As you build your product or service, bifurcate your approach. Remind your team that, initially, your prospective customers are lazy, vain, and selfish. Optimize for the first 15 seconds as a compartmentalized project. And then, for the customers that survive the first 15 seconds and actually come through the door, build a meaningful experience and relationship that lasts a lifetime.

– Scott Belsky, The First 15 Seconds

My note to Thunderdome


This is the note I shared with Thunderdome colleagues on Wednesday morning, after the Nieman Lab piece came out and just prior to hearing this in person from CEO John Paton. Stored here for posterity.

Been thinking about what Thunderdome has been, who we are, where we’re going.

What is Thunderdome? Or, was, I suppose…

Reflecting on this, I couldn’t help but think of a similar exchange I once read about.

Let me paraphrase.

Thunderdome is not channels and it is not data projects and it’s certainly not Mission Control or advisories. These things, important and substantial though they are, do not define Thunderdome at anything more than a mechanical level.

No, Thunderdome had a much bigger role than that. To quote another New Yorker, we are contain multitudes.

Thunderdome is the aggregate of the relationships we’ve made, maintained, and inspired. Thunderdome was an idea, a rallying cry – John and Jim and Robyn trying to tell DFM that we will not go quietly into the night. We weren’t always successful with our efforts, but the fact that we tried, that we were in the business of innovation, that striving inspired DFM journalists, and truly the industry at large. Hence the reaction we’re seeing today.

Thunderdome is the aggregate of the relationships we’ve made, maintained, and inspired. It is our inter-newsroom bonds, and our intra-newsroom communities. It’s Buttry in the field, our educator-in-chief. It’s Tom visiting newsrooms, spreading the gospel of data. It’s Gary, tackling the amorphous hydra that is sports journalism and making connections across myriad markets. It’s Courtney working with Jessica to make those delightful GIFs, Fuentes working with Jason and Daniel to build an awesome content explorer tool. Laura leading her team to think about user centered design, Julie building a kickass breaking news dynamo with the help of people like Karen (who showed us how to write webby headlines) and Kim (who moonlights as the tweet queen behind a prolific journalism chat). These connections… These relationships… That’s Thunderdome to me.

The great thing about this way of viewing the world is that it matters not if our channels get shut down, if we get laid off. Relationships cannot be removed – the memories persist, spanning time and space.

Thunderdome lives on, even if we’re all being laid off. C’est la vie, especially in newspaper journalism at the dawn of the digital era. Whatever happens today, whatever the timeline, be it sudden or prolonged, I hope the Thunderdome diaspora sticks together, and remains advocates for each other, and for local news outlets.


My earliest clip


I had to do some self-googling recently and came across one of my earliest clips – Wal-Mart plan will get more time. No idea how the article ran online back in 2006, but glad to see it preserved on the Lebanon Daily News site. Now if I could only find my gripping coverage of North Cornwall and Heidelberg Township meetings, that would be something…