Mr WordPress on Hello world!
General Overview: My proposal is fairly simple. I would launch a web site that aggregates the location of every 24 hour gas station in America, one entry at a time. Users would generate the content by submitting the names and locations of 24 hour gas stations that are either near them or that they stop at while they’re traveling; since it is an open call to anyone who has the information, it seems to be a good use of crowd sourcing. I would utilize a Google Maps mashup (like these) to geotag the location of each gas station and add information like bathroom availability, signature snack, and whether or not they sell beer (or as I like to call it, the holy trinity of late night gas station components.) I think the site would be useful in areas like Northern New York where there are 50-75 mile intervals without a gas station open during the wee hours; truckers used to complain to my father when he worked at US Customs that they had to plan ahead before traveling between the Fort Drum area and Lake Placid. It would obviously be especially useful for people with smart phones when they travel, so the ultimate goal for the site would be to pick up enough traffic to sell it as an ap to cell phone service provider.
Profitability: The site needs to make money, and since our generation has decided that the only way for a service to become popular online is for it to be free, advertising revenue would have to fund the operation. I would have fairly low overheard, as I would really only need to purchase a domain name and spend some of my own time reviewing the legitimacy of the submissions before tagging them on the map, a service that Google Maps provides for free. Ad revenue seems to be attracted one of two ways- the site either gets incredible amounts of traffic so the exposure is large scale (think Google or Youtube, sites where anything and everything is advertised) or your site’s readership falls into their demographic based on age, expected sensibilities, and interest (think the Vans sneaker company advertising on Pitchfork.com, an online music review publication that caters to the indie rock crowd, the same kids who buy Vans.) While everyone would like their website to generate so much traffic that Walmart and Nike would be clamoring to purchase ad space, it doesn’t seem too realistic. I would rely on the niche of the site- gas stations like Sunoco, Stewarts, and Valero- to purchase advertising. Where else could their advertising dollar have more functionality than on a website that only exists for people who need to buy gas? To spark interest, I would have an ad video contest on a special section of the website. Gas stations could submit a funny video as an advertisement, and users could vote on which one was their favorite. The winner would receive free advertising for a year, and the other sites would want to pay for the access that they enjoyed if the traffic statistics were appreciable. While you could argue that the station being listed on the web site is already free advertising, I think that if the site was getting traffic, certain gas stations would want to stick out from other options. To boost traffic, I could leave fliers in the trucker rest areas at highway service stations.
Platform- I would power the site with WordPress, mostly because it is the only online web format that I am familiar with. I could easily embed the video ad submissions and ad a poll for readers to vote for their favorites. I am sure I could embed the Google Map mashup. I also like how the easy it is to break the site up into linked sections along the side of the page. For any adults (like my mother) who may be intimidated by the Google Mashup Map, I could include a text database with each station, with each state that I have submissions for having its own page.
Aggregating the Content: Initially, I would reach out to family and friends to get started on submissions. I would have an aggressive Facebook campaign where my friends could write on the event wall with submissions. As the administrator, I would make it an open group so that I could have my friends invite their whole social networks. Every new submission would be tweeted to attain maximum exposure. Once I had a large number of submissions on the map, I could contact the corporate centers for gas station chains and inquire if they wanted to send me their 24 hour locations. Even if they didn’t purchase advertising, their submissions would bolster my site and make it a more attractive advertising commodity.
My site could be successful because it has a highly specific function for a large group of people filling a specific need. There are some potential pit falls (drumming up ad revenue, aggregating enough content from across the nation to justify a national, and not regional scope, though this could always be changed) but if I was able to successfully catalog the content I think it could take off.
Last class, I frustrated some of my classmates (and certainly my instructor) with my interpretation of journalistic ethics. To be fair, we agree on a lot- everything on the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics under the headings “Seek Truth and Report It,” “Minimize Harm,” and “Be Accountable” evoked consensus. Based on our discussion, it is hard for me to imagine any of my classmates having a problem with a journalist who focuses on accuracy and decries libel, who scorns the corrupt and provides compassion to the afflicted and who has a steadfast pride in their work that is informed by performance and not hubris; they can admit when they have made a mistake and work to correct it a quick, public manner.
Things got dicey when we discussed hypotheticals under the “Act Independently” section, particularly the following bullet point-
-Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
I think the legitimacy of that rule is situationally based. For example, journalists covering politics have a special responsibility to avoid unsavory entanglements. Our democracy’s very functionality hinges on their ability to cover the news with an unwavering and single minded commitment to accuracy. It would be wildly inappropriate for an Obama strategist to cover Newt Gingrich’s campaign to secure the Republican nomination for President. Really, the only reason that we have any idea what’s going on in our government is because the press acts as our public watchdog. Citizens can’t asses their representatives if they don’t have a relatively unbiased view into what they’re doing all day, and if they don’t have some inkling what their politicians are doing they can’t possibly make informed decisions when it comes time to vote. If citizens can’t make sound choices when its time to vote, the whole democracy thing falls apart pretty quickly.
