The next trend in journalism: A new mindset of news

“What emerging technology or digital trend do you think will have a significant impact on journalism in the year or two ahead? And how do you see it playing out in terms of application by journalists, and impact?”

Question posed to a group of journalists for a monthly blogging cycle.

It’s clear that in the next couple of years, news will continue to become increasingly mobile and increasingly social.

We’re already seeing these trends. 1 in every 5 minutes people spend online they spend on social networking sites, according to comScore (Think about that for a second. It’s a huge number). With almost every major news event, somebody tweeted about it before it was reported by a mainstream media organization. When Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. special forces, millions shared their thoughts on Facebook. And as smartphones become more prevalent, more and more people consume news on the fly, whether through apps or the web browsers on their phones.

Currently, we’re spending a lot of time debating how to approach these new ways of creating and consuming news. Is aggregation journalism? Should journalists be allowed to break news on Twitter? What does it mean to curate information?

These discussions are important, but they fall short where they try to apply an old mindset to a new medium. Continue reading

From journalist to programmer: Give us a better CMS

If I could make one Christmas wish to developers, it would be for a better content management system. A CMS is one of the most important tools of a web journalist – it helps determine how easily content can be uploaded and updated, how it can be positioned, linked and displayed. Yet many CMS systems are ill suited to the needs of the journalists who use them. It’s become almost a wisecrack among web journalists: “Oh, everyone hates their CMS.”

It shouldn’t be like that. I would love a CMS that lets me navigate easily, had clearly labeled buttons and lets me find what I’m looking for (I could write paragraphs about the shortcomings of the photo search tool in one CMS I used). Blogging platforms like WordPress or Tumblr show how seamless and intuitive a CMS can be, and while a news organization’s system has many more constraints than a spiffy little Tumblr blog, the user experience there makes that on many other content systems all the more dreadful.

I would love a more flexible CMS that allows me to change page layouts and move parts around on a page without having to delve into code myself. That way, I could taylor the format to the story. This flexibility is becoming more and more important as stories morph quickly with new developments.

Improving a CMS is not a sexy task, but it would go such a long way to making the life of web journalists easier.

And if I can add a little extra wish to programmers: Help us talk to you. Help those journalists, like myself, who don’t know how to program themselves but understand the importance of the job you do. Programmer-journalist Heather Billings says it more eloquently when she argues to just start making things together.

What hinders that, sometimes, is just that many journalists don’t really know what programmers can do and how they do it. I’m a firm believer that we’re all storytellers, but along with different tools come different languages. When that language consists of one-letter terms (R? C+?), talking to a coder can be intimidating. That is true for other growing fields of journalism as well.

In a way, simply working together will help break down that barrier. But many newsrooms aren’t lucky enough to have dedicated developers, or journo-programmers. We need a roadmap, some sort of hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy of programming, so that when developers join the conversation, we know what to ask them.

This post is inspired by the Carnival of Journalism’s December topic, and I invite you to check out the many smart responses.

JCarn: What’s “good” in online journalism?

The Carnival of Journalism is a blogging community where a topic is up for discussion each month. After last month’s posts, Lisa Williams raised a question in an internal email thread (recounted here) that spun into this month’s topic.

Right now, nominations are open for the Online Journalism Awards. What qualities should awards like this endorse in an era of such tremendous change in the news industry?

Every aspect of how we produce, create, tell and distribute stories is changing. An organization like the Online News Association – or really any journalism organization – should push the innovation and creativity necessary to address those changes. It should also aim to “spread it around”. By that I mean, encourage people to try new things, give them resources to learn new skills, and highlight best practices to strive for.

Here are three qualities awards for online (really all) journalism should highlight.

1. Does the project or story use the appropriate medium for each part?

With the rush for multimedia, it can be tempting to produce a video … just because. The same is true for animated graphics or audio slideshows. At the same time, opportunities can be missed if journalists think only within the medium they’re used to.

It’s important is to ask: How can this specific piece of the story best be told? How will the be most impactful, easiest to understand, inviting for interaction?

Outstanding journalism should use the medium best suitable to tell each part of a story, the medium that best captures an experience and informs a user.

Kat Downs, innovations editor and interactive designer/developer at The Washington Post, describes this thought perfectly when she writes about the multimedia project “Coming home a different person,”

“We knew that watching a man rub the missing half of his skull, which was blown out by a rocket-propelled grenade, would connect viewers to him in a deeply emotional way.”

