What I Read: Nancy Leson

Nancy Leson is one serious reader.

The Seattle Times food columnist devours everything from the Wednesday food section of The New York Times to Seattle Weekly’s Voracious column to the daily print edition of The Seattle Times.

She’s also regularly listening to NPR, scrolling through news feeds on Twitter and Facebook, and surfing the web on her Macbook. Leson doesn’t own an iPad yet, but it’s on her wish list.

When she isn’t checking out food columns and other news, Leson is devouring novels, cookbooks, and nonfiction books. As one might expect of a writer and journalist, Leson is always reading.

Here are her thoughts on where she finds her news and entertainment:

1. What are your favorite local news outlets? Why?

I’m not only a Seattle Times columnist, I’m also a subscriber of 20 years longstanding, and I look forward to hearing the paper’s thump on my doorstep (if I’m lucky and the guy’s aim is good) at o’dark-thirty each morning. While I drink coffee and read the Seattle Times, my husband sips tea and reads the New York Times (ditto on the subscription, and the thump), which I regularly scour for great local news, like the swell story I read last week about the family that lives (who knew?) at the top of the Smith Tower. I’m also a big fan of our local NPR affiliates KPLU (jazz with Dick Stein, plus Terry Gross? nothin’ bettah!) and KUOW (national news and Marcie Sillman? dig that, too).

2. What do you consider “must reads” every day? Must watch? Must hear?

My Twitter feed: I “follow” a wide world of food writers, food folks and journalists, and I consider them my personal clipping service: they’re always good for the “gotta-read-it” links to all the news I need to know. Plus, I get lots of fodder for my blog from news that breaks on a variety of neighborhood blogs — which I also follow via Twitter. I don’t watch any TV (if you don’t count downloading Grey’s Anatomy via Netflix — dirty little secret!) and I try valiantly to ignore the sound of the anime channel my kid’s so fond of. I’m crazy for radio and think there’s nothing like it, and I can’t tell you how many times I have those “driveway moments” listening to one story or another on NPR (you know, where you’re so engrossed in a tale, it doesn’t matter that you’ve pulled into your driveway because you want to hear every last word of it). I much appreciate shows like “This American Life,” “Fresh Air,” “The Splendid Table” and other weekly and daily features, which I catch-as-catch-can.

3. Do you consume news through: print, television, radio, laptop, smart phone, ipad, podcasts, other?

I used to roll my eyes at people who always have their face stuck in a laptop or smart phone, but since I switched over to the Dark Side and hooked up with a new MacBook Pro and (be still my beating heart!) wireless access at home, I find myself consuming much more news electronically. I have an iPhone, but rarely read news on it and I’m jonesing for an iPad, big-time. At heart, though, I’m a print fiend, and subscribe to at least a dozen magazines (the great majority are food-related). I relish the crazy-long in-depth pieces in the New Yorker (and wish I had more time to read it), never miss the Wednesday food section in the New York Times, and always check out the competition’s food coverage at Seattle Weekly, Seattle Magazine and Seattle Metropolitan.

4. Do you use Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or Twitter for news and information?

Yes to Twitter (see above), and Facebook, which I’m relatively new to. I very much like the ease with which I can see video via Facebook, whether it’s the news clips I didn’t catch on TV (see: anime) or the funny stuff (Obama: the Musical? Dyin’ here.) I’m on LinkedIn, but rarely check it.

5. What online news sites or aggregators do you visit regularly?

I don’t visit many with regularity (The Seattle Times notwithstanding), but do occasionally check in to Serious Eats, Culinate and a few other food-oriented sites. Also: the journalism news-site Romenesko

6. Do you regularly visit any individual blogs for news, analysis and

Seattle Weekly’s Voracious blog for food news: they’ve got a hefty stable of writers, and offer a lot of posts on a variety of food- and drink-related news and opinion, though I could live without the sex-related food content. (“Huh?” you say. Exactly.)

7. Have your news consumption habits changed in the last few years? If so,

Most definitely: see laptop/wireless usage, above.

8. Do you read for fun? If so, what? Last novel you read? Non-fiction book?

Do I read for fun? Are you kidding? Yes. Always. But still not often enough. I have stacks of cookbooks and food-reference books on tables everywhere, and read them the way other people read novels. Speaking of which: the last novel I read (and it was fabulous) was “The Man in the Wooden Hat.” No relation to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by the way. Non-fiction? I’m struggling through “Salt in our Blood: The Memoir of a Fisherman’s Wife.” OK, now ask me which book I recently read that I’d like to read again, immediately. That would be “The Help.” And which non-fiction book I’d suggest you read. That would be “The Last Days of Haute Cuisine,” by L.A.-based food writer Patric Kuh.


