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Joe Murphy

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Further proof newspapers are relevant:

An editor had a voicemail left on his phone this morning… this is how he explained it to a colleague:

“I got an awesome message — a woman at a hotel room in Arvada, her alarm clock broke and she called because she wanted to know if it was Thursday or Friday. She left a voicemail, and included her phone number.”

Posted in On The Job, Snippets. Tagged with .

Doteasy is a domain registrar that is not worth your trust

Doteasy is a domain registrar that is not worth your trust. How do I know? Because I host Flight Club with them, and when I went through their password retrieval process this evening, they sent me my password in an email.

Emailing passwords is a bad idea for (at least) two reasons:

  1. It means it’s likely the system storing the passwords does not encrypt the passwords, and encrypting passwords that you store is something they teach you in Web App Development 101.
  2. That email I got with my username and password went through the internet’s tubes, and at any point along those tubes it could be sniffed, captured and used for malicious purposes.

Here’s the email Doteasy sent me:

As requested at Jul 05, 2010 21:28:11,
the login info for your Doteasy Hosting account is shown as follows.

Domain…..: flight-club.org
Member ID..: flightclub
Password…: [my actual password]

Thank you.

Doteasy Support
‘Join the hosting revolution!’

Posted in Web Development. Tagged with , , , .

One great mind-bender of an example of why copyediting is important:

One great mind-bender of an example of why copyediting is important

Posted in Features, Snippets.

Oh god, you want to structure *what*? (the challenges of structured data in prep sports systems)

This email came in to our preps sports team, clearing up a few issues with a prep baseball standings:

FYI – The 4/20 baseball game bewtween ECA & CSCS was tied 8-8 when it was suspended by rain and never completed. The regular season ECA @ Calhan doubleheader originally scheduled for 4/24 was moved to 5/3. Calhan won the first game 11-0 and ECA won the second game 9-4. The 5/4 game between ECA & TCA was converted to a JV game. ECA did beat Kiowa 17-0 at 12:30 and Calhan 7-3 at 3:00 on 5/8. However, the only other 2A District 3 playoff game that day was Calhan over Cripple Creek-Victor 10-0 at 10:00. There was no ECA vs. Calhan game prior to 3:00 on 5/8.

Posted in Snippets. Tagged with , .

The April Fool’s joke we thought it better not to run on The Denver Post’s site

Realizing that April Fool’s jokes are often funnier to the joker than the jokee, we decided not to go through with this one.

Your Two Cents

The Denver Post’s article commenting functionality has undergone many changes since it debuted in 2007. We have had more than one million comments posted. Our moderators have deleted more than 25,000 comments. Hundreds of liberals and conservatives have protested our deletions, claiming that we only delete conservative/liberal comments.

While the traffic our comments section generates has been sort of okay — about 3.5% of overall site traffic — ads are not enough to support the costs. You’ve heard about newspapers’ difficulty figuring out an online ad revenue model. Well, this week, we figured it out. We call this the “Your Two Cents” plan.

Your Two Cents
Part of the challenge with our article comments is that commenters write too much. Another challenge is many people don’t use their real name, and those people tend to be the ones who also go on profanity-laden hate-parades. The other part fo the challenge is we, The Denver Post, aren’t making enough money with our article comments. Your Two Cents addresses all of these challenges.

Starting next week, April 5, The Denver Post will start charging commenters for each word in each comment they write. Two cents a word. This means:

  1. Commenters will have a financial incentive to be concise
  2. Commenters must provide real first and last names in order to pay for their commenting
  3. The Denver Post will increase online profits, allowing us to invest in comment moderation and other online endeavors

If you have any thoughts, suggestions or praise for this plan, please share it in the comments below.

Posted in Storytelling. Tagged with , .

Scam Classified Ad

This is a classified ad scam from the National Sales Group that ran in the Denver Post today:

Scam Classified Ad

Posted in Practice. Tagged with , .

