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My Opinion

Does feminism have a place in the web design world?

Men With PensLast Monday a groundbreaking essay was published on Copyblogger with the somewhat puzzling title Why James Chartrand Wears Women’s Underpants. In it blogger, writer and owner of the famed design firm MenWithPens James Chartrand outed himself as a woman in a man’s name. This linguistic sex change itself was far from revolutionary. After all cross gender pseudonyms are hardly anything new in the writing world and on the internet with it’s relative anonymity, it is hard if not impossible to know if the person you are presented with is the person behind the screen at the best of times. What made this article so important (and so incindiary) was the reasons for this seemingly insignifficant charade and what it led to: By writing under a man’s name, James discovered that not only was her copy more accepted by her peers but she was paid almost double for the same ammount of work. Which leads to an uncomfortable conclusion: Sexism and gender bias has found new fertile grounds in the otherwise modern and forward thinking web.

A woman’s work is never done

I grew up in Norway, a country where women are constitutionally treated as equals, where stay-at-home moms are often frowned upon and where International Women’s Day on March 8th is celebrated by parades of women carrying huge red flags. And yet even in my home country women are frenquently short changed both in terms of pay, promotions and hirings, not to mention the stil prevalent problem of sexual harrassment and deliberate alienation. True, the situation for women in the work force today is vastely different from the one of women only 20 years ago. But to claim that women are now equal to men, that gender no longer plays a part in the hiring process, project appointments and salary negotiations, makes you the proverbial ostrich sticking its head in the sand. We may be converging on equality somewhere down the road, but we are far from there.

The problem now faced by women in the workplace (and everywhere else for that matter) is that whereas in the past the bias and discrimination was blatant, explicit and counscious (watch just one episode of Mad Men and you’ll get the idea) the sexists of today are for the most part not even aware of what they are doing. Asked up front why a manager chose to send Jack on assignment rather than Jill he may answer “it’s because Jill has a family to take care of” thinking this is a perfectly reasonable explanation. It’s not: it is supressed gender bias. “But it’s true!” you might say. Is it? What if I said that both Jack and Jill are married with two kids. The argument would still be put forward and would still be just as sexist. Our society is rife with inbred assumptions about gender roles such as the established fact that women are responsible for their children. But this is not a fundamental truth, it’s a social invention. Why can’t Jill’s husband take care of her kids while she’s away on business like Jack’s wife is expected to do? This is but one very basic example of how sexism has gone under ground.

We all make assumptions, most of them wrong…

What James experienced while writing under her own name was a version of the hidden sexism I just described, one that is present on the web as well as in real life. Due to perscribed gender roles taught to us by everyone from our peers to our parents to popular culture we have a built in tendency to make assumptions, purely based on gender, about how well people are able to do things. And while women are often thought to be more creatively inclined – more artistic if you will – the skill set necessary to do more technical tasks, be it a car mechanic, a program developer or a person dealing in the ruthless world of commercial blogging, tends to be attributed mostly to men. And for this reason we tend to trust men more than women when it comes to searching out information in these fields. Just think about it: Make a list of all the blogging, web design and technical writers you know and read and you’ll find a major male dominance. And I bet you’ll also find that more often than not the women writers are more focused on design and aesthetics. But this isn’t necessarily their choice: My theory has long been that there are scores of female writers out there who in spite of their skill can’t get a foot through the door because of this gender bias. And with James revelation my assumptions have, at least for one writer, been confirmed. Now I’m left to wonder how many other women in men’s names there are out there.

Feminism and the art of shooting yourself in the foot

In the days following Chartrand’s revelation the debate has been raging on the web. But not over what you think. The most inflammatory debates have been over whether James really is a feminist or if she betrayed her sex by taking on the role of a man. And this latter stance, professed loudly and often obnoxiously with vile accusations of gender abandonment, is the one taken by militant feminists. In fact this type of reasoning is one of the staples of feminism and is, in my opinion, one of the main reasons feminism, and with it equal rights for women, is not gaining ground as rapidly as it should. To put it plainly I believe feminism has become a dogmatic belief system rather than a fight for equal rights. And I think that’s why a lot of women who want to call themselves feminists also hate feminism.

male not equal to femaleWhereas feminists of the past were fighting for the right to be treated as men’s equals, modern feminists have a tendency of veering towards the extreme view that apart for a few minor anatomical differences men and women are exactly the same. “Gender is a societal invention” they say “and the ideal world is a society witout gender”. (To me that just sounds like Maoist China and I seriously would not want to live there). And from this dogmatic and quite bizarre stance follow some logical but irrational conclusions, from which the criticism of James is based:

If men and women by nature are exactly the same and gender is a societal invention (created by men to suppress women), women who operate within the confines of these societal inventions are in fact enforcing them and thereby hindering the progress of women’s rights and equality.