The stakes aren’t quite as high when it comes to other example we talked about in class, like partying with rock stars you’re covering on a tour and having them foot substance riddled bill. I have three reasons why.
1) It is inconceivable to me that an Obama staffer could do a good job covering Newt Gingrich’s campaign for a publication because it is inherently advantageous for him to make Obama look good and Gingrich look bad. Things are not obviously any better or worse for a Rolling Stone writer that has smoked a joint with Lil Wayne if he says that he’s the best rapper alive or he thinks that he releases way too much shoddy material (although, on an unrelated tangent, both may be true).
2) The stakes for the average American are much higher when it comes to deciding who is going to be the Commander in Chief than they are for a review of Weezy F. Baby on tour. I’m not saying that it’s ok for the worst case scenario to happen on tour- that you let your guard down, become friends with Lil Wayne, party with him on his tab and say that his live performances were electric and phenomenal and thats he’s an engaging interview if he really was too riddled with cough syrup to be any of those things. Just don’t think that the average tax payer is going to suffer. The average customer from Rolling Stone suffers (though they don’t know it) but this isn’t a ringing endorsement of the worst case scenario, merely an attempt to contextualize it compared to situations where a mishap in the realm of journalistic integrity effects the whole world.
3) Credibility is important. If people don’t believe your words there is no sense in putting them on a page. I wouldn’t find an Obama staffer covering the Gingrich campaign to be remotely believable. I think his commitments, both ideological and occupational, would render me incredulous of his commentary and reporting. I wouldn’t have to make the same leap of faith with someone who smoked a few joints with Lil Wayne and then said his concerts were good. Just because he got something from a celebrity for free doesn’t mean that they suddenly became blood brothers who could never call one another out. If I went to a bar with a rap star and he paid for my drinks (because the $100 tab is nothing to him and an appreciable amount of money to me) I could still write a negative review because that’s what I do for a living. If some journalistic watch dog saw me and Wayne together and then read my positive review of the concert tour and thought “you know, there is no way Dan could separate one night out with a celebrity from his perception of the music” then at that point I would have to invoke another portion of the ethics hand out and be accountable. I would prefer he not take it personally, but it doesn’t really matter to me- all of my interactions with him are simply part of the job, the same way I wouldn’t hate Lil Wayne as a person if I spent $60 on concert tickets to see him writhe around on the floor to an 8 minute version of Lollipop (which has happened before).
Final rant- In music criticism, the audience likes to read harrowing tales about rowdy times partying with a band on tour. There is precedent for this. Lester bangs did it. Austin Scaggs made a damn career out of it! The audience doesn’t really factor it into the credibility reading because they expect it. They also expect that after the tour is over, you gather yourself William Miller style in Almost Famous and write the damn story.
Since Tiger Wood’s roaring comeback at the Master’s fell short this weekend, the big story out of Augusta wasn’t who won the tournament. Instead, an infuriarting moment for a female columnist turned in to a public embarassment for the golf club when news that she was denied access to the locker room went viral on her Twitter page. Tara Sullivan of New Jersey’s Bergen Record posted the following: “Bad enough no women members at Augusta. But not allowing me to join writers in locker room interview is just wrong.” No arguments here. Augusta National officials were apologetic. “”It was a complete misunderstanding by a security guard,” said Masters Communications Director Steve Ethun. “Our policies fall in line with all of those of major sporting events in that she should have been rightfully allowed access to our locker room…We offer our apology. It should not have happened, and that’s not our policy whatsoever.” he added.
While an apologetic response certainly beats brazen disregard, you can’t help but think it rings a litlte hollow. Why would a security guard be confused as to whether or not female reporters are allowed in the locker room? Maybe its because Augusta isn’t exactly known for establishing a culture of hospitality toward minorities and women. After being attacked as a sexist by feminist leader Martha Burk, then Chairman Hootie Johnson said the following: “Our membership is single gender just as many other organizations and clubs all across America. These would include junior Leagues, sororities, fraternities, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and countless others. And we all have a moral and legal right to organize our clubs the way we wish.” Mr. Johnson seemed to be missing the point that we all have the right to do things that make us look like jerks, but most of us just choose not to. The Boy Scouts and Girl scouts are separated by gender because most 8-12 year old boys and most 8-12 year old girls have different interests. Everyone who applies for membership at Augusta is interested in golf, and you can’t tell me that Anika Sorrenstam isn’t a better golfer than Bill Gates. There probably isn’t a better way to contextualize the club’s exlcuisve (and by exlusive I mean “mad rich, white southern dudes”) stance than the fact that the club did not allow a black member until 1990. I understand the appeal for some time with the bros, especially for blustery, drunk, conservative old white dudes, but when you are the flagship golf course holding the flagship golf event in America, it might not kill you to at least pretend you believe in the ethics of equality.
