Tag Archives: online journalism

A case study in online journalism part 2: verification, SEO and collaboration (investigating the Olympic torch relay)

corporate Olympic torchbearers image

Having outlined some of the data journalism processes involved in the Olympic torch relay investigation, in part 2 I want to touch on how verification and ‘passive aggressive newsgathering’ played a role.

Verification: who’s who

Data in this story not only provided leads which needed verifying, but also helped verify leads from outside the data.

In one example, an anonymous tip-off suggested that both children of one particular executive were carrying the Olympic torch on different legs of the relay. A quick check against his name in the data suggested this was so: two girls with the same unusual surname were indeed carrying the torch. Neither mentioned the company or their father. But how could we confirm it?

The answer involved checking planning applications, Google Streetview, and a number of other sources, including newsletters from the private school that they both attended which identified the father.

In another example, I noticed that one torchbearer had mentioned running alongside two employees of Aggreko, who were paying for their torches. I searched for other employees, and found a cake shop which had created a celebratory cake for three of them. Having seen how some corporate sponsors used their places, I went on a hunch and looked up the board of directors, searching in the data first for the CEO Rupert Soames. His name turned up – with no nomination story. A search for other directors found that more than half the executive board were carrying torches – which turned out to be our story. The final step: a call to the company to get a reaction and confirmation.

The more that we knew about how torch relay places had been used, the easier it was to verify other torchbearers. As a pattern emerged of many coming from the telecomms industry, that helped focus the search – but we had to be aware that having suspicions ‘confirmed’ didn’t mean that the name itself was confirmed – it was simply that you were more likely to hit a match that you could verify.

Scepticism was important: at various times names seemed to match with individuals but you had to ask ‘Would that person not use his title? Why would he be nominated? Would he be that age now?’

Images helped – sometimes people used the same image that had been used elsewhere (you could match this with Google Images ‘match image’ feature, then refine the search). At other times you could match with public photos of the person as they carried the torch.

This post on identifying mystery torchbearers gives more detail.

Passive aggressive newsgathering

Alerts proved key to the investigation. Early on I signed up for daily alerts on any mention of the Olympic torch. 95% of stories were formulaic ‘local town/school/hero excited about torch’ reports, but occasionally key details would emerge in other pieces – particularly those from news organisations overseas.

Google Alerts for Olympic torch

It was from these that I learned how many places exactly Dow, Omega, Visa and others had, and how many were nominated. It was how I learned about torchbearers who were not even listed on the official site, about the ‘criteria’ that were supposed to be adhered to by some organisations, about public announcements of places which suggested a change from previous numbers, and more besides.

As I came across anything that looked interesting, I bookmarked and tagged it. Some would come in useful immediately, but most would only come in useful later when I came to write up the full story. Essentially, they were pieces of a jigsaw I was yet to put together.  (For example, this report mentioned that 2,500 employees were nominated within Dow for just 10 places. How must those employees feel when they find the company’s VP of Olympic operations took up one of the few places? Likewise, he fit a broader pattern of sponsorship managers carrying the torch)

I also subscribed to any mention of the torch relay in Parliament, and any mention in FOI requests.

SEO – making yourself findable

One of the things I always emphasise to my students is the importance of publishing early and often on a subject to maximise the opportunities for others in the field to find out – and get in touch. This story was no exception to this. From the earliest stages through to the last week of the relay, users stumbled across the site as they looked for information on the relay – and passed on their concerns and leads.

It was particularly important with a big public event like the Olympic torch relay, which generated a lot of interest among local people. In the first week of the investigation one photographer stumbled across the site because he was searching for the name of one of the torchbearers we had identified as coming from adidas. He passed on his photographs – but more importantly, made me aware that there may be photographs of other executives who had already carried the torch.

That led to the strongest image of the investigation – two executives exchanging a ‘torch kiss’ (shown at the top of this post) – which was in turn picked up by The Daily Mail.