In other words, the only way the ideal equal society feminists want to achieve will ever come into existance is if women start behaving as genderless entities and men realize they are wrong, shed their evil sexist ways and conform to their new roles as equals.

Which is completely rediculous.

This attitude is doomed from the start. Not only does it have a premise that is ludicrous – that there is no qualitative difference between men and women – but the strategy that it derrives is horribly counter productive: Rather than showing men that women are their equals, this strategy portrays women as weird and disconnected angry people with a chip on their shoulder the size of a small planet.

James got it right – and that makes people angry

Let me turn this on its head for one minute and consider the plight of women as a product with men as it’s primary demographic. How do you sell a product? By making the target demographic feel like they need it. And how do you make them feel like they need it? By making them identify with the characters in the commercials and posters – the ideal customer.

Following this simple principle, the best way of marketing gender equality is to make the target demographic, the oppressive man, identify with the product, the oppressed woman and thereby understand his mistakes by seeing himself from the other side of the glass ceiling. But this is a pretty tall order: You can’t start underpaying all men or subject them to systematic demotions to favour female employees. A version of this strategy, affermative action, has been used extensively throughout the world to even the playing field. But although it has been effective in balancing the workforce numbers where gender, ethnicity and other visual minorities are concerned, it has also caused an unintended negative bias that now colours all these groups: Many people not included in these groups now believe that the groups of people that need affermative action to get ahead are in fact inferior by design and therefore not worthy of their jobs.

What James did was, allbeit inadvertantly, approach the issue in a more indirect way wedging herself into the “good old boys club” to prove her worth. I can’t help but think of her as a covert infiltrator trying to bust up an organization of biggots but that would do her a disservice and paint her peers in an unneccesarily bad light. She just did what she had to to get ahead, and in doing so she proved a point in a way few others could: As a woman she was ignored and underpaid, but as soon as people saw her as a man she was treated as one of the best, because she is. In other words gender trumped quality! But rather than just sit on this astounding and disturbing fact she chose to go public with it. And by doing so she forced her male peers as well as her many thousands of readers to come to an uncomfortable conclusion: Gender really does matter. Way more than it should. Because who amongst us can say that the revelation that James wears women’s panties didn’t immediately change our understanding of her as a person as well as her writing?

In one short essay James succeeded where feminists have failed for decades: She made men identify with her and realize that they are undercutting their female counterparts for reasons that have nothing to do with talent or productivity and everything to do with gender bias and downright sexism. It’s a bitter pill to swallow but one that we can no longer leave on the side of our plate. Now the publishers, editors and readers of the world are faced with a some painful questions: How many of the male writers I read every day are actually females writing under male pseudonyms to be taken seriously? And why  does the gender specification provided in a name alone change my understanding and acceptance of a piece of work so entirely? After all to borrow some words from Shakespeare, what’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Why not so also with the fruits of our creative minds?

Categories
My Opinion social media

Social Media: Revolution or the End of Objective Reason?

Just because you don’t agree doesn’t mean it must be wrong.


The above video, called Social Media Revolution is spreading like wildfire through social media circles and is being used by social media advocates as futher proof that social media is be all and end all of news, marketing and the internet in general. And there is truth, at least statistically, in the message the video brings: Social media technologies, be it blogs, forums, social networks like Facebook or micro-blogging systems like Twitter are changing the way we find, ingest and understand information and the world. It’s not exactly ground breaking news to people who spend their living and working days tethered to the world wide web but it provides a sobering picture of a new and emerging reality in which people turn away from established news and media outlets as their primary source for information and understanding of current events.

I find this profoundly disturbing.

