Dispatches from the living amongst journalism's walking dead

Month: March 2009

Ruminations on the future of news

Jay Rosen at Press think has thoughtfully pulled together a fablous collection of essays about the collapse and rebuilding of the news business. While every journalist worth their ratty desk chair has read a lot about the mistakes of online journalism past, most of these essays really explain how we got here and how we can rebuild the news business model to reflect a digital era.

The best of his recommended lot, in my opinion, is Clay Shirky’s Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable. While his isn’t one of the more uplifting essays, he explains how the news industry’s response to the Internet was (and still is) holding back innovation.

Shirky writes: “When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.”

Another of Rosen’s featured links is to Steven Berlin Johnson’s speech on Old Growth Media and the Future of News, which I wrote about a few days ago.

When you get a chance and you can handle some straight talk, read these over.

One man alone cannot Tweet

As someone who runs a newspaper’s branded Twitter account, I sympathize with Sam Shepard at Subbed Out when he details why it’s not always ideal to have a manned Twitter feed.

The one that most hits home is #1 – the account is not manned without the responsible editor on duty. Short of working 24/7/365, one person cannot be the voice for a news organization. We all know news happens around the clock, not to mention all the @ replies and questions that come in at all hours, so how can it all be done in a timely fashion?

There are a few potential answers out there:

1. Have more than one person responsible for manning the feed. Have your day guy, night guy, weekend guy and holiday guy update as respond as needed. While it is unfortunate that there would be several voices coming through depending on the time of day, I think that’s preferable to simply missing the boat altogether. Others may disagree.

2. Have a partially automated feed. You can set up Twitterfeed to automatically post your site’s breaking news from an RSS feed. You can man the account with a live person by day and let the automation handle it by night. Official feeds do this all of the time and your readers will understand if it has to be done. At least they got the news, right?

3. Go with option #2’s automated feed solution. When news breaks in the off-hours, have Twittermail set up so a host of reporters and editors can post to your account from wherever they are without even owning a Twitter account (or holding onto your password). You may even want to tap a trusted outside source to do this as well.

I’m sure there are other solutions out there. I’d love to hear some if anyone’s got ’em.

A bright new future for the gatekeepers

What do you think will be the role for professional journalists in this rapidly approaching future we keep hearing so much about? Will the bloggers have taken over? Will there be any real reporting left?

I, for one, fully believe that the world needs journalists. Not just writers and reporters and photographers – but editors as well. We need these editors to determine what’s legitimate in a world of information overload.

Technologist and Big Thinker Steven Berlin Johnson put it pretty well when he spoke at SXSW last week and I felt it needs to be shared with the naysayers and doomsday theorists who believe we should all start training to be nurses.

In his address, he notes how much the availability and speed of content has vastly improved since even the late 80s – and he expects that to only continue with the continuing rise of hyperlocal news and citizen journalism.

Sure, it won’t be all done by professional journalists. Sadly, a lot of us won’t be journalists long enough to see this age of information equality. But there will still be news – and noise. While savvy news consumers will be able to sort through this mass of information for the information most relevant to them – there will be too much to handle for many (if not most).

He says:

Let’s say they need some kind of authoritative guide, to help them find all the useful information that’s proliferating out there in the wild. If only there were some institution that had a reputation for journalistic integrity that had a staff of trained editors and a growing audience arriving at its web site every day seeking quality information. If only…

Of course, we have thousands of these institutions.  They’re called newspapers.

Isn’t that a great thought? We should be editing content – even if we aren’t always the ones producing it. We’re in the process of doing this right now at the Enquirer in the form of aggregating off-site local content from unaffiliated blogs and news sites. We’re making our site a destination for all of the best local news – hand-picked by our editors.

So stop your bellyaching already – we might still be here just yet.

Get your own training

10,000 Words has a great post today that compiles a decent list of online resources where a journalist can get hands-on multimedia training (and most of them are free).

I’m a full-time journalist and I know it’s practically impossible to find free time to do more work. Whenever you have the chance – maybe when you run out of hours during your work week or when you have that luxurious furlough (like me) ou should use this time to train yourself in a new skill set. That’s not to say you have to be learning every bit of software out there – but try to pick one or two you want to add t your arsenal. You never know – you might need them for a job search sooner than you think.

** I hope to get these sites and more added to a training resource page on the site ASAP.

Sourcing: Non-profits on Twitter

If your beat regularly includes covering major non-profits, I’d hope for your sake that you’re on Twitter.

Not a day goes by that I don’t see someone I follow trying to raise awareness for a cause or referring to an event sponsored by a non-profit. Many groups have taken to Twitter in the last year (or earlier) and they use it to push out their news, events and stories to those who care for their cause. If you’re on that beat – I’d guess you could use this info.

Face it – it’s a lot less annoying than spammy emails and likely easier to obtain than the faxes coming in to the desk that belonged to your newsroom’s secretary before she got laid off.

Mashable, in their always-helpful mode, has compiled a quick list of 26 non-profits on Twitter now. That number is only likely to grow.


Before we even get started on developing this site, I want anyone who stumbles through here to know that this is and always will be a work in progress. I started this site not only as a place to host my work and research in new journalism, but also to serve as a tool to help me learn more development skills.

I’m not a developer – or even a web designer, really. I work in the online news department for the Cincinnati Enquirer. While I do build web pages within our existing servers and content management systems, this is my first crack at developing something in a new language. I have built several websites over the years (most defunct now), but this is an exciting new chance to learn PHP, WordPress, content management and SEO.

Because of that afore-mentioned job, I might not post as often as those who do this sort of thing for a living (see the blogroll), but I hope to be a good resource for those looking for new ideas to save journalism.

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