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FAQ #7

As a follow-up to last week's FAQ, this week we're going to cover a slightly more advanced search tool in the e-edition repertoire. The e-notify feature works like a regular search, but instead of logging in to the e-edition every day--I wish you were, but I know silly things like a job get in the way--you can enter your search terms and email address and e-notify will notify(!) you when those terms appear in the paper.

You'll receive an email with links to each of the articles containing that word. It looks essentially like the list of search results that would appear if you were to search manually. The difference is this saves you time by doing it for you. Plus, if you don't want have time to read those articles that day, you can save the email for later.

E-notify is very easy to set up. It takes 3 (and a half) steps.

1. Click E-NOTIFY in the top toolbar, just to the right of the Reporter-News logo. You should see this e-notify screen come up in the left panel.

2. Enter your email address and your search term(s) and click Test.

A new window will pop up with a list of articles containing your search term. This lets you know your search is working. If it doesn't bring up anything and you think it should have, try changing your terms. If you need help, click Help! to get tips on improving your search. (That was the half step, if anyone's counting).

3. Check both boxes, unless you're not over 13, and then don't check that one, because that would be dishonest. If you are the appropriate age and you do agree to the terms, check the boxes and click Activate.

At that point, an email will be sent to the address you provided asking you to confirm your e-notify request. If you don't get one, check your Spam folder. Once you get the email, click on the link provided to complete the "activation process."

And that's it!

You are now an official e-notify-ee. Emails should start arriving soon. If they don't, make sure your account says Active under your current status. If it says Active, Waiting for Confirmation, the activation link in the email has not been clicked. Find it, and try it again. Othwerwise, it's a time-saving piece of cake.

Hope that's helpful. See you next week, same time, same channel.


FAQ #6

I love the ironic situations created when well-established companies have their names co-opted by Texting-ese. Case in point, BRB Trucking. Of course, whether that inspires confidence or not is open to interpretation, but the point is, what you call something can be the difference between success and miserable failure (as in the famous, albeit fictional tale of the Chevy Nova).

That's why I'm a huge fan of search functions. "Search" says it all. It conjures up images of treasure hunters or research librarians, combing the pages of old, dusty tomes... OK, maybe not. But it does make my day a little brighter when I land on the homepage of some massive government site, and instead of sifting through pages of data one at a time, I type my request into that innocuous little box at the top and voila! There they are. 150 articles containing your search term. Beautiful.

Being the Google ninja that I am, I have come to rely heavily on search tools, but there's always been something missing. Haven't you ever been reading a book and wished you could search for that one sentence you know you read three chapters back and forgot to mark? Or thought a word was overused and wanted to actually count the number of times the author used it, just for grins?

You get the idea.

The first feature I always show people when I demo the e-edition is the "Search" function. I can type in any term and get links to all the articles in today's paper in which the term is found. Most of our subscribers know about this feature. Slightly less well-known is the "Advanced Search" feature that actually lets you search the last 30 days of back issues. At long last, we've arrived at what we're going to talk about today.

It's quick n' easy, but I want to make sure everyone knows how to use it, because it can be incredibly helpful when you're wanting to go back and find an article you only dimly remember reading.

Step 1: Log in.
Step 2: Click on Advanced Search, found under the Search box in the navigation bar.

Step 3: In the pop-up window, enter your search term and the dates of the issues you want to search.

You can enter multiple terms and choose to search for all the words or "at least one word." You can also choose what category of articles you'd like to search, such as editorials.

Step 4: Click Search, and every article within the specified dates that contains your search term will appear in the left panel. To read an article, click on it just as you normally would, and it will pop up in the right panel.

And you're done! Remember, you can only access 30 days of back issues, but that's usually plenty. I hope this was helpful, if for no other reason than you didn't know this feature existed. Happy hunting, and I'll see you all next week!


"Too Much For 140"

(Gotta love the fail whale).

This post has been a long time coming. Thanks to all my stalwart readers who keep checking in the hopes that I'll have posted something both humorous and inspiring.

I apologize, but this most likely neither. Instead, it's a quick (I hope) rundown of everything social media-ish the Reporter-News has been doing over the last few weeks and months. I can't possibly fit it all into a tweet, and I don't want to annoy people by flooding their news feeds with updates, so it wound up here. Forgive me if some of these are old news.

I suppose it's only appropriate to start with @e_edition. That guy is good. Probably the best the ARN has ever seen (don't tell @ReporterNews I said that). Seriously, aside from any talent or lack thereof, the various Twitter accounts at the paper (@ARNBizBuzz, @ARNrewards, @ARNjobs, @abilenemoms, etc.) are a pretty hefty milestone in our history. West Texas isn't exactly famous for being high-tech or full of early adopters. We're pretty proud of our efforts to buck that stereotype as we learn more every day how to better engage with the Abilene community.

