Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Seeing the future of journalism, and trying to save it, in Denver

The Denver Press Club recently invited me to participate in a weekend workshop looking at the future, and the precarious present, of journalism.

Denver Channel 8 taped my presentation and put it online.  My wife found it stunning that, 1) anyone would invite me to visit their city to talk about Twitter and 2) broadcast it on TV.

I also got a chance to talk to newsrooms of both the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News.  I made some great friends. So it especially pained me after I returned home to Kansas and learned this week that the Rocky Mountain News was up for sale.  And people these days are hard pressed to buy newspapers.

But the folks at the news have decided to use the new media to help save the old, and some jobs in the process.  Check out what they're doing at IWantMyRocky.com.

We ought to stop thinking of these as newspapers and see them as valuable news organizations: top content providers for Google and Yahoo! that are worth saving, no matter what their platform.

That's part of the message of the documentary "Stop the Presses," made by former Dallas reporter Manny Medoza and filmmaker Mark Birnbaum, which I saw for the first time at the Starz Denver Film Festival.  The documentary not only skillfully looks at the demise of the American Newspaper but also probes its future and why it's worth saving.

As one viewer noted:  the film interviewed executives of some of the most respected newsrooms in the country and the best business observations in the film come from Dave Barry.

Dave, take the lead. We're ready to follow.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Jon Stewart asks his "depressing riddle" about newspapers

"What's black and white and completely over?" Jon Stewart asked last night on the "Daily Show." 

We knew the answer before he said it.

Here's the video.

It smarts.  But good satire is that way.

That's why we're learning these skills for online.  But still, it smarts.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The rise of social media and the demise of newspapers

I remember a kind of panic going through the newspaper industry -- around 1989.

Young people weren't reading newspapers, and there was a great amount of money being spent trying to figure out how to change that.

"How are we going to get the next generation to read the newspaper?" publishers asked.  They spent a lot of money making youth-oriented sections for newspapers that went unread.

Now we know the answer to that question: We're not.  But we were asking the wrong question.  The question should have been: How are we going to get information to the next generation?  If we'd asked that in 1989, someone in the news industry might have developed Facebook, MySpace or Twitter.  Instead, journalists are left to catch up with social networking -- the tool that's being used to pass information.

To succeed in that arena we have to be social.  Patrick Thornton guides us with on Beatblogging.org dealing with how have have to stop hiding behind bylines and put ourselves out there.

“I don’t think social media will really work for journalists, unless we are willing to share a little bit about ourselves and our personalities,” Thornton quotes journalism professor Carrie Brown from a video.

Meanwhile, newspapers may be disappearing faster than we can Twitter about it.  Editor & Publisher blogger Mark Fitzgerald says we could begin seeing the first cities beginning to lose their newspapers next year, according to the Fitch Ratings service.

"Fitch believes more newspapers and newspaper groups will default, be shut down and be liquidated in 2009 and several cities could go without a daily print newspaper by 2010," the credit ratings firm said in a report on the outlook for U.S. media and entertainment.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The big digital news of today: Spot.us launches

Just in case you haven't seen it yet, the non-profit Spot.us launched this week - the very definition of civic journalism.

Brought to you by David Cohn, a.k.a "DigiDave," he describes the idea behind it this way:

"Journalism is a process not a product, but that process takes time and people who do it professionally need to be compensated. The process of journalism should be participatory - and perhaps one way it can be made participatory is if the public has the opportunity to commission the journalism they want to see."
It's journalism that doesn't demand 30 percent profit margins or big advertising budgets.

Spot.us was funded by the Knight News Challenge.

David has been an inspiration as we've watched him put this together and followed him on Twitter and other social networking sites.

As journalism faces new challenges and some even question its future, Spot.us is a reminder that there's more than one way to report a story - and more than one way to deliver it.

