Friday, June 29, 2007

Second Life....Or Get A Life?

One of the more daunting aspects of this project is the stipulation that we create our "Newsroom of the Future" in Second Life. I happened to be in Durham, N.C. having lunch with Gary Kebbel, the director of the Knight Challenge Grant program, when I first learned this was going to be a part of my life. Over sandwiches at Satisfactions, he mentioned that the Knight Foundation had added the Second Life requirement to our grant. I was just so giddy that we were getting the grant that I didn't say much about the Second Life thing.

I had heard the hype, but I hadn't really explored it myself, having neither the time or the inclination. But after that meeting, I began to check it out. And since then, I've alternated between anxiety and excitement over this element.

For instance, I figured this was a pure geek realm. So I was surprised to learn that so many corporations and non-profits were buying land in Second Life to develop projects. Count Duke among those that have set up an official "Duke" island in SL.

Still, I registered, created an avatar and went poking around. And that left me feeling even more daunted. After returning to Silicon Valley a couple weeks ago, I attended a presentation by two of the main engineers from Linden Labs, which developed SL. They did a demo which was completely stunning and inspiring. At the same time, when it came down to the actually making and building of a simple object, I left thinking that I could spen the whole next year doing nothing but managing our Second Life presence.

Even more interesting to me has been people's reactions when I tell them I'll be doing something in Second Life. I get everything from extreme eye rolling to awkward silences to ecstatic applause. Really. It's interesting how provocative just the very idea of SL has become.

The other issue is cost. Linden offers a discount to educational institutions and non profits. But still, to build something in SL, you have to own land. And the most direct way to get land is to buy an island. Even with the discount, it costs $800 for an island and $150 per month to maintain it. Since our grant is $40,000, it's not a trivial amount.

Fortunately, I had a great chat with Tim Bounds, the IT support guy for Student Affairs. He's in charge of developing Duke's SL island. They just bought the island this spring and haven't done much there yet. But Tim made a generous offer to donate a chunk of Duke's land to the project which will be great on several levels. It we want Duke students to come and interact in our virtual newsroom, it might as well be on Duke's island, right?

The next challenge is to find someone who wants to take charge of all this for us. Fortunately, I've had an offer from someone who is eager to get involved with the Next Newsroom project. And I also contacted the folks at Duke's Information Studies and Information Sciences department. They're developing their own presence in SL, and they teach several classes that deal with SL. In any case, they apparently have been looking at issues of new media and community, so I'm eager to talk to them about what we're doing.

I'll leave it there for now. But if anyone has an SL experiences they want to share, please post them here, or send them to me.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

iTunes U

As this project gets rolling, one of my challenges is to get acquainted with the various digital efforts going on at Duke, both at The Chronicle, but also throughout the campus. I was thinking about this a couple weeks ago, when I got this random email from the Duke alumni association:

If you want to keep up with what's happening at Duke, check out iTunes U, your electronic campus. Duke is now one of 16 universities whose content makes up the new iTunes U section of the iTunes store. You can find audio and video of major speakers, student-made movies, music, news, or a wealth of other topics.

I just got the video iPod for xMas and I've been a true convert, after years of being an Apple skeptic and clinging tightly to my antiquated portable CD player. In particular, it really got me much more tuned into the podcasting phenomenon. My 30GB player is regularly filled with audio and video podcasts. So I went to check out Duke's iTunes site, and it's pretty impressive. It seems that you don't really need to be at Duke anymore to experience life at Duke.

I'm sure I'll spend hours exploring a lot of these offerings. But there's a couple off the bat that caught my eye. Duke's iTunes page highlighted a video series called "Froshlife." I watched one of the videos based at Aycock dorm, one of the places I used to live. The videos are shot and directed by freshmen (first years?), and the quality is very good. I suspected that new students at Duke must have a high media literacy rate, and this certainly bolsters that idea.

The other item I checked out was, an audio news feature produced by the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences. It reminded me that The Chronicle, or even student TV station Cable 13 or radio station WXDU don't have monopoly on news gathering and production on campus. Everyone is getting in on the act.

Still, I would love to see something that functions as a hub for this incredible breadth of activity. I wonder how many people on campus are generally aware of all these efforts? Or whether they're all taking place in isolation? If that's the case, there's certainly an opening for a newsroom or media center that could serve as a unifying force for all this media creation and participation.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


This is the start of the Next Newsroom blog. If you're looking for more information on the project, you can get some background at our temporary website: We expect the real site to go live later in July. And when it does, this blog will shift over there. But more on that later.

In the coming weeks, this will be a place where you can come for updates on our progress building the site and assembling our team, volunteers and game plan. I want our process to be as transparent as possible, so I'll be giving pretty frequent updates on all aspects of our work.

I'll also use this blog to discuss some of the things we're learning and thinking about. And I'll discuss various things that are being written on and talked about the subject of converged newsrooms. The pace of change in newsrooms is astonishing to me. I've been a professional journalist for 16 years (yikes!) now. People have been talking about this moment for years. But now it's here. Everything is changing. I'd been on a leave of absence from the Mercury News for the past year. And my first week back, I took two classes on how to shoot and edit video. Newspapers are shriveling, and they can't embrace multimedia and the web fast enough.

That's scary and exciting all at once. We have another round of layoffs next week. In the past five years, we will have lost half our newsroom (from 410 to 200 bodies). At the same time, the technologies, the equipment, and the cultural shift inside newsrooms have ironically made this potentially one of the most exciting moments in journalism history. We have a chance to reinvent a whole industry.

But it's also clear to me how the legacy newsrooms we use can inhibit that shift. They were designed, built, and populated for another era of journalism. In this new era, speed and collaboration are more vital. When and how people interact, their ability to access the right tools, can be cumbersome and more difficult that they should be. These are all topics I'll be exploring here, and of course, in the larger project.

Speaking of that project, we're working with two fabulous partners to put our site together. College Publisher, an MTV subsidiary, is the leading content manager for college newspaper sites. They're going to be building the framework and features using Drupal, the open source content management system. This is my introduction to Drupal, but I'm hearing amazing things about it.

On the design side, we're working with Leap Design, a Charlotte firm owned an operated by husband and wife team Bob and Laurie Smithwick. Laurie was a Chronicle person once upon a time.

This work will come together in the next few weeks, with the idea that it will be up in some fashion in late July. I'll be looking for lots of feedback as various elements go live.

And of course, this project might not be happening without the generosity of the Knight Foundation. We're honored to be a part of the first recipients of the Knight Challenge Grant program. I got a chance to meet many of the other winners during a conference in Miami, and they're an inspiring bunch. Definitely check out their projects.

In the meantime, I'm building a list of newsrooms and experts we ought to consider visiting or interviewing. So send any my way. And we'll be looking for any and all volunteers to take on a variety of tasks. So, speak up and we'll find a way to get you involved.

Okay. Here we go...