Our e-edition Facebook fan page is alive and well, although it could handle some more content. We're still working on ways to elicit content from our friends and fans, but I'm confident we'll get there.

I suppose it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Reporter-News fan page, which launched last week, has nearly 50 fans and is already generating solid interaction with readers. People love their newspaper, and it's ironic to me the medium that will be the alleged downfall of the printed word is emphasizing its popularity.

This blog, although still in its infant stage by most standards, has turned out to be not only a good time investment, but also really enjoyable. The newspaper industry is an exciting place to write. I'm either talking with people deeply invested in and passionate about it, or I'm given a chance to share my "life" (as much as a php site can have) and passion with someone who doesn't know the first thing about newspapers.

Anyone worth their salt in social media will tell you perfection isn't possible. Community isn't something you can display in a trophy case. It's something we have to work on every minute of every day. I'm thrilled to be able to say that's exactly what we're doing. Sometimes it's nice to have too much for 140.


TV Spot

This video was actually created for the Abilene Business Expo in March. Darrin McBreen spent quite a bit of time putting this together, and in fact, does the voice-over for the ad. I thought his hard work deserved more than one day of attention, so here, for your viewing pleasure, is our very first e-edition TV spot.

"TV ad campaign for the Abilene Reporter News E-Edition newspaper. Created by Darrin McBreen."


Reel Men Love Newspapers

Part of the charm of running a good-old-fashioned newspaper is not just the smell of paper and ink wafting throughout the building, but also the bona-fide printing press down the hall. Yes, all you doubting Thomases, in some places in the world, they print news on paper. If you've never seen a modern press, trust me, it's awesome. It's four floors tall and the paper reels it prints on are about 1800 pounds each. It takes three hours, a roomful of reels and a skilled reelman to print our newspaper (plus a lot of other people upstairs). And that's if everything goes right.

Before Tuesday, however, I didn't know any of that.

The ARN, being the only newspaper in town, gets a lot of press. (I'll pause for the obligatory eye-roll). Teachers love to bring their classes through on tours, available year-round by appointment. Usually, our good friend and marketing manager, James, has the honor of escorting the horde of 7-year-olds around the building.

This week was different. The group that came in was on the oldish side, for field trips, at least. They were a group of Big Country high school students participating in a year-long leadership program. We were just one stop in a long day of visits to the media outlets in Abilene (all three of them). Also, James asked me to tag along and learn the tour so I can do it in the future. So, we met the kids in the lobby and off we went.

We looked at the old presses on display in the lobby, talked about the history of the paper, walked through some departments and eventually, made our way upstairs to the exciting part of the tour: printing the paper.

I've seen a tour before. Normally, we stand outside a glass wall and look inside at the machines, ooh, aah, next. Today, we ran into Ed. As I found out later, James already knew Ed, but I'd never seen him before, so I thought we just got lucky. Lucky, because Ed happens to work on the press, and he knows just about everything there is to know about printing a newspaper. Not only that, but he could let us into the famed glass-walled room. Not even James or I had been inside before. I was probably more excited than the kids were.

Anyway, Ed is a reel man rockstar. It was obvious as he wove his way through the maze of machines that he's great at what he does because he loves it. He's been in the newspaper business for years, and he told me he's afraid, not of losing his job if the presses ever stop rolling, but that when they do, the art will be lost. And it is an art.

Ed's friend, Larry, is in charge of "pasting" the rolls. Tens of thousands of newspapers won't fit on one roll, so someone has to be ready with a new roll when the old one runs out. It requires expert timing to paste the old paper to the new just as the edge of it spins off the reel, and if you miss, everything grinds to a halt. Ed says Larry's one of the best, and I believe it. He has all kinds of tricks for wrestling those giant reels onto the machines, and on top of that, he's just a nice guy.

The point is, they're both nice guys. They're passionate about what they do, and they want to share it with anybody who will stand still and listen. Yeah, they have ink all over their hands and faces and clothes. They work until 2 or 3 a.m. every night. The work they do is hot and tiring. But it's cool. And they know it.

What are we missing? Why can't everybody be fired up like that? To be fair, being a reel man is unique. Some people don't even know how to fold a newspaper anymore, much less explain how it's made. It's a novelty, for sure. But after years of the same work, I think the shine has probably worn off for Ed, just like any other job. I think the reason he loves his job is because he's invested in it, his time and patience and sweat, and he's proud of it.

So, the question is, are you proud of your work? Do you do everything to the best of your ability? Are you good at monotasking? If you're not pouring your heart and soul into everything you do, just maybe the boring job isn't the problem.

My challenge for tomorrow: try loving your job. See what happens.

(photo cred: wcm777)


FAQ #5

Q: The crosswords are so blurry I can hardly read them. Printing them out doesn't help. What's the deal?

A: Blurry puzzles can be, well, puzzling. (Just like my lame puns). Never fear, there is a quick fix. As discussed in FAQ #2, some parts of the paper look better in graphic mode. One of those parts is, you guessed it, the puzzle page.