Onward to AOL

Heidi DietrichAfter nearly a year of working as a freelance journalist, blogger, and contract writer, I’m heading back to the world of full-time work.

Starting November 7th, I’ll be working for Patch, AOL’s new, ambitious nation-wide network of local news sites.

Like many of the best opportunities in life, I somewhat stumbled into this one. It took a phone interview with Seattle journalist Mike Lewis to turn me on to the possibility of working for AOL.

I first connected with Lewis earlier this year, when I wrote a Washington News Council blog item about his decision to buy the Streamline Tavern on Lower Queen Anne. The move from Seattle P-I columnist to bar owner wasn’t typical, and I was intrigued by how Lewis felt about the career shift.

During our conversation, Lewis told me about everything he embraced about life behind the bar, and also everything he missed about journalism.

Fast forward several months, and I found myself once again on the phone with Lewis. This time, I wanted to talk to him about his decision to take a job as regional editor for Patch.

As we discussed his reasoning for joining the AOL team, I became more and more intrigued by what the company was doing. AOL, I learned, planned to spend $100 million and hire 1,000 editors to build its nationwide Patch effort. The company was positioning itself to become one of the country’s largest employers of journalists.

In the Seattle area, AOL would be rolling out 24 local news sites. Lewis was brought on to oversee 12 South Seattle Patch local editors, plus a roving editor, sports editor, calendar editor and copy editor for the cluster. A still-to-be-hired second regional editor would oversee the same size team for North Seattle.

I found that I shared many of Lewis’ reasons for being interested in Patch. AOL is investing significant money and effort in the venture. Lewis compared the job so far to working for a fast moving tech start-up, with all the excitement and uncertainty of launching someone new. Lewis and I both agreed that the chance to be part of a massive journalism experiment, in a time when no one knows for sure where the industry is going, was intriguing.

When Lewis asked if I’d have any interest in a local editor job, I told him I did. I liked the fact that local editors were given the autonomy and independence to run their own site, manage their freelance writers, and decide what news content to post every day. I’ve never been an office person and love the freedom of making my own decisions. Patch would give me the chance to take a project and run with it.

While I’d be making a web site my own, I’d also have the perks of working for a big corporation. Weekly team meetings, an editor, a regular paycheck, and benefits. A sense of stability freelance journalism can never provide.

Late last week, while in Boston for the Head of the Charles regatta, I accepted AOL’s offer to become the local editor for the Patch Edmonds site. I chose Edmonds because I already know the community. I grew up in the neighboring city of Shoreline, have friends and relatives in Edmonds, and currently live in North Seattle. I love the passion and loyalty Edmonds residents feel for the waterfront community.

Since Patch remains a new and untested venture, I can’t yet predict what will happen with the sites. But I’m excited to be part of such an ambitious effort, and I’m glad to be part of the early development process.

I plan to continue to blog for the Washington News Council, so long as it doesn’t conflict with my work and coverage area at Patch. I enjoy keeping up on happenings in Seattle’s broader media world, and the WNC blog provides a great outlet for me to do so.

On November 7th, I’ll head down to San Francisco to join all of the west coast Patch team for a conference. I’m looking forward to finding out more about AOL’s plans for Patch, and to meeting all of my future colleagues.


New online publication The Seattle Lesbian hopes to fill news niche

The creators of Seattle’s first lesbian news site believe the city is long overdue for such a publication.

Last week, Kate West and Sarah Toce launched The Seattle Lesbian. Though Seattle already has more than one gay news outlet (Seattle Gay News and Seattlegayscene.com), West and Toce saw demand for a site aimed just at women.

Toce, The Seattle Lesbian’s editor-in-chief, already wrote for national lesbian publications when she and West started talking about a local site. When Toce contacted publicists about stories, they often asked her why there were no media outlets in Seattle to pitch to.

Toce and West’s lesbian friends, in turn, complained about local gay news sites not devoting enough ink to the lesbian community.

“There was definitely a void,” said West, who acts as executive editor for The Seattle Lesbian.

With The Seattle Lesbian, West and Toce plan to cover Seattle news, politics, celebrity gossip, and local lesbians of note. Toce, who already regularly writes about Hollywood’s gay stars, will continue to cover the beat for The Seattle Lesbian. West wants to feature local gay performers, singers, and writers.

