Neiman Reports – Special edition on the future of digital journalism

In the Winter 2008 issue, Harvard’s Nieman Reports provides special coverage of a hot topic: trends in digital journalism. The issue, entitled The Search for True North: New Directions in a New Territory, features 39 articles by veteran journalists, academics and students, regarding the massive changes and competitive threats the industry is dealing with as it considers its future.  Below are some of the key comments I found as I perused the issue. I have provided links so you can read the entire passage. I highly recommend it.

Katie King in Journalism as a Conversation

  • “Many editors, including me, hesitate to consider a young journalist’s resumé unless they have a blog or some sort of social media site that will demonstrate their ability to report, write, use multimedia, interact appropriately with readers and, most importantly, think.”
  • “There is a human cost to any revolution. The printing press put out of work a lot of monks skilled in the art of lettering exquisite hand-made bibles. A unique skill was lost, or marginalized, but in exchange we gained nothing less than the flowering of knowledge and education of the masses, creating the fertile ground in which democracy has since flourished.”

Ron Yaros in Digital Natives: Following Their Lead on a Path to a New Journalism

  • “PICK defines multimedia as an environment (i.e. a full page or entire Web site) where multiple elements—hypertext, video, slideshows, blogs, forums, graphics and animation—are presented with text and personalized to the user.”  PICK is Personalization (preferred content), involvement (interest and interactivity) and contiguity (coherence of text, graphics, animation, etc). Reduce or avoid “Kick-outs,” things that terminate attention. “The most obvious kick-out is a broken link, but others include too much text, lengthy video, pop-up windows, unfamiliar terms, confusing graphics, or interactive animation that’s too complex.”
  • “A Web page might look appealing, but research in the United Kingdom tells us that users take approximately 50 milliseconds to form an opinion about a page.”

Don Tapscott in Net Geners Relate to News in New Ways

  • “The interactive nature of the digital world influences how Net Geners absorb information, too. They want a two-way conversation, not a lecture—from a teacher, a politician, or a journalist. They like to contribute to the conversation.”
  • “Digital immersion can be good for the brain. To Google effectively, a person has to ask a good question, construct a search, and weed out stuff that’s irrelevant. The next step is to evaluate what’s been found, synthesize it, and form a view. All of this entails constructing one’s own story rather than following the line of thought drawn by someone else.”

Robert Niles  in Passion Replaces the Dullness of an Overused Journalistic Formula

  • “They (students)  wanted me to know that they really, really hated TV news. And what these journalism majors disliked the most was feeling as though they had to follow the formula drafted by local and network television news. Give’em The Onion online, or Jon Stewart on cable. When my students were given free reign to produce their own video news stories, they gleefully churned out YouTube videos filled with sharp, snarky comment.”
  • “When I asked them what they liked about “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” and others like it, several said its “honesty.” They admired its fearlessness in calling out newsmakers as liars and hypocrites.”
  • “Passion makes people work harder. It drives bloggers to post 20 times a day, seven days a week, answering e-mails and IM’ing readers throughout the day and night. Passion drives online community members to read through hundreds of online documents, to interview sources, and to organize rallies to investigate and report issues important to their personal lives and local communities. Passion breeds expertise.”
  • “What they embrace is genuine storytelling, even when such stories are told with less than perfect production values. Indeed, slick production has become so closely associated in their minds with cynical storytelling that they now prefer video reports with a more amateur feel.”

Luke Morris in Accepting the Challenge: Using the Web to Help Newspapers Survive

  • “The newspaper optimists know recent grads are the best equipped to save newspapers, and they’ll be willing to hire those who show the potential to keep newspapers afloat.”
  • “Host of the video blog Wine Library TV and business and social media mogul Gary Vaynerchuk often tells people that every successful Web site excels in what he calls the two “Cs”—content and community. For him, content comes in the form of his video blog about wines. Vaynerchuk capitalizes on the community side by including his followers in a lot of his operation; in fact, he makes his Web site completely open to his viewers.”
  • “Every time someone tells me that wanting to get a job in a newspaper is a dumb idea, it motivates me even more to prove them wrong. And I believe there are plenty of young people like me who want to be part of the reason that newspapers will survive. We’re ready to take what we know from our use of the Internet and apply it to whatever we can do to keep newspapers afloat.”

Steven Smith in Adding Young Voices to the Mix of Newsroom Advisors

  • “Old-think was not helping us to staff our various platforms. Bold new ideas were required, and to get them we’d need to tap the energy and smarts of staffers traditionally left on the sidelines. What little hiring we’d been able to do in the past few years had brought into the newsroom some of the brightest young staff members with whom I’d ever worked.” – plan put in place, but then blown up by corporate mandated layoffs.
  • Ideas about engaging young staffers in the process – http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reportsitem.aspx?id=100684 and Gang of Eight recommendations – http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reportsitem.aspx?id=100685

Mark Briggs in The End of Journalism as Usual

  • “Instead, it’s about creating “social capital” by becoming the “trusted center” within a structure of relationships through digital communication. French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu suggested social capital can be developed through purposeful actions and then transformed into conventional economic gains. This concept very closely aligns to the traditional business model for news of generating revenue based largely on a public service.”
  • “To maximize a news organization’s social capital and marketability, its journalism today must be transparent, authentic and collaborative. This is why blogs and Twitter work for news organizations. Neither will replace traditional journalism, and that shouldn’t be the objective. These new digital tools bring journalists closer to readers and readers closer to journalism by removing barriers to a more networked conversation.”