This is today's crossword in text mode.

I can hear all you crossword-ers cringing from here. OK, here it is in graphic mode.

See the difference? And I did no resizing or adjusting of my own. With the touch of a button, you have a much clearer, much larger puzzle to print for your crossword-working pleasure.

The visual mode can be toggled between text and graphic by clicking the button in the toolbar directly above the right panel. If you need a refresher, check out FAQ #2 for more detailed pictures and instructions.

Hooray for clarity! (And, might I add, brevity.) Tune in next week for another exciting installment of Frequently Asked Questions.


FAQ #4

Q: Why are your blog posts so long?

A: Because I like to make sure there's enough information for people to discuss, chew on or put to good use.

Obviously this wasn't an actual question, but I've been hassled about it a couple of times, so I thought I'd rush to my own rescue. Unfortunately, the hasslers are right. Brevity is not my strong suit. I'd rather err on the side of information overload. At least you'll have learned something by the end of it, even if you don't get everything, right?

It doesn't work like that. The amount of material that people take in every day from various sources is too large to digest slowly. Skimming=survival in the world of amassed media. Plus, according to a 2007 study by the National Endowment for the Arts, "there is a general decline in reading among teenage and adult Americans," including college graduates.

NPR's editorial director for digital media, Dick Meyer, describes it as a "literary death spiral." (read the full article here)

"There is an aversion to long chunks of sentences," he says. "The less we read books, the less we read journalism; the less we read journalism, the less we read books. Reading skills atrophy or, worse, were never properly acquired to their fullest. The dire problem is that long chunks of sentences are still the best way humans have to express complex thoughts, intricate observations, fleeting emotions — the whole range of what we are."

A sad state of affairs it may be, but it also happens to be "the way it is." And maybe it's not all bad. People who can eliminate excessive verbiage and cut right to the heart of the matter should be applauded, right? I'm just saying there might be a happy medium.

30 seconds might be long enough for a commercial, but it'd make a pretty lousy novel, don't you think?

(picture courtesy of merriam-webster.com and my "Print Screen" button)


A Guy, a Cup and a Coffee Shop

I'm a passionate person. I like to talk about things I'm fired up about. I get really excited when I can convince other people to get fired up, too. But, there's a problem.

I don't know how to sell. It's not because I'm shy or spent too much time playing video games. I have a firm handshake, I speak up and I look people in the eye. I just don't know how to initiate conversation about my product.

It shouldn't be that hard, should it? We "sell" things all the time, just through our recommendations to others. That should carry over to business, right? I mean, that's what word-of-mouth marketing is all about. If I like the product I'm selling, why can't I be the one to get the ball rolling?

Andy Sernovitz, the word-of-mouth marketing guru, had an excellent "Andy's Answers" post about the three characteristics of a great word of mouth topic. The topic must be emotional, portable and repeatable. While I think the e-edition experience ties in to all of those, my opinion isn't the one that counts. So, how can I transfer that? And why doesn't a coffee shop demo do the trick?

First of all, there's a huge lack of trust, especially with something as impersonal as handing out coupons. People coming into the coffee shop don't know me from Kim Nussbaum. All they know is I'm standing in between them and their morning cup o' joe. And of course I'm going to say I like it. That's my job. Even if they can tell I love it, they still know I'm trying to sell it. It changes the tone of the conversation. I mean, how do you sell something without sounding like you're selling it?

They also don't know the product. Most everyone is familiar with the Reporter-News, even if they've never turned a page, but e-editions are still not widely available, especially not ones attached to smaller newspapers. Since I wasn't giving away a million dollars or trips to the moon, it wasn't worth stopping to ask a lot of questions.

Don't worry. I sound like I'm spreading doom and gloom, but I promise this story has a happy ending. After several disappointing demos at competing coffee shops and a very early Tuesday morning, I finally met him. James from Java City--this wasn't quite a Taylor the Latte Boy situation, but almost. He was great. He knew the name of every person that walked in the door and their order--apparently only regulars brave the early morning hours. Anyway, they're on good terms. So, when he tells them they should come check out what I'm doing (plus lets them know they'll get a 20% discount on their next cup of coffee if they do), they're a lot more likely to come talk to me. They trust him because he's formed a (gasp, there's that word) relationship with them.

Java City, at least the one in Abilene, seems to understand the value of forming relationships. Unlike Starbucks, which I'd visited the Friday before, Java City patrons weren't gasping for air as they rushed in and out the door. Most of them took a seat. James behind the counter took the time to introduce himself, hear exactly what it was I was doing there, and give me a free cup of coffee. And the manager decided that a 20% discount for customers that talked to me was worth getting Java City on the newspaper calendar for 3 days before the event. Don't get me wrong, I think Starbucks has decent coffee and a great marketing team. I'm not ragging on them. It's just comfort v. chic, Starbucks being the latter, of course. But honestly, (talking about word of mouth), I'll be inclined to head to Java City now, because of one experience.