The project used interactive graphics, audio, video, photos and text to tell the story of soldiers with traumatic brain injuries, explain how bomb blasts can cause invisible damage to one’s brain, and explore the question, as Downs asks, “What part of your brain is your personality? What’s left when half of it gets blown away?” The project was nominated for a Pulitzer Price.

Different media formats have different strenghts: Videos let those impacted speak directly, images present powerful glimpses at emotions, interactive graphics help explain complex developments. Journalism prizes should reward newsrooms that discover new ways to tell stories, but use each medium appropriately.

2. How groundbreaking is the project?

This award should honor innovations that have an impact in many different, maybe small ways. It could honor efforts to expand or build an audience around a topic, such as NPR’s Project Argo with its localized, topic-based blog network. These are ideas that expand our idea of storytelling and are used every day in newsrooms.

The award could also honor journalists or news organizations that show how new mediums can be used for journalism. Andy Carvin comes to mind: With his Twitter feed, he shows how social media can be used for what’s essentially beat reporting, while opening the process of newsgathering to the audience. These ideas can be implemented in many ways across different newsrooms.

ONA took a step in that direction last year when they honored NPR for developing its API, which will allow NPR to build future innovations on top of it.

3. Is the project entrepreneurial?

The collapse of the news business model is one of the biggest changes sweeping the news industry. That requires journalists and news organizations to think more entrepreneurial, to find new ways to reach audiences and make money off of their products.

I hear the purists screaming: How can you call journalism a product? I’m as passionate about journalism as anyone you’ll find. I strongly believe in giving a voice to the voiceless, in telling stories of impact and importance to people. I also think it’s painfully obvious that we won’t be able to tell those stories anymore unless we find new ways to pay for the work it takes to create them.

Journalists’ aversion against the business side of journalism has hurt us – we need smart journalists passionate about their work to have a hand in figuring out how we will make money off news in the future. (This was one of the aspects that elicited the most passionate discussion on the JCARN listserv). We’re missing an opportunity to take advantage of the changes in our industry.

Therefore, I think journalism awards should honor innovative forms to reach audiences and frontier work on finding new revenue streams.

Encouraging innovation

Entrepreneurialism, building new ways to reach audiences, groundbreaking, sustainable innovation and making appropriate use of each medium — those are my ideas for what journalism awards should encourage. I believe that honoring outstanding work in these areas will help our industry adapt to the changing media landscape.

Of course, that doesn’t discount excellent reporting, compelling stories and creative storytelling. These qualities will always be the building blocks of journalism. I didn’t mention them specifically because they go without saying, don’t they?

What do you think? Would these points filter out prize-worthy journalism? What other qualities would you add?

Update: Host Lisa Williams has written a summary of all posts in this #JCARN round. From pushing innovation to focusing on the fundamentals again to rewarding those who think outside the box, it’s all there.

Carnival of Journalism: Failing to fit in

I wanted to stick my toe in the water with a post for this month’s Carnival of Journalism on the topic of failure. Well, I failed at posting, but instead I want to whole-heartedly second a post by a fellow journalist.

Anna Tarkov wrote about the supposed failure to keep a job in “Fired… and not for the first time.” She writes,

What I now know is that I never failed at doing my job. I failed and was fired because I always did it the way I thought was best.

Doing something the way one thinks is best sounds ok on its face, but almost anyone … can tell you that most bosses just want you to shut up and take orders. They don’t want you to improve anything, they don’t want you to offer your own ideas, they don’t want you to change anything. They definitely don’t want to be challenged.

This so closely describes my experience with a recent project, I feel like she took the thoughts I had and expressed them more clearly.

I, too, for some reason assume that if I’m working on something, I should try to find the best way to produce it, come up with ideas, collaborate with people, ask questions. And just like Anna, I’ve had a very disheartening experience with that approach.

I’ve wondered why I can’t be like some other people, who follow directions without questioning them. I wanted to be like them, for a while, because they seemed to be having a much easier time.

I realized that I’m not like that. It was hard to see that as a strength at the time, but now I do.

I want to be creative, find new solutions, ask questions, come up with ideas. And I want to work for people who encourage that, who aren’t afraid to try out new things. To quote another JCarn entry by UMass journalism prof Steven Fox: “Failure is required in order for the revolution to continue.”

Just like Anna, my bad experience has helped me figure out what I want in a workplace and a boss. I don’t have to dampen my enthusiasm and my desire to move things forward — I just have to find a place where I can do that.