“There’s no press being done on them,” West said.

The pair will also write about politics. This week, for instance, they’re attending rallies and news conferences for Patty Murray. They’ll cover issues and pen columns on topics important to lesbians.

“We want to be a voice for people who don’t have a voice,” Toce said.

Whether The Seattle Lesbian will become financially viable remains to be seen. Right now, West is keeping her other full-time job as a claims analyst for an insurance company. Toce, on the other hand, is devoting her attention entirely to the site. In addition to their own work, they are relying on Toce’s partner for the site’s photography and several local writers for regular columns. They’d like to be able to pay freelancers, but they aren’t there yet.

The two are just beginning to build their advertising base. Since they’ve launched the site last week, several organizations and companies interested in ad spots have contacted them, Toce said. They believe political organizations, such as Equal Rights Washington, and gay-friendly or gay-owned local businesses would be prime candidates for advertisers.

Toce and West say they are also receiving a steady stream of emails from local lesbians who welcome the site’s arrival.

“We’re getting quite a little fan base,” Toce said.


What I Read: Christine Chen

Seattleites came to know Christine Chen as a news anchor on KCPQ-13.

These days, she’s left her television career behind to run her own communications and public relations firm, Chen Communications. (Small disclosure: In the past I did website copy for a client of Chen Communications, but no longer work for them). Chen doesn’t miss her time in front of the camera, and instead relishes the fact that she’s now her own boss and can put her business smarts to work.

Though she no longer works as a journalist, Chen is no less up on the news. She’s a regular at online news sites, Twitter, blogs, and every other possible media outlet. Chen figures she needs to be current on communication trends if she wants to pass on the best advice to clients.

When not reading about current events, the devoted yogi can be found curled up with books on yoga instruction.

Here are Chen’s responses on what she’s reading:

1. What are your favorite local news outlets? Why?
My favorite local news outlets, as always, are ones that honor traditional fact-checking best practices and training to balance out the speed of today’s information gathering… ones that are thoughtful/contextual with their local coverage for their own specific audiences.  With the proliferation of many hyper-local news sites and twitter feeds for news consumption, trust/credibility remains paramount.  Listen/watch with an educated filter.  Who’s talking?  Why?  How?

2. What do you consider “must reads” every day? Must watch? Must hear?
Must read: 1) USA Today for efficient, mainstream roundup of stories-it’s so quick, 2) WSJ Marketplace – fantastic take on consumer-facing topics, 3) what my friends on Facebook are discussing, linking to, commenting on.. because I have many smart friends in/from the media world, and 4) Entertainment Weekly to clear my brain of all the news clutter.   I’ll admit it.  This is pure junk reading of the best kind.   It also works for some client work, as well. :)

3. Do you consume news through: print, television, radio, laptop, smart phone, ipad, podcasts, other?
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes +++  Build the mix that works for you!  Just listen carefully and use your Brain (capital B). Then, turn it off periodically to let it rest and have fresh perspective for a whole new round.

4. Do you use Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or Twitter for news and information?
Yes.  In so many different ways – for myself and for clients.  But, I think it’s important to make sure these tools don’t take over your full range of communication.  It’s still important to talk (really!) to people for information and look around for other perspectives.  Integrate!  I learn more, leverage more, share more, and grow more by connecting with the larger information ecosystem.

5. What online news sites or aggregators do you visit regularly?
This varies widely.  Usually, I’m searching for work-related/client topics I hear about through various people/channels.  Then, I follow the flow of the information. My info journey is different each day.

6. Do you regularly visit any individual blogs for news, analysis and opinion?
This varies widely – my time is usually spent gathering useful info for client work, so blog visitation usually depends on projects.  Right now, I’m working on two video game industry projects, so I’m reading “fan boi” and consumer electronics blogs a lot.  I’m also working with an international hospital, so…health blogs.

7. Have your news consumption habits changed in the last few years? If so, how?
For many years, my job was in local news as an aggregator, so I absorbed a ton of information across a range of topics, at rapid pace, aggregating/editing it for delivery to viewers.  Today, that same “habit” is more focused on specific news topics for clients.  There’s still rapid absorption, but the aggregation is used a little differently in the execution of projects.

8. Do you read for fun? If so, what? Last novel you read? Non-fiction book?
Currently, I’m training for yoga instruction, so I’m reading several yoga-related books simultaneously, such as: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (a Hindu scripture and foundational text of yoga ) and The Language of Yoga (learning actual sanskrit).  The last non-fiction book I read was What She’s Not Telling You (what women don’t say in focus groups and why it brings consumer marketing to its knees).  The last fictional book I read was a gift from my husband:  The Art of Racing in the Rain by Seattle author, Garth Stein.  The cover featured a golden retriever that looks just like my dog, but the dog in the book isn’t a golden retriever.  (Hmm…Marketing?)