I want the e-edition to be something people talk about. I want to give them the same warm, fuzzy feeling I got at Java City. I don't want to scare anyone off or annoy them. But, I know you have to see a product before you buy it. How do I walk that line between respect and attraction?

Maybe a coffee shop on the moon...


We're Working On It

What's that you say?

The comics are fuzzy?

Th e wor ds areodd ly spa ced?

Articles from one part of the page are suddenly part of another unrelated idea of proposed fed­eral legislation that would re­quire chain restaurants such as Chick-fil-A , McDonald’s, and Burger King to list calorie con­tent on menus or on a large menu board article?

I know at this point many of our e-edition readers are waiting outside the building with torches and pitchforks and nasty computer viruses, but please, before you set the place ablaze, let me explain.

Yesterday marked the first day of a fresh new look for the ARN. I'm sure you've noticed the new layouts, clean lines, modern typefaces, rounded edges. Obviously, I'm rather partial to the new design. But it seems to have thrown our e-edition provider for a loop. This, however, is not entirely their fault.

The last two days have been a lesson in good communication due to the extraordinary lack of it in the days before the redesign. This is not because anyone was lazy or careless or forgetful. It simply never occurred to those behind (sounds conspiratorial) the new layout that it might affect the e-edition. So, no one thought to contact Tecnavia and prepare them for Monday morning. The system in place for pulling text off the page worked swimmingly for the old ARN, but the new one required some adaptation. Unfortunately, the PDFs were uploaded as usual and our readers woke up Monday morning to garbled text and fuzzy funnies.

Despite the mistake, several good things came from this.

One, (in my opinion, the best one), it's being resolved. Tecnavia and our e-edition team have been in constant contact since yesterday, combing every page for bugs and trouble spots. Our readers have been instrumental in finding the flaws and addressing them quickly.

Two, we now know better. The terrible, paradoxical thing about many mistakes is that you have to make them to know not to. The great thing about them is that
particular mistake will never happen again. Next redesign, we'll be prepared.

Three, our readers are paying attention. And now I know it. I was so excited when that first email rolled in, it didn't matter that it was negative. I know that sounds strange, but I love to see and hear people talking about the e-edition, no matter what they're saying. It means we're getting noticed. Flaws, I can fix; negative perceptions, I can change; praise, I can deal with; but silence is the least helpful, most depressing response I can think of. It was nice to know that not only were people noticing, but they trusted us to be able and willing to fix the problem.

I've read so many blogs by so many great people I can't remember them all about the correct relational response to consumers. This one from Seth Simonds on the Obsessed with Conformity blog does a great job of "summing up" (as he says, quoting the immortal Inigo Montoya) what companies should do when they make mistakes. And I'm proud to say, I think we did a darn good job this time around.

Even though the exact situation might not be pertinent, I think the lessons are relevant regardless of your line of work. If there's a problem, ignoring it won't make it go away. It also won't make your customers very happy. Neither will excuses. Surprisingly, it usually requires a quick and effective response to do that. Which requires listening to your customer to see the problem in the first place. A little forethought never hurt anyone, either.

So, for all you readers out there: We're sorry. We promise it won't happen again. I sincerely hope you'll put down the pitchforks and forgive us.

And anyway, if you burn down the newspaper, who'll tell everyone about your protest?


FAQ #3

As promised, I am delivering the actual FAQ for this week, to make up for missing last week. Again, I apologize to all disappointed persons harmed by my terrible memory. And now, the moment you've all been waiting for...

Q: I can't figure out the PDF files. How do I download the pages I want?

A: That is a very good question, but I'll need to do some explainin' before I give the simple answer. If you already know everything there is to know about PDFs, you can skip this next part.

The e-edition, while it does have a website and you do read it online, is actually made up of pictures of every page of the newspaper. These "pictures" are in what's called a portable document format, or a PDF. A PDF is a 2D image of all the text, images and graphics that are part of the original document you're trying to see. You most likely have Adobe Reader (Adobe Systems is the company that created PDFs) on your computer already, and you've probably opened a PDF, even if you didn't know what it was.

(In case you were wondering, the mythical "e-edition Reader's Guide" pictured here can be found by clicking on the "Help" link in the e-edition toolbar).

OK, so now you know what a PDF is, what do they have to do with the e-edition? For every issue we put online, we also make the PDF of each page available for download. This means that you can actually save the entire issue from that day to your computer. Once it's saved on your hard drive, you don't need to be connected to the internet to view it. You can open the files whenever you want, and they'll be there as long as your computer lives. Even though the archive lets you see 30 days of back issues, we thought people might be interested in saving obituaries or election results or pictures of their kids' band concert longer than that. Downloading the file lets you do that.