Other leads kept coming. The tip-off about the executive’s daughters mentioned above; someone mentioning two more Aggreko directors – one of which had never been published on the official site, and the other had been listed and then removed. Questions about a Polish torchbearer who was not listed on the official site or, indeed, anywhere on the web other than the BBC’s torch relay liveblog. Challenges to one story we linkblogged, which led to further background that helped flesh out the processes behind the nominations given to universities.

When we published the ‘mystery torchbearers’ with The Guardian some got in touch to tell us who they were. In one case, that contact led to an interview which closed the book: Geoff Holt, the first quadriplegic to sail single-handed across the Atlantic Ocean.

Collaboration

I could have done this story the old-fashioned way: kept it to myself, done all the digging alone, and published one big story at the end.

It wouldn’t have been half as good. It wouldn’t have had the impact, it wouldn’t have had the range, and it would have missed key ingredients.

Collaboration was at the heart of this process. As soon as I started to unearth the adidas torchbearers I got in touch with The Guardian’s James Ball. His report the week after added reactions from some of the companies involved, and other torchbearers we’d simultaneously spotted. But James also noticed that one of Coca Cola’s torchbearers was a woman “who among other roles sits on a committee of the US’s Food and Drug Administration”.

It was collaborating with contacts in Staffordshire which helped point me to the ‘torch kiss’ image. They in turn followed up the story behind it (a credit for Help Me Investigate was taken out of the piece – it seems old habits die hard), and The Daily Mail followed up on that to get some further reaction and response (and no, they didn’t credit the Stoke Sentinel either). In Bournemouth and Sussex local journalists took up the baton (sorry), and the Times Higher did their angle.

We passed on leads to Ventnor Blog, whose users helped dig into a curious torchbearer running through the area. And we published a list of torchbearers missing stories in The Guardian, where users helped identify them.

Collaborating with an international mailing list for investigative journalists, I generated datasets of local torchbearers in Hungary, Italy, India, the Middle East, Germany, and Romania. German daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel got in touch and helped trace some of the Germans.

And of course, within the Help Me Investigate network people were identifying mystery torchbearers, getting responses from sponsors, visualising data, and chasing interviews. One contributor in particular – Carol Miers – came on board halfway through and contributed some of the key elements of the final longform report – in particular the interview that opens the book, which I talk about in the final part of this series.

Online journalism and the promises of new technology PART 5: Multimedia

In this fifth and second to last part of this series I’ll review the research on how and to what degree multimedia is utilized in online journalism.

Previous parts of this series have focused on the revolution that never happened (part 1); how to define the three main assets of new technology to online journalism — interactivity, hypertext and multimedia (part 2); the research on the use of hypertext in online journalism (part 3); and the research on online journalism and interactivity (part4).

Content analysis studies

As with hypertext and interactivity, most studies of multimedia in online journalism rely on content analysis of websites. Tanjev Schultz (1999) found that only 16 percent of online newspapers in the US had multimedia applications in the late 1990s. Two more qualitative oriented content analysis studies revealed similar lack of multimedia (In the US, Canada and the Netherlands: Nicholas W. Jankowski and Martine van Selm (2000); In the US: Wendy Dibean and Bruce Garrison (2001) (only excerpt available for free)).

Jankowski and van Selm concluded that of all supposed added value facilities of online journalism multimedia “is perhaps the most underdeveloped” (2000, p. 7). However, online news sites affiliated with TV stations were more prone to utilize multimedia according to the same study. Yet, in a more extensive investigation of TV broadcasters’ online news sites in the US (pdf available), Mary Jackson Pitts (2003, p. 5)  lamented: “[t]he majority of stations provide text-only stories, thus failing to use the multimedia capabilities of the web”.

In their extensive investigation of European online journalism, Richard van der Wurff and Lauf (Eds) (2005) found that print newspapers were as much about multimedia as online newspapers (this study is not available online). Thorsten Quandt (2008) (only abstract available for free)  found that 84.5 percent of the 1600 stories he analyzed in 10 online news sites in the US, the UK, Germany, France and Russia were strictly text-based.

