Defining Journalism…

I recently completed a paper for submission to the AEJMC conference in Denver proposing a typology for online journalism models. In doing this, I spent a lot of time thinking about journalism and its changing definition. But my instructor, Norm Lewis, correctly pointed out today that I tried to classify changes in journalism as being prompted by technology rather than its practitioners or audiences.

So what really does prompt changes to the definition of journalism? Is it the preferences of the audience or the framing of those telling the news? The chicken or the egg?

I think what is interesting about journalism now is that audience members have become the journalists, using the Internet to shape the news in ways that they see fit. No technological innovation has ever before extended this possibility of interaction, blurring the lines between audience member and journalist.

The Kansas state legislature just extended journalism protections formerly enjoyed solely by “professional journalists” to journalists online, including those who work for media outlets as well as bloggers and other independent reporters. They defined “journalists” as anyone:

“in the regular business of newsgathering and disseminating news or information to the public.”

Wow! That certainly opens some doors.

Many researchers link the definition of journalism to ideologies adhered to by its practitioners. But online journalists don’t have to adhere to those ideologies of accuracy, objectivity, and general journalism ethics.

So where does that leave us? Standing at the crossroads of a new type of journalism model that makes interactivity unavoidable and information fair game for all to disseminate and interpret as they see fit.

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Multimedia Teaching Tools

I recently completed a multimedia package of teaching tools aimed at teaching undergraduates how to cover a police beat for a newspaper.

Check out the video: Pounding the Pavement: A Day On the Police Beat

Check out the audio slide show: Understanding the Police Beat

Ultimately, I would love to teach an online class that introduces students to many of the beats at a traditional newspaper. Ideally, students would watch/listen to the multimedia teaching tools, then they would go out and cover a story on that beat. Simultaneously, they would blog about the issues they encountered while on the beat.

Perhaps someday…

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Some Shameless Self-Promotion…

Check out my article in The (University of South Carolina) Convergence Newsletter!

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Save us, iPad!

A lot of media analysts have had a lot to say about Apple’s newly released iPad, so I thought I might have a go at it as well.

At first, I was very enthusiastic. It’s sleek, cool, and much more portable than my MacBook. But then I read more.

HuffingtonPost released this list of 13 Things You NEED to Know about the iPad last week. I was impressed by the iTunes-like library of books and the hi-res screen that makes reading the book much easier. The iPad, in my mind, trumps the Kindle as an eReader, because it allows for color and pictures.

This, I felt, was great news for newspapers, because it speaks to the problems we all have with reading lengthy content online. The New York Times has partnered with Apple to create an app for the iPad. Given that NYT will soon be adopting a pay plan for online content, this strategy seems like a no-brainer.

Blogger Steve Yelvington made some good points about the detriments of this type of newspaper access last week. Yelvington wrote:

What are you going to do, kill your website and sell your “publication” in the App Store? Nonsense. The iPad doesn’t change the economic equation.

I was skeptical until he brought up another good point: the iPad — like the iPhone & iPod Touch, does not permit the use of Flash. And, as Steve pointed out, most online newspaper ads are constructed in Flash.

Ouch.

Writers at the Nieman Lab pondered the same question: will the iPad save newspapers?

My thought: It might. Just not this version and not quite yet.

I was never in the camp with those who believed the Kindle was the answer. It’s just too limited.

MediaCritic writer Scott Rosenberg wrote that the iPad will appease those who seek traditional newspaper reading capabilities online, but it will not help those who are looking for a new, evolved multimedia product.

Agreed.

Still, I think we might be on the right path. But, like any technology, it will take awhile to catch on and for the bugs to be worked out.

People will like that reading the newspaper is easier on the iPad. And, once the Flash issue is sorted out, newspapers that work with advertisers on a per-click pay system will rejoice at the rejuvenated readership. Where there are readers, there is money to be made.

What they (along with Mark Potts) will look for in the next version of the iPad is the ability to do it all. We want a product that makes reading online better AND that has all the capabilities of a laptop, camera, and communicator rolled into one.

Right now, the iPad falls short of a newspaper-saving device. But it feels like the answer (or one of the answers) is a lot closer now.

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Who Are You?

Last night I attended a forum at the University of Florida entitled “The Future of Journalism.” A bright group of SPJ students, accompanied by writers for a campus alternative publication, The Fine Print, organized the event, which included a panel of UF professors and staff members, as well as North Florida Herald Publisher Ron Dupont.

The basic idea was simple: these future journalists know what is happening in the industry, and they are scared and seeking advice.

Good thinking.

I’m not going to recap the entire discussion (which was great), but I did want to address one question that arose with an answer that didn’t. The question was: “Who is the journalist of the future, and what will he/she need to do?”

Lots of good answers were given, mostly related to being a “Jack of all trades.” I agree completely. Future journalists must be familiar with a range of technologies and mediums — including video and audio capturing and editing — while maintaining excellent writing skills.

