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Toward a New Journalism: Liveblogging from SEJ 2007 Conference
Emily Gertz, 8 Sep 07

link to short filmI've been at the annual conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists for the past few days. I have a lot to report, but for now, here's my semi-live blogging from today's plenary: Toward a New Journalism.

Oh, and: click on the image at left for cool, very short film produced by SEJ member Peter Dykstra and some of his CNN colleagues to set up the discussion of digital journalism, on the vital question of "How Do You Get Your News?" We saw it just before the discussion below kicked off.

Judy Muller, Ass. Prof of Journalism, Annenberg School of Communication, University of So. Calif:: Ten yrs ago 1 in 50 got their news on the internet; today, 1 in 3 (Pew research)

Vikki Porter, Director, Knight Digital Media Center: More ppl like the journos here are more enthusiastic than your editors and your news orgs; they're afraid, not sure how to embrace it, waiting for someone to provide the blueprint. My ctr trains in partnership with UCal Berkeley, traditional journos in new media skills.

For every seat in our 20-seat training program, we have 15 250 applicants.

Consumer is way far ahead of us in going online. Pew says 40M ppl get their science information on the internet. And those ppl are smart ppl -- go to the original source, go to check information. The biggest opportunities are yet to be exploited by journalists.

The State of News Media 2007: typology on why the web isn't being exploited like it should be by news orgs. -- the depth of good journalism isn't being put on line, instead it's shovelware.

Journos can't wait for their orgs to catch up. Have to forge ahead.

Judy Muller: How do we adapt to the role of the citizen journalist?

Amy Gahran, freelancer, media consultant: News was hampered by difficulty of publishing -- it's done by large org because it take a lot of capital to do it. Those constraints don't exist anymore. So what is journalism about? Who can with do it with? The opportunities for others to contribute to what we do are abundant.

JM: Figuring out which sources are credible is a challenge.

AG: And you have to be prepared for critique.

Tom Murphy, Founder and Director of Journalists are worried about the individual taking control of the media. The web is the first medium where the end user takes control.

Each person when they come to the story will take different courses through the story -- someday that's what all journalism will be like. [Hypercard, hypertext...]

Judy Muller: I hate the idea that the narrative is dead. But online you can keep ppl there if you have a compelling narrative, substantive and worth sticking with.

Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News: Darwin, perhaps the first environmental journalist, taught us that the species who survive aren't always the biggest, but they're the ones who can adapt.

Cut hours at Merc to work on online crossover project with KQED. Quest: four platforms: 0.5 hour weekly tv show; weekly radio show of 5-7 minutes; interactive assets on the web site including all of the tv and radio pieces, archived for free, flickr photosets, blogs where scientists around the bay area blog on a whole bunch of topics; educational components w/online material to print out, plus workshops to train teachers on how to work with students on enviro issues.

Encourages to look for partnerships with public radio stations, public tv stations. Already some good partnerships going on.

JM: David Ledford has said digital media is going to save our industry.

DL: [Delaware News Journal] With niche publishing and a 24/7 environment, we decided not to build silos, but instead to integrate everything as much as possible.
This is all about newsroom culture: "report for online; publish for print."

Decided in late 2005 to step on the gas on this; were doing only 100 updates a month. Now 1500; about 250 video stories as well. Commesurate increase in page traffic.

Databases give depth, pov: projects launched online at noon Friday, encouraging readers to buy the print paper with the narrative story on Sunday.

Easy navigation is paramount. They hired a flash expert to help with nav design; a former Dow expert on database structure.

Putting a lot of civic data online: crime stats, housing costs, school info.

Old fashioned gumshoeing journalism is still important. Ex; "Fear, violence strain staff at state hospital" series. State launched five investigations, feds one; and two staffers indicted for abuse, rape.

VP: Not just a newsroom issue, it's a business issue. We're in an industry that's tied to an old business model, broadcast or print, that is dead. And the business side has yet to come up with the successful model. And the newsroom is paying the price. But the newsroom is where the info comes, and you have to sell it. So you have to think about advertising, about eyeballs. But you also have opportunities to be entrepreneurs. We have two "mainstream" journalists on this panel who have made it in digital.

AG: You'll have an easier time getting the editorial resources if you get the business and ad team on board. Papers are leaving money on the table, and you're paying for it [with buyouts, shrinking newsrooms].

DL: New positions, a lot of training, someone birddogging the web site 24/7.

Money: our online operation is growing 40 percent a year. Print and online advertising attached to [those evergreen community information sites].

TM: Any time we take on a new medium in journalism, it takes us about 25-30 years to figure out how to do it. We're about halfway through that cycle. It's a long game and there are business models that will make it successful.

Q'er criticizes AG's comment about leaving money on the table.

AG: Case in point, the vast maj of advertising being done on sites right now is banner ads. They don't work, they're nearly never contextual. When ads are relevant, they add value. Find the ad networks that will work well for different sections of the paper. When the ads are contextual, clickthru rates are better and your revenue will rise.

