And the Astrodome and the First Tepee

The first pro football and pro baseball games I saw in person were in the Astrodome. It was truly a wonder to a country boy like me.  But like the rest of us that came to be in the 60’s, it’s old and decrepit.  People are still trying, against all odds, to save it.  I wish it could be saved, but at some point we have to accept that it’s not going to happen.  Hail Marys need someone to catch and run with the plan.  With every heaved idea that thuds to the ground, it seems less and less likely to happen, especially without the taxpayers footing the bill.  It’s a shame, but that’s life.  We get old, we fall apart, we go away, people might talk about us wistfully for a while, and that’s it.


I wish a was a trapper
I would give thousand pelts
To sleep with Pocahontas
And find out how she felt
In the morning
On the fields of green
In the homeland
We’ve never seen.

The (Evolving) State of Houston News Feeds

news Now that I have fallen under the spell of Google Reader, I’ve been spending some time organizing my news feeds and other reading.  As a part of that process, I have set up my local news, which I used to access via My Yahoo, in a dedicated Google Reader folder.  I suspect I am but one of many who are migrating our news from yesterday’s paper to today’s web site to tomorrow’s news reader.  In fact, I believe with the growing use of feed readers and mobile content, the news-related web sites we visit today will eventually become primarily billboards for the various RSS feeds available there.  The biggest reason this hasn’t already happened is that content producers and advertisers haven’t figured out how to sell and serve advertising in feeds.  When that happens, and it is inevitable, we’ll see an accelerated migration towards RSS distribution- both paid and ad-supported.

As a part of my migration to RSS, I have looked at a lot of local news feeds.  Some are good.  Some are horrible.  And many are somewhere in between.

Here’s the current state and status of Houston English language news feeds.  As they change, so will this page.  Maybe we can generate some discussion here that will be helpful to readers and content producers alike.  Discussion that will hopefully lead to better feeds.

This survey is limited solely to English language news feeds offered by local news providers.  If there is a feed I haven’t covered, let me know in the Comments and I’ll add it.


Let’s start with the best.  The Houston Chronicle currently offers 170 RSS feeds, covering categories from news to business to sports to neighborhood sports.  I subscribe to the following Chronicle feeds: Top Headlines, Houston & Texas, Business, Bellaire/West U/River Oaks (I wish they wouldn’t lump us working folks in Bellaire with the yuppies and rich people, but at least a neighborhood news feed is available), Sports and Entertainment.  I also subscribe to Dwight Silverman‘s and Jeff Balke‘s Chronicle blogs, but not as a part of my news folder.  Like almost all papers, the Chronicle does not use full feeds, undoubtedly because it wants to draw readers back to its site where the ads reside.  It does give you enough of a summary to allow you to make a reasonably informed decision about reading more (via a click-through to the Chronicle site) or moving on.  While it would be a lot better if the Chronicle provided full feeds, even with ads, the summaries are pretty good.  Plus the feeds allow you to click past the Chronicle’s online front page, which leaves much to be desired.

Speaking of horrible web design, there’s the Houston Press.  I used to read the Press online every week until they destroyed their web site with a redesign a few years ago.  Sadly, their RSS feeds don’t really help (I had to dissect an RSS feed just to find that page, and all of those feeds are outdated).   The Press web site promotes individual feeds for a lot of the collateral (at least to me) content and a default feed which seems to lump all the content into one feed, with marginally helpful summaries consisting of the first 50 or so words of the article.  The combined feed contains way too much stuff I am not interested in.  By reverse engineering the default feed URL I was able to decipher the feed URL for the featured stories, again with a first 50 words or so partial feed.  The Press’s featured stories are generally interesting, but they are wrapped up in bad web design and served in unsatisfactory feeds.  The Press should either use full feeds (the best answer) or at least specially written summaries (the least that I’d find acceptable).  Until today, I didn’t subscribe to any Press feeds because I couldn’t find them.  I have now subscribed to the featured news feed, but the short feeds and non-summaries are not likely to draw me to the site very often.

The Houston Business Journal has a feed that, like the Chronicle feeds, is a partial feed with short but reasonably descriptive summaries.  You can also find feeds to its sister publications in other cities as well as regional feeds and industry-specific national feeds.  I subscribe to the HBJ feed and to the commercial real estate industry feed.  Again, I look forward to the day full feeds are the rule and not the rare exception for news-related feeds, but as things go today, the HBJ’s feeds are reasonably good.  (Disclaimer:  I have written articles for the HBJ and some of its sister publications in the past and will probably do so in the future).