With all of that said, let's get down to the nitty gritty details. There are a few steps to the process, which I've numbered for convenience.

1. Log in

2. Still with me? Good.
Go to the main toolbar at the top of the screen. Right next to the ARN logo is a bulleted list of links. The second one should say PDF. Click on it, and the page that comes up should look like this.

3. Now, you'll notice you have the option to download the complete edition. That includes every page, including the classifieds, and it might take a few minutes. If that's what you want, click that link and go on to step 5. If you're just interested in, say, page 3B, go on to step 4.

4. To download a certain page, scroll down to the page you're looking for and check the box next to it. If you want multiple pages, check the box next to each one. That way, you can do this step only once, instead of having to repeat for every page.

5. Once you've clicked download, the thumbnails will disappear and the window will say "Generating Zip File." When it's done, one of two things will happen. In Firefox, a dialog box like the one on the left will pop up. Choose "Save File" and click OK. Internet Explorer will have a link that says "Click here to download it." Click the link and then choose "Save." It may give you the option to save to a particular folder. I chose the desktop, but it's up to you.

**EDIT: If you are using Internet Explorer, it may block you from downloading files. This means your security settings are too high. You can tell IE to let you download them anyway, but you'll have to log in to the e-edition again. To permanently change your settings, go to Internet Options, click on the Security tab, and bump the security level down to medium or so. That way, you won't have to log in multiple times.**

6. You're almost done. The zip file has now been saved either to your desktop or a folder of your choosing. All you have to do is double-click to open it. Here, you might run into a snag.

To open a zipped file, you need a program to unzip it. If you're running Windows XP, it has software installed that will unzip it automatically. Most Macs running OS X also come standard with StuffIt, which will do the same thing. If your operating system is older than that though, such as Windows 2000, you will need to download a program to do it. WinZip is the one I would recommend, as it's the most common, but there are others. It does cost about $30, but don't worry, you'll use it a lot. If you absolutely don't want to buy it, you can get a 45-day free trial of WinZip here.

7. Once the file is unzipped, you can do what you like with it. Double-click to open the PDFs and choose Save As to rename them or move them to different folders. Other than that, you're done.

Are we all here? I know that was lengthy, but I didn't want anyone to get lost on the way. If you have any other questions relating to this or some other topic, please feel free to leave me a note. I'll be happy to help. Until next week.

e-edition out.


FAQ #2

Oops. I forgot to post last week's FAQ. However, I didn't meet any angry mobs with torches and pitchforks, so I hope that means I'm forgiven. Just pretend this one is from last week, and I promise I'll have another up for this week. Sorry about that. This week's question is about switching from text to graphic mode.

Q: The e-edition puts pictures at the bottom of the page. Like on obituaries, you get the printed article up top and the photo of the people at the bottom. You have to figure out who is who.

A: For articles or sections with a lot of pictures and captions, such as the obituaries page, the visual mode should be set to "Graphic." The visual mode can be changed for each article by using the Graphic/Text button directly above the article. Text mode is the default option. If you prefer one mode over the other, you can set it permanently for all articles by using the drop-down menu.

In graphic mode, the entire article will appear as one picture, just as it looks on the page of the newspaper. Text mode separates the photo from the text, allowing for easier reading and manipulation of the text. For example, if you want to copy and paste, you must be in text mode, otherwise you'll only be able to select the entire "image" of the article.

Text Mode v. Graphic Mode
(See how I stretched the article on the bottom so I could see more of it? Check out last week's FAQ for details).

This feature is also useful for printing articles to mail or scrapbook because they'll look like you clipped them right out of the paper--aside from the fact that they're not on newsprint.

Again, if you have any questions or comments about the e-edition, let me know. I'd love to address those in future posts. Look for this week's FAQ on Wednesday or Thursday. See you then.

e-edition out.


The Legend of the Stupid Question

I made an important discovery today, but take care before you read it because it might rock your world. Be sure to cover the eyes and ears of any school-age bystanders. Ready? Here it is: There are stupid questions. There. I said it. Everybody knows the obnoxious guy on the conference call.

I understand why my mother and my 1st grade teacher told me stupid questions don't exist. They wanted to encourage my inquisitiveness and creativity. Sorry, Ma, not everyone who asks a question wants to learn something.

To be fair, a question in and of itself can't be wrong or inane--usually. (I am of the opinion, however, that one should always Google one's question before posing it to anyone. See www.lmgtfy.com for details). The context surrounding any question determines its level of stupidity. For example, a question about someone's genealogy, while interesting and timely at a family gathering, is irrelevant and inappropriate during a business meeting.

Context is everything. That includes the people involved, too. With millions of digital interactions going on every day, chances are you'll run across someone who hasn't the foggiest idea what you're talking about. They might ask you a question. It might be dumb. Answer it anyway.