We wish DigiDave and Spot.us all the best, and it's a site all professional journalists should be watching.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Who are we trying to reach by video: journalism, the audience or ourselves

As journalists, we sometimes let a good story get in the way of the news.  That tendency has plagued us, as we’ve moved to multimedia platforms.
Fortunately, the people we are trying to serve with information have a way of keeping us grounded.  Remember a few years ago, when everybody was preaching narrative writing?  The inverted pyramid was declared dead, a relic of the past. 
Then something interesting happened.  People stopped subscribing to our newspapers.  They went online.  They wanted their news and information quick and reliable.  Google became our new circulation department, and we needed those bots to find our stories. The lives of our newsrooms depended on bringing people to our stories, generating clicks. The inverted pyramid made a roaring recovery as the rule for web news writing.
With the ability for more journalists to relay information via video, another set of rules began to emerge.  Problem is, people didn’t flock to the video as rapidly as they did to the rally of the inverted pyramid.
Peter Ralph, in his blog Video 2 Zero, said maybe that’s because we are making the wrong rules. He inspires us to reconsider what we’re asking of ourselves with Seven strategies for video success.
Mindy McAdams followed with an excellent analysis of the state of web news video.
The key to all this is remaining true to our core mission of journalism – delivering news and information to people in a way they can easily use to make sense of the world around them.  Simple. But through our own vanity, we sometimes make it difficult.
That’s why I especially I liked Ralph’s discussion of his seven myths that may be getting in our way of doing good video journalism:
    1. Shorter is better
      Sometimes, you need context and depth.
    2. Content is king
      It’s not the content of the video that generates the return, it’s the ability to integrate the video into a larger information loop where value feeds back to the producers.
    3. Connect emotionally
      Is our vanity getting in the way of providing information?
    4. Avoid talking heads
      Ralph: “
      Associated with avoid talking heads is the notion that videographers should avoid information-intensive presentations. Information is more efficiently conveyed in text and pictures - it doesn’t need video.
      ”But many thousands of viewers would rather watch David Pogue than crack a manual….
      ”As the information density goes up, and the age of the target audience goes down - the preference for video over text increases exponentially. Absorbing even mildly technical detail from a book is a chore. That same information repackaged as visual media is digested effortlessly.”
    5. and
    6. The tripod rules
      I understand the point about getting the shot.  But I’m not confident enough to give up the sticks.
    7. Lots of closeups
      Back off, man.

    When I first read those last two, I could feel my friend Angela Grant cringe.  I was right, she did. But she also concluded, as I did, that we need to continually questions the rules we make for ourselves in order to grow.
    “I’ve come to realize that the rules I’ve followed and preached are not working to attract the audience that online video must have to survive,” Angela said.
    If the point is to report the information, then there’s a variety of ways we can do this, especially through video.
    This video breaks a lot of these rules.  It’s a talking head.  It’s long, at 20 minutes.  But it takes a complex subject – human production and consumption – and explains it so anyone can understand it.  I find it compelling.
    Because it’s about the information.
    But it’s not the kind of video you’ll find on most newspaper web sites.  And maybe it should be.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Journalists' should make sure their voices are heard in community conversations

I'm catching up on reading, and blogging, after knee surgery. Still a little loopy on the pain meds, but I'll see if I can patch together some coherent sentences.

I watched this video interview with social media guru Howard Rheingold. He's talking about libraries here, but what he says about their mission is much the same, I believe, as journalists.

Journalism is more than a TV clip or newspaper article.  It's passing along reliable information:  seeking the truth and reporting it.  But as the availability of information expands, as Howard says, we are competing for attention with all the porn and scams and everything else.

It's our job to help make sure people can find our reliable information.  These days, we can do that by understanding social networking on all levels, and how people are using this to pass along information.  So if people in your colleagues aren't spending a lot of their time using social networking to build sources and as conduits for reporting that information, then encourage them to start.

I especially like how Howard talks about people looking for reliable information within their specific interests.  A challenge of every major news web site has been making the transition from general interest publications to making information easy to find within the details of our readers' lives.

That's the point Amy Gahran makes in her Poynter E-Media Tidbits this week. The days of editors sitting in a room and deciding what everyone else reads or hears is ending, if it's not already over.

"In other words, to stop trying to shove unwanted "messages" down people's throats, and to actually talk with and listen to real people," Amy says

Amy linked to a useful presentation of the 1999 Cluetrain Manifesto.  Written for marketing and PR folks, there's also a warning for the journalism business that it is only now beginning to heed, a decade later.  It deals with the way people talk to each other, compared with the sometimes stilted way the media presents information. Social networking is now making it easier for larger groups to hold those informal discussions.  These groups were formerly known as the newspaper and broadcast news media markets.

