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Press facts: The evolution of printed books, newspapers and magazines

BTW the Saquache (Colo.) Cresent, founded in 1874, is still printed with lead type, on press built in 1915.

Newspapers play a vital role in local government openness, accountability

I nearly fell off my chair with laughter after viewing the video of Lafayette City Council’s July 19 work session, where discussions of charter amendment 2C centered on the initiative’s money-saving aspects.

If passed by voters this November, city administrator-initiated charter amendment 2C will save the city an estimated $6,000 a year — out of the annual budget of $45 million – and put the availability of complete ordinances exclusively under the control of local government.

With the codified exception of availability at the city clerk’s office — which is closed on weekends and after 5 p.m. — city council alone will determine when, where, and how the complete language of changes to city code will be displayed.

The intent of publishing full ordinances in a newspaper is to allow for permanence, impartiality and availability. Decades worth of studies have shown that 81 percent of adults read a community newspaper every week, a number that has held steady compared to dailies. And almost all of those same readers read the legal advertisements. This compared to 2009 census figures which indicate less than 20 percent of adults visit a city website.

The money-saving argument is absurd in a community that can afford a million dollars in giveaways to the county housing project, a $900,000 skateboard park (where boarders utilize the picnic tables in the adjacent picnic shelter more than they do the park itself), taxpayer-funded loans to wealthy restaurateurs and a general giddiness in issuing bonds for any out-of-town developer promising a two-story structure.

During the late Pat Tisdale’s tenure as Lafayette city attorney in the 1990s, the city attempted a similar obfuscation tactic by labeling all ordinances “resolutions.” As they are today, ordinances were required to be published in full in the newspaper, whereas resolutions weren’t. The city saved money, but the citizens lost.

Paltry savings aside, the true intent of charter measure 2C is to limit the dissemination of information on legislative changes, something the Colorado Municipal League – where the Lafayette city administrator got the idea for the charter amendment – has advocated
for years.

Because, from CML’s perspective, an uninformed electorate is a legislator’s dream scenario. Less knowledge equals less resistance, and less resistance is an optimal environment for “efficiency,” one in which city managers can conduct business unencumbered by a pesky electorate.

The irony of the debate on measure 2C will be in Lafayette city councilors’ response to this letter. Should any choose to, the likely response will be in this very newspaper forum, not on a website, rec center bulletin board posting or a handbill attached to a lamppost. The local newspaper is either relevant to openness and public discourse or it’s not. Council can’t have it both ways and their (or their minions’) response here will prove it.

Keep the light shining on local government. Tell the county’s second highest-paid city administrator that ordinances need to be published in full, and in a wide variety of available mediums – not just city-controlled ones. Vote no on Lafayette measure 2C.

Doug Conarroe
513 E. Elm Street

(This letter to the editor appeared in the Sept. 28, 2011 issue of Colorado Hometown News.)

AOL Patch widget: That’s so 2002

Ken Doctor’s April 10, 2011 Newsonomics posting “Nine Questions on Gannett branding, Patch widgeting, Stewart Becking, Bloomberg viewing and Sunday selling” touts the newness of the Patch Widget introduced by the hyperlocal AOL Patch earlier this year.

“(Patch widget) – That could be a great stealth strategy for AOL’s local play; it’s free marketing and distribution, if other local sites — think arts, sports, campus and local business sites — want to add some currency to their offering.”

Stealth strategy? Really?

Not only is the Patch widget not very useful — because a simple headline doesn’t give a reader any context for the content being pushed — but it’s not very innovative either. It’s a circa-2002 idea that has since died a timely death.

From 2002-2007, newspapers all over the country, including The Denver Post (my previous place of employment) and Boston Globe hawked widgets, headline apps and headlines services of all types. From Google and Yahoo apps and widgets, the headlines embedded in WidgetBox, to third-party widget services such as NewsGator.

The concept, like the one Patch is hawking, was to give webmasters in the community embeddable lists of local headlines — news, sports, entertainment, calendar events, you name it.

Usage of newspaper widgets all but died by 2007, and the answer for widget demise was simple: As a webmaster, why open my website up to content that 1) is easy for me to control and create myself by using an RSS script or app and 2) risks slowing or disabling my website? (Even if the widget doesn’t affect page load, why would I want a blank spot on the page?)

Newspaper headline widgets are now pretty much non-existent not because newspapers are behind the curve, but because newspapers have already experienced the headline widget product cycle and the widgets have outlived their usefulness. There are simply too many alternate and less risky options available to webmasters for aggregating local content.

Paywalls: Share of market in Tallahassee, Dallas, Tulsa

Three notable daily newspapers – Tulsa World, Tallahassee Democrat and Dallas Morning News – have instituted metered paywalls that require monthly subscriptions. Each model varies, but the basic model follows a threshold of free content — 10 to 20 stories viewed for free per month, then a request for payment of $5 – $20 per month. (Never mind that this model is easy to get around — resetting browser cache restarts the meter.)

