The when-and-where

As the travel plans take shape, I’ll be keeping an updated version of my itinerary here.

I wanted to use Dopplr to make a pretty map for the itinerary, but I find its interface a little too constraining. At some point I’ll figure out how to make it do what I want, but in the meantime a boring outline will have to do.

Incidentally, you can follow me on Twitter, or you can see a combination of my Twitter posts, blog entries and Delicious bookmarks on my Tumblelog.

My next assignment: covering online journalism

I’ve spent 10-plus years working from within to change newspapers in some small way. Now I hope to effect change from the outside. Earlier this month, I left my job as interactive technology editor at the Los Angeles Times to travel and learn and share stories about the great work taking place in online journalism around the world. I love the Times, my work and my colleagues, but I’ve decided it’s time to try something new: reporting.

Beginning in January, my plan is to spend six months or so writing about trends and best practices in the field, both in the U.S. and abroad. Among the questions I’d like to explore:

  • What common themes emerge as news organizations change their workflow, culture, reporting structures and newsroom geography?
  • What are newsrooms in Europe and elsewhere doing that American media can learn from?
  • How are news organizations succeeding in doing more with less? Where are they focusing their resources and what are they walking away from?
  • What lessons can we take from success stories outside traditional media, including solo practitioners and online-only outfits?
  • How are news aggregators and social media affecting coverage choices and marketing of content?
  • What new storytelling and data presentation forms are gaining traction? How are viewers reacting?
  • How are traditional media companies altering (or blowing up) their business models to compete in the new information economy?
  • What role are the people formerly known as the audience playing in the newsgathering process?

Kind of broad, yes, but I’ve always been more of a generalist than a specialist.

A lot of people are blogging their opinions about the state and the future of journalism. I have plenty of my own, and I’ll share them when I think they’re relevant. But mostly I want this to be a fact-finding mission. I am not a reporter, but that is what I’ll try to be for these few months.

I believe that much of the journalism newspapers do is still important and essential, and I want to see that work live on after print dies. So I intend to write with an eye toward helping traditional news organizations negotiate the terrain of online media, but I hope that some of these topics will be of interest to people beyond “old media”.

I’ll be blogging here at, unless some generous benefactor agrees to finance all or part of this endeavor, in which case I’ll write wherever I’m asked to.

I’m looking for guidance on where to go, who to talk to and what topics to investigate. Please leave your advice in the comments here. I plan to base my itinerary in large part on the suggestions I receive.

More soon.

Update 2008.12.05: Thanks for all the great thoughts. A few more details on the itinerary. Also, ran a little e-mail interview on my plans.

Update 2009.01.24: An up-to-date itinerary can be found here.

Who says newspapers are dead?

The scene at Second and Spring streets, downtown Los Angeles, 2 p.m. PST Nov. 6, 2008:

For the second day since the election, the line of people seeking copies of Tuesday’s paper outside the Los Angeles Times building is around the corner. (Copies of the paper are also listed at a substantial premium on Ebay.)

Jack Klunder, the paper’s president, told me the Times printed a “couple hundred thousand” more papers to satisfy the demand. It’s also selling plates of the paper’s front page for $10 a piece and lithographs for $5. The Times’ Reader’s Rep blog has details.

(Update 11/9: Sandy Banks has a nice column, with an accompanying Sachi Cunningham video, on the phenomenon. When I walked by the Times yesterday the line was still out the door and some enterprising independent vendors had set up shop across the street selling Obama T-shirts and other merchandise.)

Finally, for those who prefer the digital version, here’s a photo I took in the newsroom Tuesday night:

New at Slice and filter California election results

In my last few weeks at the Times, I’ve largely been preoccupied with imagining and building our election data widgets for use on election night.  It might seem silly to spend so much time preparing for an event that’s over so quickly.  But I think we’ve found at least one app that’ll last long enough to make it worth the effort.  It’s our California county-by-county map, and I think it’s way cool.

