Tag Archives: media

While media changes, the goal remains the same

Despite changing landscape, outlets must still cater to target audiences to remain relevant

Ten years ago, Andrea Courtois was just starting her career as an assignment editor in Providence, Rhode Island. Ten years ago, Rafat Ali was in the throes of his first startup, paidContent. Ten years ago, Justin Ellis was a reporter and columnist for the Portland Press Herald of Maine.

Ten years may not seem like a long time to anyone over the age of 30, but in the world of journalism, ten years has meant significant changes and adaptation. Though the three journalists just mentioned came from different media within the same industry, and had very different ways of conducting their jobs ten years ago, now how they research stories, cultivate sources, and follow leads is nearly identical. Nearly all of it is done online.

Courtois is now an assignment editor in Boston; Ali has sold his first startup to Guardian Media Group and launched a second, Skift; and Ellis is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

All three of them are quite aware of the changing dynamics of digital journalism. “Print and magazines have their place,” said Ali via Skype. “But daily newspapers in the U.S. do not make sense economically.”

Ali created his first startup, paidContent, in 2002 as an online news outlet that focused on aspects of digital media including business dealings, moves, and general news. In 2008, he sold this startup to Guardian Media Group. He took some time off, and in 2012 launched his new startup, Skift. Skift’s business model is providing news, information, data, and services to all sectors of travel.

In order to be sustainable, outlets need to diversify and think about other ways to brand themselves, suggested Ali. In addition to writing articles, sharing data, and engaging with readers via social media channels, Skift also hosts conferences and events. “There is a creative renaissance in conferences and events,” said Ali. “I think TED changed how we look at things, that we can build events around a certain subject manner. The Atlantic, Quartz, (The) New York Times, they’re all building revenues around events.”

PHOTOS: 15 minutes as a television assignment editor

Inviting audiences to events can help readership and loyalty. And so can engaging them online. Courtois tries to do that every day as an assignment editor at WBZ-TV. During a recent interview, Courtois said there’s a wide variance of acceptance of digital journalism throughout television newsrooms. She indicated that the level to which these newer platforms are used to enhance the traditional one depends on direction from news directors, producers, and ownership.

For her own growth and knowledge, Courtois said she takes the lead in many cases. “I try to check out whatever everyone is talking about,” she said. “Whether it’s Instagram or Snapchat or anything else, I usually sign up for an account to at least check it out.”

Whereas ten years ago Courtois would spend her time reading newspapers online or in print, these days she spends most of her time using TweetDeck cultivating stories for her crews.

“I set up (a reporter’s) entire story yesterday using Twitter,” she said, while sitting at her desk. “And people will tweet me tips all the time.”

As she said this, she stopped mid-sentence to turn up the volume on the police scanner to listen to a dispatcher talk about a reported attempted abduction. Courtois still uses more traditional means to get stories – whether it be a police scanner, email, or a simple phone call – but she said social media and digital journalism are what get most of her attention these days.

She even remembers when she signed up for Facebook in April 2007. “It was the day of the Virginia Tech shooting,” she recalled. “I had an intern tell me about Facebook, and I signed up to try to find students from Rhode Island who were there.”

“I also work to get permission from people to use their photos,” Courtois said. “Once I get that, I email it to everyone from reporters to producers to graphic designers, to let them know the information and the appropriate credit.”

The pictures and videos she finds online travel fast, much faster than when there was just one evening newscast and a morning paper.

Justin Ellis spends a lot of his time at Nieman Journalism Lab evaluating from where journalism has come and where it’s headed.

“Newspapers are not dead,” he said decisively during an interview at the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. “But they need to figure out different ways to be more effective in how they’re distributed.”

Ellis went on to say that The Washington Post and The Boston Globe have recently been able to lean on wealthy owners to evaluate their next steps, including how to reach and serve audiences, which includes a heavy focus on mobile devices.

“A news website now has more than 50 percent of its traffic from mobile,” he said. “Places need to pay attention to creating custom experiences on mobile.”

Ellis doesn’t necessarily see it as a dire time in the news industry, but every outlet needs to figure out what its audience wants and needs. He said those outlets then need to be able to service that need.

