In a high-tech state, a stunningly low number

I worked in news for a long time. Now I work in an organization that talks about and works to address the achievement gap between white and minority students and the opportunity gap they face every day. But this number I saw today stunned me.

13.

That’s the number of African-American students in Massachusetts who passed the Computer Science Advanced Placement test in Massachusetts in 2013.

How about this number?

1.

That’s how many of those 13 were young women.

Think about that. This is Massachusetts. We pride ourselves on having one of the most robust tech economies in the country. We praise tech up and down as a critical piece of our future economy. Yet as Emily DeRuy of Fusion noted in her post on National Journal’s Next America blog, that “Tech Pipeline is Alarmingly White.”

Actually, alarming might not be strong enough. Data crunched by Barbara Ericson, the director of computing outreach and a senior research scientist at Georgia Tech, found no minorities or young women at all took the Computer Science AP in Montana or Mississippi. That’s headline grabbing but not surprising, since only 12 students total took the test in those states. So let’s look at the bigger picture.

Of the approximately 30,000 students who took the exam in 2013, only around 20 percent were female, according to the analysis, and a tiny 3 percent were African-American. Just 8 percent were Hispanic.

One reason there are so few students enrolling in the class and taking the test is that AP computer science courses are more common in suburban and private schools, Barbara Ericson, a senior research scientist with Georgia Tech who compiled the data, told the blog Education Week, and those schools tend to be less diverse than urban and public schools.

Another potential reason is that there are so few women, African-American and Hispanic instructors teaching computer science and so few working in the computer science field. Students are more likely to pursue a course of study if they have mentors with similar backgrounds to emulate.

That’s an explanation, but it’s not acceptable. If any state should be able to battle those limitations, it’s Massachusetts, yet our numbers are actually worse than the average. For 2013, according to the Georgia Tech Research:

  • 1087 students in 91 Massachusetts schools took the Computer Science AP – 712 passed
  • Of those, 188 were young women (17.6%) – of whom 116 passed
  • 34 test takers were African-American (3.2%)
  • 56 test takers were Hispanic (5.2%)
  • While 66.7% of the overall test-taking group passed, just 38.2% of African-Americans (13 of 34) and 39.3% of Hispanic students (22 of 56) did
  • 16 Hispanic females took the test – 5 passed.
  • 6 African-American females took the test – 1 passed.

Think about that. In high-tech Massachusetts, you could fit every African-American and Hispanic young woman who passed the 2013 AP test in Computer Science comfortably around a library table.

There are plenty of ways to rationalize the numbers – one can look at who offers AP Computer Science, and so on. But the end number is too stark to ignore. Back in June, a group of high tech executives began pushing the state Department of Education to mandate computer science classes. It’s a noble idea, faced as all new ideas are with the challenge of limited time and resources.

But as these numbers show – there’s plenty of room to grow. And there’s at least one African-American young woman out there who might have some ideas.

ONA takeaway – Dear news company: Your ad model is dead.

The Online News Association annual conference in Boston this past week has already been analyzed by a billion of its thousand attendees, and it’s been interesting to see the various takes.

Many posts have been very positive, filled with excitement, inspiration and idealism for the future.

This is not really one of them.

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Retail media: another reason for publishers to sweat

As if the ad-based model wasn’t already under enough pressure for traditional media organizations…

I spent part of Wednesday at a FutureM session on “Retail Media”, which encompasses retail companies’ efforts to create media and media partnerships to leverage their own site traffic for further reach and profits. Among the concepts, for companies like CVS to partner up with suppliers to advertise and provide on the CVS.com site – and create new health content for consumers.

Translation for traditional media organizations – not only are companies like CVS (who had a rep on the panel) taking their advertising spend online, they’re becoming content creators who can appeal to their suppliers as a media entity. And as that happens, media organizations face a real uphill fight.

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Why didn’t news organizations build Groupon before Groupon?

Dave Winer, whose Rebooting the News podcasts with Jay Rosen are among the buggest must listens of my week, took the media to task on the Neiman Journalism Lab blog for missing the idea of Groupon, and thus missing out on yet another opportunity to generate revenue in the changed media environment.

In his “There’s no good place for a new Maginot Line for the news”, he concludes with a line that resonated with me.

It seems there’s still time for a philosophy change in the news business. Become more focused on the commerce of your communities, and the opportunities to make money will become more apparent. Seems like common sense to me.

And you know, it all comes down to that last graf. It occurs to me more and more that as news organizations still think of themselves as content creators, we’re ill-equipped to execute the next idea, no matter how simple, when going up against startups that take the best ideas and run with them from Step 1.

For example – the Groupon concept was out there before Groupon, and a lot of news organizations (especially radio) were offering half price discounts on any number of items – food, sporting goods, etc. My news organization was one of them. The deals were out there – we were approaching businesses and getting coupons as part of the sales strategy. We were on the cusp on executing exactly what Groupon has done.

But those doing half price deals were missing two things – they were in most cases outsourcing almost all of the execution to third parties, and because they were focused on their own localities, they never took the concept to a larger scale. It was working in City X, so maybe a group would try it in City Y, or maybe do it for the whole group. But they never took the next step of creating a new business here. (Why would they? They were already outsourcing the parts they’d need to execute on a larger scale.)