Mark Olson's blog today examined the relationship of authority and authenticity. If you have authority, people will probably ask you questions. Authenticity shines through when you answer with civility, even kindness, regardless of the quality of the question. So if you know the answer, speak. If you do not, shut up and listen to someone who does. The ability to discern whether to speak or listen is a clear indicator of your character. Having the grace to speak with respect at all times is an even clearer one.

To those toward whom the above rant was directed. Do not under any circumstances ask things just to hear yourself talk. Self-service serves no one, least of all you. Social media is incisive in this regard. It will weed out those hungry for attention and acknowledgment of any sort from the sincerely ignorant. So please, do us all a favor. Don't be the conference call guy.


FAQ (With No "T") #1

Look at me posting daily. Isn't that exciting? Don't get used to it.

Today, we're adding a new segment to our show called Frequently Asked Questions, or FAQs. It's a newfangled term, but I think it's going to catch on soon. As a side note, I've always wished it were pronounced facue, but that sounds vaguely like you're wishing ill-will on someone.

FAQs will be a weekly installment in which I will answer the single most burning question I've received from e-edition readers in the last week. For all of you non-readers, feel free to skip these installments, as it will not negatively affect your blog-reading experience. Unless you want to offer advice or suggestions on how to avoid similar problems that arise in the future, then by all means, read and respond. Or just respond. I'm always excited about new ideas, or great old ideas or new spins on good old ideas.

And now, without further adieu, this week's FAQ:

Q: I don't really like the divided screen. The left side is too small. It would be better if the page displayed and then the articles could be viewed in a pop-up window.

(All right, so that's actually a sentence, not a question, but it's implied.)

A: There are two parts to this answer. First of all, you have to click on the article you want to read. You'll go blind if you try to read it on the left side. Once you click on the article, it will pop up on the right hand side. It's not exactly a pop-up window, but it's the same idea.

You can make the right-hand panel larger by holding the cursor over the center dividing line between the left and right panels. A two-headed arrow will appear and you can drag the dividing line where you want it. No, the arrow will not be orange. Or nearly that big. Sorry if I misled anyone.

Still too small? To make the text larger, use the text increase and decrease buttons located in the toolbar directly above the right-hand panel (above "George Will Washington Post Writers Group" in the above screen shot).

And that's it for this week. Pretty simple, right? Tune in next week for... something equally amazing that I'm sure I will discover in the myriad of comments just waiting to be written. Remember, you can always click on the "Help" link for step-by-step instructions on navigating the e-edition.

Was this helpful? It's my first time, so if it's not very good, let me know how I can do better next week. And if you have a story to share or a suggestion for next week's question, tell me that too.

e-edition out.


Tortoise and the Hare

I'm taking a leaf out of Chris Brogan's blog today and telling everyone what it is that I do. Yes, I do something besides blog and Twitter and blog about Twitter all day. I have a Facebook page, too. Oh, and a job.

My job has a very fancy title but it boils down to this: I am in charge of knowing everything there is to know about e-editions and then some. "Then some" is still in the works.

An e-edition, for all you shy folks out there who won't ask, is an online version of a newspaper. Unlike the websites most papers maintain, e-editions are simply digital copies (PDF files, actually) of the print paper. The benefit is getting all of the content from that day's paper in a comfortable, familiar (and let's not forget, environmentally friendly) format available from any computer. Pretty much the coolest thing ever. Back at the ranch...

I must have seen a hundred different e-editions advertised in the last month, but I can only see a demo for about half of them. Not to beat yesterday's dead horse, but consumers need quality time with the company and with the product. I don't want a month's subscription if I'm going to hate it after two days.

That was one of the lessons we learned pretty quickly when we launched the ARN e-edition. No matter how well you explain an e-edition, it just doesn't click until you actually see it. So, we did live demos of the e-edition in wi-fi hot spots all over town. Usually, I just had to get someone to look at it once, and they were hooked. The problem was getting people to stop and look. Even harder was getting someone to click through on a link in an email without someone standing there with it up and running. And if the link just went to a login screen with a link to subscribe? Forget it. No one wants to work that hard. Since we couldn't just be doing live demos all day, every day, we added a demo and a pretty intense (for me, the creator, not everyone else) step-by-step tutorial under the help menu.

And that helped. It's tough to sell die-hard newspaper readers, but once they saw it, they were some of our best subscribers. It's that good. 7-day print subscribers also get an e-edition subscription free, but let's just pretend that couldn't possibly be the reason.

It's not that it's the prettiest or the most convenient (although it is pretty and convenient). It's that this e-edition has the whole package. It's the newspaper, obviously, but subscribers also get the Sunday comics and local weekly publications like the Abilenian. It's also one of only about 10 e-editions nationwide that includes PARADE magazine on Sunday. But even that isn't enough to deserve much attention. The best thing about the online edition is the service, not the product. Subscribers get individual attention from Day 1. We keep adding features because our readers keep asking for them. It's been an awesome process, and I hope other people can learn from it.