In Scandinavia, Martin Engebretsen (2006) (pdf available) found that online newspapers used a bit more multimedia, but still not more than found in previous studies in the US. Daniela V. Dimitrova and Matt Neznanski’s (2006) study of the coverage of the Iraq war in 2003 in 17 online newspapers from the US and elsewhere showed no increase in the use of video and audio in the US newspapers compared to Tanjev Schultz’s study published seven years earlier. Furthermore, they found minimal difference between the international and the US online newspapers (slightly more use of multimedia in the US online newspapers). However, Jennifer D. Greer & Donica Mensing (2006) (book chapter partly available through Google books) found a significant increase in multimedia use during the same period (1997-2003) in their longitudinal study of online newspapers in the US.

Interviews and surveys

Studies relying on interviews and surveys with online journalists and editors reveal some of the possible reasons for the lack of multimedia in online journalism found in the content analysis studies. According to Michele Jackson and Nora Paul (1998) (the US) and Christoph Neuberger et al. (1998) (Germany) online journalists and editors had a positive attitude towards utilizing multimedia technology, but problems related to lack of staff, inadequate transmission capacity and other technical issues obstructed the materialization of multimedia content.

Later studies indicate that online journalists and editors downscale the value of multimedia content: Thorsten Quandt et al. (2006) (only abstract available for free) found that multimedia was considered to be the least important feature of web technology for online journalism. John O’Sullivan (2005) found similar results in his qualitative interviews with Irish online journalists (only abstract available for free). Niel Thurman and Ben Lupton interviewed 10 senior editors and managers affiliated with British online news providers and found that the general sentiment was that “text was still core” (2008, p. 15). However, in his PhD dissertation (which is not available online)  Arne H. Krumsvik, in interviews with CNN and NRK (Norwegian public broadcaster) executives, found a much more positive attitude towards multimedia than towards interactivity and hypertext (2009, p. 145). And in a recent case study of multimedia content on the BBC online (only abstract available for free),  Einar Thorsen concludes that video content has increased tremendously (Thorsen, 2010).

User studies

There are not many studies that investigate the users’ attitudes towards multimedia news online.  In an experimental study (pdf), S. Shyam Sundar (2000) found that those who read text-only versions of a story gained more insight into the topic of the story than those who read/viewed multimedia versions of the same story. Hans Beyers (2005) (pdf) found that only 26.4 of the Flemish online newspaper readers in his survey thought the added value of multimedia was an important reason to read online newspapers.

Multimedia summarized

To summarize the findings of the research on multimedia in online journalism deriving from the techno-approach, it seems that multimedia remains the least developed of the assets offered to journalism by Internet technology. Online journalism is mostly about producing, distributing and consuming written text in various forms, even though some recent studies describe an increase in the use of especially video. This falls in line with the general increase in online video watching described in a recent Pew Internet report. However, it seems that online news sites are struggling to cope with multimedia.

In the last part of this series I will conclude on what we might learn from the research on the utilization of hypertext, interactivity and multimedia in online journalism. Might their be other ways of understanding the development of online journalism then through the lens of technological innovation?

Political blogs and how people read them: Sunday Salon Webchat 8pm #onlinepolitics

Following on from last week’s experimental webchat about how different people make a small or a large income from their political blogs (debate starter, actual webchat), I am running another one this evening at 8pm.

There will be a Sunday Salon tomorrow (June 6th at 8pm), looking at different aspects of linking, promotion, how people read blogs and the interaction of blogs and Twitter.

The chat will be hosted at the Wardman Wire using CoverItLive. I will put out a few key points to Twitter using the hashtag #onlinepolitics, but the main debate will be on the blog.

As a discussion starter, this post includes a podcast interview (35 minutes) I recorded earlier this week with Dan Levy, who manages the UK website of Wikio.

