Owning a New Business in Tennessee

One of the many trials I have survived this semester is the establishment of my small start up business, which opened in August.  My business, like many other small businesses around the country, has been struggling to make ends meet in these early days.  Part of this is certainly the economy.  But what are the real driving forces here?

I turned to a couple of local businessmen for their opinion of today’s market.

Thomas Whited, one owner of Epic Adventures Comics and Collectibles, told me he went into business when his hobby became more than a hobby.  He sells action figures and other collectibles at Turkey Creek Public Market.  Before the market opened, he sold his merchandise online and at shows.  He works at the market on weekends for enjoyment and to make money for his family.

Whited says that to him, success is a loyal clientele base.

“Sales are steady and it increases ever week, and hopefully it will keep doing the same,” said Whited

Charles Atchley, one of the owners of Turkey Creek Public Market, said “Consumers are buying what they have to have,” when asked what people are buying in this economy. Atchley said shoppers will turn to local businesses for personal service. Atchley says that the local economy is about “on par with the rest of the United States.”

That being said, data on the failure rates of start up businesses is difficult to find.  The internet is clogged with speculation, opinion pieces, and old statistics that are no longer meaningful.  A Google search on the subject is dominated be optimistic blogs dismissing any number you may hear.  The only meaningful data I could find was decades old.

CNN.com posted an article about which states were the least conducive to new small businesses.  They even used percentages to express the amount of excess in failure over the national average.  But the article completely omits the national average itself, and links to no sources.

Tennessee is listed at number 4 in the nation’s most above average states in terms of small business failure.  The rate of start up business failure in Tennessee is 36% over whatever the national average is, and that percentage appears to be a secret kept close to the chest.  This is not a comforting number for small business owners, regardless of the national average.

I think these numbers should be more easily accessible, because this information is pretty important, and I’ve seen people site numbers that run anywhere between 30-90%.

http://money.cnn.com/2011/05/19/smallbusiness/small_business_state_failure_rates/index.htm

http://www.mrnussbaum.com/smartpoll2.htm

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What the internet needs least of all…

CNN.com is not, and should not be, overwhelming Reddit.com with links.  Social news services like Reddit were never intended to be “used” by news organizations.  Reddit was designed to be used by ordinary people with similar interests, who use subreddits to find each other.  If CNN started having major input in what Reddit was voting up or down, I would very quickly lose interest in Reddit.

Now, CNN can and does have a button that users can access to automatically post information onto Reddit, and that’s fine.  But at least this way, Reddit users get to choose what stories are interesting, important, or weird enough to make it to the front page.  And most news links on Reddit do not come from CNN.com, they come from everywhere.

I would argue that the one thing the internet needs least of all is for corporations to have more control over user generated responses.  The last thing we need is a mere illusion of democracy.

A Picture is Nothing Without the Right Frame

CNN.com is a very well planned website.

As you can see in the example above, the lines on this site are very clean.  The sections are beautifully and simply colored.  At the very top of the page, there is a black bar that informs the user which version of CNN.com he is using.  In this case, we are viewing the U.S. Edition.  Below that section there is a red bar displaying CNN’s logo and a few options for changing the settings and what content is displayed.

The next row is divided into three columns.  The first column features a large image from an occupy protest.  Below that, there are links to other stories about the occupy protests.  And below that there are stories about the Penn State scandal.  Those are some of the top stories right now.

The second column is a large picture of a person’s fingers crossed behind his back.  The topic of the story is “How to Spot A Lie.”  This story is engaging to the sense of sight and to the user’s curiosity.

The third column features a large full color advertisement for Audi.  The ad is very noticeable, but not obtrusive.  Below that, there’s a login area and some options for social networking.  And even further down the column, there is a listing of the most popular stories of the day.

This layout is very clean and easy to peruse.  Users who know what they’re looking for will very quickly find it using the search bar at the top of the page.  Users who are looking for today’s top stories will discern those quickly as well.  The layout for this page is very simple in a very useful way.

Further down the page, stories are subdivided into categories like World, Business and Tech.  These stories are easy to examine by subject.

Note the sponsored links section on the far right side.  It isn’t immediately apparent that these are ads.    One might question the ethics of hiding ads like these in with the articles, but the the style in which these are written is noticeably different.  Also, all the other links feature blue texts for the full content.  So, it should be somewhat discernible that these are not feature news stories.

Overall, I believe CNN’s website is very well designed for use.

Video is What They’re Here For

CNN.com should be very good at using video.  After all, it is the online version of a TV cable station.  When visiting the front page of CNN.com, there are little television camera icons next to each story that features a video.

