Image from League of Women Voters of California on Flickr

How do you want us to give you election news online?

Image from League of Women Voters of California on Flickr

It’s election season again, and with the Montana primary right around the corner, it’s time for me to start thinking up the online features we’re going to have on the website leading up to the primary election and the ones we’ll have running live on election night.

For the lead-up to the 2010 election, we polled candidates on some of the important issues in the election, such as medical marijuana, drunk driving laws and the budget. We presented their answers side-by-side for readers to compare in our “Where They Stand” feature.

This was accompanied by a widget on the homepage that I updated throughout the night with the latest returns.

This year, I’d like to ask your opinion on what we should include in our online coverage of the 2012 election. What features would you like to see? What information would be helpful to you as a voter? How would you prefer to see the results presented as they come in on election night?

One source of data I might take advantage of is the Voting Information Project, which is a partnership between Google and various states, including Montana.

If you have ideas or even examples of websites out there that have features you like, let me know at becker@dailychronicle.com or start a discussion in the comments below.

meter

A license to print money

This message from a (former) reader hit my inbox this morning:

To whom it may concern…

When the Helena IR started charging viewers for its online website, I dropped them as my homepage, and I took up your website as my Montana information source. Now that “your” website will be charging for online access, I will no longer support your paper& website nor the Helena IR paper or website. I will get my Montana information& news elsewhere. I know I’m not the only one that will take this action… good luck with your website subscription.

I’d like to “unpack” this message — if I may be allowed to pull out some of the literary theory jargon from my distant past.

When the Helena IR started charging viewers for its online website, I dropped them as my homepage, and I took up your website as my Montana information source.

Thank you.

Now that “your” website will be charging for online access,

Why is “your” in quotation marks? Was there ever any doubt about whose website it was? I admit freely that our old tagline was “It’s your paper,” but that never carried over to the online site of things.

I will no longer support your paper& website nor the Helena IR paper or website. I will get my Montana information& news elsewhere.

How were this reader “supporting” it in the past if he or she wasn’t paying the Chronicle? Was it moral support? Perhaps the reader thinks that their visits to our page tallied up so much money in advertising revenue that it was like they had subscribed. (Not true.)

I know I’m not the only one that will take this action… good luck with your website subscription.

Likely, this person is right. Judging by my inbox, many people are bidding the Chronicle adieu because the paper is asking them to pay for the news.

Many of these people, who have expressed their frustration in comments on our news story, feel that our 1.2 million pageviews per month is a license to print money and that we shouldn’t need to charge readers to access the site. Case in point, from user Shaqasorus:

First you need to get a new Advertising Manager. One that understands the new digital age paradigm. If you cannot turn 1.2M page views a month into a steady and sustainable monthly advertising revenue stream then you have a product that is not worth saving.

User bozmama responded:

I have about 5 ideas off the top of head for online ad $$…I agree with Shaq.

I’d love to hear those ideas. If you’re reading, send them to becker@dailychronicle.com.

In the meantime, I’ll take the word of Alan D. Mutter, a former newspaper man and consultant specializing in new media ventures involving journalism and technology, wrote just a few weeks ago that newspapers’ share of digital ad revenue has hit an all-time low.

In 2003, when the Newspaper Association of America first started tallying the industry’s digital market share, newspapers held 16.7 percent of digital advertising in the U.S., Mutter reports. The newest data put that number at 10.3 percent.

Admittedly, Shaqasorus is right. This decline in newspapers’ share of the digital ad market is due to many papers thinking that all they have to do is throw some banner ads online then sit back and wait for the Google check to come.

It’s not that easy. We know it, and we have talented ad people working on the digital front right now trying to cajole into motion a machine built originally to do a different job. Until we get initiatives in place to make money online in novel ways, the fact remains that print dollars and digital pennies just don’t balance out.

I don’t necessarily agree 100 percent with the theory of paywalls and metered paywalls, but at any rate, we are turning on the meter on June 5. Perhaps the commenters are right; perhaps it will fail — though I’m not sure by what criteria we’d judge it a failure. This is the first time our paper has done this, and we are only the second paper in our company to roll out a metered site. The only definition I have for failure at this point is a catastrophic drop in Web traffic.

Perhaps we’ll find a new definition as time goes on. It’s too early to say.

When you’re smiling

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but Google Maps has updated the building shapes in its database for Montana State University, including a redrawn version of Bobcat Stadium and the road around it.


View Larger Map

Maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t the stadium look like a smiley face?*

*OK, it’s not just me.

‘You’ll rue the day’ and words to that effect

Judging by the comments posted to our website this morning, our announcement that the Chronicle is becoming a paid news site is not a popular one.

Commenter fenske_art starts us off with this fairly low-key comment:

You guys are dreaming.

Soon after, from CHEVYINSIDE:

sorry your not worth paying for bdc .

User Hobbit takes a more conspiratorial approach:

Oh, well, there is no real news here anyway. I only read this paper when I want to see what important news it is leaving out to satisfy the powers that be. I read a lot of “alternative news” to see what is really going on, then look at Lee Enterprise propaganda to see what people are really being spoon fed. I won’t miss you. Your advertisers might miss me. I see print newspapers being shared around in coffee shops, etc. How will you stop that? This is a step backwards, whether you realize it or not. The idea that I should pay for propaganda is ludicrous.

TrueMontanan hopes the meter will weed out some trolls:

Congratulations BDC! I applaud your move in this direction. $5 a month is nothing if people really want to support you or pay attention to what is happening in the Bozeman area. On an even more positive note, maybe this will weed out some of the people here that flood the comments section with ridicule and negativity. June 5th can’t get here soon enough!