What I Read: Ben Huh

By launching the popular I Can Has Cheezburger sites, tech entrepreneur Ben Huh made LOLcats and epic Fails household terms. All around the world, web surfers looking for a quick laugh visit the Cheezburger Network for photos of animals, people doing stupid things, misspelled signs, and other quirky topics.

But that doesn’t mean Huh, a former journalist, spends all of his time searching for comic inspiration. While Huh goes to a Cheezburger site, The Daily What, for pop culture news, he’s also a regular online visitor of news sites ranging from The New York Times to the Seattle tech news site TechFlash. And when he finally gets off the laptop, he can be found picking up a copy of The Economist.

Here’s what Ben Huh is reading:

1. What are your favorite local news outlets? Why?

Seattle P-I. I think their experiment and transformation into an online-only newspaper is fascinating to watch.

2. What do you consider “must reads” every day? Must watch? Must hear?

I read one of our sites, The Daily What (http://thedailywh.at), for all my Internet Culture news. After that, I read the NYT or whomever surfaces via Twitter.

3. Do you consume news through: print, television, radio, laptop, smart phone, ipad, podcasts, other?

Mostly via my iPhone and laptop.

4. Do you use Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or Twitter for news and information?

Twitter is the one I use the most.

5. What online news sites or aggregators do you visit regularly?

I visit Techmeme and TechFlash for my tech biz news. I visit The Daily What for Internet Culture and CNN and NYT for the main stream news.

6. Do you regularly visit any individual blogs for news, analysis and opinion?

No, it really depends on what’s being filtered to me.

7. Have your news consumption habits changed in the last few years? If so, how?

90% of all information is gathered via the Web. The remainder comes through analysis in magazines (The Economist and The Week).

8. Do you read for fun? If so, what? Last novel you read? Non-fiction book?
I don’t read for fun, per se. I do that enough online. :)


Mark Matassa on life in the mayor’s office

In the last year, Mark Matassa left journalism behind to steer Mayor Mike McGinn’s communications staff through controversial budget cuts, bike-friendly road policies, and tunnel debates.

And he’s done it all while fighting brain cancer.

Remarkably, Matassa expresses only optimism and gratitude for where he’s at. He’s embracing his hectic life, stress and all.

“I really love working for the mayor,” Matassa said. “I feel lucky to have landed here.”

Matassa didn’t set out to become McGinn’s director of communications. When the mayor’s office reached out to him last December, he’d been working as an editor at online news site Crosscut for only a few months. He’d been a reporter and editor at news outlets up and down the West Coast his entire life, and hadn’t given much thought to leaving journalism.

But out of pure curiosity, Matassa decided to take the invitation for an interview at the mayor’s office anyhow. Upon meeting with McGinn, Matassa instantly took a liking to the man, both for his values and his open, comfortable attitude.

“If Dino Rossi had called looking for a communcations director, I would not have taken the job,” Matassa said. “But I felt a political and personal connection with McGinn.”

Matassa also became intrigued by the idea of witnessing behind-the-scenes operations of city government for the first time. He’d covered politics throughout his journalism career, and wondered about the view from the other side.

Almost a full year later, Matassa isn’t sorry he took the leap away from journalism. For the first time in decades, he feels he can engage in political debate at a party. After years of trying to be objective, he’s happy to say that he feels McGinn’s budget is brilliant, agrees with the mayor’s anti-tunnel stance, and advocates for cycling and mass transit.

“I’ve found it really refreshing to come out and say what I think about stuff,” Matassa said.

Matassa won’t talk politics, however, in his own home. His longtime partner, Michelle Nicolosi, is the executive producer at Seattlepi.com. To counter any potential perceived bias in Seattlepi.com’s coverage of City Hall, Matassa and Nicolosi steer away from business and political discussions. Nicolosi, in turn, won’t work on or edit stories that involve the mayor’s office, and Matassa communicates with other reporters at Seattlepi.com.

While Matassa’s political gig marks a shift from the attempted objectivity of reporting to clear bias, he also finds similarities between City Hall and a newsroom. Both jobs carry equal pressure. In the news business, he hurried to meet deadlines, report stories accurately, and produce copy quickly. At the mayor’s office, his stresses come from managing relationships with various groups and people. Both types of pressure, Matassa has found, suit him well.

