Geotagging stories and delivery

Imagine being in an unfamiliar city. As you move around, your cell phone beeps, and delivers stories from local media outlets about places or events physically close to you. You could select certain types of stories you’re receptive to getting, like restaurant reviews, crime stories, real estate, etc. Something like this is already happening in Canada:
Metro, a free daily, partnered with Foursquare, a location-based social networking software that you use on your cell phone.
I think in the relatively near future all news outlets will offer this service. It shouldn’t be hard to program it into the content management systems we use. I wonder if standards will be reached on which software subscribers would use to get the content. Will everyone adopt some augmented reality app? Will it be open source with an API so a variety of Foursquare-like apps can be used?
Shouldn’t be too hard to deliver advertising along with the content… I bet start-ups will just syndicate AP copy or other wire copy and beat the traditional media companies to the punch, again.

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Video: Flying the Flag

Col. Van D. Barfoot received the Medal of Honor for heroism on an Italian battlefield in World War II. He also fought in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. But he had yet another battle to fight this year, this time against his homeowner’s association. He installed a flagpole in his front yard to fly the American flag, but his HOA only allows flags flown from small angled poles like from the side of a house.
The HOA threatened legal action against him unless he stopped, but he refused. The largest outpouring of sympathy I’ve ever seen came out to support him.

This video went viral as far as non-YouTube news video goes, with more than 42,500 views (it might have hit 50k but the stats were reset when the site programming changed.) Let me be quick to point out that although this was the most-watched video on ever, it was not due to me, but rather the hot-button issue itself that just took off. I’m just lucky to have been a part of it.

Copyright 2009 Richmond Times-Dispatch

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Virginia governor’s race and the Google blast

I haven’t come across other stories on the ‘Net localizing the impact of technology on state or local political races, so I wrote one here, for the RTD, called “Online ads in Va. gubernatorial race ‘set the standard’”

Online ads in Va. gubernatorial race ‘set the standard’

Published: November 16, 2009

The day before the Nov. 3 election, Bob McDonnell’s campaign paid Google about $39,000 to saturate computers in Virginia and Washington with banner ads promoting the candidate.

People surfing the Internet during a 12-hour period in Virginia, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Washington, saw McDonnell’s banner ads 14 million times during that stretch.

During the campaign for governor, the Republican McDonnell and his Democratic opponent, R. Creigh Deeds, both aggressively used online ads — banner ads that appear on Web sites, and sponsored links that appear after a user types in search terms such as “McDonnell thesis.”

“This is the first time campaigns made serious investments of persuasive ads online,” said Nate Wilcox, senior strategist at WebStrong Group in D.C., an online consulting firm.

After news of McDonnell’s master’s thesis broke on Aug. 29, people went to their computers in droves to look up “McDonnell thesis” in Google.

McDonnell and Deeds immediately fired up their spin engines in media interviews, TV ads, Web pages, Facebook posts and more.

“A majority of the electorate is getting their political news and information on the Internet,” said Mindy Finn, senior strategist with Engage LLC, which consulted for the McDonnell campaign. “The campaign was responding to that. . . . It was critically important.”

When the controversy over McDonnell’s master’s thesis began, both campaigns raced to create online ads that appeared in Google search results for thesis queries. McDonnell’s ad linked to a page of his Web site with his response, while Deeds’ ad linked to the original story, and later a separate Web site about the thesis.

After several days, McDonnell’s campaign targeted women-oriented Web sites with banner ads showing his support of working women.

Finn said the online ads allowed for rapid response compared with TV ads, which took a couple of days to produce and broadcast.

McDonnell’s thesis ads had a higher “click-through” rate than other ads the campaign ran, Finn said. That refers to the percentage of people who click on an ad or link to find more information, which indicates viewer involvement.

McDonnell staffers constantly analyzed gauges such as the click-through rate. Then staffers tweaked which search terms to be associated with, the Web pages people clicked to, geographies, and other variables.

All four candidates for governor — McDonnell, Deeds and the Democrat’s primary rivals, Brian J. Moran and Terry McAuliffe — used such an ongoing ad strategy, according to Google’s head of political advertising, Peter Greenberger.

“Never before in a statewide race have we seen that happen,” he said. “We believe that one lesson from 2009 is that search advertising has gone from a ‘nice to have’ tactic to a ‘must do’ for all political campaigns.”

Not only did the campaigns reach people online who don’t watch TV, the campaigns found they were getting more bang for their advertising buck online, as people clicked through ads to the candidates’ sites to donate or join e-mail lists where they were asked to get involved.

“A relatively cheap investment on Google ads can more than pay for itself,” said Jared Leopold, press secretary for the Deeds campaign.

As an indicator that politicians are adopting the new technologies, the proportion of a campaign’s overall advertising budget for online ads has gone from less than 1 percent on average in the 2004 cycle to the 7.5 percent that the McDonnell campaign spent — an “incredible increase,” Greenberger said.

