Is Koto-zukuri the future of news?

John Cameron Swayze on the Camel News Caravan. Photo from Wikipedia.

John Cameron Swayze on the Camel News Caravan. Photo from Wikipedia.

In the newspaper business, newsroom types would often fret about something called “advertorial” — ads that were designed to look like news content. The company always made sure they were prominently labelled as advertising content (the labels were never big enough to satisfy news types) and that the text was in a font that the newsroom didn’t use (as if readers really realized the difference.)

Ah, for such simple days. Now, we have this: Koto-zukuri. That’s a Japanese phrase that describes how corporations tell their stories. And in the process,we’ve wound up with this: Nissan recently signed a contract with the Reuters news agency to use some of its content on the car maker’s site. So does that make Nissan a news site now?

In some ways, we’re coming full circle — back to the days of the Camel News Caravan on NBC. Except nowadays, why would Camel even need NBC; it could go start its own news operation if wanted?

It’s easy for journalists to bemoan this sort of thing, but as a consumer, I find myself enjoying the options and taking advantage of them. We see lots of sports leagues starting their own networks and, essentially, their own news operations. I get most of my baseball news from the Major League Baseball website, which posts its own stories (for which there’s always a disclaimer that the league didn’t sign off on the content.) Granted, most of those are straightforward game accounts, not more complex reporting and investigation. But in many ways, it’s better coverage than I can find elsewhere. Instead of one game account from each game, there are always two — one focusing on each team. Try finding that elsewhere.

I suspect we’re likely to see more non-news sites incorporating news, thereby evolving a whole new species of quasi-news sites.

What are some other examples here?

Why Patch failed in so many places

Soviet partisans operating under Sydir Kovpak in Nazi-occupied Ukraine.  Wikipedia.

Soviet partisans operating under Sydir Kovpak in Nazi-occupied Ukraine.  My experience in community journalism has borne out a military truism: An indigenous force almost always trumps an outside invader. (Photo from Wikipedia)

So why did so many of the AOL hyperlocal sites fail? Of all the reasons being expounded, here are two I’ll add to the list based on our experiences here in Roanoke.

* Not all communities are communities. Some are simply places. For a hyperlocal site to work, it needs to be built around a jurisdiction that already has a strong sense of community. When we were figuring out what our community news zones would be in Roanoke, we had a checklist we used to try to measure sense of community. Does the place hold parades? Festivals? How big is high school football on Friday night?

Here’s a story I like to tell that illustrates the sense of community. In 2010, the Cave Spring High School and James River High School boys basketball both won state championships (in separate size classifications) on the same day. That evening, the Cave Spring team returned to Southwest Roanoke County to a modest reception at the school attended by friends and family.

Out in Botetourt County, though, the James River team returned to a full-bore parade through downtown Buchanan. A police car lead the procession. The team rode in on a firetruck, circled around downtown and then was deposited in front of the firehouse where a crowd of hundreds was gathered. Every politician who wanted to speak was given a chance, and believe me, they all did. Then all the players were expected to speak, as well! Finally, when all the speech-making was done, the team and crowd retired to a reception inside.

And this wasn’t just something done for a boys team; when the team’s volleyball team won the state championship a year later, the same drill was repeated. The point being — Botetourt County has a much stronger sense of community than Southwest Roanoke County — so it shouldn’t surprise us that our online traffic with The Botetourt View is significantly higher than with our SWoCo site in Southwest Roanoke County, even though Botetourt is less populous and rural and Southwest Roanoke County a populous, affluent suburb.

So I have to wonder if Patch simply picked some of the wrong places.

* Secondly, our experience has been that to do true hyperlocal journalism, or community journalism, you need an indigenous workforce. In war, a guerrilla army of natives always has an advantage over an invading conventional force. It’s the same way in journalism. Don’t hire some J-school grad from who-knows-where and send them into a community and expect them to be a community journalist; they’’ll get beat by the competition if that competition consists of true locals — even if those locals don’t have formal journalism credentials. Those locals know the place from the inside out; they will have street credibility you can’t buy. It’s better to find some people who are wired into the community and teach them the journalism skills they need than to take a fully-credentialed journalist and send them into a strange place and expect them to beat the locals. That’s not a message journalists and j-schools want to hear, but it’s the business reality.