Two newspapers, Dallas and Tulsa, lead their markets (as of April, 2011) but risk losing market share to competing products. The risk of ceding market share, which has already happened in Tallahassee where WCTV has taken the lead, is that the newspaper may never get it back. Dropping to number two in the market = losing associated advertising revenue.

We’ll track those markets using widgets, with the caveat that aggregate totals may not be correct (i.e. visits may be higher than estimates shown here), but that trends are accurate .

Stay tuned.




Copy editing from afar

The Bremerton, WA daily Kitsap Sun — part of the E.W. Scripps Company — sheds copy and design desks; functions now centralized 2,496 miles away in Corpus Christi, Texas. Read “A New Look for the Sun As We Start the New Year.”

Anonymous comments kept things from going from bad to worse

A few weeks ago the families of four slain Lakewood, WA police officers announced that they were filing a claim against Pierce County for $182 million. The first step toward filing a lawsuit, the claim said that the county could have done more to prevent Maurice Clemmons from killing the officers as they sat in a Parkland coffee shop in November, 2009.

The (Tacoma) News Tribune reporter Adam Lynn broke the claim story the morning of April 8th, 2010 and in the minutes following his posting on the Lights and Sirens blog, reader comments began to pour in.

The hours and days following the announcement of the claim, comments on jumped to three times the daily average. Article and blog post commenters were angry, to put it mildly.

The common commenting theme went something like this: We as a community were terribly saddened by the tragic loss of the four officers, but we’re kinda peeved that the families are asking for more money, especially after the community’s generous outpouring.

User nwindependent ‘s comment reflected the majority opinion of the comment thread:

“For these families to lawyer up and sue the county is really suing the very people that lined the procession routes, attended the funerals, bought the t-shirts etc. and how is lining the lawyers pockets with settlement money serve anyone here? I would have hoped that the families would have gone the route of trying to organize and change the laws on the books before suing the county and the very taxpaying citizens that support them.”

The News Tribune’s online (and unscientific) Hot Button poll garnered 3,600 votes — 83 percent of poll voters did not think the families were justified in filing a claim, while just 17 percent favored filing a claim.

A follow-up story the day after the families’ announcement spelled out the long list of monetary entitlements the families are eligible to receive, including Federal and state death benefits, pension benefits, tuition waivers, worker compensation benefits and a trust fund brimming with $2.2 million in donations from the community.

Of the almost 600 anonymous comments spread over three days of coverage, the number of insensitive, mean or downright profane comments — attributes that opponents of anonymous commenting often trumpet as the reason to not allow them — could be counted on one hand (and were removed after our commenting community flagged them).

A few comments even offered advice on how the families could have better handled their collective grievance:

“My point was that if the families of the Lakewood officers had been proactive at the time the lawsuit was filed, holding a press conference in which they could express regret that they had to take it to the level of a lawsuit, they could have deflected a large part of the anger that is being expressed against them now. Just my opinion – I could be wrong. It would have made ME less mad, anyway.” User drummerswidow

But the sheer number of comments could not be ignored. About 48 hours after the initial story, and reeling from the negative public outpouring on Seattle talk radio and in’s comment areas, three of the four families dropped their intent to file a claim. One family’s $48 million claim still stands.

(BTW, talk radio’s anonymous commenting format started a decade before the invention of the World Wide Web, and today accounts for a weekly audience approaching 100 million people according to the Pew Center for Excellence in Journalism.)

Over 140,000 people are registered at, a prerequisite for receiving our e-mail newsletters and for commenting. Of those, about 2,000 users comment during an average month, and about 200 of those do so religiously.

The large number of everyday readers that weighed in on the claim story showed the true potential of community forums — that the newsmakers do read them, and sometimes make sensible decisions after they do.

To read complete coverage of the Lakewood,WA shootings, go to

Using video to tell a story

Online video comes in several varities: High-production television-like voiceover projects, first person story telling videos, and utilitarian (uncut) segments.

This Burning Man feature captures first-person narratives of the annual event, and Crisis in Darfur shows a packaged presentation from backpack journalist Travis Fox.


Podcasting involves capturing & editing audio and then formatting it for automated online delivery, usually via iTunes. Podcasts are built using an RSS feed, and iTunes uses the RSS code to grab the most recent podcast and downloads it to an iPod. Actually, the RSS just points to an audio mp3 file, which can reside on any server.

In its simplest form, the RSS for a podcasts looks like this:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”windows-1252″?>
<rss version=”2.0″>
<title>DenverPostLyricsUndercover podcast</title>
<description>Archived Lyrics Undercover Podcasts from</description>
<lastBuildDate>Fri 17 Nov 2006 15:03:04 -0700</lastBuildDate>
<pubDate>Fri 17 Nov 2006 15:02:52 -0700</pubDate>
<generator>FeedForAll v1.0 (</generator>

<title>Lyrics Undercover July 31 – </title>
<description>Coverville host Brian Ibbott looks behind the lyrics of “Ode to Billie Joe” by Bobbie Gentry.</description>
<enclosure url=”″ length=”3644″ type=”mp3″></enclosure>
<pubDate>Mon 31 Jul 2006 14:00:50 -0700</pubDate>


The Wimpy Button maker is a good way to embed an audio piece on a web page. This button (and audio) is from Talk Back to Al, a Denver Post blog.