“I’m good under stress,” Matassa said. “I find the challenges in journalism and at the mayor’s office incredibly invigorating.”

Day to day, Matassa also finds his role as communications director not so different from being an editor. In both jobs, he spends significant time managing other people and sitting in meetings.

For Matassa, the challenge of adapting to a new career pales in comparison to his larger fight. Since 2006, he’s been battling brain cancer. He’s gone through two surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation.

This summer, Matassa took two months off from his duties at the mayor’s office to undergo radiation therapy. He’s been back at the office for four weeks now, but struggles with fatigue. Matassa credits coworkers with filling in for him when needed.

“Everyone at the mayor’s office has been so cool and helpful,” Matassa said. “They’ve all pitched in.”

Even though he’s constantly tired, Matassa embraced his return to work. He loves being part of Seattle’s political scene, and he missed the action while on sick leave.

“I wake up happy,” Matassa said.


Charles Krauthammer praises President Obama…sort of

Charles Krauthammer, the former practicing psychiatrist who became a Pulitzer Prize-wining conservative columnist and commentator, had some good things to say about President Barack Obama in a keynote speech to 1,200 people at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner at the Hyatt Regency in Bellevue on Oct. 6:

“I credit the President for presenting a view from the left with clarity and honesty.” Krauthammer said, adding: “He is out to remake American society – unabashedly, unashamedly and, I would say, courageously.”

Obama’s presidency has sparked “an extraordinary national debate over what kind of nation we are – who we are as a people, what we believe in,” Krauthammer said.

There is “something intrinsically healthy and clarifying” about this great debate, Krauthammer said. “It’s been a healthy debate, it’s been an important debate, it’s been a spontaneous debate” and one of the most significant in American history.

Obama “thinks very large in world historical terms,” Krauthammer said. He compared Obama to Ronald Reagan, adding: “Obama sees himself as the anti-Reagan….the man who will reverse Reagan” and take the nation “back to a new liberalism.”

Noting that some politicians govern from the “mushy middle,” he said that “Something dramatic has happened on the political scene” and Obama is largely responsible.

Of course, Krauthammer had plenty of negative things to say about Obama, as well as provocative comments on other aspects of American politics:

On Obama’s ideology: “Obama is not a socialist. That’s not a word I would use….The man is a Swede. Sweden is not a horrible place, but it’s not where I want to raise a kid.” Obama prefers a “social Democratic strain of socialism” that is “like Europe” with “less dynamism, less enterprising social mobility, and in the end, less liberty.”

On Obama’s personality: “How shall I put this delicately? He has a remarkable sense of self….Here is a man who accepted a Nobel Peace Prize having done absolutely nothing.”

On the Democrats: “The Democrats misunderstood their leader, they overshot their mandate, and they misread the American people.”

On Obamacare: “I think we will inevitably end up with a British-style health system, unless it’s repealed.”

On the Tea Party: It is a “spontaneous, disorganized, anarchic rebellion” that “has now become a political phenomenon.” It is “the spearhead, if you like, of resistance to the European-style socialism that Obama wants….This is not anger. This is protest. We have a national debate: What kind of government do we want?”

On American politics: “It was always fought between the 40-yard lines,” while in Europe it is from “goal line to goal line.”

On political polarization: “Here was Obama pushing us to the Red Zone…Don’t misread that. I don’t want anyone Tweeting that the man’s a Communist. It’s an NFL term.” Obama has led “an ideological experiment, trying to push us beyond the 40-yard line – but the American people put up a goal-line stand around the 35-yard line.”

On America’s future: “We want the essence of the American experiment to remain its core….Something politically alien is happening in America and people are rejecting it like a foreign body….It will be up to Americans to decide which way they want to go….The country is still suffering. The country is looking for a way out.”

On psychiatry versus punditry: “I still deal on a daily basis with people who suffer from paranoia and delusions of grandeur,” but in Washington, D.C., “they have access to nuclear weapons.”

On moving from speechwriter for Walter Mondale to commentator on Fox News: “The answer is simple: I was young once.”


What I Read: Tom Douglas

Tom Douglas is a busy man. The Seattle celebrity chef runs seven restaurants, including the recently opened Seatown Snackbar near Pike Place Market. Douglas’ team is also building out new bread and pastry bakeries in South Lake Union.

Yet the time-pressed restauranteur still finds time for traditional news. Though Douglas dabbles in new technologies, he still prefers the good old fashioned print editions of the Seattle Times and New York Times. He leaves tweeting and blogging to one of his staff members, and while he bought an iPad, he almost never uses it.

