J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

“If tools could make anyone who picked them up an expert, they’d be valuable indeed.” Plato, The Republic

Archive for September, 2008

Some Thoughts, Complaints, and Otherwise About “Print First.”

Posted by chanders on September 15, 2008

I was interviewed this summer by Ann Cooper of the Columbia Journalism Review for her story, “The Bigger Tent: Who’s a Journalist? Is Over; the Question Now is, Who Does Journalism,” which appeared in this months CJR. I was curious this morning to see if anything I said actually made it into the article, or if it was mostly or totally on background (since I have no massive ego to feed, it didn’t really matter to me either way, but I was curious). But of course,  CJR’s bizarre policy of trickling out its print-content online (and not ever putting up some if its content) meant that I’ll have to wait until I get to school later today to read the story in my very own comp-copy of the CJR, and that if I wanted to link to the story I’d have to wait until it eventually migrated online (by which point I’ll probably have forgotten about it).

I realize that “online versus paper” debates at CJR have been the subject of much discussion; I also realize that there are different visions of how  print and online products relate to each other (i.e., the Philadelphia Inquirer non-controversy about paper first, and also this recent, very insightful article about a decision by the Bowling Green Daily News to not have a web first strategy [hat tip: Simon Owens]).

But.

If we are trying to rethink what journalistic work needs to be in a digital age, wouldn’t it make sense to have a person whose job it was to ask, for every story in every publication– whether a daily or weekly or monthly or whatever– “given the content of this story, the needs of our audience, and the general goals of our publication, does it make sense for this story to go up on the web, and when?” I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to HIRE someone to make these sorts of decisions, or at least have it part of an employees job description. Journalistic expertise used to include the expertise to decide if a story was an A1 story or a B13 story; there’s no reason now why that expertise wouldn’t include the mental calculation discussed above. The ability to make the above decision properly is one of the things that will go into determining who has authority online, and why.

Applying the above calculation to the story at hand, “The Bigger Tent,” we might have a thought process like this:

We want people to buy our magazine. However, this story is mostly about whether bloggers and online journalists are really journalists, a subject that people in the blogosphere are obsessed wit, because they are Very Self Absorbed. Therefore, putting this story up online right away will probably get us internet buzz. And we can only get internet buzz if its possible for the very people we are talking about to link to us. Therefore, it makes sense to put this story online immediately, and rather than driving down our print numbers this might actually help increase them, if we leave some more print friendly stories off the online archive. At the very least, it will get us linked.

The ability to answer a question like this correctly is one of the keys to online authority in a digital age.

Posted in Personal Musings | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Future of Journalism

Posted by chanders on September 3, 2008

I’ve been working up to this single paragraph for the last several weeks, and I’ll admit, it hasn’t been easy. But think if you asked me what I thought about the future of journalism this is what I’d answer.

C. Wright Mills style, I’ve pasted the paragraph below, and have then preceded to translate it out of academic wankery and into normal human talk. So here we go:

We have now come fact to face with the tremendous paradox of online newswork: the maw of the internet, with its endless need for more and more content to fill its bottomless pages at faster and faster speeds, has run up against the increasing inability of media organizations to rationalize the production of that content through traditional methods—i.e., through the payment of the wage. We have entered a journalistic moment in which news institutions need more and more material and yet, to obtain it, find themselves ever more dependent on alliances with what appear to be “spontaneous,” derationalized, volunteer news producers. The stability and permanence of journalistic networks– whether they be community blogs, radical news websites, or more traditional media organizations—will depend on news producers rediscovering a means of providing formal monetary compensation for newswork, or rationalizing the production of news through alternate, non-wage means, or, finally, bypassing bureaucratic rationality in the production of cultural goods. The first two possibilities require organizational adjustment; the third would necessitate nothing less than the transcendence the dominant motif of late modern age.

Or, in other words:

The internet has helped create a situation in journalism where you need more and more news but have less money to pay for it. If news organizations are going to survive they need to find new ways to pay people. Or they need to find ways to get people to regularly do journalism without money. Or, they need to create a new world in which the boring humdrum of daily work is smashed and is replaced by a world of spontaneity, joyful creation, true democracy, and freedom.  The first two possibilities are far more likely than the third, but hey, why not aim high?