TV Stations

Channel 2 (NBC) offers 11 feeds.  No full feeds, of course, but the feeds do contain generally descriptive summaries.  Even this one sentence summary- “A party boat slams into the Kemah Boardwalk, KPRC Local 2 reports,” is more useful that merely stuffing the first few words of an article into a partial feed.  On the other hand, you have to look closely (left hand column under “Site Tools”) to find the RSS feed on Channel 2’s less than stellar web site.  Unlike blogs, where the RSS feed should always be obvious and near the top of the page, many TV stations aren’t sure what they really think about feeds, so they are displayed with less gusto.  I subscribe to the main Channel 2 feed, but none of the others.

Channel 11 (CBS) has a web site that makes Channel 2’s look like Earl’s page (the best blog template I’ve ever seen), but at least it has its RSS feed icon above the fold and somewhat prominently displayed.  Channel 11 offers 23 feeds.  Like Channel 2, there are no full feeds, but there are generally descriptive summaries.  Unfortunately, some of those 23 feeds are stale.  The latest post in the movies feed, for example, is from August 27, 2007.  Same for the music feed.  I subscribe to the Channel 11 Top Stories feed, but none of the others.  Channel 13 (ABC) has its feeds link at the bottom of its web page, where you find 32 available feeds.  A few of the feeds have either older content or none at all.  A lot of the TV stations’ sub-feeds seem thrown together.  They could all do with less quantity and more quality.  Like its competitors, Channel 13 uses partial feeds with summaries.  Channel 13’s summaries seem shorter than the others, but maybe that’s because they don’t have periods at the end.  I subscribe to the Channel 13 Top Stories feed, but none of the others.

If Channel 26 (FOX) has RSS feeds, it’s not very proud of them.  No mention of them at all on the front web page.  A search for RSS leads to something called myFOXhouston news which promises, but does not seem to deliver, RSS feeds.  The first rule of anything is that if you make it hard, people won’t do it.  They did, and so I didn’t.  I don’t subscribe to any Channel 26 feeds, in part because I couldn’t find any.

Channel 39 (CW) has no RSS feeds.

Channel 51 committed the unpardonable sin of auto-starting a video (with loud audio and no pause or mute button) when you visit its web site, so I was tempted to click away and leave it at that, but a desire for completeness led me to a brief but unsuccessful search for RSS feeds.  I thought Channel 51 was a news station, but it’s not- at least not anymore.

Radio Stations

I couldn’t find any RSS news feeds by any of the Houston radio stations.  Some of them have podcasts.  Here’s the rundown, though I don’t subscribe to any of these at the moment.

610 KILT has no RSS news feeds, but it does have RSS feeds for some podcasts.  I couldn’t find a page with a list of the RSS feeds, but through the magic of Google, here are some of them.

KIKK 650 has no RSS feeds and no local podcasts.  It does have links to some CBS podcasts.

700 KSEV has no RSS feeds and no podcasts.

740 KTRH has no RSS feeds, but a lot of podcasts.

790 KMBE has no RSS news feeds, but it does have some podcasts.

950 KPRC has no RSS news feeds, but it does have some podcasts.

1070 KNTH has no RSS news feeds, but it does have some podcasts.

1430 KCOH has no RSS news feeds and no podcasts.  They should podcast Ralph Cooper’s show.  He’s the best sports guy in Houston, and has been for a long time.

1590 KMIC (Radio Disney) has a podcast (my kids would call me an even bigger nerd if I didn’t mention their favorite station).

Conclusion (1/28/08)

Thanks to the Chronicle, Houston is in pretty good shape RSS-wise.  We need full feeds and better summaries for the partial feeds.  The TV stations are behind the newspaper, as you would expect, and ahead of the radio stations, as you would also expect.

What do you think of the local new feeds?

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The Houston Chronicle Gets RSS

In more ways than one.

Demonstrating once again that someone or ones there really understand the evolving world of information distribution, the Houston Chronicle has added even more RSS Feeds. The Chronicle has been at the top of the internet curve for some time now, and it shows.

I am delighted about the new feeds, because I get more and more of my news via RSS feeds all the time. Part of this is by choice and part of it is because I’m still not crazy about their new web site design (sorry Dwight). The news is too hard to find and the text far too small for my middle aged eyes.

It could be worse, however. The worst web site redesign this side of Geocities is the one The Houston Press did a few months ago. I used to read the Press every week. I haven’t read a single article since the redesign.

New Houston Chronicle Page – Update

Here’s my update on the redesigned, very busy and ads aplenty Houston Chronicle web site. Part 1 is here.

One of the guys at the Chronicle has a blog about the Chronicle. He asked “How Do You Like Us Now?” and based on the comments to that post, I’d have to say not too much. The complaints range from too many ads, to too little content, to too darn slow.

