Tag Archives: online journalism

OJB undesigns redesign

I snarked a bit recently about the recent redesign of the Online Journalism Blog – I thought it made the site less usable and seem less full.

It seems my campaign has been vindicated –  the OJB has reverted to its former design (or at least something like it), which, while not perfect (and what in life is?) is cosily familiar and more workable.

Actually, I suspect my comments here had nothing whatsoever to do with this – but for the record, I think it’s a good move…

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Yet another model to make online news pay

Thanks to Jessica for sending me the link to the new Journalism Online website – home of an effort to create a syndicate of paid-for newspaper content on the web. 

This is the organisation that apparently has 170 daily papers on board already, though it hasn’t actually got around to telling us which ones they are.

It also features a page of quotes from sundry media sources under the banner “Why readers will pay for online news”.

None of these quotes is from a reader. I’m just saying…

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Vampires, iPhones and online news media

In a rare free afternoon hour, I am goofing off and watching Moonlight, a kind-of crappy new vampire private eye series on Virgin1. I normally like this kind of thing, sadly, though this series seems to suck more than the average vampire show should. (Which is why it seems it may already have been cancelled.)

In fact, the most interesting thing about it is the vampire private eye’s journalist sidekick (Beth Nelson, played by Sophia Myles, who was also in Doctor Who. Which is cool. But I digress).

In the convention of such things, she is blonde, feisty and nosy. But in a break from the norm she doesn’t work for the local metro newspaper, nor the local metro TV station. No, indeed: she works for Buzzwire – an investigative web site!

Sample newsroom pep talk:

200,000 unique visitors on your vampire story and we posted less than 24 hours ago. The vampire angle was genius.

And:

Don’t think – go. Momma needs fresh content.

This is also actually kind of cool. Because it allows Beth to prowl around crime scenes taking photos for the site using what looks very like an iPhone.

I’m not the first to notice this – Reiter’s Camera Phone Report blog is all over it and he thinks the gadget in use is definitely an iPhone. Although it doesn’t make a big play of the branding, which is interesting.

So it seems that the phone was chosen not because Apple ponied up a whole wad of money for the privilege, but because the phone’s look and functions fitted in with the TV show’s idea of what modern, portable, wireless, journalistic technology should actually look like.

The show also conveys the idea that the news cycle has sped up dramatically – which is probably a function of rolling TV news as much as the web, but still.

And of course, we can’t actually rely on vampire murders to jazz up coverage and boost readership. Though it would be nice.

I’ve no idea whether the whole web-site-breaking-vampire-news angle carries on through the series, but it’s very interesting to see the notion moving into mainstream, if niche, entertainment…

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Journalism’s uncertain future

As they say, prediction is hard – especially about the future.

Many years ago – sometime in the mid-to-late 1990s – I started to take note of the technological change revamping the journalism business, and I started to make some fanciful predictions about the direction it would take.

Anyone who takes an interest in futurology – the prediction of future technological and social change extrapolated from present day conditions – knows how hard it is to get it right.

Paleofuture is a great site that collects past predictions about the shape of things to come.

Appropriately, for the current debate on the future of media, one prediction from 1939 (as shown above) is for a “Radio-newspaper receiver for home use”.

I had similar problems.

For example. I was a printy. That is, my whole view of how publishing worked was skewed towards the print model.

So I thought the biggest threat to my job might be clever software that automatically formatted pages using clever templates without the need for layout subs.

I also pondered the possibility that trade press news stories could be created using algorithms that put together facts in a more or less coherent way without the need for writers or sub-editors – instead it would just use raw research.

And,  in that era of offshore outsourcing, I fretted that this work would be sent out to India, or South Africa, to be done for a pittance, with the files sent over the phone line.

Looking back, these ideas seem nonsensical. But at the time, though slightly far-fetched, they were reasonable extrapolations of the current trend of smarter software producing print content.

How things change.

Yes, the template model is here – but it’s here for blogging and other creative sites (Flickr, YouTube etc). And it’s not that software is allowing publishers to cut jobs while producing their print magazines. The web is allowing any user to be a publisher online, and is starting to destroy the print publishing model.