A few things I’d like to see local news sites publish

Here are a few things I’d like to see local news sites publish. I’d like to see them not just because they’re interesting, and not just because no news sites are publishing them now, but because publishing this information would:

  1. Provide context about the exact place that I live. Context makes information actionable.
  2. Make accessible and linkable historical information about the place that I live. News sites are a community resource — time to start acting like one.
  3. Give news sites exponentially more entry points to the information they’re already publishing. More entry points makes information more findable.
  4. Make local political news and information more accessible. This makes politics more approachable and actionable to those not already disposed to follow it.

1. An index of all the facts included in the articles they publish

This means a list of facts, as well as a means to link directly to the part in the article that fact exists.

Example: McDonald’s buys more than 3 billion pounds of potatoes annually across the globe. This nugget of information is more interesting than the article’s headline, McDonald’s seeks better ‘tater for its French fries, yet it was left embedded in the article body for only the most curious to find.

Indexing facts does more than provide new and engaging entry points to existing content. Facilitating easy citations with facts and links to facts can improve the quality of conversations on news-site article comments, and it can also encourage wikipedia users to cite the news site with the tools that make it easy to cite.

2. News archives. Not just from the last month — from the last year, ten years, fifty years, century.

Every local news-dot-com publishing with a newspaper is sitting on a goldmine of archived content. The New York Times hired reCaptcha to help digitize their archives — sure, the NYT’s web strategy doesn’t always align with that of local news-dot-coms, but in this case, they’re onto something.

3. Indexes of news and information by zip code

Denver’s a decently big city. We’ve got 72 neighborhoods and xx zip codes. If there were a place I could go to get all the news, calendar events, and classified listings in my zip code, I would. Not only that, I would tell my neighbors about it. Indexing by zip codes gives a hook for loyal readers to introduce your site to the people that live around them that may not care for your publication, and it gives the non-loyal readers, the non-news junkies a compelling reason to visit.

4. Indexes of information on local politicians, organized by politician.

I don’t care about your catch-all “local politics” category. I care about about the politicians that represent me, and I want an easy way to find out everything they’re doing. That means not just local politicians either — that means the people repping me in the statehouse, my U.S. House representative and my U.S. senator.

Looking at “local” as a catch-all bucket rather than a collection of specific and distinct pieces is a superficial approach to publishing.

The New York Times’ Represent application approaches local politics in a mature and fully fleshed manner.

Here are some examples of catch-all local politics buckets:

5. Indexes of major crimes, by date, with crime stats aggregated by month, year and every type of location that’s available (county, zip code, neighborhood, street, block etc.).

Yes, this is the type of information you see Everyblock and Adrian Holovaty pushing online. I’m not saying publish data-driven presentations of all crimes — I’m saying start with the big ones, see how that works, and go from there. Publishing per-capita rates for violent crimes opens a window on urban vs. suburban living, on what’s happening in the places we call home and work, and how these incidents trend over time.

I’m going to repeat that: How these incidents trend over time. Crime drives a large part of the news truck, but so often it’s crime without context. Now that local news is online, it has the opportunity to give context to the information it publishes. What would this context do? Turn crime news from the hand-wringing / rubberneck activity and make the crime information actionable. If arson has increased 200% in my zipcode (80204) in the last year, that’s worth asking my police department and local government about.

Posted in Ideas, Internet, Journalism, Local, Observations, Online, Participants, Step Away From The Article, Storytelling, Themes. Tagged with , , , , .

Question: Newspapers and the monopoly mentality

Update: Sorry about the spam posted with this entry on the RSS feed.

Someone wrote this on an article about Sam Zell and newspapers: “The biggest single thing holding [newspapers] back right now is the monopoly mentality that pervades sales, marketing and editorial at most big papers.”

Do you agree?

Posted in Features, Questions, Snippets.

Toward meaningful metrics for local online news sites

Pageviews are easy. Visits are easy too. Bounce rates, return visits, time on site, return frequency, all pretty easy. Taken in the big picture they’re okay measurements, though what’s easy to measure isn’t usually what’s useful to measure.

More meaningful metrics would translate visitor interest, disinterest and loyalty into numbers that can be viewed as a whole and within the context of particular site content types, classifications or products (home page, article page, sections, photos, photo galleries, data ghettoes, etc.).

