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  • Eric Ulken 6:43 pm on April 18, 2014
    Tags: , WordPress   

    Why WordPress? 

    Here at The Seattle Times, we’re preparing to replace our decade-old digital CMS with WordPress. Can a free blogging tool power a complex, high-traffic newspaper website? We think so, and we’re not alone.

    Newspapers have long used WordPress to power blogs (as if blog posts were somehow wholly different from articles), but a growing number of “old media” sites have moved their primary digital publishing activity over to WordPress, so we’re in increasingly good company. A few such sites with WordPress at their core:

    And of course, a much larger number of digital-only news sites – including many that get way more traffic than we do — use WordPress. So it’s not a question of scale, I think, but more a question of culture.

    In our quest for culture change here, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the inspiration we took from Journal Register Company’s 2010 Ben Franklin Project — a bid to publish in print and online using only free tools — and Bangor’s pioneering and well-documented switch to WordPress.

    Want to help us realize our own open-source digital news future? Check out our job openings in technology, design and product management.

    Posted from Seattle, Washington, United States.

  • Eric Ulken 12:43 am on December 5, 2012
    Tags: Storify, , ,   

    An experiment: The Seattle Times in 10 Tweets 

    Inspired by Patrick LaForge‘s Times in 10 Tweets experiment at the NYT, I decided to do the same with a day in the life of The Seattle Times, based on the tweets of Seattle Times staffers. Here’s the result:

    What do you think? Interesting? Or a waste of time?

    Posted from Seattle, Washington, United States.

  • Eric Ulken 1:54 pm on September 8, 2012
    Tags: newspapers, predictions, Robert G. Kaiser, technology,   

    Required reading from 20 years ago 

    The world is changing with amazing speed, and we need to pay close attention to what is happening. … No one in our business has yet launched a really impressive or successful electronic product, but someone surely will. I’d bet it will happen rather soon. The Post ought to be in the forefront of this — not for the adventure, but for important defensive purposes. We’ll only defeat electronic competitors by playing their game better than they can play it. And we can.

    Here is a fascinating glimpse of the future of digital media and newspapers’ place in it as seen from the year 1992 by then-Washington Post Managing Editor Robert Kaiser. Read Mark Potts’ write-up, and then read the full memo.

    As an aside, it’s worth noting that Potts debunks the now-popular notion that newspaper execs’ “original sin” was not pursuing paid digital models from the get-go. In fact, newspapers tried many variations on paid content over the years, and most failed. (Newspaper executives were negligent in many other ways where digital is concerned, but on this count I think they deserve a pass.)

    What’s most striking to me, though, is how the radical changes in technology that were predicted at this conference 20 years ago have unfolded more-or-less the way the technologists foresaw. (Remember, this is before anybody outside academe and big science had heard of the web, and 2400 bits per second was probably the most common connection speed for home computers to online services.) In fact, one of the few major technological advancements of the last two decades not mentioned in Kaiser’s memo is the explosion of mobile.

    The thing nobody seems to have adequately imagined is how these changes in technology would shift the foundations of mass media in two fundamental ways: By disrupting the advertising business model and by giving rise to search and social media (and thus disaggregating the “bundle” that gave newspapers much of their value).

    It would seem the near future is fairly easy to predict in purely technological terms. What’s harder to see are the economic and social implications of those changes. Credit to Bob Kaiser for trying.

    Posted from Seattle, Washington, United States.

  • Eric Ulken 5:13 pm on January 25, 2011

    Back to the newsroom, off to Seattle 

    When I left the Los Angeles Times in the depths of the 2008 financial crisis — a time when the newspaper industry’s future looked particularly bleak — I wondered wistfully if I was walking away from my last newspaper job. I’d worked for newspaper companies my entire career, and despite their sometimes frustratingly slow advance into the digital age, I’ve always loved newspapers and the work they do.

    Turns out, I’m not finished with newspapers. Or they are not finished with me.

    I am starting a new job next month at The Seattle Times as assistant managing editor, digital. I’ll be guiding editorial efforts on the paper’s online products, including SeattleTimes.com. The Times has earned a reputation for innovation in local digital journalism, and I am looking forward to being a part of the talented team that makes it happen.