When we were kids my parents spent a lot of time teaching my brothers and I that critical thinking should always lie at the core of any decision. They hammered home the sentiment that just because you don’t agree with something doesn’t mean it’s wrong. And it’s stuck with me through the years. I guess that’s why I’m so alarmed by what I’m seeing in the societal discourse in general and social media in particular. Anyone looking in from the outside will agree that the so-called open discussion and flow of information that permiates through the internet these days has little to do with critical thinking and more to do with opinionated rethoric, deliberate disinformation and outright lies. And this is the new and glourious foundation we are supposed to build our future society on? If so, it’s not one I want to be a part of!

Trading news for opinion

Earlier this year someone told me “In a couple of years mainstream media will be dead and people will get all their news from social media”. I have to say I agree, at least in part. No matter what happens I’m hard pressed to agree that all mainstream media outlets will buckle and disappear any time in the forseable future. But we are already seeing a shift in societal behavior away from established media outlets and toward social media as the chosen go-to news source. What people fail to realize (or choose to ignore) is that this shift means a shift from objective accountable news reports toward subjective and often heavily biassed opinion pieces. The trouble is that unless people are aware whether their source presents agenda-driven subjective opioions or fair and balanced reporting, the former can easily be mistaken for the latter. And when that happens, truth, reality and objective reason goes out the window.

Just because you say it does(n’t) make it so

The current health care debate in the USA is a perfect example of just how dangerous this trend has become: As of right now the majority of information floating around social media networks and blogs regarding the health care reform is what journalists and rethoric experts alike would describe as conjecture, hyperbole, spin and good old fashioned rubbish. In fact you’d be hard pressed to find any truly balanced and unbiassed reporting on the topic even in the mainstream media. But this is because just like everyone else, the media organizations have jumed on the social media bandwaggon without really taking the time to look at what that means for objective reporting. And because in the USA there is no fairness doctrine so the news outlets are free to present biassed and unbalanced reporting as fact without danger of reprisals.

Ironically it is this very tendency of the mainstream media in the US to be biassed that started the Social Media Revolution for real: People were fed up with being served what was more often than not biassed reporting and decided that they would be better proponents of the truth than the media outlets were. And this, combined with the relative anonymity of the internet, meant that anyone and everyone could become a reporter, an opinion maker, a true participant in the social discourse without fear of reprisals. The problem with this theory is two fold: Unlike journalists, bloggers and other social media contributors have no vested interest in staying on the straight and narrow so to speak. Whereas a journalist who publishes an opinion as fact or distorts the truth to the point where it borders on a lie runs the risk of losing her job, a blogger that does the same runs little to no risk. At the same time because of the very nature of social media – an information exchange where everyone participates on an equal footing – there is nothing that prevents social, political or corporate entities from presenting their own distorted versions of reality as truth to the masses as fact, often under false alisases or through independent agents, thus changing the public discourse on false premises.

I follow a lot of random people on Twitter and I keep seeing postings saying things like “Socialized health care kills people” and “The Canadian health care system is a failure”. These postings often link to blog posts where in the extreme socialized health care is compared to Nazi death camps and Stalinistic gulags. Any reasonable person should agree that these statements are little more than paranoid outbursts or outrageous lies. After all, there are no death camps for the elderly in Canada or Norway. In fact most countries with socialized helath care have a higher life expectancy than the USA. But looking at the apparent number of “concerned citizens” putting their worries in hypertext one can start to wonder if there isn’t some truth behind the claims. The problem is that unlike a normal debate, on the web you don’t know who is actually talking, and you don’t know if the 1000 latest comments actually came from one person or organization rather than 1000 independent minds. But this lack of transparency is invisible and in the end people are likely to listen to what they percieve as a vocal majority. It all boils down to a simple fact: In public forums, the person that shouts the loudest usually gets her message across. And since social media by definition is completely unregulated it is easy for organized groups, political parties and corporations to flood the social media airwaves with biassed and inaccurate information drowning out the objective reality in the process.

Social Media: Tunnelvision for the Masses?

An uncomfortable and embarrassing trait of human nature is that no matter how much we claim to be fair and balanced, we hate being wrong. So much so in fact that given the oportunity we will chose to ignore any information provided to us that doesn’t fit with our current belief system. The role of mass media in society has always been to present unbiassed facts and report the objective truth about news and events. And because mass media was the only real source of information, we would get the good with the bad so to speak. And whether we liked it or now we’d be presented with facts and figures that did not match our own understanding of the world and we’d be forced to at least reflect on our own stance and realize we are not always right.