We covered everything from the history of Wikio to how the rankings are compiled, how the Wikio service is used, and what developments will be happening in the future.

Any help in promoting the event is welcome. This will be the pattern:

  1. Article published to give a focus for the debate.
  2. Webchat on Sunday night 8pm-9pm.
  3. Publication of lightly edited script on the Wardman Wire, and circulation by email of a short analysis.

If you add a comment below I will email you with a reminder in future.

Online journalism and the promises of new technology PART 4: Interactivity

This post is cross-published from my new journalism/new media-blog. Previous posts in this series:

In the fourth part of this series I will take a closer look at the research on interactivity  in online journalism and to what degree this asset of new technology has been and is utilized.

Content analysis studies

As with hypertext, the research on interactivity in online journalism is dominated by content analysis, even though a greater body of this research also relies on surveys and interviews with journalists. Kenny et al. (2000) concluded that only 10 percent of the online newspapers in their study offered “many opportunities for interpersonal communication” and noted that little had changed since the introduction of Videotex 25 years earlier: “Videotex wanted to electronically push news into people’s homes, and so do today’s online papers”. Continue reading

Are the winds blowing in the direction of paid content, targeted advertising and better journalism?

Free does not mean that content has no value, but when the very sustenance of the entity producing that content is in danger, the concept of “free” begins to edge closer to devaluing content.

But even if content online has been free for so long, if it is captured back and tightly shut under a pay wall, does it become more valuable as a result? Or would news organizations have to earn that money if and when they finally achieve that pay wall?

As has been pointed out several times before, and on this blog as well, pay walls have been tried, tested and have, in effect, mostly failed. But many of the experiments that have involved paid content have erected pay walls around generic content or opinion that would perhaps be available elsewhere for free.

Moving toward specialized content

It is a pretty reasonable assessment that the more reasons a news Web site gives its readers to spend time on a site, perhaps by offering in-depth, contextual and narrative journalism, the higher the chances are that they will linger on the page longer, and even buy products through targeted advertising. And for better or for worse, this idea that the most engaged readers of a Web site will not only be willing to pay for content but also click through and purchase products advertised on the side of it is catching on.

As Steve Myers writes in Poynter:

“…pay structures create narrower, more specialized audiences and offer more opportunities for higher-yield, behaviorally-targeted advertising, which changes depending on users’ online habits.”

He explains that as paid sites start to attract more focused readers who recognize and identify a brand and content, it would also make it easier for news organizations to use targeted advertisements.

Free and paid content can co-exist

What worries me, however, is that news organizations are looking at options as either-or propositions. Getting your users to pay for content does not mean you can do away with Google, like Rupert Murdoch seems to believe.

There’s no denying that random visitors that are led to a site through search engines account for a large enough percentage of revenue to be ignored, as Paul pointed out in a previous post. In fact, it’s been roughly estimated that stumbling from search engines can make a news site about 50c a day per person, way less than subscriptions can, but it is still close to a hundred million a year, considering the average newspaper gets about a million visitors per month through Google searches alone. For the actual math, I direct you to the excellent Ryan Chittum at CJR.

Hence, blocking Google might not be the answer, but it is also important to note that the Wall Street Journal does have over a million readers subscribing to its content monthly, and since these users prove to be valuable to advertisers, specialist content could well be the answer for other newspapers as well.

There have been complaints all around that for an industry on the brink of collapse, news organizations are less than savvy in the area of market research, and aren’t doing much at all to help determine the monetary value of the content they offer and the kinds of products they should be providing in order to make money.

Instead, what many news organizations have resorted to over the years, is the “massification” of news in order to appeal to the broadest conceivable audience, a process that merely erodes the quality of journalism, without offering solutions for revenue generation, since such audiences do not have a brand identity that advertisers can appeal to.

