Archive for the ‘The Evening News’ Category

Newest blogger coming from MonroeTalks.com

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

I love it when things happen organically.

Both in the garden and in the real world.

Doug Russeau is a gardener who knows a lot about organically growing things. He’s spent his life working in nursery and landscaping businesses.

Doug RousseauSo it shouldn’t be a surprise that when he starting sharing his gardening advice on MonroeTalks.com, other users began to take notice.

When “The Shepherd” talked, they listened. And eventually, someone suggested that Shep ought to have his own blog. It became a draft Shep movement.

Starting this weekend, Shep has his own blog on Blogsmonroe.com. I’m sure he’ll keep talking on MonroeTalks.com, too. But his blog, The Backyard Gardener, gives him his own spot to answer questions, offer advice and chat with other gardeners.

Shep, who is Doug Rouseau in real life, hopes to use a question and answer format for much of his blog. We’re setting it up with a prominent spot for folks to ask questions – through an e-mail link to Doug.

Bob and Judy DluzenOf course, The Backyard Gardener isn’t our first gardening blog. All Things Green, by Judy and Bob Dluzen, has been around since the early days of Blogsmonroe.com. Together, the two blogs will give local gardeners a great resource.

Comments function working on monroenews.com

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

We’ve always wanted comments from readers on our news stories.

That’s why we encourage letters to the editor. It’s why reporters’ e-mail addresses are included on most stories. And it’s why we started MonroeTalks.com, which serves as a public discussion site.

Example of a reader comment at the end of a storyBut since we launched the modern version of www.monroenews.com two years ago, we’ve struggled with the technology that allows readers to comment at the end of news stories.

Now that feature is working.

Readers can comment at the end of any story on monroenews.com. The launched the feature a couple days ago, and readers already have found it. There are a number of comments already.

This isn’t meant to replace MonroeTalks.com as a place to comment on the news. Both locations – at the end of a story and on MonroeTalks – provide readers with a forum for airing their opinions.

I can imagine, for example, making a specific comment on a news story, then moving over to MonroeTalks.com to start a topic discussing broader issues raised by the story.

This is all part of the Web 2.0 experience sweeping the Internet. People are willing to sit back and let someone else tell them the news any more. They want to provide their own two cents. And in the give and take, a more complete picture of the news can surface – if you’re willing to sort through the chaff to find the wheat.

 

Meeting Web talkers face to face

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

There are more than 2,000 registered users of MonroeTalks.com, and about 300 of them are regular talkers on the “Your Talk” forums. About 50 are very frequent talkers.

The leading poster, “cc,” is approaching 5,000 posts since the site was launched last June. (Seems like we should have a party and award a gold watch or something when the milestone is hit.) Four others have more than 4,000 posts, and six others more than 3,000.

In addition to the registered users, there are something approaching 10,000 unique visitors to the site each month. In other words, a few people post most of the content, but many people read it.

Any regular reader of the forum knows many of the regular talkers as if they’re next-door neighbors. Their character comes through in their posts, and many have very entertaining personalities.

There’s a natural curiousity about what they’re “really” like.

That’s one reason I enjoyed very much getting a chance to meet a half-dozen of them Friday morning over coffee at Cafe Classics. Another reason is that all were just as interesting in person as on-line.

In some ways, the MonroeTalks experience will never be the same – now that I know what they really look like, I’ll see a real face in my mind when I read their posts, instead of that imaginary image.

Several of the talkers who joined me for coffee Friday said the same thing. The experience changed dramatically for them when they met many of their fellow talkers at a MonroeTalks gathering.

We talked briefly at the coffee shop about why MonroeTalks.com is so successful. Someone – I don’t remember who it was – gave the most obvious answer. It’s because of the people.

Because the talkers are characters, real-life personalities with the full range of human traits, from wit and charm to anger and jealousy, the content of MonroeTalks is fascinating.

Some of it is thoughtful and articulate. Much is inane and just plain silly. But it’s all real. Except the part that is fake. And there is no way to tell the difference, just as in real life.

 