Keynote speaker at Media Day at Bluefield College

Dwayne Yancey speaking at Media Day at Bluefield College. Photo courtesy of Bluefield College.

Dwayne Yancey speaking at Media Day at Bluefield College. Photo courtesy of Bluefield College.

I was the keynote speaker at Media Day at Bluefield College in Bluefield, Virginia on April 23, 2013. I told the students, faculty and media members that now is actually a great time to get into the news business, because all the old rules are changing, the new rules have yet to be written and those who join now will be able to help write them.

Here’s what Bluefield College sent out about the event:

Bluefield College paid tribute to the work of local journalists during its 14th Annual Media Appreciation Day, April 23, which featured remarks from Roanoke Timessenior editor Dwayne Yancey and the presentation of a $1,000 award for excellence in media.
Since 2000, Bluefield College has hosted the area’s media professionals on campus for a luncheon, keynote address and media-student roundtable, all part of Media Appreciation Day. The event, according to BC officials, is designed to “recognize area media representatives for their efforts in promoting Bluefield College and serving the community.”
“We want you to know how important you are not only to Bluefield College, but the community at-large,” BC public relations director Chris Shoemaker told the 30 journalists in attendance. “We’re grateful for the ways in which you share our story – our news, our activities, our accomplishments, and our hopes and dreams – but even more appreciate of the greater role you play in informing and educating the public at-large.”
As part of the recognition for the day, the college presented two Shott Excellence-in-Media Awards, made possible by the generosity of media entrepreneur Michael Shott and his North Point Foundation in an effort to help preserve the legacy of the Shott family who pioneered the presence of news media in the Bluefield area.
The Shott Excellence-in-Media Journalist Award, determined by votes from the local media and featuring a $1,000 cash prize for the journalist who demonstrates excellence in his or her vocation and who makes a significant contribution to the local community, went to longtime Bluefield Daily Telegraph senior editor Bill Archer, who outshined 20 other nominees from 10 different organizations.
“He is a journalist who cares deeply about the communities and the people of this region,” said Shoemaker, who helped James ‘Smokey’ Shott present the Excellence Awards. “No story is too big or too small. He will cover a small-town festival with the same zeal and enthusiasm as major, breaking news events.”
Archer, winner of a variety of awards for excellence in writing from the West Virginia Press Association, began his journalism career in 1986 with the local weekly newspaper The Twin State News Observer. He became executive editor of that publication before joining the staff of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph in 1992, where he has remained for the past two decades. A pillar in the community with more than 30 years of service and civic engagement, Archer is also a historian and author, having published nine pictorial histories of communities in theregion.
“He is perhaps the best-known journalist in this area,” Shoemaker read from the nominations for Archer, “thanks to his dedication to the idea that it is his job to inform, entertain and inspire his readers, all while being a vital part of the region he serves.”
The Shott Excellence-in-Media Student Award, featuring a $1,000 scholarship and designed to recognize a current BC communications student who demonstrates excellence in the classroom and in his or her extracurricular communications activities, went to senior Angi Highlander of Hampton, Virginia. Lauded by her professors who nominated her for the award for her leadership, work ethic, versatility, communication skills and service to others, Highlander was described as a “great writer,” “very good graphic designer” and “exceptional oral communicator.”
“She brings to every class she takes an unabridged commitment to excel,” Shoemaker read from the nominations for Highlander. “She projects a delight in learning and graciously shares this enthusiasm with everyone around her.”
Outside of the classroom, Highlander completed two public relations internships, captained the women’s volleyball team, served as a resident assistant, sang with two BC select student voice ensembles, taught abstinence to high school students, and functioned as a personal aid for a handicapped student at BC.
“She is genuinely devoted to serving others,” said Shoemaker, “and poised to use all of her skills to make important and lasting contributions in the world.”
BC’s Media Day program also included a keynote speech from Yancey, a 33-year veteran of the industry, who now serves as senior editor for new channels at the Roanoke Times. Involved with a variety of new ventures to deliver news across multiple platforms, Yancey spoke to his colleagues about a changing media industry, revolutionized by technology and social media.
“We are in an era where all the old rules are giving way, so my advice is to be prepared for the maximum amount of change,” Yancey told his fellow journalists. “Smartphones, web service and around-the-clock breaking news cycles have created audiences accustomed to getting live news any time and anywhere they want it. It’s one of those great transition periods in history where everything seems to change so quickly — be it the Industrial Revolution, the Renaissance, or the end of the dinosaurs. Exciting to look back on, but sometimes very confusing when you’re in the middle of it.”
Despite the industry’s rapid change, declining revenue and increasingly competitive environment, Yancey told BC’s aspiring journalists to be encouraged about their prospects for success.
“It’s a great time to get into the industry,” said Yancey, who also supervises five niche publications for the Roanoke Times, “because everything is changing. Rules are being rewritten, and you, unlike those in the industry today, will not be encumbered by the idea that ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it.’”
BC’s Media Appreciation Day also included a roundtable discussion between members of the media and BC communication students. During the roundtable, the students asked for advice about “getting (their) foot in the door” and “reporting controversial news,” among other topics. The journalists also discussed how best to prepare for a career in journalism, the advantages of diversifying your skills, the competitiveness of the industry, and audiences’ demand for sensational news, among other issues.

