Tools for online journalism in 2009

Tools for journalists are going to be a interesting area to watch for developments during 2009.  It has been heavily reported, and will continue to be as the topic enters the mainstream, that online has overtaken print as a source of news, at least in the US.  This is largely thanks to big media organisations such as NYTimes.com, washingtonpost.com, the BBC and The Guardian throwing huge amounts of effort and investment into their online offerings.

But the transition to being the major medium for news holds certain paradoxes for staff within these organisations.  Designers and developers have often bemoaned the drawbacks inherent in web publishing, e.g.

  • difficulty in overcoming the rigid nature of the html/css layout process ( static pages, templating etc )
  • a lack of flexible tools ( compared to print apps like InDesign, Quark, Photoshop etc )
  • lack of immediacy in delivery of content ( compared to print, the workflow of getting a new ‘page’ onto the screen is positively excrutiating )

Coupled with these challenging problems is the perception, widely held, of online delivery as cheap and immediate.  This inevitably leads to a stand-off between designers and developers, who work hard to make a website fast, appealing and accessible, along with a CMS  which needs to be almost infinitely flexible within rigid boundaries; and editors, who feel they have lost individuality, spontaneity and a certain amount of control over their own content.

During 2009 I think we will hear a lot more about:

  • tools available for journalists and editors which will enable them to more easily create and distribute innovative, unique content
  • automated mechanisms for updating and releasing content — eg. data sources that can be managed, amended or replaced easily and discretely by journalists or other third parties
  • tools for data visualisation (this one’s been floating around for a long time now, but this year will see it break into the mainstream in more innovative and accessible ways ie. usable apps that journalists can actually employ without having to learn a programming language)
  • packaged-up newspaper CMSs — how different can each newspaper’s needs be?  And yes, Django is probably the answer to this one, but there will be others.
  • the standardisation of news — consumption via RSS renders a nifty design unnecessary.  Google News has undergone development and is gaining traction — it is already vital in the unique views chase.  How long before news as a content item is standardised into a W3C recognised format alongside audio, video etc.?  How long before, as Jeff Jarvis proposed, all news is distributed by Google?
  • greater integration between journalists and development teams.  NYTimes.com, The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian are examples of media groups which have already started to combine their editorial and technical staff to produce better content more quickly.

Chase Davis said it very well last year,

“Do most journalists need to learn how to code? No. Should some? Yes…If you like programming, do it. If you don’t, find another technology you enjoy: Flash, CSS design, audio/video — whatever. No matter what, you can’t avoid technology.”

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