New terms of service on MonroeTalks.com

Monday, March 31st, 2008

We posted new “terms of service” this week for MonroeTalks.com, our social networking Web site.
They aren’t much different from the original terms, which have been used since the site debuted last June. The biggest difference is that they’re shorter and easier to read — more written for regular folks than for lawyers.
Our basic principle remains the same: This is the community’s Web site, and we want the users to moderate themselves.
Terms of service There are now more than 2,000 people registered to use MonroeTalks.com, and about 500 of them are regular talkers. In addition, thousands more visit the site every day to check out the conversation — totaling more than 1 million page views a month.
We’ve had exceptional good luck for the first nine months of MonroeTalks.com. Use of the site has grown dramatically and continues on a steady upward curve. And while there have been a few incidents, for the most part the users have been responsible in their posts on the site.
Before rewriting the terms of service, we asked users of MonroeTalks.com for their suggestions. There were many good comments and several were used in the final version.
Most of the discussion involved how aggressively we should moderate the forums.
As on all Internet talk forums, it’s easy for discussions to veer off the topic. One person changes the subject, or flirts a little, or gets personal in an attack on another user. Before you know it, there have been pages of comments that don’t resemble the original topic.
The problem is obvious. If you were drawn to a topic such as “Should Michigan have another primary,” or “What can I do to fight the gas prices,” you don’t want to have to dig through Sam and Suzie flirting online or Joe and Pete insulting each other to get to the next serious post.
On the other hand, that’s part of what an open discussion forum is all about. It’s a lot like the talk at dinner during the holidays, when there are lots of cousins and nieces and uncles gathered around the table. Good luck trying to keep the conversation on track.
We did decide to add a rule that says, “Try to keep your posts on topic as much as possible.” But you can’t make a rule against twists and turns in a conversation. Sometimes one thing makes you think of another, and then another, and the new direction may be better than the old one.
Others wanted us to get more specific in defining what is in good taste and what violates community standards of decency.
Sorry, but it’s not possible to provide a distinct definition. The Supreme Court can’t do it; what makes folks think we can. This is how the rule reads, and it’s the best we can do:
“Please be responsible. Self-moderate, remembering that this is a family Web site. Don’t post content you wouldn’t want your 13-year-old child or your mother to view. That includes profanity, nudity and lewdness.”
Some people wanted us to add a chat room, or a separate category for socializing. We considered it. But it seemed obvious that wouldn’t stop people from socializing while commenting on any topic. And that’s part of the value of an open community forum — everyone can join in the fun.
There seemed to be a clear majority who like MonroeTalks.com basically the way it is. We agree. That’s why the changes are more in readability than in substance.
My favorite line on the MonroeTalks.com conversation came from “the nosh.” His suggestion: “Dan, go back to your desk…” In other words, leave us alone to moderate ourselves.
Nosh, that’s my preference, too. I hope the new terms of service will help.

—–

Here are the rules for posting, taken from the terms of service:

  • Please be responsible. Self-moderate, remembering that this is a family Web site. Don’t post content you wouldn’t want your 13-year-old child or your mother to view. That includes profanity, nudity and lewdness.
  • Any content you post on MonroeTalks.com must be your original work, or you must have authorization from the copyright owner. Do not attempt to impersonate another individual.
  • Do not post content that defames or invades the privacy of an individual. Keep your disagreements civil. No harassing or intimidating others. Disagree with another person’s views – don’t attack the person.
  • Keep your ranting to a minimum. Take a deep breath, count to 10.
  • Try to keep your posts on topic as much as possible.
  • Content that promotes racism, bigotry, homophobia, hatred or physical harm to any group or individual will not be tolerated.

Wanted: Parents who want to help with Web site

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

We’re looking for a few good people – maybe one, maybe several – who would be interested in helping us develop a really good parenting Web site.

We have a print publication called Monroe Parent, with a companion Web site, www.Monroeparent.com. We’re working on improvements to the print publication and want to dramatically improve the Web site, too (if you go to it now, you’ll see that it’s mostly broken, awaiting its rebirth).

There are a lot of good “Mom” or “Parenting” Web sites developing around the country, and we’d like for ours to be right there with the best. One thing it needs is a “champion” or a group of “champions” who would give it the care and nurturing it needs. These folks would lead a blog or forum discussion, surf the net for useful links to good articles and Web sites, and work with our staff to pull the best content from our print publications.

The idea is to give parents a place to exchange ideas – maybe in a slightly more orderly way than on MonroeTalks – and find good information about parenting – with a local flavor.

The “discussion leader” would need to be knowledgeable enough to pose good questions and steer the conversation, but would not have to be an expert with a degree in child development. The work could be done at home at any hour.

We’re not talking about a full-time job – just a few hours a week. We haven’t decided yet what we’ll pay, if anything. It depends on how many people show interest and how much interest and how involved they get in the site, beyond just blogging/discussion leading.

Anyone who is interested should contact me at danshaw@monroenews.com or at 734-240-5749. If you’re not sure whether you’re interested, call or e-mail me and we can talk about it.

Power shifting from government, the press

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

I just returned from a visit to our nation’s capitol (okay, I never really went to the capitol, just to suburban Virginia) , where I attended a seminar on interactive community journalism.

That’s a fancy term for what we do with MonroeTalks.com, our social networking site that is designed to give area residents a place to gather in local cyberspace.

I was there to talk about MonroeTalks.com – why we did it and how we manage it. The answer to the first question is obvious – because we saw a need and decided we’d better fill it before someone else did.

People are aching to connect with others and to be part of a community. With our society changing so rapidly, there’s much less sense of community in the old-fashioned sense. People sit at their computer (or in front of their television) instead of sitting on the front porch with their neighbors.