“When you’re not consumed by scale, it lets you hold on and thrive,” he said. He pointed out that niche organizations, like Ali’s Skift, don’t need to be all things to all people, but they do need to do what they’re doing well. “These small- to medium-size websites with a dedicated audience can do really well,” explained Ellis.

But if editors and owners want their outlet to reach the largest possible audience without being true to a dedicated audience, it may not do as well. Ellis added that niche doesn’t need to be as specific as a media outlet that solely focuses on small businesses; it can be local television stations or newspapers. “The news in Boston is different than in Lowell than in Springfield than in Portland,” he said. “But readers of The Boston Globe aren’t going to the site just for Patriots news; they want to know about news in their community.”

Ellis said in order for news organizations to continue building community they need to focus on their social media presence and the comment sections of their websites. Ellis said Twitter has become an accepted source and not a fringe tool, and fewer people are skeptical of it. But the audience there is still small, and the reach is far smaller than on Facebook. “The people on Twitter are generally people in media or tech or work in entertainment. Electronic media for them is already the norm,” he said. Instead, organizations need to be active on Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, and pay attention to their comments.

“We’ve reached a point with comments where in order to make them effective, they [news organizations] need to know what their goal is,” Ellis explained. Additionally, outlets need to spend time moderating them, putting effort into watching them, and laying down the law on what is acceptable and what is not early and often.

Recently Kara Swisher’s latest venture, Re/code, decided to go the way of Reuters and eliminate comments on articles. The time spent monitoring comments on their own site wasn’t worth it, Ellis said. Instead, Swisher and the site’s co-founder, Walt Mossberg, wrote to readers that the conversations would continue on social media platforms. “In effect, we believe that social media is the new arena for commenting, replacing the old onsite approach that dates back many years,” they wrote.

“In an ideal world, investors would be discussing things (in the comments section), but they don’t have the time to put into that,” Ellis said. “Frankly, the conversation takes place on Twitter.” But that conversation is segmented, there’s no community, and it’s limited to 140 characters at a time, he added, which doesn’t necessarily help to build brand.

While it’s unclear where journalism is headed, all three seem to agree there is an expected focus on community, digital footprint, and mobile. But how news organizations, big and small, get there isn’t clearly outlined. For now, as Ali explained, organizations will need to focus on making themselves and their product so important to their customers that if that product went away tomorrow it would be missed.

10 Tweeps to follow

Editor’s note: As part of my master’s class, I have been asked to write about ten Twitter accounts I find helpful to my beat. My beat, in this case, is media.

In no particular order:

Brian Stelter @brianstelter – Brian Stelter is CNN’s senior media correspondent and hosts CNN’s show, “Reliabale Sources.” He used to work at The New York Times. Brian also wrote the book, “Top of the Morning.”

David Carr @carr2n – David Carr writes the Media Equation for The New York Times.

David Folkenflik @davidfolkenflik – David Folkenflik is the media correspondent for NPR. Until recently he was following me. I hope it wasn’t something I said.

David Cohn @Digidave – David Cohn is Chief Content Officer and Founding Editor at Circa, and is previously of Spot.Us.

Jay Rosen @jayrosen_nyu – Jay Rosen is a journalism professor at New York University. He is often critical of the media, both print and broadcast.

Jeff Jarvis @jeffjarvis – Jeff Jarvis is a professor at City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, directing its new media program. He seems to always be on Twitter and is not one to hold his tongue.

(Jim) Romenesko @romenesko – Jim Romenesko has a media blog in which he provides both news and commentary.

Lost Remote @lostremote – Lost Remote is a blog all about social TV. (Another good one to follow is @corybe, now of @breakingnews, but who co-founded Lost Remote.

Nieman Journalism Lab @niemanlab – The Nieman Lab evaluates media and where the industry and its culture are headed.

Poynter. @Poynter – In St. Petersburg, Florida, Poynter is a journalism school and clearing house for debates on journalistic ethics.

I have a Twitter list of these accounts plus some others. You can find that here.

Looking ahead – will journalism survive?

At the age of 12 I knew I wanted to be a journalist. I watched the Today Show as I was eating breakfast and getting ready for school. I watched the evening news as my mother got dinner ready. I was in awe of the reporters telling stories from all over the world. That’s what I wanted to do.

