Tag Archives: multimedia

Journalism fast and slow

For the past three years I have been writing, speaking and lecturing about narrative or “slow” journalism as one authetic and viable form of literary antidote to the bells and whistles of live feeds, multimedia storytelling and the cacophony that is today’s media landscape. I see it not as an either or situation, but a both.

In my 2008 book, Everyman News, I wrote about the popularity of longer narrative in newspapers and magazines:

“News can be delievered more quickly to the audience by other media than by a newspaper in at least a hundred, perhaps a thousand ways. ..Narrative journalism is an attempt to make the newsworthy print stories more permanent or at the very least to have the stories so painstakingly reported and written last longer than a junk email before it hits the trash bin.”

Today I read about the new British magazine,Delayed Gratification, debuting in January 2011 and celebrating what it calls “Slow Journalism” with the clever tagline, “Last to breaking news.” From its premiere issue, the editors define the magazine’s mission: 

“Print is not dead. For all the wily charms of the digital world with its tweets, feeds, blogs and apps, there is still nothing like the pleasure created by ink on paper.”

I hear a lot of people — mostly at cocktail parties– pontificating about the death of print media. Mostly they do not know what they are talking about, only quoting bloggers misquoting other people who speak third about unnamed sources who swear it is so.

It’s a big informational universe, and a duality to the needs of a varied and fickle audience. Sometimes we like our information in real time. Sometimes we want to devour 10 videos of the crime scene or the rescue or the avalanche as it is happening. And sometimes we want to read 5,000 words in a glossy, thick magazine written by a superb phrasemaker about a theory of what happened 100 years ago and its impact on popular culture.

Sometimes we want to hit delete before we are finished reading the post. Sometimes we want to save the article and keep it on th enightstand for a couple of years.  

There is room for it all. I tell that to my students at the Medill School of Journalism. And I remind myself of this as I tweet, blog, polish a magazine article or fix up a chapter in an upcoming book of 95,000 words.

Journalism can be fast. And sometimes it is not best to be first.

Journalism can be slow. Sometimes it is best to be the most thoughtful.

A combination of the two, thank you, dear Goldilocks, is journalism that is just right.  

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All the news you can spin

We played a  game of 52-Card Pick-Up when I was a kid. You probably did too. That was when you didn’t feel up to the complexities of Fish or Crazy Eights. So you threw a deck of cards in the air and whoever picked up the most cards won.

Now ABC News is doing the same thing.

With its new app for the Ipad, ABC News is allowing you to spin, shake, touch, filter, share and engage all the information it has on its news website. Sounds more like Spin the Bottle than a discovery of the day’s world events.

Which leads me to reiterate my belief as a journalist that there is no longer an editor or  gatekeeper, no longer a framework for history as it unfolds.  Just shake your laptop like a snow globe and see what falls.

It’s a presumption that all news has equal value, that all information from the Angelina Jolie interview to maggots on a plane and Chelsea’s wedding cannot be prioritized, organized, grouped together into some ladder of interest.

They say it is about your choice. But really it is not. You have no choice at all what arrives. It is absolutely random.

Shake, shake, shake, shake your news feed. Shake your news feed. 

The presumption is also that you just don’t care what you learn first as a news consumer. That whatever information arrives whenever is just fine by all of us. All of it has the same level of importance.

It is a new take on Everyman News. It is EveryWhichWay News. And it gives me the creeps.

Sure, I don’t have an Ipad and I could just be jealous.   I don’t want to spin, shake, touch, filter, share and engage. I want to read, watch, listen, comment. On what I want and need to when I want to. Not just because the snippet shows up randomly or is the most popular or lands on me like a meteor falling from the sky.

 Because I don’t care about a lot of stuff that is out there. And I do care deeply about information and news that may not appear just because I was shaking like crazy. Enduring a haphazard arrival of events is not something I embrace.

Life is already like that. My news doesn’t have to be.

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2010 and still not half the media world yet

A few weeks ago the American Society of Newspaper Editors Diversity Report came out with the latest depressing numbers. It’s worse now for women in newsrooms than it was last year. Thirty-seven percent of all newsroom employees were female in 2009, compared to 37.4 percent the year before. OK, not so much.