MonroeTalks.com provides an on-line environment for hanging over the back fence with your neighbors – figuratively speaking.

It’s a very different function than what we’ve traditionally filled at the Monroe Publishing Co. But I suspect it’s only one of many we’ll fill in the future, as our media world changes.

I was struck by one comment by the seminar moderator, Mary Glick of the American Press Institute.

Some of the seminar members were questioning taking newsroom resources away from covering the “news of record” in their towns – like city or county agencies – so they could cover emerging new topics.

Mary said something like this:

“Keep in mind that in our society the locus of power is shifting away from government – to the people. A case in point: Our country is at war, but not with another government – with terrorists – a group of people.”

She didn’t continue to make the obvious next point – that the locus of “information” power also is shifting from our monolithic newspapers of yore to a very pluralistic future with many news voices.

So as journalists we’re living with two shifts – the geopolitical power shifting to the people – necessitating our re-thinking how we cover government in a democracy – at the same time the information power base is shifting to the people – any of whom can start their own blog and/or Web site.

The two shifts are most certainly related.

Anyone can report on city or county or state government on their own blog, on their own Web site. Readers have many, many potential places to look for information. That makes community activists more powerful, and it makes both government and the traditional press less powerful.

We still plan to make the Monroe Evening News the best source of local news and information for many, many years. That’s still our primary focus.

But in the meantime, www.monroenews.com and www.MonroeTalks.com, as well as www.HomesPlusMonroe.com and www.MonroeParent.com and www.Letstalktigers.com are just the beginning of the online sources of information we’ll be providing.

We’re in a race to continue to be Monroe County’s primary source of information – where ever you want to find it.

A reader’s help choosing Page 1 photos

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

One of the most interesting things we do at a newspaper every day is selecting the lead picture for Page 1. Sometimes the choice is obvious; sometimes it’s agonizing.

Flood photo 1Photo Editor Bryan Bosch brings the choices to the Page 1 meeting, which occurs at 7 a.m. each morning, Monday through Friday; the weekend meeting is Friday afternoon.

The point of the meeting is to decide which local, state, national and international stories should be on Page 1. The decisions often are influenced by the pictures and graphics that are available.

We often ask ourselves: Which picture would our readers prefer? Which would influence people to pick up the paper at a newsstand? Which would lead to a conversation around the water cooler?

Flood photo 2One morning this week, we had a reader at the meeting, so we could ask the question directly.

Evening News Editor Deborah Saul has created a readers advisory panel, and new members of the group are dropping by the office to get acquainted with how we operate. One of them, Don Anspaugh, attended our daily Page 1 meeting Tuesday morning.

Bryan offered three different photos of flooding along E. Front Street. After discussing the photos, Mr. Anspaugh was given the first choice. He picked the photo above – more of a closeup of the action. Bryan, whose opinion, as photo editor, carries the most weight in these discussions, agreed. So did Stacy Sominski, the presentation editor, who also is intimately involved in the decision every morning. She’s the editor who actually designs Page 1. Sometimes how the photo relates with other elements on the page influences the choice.

Flood photo 3While the photo they selected doesn’t give as much of an overview of the scene as the top photo, it’s more dramatic. And it doesn’t have as much action as the photo at left. But you can see the grim expressions on the faces. That’s what made the difference for me. I wasn’t at the meeting, but it would have been my choice, too.

The new readers advisory panels – so many people responded that Deb decided to have two groups – will be a valuable resource for us as we make all kinds of decisions. They’ll discuss The Evening News and how we operate at their regular monthly meetings. But even their informal visits can give us useful information.

We’re acutely aware that we’ll only succeed as a business if we’re meeting our readers’ needs.

Most MonroeTalkers started at monroenews.com

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

When Evening News Editor Deborah Saul made the suggestion, it was one of those “why didn’t I think of that” moments.

I was wishing I had better information on the “MonroeTalks.com” phenomenom.

When we launched MonroeTalks.com less than a year ago, our expectations were modest. We just wanted to give Monroe County residents a place to talk on-line about topics that mattered to them – any kind of topic.

We would have considerd a few hundred people getting involved in an online conversation a success.

Less than eight months later, literally thousands of area residents are talking on MonroeTalks.com, and thousands of others are listening in (okay, viewing in).

What happened? We didn’t think it was our brilliant marketing . How did so many people get connected to MonroeTalks so quickly?

“Why don’t you ask on MonroeTalks.com,” Deb suggested.

“Good idea,” was all I could say.

Usually, a simple question is all it takes to get pages of responses on MonroeTalks.com. That’s how it works. Someone starts a topic, and anyone and everyone comments.

So I asked last Friday: “How did you hear about MonroeTalks.com and what made you start using it.”