I did it. I went to school. I got a degree in broadcast journalism. I studied newspaper journalism. I wrote for our university’s student-run, independent daily newspaper. I had multiple internships. I was ready.

I graduated from college 14 years ago. In the time between deciding what I “wanted to be when I grew up” and then, the journalism industry has changed drastically. It has changed even more since graduating.

Fourteen years ago there was no such thing as a smartphone, but now it’s being credited with saving journalism. Frank Rose writes in his piece, “How the Smartphone Ushered In a Golden Age of Journalism,” “Statistics from The (New York) Times say roughly half of the people who read it now do so with their mobile devices, and that jibes with figures from the latest Pew report on the news media broadly.” In fact, the Pew report indicates that people with smartphones are reading more news than ever before.

Additionally, reporters are using smartphones to help them tell a story. They can take pictures and video to place into their pieces. They can look up data and information while on the road – and even place a call using the same phone. Once the story is written – which can be done on that same smartphone – the reporter can share the story using social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Clay Shirky suggests current journalists “get good with numbers” – in other words, focus on data journalism. “Learning to code is the gold standard, but even taking an online class in statistics and getting good at Google spreadsheets will help,” Shirky writes. He adds journalists should learn to use social media not just to share their stories, but to help cultivate them. Use the platforms to gather story ideas and sources. They can also be used to crowdsource photos and multimedia that can be used in their reports.

But with more businesses foregoing the traditional newspaper and television ads in exchange for far less expensive online advertising and even building their own apps, the funding to support these endeavors is falling by the wayside.

Gannett announced this summer it is spinning off its print business, separating it from its broadcast business. This has free-fall written all over it. The New York Times quotes Craig Huber, an independent research analyst as saying, “It makes it a more risky portfolio because they don’t have a digital segment to fall back on or TV stations to fall back on. They are probably going to feel more pressure as a stand-alone newspaper company.”

So newspapers fall apart and leave us looking at all of our news online. Is that bad? Shirky suggests in his piece  “Newspapers and the Unthinkable” from 2009,

“Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.”

How do you do that? How do you strengthen journalism? Outlets need to look at and change their funding mechanisms. They need to give their reporters and editors the support they need. And they need to be aware that the audience they have had will likely be further splintered. But people still want to read good reporting, and that is why this industry will survive. Will it be as robust as it was 20 or 30 years ago? No. Andrew Leonard writes in Salon, “In her book “The People’s Platform,” Astra Taylor reported that one 2011 study found ‘44.7 percent fewer reporters working in the [San Francisco] Bay area than a decade ago.'”

But will journalism survive? Of course it will. Will it look even more different than when I was a 12-year-old eating cereal watching the Today Show? You betcha.

Listening To Your Audience

Go to nearly any news site in the world and at the end of an article you can leave your comments. In some cases you need to be part of a community, in others you can submit anonymously. But almost always on any news outlet’s site you can leave your comments.

This week Richard Connor of the Portland Press Herald once again made headlines for making a decision for his paper. (You may remember him as the man who apologized for publishing a picture of Muslims on 9/11.) This time it was disabling the comment section on every, single article.

He wrote to the audience explaining why the decision was made. It was posted on the website, and I would include that link except less than 12 hours after it was posted it was removed.

When I asked via Twitter to the people behind the PPH’s Twitter account why the link was down the only response I got was this:

 

I asked a couple of people I know who work at the paper and none were willing to go on the record as to why the link was down but the comments still disabled.

That was until this morning when, without notice or explanation, the comment sections were back working. It’s under a different program, and I’m sure staff will argue easier to moderate. But still nothing from the publisher as to the process the paper went through or what they expect from readers or even why they switched.

As for commenting on articles I can see both sides. Engaging your audience is helpful for storytelling and discussion. You will find amazing people, insights and additional stories within those comments.

But sometimes you also find hateful, disrespectful comments. Those are the ones that often get too much of the attention. Very rarely will you find people who openly agree with those comments, but they’re out there.

In the end, I think what makes me so confused about what happened with the PPH this week is that it went from a very open process to a very discreet, secretive one. When media is looking for higher approval ratings and transparency, this doesn’t seem like the way to do it. Hiding from your audience will only make them question you more.

What do you think of news sites allowing comments on articles? Who should be responsible for moderating those comments?