With all of that said, we still need work. And help. I know we're making something we can be proud of (see yesterday's post for details) and that will eventually be rewarded. But slow and steady may not win this race. Outside of our subscribers, people don't know the e-edition exists. They also don't know the kind of service that comes with it. How do we spread our message in a town where change is a still a little bit scary? How can we find the tipping point*? Unlike before, these are not rhetorical questions. What do you think?

*It is not necessary to read Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point in order to answer this question. However, it will increase your life expectancy by 15 years and your capacity for thought a thousand-fold. Moral: Please read it. (These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA).


Rhetorical Questions, or The Pinewood Derby Clunker

I've discovered that I'm not very good at being by myself. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe it's because I've never been without a parent, sibling or roommate living across the way. It might be my overactive imagination that creates monsters around every corner. Whatever it is, there's little hope for change now.

Besides making me a bit of an attention junkie, my lack of alone time makes me very good at quality time. I love to hang out with all kinds of people, whether in real-time or online. I actually like to devote my full attention to one person at a time, and I love community of any sort. Which means I'm a natural at social networking...

All right, so far, despite all of the wonderful advice that seems to come out hourly to retweet and reply to followers and followees , most of my interactions seem to be pretty one-sided. I have a mere 100 and a half followers, and I'm following only twice that many. I don't have many DMs or @ mentions. I'm no Twelebrity. (For the record, I think Twitterspeak is verging on ridiculous, but for that reason is humorous enough that I'll continue for the time being). Survey says: ARN e-edition is still a nobody as far as social media goes.

My revelation: Who cares? I like the people I'm associated with. More importantly, I'm learning a lot about the things it takes to be a good person, in addition to a good marketer or PR rep or social media, uh, media-er. And you know what? I can do those things. I am doing those things. And eventually, people will start to notice that we're doing things right and our product is great to boot.

I love the Subaru commercial with the little boy getting his car ready for a pinewood derby (model wooden cars, for those of you with little knowledge of the mystical world of Boy Scouts). "Just build something you're proud of," his dad says. That turns out to be a clunker, while his opponent's car is obviously not the original creation of a 6-year-old. Well, of course, it should be no surprise the "ugly" car takes the day. The tag line: "Isn't it nice when honest virtues win?"

Yes, of course it's nice. But how many people can say that and mean it? Is it really so important to make something we're proud of? And what is it we're proud of, exactly? Is it the money we've made or the relationships we've formed? The information we've capitalized on or the information we've shared? It certainly doesn't have to be one or the other, but is one more valuable simply because it's measurable? You can't have a good meal, a good story or a good friend without quality time. Why should a good business be any different?


Narcissistic Grasshoppers

After a few weeks in the Twitterverse, I now understand why Twitter is the oft-cited method for Narcissists United to proclaim their superiority to the world. I mean, you have thousands of people reading your every 140 characters. We're talking phenomenal cosmic power. To be honest, I wish I could put master or guru of something in my bio. I'm starting to feel left out. But, besides the fact that I'm not master of anything, it isn't an effective way to build relationships.

As it turns out, the marketers and techs who have a real following are actually the most understated. They let their vast knowledge of and passion for their work speak for them. Take Radian6's Amber Naslund, for instance (@ambercadabra). Her interview with Jason Baer (another awesome dude whom everyone should follow, @jaybaer) was chock-full of great advice on building community, delivered in such a humble, cheerful way that everyone listens. Like Jason said, her "passion for people shines through."

I think the most valuable thing I've learned over the past few weeks of my Twitter/blog infancy is that while there are a lot of bad ideas out there, it's impossible to find the good ones by ignoring people that don't tout themselves as "expert." (Or those that truly aren't expert at anything and don't claim to be). That's encouraging to me, since I am what academics call a newbie. Great ideas can come from anywhere. Filtering them out puts everyone at a disadvantage. Not because everyone is brilliant all the time, but because those who aren't well-established provide opportunities to those that are to step away from what they already know and see a problem from a fresh perspective.

That is why my goal with this blog will be to provide the best information I can about digital newspapers (ours included) and just plain old good advice from people much wiser than me. My advice for today? Sit back and relax. Say to yourself, "I do not know everything." Watch you some Kung Fu. It's OK to be a grasshopper.



Thought I'd add a post-script to my last entry:

I don't know if twitter-hopping is the official Twitter term for jumping from followers to followers of followers to foll... you get the idea. However, "twopping" just didn't trip off the tongue like I'd hoped, so that was the best I could do. Don't hold it against me.



I was twitter-hopping yesterday and I came across this article by Lisa Barone, co-founder of Outspoken Media. In it, she gives four reasons why any blog, your blog in particular, is failing. Fortunately for me, mine hasn't really gotten off the ground yet, meaning I'm a failure only because I haven't posted much of anything. However, I thought she had some valid points to make about engaging your audience on a personal level.

