Posts Tagged journalism

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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More about the future of journalism

I recently came across a whole series of articles dealing with the way that journalism is or is not taking advantage of social media.  Lately, there’s been some discussion about how the PR field has embraced Web 2.0 (Kintzler) in much more substantial ways than news media companies.  Continuing in that vein, Social Media Today provides some advice for journalism. First is a definition of social media: “In essence, it’s using technology to communicate and interact in new ways and share elements like text, photos, audio and videos.”  Seems like that would be an obvious fit for newspapers. But, then the article veers into the area that is most uncomfortable . “Why rely on a journalist to portray your client in a positive light when you can immediately hand-deliver the news to the people who care to know about it? Why buy an ad, when you can recruit a strong following of friends and fans who vouch for your brand or product?”

Another Kintzler story goes further with advice: He talks about journalists as problem solvers, newspapers as community centers, and newspapers as a social news source.  I have long said that the people who need to be working in the news profession are those that understand these concepts and can manage information within this environment.  That doesn’t necessarily mean people who wrangle html and are Flash gurus.  But, it does mean people who understand both the potential and the risks of social media and user-generated content. He mentions WiredJournalists.com, which is a great social network of people that are experts/seeking to become experts in the interactive, multimedia, social media environment. I encourage all of you with an interest in the field to join.

The article mentions the NY Times as an innovator in this area.  It links to a story about how the Times is opening up its API to developers, much like that of major social networks like Facebook.   That’s how they have been able to grow so quickly.  This article quotes Aron Pilhofer, interactive editor at the times, who I had the pleasure of meeting at UT this past March.  Pilhofer said “make the NYT programmable. Everything we produce should be organized data.”  This is a new way of thinking for newspapers and other news companies, but they need to get their brains around it as soon as possible.

As I was clicking around this thread, I found a few other interesting pieces.  One is a memo sent to Tribune company employees by management. The article points to two problems:

1. We are not giving readers what they want, and
2. We are printing bigger papers than we can afford to print

Yes, these are big problems.   It recommends a customer-centric model focused on unbiased journalism, local coverage, and visual media (maps, graphs, lists, rankings, stats).

Then I found this great article ranking the top 25 newspapers on their online presence. The NY Times got the best grade , a solid A.  The worst was the Sacramento Bee with a D-, but the Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, and Newark Star Ledger were not close behind with sold D’s.  I was also quite surprised to see that the Minneapolis Star Tribune got a B-, when the were once doing some very innovative media.  I have noticed recently that it is difficult to access multimedia projects on the site.

Another good article compared Google’s news coverage to Washington Post as a story develops.  The article demonstrates how newspaper sites are burying the things that readers need to see most.

And finally, I came across this article on two user-generated magazines.  If you thought magazines were immune to all this Web 2.0 stuff, think again.  Everywhere Magazine and JPG are two that are letting users write content and upload photos.  Everywhere actually puts out a call to users to help them with issues (“Help Us Make Issue 4,” with themes specified).  This is another example of the publication MANAGING, not dictating, the user-generated content.  I think the examples used about travel magazines are very relevant.  Why not let more people who have visited places write about them?

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90-year-old Wisc. newspaper discontinues print product

The Madison, Wisconsin daily newspaper The Capital Times will cease printing this Saturday, and will continue as a Web-only publication. The Capital Times is the progressive, afternoon paper in the city, has been publishing since 1917. While they move their emphasis online, they will continue to provide print pieces on a twice weekly basis to be contained within other publications. This is one of the first, long-standing newspapers to go this route. I predict that we will see more of this. As the newspaper industry experiences a downturn, and continues to lose readers of print products, the players will have to adjust. There is just too much expense associated with printing and distributing paper.

But, the transition will be difficult. There are still people who love their printed broadsheet. Personally, I would miss my Sunday NY Times, should they go completely online. And, I do subscribe to Wired, even though I could read the whole thing on my computer. Others have formed daily habits around reading the newspaper. How the market reacts to The Capital Times shift will be an interesting experiment, with lessons learned for all.

On a related note, a shockwave went through the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at my school, Texas State University, when we heard about journalism departments being discontinued or cut at two universities, Howard Payne University in Brownwood, TX and Florida International University in Miami. A few years back, Texas A&M dropped their journalism major.

Recently, an email from Columbia’s Dean of the School of Journalism Nicholas Lemann to the university president was leaked expressing his uneasiness about the future of journalism education. My opinion…well I just see media everywhere around us, professional and amateur. Maybe the old ways of doing things are being reconsidered, might even be unprofitable and non-productive. Like any industry, journalism needs to adapt. Students need to be trained to operate in the media field, regardless of the medium in which they will be working. The general population needs literacy about new media topics. I just don’t see the need for media education to decline, but we definitely need to adjust and redefine the curriculum to make it relevant for the environment in which students will be participating and leading.

And, I don’t think the problem has to do with comedy shows or late-night talk show hosts. People are just engaging with media in different ways now. Instead of reading a paper once a day and watching an evening newscast, people are constantly exposed to news and information throughout their day. They get it via RSS feeds and blogs. They get it on Yahoo and Google News. And, yes, they get information from The Daily Show and Colbert Report. But, these shows wouldn’t be considered funny nor would they have garnered success if their demographic didn’t get the joke. Who cares where people get their information, as long as they are getting it? There’s a reason why so many, particularly young people, have turned to comedy shows for their news. The other news outlets lost their edge. This happens with any industry that has few players. The 24-hour news stations repeated the same boring drivel all day long; newspapers, in which most towns just have one, did not reflect diverse voices. There was little analysis of the important issues, just a horse race mentality that cared more about who was ahead in what polls, focusing on a candidate’s particular snafu of the day, and failing to question crucial decisions our government made in regard to war and foreign policy. And, there was no way for the audience to express their displeasure and provide feedback, develop communities.

Until the Web. Thank goodness for the Web. Otherwise, who would wake these folks up? I mean, Jon Stewart is only one man. He can call Tucker Carlson a dick, ultimately get him fired, but that’s not going to affect the hundreds of other talking heads out there, unless there’s a groundswell, and groundswell is the result of community.

It’s our job as academics to provide the framework around discussions of these trends, to better prepare our students as communicators and citizens, to better prepare them for a media world in which feedback is immediate and stories are told by a community rather than a single person. And, it’s our job to help the industry comprehend the issues and do better for our democracy.

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