Finn said the McDonnell campaign raised more than $1.25 million in online donations, from 4,171 donors.

McDonnell used online ads to gather votes and support in a serious way, Wilcox said. About two months from Election Day, the campaign started targeting general audiences to attract new voters.

For instance, McDonnell’s campaign bought ads to accompany search results for “Mike Huckabee.” Anyone in Virginia searching for the name of the former governor of Arkansas and contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008 could have seen ads saying “Huckabee agrees — McDonnell for Governor,” with a link to McDonnell’s site.

McDonnell also adopted a relatively new tactic that Deeds used in June’s Democratic primary — plastering his banner ad all over the Internet for people in targeted geographic areas — a tactic called a “network blast.”

This is the tactic that McDonnell employed on the eve of the election.

“Google ads are so valuable in how you can target specific geographies and demographics,” Finn said. “It’s similar to TV, you’re broadcasting an impression. At the end of an election, it’s important to do that.”

Said Wilcox of WebStrong, which ran Moran’s Web strategy in the Democratic primary: “McDonnell used online communications as part of a well-planned overall messaging strategy that he laid out in the beginning, executed, and that paid off in the end. Deeds was floundering in the dark.”

Ravi Singh, whose company, ElectionMall Technologies, has supplied software for about 1,200 political campaigns this year, said statewide campaigns will adapt the Internet strategies of the Virginia governor’s race for years to come.

“From A to Z, Virginia defined how to use every aspect of the technology,” he said. “It will set the standard for statewide candidates.”

Contact Chris I. Young at (804) 649-6754 or

Basically a lot of campaign consultants said that Virginia’s governor’s race was the first time we saw every candidate use online advertising in an integrated, focused way. Politics in Virginia is huge and there’s a ton of voices out there, which you can see by the volume of political blogs, Facebook interactions with Bob McDonnell and Creigh Deeds’ fan pages, and money pumped into online ads.

Both candidates for governor used a Google network blast to saturate the web with their faces right before people headed to the polls, Deeds in the democratic primary and McDonnell in the general election.

They won.

So is that a winning strategy? Maybe, maybe not.
One consultant told me that when you’re ahead, you might as well spend a few tens of thousands of $$ to brand your guy online in a final push. I didn’t really get to this in the story but at least it’s a start.

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Targeting us: political ads source lists

This article by Kate Kaye of Clickz looks at voter files, the lists of potential voters that campaigns keep. In the online world, a campaign can target likely voters or some demographic group with ads that drive the viewer to donate or vote. The methods of compiling a robust list use traditional public sources like secretaries of state, Kaye says, but also include behavioral clues from web searches and online keywords. Interesting….

The Political Ad Practice Insiders Want to Keep Secret – ClickZ

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Facebooking their way into the Governor’s mansion

My print contribution to our news coverage of the 2009 race for Virginia governor. Just like in every official poll, Bob McDonnell was beating Creigh Deeds on social media sites:

Gubernatorial campaigns rely on social media | Richmond Times-Dispatch


As the two men campaigning for Virginia governor make last-minute sound bites to get out the vote on Tuesday, the virtual cocktail parties they host on their Facebook fan pages have exploded in activity.

Both campaigns have rolled out Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, YouTube videos and other social media tools to reach voters over the course of the race, in addition to their primary Web sites….

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Q-What do you call the obituary pages of the newspaper?

A- subscriber countdown

That was a joke tweeted live during the Online News Association convention this past weekend in San Francisco. Great time.

One small note- I saw this guy David LaFontaine talk at ONA, he has a nice recurring summary of news about the state of the industry on his blog like this.

I may actually download this mp3 of Clay Shirky in a talk on accountability journalism in the age of newspaper’s steady decline

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Obama video

Some breaking news video I shot election night 2008:

Copyright 2008 Richmond Times-Dispatch

I had caught a cold that day, after hanging out at several voting stations, a victory party for the newly elected mayor of Richmond, and this late-breaking news. Thousands of college students spontaneously took to the streets after Barack Obama won the election. There was such energy in the crowd, I’ve never seen anything like it. Had to shot/edit this one fast to cap off a 13 or 14 hour day.

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Video: Homeless Soccer Team

No, the team isn’t looking for a place to play. The players in the Richmond Rebels are all homeless themselves. They’re part of a national league called Street Soccer USA. This is what they look like and what they do.

Copyright 2009 Richmond Times-Dispatch

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Video: “Never give up”

I recently did a video story on a high school senior with cerebral palsy who beat the odds and did what few can do: graduate with a regular diploma and go to a four-year college. Thomas Allen’s remarkable personality showed through the reverence of everyone who knew him.

Copyright 2009 Richmond Times-Dispatch

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