Mobile content and feeds: not serving ads. Now it's about distributing your content and monetizing all those streams.

Q: We've avoided that -- gives readers idea that the advertiser is controlling.

AG: You're not making that decision, it's algorithmic. You are not selling news to audience, you are selling markets to advertisers. That's the bottom line business that news organizations are in. Stop seeing ads as a conflict of interest, start seeing them as of potential service to everybody.

VP: You've got to get the terms "we don't do it that way," "who controls it," out of your vocabulary. If you're going to succeed, you're working as a news org -- not for print, not for broadcast, for a tool that comes with the opportunities of all those other mediums.

[Another panelist points out that ads are contextual in print papers: business ads in business section, travel ads in travel section. This is "traditional" newspaper operations.]

JM: What about the public tv/public radio model?

Paul: It's more complicated to partner with for profit tv and radio, but it seems complicated to me. Quest mission is to increase science literacy in the Bay Area. We give it away -- we encourage ppl to embed our video player. The funders can look at all the eyeballs that learn science.

Q: DL, what's happened to the circulation of your Sunday paper since you started to do the tie-ins?

DL: we had to work hard at this, but it has stayed pretty stable. We're down about 3% on weekday and Sunday.

We are local, local, local. We don't break news in newspapers, much anymore. Enterprise, analysis, investigative work that connects with the community.

Q: How are readers going to find us?
TM: We're entering a phase I call "Tower of Babel" journalism. People are going to have to search and sift. It's not top-down anymore, we just have to figure out how to work with that. And long term, there are new technologies we don't know about that yet.

For now: faith in brand names. And only 120 of the reporters at the NYT regularly put material online. That says a lot about the resistance in the profession.

Last Q: 20 yrs from now, how do you envision the typical newsroom?

PR: I don't think much news is going to be printed on newspaper, that day is coming much sooner than we think.

I've been in rooms with 300 19 yr olds, teaching at Stanford: maybe 10 percent raise hands when asked if they buy a paper, but 100 percent raise their hands when asked if they get news online.

Maybe the business model of the paper newspaper can't be saved. For ppl under 25, the internet has been around ever since they've been born. It's in their DNA. You're going to see devices, roll-up screens, and we'll leave the trees in the forest.

VP: I hate to say this, but after 20 years in print, I can't stand the term, "Save the Newspaper." You have to be versatile, platform agnostic. The good newsroom of the future will not be platform centric, it'll be digital. One thing we're not dealing with right now is mobile delivery -- that's the up and coming platform.

Now all the journos who've been laid off are possible competitors for your news organization -- now they own the press. They're going to be working with the news organizations under contract; fewer employee-based newsrooms.

TM: I think the newsroom pretty much stays the same -- reporters, editors, ppl dedicated to the applied art of journalism, which we really need in this democracy and need to fight for. If we do a good job, the ppl will come to us from the Tower of Babel, they'll realize they can't read every blog on their screen and come away informed.

We'll still have newspapers, even if they're on some other [platform, delivery medium, blackberry, rollup screen, etc.]

DL: It matters what you do. There's going to be value in it. Journalism, ppl who've been doing this a while feel it's God's work, you're trying to put a a light where sunshine is a disinfectant. Show citizen what's really going on in government. There's going to be a need for that. When you talk to ppl at, ppl who are online-only, they'll tell you it comes from the bedrock story. Without that, there isn't going to be much to talk about.

AG: In the 5-10 yr time frame, if news operations are smart, they'll start focusing more on conversation rather than publication, engaging community from ground up instead of just delivering it. And in 15-20 years, you'd better all be delivering in mobile, and Mandarin!

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Excellent! For those of us unable to attend the forum in person, it's great to see these comments online. One idea/request -- why not hold a 2 or 3-week e-conference on new journalism?

Posted by: Ron Mader on 9 Sep 07

re: vikki porter, referenced above as "For every seat in our 20-seat training program, we have 15 applicants."

I believe Porter said for every 20 slots in her training program, there are *250* applicants. For the last workshop, which was held in May, there were 269 journalists applying for 20 positions. (I was told this because I was one of the many applicants not selected!)

Take-home message -- there are a lot of us working journalists (many from the print world) seeking digital media training.

Posted by: Cheryl on 13 Sep 07

Thanks for the correction, Cheryl. (A good illustration of the pitfalls of liveblogging: one pretty much has to just slap it up and move onward with no time to confirm the numbers, unlike reporting. Which is why I made sure to note it was live from the scene).

What I'd love to communicate to fellow journalists is that most of this stuff is relatively easy to pick up, and a lot easier now than when I was bootstrapping myself into online media 13 years ago: the computer programs are much more capable and easier to use; the how-to books are more abundant; and there's a vast assortment of online materials.

Is there a mental leap in going from ink-and-paper to digital that makes it seem harder? Is it the question of having to pick up production skills at all when the split between reporting the news and producing the physical paper has been around for so long?

Posted by: Emily Gertz on 13 Sep 07



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