Kenneth Kosick in The Wikification of Knowledge

  • I liked the heading “An External Hard Drive for the Brain” (it’s consistent with McLuhan’s idea of technology as an “extension of man”)

Persephone Miel  in Media Re:public: My Year in the Church of the Web – “Participatory media is whenever the people formerly known as the audience help shape the media environment, whether by commenting or recommending, sorting or reporting.”

Bill Adee in Digging Into Social Media to Build a Newspaper Audience (reflections on Chicago Tribune’s Colonel Tribune project) –

  • “Roughly 40 percent of the traffic arrives at chicagotribune.com when a user types our URL into a browser or goes to a bookmarked page.The other 60 percent? That traffic comes via search engines, Web sites, and blogs. On a typical day in early 2008, Google was our No. 1 source of outside traffic, followed by Yahoo! (#2), CareerBuilder (#3), Fark (#10), The New York Times (#20), and Facebook (#47). In all, more than 4,000 sites sent users our way—with 350,000 different clicks.”
  • “That question led to our “Project O.” The “O” was for search-engine and social media optimization and for Owen—as in Owen Youngman, the Chicago Tribune vice president who championed and funded the group tasked with spreading our content to the rest of the Web.”
  • “We decided to start by focusing on a few social media sites—Facebook, Twitter, Fark, Reddit and Digg.”
  • “Can a mainstream news site become part of the social media scene? Absolutely, yes. But be warned. To do this requires having the same kind of great team I had: Facebook-savvy youth, an innovative Web staff, and an extremely supportive newsroom.”

Nancy San Martin in Engaging the Public in Asking Why We Do What -“No longer do I enter the newsroom believing that readers have tuned us out. Perhaps it is we who have tuned them out by creating too great a distance between them and us.”

John Byrne in Suggest a Topic – and Content Flows to It

  • “Newspapers die hard—and the obituaries over the next few years are likely to make us think of massive casualties in a war. Strip out the classified business, and you’ll find that magazines face many of the same problems as newspapers: ever rising paper (and for us even worse postage) costs, the swift migration of advertising from print to Web, the inability of online revenues to offset the decline of print ads, and often declining readership. Yet as bad as the newspaper business has fared to date, some observers say magazines are even further behind the transition.”
  • “Context is as important today as content. It may, in fact, be the new king on the throne. That’s because the world is evolving into niche communities, organized around individual interests and passions. Keeping your audience deeply engaged in the journalism you do is necessary to induce loyalty to your brand.”

Tim Kennedy in No Time Left for Reluctant Transformers

  • “Strip away the research jargon, and what that means is that young people around the world today are more likely to connect to the latest news through e-mail, search or text messaging than through old media channels.”
  • “The model that emerged from our anthropology study helped to frame the task ahead by splitting the news into its fundamental ‘atomic’ pieces of Facts, Updates, Back Story, and Future Story. That sets up a mission to create and connect the essential parts of a next-generation news report, much as the old ‘inverted pyramid’ established a framework for newspaper writing.”
  • “Chief among those initiatives is a fundamental new process for newsgathering in the field called ‘1-2-3 filing.’ The name describes a new editorial workflow that requires the first words of a text story to be delivered in a structured alert (headline format) to be followed by a short, present-tense story delivering the vital details in step two. Then, in a final step, a story takes whatever form is appropriate for different platforms and audiences—a longer form story or analysis for print, for example. Other media types are coordinated along the way in similar fashion.”

John Hassel in Live Web Cast – From a Newspaper’s Newsroom

  • “We played around with a TelePrompTer, then realized it was killing the sense of spontaneity.”
  • “Newspapers have the talent to do new and innovative things in the digital sphere, and they still have the reporting resources to deliver a depth of coverage that is unmatched in most markets. The future belongs to those who are willing to experiment, to evolve, to fail quickly when they do fail and to move on, even as disaster waits at the door.”

Michael Rosenblum in Video News: The Videojournalist Comes of Age – “When anyone can pick up a video camera, shoot a story and post it on the Web, then the ‘TV professionals’—an oxymoron, to be sure—are no longer so special. No, they aren’t. If we profess to believe in a free press, then it doesn’t make sense to get freaked out when a free press actually starts to emerge. A.J. Liebling wrote, ‘Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.’ Today, pretty much anyone can own the means to report and produce video news. To which I say, ‘Good.’ It’s going to get very competitive out there, and it’s about time it did.”

I think what I find most enlightening about these reports is that they consistently value the input of young reporters. This shows particular hope for a new generation of reporters to know that their opinions will be respected and that they can be immediately part of a strategy for change. I also like the entrepreneurial spirit and the discussion of news as a conversation. We are really posed for a new era of communication in which broad participation is possible, and that’s an amazing opportunity.

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4 Comments

  1. […] Neiman Reports – Special edition on the future of digital journalism. I’m not sure when I’ll have time to read all 39 articles in the Neiman Report, so Cindy Royal’s recap of some of the highlights is invaluable. […]

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