Friday, July 9, 2010

Ben Franklin WHAT?

When asked in an online reader poll, "What did you think of the Ben Franklin Project?", 50 percent of those responding said "The WHAT project?"
I can't say I'm surprised. The Ben Franklin Project was a media experiment conducted by Journal Register Company, parent company of The Mercury to produce the July 4th edition using free Web-based tools. We also produced a separate website on that day using a free WordPress site.
The fact that the change went unnoticed by many of our readers points to the project's success. If we had failed to publish, that would have certainly caught everyone's attention.
But for some readers, who were following our buildup to Ben Franklin and who may have read the editorial or news stories about it last Sunday, we appreciate your interest in our changing media world.
"Pottstownguy" asked the following questions:
"Overall, how did the experiment go with the 4th issue? Did using all free on-line web-based tools make it easier or more difficult to get the paper out? Was there a cost savings using these methods? Did the community provide enough input in the process? Are you finding crowdsourcing an effective tool in the delivery of news for the Pottstown area? "
My answer:
"Using free Web-based tools for our production of the July 4th issue was successful because it challenged old habits and practices we automatically move toward rather than exploring new ways of doing things. It was not 'easier,' but it wasn't really more difficult either. The gain was not in money or time saved; it was in giving ourselves permission to experiment. We are moving very quickly in new directions of news delivery on more digital platforms, and we won't be able to make these transitions unless we embrace innovation.
"What this project did for us as a newspaper was give us courage. As for community input and crowdsourcing, we are finding people still look to us as a news gatherer and provider, not just a platform for sharing.
"The Mercury has always been close to its community -- love us or hate us, few people ignore us -- so crowdsourcing to us is a new name for what we do best, which is interact with our readers.
"Personally, I like the new ways of engaging readers that we are using these days, particularly with this July 4th edition. A reporter tells a bystander at the parade to email a photo to my desk, and I get it Saturday night and turn it around to a copy editor to get in the paper the next day. Pretty cool. Not every story works that way, but I think Pottstown's input enhanced our coverage of the July 4th-on-the-3rd festivities. Hope that answers your questions. You can email or call at or 610-970-4470. "
I suspect people noticed the number of photos sent by readers that we used on July 4, and I would wager the stories with readers' comments on road rage were pretty well read.
More important to me than recognizing the name of our project was the fact that several hundred people tuned in to our livestreaming of the parade and dozens sent us photos of how they were celebrating independence.
Doesn't matter what we call it; change to a new future is happening.

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