Except that I wrote about this in 2004 for womensenews  when the percentage of women in newswrooms was 37.23 percent. One step forward, a few steps back. Or maybe we are just running in place.  My lead then was:

 “Ambition defies the boundaries of gender. Opportunity is less democratic.”

I guess that could be my mantra.

There are the same percentage of women supervisors in newsrooms now as  in 2005– 34.8 percent, after a brief trend of minor increases. There are fewer women reporters, or 38.7 percent of  staff, compared to 39.1 percent in 2008. A woeful percentage of women are photographers, artists, videographers, or 26.9 percent, down from 27.1 percent in 2008.

 Recently businessinsider.com posted a story on the 12 most powerful women in new media, boasting that Tina Brown, Arianna Huffington and my old friend, Melinda Hennebeger, were part of a force of digital nature.   

Check out this breathless lede:

Media is not just a crotchety old man’s world. Women are making a huge impact, too.

As the media industry evolves, they are leading powerful companies, launching new ventures and redefining the future of journalism. And their success stories serve as models for those hoping to make a mark in this multi-faceted, risky business.

Isn’t it a little late in the 21st century to think it’s news that media is not just for men? I mean, how old is Brenda Starr? Seems condescending and a little ridiculous to keep saying it is not a man’s world. And a lot old.

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Wake up! It’s Transformation Time!!!

Students in Caryn Brooks’ and my Journalism Methods class

Driving to work last week, where I teach graduate and undergraduate students at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, a news story perked me up a bit.

ABC News President David Westin announced Tuesday what he is calling a ‘fundamental transformation’ of his network’s news division that will slash the payroll and re-engineer the way ABC produces news in the digital age. The network is seeking to shed several hundred jobs in the news division, or up to a quarter of the 1,400-person workforce.”

No, I do not have a ghoulish view of someone else’s unemployment. I am sorry 25 percent of ABC journalists are getting fired. But, it has long been the time for all of old media from newspapers to  broadast companies to change tactics. David Folkenflick of NPR goes on to write:

“But Westin says he finds hope in the same nimble approach that helped to ensure the survival of Nightline by keeping costs in check and enabling ABC journalists to get to stories more quickly.

“Much of the work that we do on Nightline today is shot by reporters and producers and edited by them and transmitted by the Internet by the field by them,” Westin said. “Anyone watching Nightline would never think, ‘Oh, they’re gathering their news differently or producing it differently.'”

This should not be news to a news organization. At least not in this century. Since 2003 in some classes and since 2006 in all classes, we have been teaching cross-platform multimedia vigorously across the curriculum, from freshmen clear up to the grad students. Anyone who follows the listserv or local blogs knows just how much grief we as a faculty and school  have endured because of that key move. We were damned for abandoning solid, investigative journalism, becoming button pushers. Criticism was fast and fierce and relentless: It’s nothing  but technology and software you teach. Stick to the old way. The old way was best. Who needs to know Soundslides? Why care about Premiere Elements as an investigative reporter? Where is the journalism? The journalism is in it all.

The reality is to stay alive, a journalism organization has to be nimble. And journalists moreso. That translates to the necessity for reporters to be equipped with a toolkit of marketable skills, all upheld by strong journalism traditions steeped in ethics, accuracy and transparency.

In the first year at Medill, students learn the fundamentals of news judgment, interviewing, sourcing, writing, fact-checking, database reporting, design, photography, audio and video storytelling and a splash of Flash. They end up producing audio and video stories that stand alone,  audio slideshows, as well as strong short and longer form text stories complemented by a barrage of relevant alternative story styles. What that means is they are employable.

To have considered journalism as a sacrosanct estate immune from the consequences of the economy was myopic, archaic and arrogant. And to resist the possibility that any journalist should be able to perform on at least two or more platforms with proficiency– if not mastery– is professional suicide.

I have the pleasure of teaching 15 marvelous grad students this quarter. Those are their smiling faces above.  They are smart, they are engaged and three days a week they are reporting and producing stories on specific beats in the community–from text to audio and video, slideshows and graphics. They will find jobs, they will produce journalism and they will hopefully not complain. 