For anyone who took even one business class in college, this should be common sense. And yet, with the rise of social media, we are witnessing the decline of meaningful individual interaction. That seems counterintuitive, I know, and it's a generalization, certainly. But it's much easier to avoid lasting relationships if you can sign out when the going gets tough. That's what I was thinking about while I was reading Aaron Strout's blog post yesterday, in which he presents a clever analogy between marketing and dating. He argues that business should be entirely about personal, lasting relationships with your consumers (duh). That should be easy, right? I mean, now it's possible to have real-time relationships with hundreds of people scattered all over the globe. But possible does not mean preferable.

Social media has been a boon for a lot of people. Without physical cues, the power of persuasion is based more and more on linguistic prowess--judging from Twitter, something that is sorely lacking. However, rather than embracing the opportunity to cultivate their soft power, many people have instead used social media as an excuse to blast as many people as they can find with their message, ignoring any nasty results.

Dwight Eisenhower said that leadership is the ability "to get people to work together, not only because you tell them to do so and enforce your orders but because they instinctively want to do it for you...You don't lead by hitting people over the head; that's assault, not leadership." (As quoted in The Power to Lead, by Joseph Nye Jr., which is a decent little book for anyone interested in a very basic analytical introduction to leadership studies).

All of these things come down to viewing your customers as people. That's hard to do when you will never meet most of them, and you don't really have time to get to know his favorite color or the name of her ferret. But if you'd like to win friends and influence people, it has to be done. To borrow the dating analogy, consumers are not just playing hard-to-get. They're completely out of your league (at least, you should treat them like they are). Trust me, arrogant charm is not unique, but sadly, time and effort seem to be heading that direction. So make that your shtick. Not a color scheme or killer social networking skills, but your concern for the well-being of your consumers. If you can do all that without getting in their way, you will be a champion "woo-er." But don't pat yourself on the back just yet. Because if you forget for a moment that consumers are the most important half of your relationship, the romance will be gone. And so will you.


Lights Out

Power outages. How fun are they? I mean, who doesn't want to be without light, water, phones or air conditioning? And if you're stuck in an elevator, well, that just adds to the adventure of it all, especially if you're the two guys bringing lunch for everyone. Well, at least they won't starve to death. Nor will I, actually, since I'm on the right side of the elevator doors. That is, until the generator powering the airlocks, ahem, automatic doors shuts down in half an hour and we're all stuck in here. In the dark.

But wait! What is that light at the end of the circulation hallway? It's a phone... it's an iPod... it's, it's... it's got a web browser? It must be the almighty iPhone come to save us! What? You mean it doesn't have an application for prying elevators open or teaching you to read electrical diagrams? Well, that's disappointing. The least it could do is make me lunch. Hey! That'd be a handy feature. Apple, you should get on that. You know, you never think of all the neat things you wish you had until you're in a life-thwarting situation without them. Maybe if we threatened all the techno-geeks with imminent danger, they'd come up with better apps.

All right, I think two paragraphs is enough vaguely caustic wittiness for one day. But seriously, let's talk about the iPhone. I will not deny that it's a useful tool, cliche though it might be, and darn it, touch screens are just plain fun. However, it lost some of its charm this afternoon when I remembered that it is, in fact, just another phone with an internet connection. And a slow one, at that--granted, that may be due more to the location than the technology.

Anyway, while the city was busy reliving its pre-Edison days, a man came in looking for a particular article. I thought, what a great chance to use the e-edition! So, I unlock my keys, hit the shortcut on my home screen, and... I wait. And wait and wait and wait some more. Note: 3G does not exist in Abilene, TX. Not to worry, though.

Apparently, someone way back when decided since they didn't have a tool that could help them store, organize and cross-reference issues all in one place efficiently, they should make one. Hooray for human innovation! The result? Nope, not a computer. A very large yellow book that contains all of the ARN issues printed for the last however many decades (I'm sure it's less than that, but who's counting?).

No longer shall I scoff at man's ability to compete with advanced technology. The aforementioned gentleman found the article, picked up the corresponding paper, paid and left before the first page had loaded. It is true that the ability to trawl the vast depths of the internet in milliseconds is usually much simpler and more convenient than walking to the library, but I think that it's made us feel superior to prior eras for the wrong reasons. 80-year-old librarians have skills that I will never possess because I won't have the opportunity to develop them. That big yellow book might seem primitive, but it fills a need and, today at least, it did it better than the best that trendy, mainstream America has to offer.

Isn't that the point of any tool? If it makes humans more productive, it has value, which is why the internet is such an incredible creation. We should be careful not to lean too heavily on our technological crutches, or we may entirely forget how to walk. Or worse, how to entertain ourselves when the lights go out.


Inaugural Post

Testing one, two, three. Can you hear me now?