Maybe it is just a philosophical change – to move from new business development to new business development. (Easy to say – hard to do.) But until we are more able to do that, we’ll likely continue to miss the opportunities that might be right in front of our noses.

Tools I’m using: Chartbeat

I discovered Chartbeat by accident – it was an aside in a conversation about SocialFlow, another new tool we’re trying on NECN.com that I’ll write about later.

Chartbeat is a real-time dashboard for your website. Installing it is easy. It’s two bits of javascript that go in the header and footer of your site. What those scripts give you for information is stunning from an eye candy perspective.

Logging into your account on Chartbeat is like Disneyland for the stat-loving, information overload set. In a single dashboard you can see the number of visitors coming to your site, whether they are active or inactive, what they are looking at, where they came from, and how long it took the page they’re on to load. And it’s updating in real time. You see traffic spikes as they happen, and can see what stories are getting the traffic and where the visitors are coming from.

But after the eye candy phase wears off – what can you do with Chartbeat? The biggest thing may be to work at amplifying those already popular stories. Say you have a story that is showing a spike of interest on your site. If users coming to your site like it, it’s probably a clue that users on search or referral sites might be interested as well. My results on this have been uneven – some stories that showed minor spikes before I pushed them out elsewhere did catch on. Others, not so much. But where Google Analytics takes a couple of hours to tell you about traffic spikes, you know much more quickly here.

It’s a useful and pretty inexpensive tool for most sites (those under 1,000 simultaneous users, which is most of us out there). If nothing else, it gives you a more real-time look at what people are doing on your site, in a way that Google Analytics and other tools don’t allow. Plus, it’s mesmerizing in general. Give it a look.

Show me the money, please?

There were a lot of great sessions at this year’s ONA conference, but the most relevant for many existing news organizations may have been that on journalism entrepreneurship, or “Turning Bits into Bucks,” as it was titled.

The session featuring Michelle McLellan of the Reynolds Journlism Institute, Mike Orren, founder of Pegasus News, and Rafat Ali, founder of paidcontent.com, hit a lot of issues that journalists thinking about setting out on their own would hit, but it also had a lot of implications and useful information for all journalism-driven organizations who are trying to make a buck.

Lesson 1: Content is king, but if you can’t sell it, you have a problem. This isn’t to say that organizations should only create content they could sell (although some top brass might think that way). It’s that regardless of what your content is, you need to have some strategy for generating income. Too many news organizations are flailing around on this level, with an ad market where CPMs have crashed and no other real strategy for sales.

Lesson 2: Diversify your revenue streams. One of the facts that raised an eyebrow for me was from Rafat Ali who noted that paidcontent was generating HALF of its income with its events business. Other sites back that up – Xconomy has a similar model, where their tech content creates a crowd, which delivers them a ready-made audience for quality events. Of course, the challenge is to figure out what your niche is if you want to hold an event — but there are verticals that make sense where most general news organizations are already producing content. Could you generate revenue with something related to your business coverage? Your arts reporting? Sports?

If not events, are there other ways you can provide targeted content that is valuable for users and appealing to advertisers? Mike Orren noted that newsletters have proven to be a good revenue-enhancer for his site. And then there is e-commerce, giving your site visitors ways to directly connect with advertisers for useful products and services. Groupon-type services that even pre-date Groupon have long been good cash generators for sites that were smart enough to get on board, although the market for straight discount coupons is starting to be saturated.

Lesson 3: Mobile. If your strategy doesn’t include it, stop now and go add it. And make it good, platform-specific and build it with the user in mind. (I might write abut the fascinating mobile session I attended later.)

Lesson 4: Re-read the first part of lesson 1. Content is king. You can have great content and not have a successful business because you can’t/don’t sell it. You can have a site with great content that you can sell and succeed with. What’s really hard is to sell bad content. There is so much content out there that yours needs to have something that gives it value, or else it’s simply more noise.

And no one – advertisers or visitors – wants that.

Patchy clouds at ONA Hyperlocal Session

PATCHY CLOUDS OVER ONA NETWORKED JOURNALISM PANELS

The Online News Association’s annual convention is getting underway Friday in Washington, D.C., but Thursday was chock full of pre-conference workshops, including a discussion on “networked journalism” and how news organizations can build and strengthen partnerships with hyperlocal sites – citizen journalists and bloggers who can get target individual communities.

But while the panels that made up the session, from Tucson to Seattle to Miami to Charlotte to Asheville, N.C. had different approaches, as they looked ahead there was a cloud on the horizon – AOL’s Patch. None of the partnerships have much active Patch competition yet; Patch has rolled out a pair of Seattle neighborhood sites, and none in the other places represented. But across the board, there was a wary eye toward eventual Patch competition.

Bob Payne of the Seattle Times, whose network of 28 hyperlocal or subject-themed citizen blogs is under the most immediate challenge from Patch, called Patch an ‘interesting challenge’, but said content would eventually win out – and seemed confident that local bloggers who are already living and blogging in their communities, like Tracy Record and the West Seattle Blog, had a leg up.

