Liz Ayers



During her 18 years at WTVH, Liz Ayers has helped the station win two Emmys. And during that time, she too has won a number of professional and personal awards.

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