As Slate editor David Plotz points out, the more media companies and editors begin to focus on the numbers, the faster they will shift from their pursuit of a “mass audience” and begin to produce more exclusive, in-depth content. Along that line of reasoning, Steven Brill’s Journalism Online plans to charge only the most frequent users who seek very specific content while allowing cursory surfers to avail of most topical news for free.

Following the lead of financial publications

Successful pay models, such as the Economist’s premium content, and the Financial Times’ paywalls are, after all, based on loyal readers returning to a site frequently on account of the exclusive content it provides. Financial publications, of course, are in a league of their own when it comes to paywalls, because of their high value, well-differentiated content and affluent consumers.

But as WSJ.com’s Alan Murray explained in an interview with the Nieman Journalism Lab, most news organizations should be able to tap into the idea that loyal readers will pay for exclusive information, as long as they steer clear of charging for the most popular content, which has the potential to yield maximum traffic and hence, revenue.

Whether it is due to declining ad revenues and falling readerships or the recession, newspapers in the US from the Minneapolis Post to the Arizona Republic, are adopting the idea of pursuing these “loyal readers” to sell their content. Others, like the Tribune company, are merely seeking them to target advertising.

Very early this year, Andrew Currah, a fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, called on news organizations to not give up their core editorial values in the quest for clickstream data, not simply because such lack of focus would be detrimental to journalism, but because it would not prove to be beneficial to revenue generation in the long run.

“The basic logic of a webcentric strategy is to maximise the size of the audience around the news, for as long as possible. But a rush to generate clicks may in fact erode the distinctiveness of the brand and its connection to a specific audience,” Currah wrote.

Regardless of what they’re seeking – direct payment for content or indirect revenue through clickthrough advertising –  specialized, in-depth content to retain that brand and connection has got to be good for journalism.

Stop rearranging the deckchairs

If you want to ascribe something importance you traditionally don’t put the word ‘sub’ before it. The immediate message sent by the Broadcasting Sub-Committee’s report on Welsh newspapers is that the subject is not very important. Furthermore, asking the Broadcasting Sub-Committee to report on Welsh newspapers is the political equivalent of asking a veterinary surgeon to replace an elderly relative’s hip.

Today, Assembly members will discuss the report, and Assembly time will be largely wasted in the process. It is a document that contributes very little to the overall debate about the future of Welsh newspapers. This is primarily because any report that attempts to deal with the decline of newspapers but discounts the opportunities of new media so casually is largely useless. It’s like trying to explain to someone how to grow an apple tree, without ever mentioning seeds. You can do it, but chances are it won’t make an ounce of sense.

The headline recommendation of this report would be nothing short of catastrophic for the future of the Welsh media if the UK government were to implement it:

Recommendation 1: The Welsh Assembly Government should make representations to the UK Government seeking assurances that cross-media rules are relaxed to allow the exploration of new partnerships.

The Welsh media is, and has always been, structurally weak. This weakness has been significantly increased by the dominance of media monopolies in Wales. This, in turn, has had a detrimental effect on plurality in the Welsh media and has been a plague on diversity of press opinion. It also means that when one organisation is failing, lots of newspaper outlets suffer.

The Broadcasting Sub-Committee’s recommendation is that rules that restrict media organisations from venturing into other marketplaces, like TV and radio, should be relaxed. This is a truly astonishing recommendation. The desperate problems the newspaper industry in Wales faces have come about, in part, because of monopolies. This report is seeking to extend the power of these monopolies. This is presumably so that they can then ruin broadcast news in Wales as well.

This recommendation is in many ways what we should expect from a report that consulted so widely with local newspaper owners, but never sought to ask them how they thought they might be culpable in the demise of their own titles. It is to be expected that they would ask for more power to branch out into other media and then set about squeezing every last penny from it, with little or no regard for the public service they should provide. What is also striking about this report is that Bob Franklin, an informed commentator and media expert, appears to have been largely ignored.