Dwight Silverman posted yesterday and (a) confirmed (in my mind at least) the “community building” objective I mentioned in my prior post by announcing a bunch of tech-related reader forums (reader forums equal more page views which equal more potential ad revenue), (b) said that the problems that were making the site so slow have been resolved (it has seemed faster the last day or so) and (c) said that he thought we’d like the redesigned site once we get used to the change (perhaps I’m looking for my cheese, but I don’t think I’m going to learn to love the new layout).

I know that the whole newspaper revenue model is going up in flames as people move towards free web content in lieu of papers in their yard every morning (we haven’t subscribed to a newspaper in many years). And I applaud the Chronicle for trying to get out in front of this problem while there’s still time. And I even understand the need to sell ads to pay people like Dwight to write the content we want to read. What I don’t like is having the Chronicle’s front page try to push me toward those things (e.g., classifieds, job listings, etc.) that still generate revenue. I have never used that stuff and I never will. I want news and commentary. If I have to work too hard to find it, then I’ll get it someplace else.

I also don’t think all of these reader forums are going to turn the Chronicle web site into the page viewing, ad-clicking cyber-community they’re hoping for. Lots of media (read TV stations, radio stations and newspapers) have tried to build internet communities and most have failed. Here’s why.

There are two kinds of web site readers. One, people who either don’t know how or don’t want to get interactive. They just want to come to a site, get the information they want and leave. All of the reader forums in the world are not going to entice these folks to start debating school revenue or the latest Lost episode on some message board. Two, people who have the desire to be interactive and the knowledge to do it. Those folks generally choose their ultimate internet community (by ultimate I mean their internet “home base”) based on relatively narrow shared interests like hunting, sports, photography (think Flickr) and other shared passions. They may initially be drawn to all these reader forum links the Chronicle is putting out there, but eventually they’ll find a more comfortable niche elsewhere. A community built on a city or a newspaper is too broad. There’s no glue to hold people there.

So where does that leave us? The pages load faster. That’s good. The content is still there somewhere- I just have to click around to find it. I don’t care a whit about the reader forums or the classified ads. Don’t get me started about the polls (another doomed to failure attempt at creating interactivity). At least the lottery numbers seem to have been relagated to a link as opposed to a real estate hogging list.

It’s not horrible. It might even be getting slightly better. But it’s not good either. And it needs to be good.

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New Houston Chronicle Page – Mixed Bag

Well, after this post I guess I can stop hoping for a link from Dwight Silverman. The Houston Chronicle unveiled its new web site design today. To put it diplomatically, the new front page is not very good. To speak frankly, I really don’t like it. The jury is out on the rest of the redesigned site.

While it was certainly not cutting edge, I liked the old Chronicle page because there was a lot of news on the front page. You could scroll down the front page and see links to most of the stories in all of the sections. Not any more. Not by a long shot.

My rough estimate of the real estate allocation of the new front page:

Menus/Site Info: 20%
Photos: 8% (including a tiny live traffic map- are you kidding me?)
Third Party Ads: 25%
Chronicle Ads: 5%
Polls/Forum List/Lottery: 10% (again, are you kidding me?)
Blog list: 5% (this is a good addition)
Classifieds/Jobs: 12%
News: 15% (that’s right- very little news content)

Lots of ads. Not much news. As bad as it looks in a regular browser, I can’t imagine how bad it will look (and how hard it will be to find the content) on a handheld.

There is some sort of a flash-looking thing that purports to provide “easy access to popular features,” but I find it to be exactly that- a lot of flash. If I want to see little boxes with little snippets of information, I’ll go back to AOL.

There is a News link at the top that takes you to a page with a lot more news content/links on it. This page, if it stays flash and ad-overfill free, may be the one to link to. I wish this News page was the front page.

It is obvious to me that the redesign has 3 purposes: first, to generate more page views (e.g., potential ad revenue) by making you click around to find the content you want. Second, to try to build some sort of community by adding blog listings and reader forums to the front page. Third, to highlight those parts of the site that make money (classifieds, etc.).

The bottom line is that the Chronicle dumped a useful design in favor of one that is less informative, less useful, too busy, and with a bunch of useless stuff on the front page.

Maybe this is a work in progress that will get better. But if the current design is any indication of where they’re headed, I am not hopeful that the end result will be an improvement over the old design.

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Renaissance Festival

The Newsomes, Clarks and Veldmans went to the Texas Renaissance Festival today. This was the 6th straight year we have been and, as always, it was great. The kids had a blast.

We rode elephants, camels and llamas. The kids rode the merry-go-round, the spinning cups and the big swing. Cassidy did the bungee cord/trampoline thing and loved it- she was higher than the top of our house!

We dug in the rock mine and found some really cool rocks.

We ate some good food, saw some jousting and watched a funny mud pit show. Mostly we just walked around and had a great time.

On the way back we stopped at a Greek restaurant and had dinner. My sister won’t believe it, but I actually liked the food. Mercifully, there was not a grape leaf in sight.

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