What is Yancey Media?

Dwayne Yancey

Dwayne Yancey

I have created this Yancey Media site to serve as a vehicle to share my insights and experiences from the front lines of the media revolution.

First, a little bit about me: I started out as a very conventional print journalist, first as a reporter and then as an editor for The Roanoke Times, the daily newspaper in Roanoke, Virginia. Along the way, I won my fair share of awards — I was UPI Young Journalist of the Year back in1984 when I was still young, I was part of a reporting team that was a finalist for the Pulitizer Prize for our coverage of the United Mine Workers strike against Pittson Coal in the late 1980s, a strike that foreshadowed the coming battles over health care., I authored the first book about Doug Wilder, the first African-American elected governor of any state, an election that preceded Barack Obama by nearly two decades.

My Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus conversion came in 2008, when I was placed in charge of new ventures. Specifically, I was directed to take a money-losing community news publication and turn it into a money-maker — which I’ve done. (Not that I’ve done it single-handedly, of course.) In the five years since, I’ve been immersed in the evolving economics of newspapers and digital media, and the opportunities and challenges of what some call “hyperlocal” content . I believe here in Roanoke we have evolved an entirely new species of community news product, one that has engaged an audience of women with children in the home that is traditionally beyond the reach of a daily newspaper. Our products may seem like traditional community news publications, and in many ways they are. But they are also on the cutting edge of the industry, I believe. Our community journalists were working out of coffee shops before that became the vogue. Our community publications are web-first, and use the web to reach out to engage readers and solicit content, with our print publications being a kind of “best of” online. However, instead of online killing print, we’ve found just the opposite has happened — our web-first approach makes our print publications even more popular. I believe this is a model that can be successfully exported to other markets.

I have also come to believe that journalists, instead of disdaining the business side of the operation, should embrace it. Profit should not be a dirty word in our lexicon. On the contrary; journalists should be the ones leading the charge to figure out new revenue opportunities; that is the only we will stay in business. Just as it is said that war is too important to be left in the hands of the generals, the media business is too important to be left in the hands of the bean-counters.

Those ideas, and more to come, are the ones I’m here to share and discuss. I’m not looking for theory, but practical ideas that can be put to use that can save journalism.