Franklin, quite rightly points out in the report that cross-media ownership rules are already dangerously close to collapsing in on themselves because media organisations so readily ignore them. He states:

‘…banks are suggesting to media companies that they ignore existing competition regulations which they see as primitive and as not suitable for the digital age because monopolies are understood within geographical boundaries…I think that big financial institutions are recommending a sort of ‘gung-ho’ challenge to existing regulation along the lines of ‘see what they do, call their bluff.’

The report cites the IWA in response: ‘There is something to be said for enabling some of the strengths of newspapers such as the Western Mail and Daily Post to be used to strengthen news coverage on commercial radio.’

Well, there you go then. The problems that the Welsh newspaper industry is facing could be solved by putting Western Mail content and/or journalists on commercial radio stations. Despite using this strange defence against Franklin’s concerns the report then does something very odd. It makes a recommendation that seems directly opposed to the previous one. Recommendation two states that:

The Welsh Assembly Government should make representations to the UK Government seeking assurances that any move to relax regulations relating to cross-media ownership should be accompanied by measures to protect plurality of local media.

This is directly contradictory. It is not possible to maintain plurality in local or regional media when you are reducing the strength of cross-media ownership rules. You either do one or the other, you can’t do both. You either defend the plurality of media or you allow large media groups to own more than one type of outlet.

When AM Huw Lewis made his announcement about the possibility of local newspapers having a stake in digital news channels, it was welcomed as an interesting idea by many. Commentators, on the whole, failed to understand that having more media outlets doesn’t necessarily increase the plurality of perspectives. The Broadcasting Sub-Committee has made the same mistake. Plurality in the media needs to be plurality of opinion, and the recommendation of this report would put that at risk by creating more media outlets that are saying the same thing.

Another of the recommendations in this report is about improving government support for newspaper groups. This, as a suggestion, has two fundamental faults. Firstly, the independence of media from government is vital in any democracy, and cannot be guaranteed if media producers have to apply for government grants. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, large media corporations in Wales bear a heavy responsibility for the problems the Welsh media is now facing. Giving them a bail out is no better than bailing out bankers. And, of course, as with the bankers there is no guarantee they won’t just screw it all up again.

Despite all of this, there are some good points made in the report. The recommendation that there should be a review of the provision of publicly funded training courses for journalists is an excellent idea. The report also supports the idea of a Welsh Media Commission and/or a forum for discussing the newspaper and broadcasting industry in Wales. This is an important idea which, should it come to fruition, would at least ensure major media issues don’t get swept under the carpet.

However, overall, it says little that is useful. This report ultimately fails because it talks about rescuing organisations that are dangerously out of step and out of touch with developments in their own industry. From Murdoch down, the media world is attempting to come to terms with an enormous shift in an industry that has been largely unthreatened for the best part of 300 years. New media is growing in strength, and the Assembly needs to spend some serious time looking forward towards it, and not just backwards to print.

It would, of course, be remiss to ignore the problems with new media. There are certainly plenty of them. Many popular news websites, for instance, still rely on the prestige and content of the print publications that they are associated with. Online news still only reaches certain social strata, with a large number of those on the breadline not bothering with internet access. Standards in online journalism, with a few exceptions, are often no better than those on local newspapers, with reporters relying on material that is secondary sourced, and rarely bothering to pick up the phone. As much as web 2.0 has contributed in terms of interactivity, an awful lot of user generated content is just rubbish, produced by hobbyists both unpaid and untrained.

These are big problems, but they are not insurmountable, and they are also not the reason this particular report dismisses new media so easily. The report brushes aside any future model of new/old media interaction because it is unable to envisage how this would be cost effective. This is in the main because the majority of newspapers still derive all their profits from the print side. The low value that advertisers ascribe to online placements means that news websites cannot survive by them alone. In short, because it might eat into the enormous profits these corporations, it’s not worth investigating.

There are a number of potential business models for online newspapers. There is the one that argues for subscription-based access to websites. This is, despite what Rupert Murdoch might think, an absolute non-starter. Recent analysis by Media Week showed that in a survey of 2,000 customers, nine out of 10 of them wouldn’t pay for web news.