With the introduction of wide spread social media all of this changed. All of a sudden you could chose to ignore what the mainstream media said turning instead to people who were of the same mindset as yourself to give you only news and opinion that you agreed with and nothing else. With that a shift from news as it happens to news you agree with occurred. A subtle shift with serious and dangerous ramafications. When people are given the ability to filter news and opinion to hear only what they want to hear, they lose the ability to think critically. Which is bad enough. But it gets worse:

When people start trusting filtered opinion over objective reality, they become easy targets for manipulators and lose the ability to form their own understanding of the world. This is why the freedom of the press is such an important part of our society, why cross-media ownership is frowned upon and downright banned in many countries and why journalistic ethics commisions exist. But none of this applies to social media and as a result people, organizations and corporations with hidden agendas, evil intentions and broken moral compasses are able to present their distorted world view as fact with noone except other social media contributors standing against them. And as we’ve seen with the health care debate, the global warming debate and many others, in the end it’s the people with the most money that usually win simply because they have the means to keep the pressure up and quash the opposition.

That is why, whenever I hear people talk of social media as a revolution that will save the world and make it a better place, my critical mind cringes. It’s not what the social media evangelists want to hear, but like my parents said: Just because you don’t agree doesn’t mean it must be wrong.

For further reading on the topic of dissent and social media check out Raul Pacheco’s post on the same topic entitled On the value of dissenting opinions.

Categories
My Opinion News

A Code of Ethics for Bloggers and Social Media

As an Online Content Creator – whether it be as a blogger, a video blogger, a podcaster, a microblogger or a general social media participant – you are an important part of the wider public knowledge creation and discussion. This role carries with it a responsibility to be fair, honest and respectful not only toward your fellow members of society but also toward fact. The content you create today will more than likely outlast both the content’s relevance and your own lifetime and it is of vital importance that it be a truthful representation of the topic at hand not only for those who access it today but for those who access it in the distant future. Above all else your job as a Content Creator is to present fact as fact and opinion as opinion. To this end I have created a Blogger and Content Creator’s Code of Ethics that outlines the ethical guidelines any and all Content Creators should go by when publishing material of any sort for public consumption. The Blogger and Content Creator’s Code of Ethics is closely based on the Code of Ethics for the Norwegian Press published by the Norwegian Press Association and adhered to by all members of the Norwegian press.

This is a work in progress. Please submit your comments, questions, suggestions and edits in the comments below and I will apply them as time allows.

For the full version of the Code of Ethics please visit the page dedicated to this topic found here.

Short Version

1. It is your right to voice your opinion. Freedom of Speech, Information, Publication and Expression are basic elements of a democracy. As a Content Creator it is your obligation to use and protect these rights at all times.

2. Be critical of everything, even your self. As a Content Creator you are part of the creation of free knowledge creation and discussion. It is your obligation to shed critical light on what goes on in society as well as how Content Creators, including your self, are presenting these events.

3. Use your power to protect. As a Content Creator you can shine a light on injustices and neglect perpetrated on individuals and groups. Use this power wisely.

4. Tell the truth at all times. With great power comes great responsibility. Words and images are powerful weapons that should be used with the utmost care. When publishing content, present the facts as they are, even if you disagree with them.

5. Present your opinion as your opinion. Your opinion and interpretation of events is important and should be shared but must never be confused with hard facts or data. When voicing your own or someone else’s opinion or interpretation, always state it as such. Never present opinion, interpretation or conjecture as fact.

6. State your allegiances to stay independent. To preserve your own trustworthiness and integrity as a Content Creator, always state any relation, financial, personal, political or otherwise, to the subject or topic you are presenting. Bias, even if it is only perceived as such, immediately discredits your account unless you warn of it first. In simple terms; if you have a political affiliation that colours your judgment, say so; if you are employed by or received money from the subject you are covering, say so; if you were given gifts or preferential treatment in return for a positive review or commentary, say so. By stating these facts of allegiance your opinions gain informational value that would otherwise be lost in suspicion of bias.