Social networking is about participating in a community conversation.  As journalists, part of our role is to provide trustworthy information to those conversations. You can either participate, or be left out.  Too often, journalists are choosing to be left out.

If you know colleagues who aren't usuing social networking as a major part of their work days, or don't know how, encourage them. If they don't understand why they need to learn about it, show them this video.  Show them the slide presentation.  Maybe that will get through to them.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hot links this week on online journalism

Jack Lail says "We'd get more readers if we gave them less frickin' news to read": “The news junkies, however, are the users that move the metrics and we focus even more on what they want because they are generating more pageviews and longer times on site. And thus we have less of what more casual news consumers want. Sort of like drinking ourselves to death?”

"We Were Print" – the blog of “former and soon-to-be-former print journalists” – chronicles the dark humor that is our business with links to this week's Doonesbury.

Don Himsel gives us the latest generation of point-and-shoot cameras as News Videographer.

Mindy McAdams reports on a session she attended on pro video at the Online News Association’s annual conference.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Best of online journalism: from D.C. to Middletown

"Fixing D.C. Schools" is the kind of project I still remember seeing for the first time on Washington Post.com.  It covered every aspect of the public schools in D.C., from the maintenance of the school halls to student scores.  It told stories across the multimedia platforms.

No surprise it won the Knight Award for Public Service during the Online Journalism Awards.

See the awards site for the complete list of winners, then linger for a while to marvel at some inspiring work, including "I Didn't Do Murder," by the RecordOnline.com, from The Times Herald Record (Middletown, N.Y.), which won best investigative piece for a small site.

Let these influence your next project.  Better yet, show them to your editor.  This is the kind of work we should be striving to produce in the digital age.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

SPJ Convention all a-Twitter with new media and online journalism learning

 Random notes from the SPJ National Convention which ending Sunday …
Some SPJ members may see the organization as still being for a bunch of old newspaper dudes. You may think curmudgeons rule, but you couldn’t tell that by attending the workshops and sessions in Atlanta.
“People are getting new media here and loving it,” Molly McDonough said. “I don’t get that back in my newsroom.”
I would agree.
SPJ has kept its high-tech ambitions a secret to some, however.  That’s evident this week, after SPJ’s Convention struggled with lower attendance, but the Online News Association, meeting this week in Washington D.C. sold out in advance.
Nevertheless, I didn’t talk to one person who came to Atlanta already a devotee of online and new media who didn’t rave about the conference and promise to return next year.
A few of the highlights:
Sree Sreenivasan on “Figuring Out Blogs & Whatever’s Next” – Every journalist should have a blog and know how to use it. Post often. And keep it short.
  • “If you can’t sell it in six words, you can’t do it in 6,000,” he said.
Sreenivasan had a handout of links, but its also online.
Howard Owens on Reinventing Journalism, included his 10 Things Journalists Can Do:
Among them:
  • Include informed insight and personal voice.
  • Stop competing for scoops and awards
  • Cover people not processes
  • Be kinder.
  • Be smarter.
  • Emphasize accuracy, honesty, and transparency.
  • Be the guide. Be the filter. There is a fire hose of information. Help your readers find it.
Molly and I got a great reaction on our "60 web sites in 60 minutes".
  • It included a showing of Facebook with this live update: “Molly is thinking Ron should pick it up a bit or we won't get to 50.”
People picked up Twitter for the first time and kept people updated on the convention
Want to find out what you missed? Or maybe you were there and want to pick up some sessions you missed. 
You can from two of my new friends:
Rene Gutel wrote some great blog posts about the sessions she attended.
So did Jeff Cutler
And as always, you can read the reports from the talented students covering the convention onThe Working Press.
Don’t expect SPJ to retain its curmudgeonly image forever.  We’ve put together a Digital Media Committee, which I’m co-chairing. You’ll see other of our members posting here in the future.
After all, nearing its 100th birthday, SPJ is the original social network for journalism.