    I’ve missed the newsroom, and I can’t wait to get back there.

    Photo: Clock at Pike Place Market, Seattle, by Flickr user mikeensor (Creative Commons)

    Posted from Boston, Massachusetts, United States.

  • Eric Ulken 7:57 pm on January 23, 2011
    Tags: Libraries   

    Libraries: An appreciation 

    If I couldn’t be a journalist, I think I’d be a librarian. I decided this after spending a lot of time in libraries in the last couple of years and interacting with some very smart (and completely unstuffy) librarians.

    Maybe it’s because, as it turns out, journalists and librarians have a lot in common.

    Fundamentally, we’re both interested in making information useful and meaningful to the widest possible audience. Beyond that, practitioners in both fields are committed to public service, free speech, open access, transparency in sourcing, etc.

    Librarianship might not be the hippest profession — one more thing we share, I suppose — though, as my former LAT colleague David Sarno points out, this is changing.

    Librarians with an eye to the future speak not of books but of an information commons — an open network of places, both physical and virtual, where people come not just to receive knowledge but to create and share knowledge with others.

    In the U.S., public libraries are seeing record numbers of visitors. Even circulation is up.

    Unfortunately, budgets are down. Libraries are a convenient target for cash-strapped local governments looking to save money.

    But cuts to public libraries, especially in bad economic times, are short-sighted. They hit job seekers, community groups and people engaged in independent study, among others.

    It’s time civic leaders took a closer look at libraries and the services they provide and imagine how much poorer our society’s information commons would be without them.

    Photo: Seattle Central Library by Flickr user pmorgan (Creative Commons)

    Posted from Boston, Massachusetts, United States.

  • Eric Ulken 7:56 am on August 20, 2010
    Tags: Flash, iPad, performance   

    Flash in the pan? 

    I am an ex-Flash user. I uninstalled the Flash plug-in on my primary browser about a month ago, and I haven’t looked back. Here’s how it happened:

    Back when Apple announced that its forthcoming iPad would lack Flash support, it sounded to me like a boneheaded move. If a device built for consuming multimedia doesn’t support the web’s leading format for multimedia presentation, what good is it?

    But after using my own iPad for a while, I decided I didn’t miss Flash nearly as much as I thought I would. (And I discovered that a lot of web apps I’d assumed were Flash-based were actually built with JavaScript.) Which got me thinking: Could I do without Flash on my main computer as well?

    I use a woefully underpowered first-generation MacBook Air that I’d rather not replace just yet. I’d done about all I can think of to squeeze a little more performance out of it, including installing a solid-state hard drive and upgrading the OS to Snow Leopard. Still I found many common activities, particularly web browsing in multiple tabs or windows, painfully slow.

    So I decided, as an experiment, to remove the Flash plug-in from my primary web browser, Google Chrome. I still have it in Safari, which I fire up when I need to look at Flash content.

    After about a month, here are my impressions:

    • The speed increase on web browsing is much more dramatic than the performance boost I got by adding Snow Leopard and the SSD. And since most of my computing time is spent in a web browser, that gives my old laptop a new lease on life.
    • Fewer obnoxious ads! That alone might make this “upgrade” worthwhile.
    • YouTube and Vimeo both have stable HTML5 video players, though most of the commercial content on YouTube is available only in the Flash player.
    • The Wall Street Journal’s video player works beautifully. (NYT and CNN not so much.)
    • Interactive charts in Google Analytics and Google Finance, sadly, are Flash-based and don’t downgrade gracefully.
    • The Google Maps API is JavaScript based (though there is also a Flash API) so most of the apps produced by my former colleagues at the L.A. Times’ Data Desk still work without a hitch.

    In short, for me, the performance jump is worth the occasional inconvenience, but YMMV.

    What do you think? Could you live without Flash?

    • Paul Salzman 10:48 am on August 20, 2010

      I share the same ideology regaing flash. Until the iPad came out, I was not really aware of how badly Flash was affecting my browser performance. I started by install Click-to-Flash, but your idea about totally removing the plugin is radically brilliant. I’m going to rip it out of Safari as soon as I get back to my machine.