Other papers with local blog partners agreed that Patch brought a welcome focus on hyperlocal, but that the network of large numbers of cookie cutter sites could be beaten by blogs/citizen journalists dedicated to one community. Rick Hirsch of the Miami Herald said Patch should inspire local blogs and papers to work harder – a welcome opportunity. But Steve Gunn of the Charlotte Observer said the best local blogs will win out over Patch. “I don’t know what the future is, Gunn said, “but I’d take (the local blog) davidsonnews.net over Patch any day.”

In the end, though, it will be the business model more than the content that determines whether Patch can succeed. AOL can build broad networks, but they might not be able to match the local connections a resident-blogger can make, or the potential multi-platform sales potential of local papers creating web content.

But Patch has their attention, even in places where it has yet to launch. So if nothing else, AOL can be assured already that it has had an impact on local online content.

tumblin – stumblin through your Twitter links

OK – this little Twitter app has my attention today. tumbl.in is a cool web app that basically serves as a StumbleUpon (which I admittedly rarely use) for links that get bubbled up in your Twitter stream.

I spotted this in a post on The Next Web this morning, and gave it a shot. KInd of cool, and certainly simple to use.

Let’s face it – there’s a ton of stuff that sails on through the stream while you are doing other things – sending e-mails, going to meetings, blinking, etc. – and this seems to be a pretty cool way to perhaps see a nugget or two that might have snuck past you during that bathroom break.

You log in with your Twitter credentials, and you can have it churn through your whole timeline or through specific lists. It’s a really simple interface, and a clever idea.

(Also a great way to catch up on the weekend gone by!)

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Memo to employees: Social media is critical – just don’t use it

If you’ve decided your business is going to be saved by reaching out to people on social networks, you might want to note a new report that says more than half of American businesses have banned their employees from accessing networks like Twitter and Facebook while at work.

The survey from the IT firm Robert Half Technology finds that 54% of companies have banned worker access to social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace while at work. 19% say access is permitted for business use, 16% allow limited personal use and just 10% say they aren’t restrictive.

The survey isn’t necessarily a big surprise, but it is food for thought for companies that are trying to market to business people on social networks during the business day. In many cases – it might just show a poor link between a company’s marketing message and its internal policies. How many of these major companies say they are using social media as a critical part of their strategy, but telling their IT departments to block social media sites?
The problem then isn’t with the conduct – I get that people want their employees not to waste time on the web, but in the corporate message. If you want your people to use social media as an effective tool, then you need to get them comfortable with it – and expecting them to do that in their spare time (or sending the message that they shouldn’t do it at all) is not a smart business strategy.

Of course, while workplace use may be officially prohiited, people are still accessing sites during the day – and 46 percent of Facebook users is still about 150 million people – which beats the number you can get by working the phones or sending direct mail.

I also talked about a couple of other things this morning… in the video below.

A short time after Hotmail warned its users that a phishing scam tricked thousands of its users to give up their Hotmail passwords, Google’s GMail warns its customers that they aren’t safe from scammers, either. The company has released some gentle reminders that users need to protect their passwords and make them more secure.

And if you’re one of the millions of people who use Skype to make phone calls over the Internet, you can now get out that iPhone. AT&T is bowing to pressure and allowing access to Skype and other Voice over IP applications on its 3G network. Previously, you could use Skype, but only if you had a wifi connection.

Plus GMail warns its users that they aren’t immune from a phishing attack like the one that was able to access tens of thousands of Hotmail users’ passwords, and there’s some good news for the hundreds of thousands of people who want to access Skype or other VoIP carriers from their iPhones. AT&T is giving users access to those carriers – nice for iPhone users – who have ben limited to using Skype from their phones only if they have a wi-fi connection.

Don’t forget we have another edition of “Ask the Experts” coming online tomorrow at 12:30pm. This week, we’re sponsored by your New England Lincoln Mercury dealers, and the topic is innovation and technology in Lincoln Mercury, Ford and other cars. You can register at necn.com/asktheexperts, and then ask your questions in a safe environment about how all this new technology being packed into computers actually works – whether its Bluetooth, GPS, voice recognition or any other aspects of in-car technology you want to know more about. We’ve got a couple of top Lincoln Mercury tech experts to walk you through.

So I personally hope you’ll go to necn.com/asktheexperts, sign up and submit your questions.

Got twitter? There are apps for that

Always nice to feature local folks on my NECN gig – and today I gave a little shout to the soon-to-open apps store for Twitter at oneforty.com. The site oneforty.com will be your place to go for hundreds of Twitter applications – from desktop clients to productivity software and more. It’s still in Beta right now, but will open to the public very soon. The site is based in Cambridge, Mass. and Laura Fitton, who co-wrote the book “Twitter for Dummies” and is a Boston native, is the founder of the company.

I also mentioned short items on the Wii price cut and Mirosoft’s alleged new phones. But oneforty is the hit of the group. Yesterday it pointed me to unfollow, where my quest to trim down the dead weight from my following list ended with the discovery that many of my friends are the dead weight. Couldn’t pull the plug on most of them.