When you click on those links, a video will begin to play on the screen.  The first video you see will be a short commercial.  I find these commercials highly annoying.  They tend to be loud, and scarcely ever directed at me with something I would buy.  These commercials could be optimized to users and could be less intrusive.  When I am casually perusing the Internet, I do not tolerate this.  I close these sorts of links immediately, because I don’t feel like the content is worth having to sit through an ad for.

Here’s an example of a CNN.com video.

http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2011/11/03/foster-crisis-timetable.cnn

As you can see, the content in this video is very well produced.  I think it may at least have used some video from the television station, but reused content is fine by me.  The graphics in the background are pretty neat.  They show things like the current market numbers at the time the footage was taken.  Those graphics are pretty clever, but they can become cluttersome if they’re used too frequently.

At another point in the video, a video of traders looking at the numbers is used in the background for another reporter.  This comes off as excessive to me.  I believe that a more serious tone is fostered when the station uses content more judiciously.  The image they chose seemed similar to video clip art.  It was simply unnecessary.

Here is another example of a video on CNN.com:

http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2011/11/06/nr-magnay-pm-resignation-fallout.cnn

This video is successful because it utilizes elements that can help a breaking story succeed.  First of all, the focus of the video remains on the important elements of the story.  The anchor goes over the details of what has taken place, and then the duty of telling the story switches to a foreign correspondent.  When a story like this is somewhat unexpected, a foreign correspondent lends credibility and local insight to the story.  The video later goes on to use a split screen technique so that the anchor and the foreign correspondent are both on screen simultaneously.

Although it is less heavily produced than the first story, it is very professionally done, and it certainly gets the point across.

I believe CNN is exceptionally good at online video, and I’m sure the news organization will continue to dominate with this technology.

 

 

 

Pics Or It Didn’t Happen

Cnn.com, a website that I believe is ahead of the curb on many points, but when it comes to pretty graphics, there simply aren’t enough.

Just look at this article about Netflix:

http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/27/tech/web/netflix-internet-bandwith-mashable/index.html

There are so many numbers in this article! This story could easily be told with percentages, maps, and graphs, and yet there isn’t so much as a pie chart to be seen. A colorful, well organized pie chart could show the 32.7% internet bandwidth used by Netflix. A graph could show the 800,000 paid subscribers dropping the service. A map could be used to show Netflix use internationally.

Yet there are no graphs, charts, or maps to be seen, only the article, which is rather dry.

Here’s another story that could benefit from an info graphic:

http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2011/10/27/measles-cases-at-15-year-high-in-u-s/?hpt=he_c2

There are a lot of numbers involved in this story. Those percentages could be clearly labeled and explained on a pie chart. It could be titled, “People Infected with Measles. The percentage of people who had been infected and never immunized could be pictured on the chart, as well as those too young to be immunized.

In fact, I had a very difficult time finding any info graphics at all. I looked at every story I could find, hoping that CNN had some clever graphic for me to look at and critique. But oddly, I couldn’t find one at all.

I think CNN could benefit from using these graphics, And perhaps they will in the future.

Tate Russell: More Than Just Talk About Sports

Tate Russell on Sports Journalism

Tate Russell, a University of Tennessee Journalism and Electronic Media student, sat down to talk with me about how he feels about sports journalism.

Russell is from a family that loves sports.  His father was a coach at Alcoa, and his sister plays basketball.  Russell himself became interested in sports at a young age.  Like many children, Russell briefly collected baseball cards.

Russell does not simply like to watch sports.  He also enjoys playing a variety of sports, including basketball, flag football and softball.  When he isn’t watching a sporting event or playing a game, sometimes he likes to watch movies about sports.

As a sports journalist, Russell plans to cover a variety of sports.  When it comes to teams, he doesn’t play favorites.  He prefers a more unbiased approach.  He researches the competitors before the game to prepare to write his article.  Russell does not generally use Twitter or other online media when he writes an article.  He prefers to write for newspapers.

Russell is a Hope scholar, and he is putting himself through school.  Before he changed his major, Russell was studying to be a pharmacist.  He still works at Blount Discount Pharmacy.

Russell lives in Maryville.

Aside

Twittering away incessantly

CNN.com is not the only news service to use social networking websites like Twitter, but it is certainly very proficient. CNN.com’s Twitter account can be found here:

https://twitter.com/#!/CNN

As you can see, there can be gaps of up to four hours between new tweets. The individual tweets on this account are mostly links to articles that explain the topics more fully.

One example would be this tweet: Family seeks answers in death of woman with ties to Philly dungeon suspect http://on.cnn.com/oOuBgk via@susancandiotti @cnnross @SarahHoyeCNN

Which leads to this article:
http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/23/justice/pennsylvania-disabled-chained

The tweet indicates the subject of the story, and it shows where readers can find it.