      Since using Click-to-Flash, I’ve realized how many sites use flash for elements, which I found odd, but it’s prevalent. I certainly won’t miss it! And Windows users should pull their heads out and realize Flash affects their browser’s performance too!

      Thanks for the great post and opening up my eyes to a new idea.

    • Eric Ulken 2:56 pm on August 20, 2010

      I used ClickToFlash with Safari for a while. It’s a good option if you use Safari, but last I checked it didn’t work with Chrome, which is my go-to browser. And since these days I only open Safari if I need to use Flash, ClickToFlash is superfluous.

      I would love to see ClickToFlash or a similar plug-in for Chrome.

    • Paul 12:50 am on January 26, 2011

      I’ve just also decided to have flash whenever I need it (as opposed to whenever a web designer has decided that it was good for me to have a flash animation).

      As a user of google Chrome I have installed the no-flash application. This way when I visit websites with flash content, I can choose to view it by clicking play (such as a video), or not (such as an annoying add).

      It’s much faster too

  • Eric Ulken 4:34 pm on March 21, 2010
    Tags: data visualization, journalism, online tools, search engine optimization, workshop   

    Continue the discussion here 

    Thanks to all who turned out today at UBC Robson Square for my workshop on online tools and techniques for journalists. I’m creating this post as a way to continue the discussion online. If you have questions or comments on the topics we discussed, please share them in the comments, and I will do my best to respond.

    A podcast of the session will be available in the next few days, and I’ll link to it when it’s ready.

    Update 2010.03.29: The podcast — er, vodcast? — is now online. Also, here are all of my links from the presentation.

  • Eric Ulken 10:30 pm on March 6, 2010
    Tags: ,   

    Checking in from Canada 

    In the four months since my last post — yes, I’m a terrible blogger — I’ve moved to Vancouver and started teaching at the University of British Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. Among other things, I’m coordinating the school’s Integrated Journalism course, required of all first-year students, and advising some second-year students on their theses.

    It’s been a terrific experience so far, and I highly recommend the school’s Canwest Global visiting professor program to other professionals looking to take some time away from the field and work with some seriously smart and engaged student journalists.

    And did I mention Vancouver is awesome?

    Photo: Cherry tree in bloom in Stanley Park.

  • Eric Ulken 3:11 pm on November 9, 2009
    Tags: , InfoCamp, , , Poynter Institute, Spiegel Online, TwitterTim.es   

    Posted here and there 

    The problem with writing for several outlets is that your stuff lacks a home on the Internet. But it’s nothing that a little aggregation can’t fix. In case you missed it, here’s some of what I’ve been writing in the last few months:

    • Today at De Nieuwe Reporter, the Dutch online journalism blog I write for, I posted a piece on InfoCamp, a terrific unconference I attended last month in Seattle. It’s about what online journalists can learn from information scientists. (And yes, it’s in English.)
    • I’ve been enjoying using TwitterTim.es, an aggregator that lets you build a personalized “newspaper” featuring the posts tweeted most frequently by people you follow. (Here’s mine.) Intrigued, I interviewed Maxim Grinev, the site’s tech lead, for Online Journalism Review.
    • I weighed in on the question of whether SEO practices make for dumb, boring headlines, also at OJR. (By the way, I’m working on an online course on writing headlines for the web for the Poynter Institute’s NewsU. If you have some instructive experiences to share, please let me know.)
    • Finally, I wrote about recently launched redesigns at Germany’s Spiegel Online, where I worked this summer, and my alma mater, the Los Angeles Times, also for De Nieuwe Reporter.

    Also, as I’m doing more writing and consulting in various places, I’ve updated my about page with the customary disclosures.

  • Eric Ulken 12:20 pm on October 2, 2009
    Tags: journalism education, ,   

    What would you teach aspiring journalists about the internet? 

    It’s officially official: I’m headed to Vancouver in January to spend a semester as the Canwest Global Visiting Professor at the University of British Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. I will be teaching online journalism as part of the school’s integrated journalism course.

    I’m looking forward to helping students think critically about the internet as a platform for news, and I would appreciate suggestions on how best to do that. In other words, if you had this gig, what would you teach?

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