Tag Archives: news

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.

Watching The Sausage Get Made

Making news — writing articles, interviewing people, editing video — it is often compared to sausage getting made. No one wants to see it until it’s nice and tidy, and hopefully tasty.

But with the advent of social media and a 24-hour news cycle, more and more people are now getting to watch the sausage get made.

On Wednesday, April 17, 2013, that sausage was ugly. It was early in the afternoon when I started seeing tweets that CNN was reporting that a suspect had been identified in the Boston bombings. I pulled up CNN.com on my computer at work and started listening to John King.

It was all according to sources close to the investigation. No one had confirmed this; no one was talking about it. But CNN is a reputable news source, right, so it must be right, right?

Wrong. And not just a little wrong, very wrong.

Not only was there no suspect identified, but King had gone as far as to report that this person had been arrested. Again, quite wrong.

Every network and local station had scrambled to get on air, to get reporters and photographers to the federal courthouse to await the arrival of this mystery suspect. A bomb threat was called into the courthouse causing an evacuation and confusion. And for what?

For nothing.

King’s “source” was wrong. King was wrong. CNN was wrong. And all of the stations, newspapers, and online outlets that reported, “As CNN is reporting…” were wrong.

At the end of the day, no one was arrested. A suspect had not been identified. And CNN was backpedaling like a monkey on a unicycle.

It was a sad day for Journalism.

Differences – And Similarities? – Between Italian and US Courtrooms

I was watching the coverage of the Amanda Knox appeal today and at one point after it was announced the verdict had been overturned, a commentator from CNN was walking the audience through the differences between Italian courts and US courts.

He mentioned the difference of how judges are appointed, how juries are chosen, and in a closing statement, before sending it back to Wolf Blitzer, he mentioned how there was a crucifix hanging from the wall in the Italian court.

I asked the question on my Facebook wall, “A CNN commentator just pointed out a crucifix on the wall in the Amanda Knox Italian courtroom saying US courtrooms don’t have religious symbols on the wall. Do you think the motto ‘In God We Trust’ that adorns many courtroom walls falls under that symbol?”

I’d be interested in hearing your point of view. Please add it in the comment section here or on my Facebook wall.

Paying For News – Who Does It?

Last week, Jeff Fager, the executive producer for 60 Minutes spoke at the Excellence in Journalism Conference in New Orleans. Among other things, he declared that CBS News is not going to pay for content. He went on to say, “If there’s ever any suggestion that we have to pay for something we just walk away and find another story.”

Almost exactly a week later, on 60 Minutes, a story aired about two sister cities in California and Japan and their connection before and after the tsunami that hit the region in Japan in March 2011.

In the piece, Bob Simon reports, “At our invitation, she came back to Otsuchi…” He was talking about a woman from Fort Bragg, California going to visit the sister city of  Otsuchi, Japan.

Does the invitation include having expenses paid? A tweet directly to 60 Minutes, as well as an open question via Twitter went unanswered.

Anyone have the answer?

Word Of Mouth Travels Fast – Word Of Twitter Travels Faster

Imagine my surprise as I sat at home working yesterday and I saw a message from NBC News’ Twitter account saying there had been a plane crash at Ground Zero. I immediately searched Twitter for any other recognition of this alleged crash. I couldn’t find any.

But I did find plenty of people who were already re-tweeting the initial message.

Within moments, there were also lots of people — fellow journalists and people from NBC alike — coming to the defense of NBC saying the account had been hacked and a crash had not happened. But the messages from the NBC account kept coming. One said a plane was missing. Then another was from the alleged hackers claiming responsibility.

In less than ten minutes from the initial tweet,  both the NBC account and the hackers’ account were frozen. It was drastically different than weeks before when Fox News’ account had been hacked and the messages stayed up for days.

But people were still re-tweeting the initial message. Perhaps, though, it could be argued, other people were more vigorously posting messages indicating that the account had been hacked and the messages weren’t true. I was in the later group, trying to ease fears and correct wrongs, because as fast as word travels by mouth, it travels even faster by Twitter.

The whole time this was happening I couldn’t help but think of Ryan Osborn, the director of social media at NBC. In an interview with MSNBC, which was later further reported by VentureBeat, Ryan said around the time of Hurricane Irene he had received a message expressing concern for his family. When he responded asking who was on the other end of the message, the writer indicated it was his next door neighbor and there was an attachment… which Ryan opened.

I have not heard more as to whether it was that attachment that, in fact, did NBC in, but it’s something to keep in mind. Don’t open attachments from unknown sources, because it could lead to messages like these being spread through the interwebs. And as fast as word of mouth travels, it can travel even faster on Twitter.

Have you ever been the victim of hacking? What did you do to fix it?