Believe in the digital journalists

Don’t just trust those web people. Believe in them. Fight for them.

Kim Bui writes in an amazing manifesto on digital journalism. In too many newsrooms, the people with the digital skills are relegated to a corner, figuratively or literally. No one knows what to do with them – or what they can do.

We’re not just computer nerds, even though we use computers. We’re journalists. Ask us questions. Let us help you. You may think you know what’s going on, but have you asked? We would love to show you, teach you, figure things out with you. “There is no excuse to not to talk over to your web people and ask how you can help,” Kim writes.

If you’re a manager, you need to fight for more web resources even if you have no idea what those are. You need to look ahead of you and know that your future newsroom will need this, whether you are around or not. You need to push the envelope. You need to push your staff to get trained by those web people in the corner.

It’s not just the managers and colleagues. It seems that some young journalists, too, have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the digital world.

The thing is, it’s difficult to forge your own path in a job that didn’t exist five years ago. People don’t know what box to put this new generation of journalists in. You have to convince them that while you’re using HTML and Twitter instead of pen and paper, what you do is still journalism.

At the same time, the whole idea of the kind of skills a journalist should have is changing. The newsrooms and managers who get it are looking for digital journalists to help shape the path ahead.

You think digital journalism is the future? It’s here already.

In this shiny new today, skills change, tools change, how we produce, distribute and consume the news changes. Curiosity is the constant. It’s challenging, but also exciting beyond belief.

Newspaper boxes in San Francisco. Photo by Gord McKenna on Flickr used under Creative Commons.

More on the mobile on the rise, and what that means for interactive journalists

Mobile Internet use via smartphones and tablet computers is on the rise, and it’s challenging news organizations and journalists to think anew about how they can best reach and engage their audience (see my post from Thursday here).

More proof of that comes from a recent study Morgan Stanley analysts, who predict that mobile Internet use will outgrow desktop use by 2015. Other finds include increasing popularity of “cloud computing” and social web.

Journalists and designers, therefore, have to pay increasing attention to designing their content for use on mobile devices. There, touchscreen interfaces dominate compared to the mouse-led ones on desktops and laptops. Especially for interactive elements, that poses a challenge. In choosing what to learn, aspiring interactive journalists now don’t just have to worry about the whole Flash vs. HTML5 debate, but also about how their newly designed graphics will translate to mobile devices.

To that end, Jeremy Rue has written a great post on the skirmish between Flash and HTML5, posing the question: “What should journalists learn next?”

Not such an easy question, the UC Berkely j-school teacher says.

I’m not really sure how to teach HTML5 to journalists. This is because HTML5 is not what everyone thinks it is. All of the cool stuff that HTML5 can do is really being done by a programming language called JavaScript.

Teaching that to a not mathematically inclined person (i.e. 99 percent of journos) is a challenge. Help, he says, comes in the form of jQuery, a JavaScript library that makes writing the code a bit easier. A group of people are already working on adapting that framework for mobile devices. Considering the trend, that’s good news.

Hat tip to Medill prof Matt Mansfield, who not only celebrated World Statistics Day with me but also alerted me to Rue’s post.

Mobile strategy the new battle as news consumption shifts

On first glance, the Newspaper Association of America came up with some good in its latest online news consumption statistics.  Unique Visiter numbers had jumped from 72.1 million in April to 102.8 million in September, the association reported. In the meantime, NAA has changed its vendor – the stats are now measured by Comcast, not Nielsen as before (which is why the number aren’t directly comparable).

But on second glance, as the Nieman Lab points out, that’s not all there is.

Time spent, or engagement, is the metric that matters most to advertisers these days. Unique visitors, no matter how impressive a slice of the total web audience they represent, don’t deliver customers to advertisers. They key is whether site visitors are engaging — interacting — with the content and the advertising on the site, and that kind of engagement still eludes most online newspapers.

In essence, Martin Langeveld at Nieman argues, rising web traffic isn’t anything to get excited about anymore. Mobile is where it’s at these days.

… the audience is in the middle of another major shift in its digital news consumption from web browsers to mobile platforms — smartphones, e-readers and tablets. By sometime in 2012, cumulative sales of iPads, alone, will likely exceed the number of home-delivered newspaper subscriptions.

Read the whole article on the Nieman Lab website.

These new consumption patterns mean media organizations have to adapt their strategies. Mobile content is consumed differently, more leisurely, which gives them  an opportunity to engage readers more deeply (and since consumers are more willing to pay for mobile apps, bolster this revenue stream?).

People such as Steve Buttry, director of community engagement at, are already pushing for a “mobile first” strategy. In one of his recent blog posts, he gives some pointers on how to develop a mobile strategy.

When he talked to me and my reporting colleagues at Medill on Oct. 14, he said those still working on a “online first” strategy were “fighting the last war,” not the current one. Mobile, he said, is where opportunities – and ad dollars – are.