Posted in Personal Musings | 1 Comment »

Philly.com’s Convention Coverage and the Ethic of the Link

Posted by chanders on September 2, 2008

\After spending the last couple weeks retracing the past, reading gloomy financial reports and crunching truly depressing employment numbers (with more bad news possibly on the way) it was good to get back to looking at the present and what will hopefully be Philly journalism’s bright future. One of the things I’ve been interested in during my research has been what Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis, and many others call the “ethic of the link.” The answer to this simple question– how often do newspapers and other online websites link off their domain name– can give you a number of insights into how various online content providers view their journalistic roles. Does a website see itself as a hub, a filter, or a network?  Or, is it trying to be a “one stop shopping center”? Is it afraid of its autonomous online audience? Or, does it trust them?

In short: how is a website’s “vision of its users and vision of its producers” inscribed in its online architecture?

The conventional wisdom about linking out –“that in general there is a strong relationship between news websites linking out and getting links in return”– was recently been subjected to a fairly rigorous quantitative analysis, complete with an impressive looking formula.  The result? The conventional wisdom is more or less right on. Links out – links in.

Not surprisingly, it’s taken many newspapers a long time to come to terms with this counter-intuitive idea. A topic I’m examining during my research is: how do old media companies work to build  “news networks” during their coverage of special, one-time events …  events like a mayoral race, a political protest, or a national party convention?

One of the ways to build a news network, of course, is to link to other websites. During the second day of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, I took screencaps of the Philly.com “Politics” page, and compared it with the politics pages of three other websites — the New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as the more local Newsday.com. In many ways, I thought Newsday was the best comparison with Philly.com because the Newsday website was often invoked in Philadelphia as a potential model for or competitor to the Philadelphia website.

We can see where both Philly.com and Newsday Politics linked out on this page, with both sections highlighted in yellow. You can also see where the Times and the WaPo linked out after the jump.

Perhaps surprisingly, a basic visual analysis shows Philly.com to be the closest thing to an online political hub of any of the four sites. The Times and the Post barely link to anything off their domain name. Newsday links to other websites, but they are either to their own internal blogs or to “The Swamp,” a political blog published by the Tribune Company that is distributed to all Tribune Compay papers (Newsday included). Philly.com not only links out, but does so in key real estate areas (in the center of the website, as opposed to the bottom of the site like the Times).

Why might Philly.com have been so comfortable with linking out? It is tempting to say that they did so because of their inability to match the Times and the Post pound for pound in terms of the scale of coverage. As large, national papers, both the Times and the Post have the resources to “flood the political convention zone”; Philly.com, a much smaller site, lacks these resources. Indeed, some of its original content consisted of reporters sitting at home, watching the conventions on TV!

That said, this isn’t necessarily bad. Indeed, as many media critics have pointed out, is there really anything to be gained by wall to wall convention coverage? Possibly not. Indeed, because of its willingness to share its link traffic, Philly.com most likely reaped a marginal level of return traffic at the very least. And journalistically, it pointed its readers to (at least in theory) “the best the web had to offer” in terms of political analysis.

It’s also worth asking: what will Newsday.com do once it is no longer officially owned by Tribune? Will it continue to link to “The Swamp” I can’t say for sure, but my guess would be probably not. Indeed, the way Newsday.com has structured it’s links section strikes me as the product of a top-down decision– “link only to company blogs, dammit!” This is all only a guess, though. It will be worth seeing that happens once the sale has a chance to affect the site.

Of course, really understanding how a Philly.com acts as a hub would require a more extensive investigation. I’m planning on conducting a content analysis of the linking patterns of various webpages over the days and months ahead.

Posted in Fieldwork | 19 Comments »

We Interrupt This Media Analysis for the Politics of ‘Family Problems’

Posted by chanders on September 1, 2008

I’m sorry. Does anyone want to speculate about how the media, the public at large — and the right wing fringe of this country— would have reacted if one of Barak Obama’s daughters had been just a little older, and had fathered a child out of wedlock?

Please.

There’s a lot of racism in ths country, and in our culture. A lot. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Posted in Personal Musings | Leave a Comment »