All of the bases will be covered, it seems: Multimedia, social media, hyperlocal, crowdsourcing, datamashups, and news business models.
I’ve been rather tardy about getting all of these online, so here’s the 6th of my presentations from the Online Journalism class of Spring 2009, looking at Interactivity. Much of what I talk about here is also in my lengthy post on the topic:
For several months The Independent has been experimenting with Debategraph – a mindmapping tool that allows you to visualise various perspectives on big issues, and add new ones. From ‘What should the Labour Party do next?‘ to ‘The Future of Newspapers‘, the tool branches out from the initial question to sub-questions and responses.
The figure explains how the Telegraph is now the most popular UK newspaper site.
75,000 visitors a day
The Telegraph had about 28 million unique visitors in March, which means social sites are sending it almost 75,000 unique visitors a day.
Search engines are responsible for about a third of the Telegraph’s traffic Julian also revealed – or about 300,000 unique visitors a day.
This means the Telegraph gets 1 social visitor for every 4 search ones – an astonishingly high ratio.
The myriad numbers of citizen journalism sites that pop up everyday seem to suggest that the media can fulfill the purposes of democracy by merely offering their audiences a forum to express themselves.
However, to tap into its full potential, participatory journalism should try to do something in addition to what mainstream reporting already does – such as expanding source diversity, shifting focus to neglected sections of the population, or pursuing different angles and perspectives on a story. If not, it is not doing much more than using its readers as a form of cheap labor, and perhaps laying off journalists while it’s at it.
Citizen journalism is hardly beneficial when it merely propagates the flaws of traditional reporting. Huffington Post’s Off the Bus produced many stories on the US Presidential campaign last year – but the one we remember most vividly is Mayhill Fowler’s reporting of Barack Obama’s “bitter” comment – the story that put gotcha journalism from mainstream reporters to shame.
The paucity of good investigative reporting through citizen journalism is not surprising, considering the amount of effort such stories require from news organizations in terms of coordination and oversight. Perhaps, most importantly, they require a huge time investment from the audience. While people might be easily persuaded to relay food-item prices from their grocery bills, they are less likely to pursue public officials or make trips to government offices to retrieve information.
Which is why magazines like The Nation are allowing their audiences simpler methods to contribute to significant news stories. With its “Ask the President” feature, the weekly is encouraging readers to pose questions for the Obama administration’s upcoming press conferences. Queries that receive the most votes will get asked by Nation journalists, pending agreement from the White House. This is perhaps the digital equivalent of newspapers inviting their readers to town hall meetings to question public officials.
News organizations are also trying to encourage investigative journalism “from the desk.” With the amount of interactive tools available online, it is perhaps easiest to get readers to contribute through their computers since they already spend several hours in front of them. National news stories especially lend themselves well to this form of reporting.
The nonprofit investigative journalism site Propublica hopes to analyze Barack Obama’s stimulus package by encouraging audience contributions. Data and documents will be available on the site, and readers will be encouraged to offer ideas for stories and topics of newsworthy content. Details of how distributed reporting will be implemented have not been worked out yet, but as Senior Editor Eric Umansky reasons, the breadth of the stimulus projects and their potential effects are so huge that there simply are not enough traditional journalists to cover the subject. But with the help of citizen reporters all around the country, Propublica can do a better job of reporting on all angles of the story. When you recall that the same idea allowed Talking Points Memo to break the news about the Bush administration’s firing of eight US attorneys in late 2007, it is easy to be optimistic about Propublica’s venture.
Another idea that is gaining popularity is the coupling of journalism school projects to citizen reporting. In this fast-changing media world where every citizen is a reporter, students of journalism should be specifically trained to tap into the vast talent available in the community, writes Elizabeth Zwerling. That is exactly what the Annenberg School for Communication in Los Angeles is attempting to do with its hyperlocal news site, Intersections.
The project is shining the spotlight on the less privileged classes that mainstream media has long ignored with its profit-centered interest in affluent communities. Online journalism often reproduces this censorship of omission because of the inherent digital divide. Students at the Annenberg School, however, are being trained to report on hyperlocal issues affecting urban LA communities. Local residents, many of whom include working class immigrants, work with students to transmit their photos, videos and stories through cell phones.
Sites such as Texas Watchdog, on the other hand, are implementing programs to train civilians to become watchdogs of the government; the program teaches citizens to access and review public documents, among other things.