If you want proof of my incomprehension, it’s there is the lack of any blog entry about this from me from 1997. Because if I had grasped the web at all, I would have been publishing then. And I wouldn’t have been writing about clever layout software. Unless I was stupid.

Even the outsourcing thing hasn’t worked out in the way I thought.

True – online market places allow anyone from any part of the world to bid for any creative media work anywhere. But actually, timezone differences still matter.

Instead, the sheer accessibility of the web and its publishing tools means that prices are driven down low enough so that you don’t need to go abroad to find your cheap creative labour. Instead, it’s available right here in the UK, or US, in the form of the tide of journalism graduates that flood out of our journalism courses with little chance of a real job to go to.

It’s a paradigm shift. One that I could not foresee.

Yes, we had the internet then. But I just couldn’t see that it would eclipse push-style print publishing.

And though even relatively early adopters back in the mid-90s got web space for free with their ISP account, I was even less able to predict the effect of the web’s later creative tools. Create a web site? Uh – why? Isn’t that a bit… geeky?

It was only when the web’s networking capability became clear that I realised its power.

Yes – I’m a bit slow on the uptake.

But that’s because I didn’t come to the internet as many of its early adopters did – through bulletin boards and chat forums. They were all about the web as communication. I was all about the web as content.

I grasped this a lot later, and I have posted about the tendency of the web to be about connectivity over content. And it’s something an awful lot of journalists and academics still underestimate the importance of.

So. Let’s be clear. No one has a clue what will happen to journalism over the next decade or so. Not even Clay Shirky, who’s actually been pretty much ahead of the curve on a lot of this. He even says so in his essay, Newspapers and thinking the unthinkable, and makes the point that, historically:

During the wrenching transition to print, experiments were only revealed in retrospect to be turning points.

Which experiment will work for journalism? If any?

I have no idea. And, I promise, nor do you. We simply don’t know yet.

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Why free is not just about the money

Very interesting piece by Stan Schroeder on Mashable on the different implications of free online content.

  • “Free” is not just about price – it’s also about simplicity and ease of use. 
  • Some content will be difficult to charge anything for. Unfortunately for journalists, it’s news.
  • Forcing charges down people’s throats is a bad way to go. So that broadband tax to pay for content is a bit of a loser.

For once this is a piece whose author really seems to understand the nuances of online monetarisation. Well worth a read…

[HT: HyperwriterUK]

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Journalists can’t afford to be purist about their trade anymore

There’s a nice rant over at Fleet Street Blues decrying the media’s current seeming obsession with the delivery of media content over its practice.

The best thing about journalism isn’t blogging, or Twittering, or finding innovative multimeeja ways to tell a story, or even asking someone difficult questions Paxman-style. It’s about finding something out that no one knows, and telling people. Simple as that.

When it comes to learning your trade, they say, don’t get sidetracked with all that web technology malarkey:

If you want to be a specialist, don’t learn Dreamweaver or podcasting or how to put together Google map. Be a police reporter or an education reporter or a health reporter, and learn your field. 

My comment on the post hasn’t been approved yet (what – don’t they trust me?). But essentially, while I admire the sentiments, I think there are some fundamental problems with it. 

The post actually recognises some of them. At the end it says: 

If you want to be a journalist, then forget payment models, multimedia development and how to drive traffic. That’s not your job. Your job is to be a damn fine reporter and let the chips fall as they may. If they – the editors, publishers and readers – can’t figure out a way to pay for us, then so be it. They’ll miss us.

It’s that tiny detail – finding someone to actually pay for this stuff – that is at the crux of this whole “where is journalism going” debate. And, of course, if you’re one of the thousands of journalism graduates being spewed out of the higher education system every year, that’s not much comfort when you can’t find a job. 

I look on all that multimeeja nonsense as basically a tool. It’s a bit like saying if you want to be a specialist, don’t learn to type, or don’t learn to use InDesign. 