7. Reveal your sources unless doing so can harm your sources. Always reveal your sources to ensure transparency unless doing so may put the source in harms way. In ensuring transparency you lend credibility to your own content as well as provide others to further pursue the facts of the matter.

8. Be critical of your sources and seek independent verification. Even if you are ethical and unbiased there is no guarantee your sources are. Before presenting information as fact, always check your source’s credibility and seek independent verification of these facts. If none can be found, state so clearly.

9. Always give credit where credit is due. Give proper attribution when using, quoting or basing your content on the work of others. In other words present quotes as quotes, link to original articles, give photo and illustration credit to the original creator etc.

10. Always preserve the intended meaning of a given statement. When quoting or paraphrasing a statement always ensure that the intended meaning is communicated. Never edit or change a statement in such a way that the intended meaning is changed.

11. Give your opponent a chance to respond. The very foundation of an open discussion is to give either side an opportunity to voice their opinion. Always provide an opportunity for your opponent to present the case of the opposing side.

12. Admit and correct your mistakes immediately. When an inaccuracy or error in your content is discovered by you or someone else, correct it immediately and announce that you have done so to ensure that those who base their opinions and other content creation on the incorrect information have a chance to make corrections as well. It is your duty to uphold the truth and present fact even if that means admitting you were wrong.

Categories
Internet My Opinion

10 steps to save the newspaper

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the imminent death of the traditional newspaper. And with good reason. Over the last year or so several papers, both minor and major, have gone belly up. There are many reasons for this trend: More people are turning to the internet to get their news. The internet has opened the door for other outlets such as TV networks and online service providers like Google and Yahoo! to provide news. And more and more people are turning to blogs, social networks, discovery engines and other non-traditional sources to filter and supply the news they want when they want it.

Considering the way and pace at which the world is progressing, from cell phones with internet access to the plugged-in reality of both office and home life it’s no wonder then the trusted pile of thin paper that shows up on doorsteps throughout the world is starting to lose its foothold.

But does this mean the time of the traditional newspaper is over? Not by a long shot. It does however mean it is time the newspaper business starts looking at the way they do business and change their perception of themselves as a publishing house to a news provider.

Over the last couple of months I’ve pondered this seemingly impossible situation and tried to come up with an answer to this question: Why is it that North American newspapers are falling like flies while their European counterparts are alive and well? The answers I’ve come up with give some insight into the paradigm shift that is taking place in the news world as we speak and provide a new path for those newsmen brave enough to follow it.

Full Disclosure: The following is my personal interpretation of the world and is backed by zero statistical, sociological or otherwise scientific study. The list has been developed through the use of common sense and observation of amongst other three highly successful newspapers in Norway, each of which flaunt well over one million daily readers in a country with a population of only 4.6 million.

1. Put it all online

Regardless of how much you like to think people still read real newspapers, the reality is (in the western world at least) people get their news on the internet. There are many reasons for this, most importantly convenience, searchability and the fact that unlike a physical paper that is published once or in some rare cases twice a day, an online newspaper can be updated by the minute and provide breaking news when it happens.

When I came to Canada in 2002 I was dumbfounded by the fact that many newspapers only published part of their paper online and expected their readers to pay money for the rest. This type of archaic thinking is as counterproductive as it is destructive, most of all because it ignores the fact that people expect information on the internet to be free. And the second you ask for money, they’ll turn away.

And there’s another benefit to putting your content online: You are likely to reach a vast audience that would never spend the money to buy your paper. I myself am the perfect example: Since I came to Canada I have never once bought a single newspaper yet I read articles from at least three different ones on a daily basis. Online. Why does this matter? After all I’m not paying for anything so why should you be providing me with the information for free? Well, if you have a sound online advertising and monitization strategy, you will earn money even from a cheap bastard like myself every time I open one of your stories.

2. The internet is a visual medium. So use it.

Massive Image OverloadWhen printing a physical newspaper you are faced with huge challenges, especially where cost is concerned. Colour photos are more expensive than black and white. And adding an extra sheet of 4 pages to accommodate for a lengthy article or a few extra photos can push you way over budget. As a result newspapers have become masters at aggressive editing, image selection and page property management. None of which matters when you go online:

One of the many great things about the internet is that real-estate is no longer a problem. Want to post a 6,000 word article on penguins with frostbite? Go ahead. Have a humongous graphic or image you want to show in all it’s splendor and detail? Just place it as a thumbnail in your page and link to the full size version.In short, when moving from print to online as your publishing medium your options in terms of visual content become limitless. So exploit it.