Even more meaningful metrics would measure all of the above among visitors from the particular local news site’s circulation area. In the case of my employer, that’s specifically Denver, and generally Colorado. Forty percent of our site visitors come from Colorado, and that number’s rising, which is good. But those numbers don’t tell what the churn rate is, or what percentage of our Colorado visitors are repeat-daily visitors, or how the repeat-daily number has changed over time.

This is an incomplete list of meaningful metrics for a local online news site, written in the context of a Denver Colorado online news site:

  • What non-branded search terms are Coloradans using to find our site content? Once they come, who stays for a second click, and what search terms result in the most second-clicks? What search terms result in the fewest second-clicks?
  • What’s the return frequency of Coloradans? Among Denver residents? Among Aurora residents? How has that number changed over time?
  • Which sections (news / sports / business / entertainment) have the highest percentage of visits from Coloradans? Are any sections declining in that number? Is that decline a seasonal issue or is it longer lasting?
  • What’s the bounce rate among visitors who enter at articles? Does that change based on the section the article’s in? Does that change based on whether it’s a Colorado visitor? How has that rate changed over time?
  • What’s your homepage bounce rate among visitors who arrived at your homepage for the first time today? What’s the rate among visitors who have already visited your homepage today? How does that number change over time?
  • This is something that is more difficult to measure: How many readers make it to the end of an article? Some javascript that hooks into the y-position of the last paragraph and measures that against the scroll of the window would be necessary to get into this metric, and even then it wouldn’t be wholly accurate (the bigger the browser window, the shorter the article, the less accuracy)

Note: All of these metrics, and any metrics at all, become much more useful when keeping a site log of incidents (breaking news, special projects) and site changes.

Got any more metrics to add? Share ‘em below.

Posted in News Orgs, Practice. Tagged with , , , , .

An example of Google’s search algorithm at work (and a story about copyright)

Here’s a story about Google’s search engine ranking algorithm, Canadian health care, wholesale cut-and-pasting.
But wait, it gets better.

Two weeks ago I was talking with Dan Petty (our online intern at the Denver Post) about a Drudge Report link to our site from the week before. That link, and the words used in that link, had made this denverpost.com article a top-3 result on Google if you were to search for people shouting.

Another article on our site, Debunking Canadian health care myths, has been getting steady traffic, fed by links posted every so often on trafficked site, since June 7. I was curious how it placed in searches for Canadian health care. It wasn’t a first-page result. However, a CommonDreams.org page that had cut and paste (i.e. stolen) the Denver Post article in its entirety was the #7 result. Good for them? Not so much, though the Post is not the only ones who get ripped off by Common Dreams.

Anyway. I contacted Common Dreams about this, and they were nice enough to trim their copy of our article down to five paragraphs. And what happened next is what I find the most interesting bit of this: Within two days of Common Dreams trimming down their article, the Denver Post’s version of Debunking Canadian health care myths was the #7 result in Google in searches for Canadian health care. It’s not anymore, but it was.

What this means:

  • Google’s algorithm tries to figure out the original source of an article, and just because a cut-and-paste article links to the original doesn’t put it out of the competition. If you have the full article, and you have more links to your version of the article and a higher page rank, Google will likely think that you’re the source. Despite a Common Dreams link to the Denver Post’s article with this text “Published on Sunday, June 7, 2009 by The Denver Post,” Google still decided to post the Common Dreams article in the first-page results.
  • Wholesale cut-and-pasting of your content is probably worth addressing. Well, sort of. If you’re a local newspaper, those eyeballs from outside your circulation area aren’t so valuable to your advertisers. They will also skew your numbers (see Gerry McGovern’s Volume is the wrong way to measure web success. However, taking search engine ownership of phrases central to your coverage is a goal often overlooked by local news orgs, and addressing copy-and-paste-cats is a prong of a healthy search engine strategy.

If you have any real-life examples of Google’s search algorithm at work, do share.

Posted in Storytelling. Tagged with , , , , .