Tom Costello bio

Producing audio for online

Writing online news in a converged environment (radio-TV-print-online) requires general knowledge of broadcast vernacular and writing styles. In general, broadcast news limits news reports to less than three minutes. Reporters seldom talk more than 40 seconds, regardless of whether it’s a live shot or in-studio shot.

Online and broadcast share what I would describe as a distracted audience. Television viewers can easily click the remote, just as online readers have a million other options on their (online) information horizon.

Writing for online should follow three rules, according to SFSU professor Leonard Sellers:

  • Stories should be one computer screen long. No scrolling, written in chunks.
  • Depth is added by links to graphics, sidebars and multimedia. Links should not be contained in the text.
  • Logical navigation allows the elements to work together.

Taking print or online stories to broadcast (or audio podcasting) requires a strong visual or video element, but there are several tips to help in composing a script.

  • Rely on short, conversational sentences.
  • Begin with summary lede.
  • Active verbs!
  • Pronounciation of proper nouns is important.

Greg Dobbs, longtime network journalist who lives in Denver, says the best way to sound stupid is to pronounce a word the audience knows is wrong.

In building a news script (or a podcast script), Dobbs recommends spelling formal names phonetically, with the syllable meant to be accented in ALL CAPS. In a script, Kabul, Afghanistan would be kah-BOOL. Rockies slugger Clint Barmes would be BAR-mess, not Barmz.

Audio dictionaries are a big help, as are pronounciation guides. When in doubt, make a phone call and find out how the name is pronounced.

Audacity works best for editing audio. It’s free, and is easy to use. Instructions can be found here.

Both audio and video can be embedded using object embed codes. (Remember the object embed code you used, or at least saw, for embedding Flash slide shows?) For audio, a good product for embedding is Wimpy Button.

A good example of the Wimpy mp3 Player can be found at the Denver Post theater section. You can also simply link to audio and video files (uploaded to a server) using an anchor tag, and the browser will handle the rest.

Today’s secret numbers: 48000Hz 16bit and avoiding the “chipmunk effect.”

Maps and more

Online maps are sometimes used with stories to illustrate the location of the news event. The Rocky Mountain News uses map snippets with locator pinpoints, and the Denver Post uses an online map to locate homes lit with holiday lights and a Yahoo AJAX map in combination with Yahoo Pipes to pinpoint recent earthquakes.

Both Yahoo and Google provide mapping APIs which allow any web site or blog to embed an interactive map.

Although it’s not easy, simple maps can be embedded on blogs using the Google maps API. Follow these steps to add a one-pinpoint map (similar to the Rocky’s map).

1) Go to the Google API area and sign up for an API key, which is an assigned number that allows you to use the service. Enter the URL of your blog. (i.e. Copy the API code to a convenient place — you’ll use it in a second.

2) Second, you’ll need to geolocate the map’s center and our pinpointed location using an address geocoder. Get the latitude and longitude of The Armory Building at CU, located at 1511 University Avenue in Boulder. (Lat/Long are 40.010387, -105.273995). You can geolocate & pinpoint any other address if you’d like.

3) Next, copy your API into the code below labeled “your API key goes here.” (In other words, replace the “your API code goes here” with your API key. Items to replace/alter are in bold.) Be sure to eliminate extra spaces and make sure the equals sign (=) is on the left and the double quotes mark (“) is on the right of the API.

Also replace the Lat/Long numbers with the Lat/Long numbers for The Armory Building.

Paste the code with your own API key, and the new Lat/Long settings, into the <head> section of your blog template. (Found via the templates tab and edit HTML.)

Here’s the coding script (copy everything including the start script and end script tags):

<script src=" API key goes here"
<script type="text/javascript">

function initialize() {
if (GBrowserIsCompatible()) {
var map = new GMap2(document.getElementById("map_canvas"));
map.addControl(new GLargeMapControl());
map.addControl(new GMapTypeControl());
map.setCenter(new GLatLng(39.99,-104.80), 12);

var point = new GLatLng(39.98,-104.80);
map.addOverlay(new GMarker(point));

4) Also in the head area of your template, just after the (end) </head> tag, replace the <body> tag with:

<body onload="initialize()" onunload="GUnload()">

Save your template, then navigate to your blog posting area.

5) Place this code in a post where you want the map to appear. The map size can be adjusted by altering the width: and height: tags.

<div id="map_canvas" style="width: 600px; height: 600px"></div>

6) That’s it — your map should now center on The Armory Building, with a pinpoint marker in the center.