Here are Douglas’ responses to my questions on what he’s reading.

What are your favorite local news outlets? Why?
For local, I go to MyNorthwest.com. I got in the habit because I was on the air on Saturday for KIRO for six years. It became the place I went to for local news. I left KIRO in April, but I still read MyNorthwest. I also watch KING-5 and NW Cable News when I can.

What do you consider “must reads” every day? Must watch? Must hear?
I get up every morning, go to the newspaper box, and get the Seattle Times and New York Times. I get up early just so I have time to read the paper with coffee.

Do you consume news through: print, television, radio, laptop, smart phone, ipad, podcasts, other?
I don’t use an iPhone, iPad, or laptop to surf the news. If I’m online, I use a desktop computer. I own an iPad but I never use it. I thought I’d read emails on it when walking between restaurants, but I never carry it with me.

Do you use Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or Twitter for news and information?
I don’t use Twitter or Facebook. I have a person on my staff who handles all of that and blogs for me.

What online news sites or aggregators do you visit regularly?

I like to visit Yahoo for the top stories of the day.

Do you regularly visit any individual blogs for news, analysis and opinion?

I visit the Serious Eats food blog once in a while. The founder is my pal and the co-writer on my second book. I’m rooting for him to succeed. I try not to read too much commentary online. I’m in a very social business, and I’ve found it’s better to not pay too much attention to the comments and chatter on City Search and Yelp.

Have your news consumption habits changed in the last few years? If so, how?
I miss getting the P-I. I miss having that alternative viewpoint. I am a big believer in newspapers.

Do you read for fun? If so, what? Last novel you read? Non-fiction book?
I listen to a ton of books. I tend to read nonfiction. I’ve been reading The Big Short by Michael Lewis and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I also collect old books from antique book stores.


Mike Lewis out from behind the bar, onward to Patch

When I last checked in with former Seattle P-I columnist Mike Lewis, he was spending most of his time pouring drinks and growing business at the Streamline Tavern, the Lower Queen Anne bar he purchased with three partners last year.

Lewis, who lost his job at the P-I when the paper ceased publication as a print news product, admitted to missing journalism. Though he still wrote freelance articles, he longed for the chaos of a newsroom and the excitement of regularly chasing down scoops.

He didn’t have to miss the news biz for long. Lewis recently signed on as Seattle regional editor for Patch, AOL’s new neighborhood news network. He’ll oversee 12 local Patch sites south of Seattle. AOL still needs to hire a second regional editor to run 12 blogs north of the city.

Today, Patch launched the first of its Seattle sites, University Place Patch. The next sites slated for launch in the Seattle area are Bellevue, Mercer Island, Bonney Lake-Sumner, and Lakewood. They will likely go live at the end of October.

Lewis didn’t seek out the Patch position on his own. He only heard about AOL’s ambitious nationwide neighborhood news efforts in July, a full year after AOL acquired the start-up Patch Media and began growing the network. One of Lewis’ former Seattle University journalism students had been speaking to a Patch recruiter about becoming a local editor, and she recommended Lewis for the regional editor position.

When Patch’s hiring team called up Lewis, he wasn’t sure if he wanted the job. But he met Patch’s west coast editorial director, Marcia Parker, at the Seattle Marriott, and after a few hours together he became convinced that AOL was serious about the venture.

Lewis learned AOL planned to spend $50 million to build Patch this year alone, and another $50 million next year. He sensed the company’s enthusiasm for the project and dedication to hiring good people.

“I like the way they are running things,” Lewis said. “AOL is taking a big gamble on this and putting a lot of money into it.”

Lewis hopes his role as regional editor will allow him to do some writing down the road. Right now, he’s working on hiring local editors for the 24 community sites around the region. Patch will also bring on board a roving editor, copy editor, sports editor, and calendar editor for each of the 12-site clusters in the Seattle area.

Patch offered Lewis his choice of north or south Seattle, and he selected south, mainly because he spent more time there reporting when he was at the Seattle P-I. Should the company hire a second regional editor with strong preference for the south end, however, Lewis is also willing to work with the north communities.

AOL has no plans at the moment to start sites for any of the urban Seattle neighborhoods, and Lewis said the city is already saturated with local blogs. Patch can compete in the suburbs, Lewis said. He could see the company eventually starting another 12-site cluster in another populated region of the state, however.