What can you do when you’re already the world’s most dominant, trustred source for sporting news? Apparently, call in the professionals to critque your performance and allow them to post their findings, unedited, directly on your web site. Media giant ESPN has done just that by allowing journalistic criticism whizes from the respected Poynter Institute to provide “independent examination and analysis of ESPN’s media outlets” on their web site from such respected practitioners of the craft as Kelly McBride, a leading light in media ethics.
Their partnership bore fruit recently with the continuing story of NBA analyst Jalen Rose’s DWI. The network was beaten to the story by WDI television in Detroit, and even they were pretty late on the uptake- the arrest reportedly happened weeks ago when Rose’s SUV went off the road, police responded on the scene and he refused to take a breathalyzer test. Poynter pulled no punches in their analysis. “It looks even worse on the journalism front, with the perception that ESPN is willing to report on the failings of current athletes but sweeps the failings of its own staff under the rug. In fact, a number of fans have already questioned ESPN’s loyalties on this issue in letters to the Poynter Project mailbag.” One Poynter reader chimed in that “that’s not journalism, that’s favoritism.” Poynter seemed balanced and fair in their judgement; though they cleared the air about a potential ESPN cover up, they still chided ESPN, as it was a story that they felt the network should have reported on first.
By teaming with Poynter, ESPN shows a startling amount of self awareness and desire to improve, and the fact that they do so in such a public setting, and not behind the closed doors of a boardroom, gives them an air of transparency that will do so much more good than harm. The benefit of being perceived as an organization who is always trying to do things the right way will negate any negative attention from dealing with situations like Rose’s DWI in a public manner.
Will news consumers continue to pay for news? Reed Buchanan, after reading numerous financial reports, certainly doesn’t thinks so. He opines that pay walls for web sites will be rendered ineffective the same way that the recording industry has been plagued by pirated music and the premium television industry has been undercut by sites that stream free episodes. “I don’t see what’s stopping someone from copying the content from behind a New York Times pay wall and reposting it elsewhere online,” said Buchanan.
Tom Foremski of siliconvalleywatcher.com thinks that a lack of brand loyalty for most dailies (as opposed to publications with devoted, niche audiences like the Wall Street Journal) will keep most news organizations from successfully employing pay walls. “More than 60 per cent of newspapers’ web site traffic comes from search engines and news aggregators — and not from people going directly to their site,” said Foremski, indicating a potential problem for pay for news- why pay for the New York Times when you don’t care if you hear a breaking story from them or the Syracuse Post Standard or wherever google takes you first?
Personally, I can think of a couple reasons. Like my classmate Mike Campana, I’m skeptical that brand loyalty doesn’t have an effect on news consumers. “The New York Times is cool. I look cool walking around with a Times in my hand. It’s cooler than USA Today. It is.” Campana then went on a semi lucid tear relating the coolness of the Times to the coolness of his Nike shoes and H and M top. Not sure what this has to do with my currently meandering post, but as usual, I liked his moxy. I suppose in a college class, we tend to think of all consumers like us- fast food eating, non-tipping, deal hawking denizens of the cheapest establishment possible. However, someone with a little expendable income could very well spend money on an online newspaper subscription. In fact, my father did years ago as soon as it was offered by the Watertown Daily Times, our local daily.
Additionally, one theme that we have discussed throughout the semester seems particularly apt for this assignment. If we do rely on free information from bloggers, there could be a reactionary bounceback toward paying for news when we realize that the practitioners of the craft, true reporters, won’t have anyone to pay them. Our interactions with the outside world will suffer immensely if we rely only on raw video data and commentary from slanted bloggers to piece together our collective understanding of developing events. Reporters are trained in a professional manner, the same way a dentist or a baseball pitcher is- they have a highly specific skill set that serves a well defined purpose. If people care about news, eventually they will realize that they need to pay something for the reporters who provide the nitty gritty facts that back up the content that is aggregated across the web.
Esquire Magazine is about as old as my grandmother. Two of its first contributing essaysists were none other than literary luminaries Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Their’s is a brand focused on tradition-classic styles, classic luxury, and classic food and drink. It is a highly entertaining magazine, if a bit pretentious, and not the first one that its readership would assume would willingly make the transition from print to cyberspace.
Except that they have. According to an article on adage.com, Esquire has won a National Magazine Award for Digital Media. The article includes a Q and A with Editor in Chief David Granger, whom they dub as a media vanguard. Special emphasis was placed on their iPad ap in the interview. Granger cites the opportunity for newfound animated and live action video features as a way to make readers laugh. ” Making a magazine 10% funnier makes it at least 35% more appealing to a reader,” he said. The lesson- a publications timeless vibe cannot be shaken by new technology. Rather, it will only be enhanced by providing new outlets that can attract new readers. If Esquire can get over themselves and get online, any publication can.