Another potential goldmine for citizen journalism at the hyperlocal level appears to be populations of retired individuals, who have both the time and inclination to perform watchdogging functions for their communities, as Jack Driscoll found with Rye Reflections, a user-generated site run by retirees in a small community in New Hampshire. The drastic reduction in local news reporting by newspapers that have cut down their resources and budgets has meant that citizens are willing to take up the slack. This sort of community reporting offers people intellectual and social stimulation while fulfilling civic needs, according to Driscoll.
In addition, retired professionals can often lend their specific expertise to investigative news stories, as former engineers and lawyers in the community of Fort Myers, Florida proved during the News-Press’ investigation of a local utility company. However, Driscoll does not succumb to the rosy-eyed view that this sort of reporting can replace hardcore investigative journalism at the national or international level, or in specialized fields like science and medicine.
It’s little surprise then that the much talked-about Huffington Post Investigative Fund hopes to tap into the expertise of seasoned journalists to kick-start its investigative reporting exercise. Down the road, it will harness the power of its citizen volunteers. As Jay Rosen, who will serve as a senior advisor on the project, writes, “the best approach is to have no orthodoxy and to support very traditional investigative reporting by paid pros who are good at it, as well as teams of pros and amateurs, students working with masters of the craft, crowdsourced investigations, and perhaps other methods.”
A tall order to be sure. But news organizations need to quickly find ways to compensate for the dearth of resources and personnel in order to continue to perform in-depth investigative reporting, lest journalism may become completely irrelevant.
Here’s a hugely rich interactive from USA Today which does a number of things very well.
Firstly, it’s an intelligent use of resources: the recession is likely to last for some time, and be the biggest ongoing story of our time. With everyone talking about it, you need something with that ‘wow’ factor, that will not only attract a great deal of attention now, but also a long tail of repeat visits.
Secondly, it’s personalised – not only can you get information on jobs growth in your state, but your particular industry in your state.
Thirdly, it’s dynamic – the graphic promises to be updated each month “with revised data from Moody’s Economy.com.”
There’s one major element missing – interaction. Find a way to capture users’ experiences (value) and you have an extra dimension that really capitalises on all the attention your interactive is getting.
Still, I’m not complaining…
Here’s the 3rd in my series of classes in online journalism. Having already set up an RSS readers and Delicious account, a Twitter account and a blog, this week they start the news website, and learn about writing and producing for the web:
All self-respecting newspaper sites have share and social-bookmarking functionality, such as links to Digg, Reddit, Fark etc.
But if the results of StumbleUpon are typical then:
- Times Online is miles ahead of its rivals when it comes to users sharing / bookmarking its pages.
- The FT has a lot of work to do.
- Adding icons for an individual service makes no difference to how often users submit a given page.
Try new stuff! If it doesn’t work, just stop doing it. Then move on and try something else.
That’s what Mackenzie Warren, director of content at Gannett Digital (that’s the digital division of what’s currently the USA’s largest media company), advised a group of Norwegian media executives at the Norwegian Institute of Journalism this week.
Now, let me first point out that Mackenzie Warren has been a journalist since the age of 14. He’s been a photographer, reporter, online editor, managing editor… just about anything you can be in a newsroom. Except that at Gannett, and at Fort Myers News-Press, where he worked before heading up the digital content section at Gannett, they no longer call it a newsroom.
“We’ve done away with the word “newsroom”. There’s no news in a newsroom (desk reporters are often the last to hear of a story). Plus, it’s not news we do – it’s aquiring, processing and distributing information”, he said.
Now, the Gannett publications have more of a control centre where section editors (sports, news etc., not print, online or TV) monitor the competition and also what the readers and viewers are responding to at any time. Continue reading
Information is changing. The news industry was born in a time of information scarcity – and any understanding of the laws of supply and demand will tell you that that made information valuable.
But the past 30 years have seen that the erosion of that scarcity. Not only have the barriers to publishing, broadcast and distribution been lowered by desktop publishing, satellite and digital technologies, and the web – but a booming PR industry has grown up to provide these news organisations with ‘cheap’ news.
Information is changing. Increasingly, we are not seeking information out – instead, it finds us. The scarcity is not in information, but in our time to wade through it, make meaning of it, and act on it.
Information is changing, and so journalists must too. In the previous parts of this series I’ve looked at how the news process could change in a multiplatform environment; how to involve the former audience; what can now happen after a story is published; journalists and readers as distributors; and new media business models. In this part I want to look at personnel – and how we might move from a generic, hierarchy of ‘reporters’, ‘subs’ and ‘editors’ to a more horizontal structure of roles based on information types. Continue reading