The tools of the trade are changing – and we need to keep up. The problem we face at the moment is that the tools of the trade are changing really fast. And the trade itself is also changing really fast, thanks to the double whammy of recession and technology change. 

That’s why I think the idea of the old-style investigative reporter, armed with just a notebook and the knowledge of his or her beat, is now a bit of a luxury. In order to be anything resembling a journalist, you’ll probably have to be able to set up and maintain a web site, know how to drive traffic and have some idea of payment models as well as being a damn fine reporter.

Hey, I never said it would be easy. But I don’t think there’ll be a choice for a lot of us…

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Does journalism need a new crowdsourcing tool?

It strikes me there’s a kind of assumption around journalism that it somehow needs bespoke tools to do its job in the new digital media world. But actually I think it should stick to its existing strengths.

WritingcloudIn the spirit of research, I’ve just visited the Royal College of Art summer graduation show to check out the cutting edge communications work.

I was quite excited (in a geeky way) to see Guillaume Drapier’s WritingCloud project there. It was pitched as a way of bringing the world of professional journalism together with the blogosphere.

The result would be to enrich the research process and build engagement with bloggers – in place of the sometimes antagonistic relationship the two seem to have nowadays.

WritingCloud is a free web-based platform that allows writers to ask questions and direct them to readers with an interest or expertise in the subject. Readers – or “helpers”, as they are called on the site – receive a stream of questions in their particular field and can then submit answers or other research material. Material can be text, photos or video. Helpers get a credit with a link back to their blog for their trouble.

writingcloudFor his MA project, Drapier created a four-page tabloid newspaper using his collaborative platform. You can see the workings behind it on the WritingCloud blog here. He also used social media, such as a Facebook group.

At first glance, I thought it sounded just the ticket – journalism has to break out of its traditional top-down hierarchy in order to function in the not-so new-media digital world.

But on closer inspection, there are a number of flaws.

  • It has to build its network from scratch. This is yet another platform for users to have to get excited about, register on and start to use. But life is short – I think this will be an uphill struggle.
  • What’s the compelling USP? The idea of putting journos and bloggers in touch is good on the face of it. But why would the helpers register? Is the promise of a possible link on a news story that compelling? Seems a little like hard work. Does it make you want to register and monitor all the journo questions? I don’t think so.
  • It’s too standalone. Related to the above. I registered on WritingCloud to see how it worked. It seems you need to monitor questions and answers via the site. Now, I know this is a student project and so is pretty embryonic. But there’s no provision for email alerts or SMS synching or anything that might mesh this with the wider online world.

That’s the real problem with this idea. Even though its premise is that it’s really cutting edge, it something of the flavour of yesteryear – when the web was much more insular; when you had to download proprietary bits and pieces to make some standalone service work.

And it’s interesting that Guillaume didn’t actually use the WritingCloud site to generate the material for his graduation newspaper. Instead, according to his blog, he asked questions on existing internet forums:
answers.yahoo.comwww.convinceme.net and www.onlinedebate.net.

That’s logical for a limited timeframe student project. But it also indicates the structural flaw in this exercise – it’s much better to go to where people are networking already, rather than try to build one yourself.

Also, people will be networking there for a reason – so you can piggyback off that, rather than trying to be all compelling yourself with your new web platform.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to rubbish this project. I admire its mission to bring the audience for journalism into its production. But I think what it’s trying to do is now, kind of by definition, not what the web is about.

I really like the idea of a “writing cloud” – a kind of soup of ideas, opinions, facts and research that can coalesce into, effectively, journalism. But you know what? We have that already. It’s called Twitter, and YouTube and Flickr and (maybe, if we can figure out how to map it on to journalism) Facebook. And journalists and others are already using Twitter, and other social media, as an effective crowdsourcing tool.

At its root, journalism is basically hanging around gossiping with people. And that’s what journalists, bloggers et al are still doing – except that the hanging around is now being done at forums like Twitter, rather than in a dingy Soho bar.

I suspect the key to success in the online world is not to create brand new tools, but to make better use of the existing ones.

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