Huge article imageOver the years the three major Norwegian newspapers Aftenposten, Dagbladet and VG have all experimented with different types of layouts and text vs. image placement. Over the last year or so they have all landed on pretty much the same model which works exceptionally well for all of them. I call it Massive Image Overload: On the front page every story, no matter how small, is accompanied by a big photo and only the title and the short two-line excerpt is featured. This strategy creates a visually compelling and easy to understand front page with huge click-through rates. Combined with properly interspersed ads and other effects and you have a money making machine.

But the Massive Image Overload strategy goes beyond that. Once you get to the actual story it is always accompanied by a huge main photo or video on the top of the page. This was actually done as a result of big reader surveys and it is both attractive and effective. Articles with multiple photos are often also accompanied by Flash image galleries, photo documentaries with adjoining audio or in some cases entire sub-pages with more images. This makes the stories far more enjoyable to look at and easier to digest and also increases the over-the-shoulder factor.

3. Offer the readers a place to connect

The Readers' VGSocial media has been the it-word for a long time now and shows no signs of slowing down. The problem is most people don’t understand what social media is nor how it works. It really isn’t that hard to grasp: Social media is a very loose definition that encompasses pretty much anything and everything that allows users to interact and share with each other.

For a newspaper social media can be both a blessing and a curse. Used wisely it can also become a massive source of income and interest: Your readers have oppinions. So why not give them a place to voice those oppinions? Or even better, showcase them for everyone to see! Several years ago VG introduced a novel idea called “The Readers’ VG” or “VG Blogs“. The principle was simple: Let the readers build their own blogs under the umbrella of the newspaper and feature the best and brightest right on the front page of the online paper. That way you get increased page activity through interaction (which means an increase in advertising revenue) and free content to share with your readers. It’s a win-win situation.

Of course becoming a new blogging platform when companies like WordPress is doing such a good job at it is not an easy task, but the added bonus of potentially being published on the front page will be enough to turn both new and existing bloggers to your service. As long as it’s free of course.

Reader interaction can also be encouraged through the enabling of commenting on news stories, but this has to be heavily controlled and monitored to avoid total disaster. A smart way around this problem that I came across is to offer bloggers the ability to submit their links to be placed at the bottom of the article. That way you avoid the total nutcases and outright flamers and at the same time get valued input and user interaction through direct linkage. Because who wouldn’t want their own blog featured prominently at the bottom of an article by a hugely popular journalist?

4. Bring added value both online and on paper

PDF version of the real paper“All of this is well and good” you say, “but how do I keep readership of my actual paper up? By putting everything online won’t I just lose all my subscribers?” Not if you offer added value in both formats:

For all the value and instantaneousness of the internet, there are certain things better read while sitting in the sofa, at the breakfast table or on the SkyTrain. And likewise there are certain things that are only worth reading as they happen. So rather than trying to cram all the online content into the morning paper or restricting the content of the online version to match the physical one, start specializing. Publish online-only and paper-only articles. As I said before, your online readership is not the same as your paper readership anyway so start pandering to the people you are targeting. That way you can even do cross-promotion: “To read more on this topic pick up tomorrow’s paper”. “This article only available in the online version”. Dagbladet has perfected this technique to such a degree they are now able to sell PDF versions of the paper for people who insist on reading it online but want that added content. It sounds crazy but it works.

If you pick up any of the papers I’ve mentioned here and match them to the online versions you’ll see a huge difference in both weighting of stories as well as what is featured. Whereas the online version focuses heavily on breaking news, sports and entertainment, the paper versions put greater emphasis on opinion pieces, feature articles and interviews and generally heavier and more time consuming material.

5. Go beyond the basic daily to include a weekend feature magazine

When I was a kid, Aftenposten used to publish a monthly magazine called A-magasinet. This publication looked and felt like Time magazine and contained the same type of content: Feature articles and interviews, in-depth exposes, profiles, fact pieces etc.