What wasn’t mentioned, though, was perhaps the biggest change many young journalists are undergoing right now. It’s not enough anymore to write a story and then hide behind a black and white shield. More and more, newspaper reporters are being asked to cultivate a public persona, and they are doing this in several ways.

  • Facebook — Many reporters are now being required to sign up for Facebook and to post status updates about the stories they are working on to attract readers. They are also encouraged to “friend” sources and readers, effectively breaking down Fourth Estate walls that have no place in this digital era.
  • Twitter — Twitter is being used by several newspapers and their reporters as a two-way means of communication. Not only is it used to attract readers to the newspaper; it is also used as a means of attracting sources from a local audience. Before, reporters would scour their Rolodex in a desperate attempt to find a person who likes jogging and listening to music at the same time for that weekend feature. Now, with one post on Twitter, dozens of fresh sources come out of the woodwork, giving the story a new edge with previously untapped voices.
  • Blogs — While it is my opinion that blogs can be overused by newspapers, it stands to reason that some beat reporters should have one. Health reporters, for instance, can use their blogs to get the word out regarding the latest update to hospital procedures or for H1N1 vaccination locations. Unfortunately, because many newspapers panicked and required everyone to have a blog, some of the worthwhile posts can get buried beneath a pile of unworthy ones.
  • Podcasts — Again, beat reporters can use Podcasts as a means of telling a feature story or as another way of conveying that Q&A piece in the newspaper. Readers like to hear the voices of their storytellers and newsmakers from time to time. Transparency always enhances credibility.
  • Live blogging/forums — Reporters are beginning to live blog events as the events are happening. Additionally, they invite readers to join in the conversation, allowing them front row access to an otherwise inaccessible event. Readers can post questions for the reporter, who can either answer or ask the questions him or herself.

All of these new roles are expected of young journalists who join newspapers as beat reporters. It is now a requirement that you get your name and face out into the community and break down the barrier between the reporter and his/her audience.

Young journalists are the best equipped to do this, as most of them are very comfortable using social networking software, and they are not set in their ways about being removed from the community on which they are reporting.

So, young journalists, when you are out doing internships and applying for jobs, make sure you list these practices among your skills. Take the initiative and make a name for yourself early so you can be indispensible later.

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The Home of the Not-So-Free

There has been a lot of buzz this week about the institution of a pay-for-content scheme for newspaper Web sites.

Several unnamed papers have signed with Journalism Online to help them come up with a plan to charge for content. (Also in the news, Journalism Online will be charging a 20 percent commission for new subscribers.)

Most notable this week was the move by Google to throw its hat into the ring. The search engine giant wants to help newspapers craft a micropayment plan. Microsoft, IBM and others are also joining in the effort.

My favorite ironic observation from this new alliance:

“…Google Inc. — a company some newspapers blame for helping dig their financial hole — responded to a request by the Newspaper Association of America for proposals on ways to easily charge for news on the Web.” — Andrew Vanacore, AP Business Writer

We keep coming back to this micropayments thing. Google has proposed a method similar to its Google Checkout arrangement, so readers don’t have to keep logging in and out to purchase content.

Still, I am perplexed regarding how this will work. I wonder how much money I would be willing to pay per story, and I don’t think its much. I would, however, pay for an entire newspaper, which is, admittedly, an antiquated practice in this day and age of search engines, but it’s still how much of the newspaper reading population does it.

I think The (Minneapolis) Star Tribune has the right idea. They are inching into the waters of the pay plan by charging for their most prized content: Vikings coverage.

Now, we journalists don’t like to admit it, but sports coverage is the bread and butter of the newspaper. It is the most-read content, and it attracts the highest paying advertisers. It makes PERFECT sense to test readers’ devotion to and need for newspaper content by charging for select sports pieces.

Other newspapers should follow the Star Tribune’s lead and wade into this pay plan slowly. If you pull the rug out from under the readers, they will be indignant, and it will be a LONG time before their desire to read the newspaper overrides their disdain for change.

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Quieting the Community

Recently, The Bakersfield Californian announced it might shut down its community-contributed Web sites, Bakotopia and Bakersfield Voice.

Having used the Bakersfield Voice as a model in designing and testing community-contributed content on news sites for my Master’s thesis, I can honestly say that this news is unfortunate though not unexpected.

The Bakersfield Voice allows users to directly upload their own pictures, stories, and calendar events right to the Web site. The site also offered social networking opportunities through blogs and chat rooms. With the exception of a general editor, the news staff of The Californian had little to do with the site.

It was a great model, and many managers pointed to these community sites as future endeavors for their own papers. The community appeared to enjoy the interaction, and the site did well to drive traffic to The Californian’s parent site as well.

The reason for yanking the plug on these sites isn’t due to lack of popularity or contributions; it was a lack of vision on the part of The Californian.

Why is it that no one at The Californian thought to ask about the goals of these community sites? Apparently, there was no plan for these sites beyond launching them and crossing fingers for profitability.

I hope that the managers of this site will take the time to assess the goals of the sites and to figure out a business model for them. They are a great community resource, and it would be a shame to see the sites disappear just because no one had the foresight to plan.

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