By the end of the day Sunday, there were 50 responses. Not exactly a scientific survey, but some really good feedback.

Like most forum conversations, it got off the topic, got back on, fell off, then back on.

But in the meantime, I had 33 serious responses and some good anecdotes. The largest number of people, 13, said they started using the “Eyes and Ears” forum on the old monroenews.com and just switched over when we changed to MonroeTalks.com. Most of them said they saw the Eyes and Ears forum when they went to monroenews.com.

Another large group, 9 people, said they noticed MonroeTalks.com on the monroenews.com site and got involved that way.

The rest were spread among those who read the ads in the Monroe Evening News, 5; those who heard about the site through word-of-mouth, 4; and a couple who saw our advertisements – on a bus and on a coaster in a restaurant.

The lesson:  most people found their way to MonroeTalks through our news Web site, monroenews.com, which isn’t surprising.

An amazing number of people – 80,000 unique visitors in January – spend at least some time on monroenews.com. Since there are only about 65,000 households in Monroe County, that’s pretty much covering the market.

More and more of them are heading over to MonroeTalks.com and BlogsMonroe.com.

New bloggers from Bedford

Friday, November 16th, 2007

We have four new bloggers joining our little corner of the blogosphere through Bedford Now, the weekly newspaper that serves Bedford Township.

The newcomers are on the home page of BedfordNow.com, but readers also can find them on the BlogsMonroe.com home page. So they’re part of the BlogsMonroe blogging community, with a Bedford twist.

Either way, they add four new perspectives that I think we’ll all enjoy.

Rebecca Regnier is the morning anchor for Channel 13 in Toledo, but she’s also a mother, wife and active member of the Bedford community. She plans to blog about issues ranging from television news to parenting. Her blog is called, “Blonde Highlights.”

Robin Dec is an attorney and a mother who writes with wit and maybe some wisdom about parenting and the busy mother lifestyle. Incidentally, she’s also Rebecca Regnier’s sister. Her blog is called “Befrazzled.”

Judy Murray is a reference librarian at the Bedford branch of the Monroe County library system. She is blogging about books, with an emphasis on sharing recommendations. Her blog is called, “Between the lines.”

David Claassen is a minister and a writer who plans to write about faith and hopes his blog stimulates conversations on spirtual matters. His blog is called “Faith Reflections.”

Correcting errors in our archives

Saturday, September 1st, 2007

What happens when an old story from The Evening News that contains an error surfaces on the Internet, as can easily happen these days.

The New York Times recently laid open this troubling problem in a column by their “public editor,” Clark Hoyt, entitled, “When Bad News Follows You.” Hoyt was frank and forthcoming about the problem:

“People are coming forward at the rate of roughly one a day to complain that they are being embarrassed, are worried about losing or not getting jobs, or may be losing customers because of the sudden prominence of old news articles that contain errors or were never followed up,” he said.

The example cited was a former New York City employee who is now a business consultant. When people “Google” his name, the first thing that pops up isn’t his business Web site – it’s a 20-year-old story that suggests he resigned under pressure following a scandal. In a short follow-up story days later, the Times had straightened out the misunderstanding – his leaving the city had nothing to do with the scandal. Yet what are prospective clients going to think when they see the old story?

The Times created this problem by using an aggressive search engine optimization process, which drives traffic to its Web site by pushing Times content to the top of search results on sites like Google and Yahoo.

We don’t do that at The Evening News, but the problem still exists. Either from our own archives, or from a link to another site that picked up one of our stories, it’s easy to find old stories from monroenews.com. And, just like at the Times, it’s good for us when old stories draw traffic to our Web site.

The problem faced by the Times is the volume – it would take several people working full-time to follow up on every complaint. So, as Hoyt explained, the Times is essentially doing nothing about the old errors.

It would be wrong, their editors feel, to go back and change the stories. That would be like fooling with the historical record. And besides, they couldn’t just take peoples’ word for whether a story was wrong – they would have to check on every fact that was challenged.

In many cases, the original story may not have been wrong – it’s just that circumstances have changed and the old story is misleading or confusing.

So, what are we doing about this at The Evening News. Two things.

One, we’re feeling our way along carefully, taking each case one at a time. We want to do everything we can to set the record straight, but we also want to be careful about the integrity of our archives.

Two, when we are told there is a problem with an old story, we check it out. And if we find the story is wrong, we fix it.

One thing we haven’t figured out is how to handle stories that aren’t wrong, but may be misleading because of changes in circumstances. Should we figure out a way to attach an explanation to the story in our electronic archives?

For example, a story about a conviction in our court system may be accurate. But if there was a later story about the conviction being overturned on appeal, do we have an obligation to attach the new story to the old one?

These aren’t easy issues. But we can commit to doing more than The New York Times seems to be doing.

We’ll make sure we take each complaint seriously and try to resolve it reasonably.