Another popular model is one based upon using the brand of the newspaper to sell advertising space, cars, houses, upmarket holidays and lonely hearts services. The problem with this last suggestion is that it ignores the fact that the public reputation of many local or regional newspapers is extremely poor these days. Would you use a dating service advertised in your local rag? This approach may work with large national newspaper websites but it isn’t going to work in a local setting.

These difficulties combined allow this report to discount new media solutions with a frightening degree of casualness. They state:

‘The internet seems to be a difficult issue to address for newspaper groups and we did not receive any conclusive evidence from witnesses that it would be able to provide a financially sustainable and complementary medium to newspapers.’

This is difficult to swallow.

The truth about online business models for news websites is that a combination of subscription, newspaper brand endorsement and a savvy approach to advertising will be the model of the future. Large newspaper groups will inevitably adopt these strategies for local news websites and they will, eventually, make money. The trouble is that it will never make them enough money. The reason it will never make them enough money is that they can never make enough money. They are driven entirely and remorselessly towards ever greater profit. This is the difference between putting your readers first, and putting profit first.

Maybe we should be asking ourselves if we want these monoliths to continue running the local media for profit. Perhaps it would be better to have organisations whose bottom line is not the bottom line; who are doing it because they believe in the importance and values of local news, and not in how much revenue they can squeeze out of the punters.

This is why this report is such a massive failure. Of course, WAG needs to show willing in terms of the newspaper industry, and job losses are a real concern, but it also needs to start looking forward. And, most importantly, it shouldn’t be stepping in with recommendations to save organisations that have already failed by relaxing rules that are there to protect our media from being destroyed wholesale. Local newspaper owners have a public duty and they should not neglect that. If they do, they should not be surprised if they become obsolete.

On the whole people do not become journalists for the money. In fact, you would be mad to. Most do it because of – dare I say it? – higher values. The abandonment of those higher values in favour of profit chasing has done irreversible harm to our old media, and it should not be allowed to happen again in this new era.

The question of whether these bloated, faceless, mass-media corporations, are the ones who should be spearheading the future of local news is, to put it politely, a no-brainer. They shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near it. Key in the online news-environment, as anyone who has ever spent a day knocking about it will tell you, is quality. The degradation of local news, by owners who have neglected and battered their own titles year in and year out with cutbacks and a desperate drive for ever greater profits, demonstrates just how unfit these companies are to take new local journalism forward.

Hopefully in today’s debate someone will talk about the importance of new media and Assembly investment in the future of new media in Wales. Though it is doubtful they will.

It is time, therefore, that a grass-roots movement of journalists with a hyper-local approach had a go at cracking this. It’s also time the Assembly recognised the opportunity and thought about ways of encouraging it.

We should stop looking to those who ruined our local media last time to fix it temporarily, only to go and ruin it again. They have had their chance and they’ve made their money.  It’s now somebody else’s turn.

****

Rob Williams is a digital sub-editor at The Independent Online.

He is the author of The Mabiblogion a blog about Welsh Media and Politics

Article first published at waleshome.org

Related stories

Walking us through Reuters’ multimedia time lines: Q&A with Jassim Ahmad

Reuters has been among the leading news organizations in its use of Internet technology, both in its forays into citizen participation in the developed and developing worlds, and in experimenting with audio visual tools to offer fine narrative journalism.

Following the success of its online documentary on the Iraq war last year, Bearing Witness, Reuters recently produced another interactive multimedia time line, this one elucidating on the impact of the current financial crisis.

In Bearing Witness, the agency brought together five years of reporting from 100 correspondents and photographers to give a comprehensive account of significant events that transpired during half a decade of the war, from reasons that led to the conflict, recounts of battles in various Iraqi cities from Baghdad to Fallujah, the army offensive led by the US and its allies, and political, economic, and social consequences. In addition to offering personal accounts from its reporters, the project illustrates numbers and statistics through elaborate infographics.