Commenter cotton points out that our copy desk is illiterate — a secret we’d hoped would stay secret. Thanks a lot.

If you are going to start charging for online access, a big mistake by the way, I hope you hire a copy editor who can read English

I think this one from NoThanks is supportive. I think.

Two things: either your increased fees will allow you to hire better reporters – or a drop in income as a result will force you to let the poorer writers go.

CutTheCrap pines for the way things used to be:

Darn… The chronicle’s website was one of the last great free satire websites out there. Now where an I going to go?

MTPack says:

Bad Move in my opinion…..PAYING for content that is virtual??

The Newspaper industry is on the downward slide…good luck with this….

(I guess this is why Facebook’s IPO was valued at about $100 billion and why there have been more than 25 billion apps downloaded — many of them paid apps — from Apple’s App Store.)

A more in-depth comment comes from allankings:

You who get your news from alternative media…at least on the local level…do you think those “news” sources do all their own legwork? No, they grab their information from the mainstream news sources, repackage it, and regurgitate it to you in a format that makes you feel smart for already believing something. As goes the local news sources, so goes your favorite local online news regurgitator, I’m sorry, I meant news aggregator.

The same people who don’t want to pay for the news are the same people who complain about the content. You want to read a newspaper with revenue for an experienced, well staffed news team, but you only want to pay for a newspaper who’ve cut staff, reduced wages, “let go” of experience and replaced them with 22-year old college graduates.

All that said, Chronicle. This website is garbage. You (read: your parent company) are doing yourselves no favors by sticking to its format.

The comments on Facebook so far have been a tad more civil, as Facebook comments tend to be.

LaVonne Maedche Stucky writes:

You just lost the small-town feel. Sad and sorry to see Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley become this………

Personally, I don’t understand this one. You can only have a small-town feel if there is a way to skate around paying for the local newspaper?

From Josh Bergan:

Seems fair to charge for your work to me. That said, I probably won’t pay.

And I’ll wrap up on this one from Matt Fockler:

‎”There’s nothing wrong with being paid for a valuable product.” I guess you’ll see just how valuable your paper really is …

I suppose we will.

If you have comments you’d like to share about the Chronicle’s move toward a paid online model, you can leave them as comments here, comment on our Facebook page, send me an email at becker@dailychronicle.com or comment on the BDC story linked above.

twitteronfire

Montana fire officials to use Twitter this summer

Montana fire coordinators will use Twitter this summer to give residents updates on wildfires, road closures and evacuation notices, the Associated Press reports.

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation spent 15 months looking into social media options before settling on Twitter, the AP said in its report. Seeing examples of how other states have used Twitter during wildfires helped seal the deal.

The udpates will flow from @mtdnrcfire. The tweets will supplement updates sent out by telephone alert systems and postings to the InciWeb website.

Also of note is the Northern Rockies Coordination Center, which manages fires in Montana, North Dakota and parts of Idaho. Follow the center on Twitter at @nrccnewsnotes.

The ubiquitous keyword

Today, I’d like to introduce you to Allie Buck.

Allie Buck, a twentysomething artist and mother. In 2010, she had been volunteering as a docent for about four years at the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture in Bozeman.

Reporter Jodi Hausen interviewed Buck for Christmas season story about volunteering in the Gallatin Valley. As a docent, Buck was taking children on gallery tours and teaching art classes for kids. She also helped out in the center’s ceramics studio.

You can read all about Buck in our Dec. 19, 2010, story here.

Why do I mention Buck on this particular blog? It’s because “Allie Buck” is a part of every single story uploaded to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle’s website. Every one.

You see, the software that runs our website allows us to enter keywords for each story. When you begin to type in a keyword, the software automatically suggests an existing keyword, and since December 2010, the first suggestion, no matter what you are typing, is “Allie Buck.”

“Allie Buck” is not alphabetically first in our list of tags, not by a long shot, but it comes in as the first suggestion anyhow. And here’s the fun part: No matter what you are typing when the “Allie Buck” suggestion comes up, if you hit enter to put in the tag, the software ignores what you have typed and inserts “Allie Buck.”

You can avoid this occurrance by waiting a few precious seconds for the auto-complete cache to empty — or whatever its doing, but most of the time people entering stories on the website forget. Inevitably, we find ourselves deleting “Allie Buck” tags off our stories.

(Yes, I could report this as a bug to the software people, but it’s just another support ticket I haven’t gotten around to filling out yet.)

I don’t know where Allie Buck is today or what she’s up to, but she has certainly had an impact on the way things are done here at the Chronicle every single day.

Montana Highway Patrol debuts online insurance-checking tool

Montana Highway Patrol troopers have a new online tool that will allow them to verify from the roadside that drivers have the required liability insurance.

The Montana Insurance Verificatio System was authorized by Senate Bill 508 in the 2009 Legislature. It will be put into use on May 21 in MHP District III, which includes Beaverhead, Deer Lodge, Granite, Jefferson, Lewis & Clark, Madison, Powell and Silver Bow counties. It will be available statewide by August.

“Rather than just having to rely on their best guess, MTIVS will enable troopers and other law enforcement officers to base their decision on whether to issue a warning or a ticket on accurate, real-time information,” said MHP Col. Mike Tooley.

Troopers will also be able to use the system to determine whether a driver had liability insurance at the time of an accident, according an announcement from the state justice department.

Montana law required that vehicles driven on public roads carry liability insurance.