Super Bowl XLVIII: It’s all about the game

 

Super Bowl logo

(Source: Wikipedia)

I was bemoaning the halftime theatrics of recent Super Bowls when a buddy responded: “It’s an event.”

Event. Spectacle. Showcase. Everything but a football game. 

Call me a traditionalist, but if this moment is truly what the NFL professes it to be — a bowl of super proportions to crown the world champion — then it should be foremost about the football.

Fortunately, for us football fans, the past few bowls have been about the game.  We’ve seen close scores. We’ve cheered stunning last-minute comebacks. We’ve witnessed unbelievable plays under tremendous pressure.

And seven of the last 10 Super Bowls have been decided by a touchdown or less. Despite conversations about wardrobe malfunctions, million-dollar advertising rates, and past-their-prime performers, the recent history of the Super Bowl shows there’s been a feast for true football fans as well as the uninterested masses of Super Bowl partygoers.

This year comes the ultimate main course: The game will take place in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., outside. In the winter cold. With the chance of rain and snow.

I’ve heard some pundits argue that introducing the elements eliminates the pure mano-a-mano sense of competition. Peyton Manning and the high-flying Denver Broncos may be grounded if the weather turns blustery (showers and snow are possible tonight), providing a distinct advantage to the defensively minded Seattle Seahawks.

To me, that’s what professional football is about: Adjusting to conditions. Even in domes, unexpected circumstances arise. Key players get hurt. Balls take odd hops. Close calls go one team’s way. The best are those that can play under myriad conditions — and still win. Throughout December and January, teams have battled the elements to get to this point, to earn the right to play in the Super Bowl. Why shouldn’t the game take place outside, as it was meant to be played?

I’d also argue that the Super Bowl halftime spectacle, with its inordinately long break, is as unnatural as any element for a football game, especially when the pyrotechnic fog lingers as the second half begins.

With this turn to the outside, in the cold, with the elements, it will remind the performers and the audience that this day is about the players and the game. The smoke can dissipate more quickly, and we can all remember that, yes, Super Bowl Sunday is indeed about football.

Content farming vs. curation

Sometimes, bloggers mistake content farming for curation.

Content farms snag entire articles and stories from other sites and post them as their own. At first blush, it may seem the same as curation; after all, curators collate other content from across the Web. The difference? The curator is adding something of value to the collection process.

Take the Internet Vision, a site set up by a Yahoo! account executive. This site contains articles from a variety of high-profile sites. But it’s not just links or summaries of the articles; these are the full articles with photos and graphics. He adds nothing to the original article. He is presenting it as his own.

Though he does link to the original site in the author byline, the sense as a reader — once you’ve discovered the charade — is disillusionment and anger.

BrainCompare that experience to Brain Pickings, a menagerie of Web content from blogger Maria Popova. The posts contain copious links and quotations of other material; she adds value with her interpretation and understanding of that content. She shares with us why she finds that content valuable — the sign of a true curator.

Good curators don’t just grab content and claim it as their own. They gather, prune, and showcase it in such a way that presentation itself has meaning and depth.

The phases of engagement and the best answer ever

Since 2009, my research partner and I have been studying the changes at the Christian Science Monitor in its efforts to morph into a Web-first newsroom.

Its success in increasing page views has been well documented. Using search-engine optimization and frequent news updates, its site regularly tops 30 million page views a month, and the organization has earned a spot among the 250 most visited U.S. sites on the Web.

But during our research visits, we’ve often heard reporters and editors struggle with how to transform the drive-by SEO audience to one that is more engaged, more invested in the Monitor itself.

Many other news organizations, marketers, and Web producers have become obsessed with this idea as well. As someone working with the next generation of content creators, I have dedicated much time developing my own model to understand how engagement happens.

A simple model

For years, I’ve been attracted to the uses-and-gratifications model of media behavior, which simply states that people use media to satisfy certain communication needs. But how does this process evolve? And how do we build regular usage and make our sites a media habit?