The Times of Crisis project offers a peak into the impact of the current financial disaster over the course of a year since it was first set off by the collapse of Lehman Brothers. It is a compelling narrative not only in terms of its rich multimedia interactivity, but also in what it brings in terms of the human face of the impact, providing anecdotes and stories from real people.

I recently got a chance to interview Jassim Ahmad, Head of Visual Projects at Reuters, over e-mail. Below is the exchange:

Q. What inspired Reuters to do this? What was your main motive behind the two projects?

We were first inspired to produce Bearing Witness to mark half a decade of war in Iraq – a story to which Reuters has dedicated a team of 100 correspondents, photographers, cameramen and editorial support staff. The conflict has been the most dangerous in history for the press. 139 journalists and 51 media support staff have been killed (latest figures from CPJ) including seven Reuters colleagues. Our ambition was to go much further than simply repackage our coverage. We sought to tell the wider story through reflection and behind the scenes perspectives of conflict reporting.

Bearing Witness received exceptionally positive feedback and picked up a string of awards in the US, UK, France and Italy. We chose the financial crisis for our next initiative – undoubtedly one of the biggest stories of our times and one which Reuters is able to tell with exceptional depth with its financial expertise. Whereas most news coverage has understandably focused on the local and regional effects of the crisis, ours would attempt to show its global significance.

Chronology is the natural backbone of a wire news agency. We wanted to re-imagine the classical news “time line” with a much more visual approach.

Q. As someone that coordinates such visual projects, I was wondering if you could shed some light on how a story is approached differently for multimedia vs. text. Is there a different philosophy when a journalist has to let pictures and videos tell a story without getting in the way of it?

There is no one multimedia model. We try to embark upon each project with fresh eyes. Each subject determines its own mix of special reporting, research and interactive design. Unlike automated feed and search-based approaches, we would manually curate the story for quality and cohesion. Through 15 streams of information spanning news, visuals and data, we carefully pieced together this puzzle into a single fluid narrative – putting the story in its total cross-media context in a way only multimedia can achieve.

Q. Do you feel that these sorts of multimedia projects afford people deep, contextual knowledge without them having to go through 20 odd pages of print to get the same breadth of detail? In other words, can this sort of journalism replace traditional reported pieces?

Photography in particular is unparalleled at conveying information with power and immediacy. We would weave together stories, pictures, video, graphics and data so that each piece of information advances the story within an immersive mixed-media experience. This accessible framework would deliver both immediate impact and greater depth for those that sought it.

There are different degrees of production and in-depth multimedia is not a replacement for existing forms of journalism. However, for the appropriate subject, it can deliver unequalled emotion, clarity and understanding.

Q. In countries and regions where high-speed Internet is still not very prevalent and where broadband is not accessible, could such stories pose limits on readership, as they tend to be time consuming and extensive? Is that a problem?

Lack of broadband connectivity is a barrier for many, but multimedia need not always equate to bandwidth-intensive video. Our interactive visual timeline is a case in point. I would argue that language and complete lack of connectivity for many are greater barriers. That said, rebranded editions of Times of Crisis were simultaneously launched on client web sites from Australia to France, Germany to the Gulf. Whereas Reuters content traditionally feeds into our clients’ products, this shows how we can be end-producers for our clients on stories with global resonance.

Q. Despite the effectiveness of such multimedia projects, why do you think more mainstream organizations are not doing these types of stories? Did Reuters encounter any resistance when you embarked on these initiatives?

Rich multimedia demands editorial time and creative resources, as does all special coverage. For those willing to invest in production, the reward is compelling, distinctive site-building content. Finding new ways to engage audiences has to be a key step towards securing new streams of revenue.

Reuters has the advantage of a truly global presence and teams working in every medium. We continue to use this basis to explore new approaches to information gathering, visualisation and interactivity to evolve storytelling.