Nationwide, Patch currently has 220 sites in 17 states, with 16 more sites slated to go live this week. By next year, AOL plans to have 1,000 editors, making it one of the largest employers of journalists in the country.

Working for Patch reminds Lewis of being at a fast-moving, well-funded start-up. He’s juggling the time consuming new gig with finishing up several freelance projects and working one night a week at the Streamline.

“I’m running as hard as I can to get everything out,” Lewis said. “But that’s the nature of modern journalism.”


Small Town Community Newspapers Strive to Thrive

The Washington Newspaper Publishers Association http://wnpa.com held its 123rd annual convention in Wenatchee last week. WNPA members own or work for weekly newspapers and small dailies all over the state. Their first convention was held in Tacoma in 1887!

Running a small-town community newspaper isn’t easy, especially these days when journalism is in such chaotic transition as print moves online. But these folks are survivors: tough, determined, creative – and remarkably optimistic.

Displaying a gritty mix of change and hope, the WNPA named this gathering “Join the Revolution 2010: Mission Possible.” In many cases, these newspapers are doing better than the large urban dailies. They tend to be closer to their readers than big-city media. After all, they see their subscribers every day at the grocery store, in church, and at high-school football games.

About 140 publishers, editors, reporters, photographers, advertising managers, sales representatives, graphic designers, and technology specialists attended. Some of these folks do virtually all of those jobs by themselves, or with tiny staffs – including their spouses.

Copies of all their papers were on display. Anyone who thinks newspapers are dying should have a look at these lively, colorful, innovative publications – and check out their increasingly active websites.

On Friday night, they gave each other dozens of awards in all kinds of categories (For a list of winners, see http://wnpa.com). The hours-long awards banquet was followed by an open-bar hospitality suite, a swimming-pool party, and karaoke. Hey, these are journalists!

Looking over my notes and quotes from the three-day gathering, I decided to give a few awards of my own….


“Our industry has seen some rocky times….But community papers – daily, weekly or otherwise – are the future of our industry. The trend is there. The ship is turning.”
 Paul Archipley, WNPA President and Publisher, Mukilteo Beacon (http://mukilteobeacon.com/) and Edmonds Beacon (http://edmondsbeacon.com/)


“We’re not just going to have a print newspaper anymore….The Web is not a huge moneymaker, but it’s not a money loser. We’re building up traffic. Our hits and visits are going up. Our website has only 25-30% of the content that’s in the newspaper, so we’re not giving it away.”
 Patrick Sullivan, Publisher, Port Townsend Leader (http://ptleader.com/)


“How do we pay the bills in that new environment? I hate to use the word ‘monetize,’ it’s a ridiculous word….But how are we going to make this work financially? How are we proceeding in the struggle on how to produce revenue from this electronic delivery? If we don’t do that, we’re in a world of hurt.”
 Bill Will, Executive Director, WNPA (http://wnpa.com/)


“Mobile is still in a startup phase. We’re just starting to push out the apps….The mobile space is fascinating because there are so many more options. We can really get granular if the customer wants that. A mobile ad can initiate a phone call, an email, or open up a phone showing [the advertiser’s] nearby locations.”
 Seth Long, Director of New Media, Sound Publishing Inc., Kent (http://soundpublishing.com)


“Content is power. Anything in your archives is power. When you put up a piece of news, people find that news and make it their own. The more you put up, the more value it has. Some things I don’t put it on our website, because I know our competition is reading our website for their next morning’s paper. They’ll just read it online and put it in their story. How do you save the value for your print edition? You’ve got to buy our paper to get the best stuff.”
 Patrick Sullivan, Publisher, Port Townsend Leader (http://ptleader.com)


“What can we do to drive and promote engagement? It’s easy to do. All we did was put up a Facebook page. We’re not making any money on Facebook. What we are doing is building a community. We now have more of a network: People are feeding us story information, and commenting on our stories either directly on Facebook or on our comments page. Anything you can do to drive up that level of engagement, so people have a greater sense of ownership over the content and are involved in the content, is good.”
 Jason Cline, Technology Consultant (http://modaira.com) , Sequim Gazette (http://www.sequimgazette.com/)


“One of the best things that Facebook has done is to make people use their real names. As more people get used to being themselves online, that will improve the quality of comments we get….Every month you see more people using their names thru the Facebook feature….It’s incredibly powerful. Put Facebook friends around your page. I can’t overstate the importance of that. People just click a button saying they like it. People are going there and so are their friends. Your site is alive.”
 Seth Long, Sound Publishing Inc. (http://soundpublishing.com)