For breaking news, Twitter users can use this site:

https://twitter.com/#!/cnnbrk

News on this account tends to be fresher and less feature ridden than CNN’s main account. The most recent lead at the moment is concerning a recent earthquake:

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says 138 people are dead in the wake of Sunday’s powerful quake. http://on.cnn.com/nxfYZk

Note that this post also includes a link to this article:

http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/23/world/europe/turkey-earthquake/index.html

Although the twitter accounts are different, the tweets are basically structured the same way.

Many anchors also have their own twitter accounts through which they may access their audiences, including Anderson Cooper.

I think this sort of Twitter use can be extremely useful to CNN, because it directs users onto CNN.com’s website. On the other hand, in general, I dislike Twitter. I find it rather dull. I’d rather use Tumblr, Facebook, or Google+. The interactivity for these websites is somewhat improved. Beyond that, I prefer the multimedia aspects of these sites. Twitter isn’t programmed to utilize pictures or video the way I like to use them.

CNN.com utilizes iReports in order to obtain and showcase crowdsourced data. CNN has expertly incorporated this data into its business plan. Citizen journalists are very aware of the iReport service, and they utilize it freely.

Let’s have a look at their front page:

http://ireport.cnn.com/

You will notice that there is a bar above the colorful grid of pictures with a series of options on it. The options are iReport Home, Upload, Assignments, iReports, iReporters, Blog, Map, My iReport Profile. These are largely self explanatory, and they should be easy for viewers to peruse.

One thing that I noticed as being an inconvenience, is that when one right clicks an image on the grid, there is no way to open the story in a new tab. This is atypical for a news website, and it makes selecting a news story more of a hassle.

Also, clicking on the “Pride a the Beach” story not lead directly to the news story. It leads to a picture and a blurb. The blurb lists a source, which is a profile. Scrolling down the profile, I found the news story at last. The number of clicks I had to use to find the news story struck me as rather remarkable.

http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-686893

There are some minor formatting errors, but the story itself is quite strong. The article was descriptive to a degree that it fits the blogger perspective and perhaps not the perspective of a hard news story.

To an outside observer, the pictures were quite good.

Here’s the iReport assignment page for New York Comic Con:

http://ireport.cnn.com/topics/499869

And here’s an example of a response to that assignment:

http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-500866

Those images are from last years convention, and clearly labeled as such. I image their inclusion is meant as guidance for this year’s participant photos. These pictures are quite good.

This photoset connects NYCC to the popular Occupy Wallstreet movement:

http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-689591

I’m curious to see what other iReporters post from NYCC this year.

Edit:  Please forgive the unlinked links, I wrote this at the hospital, and their filters are set so that blogging is very difficult.  My grandmother is in the hospital, and I was sitting with her.  I’m home now, attempting to fix the errors.

A War Without Words

CNN.com also uses audio slideshows to generate content.  One example with some added video would be this emotional story:

http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/.element/apps/cvp/3.0/swf/cnn_416x234_embed.swf?context=embed&videoId=international/2011/10/08/don-mccullin-photography-history-war.cnn

The story is mostly told through images the photographer took during wartime.  The photographer’s emotional story is dubbed over the photographs, so that the viewer can see what he’s talking about.  Occasionally, video of the photographer is spliced in.  The photographer’s story is a good choice for a photostory, because he is very knowledgeable about the pictures and the pictures are compelling.  He is an excellent photographer who took visually interesting pictures.  Hearing him describe what he saw and did while looking at the pictures adds value to the story.

Here’s an example of a CNN.com slideshow without audio:

http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/06/us/us-occupy-protest/index.html 
This story would have made a good audio slideshow.  While the images are perhaps easier to access in this form, I think the story loses depth when sound is omitted.  The pictures each have some explanation provided in text, which could have easily been recorded into an audio file.  It would have helped explain who the protesters were, and why they’re protesting.  The text minimizes the issue and maximizes the imagery.

Over all, audio slideshows can be used to maximize the efficiency and entertainment value of a story.  There are times when a story is not visually conducive to a video but still has related imagery that has appeal, and in these cases, an audio slideshow can be very useful.  Examples of this would be pictures from Mardi Gras or the scene after a major storm.  CNN.com utilizes this technology, although perhaps less so than they should.

Audio Slideshows: It’s play time!

This is Articulation Times.  As an enthusiast who also deals, I like to stay up on what’s new and hot in the toy collecting world.  Toy news translates well as an audio slideshow, because frequently when toys are released, all that’s available is a picture.  The voiceover explains which new toy you’re seeing.  Additional information may be provided, including release dates, venues at which the item will be sold, accessories included with the figure, and other details.