Archive for the ‘newspapers’ Category

Tools for online journalism in 2009

December 29, 2008

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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Jim Brady steps down as executive editor of washingtonpost.com

December 23, 2008

One of the most interesting points about the news that Jim Brady will be stepping down as executive editor of washingtonpost.com is a reference to the clear division of labour that exists between the online and print operations there.

The article, by Washington Post staff writer Zachary A. Goldfarb, says,

“Since the early days of washingtonpost.com, the leadership of the Web site has been separate from that of the newspaper.”

While this doesn’t surprise me, it does emphasise a misunderstanding, if not ignorance, of their own assets that afflicts not only washingtonpost.com but newspapers everywhere.  The segregation of the two information streams is myopic and self-defeating.  Goldfarb goes on,

“That began to change earlier this year when Katharine Weymouth was named chief executive of Washington Post Media, which consolidated the online and print operations into one unit.”

This year?  This year was 2008, people.  How many years ago was repurposing content a hot buzzword?  How long will it take most newspapers to catch on that their staff is their greatest asset, be they editorial or technological?  Your website should be serving the journalists who work for you, not existing in isolation, serving up trimmed down content in bite-size chunks.  Your web team should be a creative force.  Treating your website as an appendage to your main body of business is a worthless and outdated concept, and those institutions who realise this the quickest will dominate online news.

Robert Niles at ojr.org argues that,

“…[the] news industry’s collective failure to accurately portray the world over the past decade has done as much, if not more, to drive readers to the Internet than any inherent attractiveness of this new medium. If existing news businesses wish to have any hope of surviving the current downturn, in any medium, they cannot continue to perform as they have over the past decade.”

I read that claim as a call for innovation in the news industry.  Technical innovation.  Combining the best journalists with the best technology and tools available will enable us to portray the world more accurately than ever.  Niles continues,

“But no newspaper is a monopoly anymore. They all are now just voices among many others in broader information market, grown by the Web. In this new information market, news organization must stop acting like a monopoly and instead adopt and amplify a more powerful editorial voice.”

This is exactly the time to consolidate your offerings and present a single, powerful, recognisable voice across print, online, TV, radio and any other channel to the market.

Jeff Jarvis argues that the LA Times should go online only

December 20, 2008

Everyone’s favourite creator and founding editor of Entertainment Weekly, Jeff Jarvis, today argues that since the LA Times website makes enough revenue to cover newsroom costs, they should go online only.

Although I think his economic argument is simplistic, not taking into account, for example, such things as presence and branding generated by the print edition, his argument is superficially convincing.

It is also a slightly scary proposition, positing a huge loss of jobs and possibly status apropos of what exactly? Cost savings, says Jarvis. But the loss of a large number of a newspaper’s staff, its voice, seems a high price to pay for the monetary savings made.

Indeed, Jarvis admits,

“There’s no question that the scale of the business would be smaller, much smaller. But with only edit and advertising sales costs…it could be a profitable business.”

Could be profitable?  That’s not confidence talking, there, is it?