A-magasinet was killed off while I was in seccondary school but resurrected a few years ago due to renewed interest in stories that went beyond the superficial. The new weekly version is smaller and thicker than a regular newspaper (it is published in the European tabloid size if that means anything to you) and is presented with large photos and a more magazine-like layout. The tone of A-magasinet is light but serious and the magazine reads more like a book.

The articles featured in A-magasinet are only available by buying the magazine and you can get it either by subscribing to the paper or by buying or subscribing to only the Friday edition in which it is included. And interestingly a lot of people choose this latter option.

6. Think way outside the box

Vektklubb.noOne of the most surprising revenue streams I was able to find for a newspaper was a service offered by VG called “The Weight Club”. As the title suggests it is a club you can join to get help loosing weight. By paying a small fee you get access to a closed site within the online newspaper that offers everything from calorie calculators to personal trainer advice, equipment and gym membership discounts, live chats with professional trainers, doctors and other health care providers and a massive support system consisting of other people in your situation.

The service also features success stories in the regular online and printed paper and publishes weekly articles and teasers for non-members to get them hooked.

The Weight Club has turned into a big success both for the paper and for the participants as a huge community has been built that shares recipes, advice, trials and tribulations with each other to achieve a healthier lifestyle and a better life in general.

7. Hook up with the experts

One of the things that really frustrates me when I read papers is that they tend to employ so-called “tech experts” that in reality know less about technology than my guinea pig. And why should they? They’re often just journalists that have been given an assignment that they don’t particularly like or know anything about. This same statement true for most other specialities as well – the paper experts are not really experts. But why reinvent the wheel and make it square to begin with? The internet is full of great sites with knowledgeable people that not only are real experts but know how to communicate with your audience. So rather than labeling one of your journalists as a tech expert or personal healt expert or whatever else you think your readers are looking for, strike a deal with an existing web site that already features this kind of content, put them under your wing and cross post with them. It’s a win-win situation for both parties as the expert site gets visitors from your paper and you get valued advice and content from theirs. And as a bonus all those emails from pesky nerds slagging your expert for sending out Tweets about looking forward to “e-chatting” with them will be long gone.

8. Start a poetry contest

By far the most bizarre and successful phenomenon to hit Norwegian newspapers in the last 5 years must be Dagbladet‘s Monthly Poet. I don’t think even the creators realized just how big a poetry contest where the only prize was a feature article at the end of the month would take off quite as much as it has. Today not only do people submit tons of excellent poetry but the contest has breathed life into poetry as an art form in schools.

Of course poetry is just one of several creative avenues one can pursue but it shows that if you give people a platform to present their art, great things can happen to benefit everyone.

9. Let everyone be a critic

Reader reviews on Dagbladet.noEveryone’s a critic, especially when it comes to movies and music. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught myself frustrated with a review that went completely against my own perception. And there are thousands like me who are just itching to let the world know their own opinion of the latest blockbuster or chart topper. In other words tons of untapped potential.

Rather than just putting out reviews and letting people vent about them to their friends, how about offering the readers the ability to write their own review? Several online papers now feature a button under every review saying things like “Disagree with the review? Write your own!” and linking to a forum where people can go nuts discussing, criticizing and gushing about their new favorite flick. Providing a proverbial soap box for relatively “safe” discussions about movies, music and theatre is a great way to increase readership, build a community and give the readers a feeling of belonging and contribution. Not to mention that the discussions are often both entertaining and valuable to people who are looking for a good movie to watch or album to buy.

10. Go beyond text to become a broadcaster

Dagbladet TVThe TV stations have been stomping around in your front yard stealing your readers for years. So why not do the same to them? Online video is a largely untapped potential – especially when it comes to local news gathering. And while the TV stations are still on top when it comes to video news coverage, they are restricted by air times and CRTC rules and regulations. Not so with the internet.

With the technological modernization of videography and the recent cuts in many of the broadcast outlets there are thousands of highly skilled TV professionals out there looking for work. All a news paper would have to do to bridge the previously uncrossable gap between print and moving images is to hire some a couple of videographers and send them out with the journalists. The result would be instant news published throughout the day for easy ingestion through multiple devices and sources in a way that the broadcasters still think of as unprofessional and unstructured.

The reality is that video on the web will become hugely important in the years to come and the first people out the door with instant newsgathering and on-demand publishing will be the winners. And for all the value of the written word, some times a 2 minute video is just easier and more interesting to get through.