“Our Facebook page has 500 fans and 3,100 friends. We get good story ideas. It was a slow start, but now our Website has gone from 21,000 to 35,000 visitors, and that corresponds directly to Facebook.…Our Web traffic is directly related to our Facebook growth and the interaction we have with our community.”
 Roger Harnack, Publisher and Editor, Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle (http://www.omakchronicle.com/)


“While we’re playing around with these ideas, our current revenue streams are drying up. We’re going to fall into the canyon….People who care about the community, and care about our democracy, are being drowned out by social networking….We’re being asked to consider things that have nothing to do with journalism. I don’t know when I went from being a young upstart to being an old-fart dinosaur. I am not sold on Facebook and Tweets. ‘Mental masturbation,’ I call it. If somebody can explain it to me, please do!”
 Paul Archipley, President, WNPA


“I’m a journalist by profession, but the business I’m in is communication. There are a million ways to communicate with people. We get them to our website. It shows that you care about them, as potential readers. You care about what they care about….Eventually, advertisers will see the value of going to these sites….The death of newspapers has been greatly exaggerated for decades. You have to reach out and go to people.”
 Imbert Mathee, Publisher, The Waitsburg Times (http://www.waitsburgtimes.com/)


“I can make more money with a special [advertising] section than in two hours talking about Facebook. I’m a businessman….I try to put out the best community newspaper I can. I can’t sell online advertising.”
 Mike Lewis, Publisher, Lynden Tribune (http://lyndentribune.com)


“We use Twitter as a ‘news flash.’ It goes directly to their phones and that brings them to our website….We have 15,000 circulation, and now 1,500 people have signed up to follow us on Twitter. All our City Council and School Board members are signed up. They want news….But today, the news is now! Do you want the news later or now?”
 Debbie Berto, Publisher, Issaquah Press (http://www.issaquahpress.com/)


“I get a daily paper delivered daily, but I hardly ever read it. I’m turning 40 this year, so I’m in the bridge generation. I get all my news online. The way people are consuming news is so different from the way they did 10-20 years ago….They want to go to the comments, and see what other people think about the news.”
 Chuck Allen, Publisher, Quincy Valley Post-Register (http://qvpr.com/)


“This [holding up his smartphone] is tomorrow’s newspaper, and we have to treat it that way….Everything you want you’re gonna find on your phone. That’s where we’re going. Our business model of the future should be talking about applications for mobile phones, or maybe getting papers on Kindle and paying for those subscriptions. The Internet’s 30 years old. We’ve moved way beyond it. But newspapers haven’t caught up.”
 Roger Harnack, Publisher and Editor, Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle (http://www.omakchronicle.com/)


“Newspapers have been a profitable enterprise for years. By going online, will that profitable model continue, or will we find that we’re no longer a profit-making business? All this conversation is about communicating with people, instead of ‘Am I gonna make money on this?’….It’s still all about the money. You still have to have dollars to hire people to write the news.”
 Andy McNab, Publisher, Idaho County Free Press, Grangeville


“A lot of us are in the business not to make money, but because we thought we had a calling….Is there a future here for newspapers? There may be, but it may not be a profit future….If we don’t hang together, we’re going to hang separately.”
 Paul Archipley, WNPA President

Granted, these quotes are just snapshots from many hours of intense discussion, and my “awards” are clearly somewhat tongue-in-cheek. But they help capture the “disruptive innovation” that’s going on in the news industry all over the country these days.

Here’s one more award, to Steve Buttry of TBD.com (http://www.tbd.com/) a new online news source for the Washington, D.C., area that just launched in August. Buttry was the “out-of-town expert” and did three sessions – “Managing Your Changing Workload,” “Multimedia Storytelling” and “Complete Community Connection,” which is his template for managing what some call the new news ecosystem. (For more details, see http://stevebuttry.wordpress.com/)


“The smaller organizations that are represented here can be more nimble and more innovative….You have the resources to use the tectonic shift that’s taking place as a prod to try new things….What can you do to uphold your standards and matter to your community, and meet your goals of community engagement? Find the people in your community who are passionate about things and see how you can engage with them. Put their blogs on your site, sell ads and share some revenue. You can look at them as competitors or as collaborators….Twitter is the most valuable tool for journalists that I have seen introduced in my career. If you’re plugged into Twitter, then if something happens anywhere, you get news and photos….Social media needs to be part of your newsroom approach. It is connecting with your community.”
– Steve Buttry, Director of Community Engagement, TBD.com (http://www.tbd.com/)