Integrating several threads of innovation and media research, I came up with four primary phases:

Engagement

  1. ATTENTION: It begins with an appreciation for SEO and messaging. Do we have something that will grab people’s attention from the mass of information already available to them?
  2. USAGE: Ease of use is vital for luring new users. Usability experts like Jakob Nielsen regularly remind us of the importance of clean, responsive design, and if a site/app/program is too difficult to use, users often will abandon it, especially if they are not emotionally attached or invested in the content.
  3. HABIT: Once users have overcome the trepidation of trying something new, we need to use consistent content to keep people coming back. And that consistency should come in quantity (frequency of updating) and quality (meaningful, well-produced content). It is finding the right balance between quantity and quality that so many organizations struggle with. This part of the process is more transactional and informational: Are we providing the type of content users need to satisfy what they’re looking for?
  4. COMMUNITY: After securing the intellectual commitment, we must establish that emotional investment in our site by building community. It is this phase where so many news organizations and businesses fail, and the social media succeed so dramatically. To develop this human connection, we must be willing to share our site with the audience. Allow them to contribute photos, comments, and other user-generated content. Make them feel a part of the site.

I find this simplified model — which incorporates ideas from diffusion of innovations, the theory of media attendance, the Media Choice Model, and engagement research — resonates more effectively with my students than more complex formulations (such as Philip Napoli’s definitive  conception of engagement in his book Audience Evolution: New Technologies and the Transformation of Media Audiences).

The best answer ever

I teach this model to my students in my Web Communication class, a junior/senior level class in our Multimedia Production and Journalism program, and a question about the idea inevitably appears on my exams. As I tell my students, I am most concerned with concepts rather than terminology; I want them to articulate clearly what’s happening at each stage, rather than just regurgitating my lecture blather.

And so, this past semester, one student took me at my word.

I share this answer with her permission. (The spelling-error comment refers to an error on her own site that we discovered during her final presentation.) Enjoy.

  • First: Discovery of a site. “Well, hello there,” its viewer purrs. “What have we here? Is this worth my time? Is it going to play games with me and break my heart with a lack of updates, shoddy information, or spelling errors (that may very well be tragic mistakes and not actually errors because son is actually a word, just not the right word)? Hmm. Let’s take a look…”
  • Second: Getting to know a site. “That’s a snazzy nav bar,” its viewer giggles. “And I can’t get over how nicely this content is organized! Holy cow, those tags group things well! It seems like I can find exactly what I’m looking for before I even start looking for it.”
  • Third: Regular use of a site. “We’re in it for the long haul,” its viewer promises. “You and I are an item now. You’ve proven your worth, and I want to commit my valuable Web time to you.”
  • Fourth: Interacting with a site. “I’ve gotten up enough courage to make my presence known to you,” its viewer proclaims. “I am going to post in your comment section and like you on Facebook and re-tweet your tweets to show the world how much I’m devoted to you. I’ll shout your existence to the world.”

Where’s the news? Traditional media, but …

Industry watchers and newspaper lovers have latched on to a recent study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism showing that in Baltimore, most of the news was generated by traditional media, with newspapers leading the pack.

But before we beat the public over the head with these findings, a few points to consider:

  • Don’t generalize: A lot of markets don’t have a Baltimore Sun covering their communities. My local newspaper, the News-Leader, has cut its newsroom to the bone and has pulled in its coverage over the years from 25 southwest Missouri counties to six, and our top local station, KYTV, often breaks stories. Also, these data come from one week. It’s possible the source percentage might fluctuate, depending upon the week selected for the content analysis.
  • Fear the reliance on government: As @yelvington noted in a tweet this morning, the disturbing statistic is that 63 percent of stories were initiated by government officials. With fewer reporters, even the traditional media are being derivative in their coverage and allowing spokespeople to control the narrative.
  • Reconsider the focus on crime: Local TV and newspaper still devoted the most coverage to crime, according to the PEJ analysis. When you’ve got a small staff, you’ve always got time for crime: Sift through a few reports, chase the scanner, and churn out a quick-hit story that people will tune in to. But that type of coverage doesn’t necessarily further a mission of social responsibility.

In large part, these findings corroborate conventional wisdom. Newspaper movies have chronicled how much the broadcast media depend on print. Leonard Downie Jr. and Robert Kaiser wrote about the trend in “The News About the News: American Journalism in Peril” in 2003.

But the public doesn’t seem to notice. Many don’t care so much where the information originates; they want the information when, where, and how they want it, especially online.

To survive as journalists, we must focus on the latter point.

(Postscript: I first heard about this study from a tweep, not the traditional media.)