Last week a reporter from Argentina’s Clarin asked me what I thought about the French government’s plan to spend $22.5 million over three years to give 18-24 year-olds a free, yearlong subscription to a newspaper of their choice. The biggest problem of many that I see with this plan is that it doesn’t address the true issue with news consumption among young people. Here’s what I’d do with $22.5 million to invest in the future of news — sponsor a grant competition for people 18-24 to conceptualize and create solutions to their peer’s lack of interest in current affairs.
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Speaking this week to journalists in Argentina, there is much concern about the closure this week of award-winning Spanish Web site, Soitu.es. A student at Universidad del Norte Santo Tomas de Aquino in Tucuman said she felt “heart-broken” by the news.
She and others have been asking me whether this is strong evidence that new online-only news organizations will never work. My question back to them: Why do you expect them to work? We are in an era of innovation and entrepreneurship. We are early in the process of leaving behind the security of mass media and we can expect to see many failures as brave journalists look for new ways to re-engage a shrinking news audience and to make money doing it.
Twenty years ago the Chinese military killed perhaps thousands of people as they crushed a pro-democracy movement in Beijing. Two weeks ago I stood in Tiananmen Square for the first time, looking for any remaining hint of the energy and tragedy of that day.
What did I find? Unable to speak Chinese and woefully ignorant of the subtleties of country’s recent history, I was able to take mental snapshots of China, without knowing the signifance or meaning of those images in my head. But today I sit here writing a blog post that my friends in China probably won’t be able to read. And I find it incredibly ironic that while the Chinese government let me freely wander Tianament Square two weeks ago, today it prevents me from speaking freely with friends — or enemies — who live there. In the interconnected world of social media, I feel the spirit and tension of Tiananmen more today while I’m writing this blog post than I did two weeks ago standing in that concrete pasture 7,000 miles away.
Here are my snapshots of China. I’d like your help thinking about what they will mean to us on the 40th anniversary of Tiananmen and the world in which my daughter will be entering when she turns 21 on June 5, 2029.
Full Screen Slideshow
(Conflict of Interest Disclosure: My airfare to Beijing was paid for by the China Internet Information Center, which is controlled and directly funded in large part by the Information Office of the State Council. I was invited to China for the purpose of speaking with the staff of China.org.cn about online journalism, through an ongoing partnership between that Web site and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.)
Following the news that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is likely to go online-only if it stops printing sometime after March 10, Ken Doctor wrote on his blog, Content Bridges, uses some loose estimates to wonder if newspaper newsrooms are about to go from employing 44,000 journalists to 6,600.
A recent scan of newspaper mastheads and some loose estimates of my own put the number of online journalists currently working in the U.S. at between four and five thousand.
FAQs are a good way to introduce students to online news writing and editing for three reasons.
- It gets them thinking about conversational journalism.
- It gets them writing shorter.
- It gets them using links.
The key to good FAQs — of course — is to formulate a good set of questions. A good question is at the start of all good reporting. And to formulate a good set of questions, the FAQ writer needs to have a very good sense of his or her audience. There are a few questions to consider when thinking about writing an FAQ.
- Who is the audience?
- What would they already need to know to get value out of this FAQ?
- What search terms would they use to find this FAQ?
- How would they use the information they find on the FAQ
Consider those questions and see if you can answer them for each of these examples of online FAQs that employ different styles. (more…)
If I had to pick only one difference between the mindset of print and online journalists, it’s the way they plan. Online journalists are more likely to have to collaborate with a large group, they are often working on longer time horizons on products that has longer shelf-lives. They are dealing with lots of smaller moving pieces and have to try to get management approval using static words and images to represent a project that will have a lot of animation and user-driven customization.
So, if you want to work online doing something other than breaking news you have to learn how to plan. In my experience, any online project — from an election returns database to a deadline explainer on the capture of Saddam Hussein — needs six things:
- A product concept
- A storyboard
- Asset management
- A clear workflow
- A financial budget
- A testing and quality assurance procedure
The idea of using social media to report a story is appalling to some journalists. They have a certain germophobia when it comes to the Internet. Because it is littered with rumor and lies, they never use it as a source for a story, they say. They’re right, of course. Social media like Twitter and Wikipedia are littered with rumor and lies, but so are most city halls and almost every other place journalists ply their trade.
Social media, I tell my students who have been scared away from it by other professors and editors, are like all sources — a great place to start and a lousy place to finish.
Armed with the same skepticism and curiosity with which I treat any other source, I try to teach students to stop worrying and love the hyperlink.
I normally try to avoid giving public advice to my former employers. But, with it having little chance of helping or hurting any of my former colleagues at this late point in the decision process, I’m going to fire away.
Dear Washington Post Deciders,
You need to merge the print and online newsrooms immediately. There is no time to spare. Oh, and you need to keep them separate.
I can’t wait to read the results of this study by Serena Carpenter at Arizona State University.
I’m particularly interested to see whether there’s a disconnect between the words that hiring managers use in their postings and the words that journalists themselves use to describe online news jobs. Also, job postings are an important “leading indicator” of changing duties and skills in the industry. My survey describes the present state of affairs, and it doesn’t do a good job predicting what the future will be or what hiring managers WANT the future to be.
Most often, when I’m talking with folks about online journalism the conversation centers around online publishing. But a quick hit last Friday in The News & Observer’s Under the Dome blog reminds us not to forget about using the Web as a reporting tool. David Ingram used LinkedIn to research a former Wachovia lobbyist, and found a misleading profile of the lobbyist. And, of course, there’s the New York Daily News’ recent use of MySpace to cover the story about Bristol Palin’s pregnancy.
Here’s a quick rundown of some prominent social networking and user-generated content sites and how to research them.