On a recent American flight, I flipped through American Way magazine and read Carlton Stower’s February 2010 column, “Read All About It” concerning his take on the death of newspapers.  He wrote:

“That printed paper you folded into your briefcase and carried on the plane with you is a tried old dinosaur sadly limping away to its  dying place. All to which I say, “Balderdash!'”

OK, so I have not ever used balderdash in a a sentence, written or spoken, but I agree. It is the content that is important and an audience will arrive if the content is valuable. That means solid reporting and vetted, authentic good journalism  readers cannot get somewhere else faster. Good writing, insightful reporting, fresh ideas played out in a variety of formats. What we teach.    

The ABC story reminded me of a Christian Science Monitor column last May, “Why Journalists Deserve Low Pay,” by Robert C. Picard that initially made me angry at the headline, but then made me agree.  Picard wrote:  

“Journalists like to think of their work in moral or even sacred terms. With each new layoff or paper closing, they tell themselves that no business model could adequately compensate the holy work of enriching democratic society, speaking truth to power, and comforting the afflicted.”

Picard continues: “If value is to be created, journalists cannot continue to report merely in the traditional ways or merely re-report the news that has appeared elsewhere. They must add something novel that creates value. They will have to start providing information and knowledge that is not readily available elsewhere, in forms that are not available elsewhere, or in forms that are more useable and relevant to the audiences.”

They will have to transform. Before it is too late. Our students have until graduation. They will be fine.

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Obits: The Ultimate Everyman News

     “Dead. That’s what Mary Jones is.”

     I remember clearly the Basic Writing assignment in 1975 at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University where I was a freshman. We were to write an obituary and we were not to write it that way. That was a catchy lead, sure, but it was not the proper tone. And obits are never funny.

   So we completed our obituary assignment from a sheet of facts, typing on manual typewriters in the basement of Fisk Hall where the instructor chain- smoked and drank about eight cups of coffee in a four-hour lab. Sometimes students stifled tears as they typed. Everyone turned in something at the end of the hour, along with the carbon copies.

    Fast forward 34 years. I am an assistant professor at Medill, assigning obituaries to the freshmen in 201-1 Reporting and Writing, and not allowing them to create fiction by writing their own obituaries (a practice I find not only ghoulish but unethical) that was suprisnlgy on the syllabus before my arrival.  Knowing how to write an obituary is solid practice in news judgment, sourcing, organization,  as well as writing with the appropriate tone and voice. Good practice for profiles.

         It seems obits are not only good practice for journalists, but good business for forward-thinking media innovators.

    Two of my Medill colleagues, Owen Youngman and Rich Gordon, led a group of students in the Fall 09 Interative Innovation Project to recently redesign, rethink and relaunch the American obituary for legacy.com.

    At the presentation last week students spoke about the immense popularity of “compelling stories about a noteworthy life,” separate from fame and celebrity. These were life capsules of “anyone’s neighbor, any average Joe.”
        Everyman news? Of course.  And these stories are not just a community or family service (no pun intended), but death notices are a 1/2 billion-dollar revenue maker for newspapers. 

       Add text, video, audio, photo slideshows and all combinations of multimedia memorials and this is the somber flipside to youtube’s jackass videos of teenagers jumping off their parents’ garages. Not that my three sons have done that. Yet.

      An element I found especially interesting in the presentation was the fact that historically newspaper obituaries were limited to stories of society’s elite, and naturally, at first only elite white men. Few women were written about and honored in print obituaries.   Another demographic piece is that an overwhelming majority of visitors to online memorial sites are Christian.

     Now here is the opportunity.

    We (me, too) spend a lot of time writing, teaching and talking about the democratization of news and the necessity for inclusiveness in media of all forms. Tell everyone’s story. Project all voices. So in the spirit of open sourcing, here is the chance to have storytelling without boundaries, with repsect for all religious and non-religious affiliations, to honor a life, any life, every life, everyman’s life, everywoman’s.

     We all deserve a memorial, a story with dignity that honors who we were, what we contributed and how we were loved and known. And one that doesn’t begin with “Dead. That’s what…”

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