Recap from weekend meetup in Chicago

A recap from Chicago: We spent Saturday afternoon at Tribune tower for a regional meet-up with a great variety of speakers. Throughout the afternoon we posted some of the highlights.

Plenty of attendees were on Twitter, so look for more by searching #sndchicago.

And, the talented Mike Rohde has posted 27 pages of sketchnotes on flickr.

First up: Matt Mansfield, discussing the ongoing Revenue 2.0 experiment. A detailed explanation of the thought process and early conclusions is posted on the project’s site, plus there’s previous coverage from Update.

What are the first steps? Matt says, “Be smart. Be passionate.” Hard to argue with that. In addition to discussing mobile opportunities and homepage design strategies, he shared eight drivers of change to expect in the coming years:

  • Digital growth will continue to accelerate, with a permanent increase in fragmentation, choice and competition.
  • Most media companies will be portfolios: Traditional, separate and converged.
  • We must find and develop valued, differentiated content that engage the audience. Story forms are important as never before.
  • Context matters. Provide content when, where and how the audience wants it.
  • In this digital world, audience understanding must move to a new level. Old metrics don’t cut it.
  • Audience experiences count as much as content. People’s experiences that inhibit or engage them with the content matter as much as content itself.
  • Technology shapes everything and must be better understood — don’t miss opportunities because you’re unaware of technical potential.
  • Sustainable economic viability is vital.

Next: Jonathon Berlin, graphics editor at the Tribune, introduced his “monomedia” presentation about the print reinvention of the Chicago Tribune in the last year. Jonathon showed how the new tabloid edition has proven Tribune’s ability to reinterpret their strengths in new formats. The Mash is a high-energy approach for the high school audience. Hoy, a redesign launching Monday in Chicago and around the country. He wrapped discussing the Tribune’s renewed commitment to watchdog journalism — from the governor scandal to elevator safety — including an innovative open records help desk designed to help readers dig for documents.

Dan Honigman hosted a social media roundtable with a great group of local online personalities. There was a lot of discussion about building audience and maintaining relationships within the new social ecosystem. Some strategies:

  • Pay a lot of attention to SEO. @chitowndaily championed Google Grants, which provide free search advertising that has generates significant traffic.
  • Embrace other individuals and outlets — don’t underestimate the importance of simply spreading the word.
  • @bradflora said he envisioned local news as a river, and the Windy Citizen was building tributaries off that flow.
  • @whet said the Reader gets as much traffic from social networking as they do from links from Huffington Chicago and other local blogs.
  • @thelocaltourist said Twitter has connected her with more traditional outlets, such as the NBC Street Team.
  • Those not associated with existing publications said you need to be extremely aggressive about self-promotion.

Dan asked for feedback on the Twitter guidelines issued by the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, noting from his experience that “part of the social experience is transparency.”

  • @audarshia: “It’s a mistake. Readers want to connect with the people behind these stories.”
  • @chitowndaily: “Are you more worried about being sued, or are you more worried about becoming irrelevant. I worry about the latter.”
  • @whet: “You can build readership by showing how the sausage is made. The distance between professionals and amateurs is shrinking.”
  • @chitowndaily: “What you do on twitter should be consistent with your tone elsewhere. You don’t want people violating basic journalistic principles.”
  • @dan360man: “Being a member of the social space is part common sense and part common courtesy.”

Other interesting tidbits:

  • @chitowndaily: “The age of aggregation is coming to an end.”
  • @bradflora: “I’m in favor of seeing more URLs, covering little niches of Chicago. And I worry about digital sharecropping scenarios,” [where a single site becomes a platform for many voices]. “We need to keep the Web interesting.”
  • @chitowndaily: “It’s OK that people go to print for one experience and to the Web for another.”
  • @whet: “If you want to monetize, do it in the beginning. Change is what causes readers to push back.”
  • @chitowndaily: “Paid content is done. We should stick a fork in it and throw it out the window.”

Adrian Holovaty gave an overview of EveryBlock — which was a progression from that, coincidently, launched four years ago tomorrow — and recently launched a companion iPhone application.

  • “Take every axis from which you can explore information, and make that a Web page.” Whether it’s crimes at a barbershop, at 7 a.m. or of a particular city block.
  • “You can’t hire a reporter to stand on every block, it just doesn’t scale. But there’s a lot of news in the long tail.”
  • A new feature slated for EveryBlock will allow users to draw their own neighborhood boundaries.
  • “Is this journalism? I don’t care and I hope my competitors keep arguing about it while we actually do shit.”
  • “I think there a hundreds of startup ideas where you take existing data and just sort it by date.”
  • “Embrace hypertext: Anything that can be a link should be a link. Everything should have a permalink. Clean URLs are the sign of a quality Web application.”
  • “We’re perfectionists about geographic data. Some stories are about points, other lines or regions or multiple locations.” Being precise helps people at the fringes. For example, a new gas line will affect people across many blocks and just plotting the center point would be inaccurate.
  • “Why is it that what we produce as journalists is just a big blob of text? Computers have a hard time parsing facts from unstructured text.”
  • Government agencies sometimes get freaked out when EveryBlock asks for data feeds. These institutions are accustomed to reporters asking for snapshots of data, while EveryBlock is asking for an unfiltered and continuous feed.
  • Ask yourself: “Will my site work without maps? What is central is the information and the news.” And, if you’re going to use maps, “roll your own” because existing map services are full of way-finding garbage. For more on this, Adrian suggests reading []”Take control of your maps”](
  • The Knight grant is winding down, and they’re looking at investment and acquisition possibilities.
  • Plans for the future include more cities (“I’d love to cover the entire country or the entire world.”) and more data sets.

Jim Coudal wrapped up the day with a conversation about The Deck advertising network, which came about as they looked to market Field Notes and Jewelboxing and found it to be a pain in the ass.

  • “In advertising, there’s always three chairs around the table: one for the reader, the publisher and the advertiser. Often, the reader’s chair was in the other room.”
  • “We looked backwards to look forwards. We setup a network where there is one ad per page. Think back to the Hallmark Hall of Fame.”
  • “Screw algorithms. Someone once said, ‘Oh, you’re just signing up your bookmarks’ for the network. That’s exactly what we’re doing.”
  • “We turn down more ads than we take. We’ve been sold out for two years. We only take ads for products that we respect.”
  • “It’s very difficult for people to find new solutions to old problems if they’re constantly stuck in the closet with the old problems.”
  • “Audiences don’t hate ads, they hate mindless ads.”
  • “The dirty secret of online advertising is that we don’t limit inventory.”
  • “The most effective mode of communication is a conversation between two people — whether it’s a blog post, a radio spot or an advertisement.”

Bill Adee and Tracy Schmidt wrapped up the day with a preview of Chicago Now, which launches later this summer, designed by Jason Santa Maria. Tracy described it as “Huffington Post meets Facebook for Chicago.” It’s a vehicle for “local, local, local.”

About Tyson Evans

Tyson Evans served as SND’s President in 2018 and is a member of The Society’s executive committee. He is a senior editor for strategy and product at The New York Times.