Sure, you can see bubbles by county for the state propositions and the presidential race, but you can also slice the vote by demographic categories (e.g.., counties that went for Bush in 2004) to see if you can spot trends. Happy filtering.

(Credit where it’s due: The filters are inspired by NYT’s excellent county-by-county maps during the primary season.)

Leaving the Times

I want to say something about what took place today at the Los Angeles Times, where I’ve worked for nearly 5 years. It’s a drama that repeats itself in newsrooms across the country and has already taken place more times than I care to count during my tenure at the Times. The familiarity of the event doesn’t make it any less sad.

I refer, of course, to staff cuts. Buyouts, redundancies, layoffs, terminations, separations voluntary and involuntary — pick your term. However you put it, it sucks — both for the people who leave and those who stay. This time I’m in the former category. The decision to go was mine, and I made it months ago, but saying goodbye is still hard.

Days like today obscure the fact that hundreds of talented, creative and dedicated journalists remain at the Times. They still put out one of the best news reports in the country, and they’re working hard to drag a sclerotic institution into the digital age. I am proud to be associated with them, and I wish them well.

(My last day is next Friday, Nov. 7.  Details on my own plans TK.)

Photo by Mister-E via Flickr.

Backchannel on blogging

What happens when you put a bunch of bloggers in a room, feed them pizza and moderate a discussion on their craft? You end up with two real-time conversations: One in the physical room and the other in the Twitterverse.

I know that’s no surprise to those who populate this corner of cyberspace, but as a newbie here — and, until recently, an admitted Twitter skeptic — I have to say it was pretty fun to watch a virtual dialogue unfold alongside the real-world one, as it did last Thursday night at the Los Angeles Times.

The local ONA gathering on blogging (pix here) drew about 60 people to the Harry Chandler Auditorium for an informal talk with L.A. bloggers including Luke Ford (pictured) and the Times’ Andrew Malcolm. Tweets containing #onala were displayed in a search feed on the big screen, powered by a nifty skinnable Twitter client called Spaz. Instant visual backchannel!

So yes: Twitter is good for something besides marriage proposals.

Photo by David LaFontaine via Flickr.

New at California Schools Guide

Our newest database project, launched today, is a guide to schools in California with test scores, demographics and other useful info on public schools in the state. (Private schools are listed too, but there’s less good info available on them.)

Data guru Ben Welsh (of L.A.’s Top Dogs fame) is the brains behind this project, also built in Django (which, it’s safe to say, has become the framework of choice for our editorial data projects).

I think my favorite part is the ability to rank schools in your county by different criteria, such as average SAT scores or API score (California’s benchmark for academic performance). Factoid: Of the 10 schools statewide with the highest API scores, eight are in the Bay Area and four of those are in Fremont. Is it something in the water up there?

Delicious links: Er, on second thought…

My short experiment in posting my Delicious bookmarks to the blog is over. My infrequent “real” posts are getting buried, and I’m not sure that these hodgepodge daily link lists are particularly useful except to people who have the exact same tastes and interests as I do.

If you happen to be one of those people (or for some other reason you want to see what I’m bookmarking), you can always subscribe separately to my Delicious feed — or, if you use Delicious yourself, why not just add me to your network?

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Update 2008.08.29: OK, now it’s really stopped. I swear.

New at L.A.’s Top Dogs

Last week we launched a fun new database at work: L.A.’s Top Dogs, which shows the most common dog names and breeds by ZIP code, based on dog registration data from L.A. County animal control agencies. My colleague, Ben Welsh, assembled the data and built the app in Django. I did the UI.

Warning: It’s pretty addictive. For example, if you ever wanted to know how many dogs are named after your favorite superheroes, dictators and hip-hop stars, we can tell you.

It’s already drawn some notice in the linkosphere:

It’s taken some criticism from folks who seem to think it’s not serious journalism. To those people I say: You’re right. Lighten up. We do a lot of other serious journalism.